Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Labour - what are they for?

Labour, it seems, needs a new leader. The current one, apparently, is "not electable". But what difference will a new one make? What is the problem with the policies of the current leader that has driven rebellions and resignations in the parliamentary party since the day he was elected? Surely nobody can seriously suggest the day-one wave of resignations and subsequent chorus of complaints were about his leadership style.

Even the current rebellion, incubating since the start, is not about any particular leadership failing. It was going to happen after his first by-election, but Labour did well. It would have happened after the council elections, but again, the results were not bad enough. Now, after Corbyn campaigned for remain while Hilary Benn stalked the Shadow Cabinet for people to join the revolt, the excuse is the very division the dissidents fomented.

This is quite clearly not about leadership, or unity. It is about Corbyn, and what he stands for. But what alternative is being offered? What will Angela Eagle offer instead, apart from platitudes about Leadership, Unity and perhaps Apple Pie?

The Labour party's problems between Corbyn, the Parliamentary party, the Unions and the Constituency parties are just a symptom of a wider failure to understand and articulate what is the point of Labour. A failure that has lost them two general elections, and caused the massive alienation that lost the referendum  campaign in their previous "heartlands".


I suspect that before they can agree on a leader who can take them into the next election, however soon that may be, there are some fundamental questions they need to answer.
  1. What caused the current Great Recession? The Tories argued that it was Labour overspending or incompetence or some such. During the election there was no clear counternarrative.
  2. Why did Labour lose the last general election? Were they really too left wing? Was it Ed's face or bacon sandwiches? Or did Labour voters fail to turn out for a programme that was economically and philosophically indistinguishable from Tory neo-liberalism, with slightly less austerity? Were voters afraid Labour would crash the economy again? (See question one)
  3. How will Labour address the very real grievances of the north of England who voted in such numbers for Brexit, against the (however muted) advice of the party elite? Because I'm not sure privatising a few more public bodies and mortgaging infrastructure in additional public private "partnerships" is going to cut it.
  4. What alternative, if any, will Labour offer in Parliament and in their public advocacy to the current Conservative economic philosophy of austerity and what seems like free market fundamentalism?
The instincts of the PLP members who nominated Corbyn in order to have a wide-ranging debate were sound. It is tragic that during the campaign and following his election to the leadership this debate did not happen. If Labour is to survive as a political force in the UK (or at least in Britain) it must move the debate beyond platitudes about electability and leadership, and onto why anyone should elect them!


What is Labour for?

Monday, July 11, 2016

On anger and what to do with it

When the Referendum result gradually became clear, I was very disappointed. Not by the result so much as by what it said about us as a country. But as I thought about how it had come about, I felt anger. This is what I wrote on FriendFace shortly afterwards:

I am not angry with the voters, but with the establishment that deregulated the financial sector that caused the crash.
I am angry with the government that chose austerity and made the poorest among us pay for the greed of the bankers.
I am angry with the cynical exit campaign which blamed migrants for the austerity we are suffering.  
I am angry with the politicians who have failed for years to challenge that narrative.  
I am angry with the media which covered the campaign as if it were just a Tory party squabble, and failed to properly examine the unjustified claims - from both sides.  
I am angry with BBC NI and Nolan for trivialising the debate.  
I am angry with the DUP for putting petty dislike of Europe before the very existence of the United Kingdom.  
I am angry about a political discourse in which evidence is treated as optional, and everyone feels entitled to their own facts.  
I am angry that we are losing the best chance we had to tackle multinational tax avoidance, pollution, and climate change. 
I am angry.
This is not the end of the world, but we will all be the poorer for this foolish and muddled decision.

I am still angry. We allowed grievances to build up. We failed to challenge those who blamed immigration for the problems. And we allowed a false and unprincipled campaign to prevail. When the result was announced, second thoughts were voiced. Facts began to intrude. Minds changed. There is a case to be made that the referendum does NOT express the settled will of the British people as a whole. It may yet be that our constitutional system will allow a chance for further reflection.

But, in the meantime, we must as a country decide what sort of exit we want, if that is what we're going to have. What kind of relationship do we want with the EU, and with the rest of Europe? Where we will continue to cooperate with our European friends and allies, and where we want to step back?

The election - if that's the right word - of the politically astute (if somewhat opportunistic) Theresa May as leader of the Tories means that the party of government has lurched to the Right. It's not clear that the former industrial heartlands of England who voted (to varying degrees) for Exit wanted that.  But that's what we got.

If we are to avoid a right-wing elite setting the agenda for country's future for the next few parliaments, we need to hold the government to account. The press need to do a better job than they did during the referendum campaign. And the opposition need to do a better job than they did under the Coalition.

Over to you, Eagle, Corbyn, Farron (and possibly even Murdoch) - your country needs you!

Or in Murdoch's case, our country needs you (to do your job, not pursue your self-interest).

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Our Disenfranchised Young - Let them be heard

The EU Referendum was an outrage. The young - who have most to lose - were denied a voice. And to be quite blunt, the old - who voted to leave in such numbers - will have to live with the consequences for the shortest time. This is wrong!


There must be another referendum, in which our 16 and 17 year old citizens who were denied a voice - denied a vote - can have their say!


Young lives matter - Let them speak!

Friday, June 24, 2016

DUPed again!

I am saddened by last night's referendum result. The vote to leave will cause economic damage, it is true. But more seriously, it threatens the stability of the UK and Europe. And the working people who seem to have voted overwhelmingly for exit are likely to pay the price - how will they not, under a government which has already made them pay the price for the Bankers’ Recession?

Britain (or possibly just England and Wales) can survive outside the EU. The skies will not fall, as the official remain campaign promised, but we will be the worse for it. If the decision had been taken after careful reflection, and an honest campaign, I would not have minded so much. But to be dragged out of an organisation that was founded to help ensure peace in Europe and to prevent a hyper capitalist race to the bottom in working conditions, by a campaign that was so thoroughly dishonest, racist, and misleading, is hard to stomach.

Remain’s project fear was defeated by Vote Leave’s fear and hatred. The country has taken a selfish and inward looking turn. Facts have become optional in our political discourse. Now we will wake up and begin to realise what we have, collectively, done.

The farmers have voted for an end to agricultural subsidies, like turkeys for Christmas. Vote Leave has given comfort to every racist in the country and to far right fascists throughout Europe. And at the end of it we may well concede "uncontrolled migration" from the EU as the price of access to the EU's single market.

And we may now see the end of the UK. That will be the final irony for the dreamers of Empire who begrudged the pooling of sovereignty that kept the peace, encouraged laggards to protect the environment, and ended predatory corporate practises like roaming charges. Little Englanders indeed.

So, Boris, when will the NHS be getting its extra £350 million?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Vote Leave because... Migration?

Migrants are flooding into the UK, claiming benefits, clogging up hospitals and stretching services to breaking point - all thanks to EU rules - or so the Brexit campaign seems to say.

But are they?

Well, some flood in, and some flood out. Lots of elderly Brits, for example, swarm to Spain and clog up their hospitals. Many British people work in Europe. Or study at European Universities - for rather less than £9000 a year! That is not so bad for this country.

Inward migration is mostly young people who are working, and paying taxes. In fact migrants on average pay more towards the NHS and schools than us natives. And being young and healthy, they use the NHS less. Win win! In fact, being in the EU means that if our under resourced NHS cannot provide treatment quickly enough, it is sometimes possible to be referred for treatment in a European country, free of charge.

So if the NHS is under pressure, and it is, it's not because of the disproportionate share of money the migrants are contributing - it's because it's not being funded properly.

Same with schools and housing. Rents are not high because of net migration - that barely compensates for our falling birth rate. Rents are high because there aren't enough houses. We have failed to build enough for the last few parliaments! The solution is building, not Brexit!

When a society starts to blame other ethnic groups or minorities for its problems, it becomes very ugly very quickly. And when the problems are caused by the politicians we choose, the hypocrisy is staggering.

But if the Brexit campaign wins and we leave the EU, with all the economic pressures that will bring, how much more will have to be blamed on migrants and innocent minorities. How much more divided will our society become?

Is that the sort of country we want?

We can choose a better way. Will we?

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Farage - the new Trump?

The poisoning of politics continues apace, as Nigel Farage plumbs new depths. Following on his "there will be riots" speech, with its echoes of Enoch Powell, now he seems to be channelling Donald Trump, who earlier called Mexicans criminals and rapists. Farage in his turn seems to be characterising migrants - or maybe just Turks en masse - as molesters of women.

At least we have the English Channel, so Farage won't need to repeat Trump's demand for a wall. Would he have had it built by refugees, and funded by Turkey, I wonder?

Friday, June 03, 2016

Spend spend spend!

I wonder how many people the Brexit campaign have promised the £350 million a week of savings on EU membership to?

Last week it was the NHS. Then it seemed to be the Environment. Neither of them are causes close to the hearts of the right wing conservatives who make most of the running in the Brexit campaign. But if you talk to Brexit-inclined farmers concerned about loss of EU subsidy, they seem to think the savings will be spent on continuing the subsidies.

So the NHS, the Environment, and farmers could receive up to 350m of extra money (or not lose the money, in the farmers' case). It reminds me of the promised speeds in broadband ads. Up to 350 could mean very little indeed to your favoured cause.

But it's worse than that. Mrs Thatcher negotiated a rebate back in the last millennium, so it's only "up to £276m". Or "up to £161m" if you count the money the EU spends on support for the UK - from farming to projects in disadvantaged areas!

And if you want a hint about where the "savings" are actually likely to be spent, look at the government's current priorities - cuts for the disadvantaged, and tax cuts for the rich, and broken promises on pollution and the Environment. What are the real chances of a Damascus Road conversion to non-private health care, saving the planet, or support for the poorest parts of our country?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What next - Rivers of Blood?

The EU debate is becoming toxic. Nigel Farage seems to be channelling Enoch Powell, in his very own "rivers of blood" moment. He claims to foresee violence on the streets if immigration is not controlled. He says it is difficult to contemplate, but nothing is impossible.

Of course, by talking up the difficulties and ignoring the benefits of immigration, by stoking fears - not least by raising the spectre of violence - he can only increase the chances of mistrust, resentment, and inter-communal strife!

Christ said, "Blessed are the Peacemakers."

Or as my spellchecker put it, "needed are the Peacemakers!"

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Things I don't understand about executive pay

rather apt image from clipartbest.com
Mark price, ex head of Waitrose, decided last year to look for a better job (or, more accurately, another job to add to the list of jobs he already manages to do at once). A week ago, it came out that this somehow entitles him to £1.9 million compensation. If the rest of us decided to look for a job we liked better, I'm pretty sure our employers would not be rushing to pay us for NOT working for them. And if he was so bad that they needed to get rid of him, why was he not just sacked - like less privileged people would be?

In case you're confused about any of this, Waitrose have explained it: The timing of Mr Price's exit was agreed "in the best interests of the partnership", and this had "private contractual implications, hence the payment announced today". Aren't you glad it's all clear now?

If this absurd payment really is a contractual requirement that can't be avoided (and it seems implausible that anyone would offer such a contract), shouldn't the staff, who own Waitrose, be looking for compensation from the crazily generous individual who negotiated such a ridiculously costly deal with their money?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

1916 and all that


It's been a funny old year. One hundred years on from 1916, the Easter Rising, and Battle of the Somme, some of the old wars are still being fought. Just not quite how I expected.

The commemoration of the Easter Rising in the Republic has seen a nuanced, mature reflection on a rising whose failure is nevertheless seen as a foundational event for the Irish State. The rising was acknowledged as deeply unpopular at the time in Ireland, but the aftermath - the vengeful execution of the leaders by the British military authorities - turned the tide of Irish public opinion. The suffering and deaths, of civilians and combatants on both sides, have been acknowledged.
one of "theirs"

Up North, the picture is grimmer. Sinn Fein (North and South) seemed uneasy at the inclusiveness of the commemorations. The DUP's attitude was churlish in the extreme - it was not for them to empathise with the other tradition in this island. They even refused to attend the civic reception in Belfast's City Hall that commemorates this Nationalist event in the current "decade of centenaries". They will only commemorate "their own" events, it seems.
one of "ours"
When will we be able to deal with the divisions and hurts of the past?