Category Archives: Ed Milliband

The Present State of the Parties: 2


I have been very quiet in 2012. The reason: finishing a book. Now my freedom conincides with the happy beginning of a new year. The old year had a great deal to grip our interest. We were certainly not short of copy or headline. Some of these, frankly speaking were both silly and ephemeral with hysteria on all sides of the political spectrum.  However, at this stage of the electoral cycle it has not mattered more than fig or two. This year is different. As I hate  right wing rhetoric, and distrust Tory attempts to divide British society, I struggle to be fairminded. You shall be the judge.

The Coalition

I was wrong in believing that the Coaltion would collapse suddenly and violently under the pressure of its own contradictions. When times are bad people prefer to be hung together at the latest possible time. What both the Tories and Lib Dems have succeeded in doing is to speak both ways with one message to  the electorate and the other to their own members. Of course members do not like this and engage in a disquieting chorus of their own. However, commonsense suggests that the reckoning be pushed off to the future.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems are better placed than I believed likely. Electoral support has levelled out at about 10 percent and in local elections in the south they have benefitted from Labour votes in areas where Labour is not likely to win. The converse is that in the Midlands and the North the party is steadily being eliminated. I do not believe the party can improve on this poll rating. The Tories would be mad to allow a leaders television debate in 2015 (not  least because UKIP might well be able to claim participation). So no bounce there. If the Lib Dems can continue to project a progressive image they are likely to avoid abject humiliation. 

Tories

The Tories still have a chance of winning (defined as a majority or a Lib Dem coalition). However, the odds are lenghtening. Can the party succeed in squaring the circle? Can a right wing posture and radical sounding speeches carry the right wing with the leadership for two whole years. There are three daunting policy difficulties:  the economy, Europe, and reform of the welfare system and none is wholly in their control. I doubt very much whether the deficit will come down, Europe will not oblige a right-wing agenda and it is an open question whether it is possible to reform  the welfare system in the midst of the longest recession in modern economic history.

Labour

If we were describing a football match we would say that Labour has a comfortable lead at half-time. I doubt whether the pundits are right in thinking Labour must do more than that to stay ahead. They are lucky, lucky, lucky. Events, dear boy, are on their side. No need for handbags at half time. Keep control of the ball, keep pressing, concentrate and pray for continued divine intervention.

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Riots: Always an Economic Cause


The recent riots are not capable of a simplistic explanation and I do not intend to add to any of them. What is lacking in media comment, however, is the absence of any historical perspective and what we are offered is the perpetuation of myths. Britain over the past two  weeks has been far from the nation of dreaming spires, cricket on the green , the clink of teacups and photographs of the Queen in post offices. But it always was at some distance form the idyll. The truth  is also  a long way shorty of the the Tory dream fashioned in the shire counties of everything in its place and a place for everything. If we roam back for the last three hundred years we see evidence of a turbulent Britain colonising approaching forty percent of the world in a misguided desire to further our trade by conquest and -to the pointhe –  a whole series of rebellions and revolts. When closely examined all these revolts have been activated by economics: the price of corn, the loss of earnings, unemployment, social injustice and the corruption and profiteerng of Britains ruling elites.

There is a pervisity in this. The French revolution of 1789 occurred in a country with the highest standard of living among the peasantry in Europe.  Frenc peasants revolted because after basking in the sunlight of a series of good harvests they suddenly experienced a couple of bad one’s. Throw in a little  aristocratic preening and arrogance and you have a Rebellion.

Labour attempted to reform social welfare and largely failed. The Tories have set about it in earnest. Suddenly you have a toxic recipe. High and growing unemployment in many areas, few jobs – and now an attack on benefits. Throw into the mix police corruption, MPs fiddling their expenses and banker’s bonuses, a phony re-launch of the Royal Family and -surprise, surprise – beneath the the sugary confection show so appealing in leafy Oxfordshire and Berksbire you have – revolt, anger, disrespect and  ugly violence. And we are surpised, and taken aback

The aftermath of riots and civil disturnance is always the same: punishment, more discrimination more toffs visiting the riot scenes, and a reluctance to face the obvious. Unless something more is done to tackle youth unemployment and to widen and deepen opportunities in areas discriminated against, there will be more disturbances. The chances of this happening are slim. As we settle into long-term economic depression the inequalites will widen.

We live in an era of tele violence. Seemingly all over the world by the use of social media and a mobile telephone you can get a crowd out on any street anywhere with a minimum of fuss and bother. You don’t need a trade union, you will not find Labour politicians at the head of a procession, and you don’t need to rent a mob. This is the age of the street politican and get youself on the telly. Yes, you – apparently – and almost anyone and anywhere.

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The Obama Doctrine: A Signpost to Disaster


President Obama is an eloquent exponent of the American Dream and gave we European’s a version of this on his visit to Europe last week. Dreams are important to us all but they rarely survive long in the harsh glare of light and to seek to fulfill them can lead to disaster. In the current version the extension of universal rights to democracy, representative government , equality, and the rule of law should become a foreign  policy objective for the West. Its immediate focus is on extending democracy to Africa and the Middle East. In the pursuit of this objective all means, economic, financial and the use of force as a last resort are in order. It has become unanswerable in this docrine that democracy is best not only for human happiness but for the trade and economic development on which the economic stability of Western countries is so dependant.

The Obama doctrine finds an enthusiastic audience in Britain and the European Union. Scarce resources are being provided for the funding of aid and active assistance in nation building and the UN itself is enthusiastic about nation building wherever its sway can be achieved. No one is more enthusiastic than David Cameron and, judging from his recent public appearances and pronouncements,   Ed Milliband.

I hear raised voices at this point. What is wrong about that then? Hold on, my revolutionary friends, say I. Rember the Mensheviks. Do you have a monopoly of vision and prophecy? Can you at this moment of history tell us what will be the outcome of the Arab Spring? Do you expect reason to prevail in Israeli- Palestinian relations? Can you predict the political develpment of Iran?  What will be the nature of successor regimes in the Arab world? Is there more to this world than is dreamt of in your philosophy? Much derided as it is it is now, there is logic in the foreign policy objective of seeking stability in the world and not adding to political turbulence. Perhaps we should be a friend in need to emerging nations and not a friend in your face.

Can I point out to you dear British reader that you live in a country constantly at war in ‘far-away countries’ for the ideals that we share with President Obama. More so than any European country we have been alongside our American friends in worthy (but impractible?) causes around the world. Let’s have more of that then, I hear you say. We Brits have an appetite for it. Does not the call to arms and economic and financial sanctions on  recalcitrant states weary you a little? Are we to have a further two decades of armed struggle with all the division among ourselves this brings?

Well, yes, if need be may be your reply BUT I doubt it. I suggest to you that it is wholly absurd to commit ourselves to the Obama docrine at a time of great austerity, economic stagnation and public expenditure cuts, not least to the armed forces; that to be ‘playing soldiers in Libya’ and perhaps elsewhere is an unsupportable nonsense. For the cost of an intervention in Libya, soon to run beyond a billion pounds and ever upwards we could, for example, ensure the financial viability of care services fior the elderly, boost low cost housing or extend aid to the unemployed. No one would receive a tin medal for it but it could do good. The best way to build respect in the world is to earn it ourselves for our love and attention to our nearest and dearest.

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Ed Milliband: Schoolboy Politics


Labour supporters will be non-plussed by the performance of its leader. Any objective appraisal will come to some daunting conclusions. There are several policy and leadership issues where he has been found sadly wanting.

1. Libya. Labour’s policy support for the Libyan adventure is driven by emotion: the ‘we can’t stand aside while thousands are slaughtered’  argument. Maybe there would have been many deaths in Benghazi and maybe not. We shall never know. One thing is certain: by supporting the weaker side in a civil war  the conflict has been drawn out and will lead to many more deaths than not intervening. But the bigger objection is that Labour is buying into an Anglo-French strategy to use NATO to extend their influence in Africa and the Middle East. This is essentially a neo-colonial strategy that will lead to other interventions and a complex of economic and financial sanctions that will be injurious to everyone involved. The alternative is to patiently relate to the various situations as a friend and to allow the various civilian revolutions to work themselves out. The Anglo-French ambitions will divide NATO and lead to splits betwee northern and ‘Mediterranean’ states. The Libyan mis-adventure will work out badly for Britain and not to Labour’s advantage.

2. The AV Referendum and Constitutional  Changes. The electorate have rarely had any appetite for electoral and constitutional reform. Of course, the electorate distrust their MPs and Parliament itself. This is a healthy distrust and people have no wish to be deprived of it. Here Milliband had a judgement call. He got it wrong and labelled himself a loser. In practice he would have had no difficulty in finding a good reason not to seek to commit Labour to the preservation of Nick Clegg. And now Labour must be ruthless and sink Clegg’s constitutional proposals in the Lords. The time ‘to do’ constitutional reform is when you control the agenda.

3. Scotland

Labour got the issues badly wrong. Scots electors turned to the SNP as the best option to protect them from Coalition cuts. They were right in their judgement. This time the issue was not the menace of self rule as Labour supposed but which party can best be trusted most at this time to defend their interests. As with England, Labour has no convincing alternative narrative.

4 The NHS Reform Bill

Labour is getting this wrong. Today they should divide the House to defeat the NHS Bill. I believe that Cameron is willing to ditch the Bill in order to maintain the Coalition. There is no need for a Bill. The worthwhile reforms can be accomplished without one. If it is ditched the Lib Dems will be given the credit for it. Again this is a judgement call. Can Ed Milliband deliver on the NHS? I doubt it now.

5 And lastly a more basic point. Where is the evidence that Labour is working as a team and is the ‘team’ up to it. Precious ittle and ‘No’ are my answers and more to the ppint it may be the judgement of the country as a whole.

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Libya: Mission Creep


The British, French and America mission to unseat Ghadaffi by armed intervention and, belatedly, diplomatic opposition is failing. It was always doomed to fail. Libya as with Iraq is a complex society. Any outside interference in its affairs is bound to be simplistic. Ghadaffi and his nasty regime has much greater popular support than has been supposed and  suspicions of the motives of the insurrectionists are well grounded. TV audiences have had an opportunity to look at some of the Members of the Opposition Council. I cannot speak for anyone else but I found them distinctively dodgy. We are looking at the failed members of Ghadaffi’s regime seeking a way back to power. I suspect that we are not looking at the grey men who will replace them when the time arises.

Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama cannot let the mission fail: they have Elections to win. For the moment they cannot admit that they were wrong in the diagnosis and chosen solution -armed intervention. Enter mission creep. As we must win at almost any price what do we NEED to do. Let us now destroy every tank, armoured vehicle and artillery piece we can spot, turn a blind eye to rebel intrusions into Ghadaffi supported population centres such as Sirtes, and enlarge the number of participants in the Alliance (less blame per participant). We must tighten the economic and diplomatic noose around the Ghadaffi regime, encourage deserters from his doomed Aministration and from the Army. Will that do the job? No. Perhaps not. Remember Iraq? Must we?

I’ll tell you what would do the job. Put in 20,000 professional soldiers to occupy Misrata and secure the oil terminals along the East coast. Would that do the job? Alas no. What about the oil fields themselves? Well another 10,000 soldiers or so could secure them. What about Tripoli itself? Well once we have secured the other places we could move against Tripoli. Shouldn’t be a problem about that.

If I understand Hague and Cameron correctly, they would not stop there. What should we do about other Middle eastern autocratic rulers. The Syrian regime is busy killing protestors,. Surely we should do something to assist the protestors get rid of the Syrian regime? If you are at heart a Liberal Capitalist wih a colonial mentality, surely it must be in the interest of France and Britain, in paerticular, to get rid of these regimes for as we all know democracies are good for trade and are places where you can do business. The British love trade and doing business. It is the object of British foreign policy to do more of that. Why then stop at Libya?

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Met Failure: No Whistles


The Met  has pointed out that it had too few policemen to keep order on Saturday in London. Of course, we know there has been forced reductions in police numbers so we can be sympathetic. After the main demonstration ended there were only 4,500 policeman to deal with 500 violent demonstrators, a ratio of nine policemen to 500 thugs and hooligans; far too few to deal with them properly.

Was this a failure of the Big Society? In an earlier blog I pointed out that as the Big Society was to take over policing, so to speak a call should be made for volunteers. This call was handicapped, so to speak, by a national shortage shortage of police whistles. I was not heeded for there are still too few. The main demostration was self-policed by volunteers. All was quiet and peaceful. Did anyone think well there is an opportunity for us? Let us recruit them on our side. Where was the organiser of the Big Society? Nowhere to be seen. Where was the pre-thought? Did his staff set out to recruit enpough volunteers to help the police? I have pointed out in a blog that you cannot expect volunteers to confront thugs. However,  a moments thought would establish how useful they could have been. The anarchists and thugs were well organised and effective. Their tactics were to make quick raids on the target shops, banks and offices before the police could get there. Their  sphere of operation was narrow and confined to the heart of London. Supposing in each of these streets which were attacked volunteers had been placed with whistles and mobile phones. As these thugs approached, and before the thugs could do anything, they would blow their whistles in the good old way of yesteryear. The police would head for the affected streets with great speed on their bicycles and the thugs could be arrested before they could inflict any damage.

So what do we have here. It is a Big Society failure. No one in the office, no recruitment of volunteers, no Met. Plan to instruct volunteers on their duties, and above all – no whistles. I pointed out earlier that  orders should be placed with British manufacturers for suitable supplies of police whistles. I suggested that they would be needed. They were needed on Saturday. Someone should take the rap for this. I know export orders for several dodgy states in the Middle East are remunerative for whistle manufacturers (and God only knows they are needed there) but they were needed in London on Saturday and so far as I can ascertain not a single whistle had been issued and noe were blown.

It is painful to witness mindless destruction. I am vehemently opposed to it. It is said by the Met that we should not be too critical. Criminal charges would be brought against these criminals and  CTV cameras would be scoured for the identification of culprits. What a sham. Do they not know that the Coalition has forced local authorities to remove these cameras. An invasion of our liberties, they said. They will have to do better. Do they not know that for the lack of a whistle the battle could be lost lost, for the loss of the battle the Big Society lost, for the loss of the Big Society the  governance of London would be decimated. Hold on was our Dave really working for the overthrow of Boris Johnson? Now it begins to make sense.

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The Budget: A Tiptoe into Fantasy


A word about forecasting now that the OBR has had its third attempt to plot the economic progress of the British Economy. Like accountants before them the OBR is useful in recording the past but well-nigh useless in forecasting the future. We live in a time of  extreme economic turbulence and uncertainty when at any      time  wars, earthquakes, worldwide  pressure on resources and the stupidities of the human race can turn  nice judgements into inanities. Yet still we persist. It will be better in the future: the economy will grow, employment will rise, inflation will come down and real incomes will rise again. The OBR at least has the common sense to admit that all its forecasts are subject to great uncertainty. Well yes, they say, it may not turn out like this but we hope it will.

I commit myself to several judgements, First, the attempt to eliminate the budget deficit in a five year Parliament is doomed to failure. At  best the Coalition may complete the Parliament having achieved what Labour continues to promise: the deficit could be halved. We have in the Coalition a group of supply side fanatics who have always maintained that growth must come through a smaller state and greater productivity, who are antagonistic to public administration and welfare and suspicious of the state as pump priming anything. Come back Milton Friedman, all is forgiven. Economists have an adage that you can lead a horse to a trough but you cannot make it drink. The IFS has remarked that the numerous supply side intiatives announced in the Budget do not amount to a row of beans. They will add nothing to aggregate demand. What is needed is the pump priming of capital investment in rail, roads and building construction and a real (rather than imaginary) attempt to raise skill levels. Of course the Government is aware of these needs. It is doing something – but too little.

The central issue of George Osborne’s budget is a judgement of whether this Government at this time is right in believing that it is possible to eliminate the budget deficit in five years. If it is right in its belief it will go on to the glory dreamt of by our Dave and Nick. The objectives of financial probity and economic sucess will be achuieved and electoral success will be the reward. If it is imposible for Britain (and I suspect Greece, Ireland and Portugal) to do anything of the kind when will the game be up? I suggest the Budget of 2012 will be the time of reckoning. The Parliamentary rules now make it difficult to get rid of a Government – but not impossible. And at this time who might be leading the Labour Party. Might events work in favour of Ed Balls? The electorate love a winner. Watch this spot!

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Libya: Why us? Why him?


For all the talk of International Alliances to save lives in Libya it does become clear that the intervention is transatlantic: the USA and Canada and the old African colonisers Britain, France and Italy. As in all foregn adventures domestic electorates are told it is in the national interest and their citizens have a moral duty to save lives.  Britain has been almost continuously involved in foreign interventions in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan with  forays into Kossovo, Serbia and Sierra Leone for the past 20 years. It is apparently always in our interest to do so and there is always a moral imperative. A war-weary British electorate has become sceptical: not another one, could not someone else do this and why this constant cranking up of fears might be their questions?.

Why is it in the national interest of Italy, France and Germany to intervene in Libya? Ghaddafi is no longer a threat to his neighbours. A brave Labour administration did a deal with him which seems to have tamed him. He does not threaten his neighbours in the Middle East and Africa. They do not like or trust him but that falls short of a reason for removing him. David Cameron tells us the Libya is a Pariah State, a social outsider,  on the southern fringe of Europe and therefore undesirable. Well , lets not invite Ghaddafi for tea. There is the argument that demcoratic states do not threaten anybody and are beter for trade and business. Maybe, but do we not have to live in the world as it is? So there is nothing to the argument of national interest.

What about our moral responsibility for saving lives? Yes, we should help if we can but Britain does not have a unique moral responsibility. Cannot someone else pick up the baton for a change? If they do not wish to do so does this make them immoral? What about Arab states, Libya’s immediate neighbours? Does not moral reponsibilty start here? The bewildered British elector might think, these Libyan people should sort out their own affairs. If they wish to be nasty and brutish to each other they can’t be worth much in the final analysis. We have problems of our own. Here the propaganda hots up. We are it seems our brother’s keeper.

 The fear factor hits in. Ghaddafi is about to commit genocide. I doubt it. There would be a terrible retaliation in Benghazi no doubt but the Libyan’s are very mobile. Those at greatest risk might beat it into Egypt where they would lead a better life.

Unfortunately the world is full of dictators and autocracies. Steadfastly the West refuses to step in. Anyone can prepare a list but how about Ruanda, Zimbabwe, Bahrein. Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia to name a few. I detect a streak of vindictiveness in Cameron. He has it in for Gadaafi and  is determined to see him punished.

Putin descibed the intervention  by the West as a medaeval crusade. He has a point. Isn’t it time we learnt a few lessons from recent history? Of course if it were Michael Gove’s version of British history. it wouldn’t deter Cameron  in the least.

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Dirty Deals in the Middle East


I am at a loss. For the first time in my life I find myself at one with the Left Wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party.Why is it right for Britain, France and the USA to intervene on the side of the social and political revolution sweeping the Middle East in Libya and wrong in the numerous other states busy putting down their protesting masses with a mixture of violence, imprisonment and intimidation; in particular Bahrein, Yemen and Saudi Arabia? It is said that it is because the Ghaddafi regime is peculiarly obnoxious. Not only is he a threat to his own people but he can be in some undisclosed way be a threat to others. This is true. However, it is also true of many other states in the Middle East and elsewhere. Should there be a no fly zone imposed in Iran or military action against Syria. And surely we should not stand idly by while the Chinesese Government tyranises Tibet? No two cases are the same, of course and no one in their own mind would advocate itervention in  Iran or Tibet. Hold on, is this true? So could it be that Ghaddafi is a convenient tyrant. We can corner him and chalk up a few brownie points at home .Foreign wars start as popular. Ask Mrs Thatcher, it won her a General Election; or Tony Blair who became a prophet, although  not in his own land; and now David Cameron, who is hopping about as if he was on drugs. What is it about war that our politicians of all parties get high on it and invite us all to get high with them.

I hate to point it out that drugs can be highly dangerous not only to the takers but to bystanders. Wars are unpredictable. They rarely work out as one hopes. How about a short holiday in Iraq or a a pilgramage in Afghanistan, chaps. You must be joking. You do not need to be a soothsayer to predict that this Libyan adventure will not work out as you now expect. It could be the most horrible of all foreigh interventions of its type,

One disappointment for me personally is the attitude of the Labour Party. ‘We could not stand idly by’ may turn out to be a gravestone epitaph from a party that has learnt nothing about foreign wars and remembered nothing. Courages, mon braves. Use your noddles.

The truth is that US diplomats have been very busy these last ten days. To get any type of resolution through the UN Security Council has required the support of the Arab League. We have seen the US supping with the devil using a long spoon. The nod has been give to the Gulf States that they are free to put down the revolutions in any way they choose so long as they continue with modest changes and in return for their support of a Western intervention tp put down Ghadaffi. We hear the guns in Benghazi but not in Bahrein or Yemen. So the US can continue with its policy of supporting the known and relied upon in oil producing countries while giving a friendly nod to change. All very real, predictable and real politik. Let us all unite and give the bully within our reach a good kicking. We have been wanting to do this for a long time. Pity about the coffins and the body bags.

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How Long for the Coalition?


It is now taken for granted by politicians and the general public alike that the Coalition will serve a full term of five years. You will recall that it was not always the position. In the Coalition’s earliest days it was commonly assumed that its days would be few and that it would be brought down by the policy contradictions of the Coalition parties. I assumed it myself. Several factors have kept  the show on the road. The first and most apparent is the hunger of politicians for power and influence. Oh how pleased are the Lib Dems to be in office with the chance to implement what I have long regarded as their platform of idiocies. Now one by one these policues can be put into practice and the various boxes  ticked. There is still a long way to go in that process. And then for the Lib Dems to precipitate a Coalition split would be to commit electoral suicide. Their poll ratings are so low that the Parliamentary party would barely survive an early election – perhaps not any election! Similarly for the Tories the future still beckons. They are convinced that they will be proved right on the deficit reduction programme. Economic growth will resume, the budget deficit will disappear and the nation will be grateful. The world is a nasty and unpredictable place for doctrinaire optimists. Who can forecast what shocks the world economy will be ere to over the coming years?  But the Coalition optimists believe that the ship of state will sail through all the stormy waters to a safe harbour.

Labour has no appetite for power. It is deep in self doubt and humility. Forgive us for our trespasses as we shall forgive those of the Coalition sing the voices. The tumbrils are not ready, no blood will flow (figuratively speaking). Learn to trust us. Every dog must have his day. we would not do these things but what we would do is yet to be revealed. Yawn, yawn, blah, blah.

But will the Coalition last? The determining issue is not the wishes of the political parties but the state of the economy. If real incomes continue to fall and unemployment continues to rise people will in their various ways and in their various times will reject the Coalition. A certain amount of this will not render the Coalition asunder but a lot of it will. A start can be made in May’s Assembly and Local Government elections. It is not the loss of seats alone which will be humbling but who gains them. UKIP only needs a nudge up for its current electoral rating of 5-6 percent to gain representation in Scotland and Wales. What then Britain’s membership of the EU? Watch this space.

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