Archive for September, 2016

May Government: Problems Piling Up

Friday, September 30th, 2016

At the beginning she looked so purposeful and powerful. Not any more. Veteran Tory  grandee Ken Clarke has described Theresa May’s regime at Number Ten as ‘a government without policies’ and ‘not having a clue’ over what to do about Brexit. There is mounting anxiety internationally about where GB is trying to go. Nissan has announced postponement of its decision to build a new model at its Sunderland plant until it can see what the relationship between this country and the single market is likely to be.

Comments by Brexit ministers are conflicting, confusing and often slapped down by May, who nevertheless offers no clear direction. The speech by Liam Fox, the new International Trade Secretary (sounds good), offered little more than waffle and at times was plain silly. The idea that we could both leave the single market and all its conditions, yet retain a trading relationship on as good, or better terms than currently as members, is as unrealistic as a proposal to sunbathe in the rain.

Politically perhaps more damaging domestically, is the grammar schools expansion plan for which there is a majority neither in the country, nor in parliament, although it will transport a section of the upcoming Tory conference into a state of ecstasy. The mounting chaos in the child abuse inquiry which, after two years and now on its fourth Chair and which yesterday lost both its Senior Counsel and its leading Junior Counsel in shock resignations, forced May to defend the whole thing on television. She was the Home Secretary who set it up.

Next week’s Tory conference will be critical. Either the country will be given some clear direction as to what to prepare for, and take advantage of, in the unprecedented mess into which Cameron led it by mistake, or it will become clear that the only thing the top echelons of the Tory party is really good at, gold medal standard, is stabbing each other in the back.

Labour: A Narrative At Last

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Regular readers will know that I have little time for the political centre as an end in itself because, without opposites, it ceases to be the centre of anything and becomes sterile of meaning. It is unable to implement whatever plans it has through lack of interest and support. The political conversation detaches from the voters, who walk away altogether or support fringe parties, which act as election spoilers but, under first past the post,  win few if any seats. New Labour lost five million voters occupying the centre, while the Tories won the last election on their lowest ever winning total and fewer votes than Churchill achieved in 1950 when he lost to Attlee.

So Corbyn’s speech yesterday, re-defining Labour as the party of the Left and defining this left  as ‘twenty first century socialism’, is historic and confirmation that the political weather has indeed changed. What Labour now has to do is define what this update to socialism means in practical terms, so  the ordinary people will be inspired to return to the movement which was inaugurated to champion their cause. They will only do so because they understand clear policies set out to bring improvement to their daily lives and the life chances of their children. When those five million voters return to the Labour fold, it will savour victory by a landslide.

This is not just good news for Labour. It is good news for the whole democratic structure, because once Socialism, modernized  and resonating with today’s people begins to march, its challenger, Conservatism, will have to modernize and update or sink. That will not only enhance the political process, but will attract a more genuine style of public service politician motivated by a mission other than personal career advancement and financial gain. That must be good whatever side you are on.

US Election Debate: Clinton Wins: Wins What?

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

There is general agreement among pundits, commentators and early polls that Clinton won the first Presidential Debate. The problem for her is that winning the debate no longer offers the key to the White House.  That is because this is an election like no other and the pundits have been wrong on every prediction and analysis thus far. There is just too big a mass of voters out there who are not looking for somebody to win debates; they want a champion who can turn their lives around. They don’t want a clever politician. They want a rough, tough, fighter who will take on vested interests and the political establishment on their behalf and cut them a better deal.

This means, as we saw in the primaries, poor debating skills do not damage Trump, but they do damage his opponents. So Trump is in a perverse way debate proof. Yet he is the one drawing in the audience. A hundred million people or whatever the tune in figure was, did not switch on to watch Hilary. It was Trump they wanted to see. What would he do? Who would he insult? What gaffes would he commit? But on the other hand, does he not talk sense? Is he not saying what deep inside they feel? That is why Hilary Clinton may win all the debates and lose the Presidency. If she becomes President she will have the satisfaction of knowing she has beaten perhaps the most dangerous opponent ever. Maybe not. Maybe he is all noise and cannot win anyway. Or maybe she has lost already. Only a fool can tell.

That is what makes the election so interesting.

Labour And Fracking: This is Plain Stupid

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

This blog, lately as readers know quite sympathetic to Labour, vehemently opposes the shadow energy minster’s declaration that it will ban fracking. This is a pitiful example when idealism clashes with ambition to guarantee disappointment on both fronts. Labour calls for a return to socialism with re-industrialization importing jobs back to the UK. A condition of that is plentiful home produced energy which is carbon friendly. The industrial revolution could not and would not have happened without the self sufficiency in coal which fueled the energy, steam, which powered it. From an energy self sufficient economy we have become one which is dependent on imports. Our electricity is expensive by comparison with our main competitors. Nothing big is going to happen on the industrial front until this is sorted. We cannot afford at this stage to ban anything. Later when we are self sufficient without the need for fossil fuels, certainly, but not now.

America has, since the crash of 2008, transformed its economic prospects by becoming once again energy self sufficient, resulting in plentiful cheap power for business and industry and which has generated new wealth at the base of the economy. This has been made possible by shale. Now the US is poised for its own industrial re-generation and its economy is re-balancing away from excessive reliance on borrowing and financial services. To achieve Labour’s promises we have to do the same. There is enough oil, gas and coal beneath out feet, coupled with nuclear power and renewables, to achieve no less a turnaround than the Americans. But we cannot turn our back on any of them yet; even coal can be used if we develop existing carbon capture technology. As for shale. Yes there were some issues at the beginning with the first few wells. But now there are a million of them and the expertise has developed to make them safe.

There is an important lesson here for Labour. It is right to proclaim a radically different socialist alternative to the quagmire of unfulfilled promises, failed forecasts, rising living costs and falling standards which now engulfs the sterile centre of British politics. It is also right to get ready for power. But that demands that Labour gets real on the detail. Voters will demand to know how. Credibility is the currency of any successful election campaign.

May’s Government Fumbling?

Monday, September 26th, 2016

While everyone’s attention is focused on exciting times in Labour, something it not right with the government. May seemed to get off to a flying start, firing people right left and centre, particularly soft centre, and then showing imagination in appointing a Brexit Trio to take charge of how we actually get out of Europe and where we go to when we do. She even gave them a weekend house to share, so they could be on the job 24/7. Turf wars broke out almost at once, as is only to be expected with three big egos, but these seem to have settled. What has not been settled is any kind of Brexit plan. We do not even appear to know what we want.

Every time one of the trio gives a hint about perfectly sensible thinking May or her resident Downing Street ogre slaps them down. Meanwhile the Big Distraction, more grammar schools, is running into trouble with widespread opposition from almost everywhere. Thus it  looks as if another of this accident prone 2015 Tory government’s policies is unraveling, with no majority for it in parliament to put it into effect. Things need to get better than this or it will be not just  policies unraveling, but the whole government.

Meanwhile of course there are these kiss and tell books, better perhaps described as stick the knife in, which do not help inspire confidence in these people. Rather grubby tales of  lusting after power, without it now appears a clue how to use it when they get it.

Syria : Time To Stop

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

Civil wars are perhaps the most brutal. They cause humanitarian suffering on a grand scale. They start with an argument and gradually escalate to a fight. In due course the fighting takes on a life of its own with multiple factions and threads, but always with the non-combatant civilians as the victims.  In Aleppo now there is said to be no water as the bombardment continues and a ground offensive by Russian backed government forces begins to move. The plain fact is the Rebels of every type and style cannot now win in this city. To fight on turns war into needles murder of the innocent. It is time to stop, lay down arms and try and negotiate both some kind of safe conduct deal for those who want to flee and a monster aid programme for those who must stay, because around them in the dust are the lives they have to  rebuild.

Corbyn Wins Again: PLP Defeated

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

Not only has Jeremy Corbyn won, as widely predicted, but he has broadened his reach, increased the party membership, enhanced his standing and increased his share of the vote to over 60%. As the BBC man said, he is now bomb proof until after the next election. For the Parliamentary Labour Party this is a humiliation and a crushing defeat. It fielded its best choice of candidate, who put the arguments with passion and candour up and down the country. These were rejected by the overwhelming majority. Now each of the out of step MPs must decide to fall in line and follow the democratic path. They have to accept that the politics they represent and have practiced since the advent of the now dead idea of New Labour, are out of date, out of time and out of favour.

Syria : Will It End Soon?

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

The sudden upsurge in the attacks on Aleppo by joint Assad and Russian forces suggest that an end game plan is unfolding. One dare not think of the suffering beneath these bombardments nor of the humanitarian disaster it all represents. Yet there is a temptation to feel that any ending is better than waiting for a better one by prolonging the war.

The West is not blameless in all of this. By intervening in Libya and toppling Gaddafi it unwittingly encouraged a Sunni uprising driven by the so called Arab Spring. The Sunnis imagined the West would put up a no fly zone over Syria and bomb Assad forces. But the public in the West had become disenchanted with interventions which led to yet more fighting. Instead it encouraged a motley collection of mostly exiled Syrians to organize a fantasy government in waiting, which would never have had the backing of the majority in Syria and which could never agree on anything. We do not have to go on with this sorry tale because we know it all too well. One can only hope it ends soon. The aftermath will last a generation. Perhaps we can learn at least one lesson. In the modern world civil wars do not work. They unleash forces nobody can control and they never end.

NHS Consultants : Make Them Full Time.

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

It is very welcome that at last the authorities are beginning a conversation about NHS consultants moonlighting in private practice. This blog has been calling for change for years. However we do not want another disputed contact nor a fudge which does not deal with this issue once and for all and without ambiguity. Thus the only way forward is that NHS Consultants have a contract of full time employment which requires commitment to their employer only. BA pilots are not allowed to moonlight with Virgin on Wednesdays or whatever and there is no excuse  for an exception to this common sense reality to be made for doctors. Indeed the reverse.

Syria: What A Mess

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

It is difficult to be sure what is happening, because there are gaps between what is said to be happening and what is truly happening. The accidental targeting (was it really an accident with all that technology?) of Syrian government forces and the killing of loads of Assad’s soldiers by the US led coalition  will have created bitterness and outrage in Damascus which must have consequences. I fear the tragic bombing of the aid convoy is part of that. Maybe not officially but at the local command level.

It is impossible to fight a war of achievement with so many conflicting a variable forces engaged and players at the side, fueling arming and in some cases joining in. It can only now be a war of attrition, destruction and annihilation which goes on until there is nothing left. At the heart of the problem which is daily costing lives is the misguided mantra that no peace  is possible unless Assad goes. This leaves him no way forward than to fight to the bitter end, and nothing to gain from talking peace. Moreover the hopeless fantasy of some moderate opposition government in waiting leaves the Russians no option but to side with Assad in order to avoid another Libya.

The best thing now would be to abandon Syria and all its factions and hand the whole thing over to the Russians, who have a stake in the country, to resolve and to concentrate the US led effort on the removal of IS from Iraq. Even if that can be achieved the likelihood of Iraq becoming a failed state is very high so there will be a lot effort required keep it from imploding. More than enough to keep West busy for years to come.