Labour’s Challenges Ahead: Tougher Than They Appear.

January 24th, 2020

Labour’s position is a lot more complicated than it looks. It lost the election big time, but with more votes than Milliband, Brown and even Blair, both in 2001 and 2005. But those votes did not translate into seats. Why? Because Labour is the party of working people and its bedrock base had three strong foundations, Scotland, Wales and the smaller industrial towns of the Midlands and the North. In Scotland Labour was wiped out in 2015,  on the Red Wall it crumbled to a disaster under the Boris onslaught, and in Wales they are a lot weaker. But in the South East they won Putney and held Canterbury.

The root of all this lies in New Labour, whose embrace of Thatcher’s economic verities and her destruction of the industrial heartlands, drove large numbers of Labour voters to become non-voters, as the voting figures for the period clearly demonstrate. So to scrabble about in the centre, which has moved left because of Corbyn, will risk putting the party on the right of Boris, leaving him in control of the Red Wall, while the SNP continues to dominate Scotland. Labour will never form a majority government by that route.

Labour is a party of reform. It only governs when voters en masse crave reform. In all its history only three leaders have ever won a majority and governed with their own mandate. Blair, Wilson and Attlee. So Labour has to work out how it can keep very many of the popular elements of its current policy portfolio and match it to a coherent plan of how they will finance an economic reboot with a huge expansion of rewarding well paid jobs for the many. Taxing the rich and robbing Peter to pay Paul was their 2019 undoing. People liked their programme, or most of it, but thought it completely undeliverable by Labour. Labour’s problem is not policy. It is credibility.

Internal splits, over Corbynism, Brexit and  the ongoing issue of anti-Semitism, presented a picture of a fractured party held together by duck tape for the general election, just at the moment when the Tory party, so recently split into countless factions and groupings, came together as one behind Boris. Individually many of Labour’s manifesto proposals had wide public support. Some ideas were clearly extravagant election bribes which should not have got past a coherent economic team able to add up, but there was more good than silly.

The problem was, and will remain, a complete absence of any really ground breaking ideas about how to finance the economic re-modelling of a modern state, in which the many are starved of resources, because the money supply needed to fund it is starved of liquidity. Meanwhile  the ever increasing value of assets without the creation of new wealth, continues to suck what cash there is from the bottom to the top. The rich grow richer at the expense of the poor. Government borrowing is falling, whilst personal debt is the highest in Europe. Interest rates are low, while rates for personal borrowing, even from traditional lenders, are extortionate.

The new leader of the Labour party has to demonstrate a grasp of not just the issue, but also the method behind a solution.That alone will unite behind it both the working class and the educated middle class in all parts of England, leaving Scotland in the hands of the SNP or maybe out of the UK altogether. Tinkering with taxes on the rich and borrowing the rest will not do, nor will it sell to voters. That is the challenge. Meet it and a Labour landslide mandating reform beckons. Fail, or worse if the Boris government solves it first, and it matters not who leads Labour. Because it will be on the road to the margins, far away from any prospect of power.

Royal Rumpus: Time For Change

January 21st, 2020

The rubbish written and spoken by commentators and the media about the Harry and Meghan affair has damaged the so called Royal Family, but not in the way its supporters think. There is absolutely no reason why a mature couple should not have the power to decide how to lead their lives, provided they are not in receipt of public funds.

The notion of this family at the apex of the State is relatively new and certainly not to be confused with the institution of the monarchy, which has evolved over a millennium. The purpose of the monarchy is to provide an impartial Head of State, who is the guardian of good governance and the rule of law. Above politics in the party sense, but not detached from the political responsibility for the maintenance of effective government and the protection of citizens rights.

The problem now engulfing the family itself, as well as the nation at large, is that it has  been revealed  by recent events to be politically useless, whilst living in a world of pampered luxury and privilege, beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of ordinary people who help pay for it. For three years the country suffered government paralysis over Brexit, while the economy near flatlined and public services in every direction faltered and failed. In any other western democracy, the Head of State would have demanded of political leaders a better performance in government and parliament, or would have dissolved both, so that the people could choose  new ones. But here the Queen was constrained by ‘convention’ to the point of wringing her hands and watching.

The storm broke first with the scandal of Andrew and the paedophile. Then Meghan declared she had had enough. Harry was torn, but chose his own immediate family of wife and son, over the notion of Royalty and his place as the now distant 6th in line to the throne. His brother is the king in waiting. Harry is the redundant speare, because now William and Kate have produced three heirs.  The petty discussion over tiles and prefixes in a world of food banks and housing shortages, where ever more details of scores of footmen and lifestyle details of what is closer to a soap opera than a public need, has caused many to raise questions about whether time is up for this whole thing.

That is the damage. It is not about Harry and Meghan, who remain hugely popular among the rising generation on both sides of the Atlantic. It is about the rest of it. If it is to survive it has to be cut down to size and brought up to date.

UK Politics 2020: A Quickening Pace?

January 14th, 2020

There is evidence that after years of drift, grandstanding, confusion and kicking every can down a never ending road, things are beginning to happen. The Boris government looks confident and in control. This is important. Even if you oppose its policies. Everyone was worse off with a May style government which endlessly studied position papers, fudges and fiddles, then reached the wrong decision which it lacked the parliamentary support to implement. The result was not just the Brexit mess, but an ongoing crisis in every arm of the public services.

The clown aspect of Boris  has given way to a surprising focus and energy both at home and abroad. His record at the Foreign Office was not a happy one and his barnstorming leadership campaign raised serious questions about his grip of detail. But now in the only job he ever wanted and surrounded by some pretty aggressive  advisers, his government, bolstered by his election win and a decent majority, looks as if it is in charge. The handling of the Iran crisis has been a lot more sophisticated than one might have expected, the restoration of the Stormont government a big success, and the calm in the midst of the faux ‘Royal Crisis’ has been refreshing.

The moment so many dread, while an equal number are busting to celebrate, Brexit at the end of the month, is just days away. The other two main opposition parties, Labour and the Lib Dems, are both finding new leaders, so by mid- spring the political landscape will have changed out of all recognition to a year ago. However the honeymoon atmosphere will quickly dissipate as challenges for the future become here and now problems. How to cut taxes and increase spending, squaring  unsquareable circles to do with EU and US trade deals, delivering to the new Tory working class base, matching a hard Brexit to increasing economic output, are all must dos for Boris.

Fail on any and he is in trouble. Fail on all and he is finished.

Has Trump’s Gamble Paid Off?

January 11th, 2020

Well, maybe it has. There is no doubt the Iranian government was seriously discomforted by the blow of the assassination of, to multitudes and certainly the regime, a national hero. There is also no doubt that the unpredictability of the US Commander-in-Chief, Donald Trump, whose finger is on the buttons of the most powerful military in the history of the world, makes the Iranian leaders nervous.

They had to retaliate to satisfy the thirst for revenge of their followers, but they did so with  cautious precision, to make sure they damaged nothing useful of the Americans, nor caused any casualties, even issuing an apologetic warning of their missile strike in advance. Having fired off the salvo they stood down their forces to a lower level of readiness, as a further signal that they did not want a real war.

There was of course a lot of rhetoric, even about abandoning the nuclear deal altogether, but Trump countered by saying that they would NEVER be allowed their own nuclear bomb. They knew what that meant. Trump offered talks, but on very aggressive terms. However experience shows he gambles with talks too, so Iran might well be able to begin the search for a way out of the not very good place they are now in.

Then, sadly, we have the catastrophe of shooting down the Ukrainian Boeing. All those innocent lives lost through some kind of military mess up. And many of the dead are Iranians. Frantic denials that the crash was caused by a missile caved in to the admission that this is indeed the tragic case.  Iran owns this disaster and it has not helped its image. Trump will be feeling quite pleased with himself. The rest of us are left wondering why so many have to die for no real reason.

Royal Drama: Resigning From What?

January 10th, 2020

When the Queen referred in her Christmas message to the way being ‘quite bumpy’ she did not know the biggest pothole lay just ahead. The Sussex declaration of independence has caused a fuss and flurry entirely out of proportion to its effect on ordinary people. Of course Harry and Megan can go their own way if they want to. They are grown ups in a free country where choice is a cherished right. The argument is they have precedence and privilege, in exchange for which it is expected they enter into a life of luxurious servitude following protocols and practices which they abhor. So they want out. Let them go. They may well carve a far more useful and popular road and bring their joint countries, England and America, many more benefits, than if constrained by outdated rules and expectations.

Above all their desire to become financially independent indicates a much shrewder grip of modern priorities than many of their relatives.  A country which has record numbers of children in poverty, people sleeping on the streets, patients waiting on trolleys and families in work paid so little they rely on food banks to eat, is in no position to fund any other than a minimalist so called ‘Royal Family’ at the apex of the State. It is currently a family far too large, served by an army of hangers on and flunkies, stoked by writers, commentators and publications powering a completely superfluous media circus, designed to give value to nonsense. This is now a modern world. The Royal family should consist of no more than the monarch, the heir and the direct line heirs in waiting. The rest should make their own way in life. Most of them will be a good deal happier.

 

2020: A Critical Year: Early Thoughts

January 1st, 2020

Honours

This is an out of date concept, well meant but abused, which has to end. There should be one civil honour, for example the Order of Merit, which should be awarded for truly outstanding contributions to the national wellbeing at all levels of society by any person. It should never be given to  politicians, business people, civil servants, sports people or anyone else who excels at their job or profession. These achievements are recognised by sporting and professional bodies who have their own honours structure including medals and prizes. The practice of honouring failure, particularly clapped out politicians, business people who bust companies and civil servants whose departments implode under their leadership is grubby, corrupt and insulting to the nation and should stop right now. As a reward for charitable donations honours are wholly unethical.

The Generation Gap

One of the most dangerous undertones in the social wellbeing of our country is the gap between the aspirations, values and expectations of the younger generations versus the older. We see this in our own country on issues like climate change and economic priorities. An astonishing analysis of voting patterns was over the holiday period published in a Tory supporting national newspaper, which demonstrated overwhelming support for Labour among the 18-25 age group, at the recent general election. Indeed if that had been the only group voting, Labour would have won over 500 seats and the Tories only 4. This is potentially seismic. Certainly the cat fight, which Labour in defeat has become, should look at this carefully. This is surely a worthy foundation on which the party has an opportunity to build.

National Housekeeping

Following the Tory election win on spending promises too long here to list, austerity is clearly over. Unless there is a borrowing fest, so are tax cuts. The problem is that over the last several decades the national conversation about money has been conducted like a household budget, balancing fuel against food, maxing out on credit cards, the affordability of the rent or mortgage payments and so on. It is taken as read that the only way these conversations at a family level can be useful is if there is a family income in the first place, preferably based on a secure job with a future career path. Nationally there is a complete absence of a clear plan of how to finance the State, on which we all depend for  military, financial, infrastructure, food, communications and health security. Reference to ‘taxpayers money’ are just not up to snuff. The relationship between, the value of, the importance in, such things as currency value, interest rates, quantitative easing, quantitative tightening, government investment, government gilts, market forces and pressure factors are understood piecemeal by specialists in each area. But they are not understood as a whole by those charged with directing the strategic plan of the nation’s economic growth and prosperity, that is the politicians. Something needs to be done about that. Very soon.

 

Tony Blair: Wrong Again

December 19th, 2019

In his angry speech yesterday blasting Labour’s election management to bits, this historically discredited prime minister, who has since made millions,  blamed everything on the Corbyn left. He  claims  the road to power lies in a return to his hallowed centre. This reeking quagmire is exactly where absolutely nobody among voters wants any government now to be. We have had over twenty years of that and look where we are.

No, the root cause of Brexit and now Boris, is none other than Blair himself. His New Labour confection of spin, a con trick war, and the preservation of all the worst bits of Thatcherism, without any revival of industry or decent jobs across great wastes of former industrial heartlands, offered neither hope nor succour.  His new pink left chattered and dined out on the spoils of asset inflation, funded by quantitative easing, driving the working class to detachment, distrust and despair.

They walked from New Labour. Millions stopped voting altogether. Between 1997 and 2010 Blair and Brown lost 5 million votes. Corbyn won back 4 million in 2017, but lost about half the gains in 2019. He still did better than Milliband, Brown, and Blair himself in 2005. Corbyn in 2017 won 2 million more votes even than Blair in his second landslide of 2001.

There is no doubt that Labour ran a bad campaign and were unprepared for the brilliantly executed attack on their subsidence weakened Red Wall. Coming on top of the party’s wipe out in its Scottish roots in 2015, this has decimated its tally of seats at Westminster. There are many remedies which spring to mind to be explored in the months or years ahead, but none involve following the advice of Tony Blair. That would indeed lead to oblivion.

Election Aftermath: The Tories: Behold The Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing.

December 18th, 2019

It was widely declared, especially by this blog, that Boris was a clown, a showman, a liar and incompetent. There were two reasons for this. One was that this was the personna Boris on purpose presented. Second he is evasive over detail when questioned and refuses interviews with forensic interrogators. In fact he appears to suffer from something a bit like dyslexia when articulating detail. But he his a master of strategic vision and a political tactician without equal in Westminster. That most of us did not know.

Being Prime Minister is the only job he ever wanted or was willing to take seriously. It is the one he has planned for all his life. He comes from money, Eton and Oxford. But, and this is the greatest historical political fact of the hour, he is not a Tory. He has seized control of the Tory party as his own political machine. It is to be remade to his design. It has shifted far to the left, become, in his words ‘the party of the people’ and, as all populists down through the pages of history have done, he will give the people, ie the working class, the forgotten rustbelt industrial communities, what they want. And they will sustain him in power.

We are about to enter a new era. One so very different from the austerity, drift, indecision and grandstanding by little people, already swallowed by that forgotten corner in the quicksand of history. This is a new era of raw power dominated by a single leader, where things happen thick and fast, for good and bad. Whatever may be the trauma of the defeated Labour and Liberal Democrats, it will be nothing compared with what the Tories go through. Because both the beaten parties, in spite of internal blame arguments and name calling, have a fair idea of their place in the political spectrum. But the Tories are about to have their very identity turned on its head.

With all populist leaders there are two certainties. There is a rise and in the end a fall. The difference between the historic greats and the figures of fun, is the length in between. Boris will be judged on that. We will have to see if he is in fact a political genius in the Peel, Disraeli, Thatcher, class  Or, as some still believe, just a clown after all.

Election Aftermath by Party: Labour

December 15th, 2019

To describe the outcome as a disaster for  Labour is not an exaggeration. But to describe it as a calamity is.  In spite of everything Corbyn received 10.2 million votes, which was better than Milliband 1n 2015, Brown in 2010 and even Blair in 2005. This supports the Labour claim that their manifesto was popular. It was. The strategic thinking of taking back  utilities into public ownership, rebooting the economy with a green industrial revolution and restoring proper funding to public services and local government, all this was good.

But the tactical use of the advantage it gave over the austerity tainted Tories, was destroyed by muddled thinking, inept presentation and the irreconcilable ambiguities of their Brexit position. Maybe there is evidence to show it worked well to protect its support in the sunny south and even gained Putney, but in the dark forests of discontent in the old industrial heartlands to the north, regarded by Labour as its bedrock in England, Scotland having gone altogether, it cut no ice at all. And it was through those supposedly impenetrable thickets from which Labour activists sent urgent pleas and warnings, that the full force of the Tory attack came. The result was a rout. The worst seat tally since the 1930s, although in votes not that bad. But where the votes were needed, they went elsewhere or stayed at home.

The problem was not Corbyn, although the shine of his appeal to the young burned less brightly, nor was it the radical manifesto. Nor actually was it Brexit. It was the way all three issues were handled. First Corbyn. By sitting on the fence over issues like how he would vote in a referendum and appearing reluctant over anti-semitism apologies, he and his advisers allowed the Tory press to brand him as a threat to everyone and everything.

Next the manifesto. It was silly to include meddling with the City and the structure of corporations. Maybe in government do that, but you have to get there first. Stuff like that is far too complicated for the doorstep, but wonderful ammunition for opponents. Nationalising public utilities, stopping outsourcing and funding, properly, public services was plenty. Moreover it was doorstep friendly.

Now for Brexit. In the south, where it is even feasible to take your car through the channel tunnel for a day trip Christmas shopping, nuanced approaches to everything are much in vogue. The further you go north of London, the further you are from Europe. Sophisticated and nuanced degrees of Brexit are good in Canterbury but not in Sedgefield. In reality there are only two options for Brexit, as in the end events will prove. A hard one or stopping it. The Labour option, where you obey the rules but cannot help make them, favoured also by the banished wing of the Tory party, is pointless. When you come to think about it, such a move is plain silly. And northerners are much clearer thinkers than southerners.

Finally there is the general point of the absolute spectacle and international ridicule of parliament going round in circles, unable to move forward on the great issue of our time, stalling on implementing the promise of Brexit. Shock and frustration in the country at large was simply not registering in Westminster, where one cerebral excuse after another was offered for whatever was the latest failed vote, as deadlines came and went. Finally Boris offered a way out. And the Red Wall took it.

So everything played a part in Labour’s humiliation and kicking out Corbyn will not alone be the answer. The root of all of it, including Brexit itself, is New Labour’s abandonment of the working class, to become the pink Thatcherite party of the cocktail left. Any thoughts of moving back to the centre and abandoning the workers again as punishment for backing Boris and it will all be over for Labour. For good.

Labour must understand it is not the natural party of government. There have only ever been three Labour prime ministers elected in their own right with a majority. Attlee, Wilson and Blair. Labour is a reforming movement to confront injustice and champion the  needs of the ordinary people when these are ignored by the better off few. Such a time was now. Sadly Labour blew it. But another time is coming. Maybe sooner than we think.

Election Aftermath By Party: The Lib Dems

December 15th, 2019

I am going to start with the Liberal Democrats because they are widely reported as having a disaster. They lost their leader and did not break through except in, I think three constituencies, one in Scotland and two in the south of England. But once again, if you look at the figures, they added 1.3 million votes onto their 2017 total.  This compares with just 300,000 votes by Boris over May. Indeed the Lib Dem tally is more than all the other parties put together.  So their aggressive Stop Brexit message was not as silly as  many think. If you add the SNP with 1.242 million votes to the Lib Dem’s 3.7 million you have nearly 5 million supporting parties wanting to revoke Article 50. That is a big number.

The problem for the Lib Dems was using their advantage with tactical skill to make it work its way into seats. Here the path is littered with mis-steps. Refusing to accept Corbyn as leader of a minority government and declaring both Boris and Corbyn ‘unfit’ may be deadly true but it was childish politics. Labour, defending as it was two thirds of its seats in Leave constituencies, could not come into the open as a Remain party, but it could have certainly gone along with an anti Boris alliance, which would have saved some Labour seats and rewarded the Lib Dems with a few more gains. Allowing the Lib Dem success in the Euro elections, which are proportional voting, to go to her head, Swinson, by declaring herself a prime minister in waiting under a first past the post structure, looked ridiculous. It lacked maturity and cost respect.

But the core message of being willing to go to any length to stop Brexit was a high value and courageous idea, which sadly was frittered away. Jo Swinson paid the price. Politics is brutal.