Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Not part of a new generation

Ed gave a good speech yesterday; he carefully balanced his criticism of the Blair-Brown years with his praise for the many things that government achieved. His criticism of the Iraq war was measured and handled sensitively enough; it can have come as no surprise that he said it. But I sense that the Iraq war may be a sore that LP members can’t stop picking at. It was divisive at the time, the decision was some time ago. We must let that decision go - while learning important lessons from it.

There were a lot of broad brush aspirations in the speech; some of them will be hard to achieve. But I for one am happy to give Ed time to flesh out these aspirations.

But there is one thing he needs to drop. I think he mentioned the ‘new generation’ about 15 times. Frankly, it’s not a very good slogan - clearly one dreamt up by a set of young advisers who haven’t the skills to really work out what they’re saying and what the effect will be. If he keeps using the expression he’ll alienate many of us who have worked hard to sustain the party over many years - and an odd sentence saying it’s nothing to do with age doesn’t alter the fact.

In fairness to him, I don’t think he mentioned new generation in his R4 interview this morning . . . but I was feeding the dog, so I may have missed it.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Ed's day . . .

So it’s Ed’s day today; and what a task he has. Showing how he can unite the LP and Trade Union movement into a group that has the will and ability to move forward and, in time (as short a time as possible) lead the country again. This may be challenging, but it’s nothing like the challenge, for instance, that faced Neil Kinnock when he took over - now there was a divided party!

Not unnaturally, Ed is being portrayed as too far this, or in hock to that . . . not elected by this group, out numbered by that one. I say this is not unnatural, because we must face the fact that the press and media are in this to make stories and for journalists to make their names. And if it’s at the expense of good government - so be it.

Ed must grip his helm and steer as steady a course as he can. He’s at present saying many of the right things - he’s already said he won’t be held hostage by the TUs and the TUs, in their turn, say they won’t hold him hostage. Stick to those statements - we trust you have made them in good faith. Ed realises (as must Party members and TU members) that we must reconnect with our traditional supporters . . . I think we never forgot them, but we lost contact with them, allowed a perception to grow that we’d forgotten them. But so, too, must we attract the better-off individuals - holding to the middle ground and, as David M pointed out, shifting it - which the Party, in government, did in several policy areas.

It won’t be possible for Ed to say much, today, but he can lay out some guiding principles. He must convince us that he can lead, and that he will lead. That he will say ‘no’ as well as ‘yes’. He’s lucky; for the most part, unlike Kinnock, he addresses a party that has the will be be convinced and united.

As far as David goes . . . I do hope he stays on, stays on to give it a chance. We want (and need) his formidable skills. But the media wolves may have the final say . . . their self-created and self-centred soap opera makes good copy and they won’t give that up easily. If David goes, because he feels that on-going soap is just too damaging, that must be his call - and who can blame him?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Any Chance of Honesty on the Council Tax?

The ConDems have announced that they are not going to carry out the ‘rate review’ planned for this year – and they’re not going to do it before the next General Election.

Now I don’t want to be too fair to the ConDems, but Labour did exactly the same. Labour postponed a rate review until after the last General Election.

Pickles is arguing that a review isn’t particularly necessary because the differentials remain approximately the same – being a plain speaking Yorkshireman he didn’t use a word as complicated as ‘differentials’.

But, come on, let’s have a bit of honesty here (oh yes.) The reason all three parties have gone for postponing the re-evaluation is that many people will end up spending more on council tax. We can all see that – clear as day, so why pretend otherwise? The last review was in 91 – twenty years ago.

Can we draw any conclusion from this? (Other than that no politicians will face facts?) My take on it is that if a tax is so difficult to levy fairly that nobody will address the equity or otherwise of it, then the tax itself is unworkable and should immediately be replaced with one that’s better.

We’ll wait and see – but I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

What's Clegg communicating?

There’s much talk about Nicko and his confidence. He appears confident, but I’ve been listening carefully to him.

I’m reminded of a theory Lewis Carroll puts in The Hunting of the Snark; the Bellman (who is hunting the snark) works on the principle that whatever you say three times must be true. Today Nicko was constantly talking of the complex tax system ‘left by Gordon Brown.’ Our tax system has always been complicated, but ‘what the hell’, Nicko must be thinking ‘we’ll just blame Gordon and if I repeat it often enough the public will believe me.’

‘Learned lines’ are always so obvious when politicians put them in; it’s disturbing they think we’re so daft.

It’s also informative to listen to Nicko’s voice. Far from giving us great confidence he speaks incredibly quickly sometimes . . . possibly worried that we’ll stop listening? And he gulps for air, a sign of his discomfort. And listen to him move into a high whining tone when answering tough questions.

He knows he’s made several U turns on election promises, and he senses many can see it. He’s not as confident as he seems.

On the Bellman principle (see above) I keep hearing the word ‘broken’. Again, if it’s repeated often enough we believe it. Cameron first introduced the term ‘broken’ to speak of society; it’s an incredibly insulting way to speak of whole groups of UK citizens. But no doubt it looks OK from where Cameron and his living-in-the-1950s colleagues reside. But now I hear from the LibDems ‘broken politics’ (referring to the old way, not the coalition I hasten to add.)

What next? Broken finances, broken taxes, broken NHS - I hear them coming. Hopefully, broken ConDem - we wait and see.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Are the Parties partying in a calm before a storm?

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? Party Conference time.

You’d think Nicko would have a tough little job on his hands - and the way the media have it, he has. But he hasn’t really. The LibDems will all fall into line supporting him. They may have a spat about, say, schools, but that’s all it is. And it won’t make a difference. Nicko says that the country wouldn’t have forgiven them if they had missed the opportunity to go into government; polls appear to be showing that many voters haven’t forgiven them . . . for going into government with the Conservatives.

So they’ll be a pretence of a difficulty; but that’s the media creating a shower in a tea-cup.

D Cameron will be rapturously received no doubt. His party calling his government a great success and completely ignoring the fact he didn’t win enough seats (even though Labour was bending over backwards to help him) to form a government of his own. Besides which, he can be popular now - he hasn’t actually done anything. But if, like me, you’re out in the world, you’ll be only too aware of the fear that’s around.

We all hope that our fears aren’t going to be realised.

And Labour, well, Labour’s holding its own - polling shows the Conservatives and Labour neck and neck. So, if we’re holding our own while waiting for the Leader to be announced - think what we can achieve when the leader is in place. Not long to go now . . . And the first task of the new Leader is to attack the lie perpetrated by both sides of the ConDems - that the Labour Government was responsible for our present financial position. (This, of course, should just be one of the many first tasks!!)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Why should I welcome the Pope?

We are told we should welcome the Pope on his visit. Why should we? Why should we even pay for this State visit?

In a recent statement, David Milliband spoke about the ‘middle ground’ of politics. He said that Labour could occupy the middle ground and could shift the middle ground; he gave examples of this. In moments of self-doubt (yes, I admit not too frequent!!) I come back to my passionate belief in equality of opportunity.

Despite the unfortunate, to say the least, of Cardinal Kasper’s comments that the UK is like a third world country, the Pope has spoken out against a number of issues. I’m an atheist, but I believe in equality of women; to speak against women priests is, therefore, against equality. Feeding the number of people on our planet is a major concern and yet the Pope refuses to move against family planning / birth control. In the early days of Christianity, survival of the belief - ie lots of children - would have been important, but times have moved on. Today, equal rights for lesbian and gay people are increasingly recognised, something the Labour Government can take great pride in. The Pope’s views are well known on this. Even the Catholic irrational hatred of gay people can be seen to be a belief rooted in the ancient need for a race (or belief group) to survive.

So the Pope is vigorous in his condemnation of the principle I and the Labour Party hold most dear, so why should I welcome him?

On another but related note, the very loud Lady Warsi (Conservative Minister), has said that Labour got its relationship with religion wrong; and the Conservative Government will give religion a greater role. Religions are self-interest groupings and, while putting decently paid people out of work, will also work in furthering their own beliefs.

I have long argued (and shall continue to do so) for a separation of Church (faith) and State. Warsi has let us know the Conservatives intend to push in the opposite direction. To use (or perhaps misuse?) a Christian line, I shall carry on and ‘fight the good fight’ for the separation.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Puerile management and bullying beaurocrats

Since writing about H and S regulations and the too-frequent dumbo implementation of them, more stories have come to my attention.

The first of them concerns a farmer and his wife in Lincolnshire. Actually this isn’t H and S but so close I’ll include it. A farmer and his wife have an eldest daughter of seven; she likes to be independent. Outside their house they have a lane which sees ‘about 20 or 30 vehicles a day.’ The chid likes to go on her own to the bus stop for the school bus (one house away) and likes to come home on her own. When it’s dark or if the bus is late the mother ensures that she is there waiting for the daughter. No doubt, living on a farm, the little girl has learned a lot about life, safety and safe risk-taking.

Anyone listening to the mother can hear how sensible the mother is. Not the local authority, though. They wrote to the parents and told them they would make it a child protection issue if the parents continued this practice.

There’s been a furore about this; eventually the local authority have said they won’t take any action. But sadly, these pompous, purile-ocrats have won. There has been so much publicity that the parents no longer think it’s safe to let the girl wait for the bus. Worse than being puerile, the County Council officials are also faceless bullies.

Remember on Sunday I mentioned the FE college photography students? I am led to understand from a source I am not at liberty to disclose that the puerile-ocrat management have come up with another hurdle. Now the students (16 and over) can no longer be taken to art and photography galleries unless the gallery provides the college with a copy of their own H and S policies. So now not one, but two, policies needed to take these young people (many of whom at the weekends will go clubbing till two or three in the morning et al) out on valuable visits. (I’m saying nothing of the all the letters home and back.) I suppose, sadly, it’s too much to ask for the management to get real!

Another story. I have a friend who is one of the very best primary teachers I’ve ever met - and I’ve met a lot. She was studying the Victorians with a class and wanted to take the children to the local park (a couple of streets away) to further their understanding of the Victorians. The demands of form-filling and letter-writing were so burdensome that the teacher didn’t take the youngsters out.

Yes, yes, yes we must make every effort to keep our young people safe when they’re in our care. But we can’t take as our starting position that the world around us is evil, dangerous, out to get us, and filled with psychotic paedophiles. Or worse, that we live in a world where potty managers can shackle sensible people with policies as a means of justifying their own grey existences.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Is Burnham right to raise unfairness in the leadership campaign?

Andy Burnham says that the system supporting the Leadership Election is flawed - by Union support favouring some candidates and that MPs have their votes publicly available. He’s right to raise these concerns.

The Labour Party believes in fairness and transparency, and goes out of its way to be fair and transparent. But its attempts are often means by which it shackles itself to overburdensome bureaucracy and systems with are at best transluscent and at worst opaque.

Burnham is right, for instance, about MPs voting. I would have thought the idea of secret ballots should be sacrosanct. But by making MPs’ votes public, MPs will vote for the person they think will win, rather that according to their conscience. This may be wrong, but it’s human.

Selection meetings are meant to be fair; but I have seen meetings packed with groupings of members that make the system unfair. Candidates are not chosen by their ability but by the number of friends they have. Systems to ensure fairness to get on to selection panels can be so burdensome that good candidates cannot reach the set down standards (and haven’t the time to fulfil requirements - or even fill out the forms.)

AV as a voting system is another example. The process of allocating second and third choices (and so on) can result in a candidate winning that’s best for some and OK for more, rather than the one who’s best for the largest number. A sort of British compromise. I have written about AV earlier in my Blog.

I’m not putting forward an argument for lack of transparency, or for favouritism, but for ways to be found to ensure we get the best people in the elected positions.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Help! I'm agreeing with Govey

I may need to go into therapy; I find myself agreeing with Govey. He’s announced that he wants to reform H and S legislation so that schools are more able to introduce ‘Boys’ Own Adventure’ type projects and that parents find it harder to sue if there are accidents. Actually, I only agree a bit, because there’s another gender than boys (in case Govey hadn’t noticed) and they like a bit of adventure too.

Nobody would want young people put into danger, but sensible risk taking is important in growing up and developing. Risks must be managed, but we have become far too risk averse. But Govey needs to go further. I know of a group of FE photography students who were not to be allowed into the streets of a city to take photos because it was too dangerous. FE STUDENTS for goodness sake! So it’s not just schools it’s FE too.

Most H and S legislation is important and sensible. Too often it’s a dumbo application of H and S that brings it into disrepute. I don’t know if we need to reform the legislation, but we may certainly need to reform its application. And in terms of schools and colleges, get people into the management of them who understand a bit about teaching - that these establishments exist for the teaching, not for the management. It’s a tails and dogs issue.

And Govey . . . remember girls as well as boys need to learn how to manage risk.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Pastor Jones, burning books and freedom of speech

How is it that a potty, self engrandising little pastor (I speak of Terry Jones) can have the world running around in a spin? Pastor Jones has a flock of under 30 - and that’s on a good day; his flock are dedicated to worshipping Christianity in its purest forms. And that includes, we understand, the belief that the Qur’an is a hateful book.

One reason is, of course, that the Pastor is a fundamentalist with little or no concern about the impact of his beliefs on others. A mark of fundamentalism.

Another reason is that the people in a spin are right in assessing that his demonstration is likely to cause death and injury; mostly likely to armed forces personnel. And why are they right? Because there is another group of fundamentalists who’ll go out and kill and maim people because they think the book-burning is wrong. However sacred a book, can the murder of others ever be a just reaction. Of course not.

What we have here are two minorities within larger groups prepared to insult and kill each other in the name of a Saviour and a life beyond this one.

If the irony of this weren’t so very, very serious it would be laughable.

Of course the Pastor shouldn’t be burning the Qur’ans; but look at all the publicity his statement has won him.

On a wider note, burning books can never be justified. It’s suppressing knowledge and learning. Hitler did it. In the 80s I was shocked to find Labour politicians supporting the burning of SATANIC VERSES - what a great novel that is. Causing offence is a poor defence. It was no defence when Jack Straw supported the banning of the Cartoons and Labour Ministers condemned the BRASS TACKS satire on media sensationalising of paedophilia.

In the UK we believe in free speech and artistic freedom. Artists will sometimes shock and offend - it’s a weapon in our armoury.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Nicko's too cocky for his own good

Nick Clegg speaks with great confidence - today explaining that we’ve all got ourselves in a state about cuts because we think they’re all going to happen the moment the financial review is announced. He goes on to explain that they’re going to be spread over two years, implying that that’s not so bad then.

So he’s doing what he’s always done; speaking with great confidence about not very much of real substance. He fails to understand, too, the atmosphere of fear that’s being created; an atmosphere that will seriously damage the UK’s wellbeing. There used to be an expression ‘motor mouth’ - does that still exist I wonder?

He took Prime Minister’s Questions this week. And he’s gaining a reputation for the vitriol he throws at the Labour benches. This tactic may gain him some friends in the media and the Conservatives (and of course, his own parliamentary party). But he’s already put many Lib Dem members and voters under pressure with his coalition; he may find his vitriol increasing this pressure beyond breaking point. (Lib Dem support is seriously down at the moment.)

Nick Clegg’s attitude is that of a cocky senior boy at school, newly made a prefect. Watch out Nicko, you know what pride always comes before . . .

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Could there be a break-out of altruism is politics?

The automatic life sentence given to people found guilty of murder is once more under discussion; DPP Keir Starmer has said he favours change. Quite right.

The automatic life sentence was brought in as a political act at a time when it was fashionable to attack judges. Like much legislation, it was knee-jerk and badly throught through; but never mind, the public liked it. Almost never is there a ‘one size fits all’ within the justice system. Clearly, though it’s not necessarily comfortable to recognise it, there are different types of murder.

However, although it may be right to look at it and a number of significant people (politicians and lawyers) may think it important, is there any political advantage?

Part of the present argument is that it may affect the way joint liability can be used in the context of gangs where, say, a person dies from a stab wound. It can be the case that no one person can be found guilty of wielding the knife. Whether or not a ‘graded’ system of murder charges and sentences will help in this situation is far from clear; but it does need thinking about.

What is clear is that the sorts of decisions needed hear should not be made for political gain or advantage - a vain hope no doubt. And, sadly, I see no real political will to instigate discussion and change . . . because there’s no political advantage.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Little Brown Jug - alcohol and taxation

The Scottish Parliament is to vote on a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks; this policy is put forward by the SNP but, it appears, unlikely it will be passed. The UK government is looking at legislating for some kind of minimum price. The targets in both these cases are binge drinking and targeting cheap strong drinks that fuel it.

There is no doubt that alcohol can be dangerous; that it is dangerous in some hands. So are cars, so are social networking, gaming and computers. Rock climbing and rugby can be dangerous. However, rock climbing and rugby are exciting and can be healthy. Social networking et al are fun. Alcohol can contribute to relaxation and good company.

Recent figures show that consumption of alcohol is falling in this country and that, in fact, we drink below the EU average. If our consumption is falling and our population is growing then the consumption per head must be falling even more. Why? It may be the recession, it may be that messages about safe limits are getting through.

It’s also clear that the number of pubs (mostly decent, friendly places to get together) are closing at an enormous rate. I live in the middle of Birmingham and it’s happening in the city; I often visit small towns and villages and it’s happening there, too.

Increasingly politicians legislate on what seems to be a good idea, policies based with one eye on the media reporting and another on a superficial and inadequate understanding of the complexities of a situation. Well meaning policies aren’t good enough.

Let’s go for legislation in the round.

On a more promising note, the UK ale market is increasing with the number of breweries now at its highest sicne 1940. As a beer drinker I can recommend the product of many (not all) of the new micro-breweries. Real ale is delicious; I remember once hearing a French wine expert contemplating the number of experts on wine in the UK. ‘Why do the British want to spend so much time considering wine’ he asked, ‘when they have so many wonderful beers?’

I agree with that.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Not New Labour, not Old Labour - Now Labour

I’ve not read Tony Blair’s account of his time as Prime Minister - I shall read it though, and look forward to it. I listened to his BBC interview with interest. Much of what he says is true - he’s no liar, after all. Working with others, and following on from John Smith, then Neil Kinnock, he brought the party into government and led a government achieving many things to be proud of.

But even Tony Blair is still using old arguments on which to build his way forward. That we must build on New Labour and continue to develop in a New Labour way.

He’s wrong. So are people in the other camp; that we need to return to our old ways.

What we need is to develop a new way forward, considering our strategies and policies afresh and in the light of life in 2010 and beyond.

We must reinvigorate our relationship with traditional labour voters and members; and we must attract like-minded people who are entrepreneurs or in higher-paid jobs. We must look at the cost of Trident. I’ve been into many successful (highly successful) academy schools, LA schools and grammar schools; how can we build and spread upon best practice and rescue education from Gove’s free-market education system? How can we ensure education and training that is appropriate for post 16s? The NHS is transformed, our GPs practices are transformed within this; how can we improve and work with (assuming it happens) the sweeping change that is about to take place? How do we sustain a vigorous and exciting arts policy - importing a system from the US won’t work. And so on . . .

This is not New Labour, nor Old Labour, it’s Now Labour. The leadership debate shows what fine people we have in Parliament - and of course we have many not in Parliament, too.

Let’s live in today and get on with it.