Tag Archives: Lib Dems

Kicking the crutch

Bankers, the targets for so much vilification, are not usually noted as great philosophers.  But perhaps they have been judged unfairly if this observation, by former Deutsche Bank CEO Hilmar Kopper, is true:

As a banker, you have no lack of opportunities to look into the human soul.

Although what the bankers see there is unlikely to inspire much compassion for one’s fellow humans, if his next comments – taken from a candid interview with Spiegel International – are anything to go by:

This entire nation, the entire world, is ultimately running after money. The amount of influence money has on people has always fascinated me. You forget almost everything while in its shadow.

Yet chasing money has never seemed so futile as it does once it is revealed how much of it is controlled by so few.  The publication of a study showing that a core of 1,318 companies control 20% of global operating revenues directly, with perhaps another 60% via shares, should make it obvious how stacked the dice have been in this particular casino.  Compared to such power, political influence is puny and easily bought off.  Money and the control of it have become more important than the lives sacrificed on the way to a balancing of the metaphorical books.  This is nothing new, but while times were good we could convince ourselves that all was fine, so long as it wasn’t your head in the vice.

The economic crisis has thrown that complacency out of the window.  Once-great nation states have been reduced to the status of housewives, clucking over their shopping lists while wondering if the grocer will extend enough credit to keep meals on the table until payday arrives.  And while economists bicker over whether we are in or out of recession, whether inflation or deflation or stagnation is the biggest risk and whether too much or not enough austerity is the best cure, the real effects are felt very far away from the boardrooms and treasury offices.  As Thompson writes:

Government borrowing… replaces a lack of private sector spending. It is a crutch. If we kick out the crutch out from under the economy, it’s possible that this patient will learn to walk very, very quickly.

Or it is equally likely that it will fall on its arse.  From Spain to Ireland to Portugal and the UK, the argument that austerity is killing Europe seems unassailable.  Yet adding additional borrowing to the terrifying debt mountains in an attempt to spark more growth brings its own misgivings, not least because it seems like robbing future generations to pay for such essentials as the Olympic Games and bank bailouts.  The UK’s Coalition Government has been quick to seize on these misgivings as justification for their zeal in cutting budgets to ‘make savings’.  These claims have been challenged by a report commissioned by disability activists – nicknamed the ‘Spartacus Report’ – which notes that:

Cuts to DLA [Disability Living Allowance] cannot cut disability, they simply shift the costs elsewhere. One in three disabled people already live in poverty and many feel [the] proposals… can only see this increase.

This demonstrates a move from a metaphorical kicking away of the crutch to an actual one – with even massive public opposition, including that of their own supporters, failing to prick at what remains of the Coalition’s consciences.  Instead, politicians are demonstrating compassion towards the captains at the controls of our current financial tailspin, while stamping down hard on the unfortunate ones with chronic conditions or terminal illnesses.  This will save £94 per week per cancer patient so that the millions can still be handed out in bank bonuses.  It is  little wonder that bankers see chasing money as a futile endeavour, when they can screw everything up so royally and still have it land in their bank accounts!

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The Simple, Angry Men Of 10 O’Clock Live

Julia hasn’t been watching a lot of UK television lately, so here’s writer Nick Bryan with a guest post on Channel 4′s latest attempt to ‘do’ politics:

Like many in the left-leaning, Twitter-abusing internet world, I’ve been watching Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live with interest. Featuring high-profile funny folk taking a swipe at the news, it seems to have launched well.

People are watching it, there are the speed bumps you’d expect from a live transmission written in a hurry, but I think it hits the mark more than it misses. Still, as the weeks go by, I start to feel they might be punching at straw men a little.

I’m not a radicalised liberal. I possess many such opinions but don’t need to take to the streets and enforce them with my fists. So although it is irritating when hardline conservatives (note the lower case C) portray all Muslims as terrorists or all disabled people as lazy, it’s also annoying when their opponents portray David Cameron as a cackling super-villain, or all bankers as snickering pigs.

At this point, I’d like to go beyond 10 O’Clock Live, as they are merely a high-profile example. If left-leaning folk want me to dislike the coalition government (and I sense that they do), explain to me properly why I should stir my venom.

Otherwise, even if I find you amusing on TV or read your column for a laugh whilst procrastinating, I’m still going to write your sincere point off as the rantings of a psychopath in the end. You mustn’t stop trying to be rational because you think most of your audience are already sympathetic.

It is possible to pull off a rant with a persuasive serious point, in fact David Mitchell did a sterling job on a recent 10 O’Clock Live, but once it spills over into raving venom, you lose your audience. Yes, I know what satire is, but putting mean words next to David Cameron’s face isn’t cunning subversion.

In fact, much like the politicians themselves running for election, you have to appeal to the centre. We live in a country where the S*n is the best-selling newspaper by far. Don’t be fooled by the disproportionate number of lefty media types on Twitter, the liberals are vastly outnumbered.

So preaching to the choir isn’t going to get your online petition up to the amount of signatures needed for anyone to give a damn. And if all this turns into a full-on hate campaign against David Cameron, it’s going to energise support for him anyway; we British love an underdog.

Be smart. Stop gibbering at me.

So what do you think? Is there a place for a good, smart funny rant at Cameron’s expense on prime time TV, or is it just pandering to the gallery? Let us know in the comments

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Pocket-picking time again

They say everyone has 20:20 hindsight, but with each new report that is released it becomes clear that the only sensible response to the financial crisis that began in 2007 is:

are you taking the piss?

Because it is increasingly apparent that, yes, in fact, they are.  Governments across the globe are expecting the poorest and those most in need of help to pay for the clear up while the bankers skip off to the Cayman Islands with suitcases full of our cash and an entreaty that the blame culture must end:

There was a period of remorse and apology; that period needs to be over

- Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays, quoted in Private Eye No 1280

If nothing else, you have to admire their chutzpah.

A reasonably well-connected friend told me back then that the credit crunch was being talked into existence.  I wasn’t sure I believed her, worrying that certain banks were too big to fail and about what might follow if they were allowed to collapse and take millions of ordinary worker’s savings, pensions and mortgages down with them.  In my naivety I might have expected an ounce of fucking gratitude for the largesse we showed in saving the bankers from the abyss.  Not a bit of it, if it was given at all it was begrudged and now, apparently, it’s over.

Instead of remorse, what we get are lectures from the decks of their super-yachts, moored off the coast of the latest tax haven, on why the need for austerity has added hospitals to the list of things now to be considered luxury items.  As noted by the Anarchist Writers:

it is hard to tell whether the Con-Dems stupidity is driven by class interest, incompetence, ideological blindness, economic illiteracy, or a Machiavellian wish to use crisis to pursue market-fundamentalist social engineering. Probably a mishmash of all with the incompetence, ideology and illiteracy helpfully deepening the crisis which can be used as an excuse to impose neo-liberal dreams and ensure the rich get richer

Clearing the deficit at a speed that terrifies most economists certainly seems to be their obsession, the gloss of prudent financial management given to an ideological mission to roll back every advance the working class has won for itself over the last 60 years, while allowing the looting of the global economy to continue unchecked.

Why should we break our backs stupidly paying tax?

Of course, as the rich and the corporations they control demand and get ever more lenient tax regimes, some idiot has to be found to make up the shortfall.  Guess who is in the frame?  So work becomes more and more like this, with the sting of a reduction in take home pay and the removal of services your taxes used to cover.  Remember who you’re working for:

But don’t fear!  We still have a gazillion pounds to spend on the Olympics, millions more to set up the organisation to monitor MP’s expenses and a few quid left over for some really nice chairs.

I wonder what will be our tipping point, what will see us head for the streets, when Mubarak is estimated to have accumulated 40-70 billion dollars from his reign in Egypt, an astronomical sum but one dwarfed by the quids our rulers have handed over to their mates in the pin-stripes.  Maybe it’s time to start building the barricades?

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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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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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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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They still don’t get it

The first scalp of the new government was claimed by the media over the weekend and, surprising all those who were betting on Vince Cable being the first to walk, it was rising star David Laws who got the push.

Despite having enjoyed incredible success in his first career in the City, to the extent of having reached the dizzying heights of millionaire status by 28 – at an age where most of us are fretting over bar bills and student loan repayments – Mr Laws decided it would be a good idea to have the taxpayer pick up his rent tab to the tune of £40,000.  A slight problem being that he wasn’t actually paying rent to a commercial landlord, but instead handed over the readies to his partner.

Commentary has been overwhelmingly gushing about the loss of his talents to the nation, and it is almost possible to believe from reading  Matthew Parris and Tony Grew amongst others, that there is a special torture about all this for a gay man – as if having one’s sex life plastered all over the papers and therefore having your mum know all about it would be a walk in the park for most heterosexuals.  I disagree, because tempting though it is for some to paint it that way, David Laws’ sexuality is not the issue here.

The point being spectacularly missed is that no one really gives a rats ass who Laws is or isn’t sleeping with, with or without the permission of his sweet old mother.  He could have said to the expenses board, ‘do you know, I’ve got simply oodles of money of my own, I really don’t need to claim any additional support, I’ll leave that bit of the form blank, ok?’ and he would have lived to fight another day.  Without the expenses claim, who could really had any appetite for outing him?  The story would have rightly died a death as the majority of people wouldn’t have cared a fig  BECAUSE THIS ISN’T THE 1950s and WE AREN’T IN ALABAMA.

However, attempts to equate his ‘heartbreak’ with those of people who really did suffer, during the dark days of the past when falling in love with the wrong person would put you outside the law, are fatuous and insulting.  Britain is not a country where a Cabinet Member could be forced to resign for being gay but it damn well is and should remain one where a millionaire with his hand in the till does the perp walk.  How many ‘benefit cheats’ get given the opportunity to quietly pay back the money with no further questions asked?  Did the millions of families who were overpaid tax credits get dealt with in such a caring manner?

If Mr Laws was the non-millionaire salesman for any UK company and he had over-claimed on his expenses to the tune of forty grand, the police and HMRC would now be involved.  He would be on the wrong end of a dismissal for gross misconduct with the likelihood that status brings of never working again.  He wouldn’t have sympathetic noises being made from all corners of the British media about what a lovely guy he is, what a crying shame the situation is and how he could be back in the Cabinet by Christmas.

The truth is, as we must all be facing up to now, that things that the ordinary people of the UK like to hold close to their hearts such as old age pensions, hospitals and pre-school nurseries are rapidly becoming luxuries we can’t afford because we bet the farm on supporting our ‘ailing’ (ha!) financial services sector.  We need a political class that understands that the coming cuts must protect the weakest while doing the necessary rebalancing of the books.  It is a delicate line to tread and we must have the utmost faith in those doing the tightrope walk.

Do I want to see talented people hounded out of politics?  No.  Do I want anyone who kisses a boy or girl they like living in fear of it ending up splashed across the papers?  No, of course not.  But do I want our MPs to wake up to the fact that, just as if they worked in any other organisation in the country, their expenses claims must be legitimate, proportionate and fully justifiable?

It would be a nice place to start.

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The Clegg and Compo show

Here we all are then, the Dave ‘n’ Nick show opens with the release of the initial and snappily titled ‘Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition negotiations agreements’ on how we are to be governed.  You can read the whole thing here.

The agreement does demand close inspection, because there are at least a couple of hopeful messages for the future directed at those who may be feeling concerned.  Here is one such commitment that initially caught my attention, something which you might have hoped would never need to be carved into tablets of stone in a civilised country, had recent events not so manifestly demonstrated otherwise:

We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes

Almost gives you hope, doesn’t it.  Add to that:

  • a commission charged with separating retail and investment banking
  • action to tackle unacceptable banking bonuses
  • funding for the NHS should increase in real terms in each year of the Parliament

and you might find yourself questioning if the Conservatives had actually won on any of the negotiating points.  Don’t run away with that thought, though, because of course they did:

  • modest cuts of £6 billion to non-front line services… within the financial year 2010-11
  • a review of the long-term affordability of public sector pensions
  • an annual limit on the number of non-EU economic migrants.

As playwright (and exotic dancer) Dan Rebellato commented on Twitter:

 

so I agree, it is vital for us as voters to retain some cynicism about the whole process.  On the other hand, it is equally important for the Conservatives that they don’t cause undue alarm in this initial period, calming the nerves of people with a visceral hatred of all things Tory, reaching out to wavering Lib Dems and making us all believe that they have our best interests at heart.  There are even some reports of a much deeper change in outlook, if Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie is to be believed:

‘They don’t believe us when we say we’re not two-headed, monstrous Thatcherites so we’ll just have to prove it in office,’ was the conclusion of one leading Cameroon.

I find myself with the words of Mandy Rice-Davies echoing in my head: ‘well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’  When most of the Cabinet count their small change in the millions rather than in silver and copper, you have to question how far we can realistically expect them to understand the concerns of us plebs.  Are they likely to protect the hard-won services and policies that may seem like an unnecessary extravagance at this time of extraordinary economic turmoil, but which we recognise as essential in the battle to keep body and soul together?  I wonder.

Similarly, it is difficult to feel much confidence in the sudden raging appetite for political reform amongst those who typically consider themselves to be the natural party of government.  Having been kept away from the top jobs for over a decade, they won’t be keen to vacate them so readily.  The Alternative Vote system proposed in the agreement is a long way from the demanded Proportional Representation,  as noted by John Q Publican:

It’s about safe seats. AV is the only one of the alternative systems which preserves them intact. Safe seats are graphably the reason for the expenses scandal. Safe seats allow parachuting of candidates, placing too much power in the hands of central committees over local candidates and parties. Safe seats are wholly counter-democratic. And the LibDems have almost none of them, but the other parties have quite a few each

 It does seem that if we are not very careful, what we could end up witnessing is a rapid return to what Rosemary Bechler calls ‘business-as-usual politics’, instead of what benefits us as voters:

We want open discussion and robust decision-making that takes in a range of options we can keep our eyes and ears on.  We want people who answer to our criticisms face to face (as opposed to Jeremy Paxman’s). We want people who ask us what we think much more often.  And we want a democratic, fair, adult, proportional electoral system

So how do we go about getting that?  I believe we must keep up the pressure by demanding a fairer voting system until we get it - the Take Back Parliament campaign is one way of doing this.  Another is to join 38 degrees in deciding what comes next, following their successful actions during the election to counter adverse publicity about hung parliaments and challenge candidates to support electoral reform. 

Whatever the outcome of this, the first UK hung parliament since 1974, it must not be more of the same.  Keep watching!

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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.

 

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May madness

So it is decision time.  Not for me, of course, mine has already gone in the post which means, as it does for Mr Vowl, that I can ignore all the wittering and squarking of the next two days in favour of (hopefully) more meaningful discourse.

But in case you are not so fortunate as to be able to tune out the demented rantings of ‘change… fairness… change…’ because you are in two minds about where to mark your ‘X’ – or even whether to bother marking the thing at all – here is the ten minutes hate round-up of where to turn in order to make sense of the madness.

First, the ever-excellent They Work For You has surveyed candidates on local and national issues.  You can bung in your post code and check to see if you agree with candidates on the really important stuff like extra bus lanes and a pre-emptive bombing of Iran, rather than basing your vote on which leader had the least creepiest smile during the TV debates (answer: none of them!)

Next, head over to Democracy Club, where they have also surveyed candidates and are looking for volunteers to contact others who have still to reply.  Democracy Club are pals with The Straight Choice, who have built up a database of election leaflets from all parties.  They are now looking for volunteers to help them with their analysis of the dodgy pie charts and graphs, ludicrous claims and outright porkie-pies contained within.

If you live in a marginal and like the idea of a hung parliament, Hang ‘Em has the info on how your tactical vote could help to bring it about.  And if you are hoping that whatever happens on Thursday we get real electoral reform, Power 2010 is the place for you.

As for Julia’s vote, never let it be said that she would violate the sanctity of the ballot paper, hard-fought-for by previous generations.  Still, it is safe to say that her main concern about a hung parliament is:

will there be enough rope?

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