Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Post-Modernist Labour?

It’s strange to think that while i thought that Ed Miliband would win, i was still a little surprised when I heard the news coming away from St Mirren’s loss to Inverness Caley Thistle at the weekend.  I'm still not sure that I can see him as leadership material, but he has 4 and a half years to grow into the role of prospective Prime Minister.  He has considerably shorter time to grow into the role of Labour leader.  Think more like October 20th.

To be honest, none of the five really appealed to me.  In one respect or another, with the exception of Dianne Abbott, they all represented facets of the New Labour project.  Ed probably won because he learned the Brown trick of couching New Labour policies in Old Labour language.  That and the Unions were actively campaigning for him.  It is this which has raised the ire of the right wing press, funnily enough ignoring Cameron’s backers, which include two companies who specialise in currency speculation, and Ginsters foods.

Ed Milliband has accepted that Labour lost in May, and thinks that they can regain power in 2014/5, even though it will be tough to win the 68 seats required for a majority.  I think that they can as well.  However there are some things they need to look at.  In May they only polled about 8.6 million votes, a drop of 900,000 votes from 2005.  Presumably Iraq, the “coalition of the willing” and all that caused Labour to shed another 1.2 million votes between 2001 and 2005.  The drop in votes, of around 2.8 million votes,  between 1997 and 2001 though does need to be looked at.  My theory is that this is disaffected left wingers, appalled by Blair’s march to the right.  It is a quirk that more people voted Labour in 1992 (when they lost) than in 2001 (when they only dropped 10 seats from their 1997 result).  A re-positioning of Labour to it’s natural position as a Centre/Left party might bring the disaffected back out to vote for them.

Ed Milliband made a start in this direction with his maiden conference speech, which drew the line on the “New Labour” years, and set out on a path trying to stand up for the disaffected, and for those on the wrong end of Cameron’s cuts.  From the “edited highlights”, i suspect that the speech went for the broad brush approach rather than give any detail.  When he delivered the lines about happy societies being the ones with small gap’s between the rich and the poor, you would have given a penny for the thought’s of Peter “seriously relaxed about people getting rich” Mandleson, let alone Tony Blair.  One lesson the younger Milliband needs to learn though is his media management skills.  Put simply, he needs an Alastair Campbell, or else the Murdoch press and the other sections of the Tory supporting media will eat him alive.  Still the line about Cameron - “You were an optimist once” – was a nice reversal of the line Cameron used to introduce himself to Blair - “you were the future once” – in 2005.

Of a more pressing matter, there are Holyrood elections next May.  There were two parts of the speech which might have implications.  Ed Milliband said that if he agreed with a policy, he would not oppose it from a dogmatic view.  Labour under Iain Gray, and previously Wendy Alexander, have opposed the SNP for opposition's sake.  Gray and Milliband have also stated their opposition to the exorbitant wages given to heads of civil service departments.  Not going to go down well in certain Scottish councils, where council leaders “earn” £60,000, and waste £270,000 on severance payments.  For Miliband, it was a good start, but he has an awful lot of work ahead of him before he even contemplates the next General Election.  However, it was nice to finally hear of a policy from Iain Gray.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Great Scot’s And Not Great Scot’s

It is the 25th anniversary of the publication of the “Who’s Who in Scotland” book.  To “celebrate”, the publishers are asking who the greatest Scot of the past 25 years is, or who has made the most outstanding contribution to Scotland over the last quarter of a century.
There’s not a clear cut favourite for this accolade.  Blair, Brown & Dewar probably have the best case, but also have serious question marks against them.  Electoral arithmetic has conspired against Salmond, while Robin Cook was wasted as Foreign Secretary.  Any thought’s you might have are welcome (I think you might be able to vote through the website or by e-mailing the publishers if you are interested).  Certainly those who buy the book, and those who appear in the book (like for example my fiancee, who will be, i am proud to say,  apearing for the second year in a row) have a vote.
Perhaps an even more interesting question would be who do you think is the Scot who has had an adverse effect on life in Scotland over the past 25 years, the Scot who has through the course of their work set Scotland back?  A couple of people spring to mind, Brian Souter and Cardinal Winning for their role in the “Keep The Clause” campaign. Fred Goodwin oh and Brian Adams MSP for backing Trumptown.
My nomination though would have to be someone who inadvertently has turned Labour from a party which campaigned for the poor and less well off to a party that sounds as if it would rather get stuck into the SNP.  Step forward Rosemary McKenna, the former MP for Cumbernauld, who as chair of the committee to pick Labour candidates for the inaugural Scottish Parliament elections helped to chose a group that were either uninspiring policy wonks, or came from Labour’s “municipalist” wing.  Former councillors who were well versed in the dark arts of taminy hall politics.  Ok the brief was to pick leadership loyalists, but the fact is that in picking the candidates no Ken Livingstone/Alun Michael style controversy erupted here. 
Yet it’s only really in the past parliament where the folly in picking candidates loyal to the great leader has been shown up.  After Wendy Alexander’s resignation, there was not one really outstanding candidate to lead Labour.  Iain Gray won that race, and has struggled to show that he has more charisma than a clothes pole since.  Whether he can formulate the policies which will see him ensconced in Bute House remains to be seen.  It is more likely that Labour will win by attacking the SNP’s record in office, than by unveiling some sort of popular policy initiative, like the Lib Dem’s £10,000 tax threshold which was simple and showed common sense. 
That there does not appear to be anyone capable of standing up for ordinary Scots, and in an eloquent & articulate fashion within the Labour party is something of a betrayal of their traditions, and can be traced back to the selection of candidates for the 1999 Scottish elections.  Like I said, I think that the question of who has set Scotland back is a more interesting question.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Case Against Minimum Pricing.

Last week, Scotland’s alcohol problem and how to tackle it was making headline news with the SNP & New Labour unveiling rival proposals which looked remarkably similar.

Minimum Pricing is a key plank of the SNP’s Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill which is going through Holyrood at the moment.  Other proposals revolve around the regulation of licensing of premises and the sales of Alcohol, but the minimum pricing per unit is the proposal which has grabbed most of the headlines.  While this proposal has received its strongest backing from medical professionals, most of the critics have so far concentrated on the harm to the pockets of “responsible drinkers”.  I would have thought that any criticism would have concentrated on whether this proposal will work.

Where minimum pricing will work is in making the likes of “White Lightning”, “Mad Dog 20/20” and other cheep drinks much more expensive.  Depending on what you think the problem is, this will have two effects.  On underage drinking, this may mean that less drink is purchased.  However, this might also mean that in order to “finance” drinking habits youth crime might well see an increase.  Shop keepers might be under more pressure to sell.  With over-age drinking, an addict still has to “finance” their habit, so again a spiral to debt, unpaid bills, possibly crime,  leading to possible family breakups, will ensue.

One of the jibes made by New Labour has also stuck, namely why should supermarkets profit from minimum pricing?  New Labour believe that minimum pricing will deliver £140 million in extra revenue for alcohol retailers.  The UK wide “floor price”, proposed by Scottish Labour similarly does not spell out where the money raised is to go (the Treasury black hole?) with more police and to the NHS being vague ideas.  It would be the sensible option for the money to go towards addiction treatments.

The problem with tinkering with the price of alcohol is that for many people, it is seen as a silver bullet for Scotland’s problems.  It is not.  Minimum pricing will fail because as well as not being a good enough deterrent to drinking, there are no other measures in place to tackle Scotland’s drink problem, and perhaps more pressing, its underage drinking problem.  Scotland is a dark, damp miserable place at the best of times.  For many people, drink is a way out.  We should be looking at why “Scotland” is an alcoholic, before adding to its problems.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Speaking of The Vicar…

Amongst all of the hype and hyperbole around “A Journey”, there are in truth only really a couple of things that stick out.  Firstly lets ignore Iraq, because what else was Blair going to say on the subject (“actually, you were all right” – aye right).  The theory that we should try and bring to heel dictators somewhat missed the point that, invading Iraq when Al-Qaida are at the height of their powers is…  well removing another enemy of Al-Qaida and opening up another front for them.  The phrase “My enemies enemy is my friend” must have escaped the collective consciousness of Blair, Bush et al.

No, the most interesting things are about his relationship with Gordon Brown.  Blair’s analysis is that Brown had “no instinct at the human, gut level. Political calculation, yes. Political feelings, no. Analytical intelligence, absolutely. Emotional intelligence, zero." is an accurate description of the previous occupant of Number 10.  An excellent planner of events and policy, but lacking the nimble footedness and empathy with the voters, traits which Blair himself had in spades.  The absolute nadir of their relationship is said in the book to have occurred in March 2006 when Brown threatened Blair with an investigation if he did not drop the Adair report into pensions, this included a pledge to link pensions to earnings.  So much for Browns so called left leaning views, if he was so willing to use OAP’s as bargaining chips in his personal game of…  well chess isn’t really Gordon Brown is it?

Blair is also rather damning about Browns followers - “The curse of Gordon was to make these people co-conspirators, not free-range thinkers. He and Ed Balls and others were like I had been back in the 1980s, until slowly the scales fell from my eyes and I realised it was more like a cult than a kirk” – and also about his time as PM “never going to work”, quantifying that in various interviews, like here in the GuardianBy the time we came to the end I had a very strong view that unless Gordon absolutely kept to the policy agenda that we had by then devised – because we had a process called Pathways to the Future or something, which was a process that really tried to set out how you took New Labour to a new level – my view very strongly was that if he did that he would win and if he didn't he would lose. And by the time I left my general view was that he would probably depart from it and therefore lose.” I personally think that Brown’s time in charge is essentially 2 and a half years of chickens coming home to roost from the decisions made by Brown as Chancellor, maybe he should have started this “pathways to the future” programme, but essentially Brown lost because of the decisions he made as Chancellor which came back to haunt him as PM.

The other interesting thing to come out is Blair’s support for the policies being put forward by the Lib-Con government.  Blair was always the best leader the Tories never had, and always had advisers that used to be SDP people, so is anyone really surprised at this.  The really interesting quote, which is something i have argued for, rather than the ostrich approach adopted by other socialists in this country “What you can say is that you are withdrawing the stimulus too fast and therefore putting the recovery at risk. You can say that we would make these changes rather than those changes. You can say that actually there are better ways of reforming your public services to get the results that you want and the value for money. Say all of those things and you can be on a winning wicket. But if you simply say we're going to be the ones saying no, the public is going to say that's fine, but you're being unrealistic and we've got to deal with this.”.  I find it maddening that fellow socialists think that cuts are only an option to reducing the deficit, they don’t seem to understand the truth that Liam Byrne’s note that the money had run out was closer to the truth than many people would admit .  The best course of action would be to identify your own options for cuts, reducing the layer of middle management in the NHS, cutting the wages of over paid heads of service that kind of thing (oh and of course not writing off £6 billion in dropping your case against Vodaphone – i really hope someone starts to kick up a stink about that scandal…). 

Of course Blair’s book is going to come across as “I was right, and this is why”, with that slightly pious tone which attracted the nickname of “The Vicar” in Private Eye.  We simply are not going to get contrition on Blair’s part over Iraq and Afghanistan.  Blair’s synopsis of how the coalition are getting on though is interesting, in terms of what the “progressive parties” should be campaigning for.  Blair has ensured that his is a voice that will be heard for years to come, despite being the head of a government that was not nearly as radical as he believes it was.