Tag Archives: Labour

The art of surprise

The only surprise is that people seem to be surprised.

This is probably the third time in living memory, after all, that the Conservative Party has effectively told the poorer parts of the UK to fuck off and die, preferably quietly and out of sight, yet still some of you seem to be holding on to a belief that it wasn’t meant to be this way and that so-called ‘compassionate Conservatism’ can be brought to bear instead.

Unfortunately not.  Because you may think that you are nicely middle class, with your Ocado deliveries and eco-friendly holidays in Cornwall sans 4×4, but to our Tory overlords, you are as much of a dirt-eating peasant as the be-tracksuited hordes.  The battle-lines are being drawn and if your sole source of income is selling your labour, to them that makes you working class, regardless of whether you swing a hammer or pound a keyboard all day.

And anyone, yes Guardian lead writers I am looking at you, who thinks that the “Labour” Party has an opposing world view to offer clearly can’t have been paying very close attention for the last thirteen years.

Yet the problem doesn’t lie with the political parties, since they are just doing what they have to do in order to suck up to the people who really matter in a democracy: the people with the cash.  The problem is ours, for once again falling for the sweet nothings that they pour into our ears in order to get the necessary (or thereabouts) number of ‘X’s in the box.  When the Tories spoke of tax cuts for hard-working families, you might have thought they meant you, but actually they were referring to their poorer old school pals struggling by on just a few million.

If you re-read or read ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’, you will see that there is a reason why ordinary people like us got together to fight for our rights against the party of the bosses: not to create some idle dinner party chit-chat, but as an essential means of survival. So here we go again, as if reading from the script of the Thirties and the Eighties, they attack the weakest and we fight back, having also read that script and knowing that together we cannot be defeated.

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Toerags unite!

If you haven’t read The Road to Wigan Pier yet, now might be a good time to add it to your reading list.  It isn’t just a searing indictment of everything that had gone wrong in the economic policies of the 1930s and their effects on the day-to-day lives of millions in that blighted Northern town.

The book is more than misery tourism for the titillation of the Left Book Club subscribers who first read it.  Instead, George Orwell was moved to take the train to Wigan by what he saw as the rich’s callous disregard for the plight of the unemployed.

In the 1930s, unemployment was heavily concentrated in the North of England and South Wales, while cities such as Oxford remained close to full employment.  This according to another essential read for all those concerned at how the coming years could pan out, ‘The Slump’ by Stevenson and Cook.  More prosperous parts of the country had little first-hand knowledge of the conditions of the worst-hit regions until hunger marchers, such as those from Jarrow, began to show up.

In such conditions, myths abounded and needed to be busted.  Canards like: ‘there is work available but they simply don’t want it’ and the indignation and misanthropy wrapped up in ‘but the dole is so high they can even get married on it!’, along with:

doubtless even at this late date the old ladies in Brighton boarding-houses are saying that ‘if you give those miners baths they only use them to keep coal in’

were all examples of an effective blame-the-victim strategy which has barely needed to be altered nearly 80 years on.

True, no-one is accusing the ‘toerags’ of keeping coal in the bath.  Perhaps that one could be changed to ‘cans of Stella’. For they are now permanently tagged as ‘the undeserving poor': cheap beer-swilling, Jeremy Kyle-watching, mindlessly shagging layabouts that our brand spanking new Big Society can ill afford to have laying on the sofa.

Such misinformation stank in 1936 and is no more fragrant now.  It wasn’t the unemployed that encouraged banks to act like casinos, or hospitals and schools to mortgage their futures with unaffordable PFI deals.  The poor didn’t see many benefits from the cheap credit that flowed during most of the last decade, as they were left to negotiate with the baseball bat-wielding loan sharks, rather than the ones in Gieves & Hawkes suits.

In The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell wondered what it would finally take to tip the British into revolution, lamenting that they had been so cheaply bought off with the illusion of wealth provided by a radio in every home and cheaper clothes and furnishings. Now it is a flippin’ huge HD plasma TV for all, Primark and Ikea that give us the warm feeling that everything is still ok, Jack, and there is no need to take to the streets in Greek-style protest as every service so hard-fought for by our grandparents gets stripped away in the name of debt reduction.

Well maybe there is a need.  Another feature of the 1930s was the dearth of ideas from anyone in Westminster, on the left or the right, on how to tackle the crisis.  It took the start of the Second World War to finally see off the Depression and no-one sensible should be suggesting that we go down that route now, however desperately they want to ape their Granny’s gravy-browning-and-eyeliner-pencil-for-stockings.  Instead what we need is the type of good old-fashioned, D.I.Y., ‘make do and mend’ mentality that sees us switching off the plasma screen and fighting our own corners for a change.

We can only achieve that if we stick together.  Refusing to sanction the branding of the worst off amongst us as cheats, scroungers and toerags is an essential first step.
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Building a dream

Diane Abbott called it right.  According to Paul Waugh on Twitter:

As well they might.  But do not be mistaken, although Liberal Democrats with narrow majorities over Labour MPs will be rueing the day they lined up for such a shafting, it is all of us who will be getting fucked.

Royally, in fact.  While the Queen struggles to get by on £7.9m, while the banks cough up an estimated £2bn per year in return for the £850bn they were gifted, pensioners, the disabled, the unemployed, those claiming housing benefit, lone parents and pregnant women – fat cats one and all – will be ensuring that Britain’s books are balanced by the time of the Olympics after the one we are still spending billions on.

Whatever else you think of it, it is no-one’s idea of progressive. Nor is the raise in VAT, of which the richest 10% pay one in every 25 pounds of their income and the poorest 10% pay one in every seven pounds.  Meanwhile our corporation tax will now fall to a level that, according to the Channel 4 News FactCheck, will make it the fifth lowest in the G20.  Hooray for corporations!

Still, at least the cider tax has been reduced.  I suggest you lay in a few bottles before the VAT goes up.  You will soon be needing the warm glow and sweet balm of oblivion that they can provide, along with this beautiful evocation of Depression-era survival techniques from Tom Waits:

A warning: the last time Conservatives tried cutting public spending in response to a global financial catastrophe, it did not end well.  See you on the bread lines.

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A warning to children

Children, do not bully the weird kids at school, for they may grow up to be a Treasury secretary and exact a most terrible vengeance on us all.

Picture borrowed from here


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Why Labour lost

Following a defeat or set back it is natural to contemplate what went wrong, human nature having developed this tactic to avoid repeating mistakes forever.  One of my favourite and oft-quoted pieces of wisdom is that one, sometimes attributed to Einstein, about the definition of insanity being expecting a different result from the same action.

A political party displaying this most human of traits should therefore be an encouraging sight.  The Tory ‘brand’ wasn’t deemed to be detoxified until they had fought and lost two elections on the issues that had helped to turn everybody off them in the first place – immigration and Europe – so it is refreshing that the Labour party is wasting no time in beginning the process of staring at its navel.  Like a chorus of Wodehousian aunts, there have been no end of  ‘where it went wrong’ articles  seeking to assist Labour in this endeavour, so ten minutes hate has cut through the chatter to bring you two of the best.

The first is from Max Dunbar and targets two key points: the reaction to ‘dog-whistle’ scapegoating of welfare claimants and immigrants and the expansion of the intrusive security state, neither of which pleased the right-wing nor garnered much support on the left.  We have indeed reached a pretty pass where the coalition government can claim to be on the left of the previous government on its prison sentencing policy.  (H/T to Chicken Yoghurt for the link.)

The second article is a longer piece by Ross McKibbin, which begins with an intriguing break down of the electoral results.  It is interesting to learn that:

Despite very favourable circumstances the Conservative vote is proportionately much lower than it was in 1992

as well as hear of:

the continued failure of the Conservatives to make any gains among voters in the AB classes – the upper and solid middle classes, 57 per cent of whom voted Labour or Lib Dem, in almost equal proportions. In 1987, for the first time, the majority of those with university degrees didn’t vote Conservative, and they have not been won back

In spite of all the propaganda, it seems we are not heading straight back to the 80s and Thatcherism red in tooth and claw.  Which is almost a shame for the Labour Party, as it would make life, electorally at least, much easier for them.  They know how to fight those battles.  Instead, they are going to have to engage in some careful thought to bring about a reversal in their electoral fortunes.  One reason for so many differing opinions on the matter being aired is that there are a litany of different areas to choose from – was it the NHS, immigration, education – and each commentator has their own pet reason for the loss.  Mr McKibben cuts through all of these when he urges the Labour Party back to basic principles:

There are moral lines no social democratic party should cross and Labour has repeatedly crossed them. The result has been policies that are socially and morally objectionable as well as politically futile

A recognition of such would be a good place to begin.  Then they could approach the problems so concerning the leadership candidates from the correct angle.  This will require a deeper understanding of the issues than can be gathered from the tabloid front pages:

Those who worry about immigration usually claim that immigrants take British jobs and/or British houses. Neither is actually true; what is true is that there is an acute shortage of social housing, and that Labour connived at the shortage…  the housing shortage was, therefore, a source of real social deprivation

Let’s see if Labour can meet that challenge and avoid the temptation of a return to the old habits of setting policy by whatever plays best with the Sun, Mail and Express editors.  To use an overwrought footballing metaphor, there is everything to play for…

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Miliblogging*

If it is true, as H. L. Mencken suggests, that ‘no-one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public’, perhaps it is equally true that no-one ever lost power in the UK by underestimating the stupidity of our electoral system.

The Tories attempt to win an election with a leader who is their own version of Blair-lite, then the leadership election looks likely to throw up the possibility of Labour fighting the next one with a version of Cam-light: David Miliband.

Still, at least there is going to be a contest this time, the powers behind the various Labour thrones having realised there is no sense in allowing another leader to be anointed, after how well that worked out for Gordon Brown.  Yet it is undeniable that Miliband the Elder is the front-runner.  Can I be the only one to find this strange?

David Miliband voted very strongly for the last parliament’s anti-terrorism laws, a stricter asylum system and for replacing Trident.  He was very strongly for ministers being allowed to intervene in inquests, brought in after the Kelly and Menezes inquests caused a few blushes on the government benches.  He was both strongly for the Iraq war and strongly against any kind of inquiry into the Iraq war, an exact reversal of the feelings of many Labour Party members on the subject.  He has some very interesting views on the torture of terrorism suspects and the public’s right to know what its government is up to.

In short, there is a real possibility that, once again, the party established to act for the interests of working people via left-wing principles and ideals may end up with a fairly right-wing leader.  How, one wonders, can Labour have the brass balls to call itself a left-wing party any more?

(For comparison: Nick Clegg was anti the terrorism laws, replacing Trident, ministers intervening in inquests and a stricter asylum system.  David Cameron was against the anti-terrorism measures and ID cards, for the war but also for the investigation and flip-flopped a bit on asylum, as you would expect with the right-wing press breathing down his neck.)

The party of the workers has always been slightly ashamed of its lowly routes, the first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was also arguably the first ‘champagne socialist’, much preferring hanging out with Duchesses at their country seats to sitting in pubs singing the Red Flag.  But at least the ‘s’ word did appear then!  Now Dave Semple wonders if Labour and socialism can have anything left to do with each other, while Obsolete sees this attempt at debate as a postponing of the inevitable.

It appears that as we head into our ‘future filled with cuts‘ those alleged to be fighting on ‘our’ side will be arguing straight from a Daily Mail editorial for the shrinking of the welfare state, tougher immigration laws and freeing business from pesky regulation.  As Chicken Yoghurt notes, the dividing lines between our rulers will be shaved until wafer thin.

Still, at least it gives me an excuse to post this intriguing insight into the future of British politics:

Three parties, in different coloured rosettes, with a broadly similar aim of shafting the electorate helping hard-working families.  Four legs good, two legs better!

*Or if I didn’t write the post myself would it be Milivanilliblogging?

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Hang ‘em high

So… I bet you are glad you paid attention in constitutional law now, right?

In case, like 80% of the people being interviewed across the media this morning, you have next to no idea what comes next, here is a brief outline of The Rules.

First and most important, it is the incumbent who gets the first crack at trying to form a government.  Fortunately, there is no ‘moral right to govern’, except in the wettest dreams of a Tory-boy fantasy.

In the First Past the Post system, someone actually has to make it past the post and, for all their grandstanding, the Tories haven’t quite managed it.  This is like one of those Grand Nationals where all the riders fall.  The Conservatives will now be trying to do some deals, although with the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists, UKIP and the BNP so far failing to win any seats, it looks like they will need the now leaderless Democratic Unionist Party to make it happen.  These are the ones that don’t like gay people much and have doubts about evolution, so it is difficult to see how that will fit with the idea of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ that Cameron has been peddling, and we will all have to watch how the situation develops closely.

There have been some blows, but also some good things: the Greens won in Brighton, the odious Philippa Stroud failed to win.  Nor should Nick Clegg be as disappointed as he sounded on the radio this morning: electoral reform which should assist the Liberal Democrats in bringing about their vision of a fairer Britain must now be on the cards to a greater extent than it has been for generations.  That is a victory, even if it appears a small one.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have had years to change the electoral system to avoid this mess.  They failed.  Most of us learn that you can’t start changing the rules to suit yourself midway through the game in the playground at about the age of 6.  It is testament to the playground nature of British politics that our politicians never did.

So it is important now, more than ever, to keep up the scrutiny.  Back-room deals will be taking place all over Westminster but we need to resist attempts by the parties to make us all go back to sleep for another five years.  If this is the first election to grip you, don’t turn away now.  There will be a demonstration for democracy in London this weekend and the many other campaigns for electoral reform will continue.

 

Books picture from Travel Webshots

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