Monday, 22 April 2013

If Labour Want To Win In 2016, They Need To Dump Lamont.

Of all the reactions to the announcement of the date of the Independence referendum a couple of weeks ago, the most…  umm..  extreme has been from George “is right again” Laird, he of the “Campaign For Human Rights” blog.  His prediction is that Alex Salmond has announced the date of his “political death” with the date of the referendum.  While I think it highly likely that Scotland will vote no, Salmond’s political career will survive into 2015 and beyond thanks to one person.
Johann Lamont.

Like Thatcher was lucky to be opposed by a Labour party intent on seeing how many ways it could split up, and Blair was opposed by a Conservative Party intent on keeping the Thatcherite flame alive at a time it was utterly toxic in the British public’s eyes.  So Salmond is incredibly fortunate to have been opposed by two of the weakest “Scottish” Labour leaders in living memory.  Iain Gray seemed to oppose just for opposition’s sake, yet somehow did not have the presence of mind not to run away from anti-cuts protesters in Glasgow Central.  The cowering of Gray and co in Sub-Way’s Union Street branch essentially settled the 2011 Holyrood election.  The way things are going, Lamont’s just not going to be in the race come 2016.

I posted about Lamont’s infamous “Something for nothing” speech last autumn.  Even now I still can’t get over the sheer stupidity of Lamont attacking the SNP Government from the right.  Not only is there very little votes here for that kind of position, it also alienates people with a genuine grievance over the increasingly tight fisted benefits system in this country.  It also means that “Scottish” Labour have effectively boxed themselves out of the benefits debate, including the debate over the Bedroom Tax.  How?  Ask yourselves this question, how can a political party that has advocated an end to the “Something for Nothing” society credibly campaign against the Bedroom Tax? 

If there was any political nous at the top of “Scottish” Labour (and it can’t possibly because Tony Blair has it all), Labour would have told their councils to write off Bedroom Tax generated debts.  They would have had a ball over Salmond’s grandstanding over renewables.  The biggest inroads would have been made though over justice – MacAskill’s cuts to the Legal Aid budget mean that people with a disposable income of just £83 a week have to pay for legal representation.  For a party that used to pride itself on standing up for the poor no not raise a whimper at this issue is disgusting.  But then again, Lamont probably thinks that, like MacAskil, there’s nothing wrong with Scottish justice so anyone on trial is guilty anyway.

Where Lamont has been lucky has been with the referendum campaign.  Had most of the attention not been on Yes Scotland’s lacklustre and frankly amateurish campaign (not helped by some amateurish posturing by Salmond & Sturgeon), then Lamont’s utterances would have put her in more trouble.  Firstly Lamont had wanted a review of powers for Holyrood, adding the caveat that there would be a look to see if powers could be taken back to Westminster.

This weekend though, things have started to come apart for Ms Lamont.  Her party’s devolution commission has recommended that Income tax is devolved to Holyrood.  While this is a sop and falls way way short of the full fiscal autonomy that should be on the table, even this step has met resistance with not very many Scottish Labour MP’s greeting this proposal with open arms.  Neighbouring MP (and shadow defence secretary) Jim Murphy is said to be one of those unhappy at the proposals.

Lamont’s jump the shark moment though was the interview on Friday morning on GMS.  She did not answer the question, put several times by Gary Robertson, of whether she had spoken to Ed Milliband about the proposals.  Then came the questions about the Better Together financial backer (and Tory donator) Ian Taylor.  Lamont ignored the questions about whether Better Together should give back the money, not even registering the quote from John Mann about Ian Taylor’s previous donation to the Conservative Party being “Dirty money”.

John Mann is a left wing Labour MP, so in theory should be on the same side as Lamont.

Within Lamont’s phaffing about starting some sort of debate (that really should have been the one that took place when the pro-Union parties instead decided to come up with Calman), the realisation dawned that not just that “Scottish” Labour are not going to win in 2016, but that Lamont this far out from that election is a lame duck leader.  There’s the rank bad strategic mistakes, the poor communication skills and the distinct lack of cast iron policies coming from whoever is doing Lamont’s thinking for her (oh and we do not need some sort of NHS watchdog, we need better standards and properly accountable NHS boards) .  As for Friday, no offence, but if you are being mauled to pieces by Gary Robertson then really you should give up politics.

The reason why Lamont will stay in her position is that there is no outstanding candidate ready to take her place.  Tom Harris thought that he could go the Salmond route, without realising that he doesn’t have either the personality or the popularity of Salmond (being a strident Blairite, still not that popular a stance in the Scottish party). Ken McIntosh is still very much an unknown quantity despite being John Swinney’s shadow. Jackie Baillie…  seriously?

In the event of a vacancy, there are two outsiders that would be worth considering.  Kezia Dugdale will see her stock rise in future years, however the person I think that might be one to watch would he Hugh Henry.  He was part of the furniture when Labour ran the…  ah..  Scottish Executive, holding deputy positions under McLeish and McConnell before becoming Education Secretary.  He does have the experience, the big question however is whether he could take “Scottish” Labour to where it should be in order to challenge the SNP.  Whatever happens, “Scottish” Labour needs to recognise the oncoming catastrophe that is heading its way and take steps to avoid it.  Starting with the removal of their current leader.

Friday, 12 April 2013

"They May Get Rid Of Me Over This..."

Most big stories are discovered in mundane circumstances.  At lunchtime on Monday, I went down to our canteen to have my lunch and noticed that one of the flat screen televisions was on…  and was playing footage from the eighties.  Even though the sound was either off, or I was too far away to pick up any sound, It soon dawned on me that one of the big political hitters of the eighties had died…  and by process of joining the dots deduced that it was the biggest of the lot.
Graffitti in Belfast shows that not everyone is "on message"

The strange thing was that I didn’t feel happy about the news, maybe slightly sorrowful.  Not for her, but for the thousands of people who were victims of her policies.  I had though that I would be posting “The Witch is Dead” from the Wizard of Oz on my Facebook, but on the day a dignified stance seemed more apt rather than the frankly embarrassing sight of parties being held, or the posting of the “Witch” song.

I had previously posted about Thatcher on the 30th anniversary of her first Election win in 2009, and looking back most of the arguments made then still stand up.  The destruction of the heavy industries, which had been a cornerstone of Scottish society, had not helped.  Indeed it could be argued that the lack of investment in these industries made Thatcher’s decisions the easy choices, rather than the tougher re-investment choices that maybe she should have taken.  After all Germany & Poland (to name two countries) still have their own, modernised, heavy industries.

There are two things missing from the obituaries and other pieces.  Firstly there is no mention of just how lucky she was.  Barbara Castle might have become the first female Prime Minister had she ran when Harold Wilson resigned.  Had Callaghan been able to read the runes and gone to the country in the Autumn of 1978, he would have had a better record to defend and had better polling than when he was eventually forced to go to the country the following March.  Had Callaghan won, he would have been the first recipient of Britain’s new found oil wealth, rather than Thatcher.  The biggest stroke of luck though came when Argentina invaded the Falklands.

In the spring of 1982, Thatcher was the most unpopular Prime Minister ever – the title of this post comes from a conversation Thatcher had with her economics advisor Alan Walters at the time of the 1982 Budget when more cuts were on the cards (sound familiar?).  When Argentina invaded the Falklands, Thatcher insisted on putting together a task force to retake the islands by force if necessary, aided by the Chief of Navy Staff at that point.  It was risky, and was not a smooth ride but the re-taking of the Falklands was Thatcher’s turning point.  Within a year, Thatcher secured her second term (with a 144 seat majority) and with it time to bed in her political legacy.

Secondly, the strand of Conservative thinking that Thatcher came to represent did not come fully formed into the world on the afternoon of May 4th 1979, indeed this was thinking that had been brewing away in the background since the 1950’s, though only someone with a personality like Thatcher would have taken those reforms and turned them into the British equivalent of a revolution. Influenced by the fledgling think-tank IEA, the Conservative economic team of Nigel Birch, Enoch Powell and the Chancellor Peter Thorneycroft fought for, and lost the battle to, implement measures to control money in the late 1950’s & impliment cuts.  MacMillan, with an eye on the upcoming Westminster election (which he called in the autumn of 1959) brushed aside their en masse resignations as “a little local difficulty”. 

The three former treasury ministers though began to influence younger politicians, including Thatcher who entered parliament in that 1959 election, and sparked debate over the best way forward for the UK.  Heath made baby-steps in the direction of the monetarists during his term, but he and his Chancellor Barber u-turned when the Economy downturned in a desperate “dash for growth”.  When Heath’s “Who Governs” gamble went belly up, it was just a matter of time, even more so when the second election of 1974 saw Labour gain a majority.

With Powell no longer a member of the Conservatives and another leading right winger (Keith Joseph) shooting themselves in the foot, the former Education Minister emerged as the leading right wing candidate, but not the favourite.

In a sense, this is the other reason why I haven’t been as joyous as other people…  the realisation that there are now many “disciples” in powerful positions to keep the “reforms” Thatcher put into place firmly in place.   Until the left has a long hard think about where it wants to go and generate the ideas necessary for that journey, then we’ll be stuck with the Tories, the yellow Tories and the pink Tories all swapping power in Westminster…  For some Thatcher saved this country from terminal decline, for most people here in Scotland she destroyed livelihoods.  Manufacturing has not recovered since Thatcher’s premiership.  I rather suspect that rather than save this country, her years will be seen as the beginning of the end of the UK. 

Rather than glory in her death, we should remember her victims.  The many people thrown on the scrapheap.  The people so turned off by life that a cycle of drink or drugs is the only alternative.  The 251 British casualties in the Falklands as well as the Argentineans killed when we torpedoed a ship heading away from the islands (the General Belgrano).  The victims of disasters in Zeebrugge, Kings Cross, the Piper Alpha oil rig and Hillsborough football stadium – all disasters where neglect of procedures were key.  Oh, and the biggest of the lot the Labour Party which has been missing in action for the past 30 years. 

No, we don’t shed a tear for her passing, just for the victims.  Not that they got very much consideration from our much vaunted “Free Press” this week, but ho…  hum…