Monthly Archives: August 2010

Coalition Illegitimacy

The  Coalition wishes to make significant constitutional and social changes. The process will begin this autumn. It cannot be argued that many of these changes have the endorsement of the electorate for no one voted for the Coalition or the patchcock coalition agreement. It might be argued that the Coalition partners received the votes of sixty per cent of the votes cast in the General election and that some of these  changes were foreshadowed in the General Election compaigns of both the Tory and Lib Dem partners. Surely, that suffices to claim a mandate? Well no, it doesn’t. Pushing through these changes relies on the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament: the majority in the House of Commons can do what it wants.

In such a situation it might be thought that the Coalition government should not embark on far-reaching changes that do not necessarily command support among the electorate as a whole; changes that a new government will find  difficult to reverse. Not so the Coalition is pressing on with unflagging zeal (indecent haste) to impose on us  its vision for the future.

Those who object will find it difficult to make headway. It is true that Coalitions are popular with the electorate to the very point of their collapse. The history of  20th century coalitions tell us that they invariabley commanded more than fifty percent of any poll. Today, even accepting the dire circumstances, it is true that the Coalition commands the support of 50 per cent of more of the electorate. It is open to the Coalition to pre-run elections where the weaker of the two coalition partners stands down for the benefit of the other. In a General Election campaign such an arrangement, if tolerable to  grass root activists, would save many seats. If this were to be a nationwide tactic the Labour Party would need over 45 % of the vote to win. A little political gerrymandering along the lines already put forward by the Colation parties might require an even bigger Labour share of the vote. No political party in recent times has polled half the vote.

Is it all hopeless then? Can the the Coalition literally do anything it likes, claim a mandate and win an election even if it is called early? I think not. In practice parliamentary sovereigny is a chimera and cannot be relied upon. The key to change lies with Lib Dem backbench MPs. If they decide enough is enough they can call halt the Tory gallop[ to utopia. You do not need a majorityof the House of Commons to bring down a government; a large scale desertion short of a majority will do. Is this what will happen? Well it might you know. It is possible.


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Mandelson and the Millibands

Contrary to many comments, Labour members have a choice at the coming leadership election; between a long term commitment to  reassuring their members and erstwhile supporters or winning new adherents to an appealing alternative programme to  Coalition budget cuts and an immediate challenge to its authority.

There is a case for either. What do we think will happen? Can the Coalition be swept aside by public repuganance to its programme. If Boy George is stupid enought to press on with 25-40% public expenditure cuts when the economic recovery is stuttering to a halt, public repugnance may sweep the Coalition aside and the Labour Party might achieve a majority in its own right in an early election. If you believe that there is no space for genuflecting to a pre-New Labour past, teeth-gnashing and confession. If you believe the first, you should  vote for David Milliband. As the person with the most serious, senior experience of Government, he is your man for a snap General Election. It is said that David Cameron’s nightmares are focussed on the possibility of a quick and bloodless Labour transition to David Milliband.

Labour voters have an alternative candidate in Ed Balls. If you believe that the issue of the economy will be the one and over-riding issue of this notional snap election then Ed Balls is your man. At his best Ed Balls has  Churchillian qualities: he is pugnacious, and combative and (with a little help on delivery)  the best equipped candidate to be convincing on the economy. But for the disasters of war, Churchill would not have found his way to power in 1940. Do we not have economic disasters of commensurate gravity now?

If you believe that the Coalition will last a full term, which remains the view of academic pundits and right-wing journalists, Labour does not need David Milliband or Ed Balls. Anyone will do. Why not the engaging and popular Ed Milliband. If the latter it is likely that good sense will disappear in a welter of apologies for the past and the party will cease to be relevant. Labour will risk being  out of power for a very long time.

I favour an endeavour to sweep the Coalition from power as soon as possible before too much damage has been done to British society. There is a military analogy. Can we summon up the blood and sinews (do we have the will and have we got enough money); can we few, when confronted by the many triumph, (although weak, do we have a winning  strategy and do our enemies have exploitable waeknesses), if we are prepared can we catch them unprepared (do not underestimate your enemy he has probably anticipated your coming).

The Coalition cannot be assured of the whole hearted support of its troops: there are weaknesses on the  left flank, some of who have deserted the field and others who are switching sides. After a period of negotiation a cavalry charge is required here.

So in the final issue the choice is clear. For Victory in an early battle choose one of two Generals David Milliband or Ed Balls; for a long and inconclusive guerilla campaign, select Captain Ed Milliband.

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For God’s Sake! Unplug the NHS.

I want to tell you a story. My friend Harry, a pensioner of modest means, developed a malignant growth in one of his eyes. To cut a long story short,  after many months of radiotherapy the growth had been reduced in size. The time had come to eliminate the source of the problem, in a place dangerously close to the optic nerve, by a non-invasive operative technique. It took up a large part of the time of a specialist doctor, a radiotherapist, two nurses  and a team of technicians , for a day. The operation saved Harry’s sight. At a rough reckoning the capital equipment used in Harry’s treatment cost over £250 million and the unit cost of his treatment, including pre-operative and post-operative care, must have run into a six figures. Harry was a life-long Tory voter. He did not thank me when I advanced the thought that if he had had his way, a prolonged period of Tory administration from the end of the war to the present day, the event he had so graphically described to me, would NEVER have taken place. For the Tory mantra throughout the period was that although the idea of a NHS was a nice one, it could NOT BE AFFORDED. Does that phrase ring any bells with you?

Now you are an agency worker earning £7 an hour. You have just been told that your production target has been increased from 18 to 28 cases a day  and those who did not reach the target would be sacked at the end of the week. You settle down to do your best and after four hours of looking at the screen you pause to take a breath,  nip ouside for a ciggy, that sort of thing. Did you know that in these four hours the NHS had spent £50 million pounds of your money. God almighty, you might think, unplug those machines! Hold on a moment. Just think. Harry today, you tomorrow? 

I can hear those Coalition Goverment supporters among my readers, say to themselves, there he goes again. The Coalition agreemenr is to lay-off the NHS and cut every other public service. So it does. But are you telling me that the strongly held Tory instinct to dismantle the NHS has suddenly disappeared. Was the change necessary to ‘win’ a General Election or is it genuine?

This is what you do my friends to unplug the NHS. You reorganise it cutting out centrally controlled costs, you shift some costs to the private sector, you distribute costs to local councils, charitable organisations and doctors bank accounts, you cut staff and  freeze their wages,  you abandon targets and increase waiting times and lists (but not in every geographic area), you talk a lot, obfuscate and throw scorn on think-tanks that suggest worsening standards and post-code lottery. You say,well naturally there is some disturbance because we are changing things for the better. Just you wait until our modernisation works its way through. What we are doing is eliminating waste. Does that ring any bells? Sorry Harry, we can fit you in towards the end of 2011. Keep your fingers crossed.

Now you there, in the courtyard stubbing out your cig. What do you think? Are going to bother to vote next May? No, perhaps not! My advice to you is to try and stay healthy. Should you be smoking at all? You bring these things upon yourself you know. In the Big Society we accept responsibility for ourselves. And, no hard feelings? Good luck, to you. We are all in this together.

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Signs of Life

Eric Pickles, the Minister for Communities  and Local Government, has instructed local authorities to reduce the number of signs in their areas which he maintains are confusing and spoil the character of town centres in particular. His instruction has caused some amusement in Wolverhampton where a panoply of signs is thought by locals to bring colour and excitement to their streets. But pernickety points ignored, you can see what he means. Other objections appear to be more convincing. It has been pointed out by several authorities that most of these signs are required by law (laws the good Pickes has voted for!) and often for reasons of public safety. Some town centres, for historic reasons, are more inherently dangerous than others. However, even when that is allowed for, doesn’t he have a point? Let’s take the issue of public safety. Are there not ways other than signs to ensure safety?

Yes, there are. Do we need to have traffic in town centres at all. Why not pave over the roads and provide a decent tram service? Noisy trams are best. There is  no excuse for getting in the way of one. Stick a ringroad round the town and provide decent parking on the perimeter. That should do it. Look, I do appreciate that these towns are commercial centres and need to take deliveries. What can be provided is access lanes to be used, say, between the hours of 12 midnight and 6am. No problem. Remember Operation Midnight, the GLC scheme? (It failed by the way, still we have fond memories, and we learnt something, although I cannot recall what). There you are then, that’s the way ahead. If I may so this is how the Big Society can work for all of us and remember we are all in this together. I think it right to make these points.

Any questions? Would it not cost a lot of money and take a long time to bring to fruition? I am sorry to have to tell you that this shows some ignorance of how the Big Society works for you. It is not for the Government to concern itself with issues of cost. Local communities must work out what they want to do (providing it is wwhat we want) and raise the money for it. Local appeals for contributions, Whist Drives, Bingo. You know the sort of thing. Use your imagination. The sooner you raise it, the money, the sooner you can begin. We are opening a website for you. Come up with ideas, share best practice. You know it helps. We are all in this together. (sorry I’m repeating myself). Would not many local businesses be ruined by restrictions on movement in and out of our towns, particularly large stores? Yes, they would be if they didn’t adapt. They must recognise that a business model concentrating on becoming small and sepcialised is likely to be the one to succeed in the Big Society. That is how it is in our Tory market towns: small specialised boutiques, cafes and restraurants, a nice type of person. Come in on the bus for a pleasant day out. Well that’s it then. Thank you for coming. Roll up your sleeves. Like me. That’s a joke. Ha, ha.

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Austerity Without Impoverishment?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Few doubt the sincerity of Lib Dem members of the Government: they do genuinely wish to be fair and to reduce  poverty, especially among children but outcomes depend on the implementation of the right policies not Conference resolutions. These thoughts are prompted by a report of the Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) which concludes that as a result of fiscal measures take by the Coalition todate the poorest families will lose five times as much as richer childless families, as a percentage of their annual income,  over the next four years.

The debate about this  will need to address a central dilemma, The question is:  when real incomes fall, as they will over the next four years, can you protect the poor and vulnerable? No, you can’t. The popular ditty is right: ‘the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.’ But you can alleviate the impact of fiscal constriction. The burden of cuts cannot all be borne by the public sector for poor people are more dependant on them and the incidence of tax increases must not fall unfairly on the poor. The case against the VAT increase, despite the increasingly sophisticated reasoning in its favour, is a case in point.

The Lib Dems cannot prevent unfairness by talking the talk. The truth is that they have sold out. They are committed to support Tory policies to eliminate the budget deficit in four years and mainly by swinging cuts in public services. You can’t help the poor by contracting the economy, reducing their chances of a job, and  slowing the growth of national income. Chickens will come home to roost. If you are patient and wait a short time you will see them return.

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All Things are Equal But…

It has become a feature of Lib Dem and Conservative blogs to produce policy lists   which they claim prove that the Coalition  is a radical and reforming government. These individual claims are dodgy in themselves but the rest of us might conclude that they amount to little in total compared to the damage about to be inflicted on people up and down the country. To paraphase George Orwell, all things are equal but some things are more equal than others.The Coalition programme is an agreement that the Tories can do what they wish on the economy in return for minor concessions to the Lib Dem’s  on policy intiatives that are dear to them. It is not a zero sum game.

It is worth repeating that the Lib Dems opposed the Tory programme of public expenditure cuts and tax increases in the General Election. Can they be forgiven for an act of betrayal  of  their supporters and to the country as a whole ? Are the concessions they wrung from the eager Tories hungry for office a price worth paying? There are two considerations. First, what is the price? It is entirely resonable to conclude it is going to be extremely high: lost economic output, hundreds of thousands , perhaps millions,  of unemployed, falling real incomes, and numerous personal and family tragedies. Despite their  last minute conversion to Tory economics,  any Lib Dem worth his salt must be heavy-hearted at the consequences of Lib Dem betrayal . The claim that cuts on the scale of those proposed are inevitable now carries no conviction, they have become faint as more and more people come to realise that the cuts  are not required and, indeed, will be  positively harmful to the economy. And secondly, what do they gain? It is a pathetic and deceptive list. There are tax  changes to help the poor that are swallowed up by unemployment and higher prices; civil liberty gains, that make our roads more dangerous our borders more porous, increases the terrorist threat and reduces the ability of the police to catch guilty offenders by use of the DNA database;  opposition to nuclear power generation that threatens our ability to have sufficient power in years to come, and defence cuts which reduce the ability of our armed forces to protect us. The list is seemingly endless. In themselves these changes are paltry. The majority of us  recognise that the fruitless  years of derided Lib Dem policy formulation has  been rewarded by public office. It would be laughable if it were not so damaging to us all.

It is  time to call a halt. If we are well led, if we are brave  and defiant the tide can be turned in the autumn. It is  time for men of goodwill to come together to turn back the tide. Unfortunately, in Parliament that will be the responsibilty of the Lib Dem MPs whose supine behaviour got us to this point in the first place. They don’t have to do this to us all. They can decline to join in. It may be the only way  they can save their seats is by backtracking. If you cannot do it for us, do it for youself.

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Outsourcing the Future.

This is a missive from sunny Cornwall (Well this is an overstatement. As I look out of the window. I can see it is about to rain. Hey ho, said Rolly and all that.) This is an age of outsourcing. It is no longer necessary for employers to give people permanent contracts, plum pensions and other employment rights?  That is much too expensive for us all. Answer: employ agency staff, limit future obligations, lower wage costs, bring down prices, sell more. You know it is the smart thing to do! Why limit these benefits to the private sector? In the Big Society we can extend them all, every single one of these  benefits to public servants! Yes, servants that is how we think of them. They are there to serve you – me too of course. I have a number of my own. Come to think of it there are cuts to be made made there. Get costs down, that’s the message. (I should get a picute of an ancient woman leaving my place with an old suitcase’.  Just think of the cuts (I prefer to think benefits) we can make in the public service . You know it makes sense!

Smart changes like this are  always resisted. Just think of the difficulties Margaret Thatcher had to face. All those phony demonstrations for the chance to work, lower mortgage costs, opposition to the Poll Tax etc.etc. You know what I mean! The poor woman had to arrange for a war in the Falklands to win them round. (Good thought that, I should capture it in my notebook. A national day of rejoicing at our victory. We Brits love that sort of thing.)

I must not digress. This is  important. Here are some questions. Do you wish all those wheel chair johnnies to get into employment, quieter Council estates because everyone is working, good schools for  responsible children in fee paying schools? Of course you do. Do you want everyone employed at pay rates the nation can afford? Lower costs and taxes? Of course you do? You know it makes sense?

Well the Coalition with the support of the Lib Dems will give you all these things. We cannot pretend that the transition to our low cost, responsible, Big Society, where you are in control,  can be achieved without some pain and opposition. There are always some people who will not go along with the majority. Please do not be put off by demonstrations, strikes and riots from doing the right thing. We are all in this together and without your support, it will not happen. As someone said ( I really must identify the sourc of this quote), ‘In your heart you know I’m right.’ Come to think about it I might drop this. certainly at a ‘public’ meeting. Some smart Alec might say. ‘Good advice from the heartless.’ You have to think about this you know. The world is full of smart Alec’s, believe me.

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Charles Kennedy, You Say…

Charles Kennedy, you say, Its no surprise, You could see it in his eyes. But George and Ted , the second row, Now that’s a blow. The Northern Group? They met at Crewe, Ian, Daniel, Jane and Sue. None of these were even starters, I’ll have their guts for garters.The Group that met at Hythe, you say. Six of them, They met today. No way! Hold on Simon, If I’m right, That’s thirty five, Enough are left to stay alive. Speak up Simon, The line and I are faint. At thirty five, there’s no complaint. Steel myself, is he involved, I shall be bold. There’s more, you say, the Western group, They  met at Bath, Now there’s a laugh. Now let’s be clear, Simon, By my reckoning three remain, Danny’s led me quite a dance, Last seen,  ferry-bound for France? Considering your position, Simon, et tu, I cannot quite believe of you. The keys? You want the keys to Cowley Street, You speak for all. It’s come to that,  Usual place,  brown envelope beneath the mat. I must tell Dave, There’s me to save. Speak up Simon please speak up, You say he knows,  He told you? Good Lord!

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Trust State Education

I was educated at each stage in the state education system. It is my belief that the Tory inclination  to seek diversity in schools is prompted always  by, to my way of thinking, unworthy motives. They wish the state system to mirror their own fee-paying private schooling: to reproduce throughout the land a series of little Etons, Winchesters and Westminsters – they are all different you know! These fine schools, it is felt,  shoud be replicated throughout the land: independance of governance, the very best teachers (no third class graduates acceptable here) , supportive parents (no one from sink council estates need apply), selective entry systems to weed out the tidy and dutiful from the insubordinate (no dirty nails in this school) – you know the sort of thing. It is easy to make fun of it. I shall resist the temptation.

There is no good reason that I can think of for discouraging private education BUT every reason to discourage its growth by penalising state schools. The Advanced Level examination results underline the success of the last administration in improving education  standards throughout the country and signal an end to disparagement of its achievements. We on the left should be proud of these dramatic improvements in our schools. Over the coming weeks the extent of the cutbacks in school budgets will become clearer. Forget the Coalition’s fine words and announcements of good intentions. Our schools are facing hard times. Their future development will be  frozen and money  will be ciphoned off to finance the so-called Free Schools: capital funds which would have continued the modernisation of our  state schools and revenues that would otherwise be available to them are to be diverted to an expansion of school places in areas that do not need them. These rightwing, and doctrinaire attacks on state education,  are periodic and underhand; they occur whenever an opportunity presents itself. The Coalition knows that it dare not tell the whole truth about its intentions for the public does not support them. What the vast mass of the Britsh public want are fine state schools in their neighbourhoods and available free to everyone. This aspiration, which is constant and true, cannot be rejected by any government whatever its hue. But the public  can be deceived. We are deceived.

As I write the dispiriting contest for the Labour Party leadership rambles on in a welter of explanations and justifications for the past. Please wake up as soon as you can. The public knows that Labour is their education spokesman and the best guarantee of a high-class education for all. Speak to them, please. Speak to them now in unequivable  terms: hands off our state schools.

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Stop the Bus…Please

We live in a capitalist society and  put our faith in hard work and markets to make us wealthier – and for most of us, for most of the time, it works. Every day we get up at the alarm, rush to the office or factory, depositing the kids at school on the way, we work hard and collapse before the tele on our return. By our efforts the world turns round and by and large it suits us well. The dynamic of the economy that governs is is human greed (think of the bankers), ambition and rapacity. These are not pleasant qualities and from time to time we dream of other types of society based on higher principles, say cooperation, but somehow they lack conviction. Oh well, set the alarm.

These thoughts are prompted by Boy George and his attempts to stop econonmic growth in Britain and, if he had his way. elsewhere in the world. I have a vision of George as a young boy. He was told to visit his granny. All he wanted was to do was to watch the footie on TV. Grannie was kind and let him watch on her tellie. Dismay. Her set was black and white. He demands an explanation. Henry and I decided at the start of our life together never to borrow – no mortgages, no loans. If you wanted something, you saved your money and when you had enough you bought it. It’s cheaper that way. Wise words and George remembered them. Imagine his dismay when after all that political manouvering he arrives at the Treasury to find the nation in debt (no surprise there George the nation has always been in debt!) Alas and alack. Let’s get rid of it as fast as we can, he cries to astonished servants of the state,  before it contaminates everything. If that’s what you want Chancellor, he must have been advised, you must do things  which will stop economic growth, citizens will fall off the roundabout, alarm clocks will no longer, be produced as  jobs are lost, and there will be much wailing in the land, Fear not, says Boy George, thinking of his grannie, all will be well in the end. In the end Chancellor, it might have been said, we are all dead. And they left to plan their own redundancy.

George, George, it ill becomes me, a pale and timid social democrat, to offer you advice BUT be a man George, be a capitalist, be brave and recognise a pup when you see one. Away with this nonsense of the Big Society (in our house we call it Big Utopia). We wish to go on as usual. We are willing to work, have our foreign holidays as usual, celebrate in the pub. When some of us voted for you (not in our house, George) we thought you were a capitalist and now we find  that you are a member of the Grannie Party and what is more a Lib Dem (no votes for that George even in the whole street). Please George be brave. I can tell  from your language that you have now reached chapter 9 of your economics primer, read quickly, get to chapter 13. Managing an Economy Through  a Depression. Interesting reading George. Go on, you can do it.

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