Category Archives: Revolution

The End of British Imperialism


We have had a period of Western imperialism running from Iraq to Syria. It has been assumed that centralised control by indiginous minorites should be replaced by those citizens, they are numerous, who wish decades of authoritarianism to be swept aside and a Western stle democracy to take its place. That democracy is best. France, Britain, and the USA assume that it is their duty to help bring this about. The result, the outcome of the Arab spring, has been disastrous and now to echo a phrase, all is quiet on the Western front and it is turmoil, vast suffering and despair in one Arab country or another.
And now we hear nothing about arming rebels and all our efforts and resources are deeployed in supporting humanitarian aid. Of course we should be helping the displaced and the hungry. But that is all we should be doing.
So what comes after. There will surely be no universal outcome but after long periods of sectarian warfare people will become tired and despairing of armed struggle. In one country after another there will be a weary peace as the will to struggle on grinds to a halt. That will be the point at which diplomatic intervention can build something more constructive for despairing people.
Can’t we admit it? At least to ourselves. The Thirty Years war must not be repeated in Arab lands. Surely we have the sense to face up to our limitations. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Surely not! Surely we are not quite scoundrels yet.

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Filed under Arab League, Arab Spring, Colonialism, Imperialism, Revolution, Syria, Yemen

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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Libya: An End to Liberal Interventionism


I bow to no-one in my detestation of the Ghadaffi regime- or the Yemeni, Syrian, Iran or Tibetan regimes – to say nothing at all about the world’s petty tyrannies in such places as the Ivory Coast and Zimbabwi.  I am all for assisting peoples caught up in natural disasters and who are the victims of tyrannical regimes wherever they are are – but not by invading their territories in the name of Western democracy. But I do not wish the armed forces of the UK to involve themselves in the civil disturbances of other countries unless it can be proved without reasonable doubt that the happenings in these countries directly involve our national interest and their regimes are a threat to other countries including our own.   

In determining our national interest I reject the argument of spheres of influence. When the Soviet Union claimed the right to determine the political complexion of Eastern Europe as being essential to their national interest and within their zone of influence I argued against it. I was still against it when the Russian  Federation invaded Georgia. I am against it now when Britain, France and Italy, the former colonial powers,  claim a right to determine the political complextion of Northern Africa as being part of ‘their zone.’ 

It is time to stop all this because the time and geographic  horizon is unlimited. William Hague has stated unwisely that other Middle Eastern tyrants need not think that the killing of their rebellious subjects has  gone unnoticed. He unfolds for us all a road to nowhere and a decade of ceaseless interventions by Western powers.

The naievity of all this is shocking. Iraq is a highly complex society and a bewidering confusion of ethnic and religious differences. To believe that you could replace a dangerous tyrany with a democracy in a few weeks of military destruction was always absurd. Similarly you cannot realistically imagine a stable future in Afghanistan without a deal of some kind with the Taleban. Left to themselves most divided countries will sort lut their own affairs. Take the so called humanitarian disaster that awaited Benghazi were Ghadaffi to occupy it again. What would he actually have done. The most active of the insurgents would have slipped across borders to Tunisia and Egypt and as for the rest they would do all that was required to survive. The citizens of Libya are used to doing this. Ghadaffi is an old man and cannot survive for ever. Left to themselves the civil war in Libya would now be over. The casualties would have been lower than they will be now and the sorting out would be done by Libyans in their own time and in their own way.

It is time to bring the whole gory adventure to a halt.  It is time to stop. Iraq, Afghanistan and Iraq has taught us that intervention to change political regimes does not work and what limited success we can achieve has been bought at huge human cost

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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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Libya and the New Colonialism


European politicians and electors alike are gripped by the political and social revoutions engulfing the Middle East and not least by the bloody resistance of some autocracies to change. This is a generational revolution of young and educatedd populations pressing for a dignified space in the world and of an educated proletariat denied work and democratic rights. As I have written before, it is in France and Great Britain, the former colonial powers , where excitement and the call for international intervention to help dissidents is the strongest. Elsewhere in Europe and in the USA there is caution, concern and a desire not to be involved militarily.

Think of it. Arguably democratic change should be welcomed. It is demonstrable that trade and peace is safeguarded ibest in democratic societies. It is therefore easy to argue that not only are democratic rights good in themselves, and even that they are universal rights, but that they will guarantee peace, tranquility and prosperity in Europe itself. Of course we know nothing about these unknown revolutionaries who wish to sweep autocracies aside. Perhaps it would not work out the way we suppose. When the Communist stone was turned over  in Eastern Europe we discovered nationalism and zenophobia. When these Middle Eastern sand dunes are disturbed might we find militant Islamists and anti-semites anxious for the annihilation of Israel. We just don’t know.

We do know something. These revolutions were born in the Middle East and they belong there. The citizens of these countries own them. Personally I wish them well. But should we intervene militarily to seek to impose democratic changes upon autocratic regimes? There is a growing consensus in the West that we should and that we should attempt to own these democratic changes and influence them in our own democratic interests. That in embracing them we should own them. This desire to own territories with which we trade and in which we invest for the economic and commercial advantages that  ownership would bring has a name: Colonialism. Are we in France and Germany wrapping ourselves in a new flag? Are we not advocating a New Colonialism? Have we not had enough of it: not only our own colonial adventures but those of Germany, the Soviet Union and the USA?

The two major policy objectives for British foreign policy in the Middle East are to deal with the threat that Iran poses for the region and to us directly and to secure an Arab Israeli settlement of what is known now as the Palestinian  question.  Would military intervention in Libya help to achieve these objectives? I think not.

Personally, I am in favour of a little illegal arms trafficking in tanks, artillery and planes to help the dissidents. It is something best kept quiet. I doubt very much whether Ghaddafi’s armies would much like to recieve back what they are giving. I do not think sounding the drum or urging the UN Security Council do what they surely do not wish to do will do the trick for Benghazi. And then good luck to them. Now remind me. Where are we on the Palestine-Israel talks and what next with Iran?

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Libya: Civil War or Civil Rights


There are many counties with deplorable records on civil rights and at least two are permanent members of the UN Security Council. In this Gaddafy and his wretched regime are not alone. All this talk by Caneron and Hague about not standing aside while innocent people are slaughtered and imprisoned rings bizarely in the real world. What is the difference between a gun and a black limousine picking up people from their beds and incarcerating them in an unknown prison without trial or the knowledge of their relatives. The reach of the internet is not infinite. We do not get many pictures of tyranny at work in Russia, China, Iran  and Tibet. Is it to be supposed that we seek UN authority to intervene in these countries to put things rightthere in a rush of emotionalism and the desire for a get tough image?

It is no good attacking me for being soft on tyrants for I would get tough with them all. What sticks in the crawl is hypocrisy. Oh, come off it, I hear the retort, if we can do something to help why not? Why not indeed. I think the West has acted diplomatically  to isolate Ghadaffi and put him in the international dock from whence, hopefully, there is no hiding place. What I am against is armed intervention to remove Ghadaffi  and the pretence of a UN resolution to create a no fly zone. I do not like a situation where my government is all puff and no blow. I regard this as humilation for Britain and cheap populiarism. To this you might argue why bother to get hot under the collar  if the policy is bound to be empty and unrealisable? In a way the answer is simple. I don’t wish to be led by a braggard fresh from assisting in the sale of arms to authoritarian Middle Eastern states. A bullet is a bullet but in this situation I prefer to know that it was not made in Birmingham.

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Lenin, Elephants and the Big Society


Goodness. have you noticed, we have an elephant in our front room. Don’t panic. The important thing now is not to get excited. If you agitate the elephant it can do real damage. Let us think before we act. To hell with that ring 999 and get the emergency services. Hold on, that’s just what he wants. Elephants are attention seekers. If we know how he got in we can work out how to get rid of him. Agreed? Good. We didn’t put him there,  did we ? Of course, we must have been careless it must have taken quite an effort to put him there and a good deal of noise – and we didn’t notice. Be a little careless and you wake up one morning to find him there. Agreed? Fine. Let’s look at the ideology of this. Who would think it a good idea to give us an elephant?  I don’t know. Well I looked it up on Google. Did you know that there is a Society for the Domestication of Elephants? It is based in East Grinstead and a Mrs Fortescue Smythe is the Secretary. Quite voluntary of course, but you can make a contribution. But to counter this sort of propoganda you must take account of the ideology of it. I detect the hands of Veblen and Lenin. Yes, don’t laugh. Veblen wrote a book called The Theory of the Leisure Class. His point was once a society had met all the primary needs of its citizens what was left was a great deal of time on your hands. In East Grinstead you retire at 50 with a fat pension, daddy leaves you a lot of money, and you have a great deal of time on your hands. At first you go on holiday (not much chance of a trip down the Nile and a visit to the pyramids these days, joke joke!) How many weeks to tidy up the loft and clear out the garage, Six weeks at tops?. What do you do then? You volunteer, of course and do good deeds. Now doing good to others is not easy. You find that people with professional qualifications are ahead of you and local government thinks you unsuitable. Damn cheek. Now along comes David Cameron and he agrees with you. You don’t need to know anything at all really. Start  a voluntary organisation of your own and get going. And how does Lenin get into the act. Easy peasy. He read Veblen and it seemed to him that what would happen in a society  when basic human needs were met is that people had time on their hands. So he organised them to do voluntary work. After a while people got bored. There were better things to do than to sweep up, metaphorically speaking , for nothing. No one paid you and physical labour was not everyone’s cup of tea. Arthritus, overweight, you know the kind of thing. The coaches taking people to the fields and to council estates were not alway filled. People took long lunch times and drank too much. There were problems of arthritus and fat bellies In the end they had to be forced to do these things. Not many people liked this. And the rest as they say is history. Hence the elephants. What local authorities are involved in the domestication of elephants/ None. No competition there. Still not every household is taken on the idea of keeping an elephant.. They have to be encouraged. Hence our elephant. Our society is a Big Society. You don’t get much bigger than a white elephant. What  shall we do then. Well if the Libyans can get rid of Ghadaffi can’t we get rid of our Dave and his white elephants?

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A Very English Revolution


In England we do not do Revolutions. They are for foreign countries denied freedom of expression and parliamentary government. Is that right? It seems so but the belief in social cohesion and solidarity of purpose is about to be tested. Our beliefs may turn out to be illusory. In 2011/2 real incomes are likely to fall at a faster pace than at any time since the 1920’s a decade followed by slow growth and high unemployment. At that time we took it all very meekly. Then, as now, some thirty percent of the population was doing very nicely. They were in employment and enjoying steady increases in real wages. Unemployment and poverty was concentrated in foreign places: Scotland, Wales and the frozen North. Of course, the unemployed protested, but in a orderly fashion: hunger marches, dole queues and long lines of working people not at all like us. Men, and families, to be pitied, consciences to be stirred,  but largely to be forgotten on golf courses and at bridge parties.

Over the last two years citizens, you know the ordinary folk who pay the wages of the political elites, have wondered whether ‘that lot’ at Westminster are really representing us at all. While hardly anyone wishes to resurrect class war, many people must wonder whether these Old Etonians with their posh accents and monied interests really ‘get us’ the people. Do we wish to pass back to a Victorian condition of poor public sevices and a Samuel Smiles concept of self help and charity to all (sorry some, the deserving poor). 

Well, what can we do about it? Those who object We could start by admitting to ourselves that we are responsible. We allowed this lot to gang up against us, cobble together an agreement that no one voted for, and are busy changing the rules so that it is extremely difficult to get rid of a government in the short term.

I can hear some of my readers objections at this point. Come on now, they say, this is a parody of the truth. Every citizen knows that the huge public deficit must be reduced and the sooner the better. Personally I agree: drastic problems require drastic remedies. But just suppose that the economic strategy being imposed upon us is wrong. It doesn’t work. What if we are destroying a valued social structure and welfare state for nothing? What then? Why, you say, in all reasonableness . if we are proceeding for the rocks we can change course Can we? Boy George and our Dave say. ‘Not on your Nellie’, or words to that effect, Like the Blessed Margaret before them these Old Etonians warming themselves in the last rays of an   August sunset across their playing fields are not for turning.

Well Boys, then we must get rid of you by the means at our disposal. They know it, you can see it in their faces. and the panic measures they advance. Can we the people do it? Can we the people save ourselves? I don’t know. But I do pose the question

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