Archive for October, 2009

“Druggie Dave” and chums

 Right, I have a little secret, well…maybe it’s more of a guilty pleasure…I love Kevin Maguire!

I know that will raise a few eyebrows but I think the bloke is hilarious.

I just read his amusing New Statesman article from last week in which he gives us the low-down of a party bash thrown by Lord Ashcroft for “Druggie Dave” and his “Buller boys”, a reference to Davey-C’s time at Oxford.

His most amusing anecdote of the article came from a council by-election in Essex:

Keep it in the family

The “Vote for change” by-election slogan of Pam Sambridge, a successful Tory candidate for Tendring Council, raised a few eyebrows in Essex. The vacancy was created by the death of her husband.

Have we entered an age of electoral audacity as well as an age of economic austerity!? For the Tories, it seems so.

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I’m in a good mood

Breaking with the traditional conventions of political blogging…I am in a thoroughly good mood as of late. Here is a point-by-point why:

  •  I start a brand new job tomorrow (my first), of which I’m very excited about.
  • The 2009 vintage for English wine is proving to be one of the best ever with alot of good clean grapes coming off the vine.
  • Last week’s PoliticsHome poll of key marginals predicted Caroline Lucas to take the Brighton Pavilion seat for the Greens.
  • The same poll revealed that Tory prospects may not be as grandiose as some have suggested.
  • The Tory conference seems to be lacking any kind of enthusiasm or charisma.
  • Champagne may well get down to £10 a bottle by Christmas and New Year.
  • General good feeling to all.

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Why does a Tory activist not want a landslide?

I just read this from Jonathan Freedland on the Guardian website this morning:

Nicholas Boles, head of David Cameron’s “implementation team” and one of his inner circle of advisers, has just said he hopes the Conservatives will not win by a landslide at the next general election.

In a moment that recalled Francis Pym’s notorious 1983 admission that he thought landslide governments dangerous – a statement that prompted Margaret Thatcher to sack him as her foreign secretary – Boles told a Guardian’s fringe meeting this evening that he hoped Cameron would win next year by a “decent, but not over-large majority”.

Why would a Tory activist from the “Notting Hil” set of Westminster Tories (George Osborne, Michael Gove, David Cameron, Ed Vaizey etc.) not want his party to have a landslide victory?

Well, first off a little back story to Nicholas Boles. He was the founder and Director of the Policy Exchange think-tank up until 2007 when he stood down upon becoming the candidate for the safe Tory seat of Grantham and Stamford. He was previously the candidate for Labour-held marginal seat of Hove in the 2005 General Election. Despite Boles being openly gay the Tory vote fell by 2% in what was meant to be a winnable seat for the Conservatives. He is also a signatory to the neo-conservative Henry Jackson Society’s ‘Statement of Principles.’ Boles can thus be seen as belonging to the neo-conservative/libertarian wing of the Conservative Party, which also happens to have a pro-European Union flavour about them as suggested in point five of the ‘Statement of Principles’ which states:

5. Stresses the importance of unity between the world’s great democracies, represented by institutions such as NATO, the European Union and the OECD, amongst many others.

 The signatories to the Henry Jackson Society’s ‘Statement of Principles’ include Tory MPs Michael Ancram, Stephen Crabb, Michael Gove, Stephen Hammond, Greg Hands, David Ruffley, Ed Vaizey and David Willetts. It should also be said that several of the signatories include former and current Labour MPs, as well as academics and journalists.

So, why would Nicholas Boles be apprehensive of the prospects of a Tory landslide?

Surely a Tory landslide would mean a younger, more modernising kind of Conservative MP who could push through the kind fo agenda the ‘Notting Hill’ set have planned out, rather than being tied by elements of the ‘old right’ Cornerstone Group of the party or the One Nation conservatism of the Tory Reform Group?

A small majority for the Tories would mean that David Cameron would have to walk a thin line to retain the sympathy and support of both the Cornerstone Group and the Tory Reform Group, this is why he has been reluctant to voice his own personal opinion on a Lisbon Treaty referendum as to ensure that neither Cornerstone or the Reform group could dictate official Tory policy. David Cameron probably has more in common with the Euroscepticism of the Cornerstone Group than with the Reform Group’s pro-European sympathies, but he neither shares nor sympathises with Cornerstone’s social conservatism. The ‘Notting Hill’ set has no formal grouping, but instead can be found within the Tory think-tanks of Policy Exchange, the Centre for Social Justice and to a lesser extent, Reform.

However, we must look at some short pros and cons of having a landslide victory with an overwhelming majority.

Pros

  • A landslide effectively means that the ruling party could push through any law or agenda as it wished off the back of popular public enthusiasm for that party or the leader of the party.
  • It guarantees further successive general election victories as a landslide victory makes the task harder for the previous party of government to win back the seats and voters that it lost.
  • It throws the opposition party into disarray as it tries to find a new identity and accepts the consensus of debate from the ruling party.
  • It means no one hardcore faction can hold the cabinet to ransom on a particular issue. Backbench rebellions become much harder to organise.

Cons

  • Landslide victories can create a ‘cult’ or ‘hope’ of personality in a particular individual to live up to the promises the leader had made going into the election. As Tony Blair proved, this can lead to constant disappointment as a result of landslide victories defining the ‘peak’ of a leaders’ popularity.
  • Blame cannot be attached to smaller factions or groupings attempting to dictate policy. Responsibility is seen as presiding with the Cabinet and in the eys of the public, the Prime Minister. Scapegoating is much harder to spin.
  • Landslides cannot always guarantee successive victories. Because landslides represent the peak of popularity, failure to resolve the pressing issue that voters gave the party a mandate to fix could result in heavy losses at the next election and a discrediting of the party over it’s ability to do what is right. In the case of David Cameron and the Conservatives this would mean not messing up the economy for the second time in the space of two decades.
  • Landslides can often mean that influential opinion is shunned by the Cabinet and the concerns of factional groups in a broad-church are not always listened to regarding policy. In the long-run this can create a number of bitter enemies who may be willing to twist the knife in the back of a Government on its last knees. Landslides can promote a culture of arrogance and recklessness in decision making.

Those are just some of the short pros and cons of landslides, and I am sure there are many others which I have not mentioned or thought of. I however cannot see why Nicholas Bole would a landslide something to ignore. Perhaps he would wish to see a re-hash of 1983 when Thatcher was returned with enthusiastic support, or perhaps because landslides cause the party to hold onto leaders for too long and create missed opportunities for the ambitious, or perhaps it was just a slip-of the tongue and Andy Coulson gave him a short, sharp bollocking. I however believe that Europe was the motivation for Nicholas Boles saying what he did.

On the case of a referendum, if Cameron decides not to pursue with one in the next Parliament then he would risk the wrath of the grassroots and the Eurosceptic wing, if he does decide to push for a referendum and faced the prospect of a ‘No’ vote on the Lisbon Treaty then he not only isolates the Conservatives in Europe, but also Britain in Europe.

Dictating the terms of defence in Europe has meant that Labour (and Britain) have been in the mainstream of European affairs despite not signing up to the single currency. It has meant that Britain has carved out a key area where it can influence other European nations, this is something Tony Blair and Robin Cook did during the crisis in Kosovo and the Balkans in 1999, when Britain flexed it’s diplomatic muscle to commit NATO to the bombing campaign of getting the ‘Serbs out, peacekeepers in, refugees back [to their homes].’

Any ‘No’ vote in a referendum in the UK on the Lisbon Treaty would risk Britain’s position in Europe and internationally. Britain would be diplomatically de-funct. A landslide would have the potential of smashing the Tories into bigger rival factions which would create a very messy referendum contest. New MPs, some of whom chosen through primaries and from the grassroots, would feel obliged to honour the Eurosceptic sentiment of their constituents, others could be whipped into the ‘Yes’ camp from the pro-Europe wing, others would be stumped as to what to do. A landslide could make the Conservative party a volatile home to be in if it came to referendum on Lisbon.

However, a ‘decent majority’ could be enough to hold the Tory party together. In the event of a referendum, with a defeated but not down-and-out Labour party chasing a ‘yes’ vote along with the Lib Dems, it would mean that the Tories could remain a united party still up against a recognisable opposition that has not succumed to immediate in-fighting. In effect, it would be fighting against Labour rather than against its own factions. The pro-Europe camp may even be tempted to bite the bullet if it meant galvanising Eurosceptic populism from the public to finally smash Labour and send it into disarray and consolidate it’s position as the party of Government. We know that British and American neo-conservatives are not fond of a ‘social’ Europe and would prefer a ‘free market’ Europe with an integrated agenda on defence via NATO rather than a European standing army.

A ‘No’ vote on a potential referendum would consolidate the Conservatives reputation at home, but would then punish Britain in Europe, and perhaps internationally. A Tory landslide could end up being an achilles heel if ever there was a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

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A fair party debate?

On ‘The Politics Show’ on Sunday UKIP Leader Nigel Farage believed that UKIP deserved a place in any General Election leadership debate. According to Iain Dale, both Farage and Alex Salmond (SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister), are contemplating legal action in order to recieving a platform.

Farage believe’s that because UKIP were the second party from June’s European Elections he deserved a platform alongside Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Dale’s argument is that because UKIP are not represented at every level across the UK and in every region then they do not deserve a place amongst the big three.

I believe there is a fairer alternative. The BBC have the good graces of having regional stations and regional programmes, such as the ‘Politics Show South East.’ In the interests of fairness- and plurality- would it not make sense for party debates (not necessarily with leaders) to be televised amongst the constituents in a region where a party has representation either at Westminster, in the European Parliament or either in the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly? I think it would.

I am aware that this system would give a platform to the BNP, however it looks certain that the BBC will go ahead with their ‘Question Time’ panel with Nick Griffin. It would also mean that Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens (both in England and Wales and in Scotland) can go head-to-head with their political rivals. Whilst it is by no means a perfect system as it grants a platform to the BNP, it is fair from a liberal democratic perspective. It also means that genuine progressives such as the Greens, Plaid and to some extent the SNP can have a platform in front of their constituents without sharing it with the BNP. Thus avoiding being clumped in the same camp of ‘others’ along with the far-right organisation.

It also means that people can protest in any way they want against the BNP having a platform, and I fully support this right of protest from anyone who disagrees with anti-democratic organisations being granted a platform. So, whilst I believe the state cannot intervene to prevent the BNP having a platform, I believe members of the public can, and that the state should not intervene in preventing members of the public from doing so. It is a balancing act but one where by which the state should remain blind, after all, it is the actions of the state that create the conditions for far-right tendencies to simmer and then boil.

Now you can’t say that isn’t fair.

 

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Labour and CWU: Just a lovers tiff?

On Wedneday I posted the news that the London branch of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) voted overhwhelmingly in an indicative ballot to no longer fund the Labour Party. Socialist Worker believed that other branches were planning similar indicative ballots to speed-up CWU’s conference decision to ballot the national membership over whether or not it should continue to fund Labour.

On Wednesday at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton delegates voted to back the CWU’s call for ‘the government to take immediate steps to take responsibility for the Royal Mail pensions deficit.’ The emergency motion was seconded by Unite joint General Secretary Tony Woodley. Conference’s support of the motion would add pressure to those inside the Labour Government who still desire the part-privatisation of the service.

The Socialist newspaper this week carried an article whereby which they have laid the charge that the Government intends to smash the CWU union much in the same way Thatcher broke the miners in order to speed-up the ‘modernisation’ of that industry. The article said:

The biggest obstacle to privatisation has always been the postal workers’ union. This dispute is not about modernisation or combating so-called “Spanish practices”, it’s about Royal Mail and the government trying to smash the CWU to create a casualised workforce that any private buyer can use as they please.

Conspiracy or not? Well, I have it on good authority that the Government had already found a buyer for the proposed plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail and that the deal had already been signed before a bill was due to come before Parliament. I can reveal that the deal was supposedly signed with TNT and was kept in a safe until the bill passed through Parliament.

CWU members have until 8th October to cast a ballot in favour of national strike action over Royal Mail’s plans to modernise the service. The union is calling for a ‘yes’ vote and hopes that it can be consulted by the Government and Royal Mail over proposed plans to change the service.

Time is running out between Labour and the CWU to resolve the conflict. Unless the Government can bring the CWU leadership on board with the consultation process on the changes then the CWU has the potential to bang a couple of more nails into Gordon Brown’s coffin. What is perhaps most worrying for the Labour leadership is that the CWU leadership still has an ace up its sleeve- it can honour the conference decision to ballot the membership on the continuation to fund Labour.

If the next national strike is a messy one, and if Billy Hayes cannot be satisfied by any offer Royal Mail brings to the table, the CWU leadership would have no choice but to reveal its ace card and to pull the plug on Labour. It would almost be certain that unless the Government can appease the CWU it’s membership would most likely vote in favour of ending the CWU-Labour link.

The drama is certain to continue.

 

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Evening Standard to be a free newspaper

Just saw this from the BBC news website; the London Evening Standard is to become a free newspaper.

Alexander Lebedev, the Russian billionaire who bought the paper from the Daily Mail for £1 also owns the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta along with former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, and is vocal in his criticism of the current Russian Government.

This from the BBC:

The Standard, which is 75.1% owned by Mr Lebedev and 24.9% owned by Associated, has been a paid-for product for more than 180 years.

Mr Lebedev said that the Standard was “the first leading quality newspaper to go free”.

“I am sure others will follow,” he added.

The paper’s editor Geordie Greig, installed after Mr Lebedev bought control of the paper, described the move as an “historic moment and great opportunity”.

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Giving a platform to bigots

I just came across a brilliant piece over at the Kent News website- the folks who publish the free Kent On Sunday (KOS) newspaper. The blogger has another bash at ‘Immigrants-one rule for us, one rule for them.’

Whilst it is a little dated- 9th July 2009- it’s still an interesting piece as it’s written by a fella who claims in his article that he is ‘black’, ‘born in India’ and ’emigrated legally to the UK many years a go’, and thus cannot in any way have a xenophobic bone in his body. I am going to assume that he is not an ethnic Indian from any part of that country but was born to parents from elsewhere. It should be noted that the article was not written by Simon Robinson, who is the editor of ‘YourMedway’ for KOS Media, but by an anonymous author who claims his piece is a ‘rant.’ The definition of rant is: speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way.

Reading down the comments section of the said piece it attracts alot of bigoted, some of which is racist, but of which much is xenophobic. It is also pretty clear that many of thos commenting on the piece fail to realise that any migration from within the European Economic Community (with some exceptions) is legal. They also fail to understand the difference between asylum seekers and economic migrants, and thus fail to understand the histories and motivations of either group.

What all this represents is a failure of local and regional media in confronting bigoted and misinformed opinion. Yes, it is is opinion and not news, but it is still being given a platform none the less. For a while far-right opinion has seen the lack of regulation and self-censorship by editors from local media outlets as an opportunity waiting to be seized. Because local newspapers are experiencing a greater fall in circulation than their national counter-parts editors are increasingly looking towards the sensationalist and populist to boost circulation. Hence why the letters pages of local newspapers are expanding (along with advertisement space) whilst content journalism is being sidelined. All of this is done under the auspicious attempt to brand it as vox populi.

This is why progressives must concern themselves with local and regional media, especially newspapers, particularly those that don’t have a history of political or social commentators and only operate as the equivalent of Parish newsletters. Unfortunately it is the right-wing who are adhereing to Jello Biafra’s turn of phrase, “Dont hate the media, become the media.”

Rant over.

 

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