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“Farage Fever” – a Labour opportunity in disguise?

November 28, 2011 12 comments

The Tories have always had Labour on the argument about the EU.

Knowing which side of the fence a good majority of Tories sit on, regarding the European Union, they are able to draw political capital both from crises within the eurozone, but also look like the fighting party on getting a referendum put to parliament (and because the majority of the British public want a referendum and support leaving the European Union this doesn’t play havoc with the Tories one bit).

According to YouGov polls in October (pdf), if there were to be a referendum the next day 71% of those who voted Conservative in 2010 would have voted for the United Kingdom to leave the EU (compared with 41% in Labour). Further, 69% of those who intend to vote Conservative in the next election would vote the same (compared to 39% Labour).

There is a lot resting on the Tories to provide the right line on Europe to those who intend to vote for it next time – but this will come after a European election in 2014 where, let’s be honest, Ukip are going to do quite well.

This has sent Farage’s babes round the twist with excitement. One such member, Michael Heaver, wrote during one blog post:

According to the latest YouGov poll, some 11 percent of 2010 Tory voters now intend to switch to UKIP. And that’s only since last year. A smattering of highly credible 2010 Tory candidates such as Janice Atkinson-Small and Andrew Charalambous have switched sides as has Lord Hesketh, former Tory Treasurer and perhaps the biggest defection to UKIP in the young Party’s history.

For people like him, 2015 is set to be marked by “Farage Fever” – that is where the Liberal Democrats and their 7% polling “boom” will seem timid in comparison.

Yesterday, I was reading through Jon Worth’s article on LabourList, where he praised his Ukip interlocuteurs for, basically, not being mad and actually bringing some good information to the fore. This got me thinking.

Ukip are able to have a go at the Tories because they look lightweight on Europe and left-leaning in comparison with the political make-up of the general public as gleaned from polls. To Labour, the Tories will always be right wing, but more so because of their fiscal conservative rhetoric. So, Labour have the opportunity to do the unthinkable: split the right by saying something like “Ukip are wrong, but they look even more reasonable than the Tories these days” – or something to that effect.

Expect more backhanded complements to the Ukip now that they are actually a threat the Conservative party, but remember that they are at best unreconstructed Thatcherites (i.e. blind to the causes of today’s crises).

A New Left Comic Attack?

November 26, 2011 7 comments

I’ve just had the misfortune of reading one of those dreadful articles which makes you hate yourself on a Saturday morning, even more than your headache does already. The author? Zoe Williams (well, who else?).

In it, she testifies to waiting with baited breathe for a renaissance of left wing comedy, now that David Cameron and his Tories are in public office (for how long now, 18 months – has she just realised).

It will go for the jugular of David Cameron’s big society, and while I see a lot to mock about how ridiculously optimistic BS is, let’s not forget that it is basically the equivalent of pulling money out of a service and saying “right, see how that works for you now you have no guaranteed funding”.

The joke she quotes in her defense seems odd. It is by Stewart Lee, who if only for his gall, I am a very big fan of. The joke goes as follows:

the Libyans … when they didn’t like their leader, they dragged him out of a sewer pipe, shot him in the face, and put him in a meat fridge. Nobody told them to, they just went ahead and did it. That’s the big society in action, David Cameron.

It’s funny because it is exaggerating. The words he uses are unpleasant and blunt (“meat fridge” and “shot him in the face”); but does something that Cameron will inevitably score political points on (i.e. the successful campaign, helped by Nato, against a tyrant with severe intentions) threaten to knock him off his high stool?

Later in the article Williams calls Frankie Boyle anti-political (as opposed to somebody like Stewart Lee). Funny (!) that elsewhere in the Guardian, Boyle levels the same criticism towards Lee.

Boyle rants:

It seems to me [Stewart Lee is] irrelevant and flabby. OK, you don’t like Russell Howard; that’s fine. But don’t put on your posters “a new kind of political comedy”. Yeah, without any politics.

Is this absence of politics not because, like it or loathe it, we are not at a stage where Cameron is as divisive as, say, Thatcher?

Williams notes the playwright Tim Fountain, who admitted:

We’re not at that point, yet, where you can just say ‘I hate David Cameron’ and get a huge laugh. But we will be soon.

Is it because he hasn’t done enough yet? The left wing comedians of the 80s hardly ever touched upon the ill-fortunes of those led under a fiscal conservative government. They rallied against the absurd pomp and arrogance of the figures like Cecil and Nigel Lawson. Today, the only way to attack Cameron is to call him a try hard, or a man tied up in his own guilt.

On the social, Cameron is as left wing as anyone. Hear the tirades by the right of his party:

he became focused on subjects of interest to, well, Guardian readers. His obsessions became your obsessions. Climate change. More women candidates. Civil liberties. Gay rights. Some of these changes were necessary, but many actually worsened the Tories’ fundamental brand problem. Support for renewable subsidies means Cameron has added to struggling families’ energy bills. Civil libertarianism meant Tories got on the wrong side of public support for CCTV. Rather than achieving a deep diversity of candidates, Cameron replaced some male barristers with female barristers and white bankers with black bankers.

Only today Cameron said this: “I don’t believe private provision is always better”. He did go on to say “There are brilliant examples of state provision, voluntary provision and private provision” just to cover his back, but he is, as Tim Montgomerie said, trying to make his obsessions the obsessions of Guardian readers.

My advice to left wing comics is as follows: it’s not the same as the 80s, the government is not avowedly right wing anymore, they are a weird postmodern left of centre fiscal conservative government. If you can find a joke in that, give it a shot.

Labour needs to be more than just the party of means

October 6, 2011 1 comment

Before the Liberal Democrats were kingmakers in the UK political landscape, they were no saints. They were, however, haunted by their aversion to Toryism. The only reason the social market policies of David Steel were not set about in manifesto was because internal critics felt the language looked a bit Thatcher-lite. The reason David Laws’ Singapore-style plans for the NHS were not taken up as policy was because it would give Labour a free ride to say LibDems were the party willing to sell hospitals in local elections – where the activists tended to be more to the left.

The Liberals have never been angels, but they have always been weak.

Though it’s possible that without them, Blair’s reforms for the public sector would never have happened. While the Tories were always geared towards favouring the market, the Liberals made their policies look like they were the ones in tune to the turning consensus that state regulation of market productivity was self-defeating.

But though there was universal fear of Blair among the political elite, now that the consensus is that his politics are finished, it has left a gaping hole in the soul of the Labour Party.

The Liberals have, as part of their inheritance, Liberalism. Whether they heed to that inheritance or not doesn’t matter, it still stirs their core audience. The Conservatives have conservatism as their inheritance, and they rarely heed to that, but that is almost beyond the point.

Labour have socialism, but are terribly embarrassed to admit so.

No amount of ideas will take away from the fact that Labour deny their own inheritance. And with this, the party jeopardises having any sort of ideal of which to aim. Like the Liberals and the Conservatives alike, Labour needs to be more than just a party of means, it needs to return to being a party of ends. Otherwise it will find itself in the same position as the Liberals did in the 70s, 80s and 90s, cautious not to announce what it really stands for on the grounds that it will look too assertive.

And as Owen Jones recently put it: “We need to talk about Socialism”.

My memo to Sean Woodward

August 29, 2011 3 comments

Paul said it better than I ever could earlier:

It’s a pity … Sean Woodward doesn’t read Though Cowards Flinch regularly. We’d be a lot further forward if he did.

The reason being is Though Cowards Flinch blog was wise to the fact the Tories were pushing rightwards yonks ago.

Here I’ll point out why we knew that.

In 2009 a study was carried out by Political Quarterly around the time of Cameron’s successful leadership election. It showed that in 2005, of the 198 sitting Tory MPs 91% were Eurosceptics, 81% were economically “dry” and 73% were “conservative” on social, sexual and moral issues. According to Edward Turner (doc), it seems uncertain that the Tory party has shifted its Thatcherism, despite having tried to re-paint the image of the party in light of Thatcherism’s toxicity.

But Cameron did not create compassionate conservatism – big society and broken Britain were two attempts in the mold of the Etonian’s predecessors.

William Hague told the Tory party conference in 1997 that “compassion is not an bolt-on extra to conservatism but is at its very core”. This was when Hague was floating the idea of equalising the age of consent for homosexuals. Only 16 Tory MPs voted for this and Hague was forced to retain section 28 (needless to say there were those recent smears – undoubtedly residual pro-inequality seeping through).

When Hague was forced to take his party back to the Right, Ivan Massow complained of the “tabloidification” of the Conservatives and that regarding certain activists “theirs is the politics of the taxi driver” (pdf).

And so it remains.

Cameron is an image spinner, PR savvy, too. He had a lot of authorship over the 2005 manifesto which focused on immigration and asylum (are you thinking what we’re thinking?) but also led a party that tried to remove its brand of Thatcherism to the public – despite its politics still being prevalent with party activists.

Cameron’s game is to hide what remains – he has recognised that his party’s politics are out of kilter with the public mood, and has tried to pull the wool over our eyes – and I worry that this may have worked on the Labour Party. But no more – we can see the inner Thatcher, and it’s disgusting.

 

Update: Here’s a thing: Ivan Massow left the Conservative Party at the same time as Shaun Woodward did, both defecting to Labour.

Message to Richard Balfe – Isolate Plymouth City Council

August 17, 2011 6 comments

To modify an old saying, my journalism skills knows some bounds!

I just put down the phone to one Richard Balfe, David Cameron’s envoy to the Trade Unions. During my minute long conversation with him I asked him if he’d heard about Plymouth’s Conservative-run City Council’s decision to “de-recognise” the biggest public sector union Unison.

He hadn’t. In fact he has just come back from Brussels and has not had a chance to catch up. I informed him about the details, which have come from the Political Scrapbook website. He replied that he was not going to comment, before politely putting down his receiver.

I quickly emailed him thanking him for taking the call, signing off by saying if he did feel like commenting not to hesitate in contacting me. He soon emailed back explaining, again, about having just returned to the UK, and not being up to speed on this matter.

When Mr Balfe does manage to get himself up to speed on matters I look forward to seeing what he has to say, particularly as this could prove very interesting for him, the link he has to his party the Conservatives (after leaving, or rather being thrown out of, the Labour Party in 2002) and the Trade Union movement who he will want to remain largely on good terms with – especially now that militancy is back on the cards.

Instead of offering Mr Balfe my own words of wisdom, I should like to remind him of his own, from ConservativeHome earlier this year: “let us not demonise the Unions, but realise they are doing what their members pay them for – that is getting the best deal possible for their members.”

If Mr Balfe really thinks this holds true, then the decision by Plymouth Council to tell Unison reps to vacate their offices, after refusing to sign up to what they say are discriminatory changes to terms and conditions, is contrary to his own heartfelt sentiments.

On meeting with David Cameron in his role as envoy, after he has settled back home and glanced over the papers (which, admittedly, will include a great many articles about riots and looters), I hope he puts forward serious reservations about these events.

Again, in his own words: “I don’t think I could have joined the [Conservative] party under Thatcher.” Possibly because its loathing for unions is much like Plymouth’s now. Let’s hope an arrangement is settled soon, and Unison offices are re-opened again pronto.

Don’t be deterred by Osborne’s trap – strike today!

Today will see schools, prisons and courts employees, represented by trade unions, take strike action against the government on the grounds that public sector workers will work longer while contributing more towards their pension pots.

Union leaders have responded ahead of today explaining their positions. Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has called the action “regrettable” but “due to the position that the government has taken, unavoidable”. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber pointed out that pay has been frozen for two years despite high inflation, and that the feeling is public sector workers are being punished for a poor economic outlook they had no part in creating.

Strike

It is beyond despair that Ed Miliband has dismissed the strike out of hand, given that he is the leader of the Labour party. More depressing is he’ll gain nothing for it; David Cameron will continue accusing him of being in the pockets of the unions, while the laughing tabloid press continue running headlines to suit.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has hardly pledged undivided support for mass action, but what he has said is of interest. Commenting on Osborne’s strategy, he called on public sector workers not to fall into the chancellor’s trap. The trap being laid out is one, not too dissimilar from the bad snow episode – where if recovery appears slow, Osborne can raise the alarm that public sector workers are the cause.

It would seem that if Balls is saying this he knows it to be dishonest – therefore him and his party should not be giving undue credence to Osborne’s trap by withdrawing strike support.

To be sure Balls knows, and opposes, Osborne’s plans (he calls Osborne joining the Treasury another “fork in the road moment”). At a speech given at the LSE earlier this month (seen to counter the chancellor’s speech at Mansion House the day before) Balls noted that Britain’s slow recovery could cost families £3,300 by 2015, as well as leaving Britain £58bn worse off. The economies in America, France and Germany have all returned to pre-crisis levels, whereas Britain is still below that by 4%.

Commenting on recent ONS figures for growth, Balls said “These final figures confirm that in the six months since George Osborne’s spending review and VAT rise the economy has flatlined and the recovery has been choked off.”

The former children’s minister can see the risks, has been keen to point out that this is ideological (or what William Keegan calls Osborne’s “political straitjacket”) and so should respond in turn by supporting strike action, while preparing to brush aside excuses given by the chancellor for possible poor economic recovery.

What Recovery?

Esther Armstrong writing for Interactive Investor yesterday said “This was supposed to be the year economies the world over got back on track.” In fact George Osborne was hoping the whole mess would be sorted by now, but his inability to change tack through fear of looking weak has meant the British economy is shooting below target (indeed Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the cabinet office, was reported saying “you do not gain credibility by sticking to a strategy that isn’t working”).

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBS) has downgraded UK growth projections for 2011 three times now, while we also face a wave of what Duncan Weldon has called “consumer recession”.

Osborne himself admitted that recovery will take longer than he expected, but this has also been compounded with the flatlining of many low and middle income earners. In fact real wages have fallen for the last 17 months and are likely to do so until 2013 – earnings falling below inflation does nothing for consumer confidence, and as Chris Dillow noted (as one of the differences between 1981 and 2010) the ability for people to run up personal debt through loans, in turn offsetting the decline in public spending, is a privilege (if you can call it that) we cannot enjoy today while banks are reluctant to lend.

If Osborne wasn’t so stubborn about saving face, he might have listened to Ed Balls’ idea for a temporary cut to VAT, which would instantly lower inflation, increase real wages, be as easy to implement as to reverse while the cost to do so is way under borrowing forecasts (the former being around £12-13bn versus the latter of £40bn). But alas the horrible show must go on.

What do we have to lose in striking?

In spite of proper Labour support, strike action is necessary. Unions are the only bargaining chip available to the workforce, and the government have been very clear they are not listening.

The damage being done by the cabinet of millionaires (whose pensions, along with other MPs, even after changes “will be among the most generous in the country“) must be challenged. As a Labour party member I’m loathe to say this; but we cannot wait for the opposition any longer – this fight will come from the bottom up, from those most affected by Tory/LibDem bullying, and it is high time this battle was won. This country will no longer be walked all over by the undeserving rich.

The Left case against the EU

Peter Hitchens talks about David Cameron as though he were a sandal wearing, bearded leftie. In spite of Cameron’s rhetoric on the EU that half our laws emanate from EU bureaucrats, his alignment to the European Conservatives and Reformists (which according to pro-Europe Ken Clarke sits the Tory party with neo-fascists or cranks in Europe) and his constant snubs (today Downing Street refused to fly the EU flag, defying Europe Union “wishes”), Hitchens says Cameron has done nothing to stop Britain from sleepwalking into Europe’s arms.

But then Hitchens would say that – for him everything bad, from abortion to crime to human rights, has by its side a box-ticking regulator with a foreign accent.

Cameron can say what he wants about the EU, but Hitchens will tell us that the homunculus inside the Prime Minister’s head is wearing a blue tie with yellow stars on it.

Though it is fair to say Hitchens is not always the best judge of good reasons to stay out of Europe; much like Dan Hannan for whom it appears 85% of laws come straight from legislation books locked up in Herman Van Rompuy’s secret underground lab which one enters to the overbearing sound of Ode To Joy (and Beethoven was probably a freemasoncoincidence? Er, yes!).

But Hitchens is nothing if not consistent in his dislike of the EU, and his judgement that the UK Conservative party secretly likes the membership status it has in Europe. In May 2009 he wrote an article suggesting that while Thatcher saw off the dreaded unions, she did little to counter the “cultural revolutionaries who wanted to undermine marriage, dissolve the family, sexualise children and use State schools as an egalitarian sausage machine, turning out brainwashed Leftists by the million.”

For him there was little point in Thatcher defeating the shop stewards since so many of our laws are dictated by the unelected directive in Europe.

But while not agreeing with the premise, I happen to agree with Hitchens that Thatcher created the grounds where the EU cold flourish in the UK (though, of course, Hitchens would have no truck with my conclusions). Firstly, in ruthlessly destroying the lives of miners, and so much of the workforce in Britain, she weakened the industrial base of the country. She recognised that industry, and worse nationalised industry, provided too much security for the wage labourers who she despised, and did nothing to conquer the world – a task she admired, educated, as she was, to be an Empire politician.

Thatcher really came at the wrong time; the sun had set for the imperial nation she grew up fantasising about, but post-industrialism opened up a new promise – what if Britain was a economic powerhouse! Mother Hayek destroyed the public sector and brought about a neo-liberal model, re-inscribed later by Blair, and whose ferocity has been matched by today’s coalition government under the banner “big society”. Perversely, however, this new model required a new workforce; the unskilled worker, and much of it. While Enoch Powell warned of the rivers of blood, Thatcher’s capitalism required as many workers as possible (too many if necessary, to keep unemployed workers as back-up to drive down wages and undercut unions). The best way to sustain this model was to free up trade, and exploit the immigrant workforce – a set of principles which has been written into every European Union treaty from Maastricht to Lisbon.

Clearly Thatcher had worked anti-Europe rhetoric into her brand, much as Cameron has done, but the European Union is really the sum total of the conservative capitalism they both adore so much. They both may have waxed lyrical to the tune of isolationism, but a free market EU is set in stone in the Conservative party unconscious.

It is for this reason that there is still a plausible Left case against the EU; at best the European Union is a charter for unregulated capitalism with an unelected hub at the beck and call of multinational corporations who are free to exploit the resources of whichever workforce it chooses, set up shop in whichever country gives it the best deal for tax and regulation, move whole swathes of the workforce from place to place and can pick up and leave whenever it wants – reducing whole areas to depression and despair.

It used to be said that a Pro-European Tory was a Liberal Democrat, indeed many former members of the Tory Reform Group are now Liberal Democrats (Baron Lee of Trafford, Baron Dykes, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne to name but three). But their difference to modern Conservative party attitudes towards the EU is that they were avowed in their championing of EU policy. Free market and neoliberal Tories forget how closely they operate under the EU spell. Any leftie who opposes Thatcherism (and that is nearly every one) should oppose the EU too.

Categories: General Politics Tags: , , ,
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