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David’s dithering dilema

By Angela Harbutt
September 30th, 2010 at 7:02 am | 5 Comments | Posted in Labour

He had his chance last year to rid this country of Gordon Brown. David Miliband dithered and then declined.

Role on a year. Having had weeks to contemplate what he would do if his little brother beat him to the finishing line …he then gets beat and dithers again for 4 days! The Liberals and Conservatives didn’t take much longer to create a whole coalition agreement. And after all that navel-gazing his decision is, apparently, to do, what he initially thought he would do 4 days earlier.

Once the crocodile tears have dried, Labour must surely be absolutely delighted that he did not end up in charge. He may be clever, but shows very little political judgement. Twice he has been asked to step up to the plate, twice he has dithered and twice he has made the wrong decision. Lucky escape for Labour.

As for the country, well, you really wouldn’t want that sort of a ditherer in charge? Blair might have been too gung ho…but a ditherer? (Maybe that explains his reluctance to start attacking the deficit anytime soon…why do now what you can put off for another year or so?).

I am told by my Labour friends in the know, that  High Command are fuming that he totally drowned out all other news relating to conference  as he “pondered” his future. They might have swallowed it had he decided to stay…but to then turn round and throw his toys out of his pram was a bit much. One interesting suggestion made to me was that the reason for the delay was actually less dithering and more debating - brother to brother. Any chance there was a protracted negotiation about the role Big Brother might take and more specifically how much freedom he would be given to operate within that role. Little Brother may not have given Big Brother a big enough playpen to play in perhaps?

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Ok we’ve noticed…now stop it….

By Angela Harbutt
September 30th, 2010 at 2:21 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Opinion

It’s late and I find myself having trouble sleeping , so I catch up on some crap cable TV. Nothing too heavy, re-runs of Silent Witness and a glass of wine,   …. but wait! What’s this? A government informercial telling me that “reading will improve my life”  (maybe an advert telling me sleep will make me more productive might have been more appropriate!). And I am sure, or did I dream it? No I am sure. Another one (this one a cartoon no less) telling me that it is dangerous to play with matches… OMG.

What is going on here Nick? Dave? I understand that stopping these ads running on crap cable TV channels might not go very far towards resolving the nation’s debt,  but I thought there was more to this government than just digging us out of the financial hole Labour left us with….. I thought there was some stuff said about stopping the nanny state, cutting the red tape, restoring people’s rights, treating us like grown ups, and definitely an end to all that patronising guff that the previous regime were so happy to feed into our homes at all hours (oh don’t tell me you have forgotten  the booklet on “how to be a good grandparent” already?).

So why are these adverts still on air some 5 months later pray tell? There are number of possibilities that occur to me….

1) It could just be a few renegade civil servants who are ‘aving a larf sending this stuff out under the wire and sniggering into their coffee cups when no one notices (can’t imagine Dave or Nick with a glass of wine at 2am watching crime drama re-runs)…

2) Maybe it’s like some cult sci fi film where everyone left the building and forgot to switch it off  (or in this case terminate the contract) – and so they run and run. Until?…….  

3) May be this new coalition aren’t quite as keen on “letting go” as they protest… Maybe they have been advised by the men-in-suits that undesirables (like me, presumably), watching crap TV late at night, are highly likely to play with matches, and the closest they get to reading is the sports section of the Sun – so best not to stop the indoctrination or all hell could break loose.

If they persist with their ads on the fringes, targeted at the undesirables, (that will go unnoticed by the middle class liberal voters – who just don’t stay up that late on a school night) there is a statistical chance that they may just “save one child”…..or some such. That’s got to be worth it surely?

4) F*ck up.

I am hoping its 4. Whatever the reason Nick, Dave. Can they stop now please?  I can just about tolerate singing insurance salesmen and women dying their hair ludicrous colours “because they are worth it”….. but being told not to play with matches is just downright annoying and telling me I might burn myself won’t stop me - it’ll just make me want to move on to lighters.

Another democratic failure for Labour

By Tom Papworth
September 27th, 2010 at 10:52 am | 12 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

As reported earlier on this site and also across the media, Labour unions have elected the new Labour leader against the wishes of both the parliamentary and the wider party. Neither MPs nor grass-roots members chose Ed Milliband, but he nonetheless gets to lead the Labour Party.

Fortunately, this is just a blip, right? This sort of thing is unusual; a bizarre result from a complicated electoral college system. Normally, Labour’s internal elections see the candidate with support amongst members chosen, don’t they?

Apparently not! In a somewhat less-widely reported story, Lord Prescott has also been defeated, in his attempt to become Treasurer of the Labour Party, despite winning the popular vote. According to the BBC:

The peer … won most votes from party members but was beaten by Ms Holland’s strong support from trade unions… Ms Holland [is] assistant general secretary of Unite…

Sadly, it seems that last week’s failure of democracy within the Labour Party is not an isolated incident. Rather, it appears that special interest groups continue to have the whip-hand within the Labour Party, at the expense of grass-roots members.

Of course, one can understand why the people who provide 70% of Labour’s income want to control the office of Treasurer (the Tories took the same approach when they appointed Lord Ashcroft to manage their finances), but the grip that the unions hold over the Labour Party can only result in an Opposition even more focused on protecting a handful of millitant, largely-public sector, workers at the expense of the wider working, and especially the non-working, public.

Photographer finds man who can gurn as well as Prescott

Photographer finds man who can gurn as well as Prescott

Unions choose new Labour Leader

By Andy Mayer
September 25th, 2010 at 5:53 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

Springtime for liberal democracy and winter for Labour… as the direction of the official opposition is determined by Trade Union votes. In substance the MPs (53%) and Members (54%) showed a strong preference for David Miliband, but were out voted by Ed Miliband landslide (60%) in the Union section, each section accounting for a third of the final result.

Those most closely involved in fighting and winning elections for Labour have been squished by those most closely involved in making them unelectable. Under Gordon Brown, Unions bought the party machine covering over 70% of their income. After Brown they’ve captured the Leader’s office, potentially reversing all the gains made by Tony Blair in modernising his party. Labour’s narrative is now extremely vulnerable to the strikes promised in response to public sector cuts. The new Leader looks compromised before he’s even started. Worse Labour have just voted for the candidate most closely associated with support for the calamitous economic record of the previous Leader.

The result could not have been much closer (1.3%), in some respects mimicking the Liberal Democrat Huhne / Clegg race in 2007. The main difference though is the populist candidate tacking to the left beat the pragmatic candidate tacking to the centre.

This result will change both the Liberal Democrats as well as Labour. Suddenly New Labour are out, and looking at a very long period both in Opposition and in opposition to their party. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are going to start looking like attractive alternatives.

On the left of the Liberal Democrats siren calls to rebuild a progressive socially liberal Labour party with Ed Miliband uniting the lost tribes of anti-Conservatism is going to be a very tempting prospect. It will seem even more attractive if Labour can convince them that the fabric of the coalition government is so fragile that it might not last five years, let alone survive the next election. They are wrong in that regard, the current public narrative against cuts is one of a minority of shrill voices not a shift in opinion against tough action.

For Nick Clegg then he has just been gifted an historic opportunity to push Labour in the direction they’ve voted to go, and send them a tribute of oppositionalist talent into the bargain. He can hold the genuinely centre-left liberal vote by highlighting Union control of Labour, and pitching to the aspirational working family voters who don’t like their wages being spent on the client state. He can divide public sector workers between the genuinely talented and those filling in forms. He can appeal to centre and centre-right liberals by showing his opposition to Labour’s extremism. His first target should be seek a high profile New Labour defection.

None of this is guaranteed. Ed Miliband may prove as pragmatic in position as he was populist in securing it. Like Clegg and Ashdown his media presence and rapport may improve with time (he currently sounds stilted and uses too many platitudes). He may benefit from events and splits in the Coalition that cannot be predicted. New Labour may find comfort in a significant role for David and some kind of deal over other positions that keeps their hopes alive.

Labour is also factionally far more complex than the Blair-Brown years would suggest. The Unions are not united, the members in the main are as locally focused as Liberal Democrat activists and equally disinterested in ideology. The unity of the party in general has survived far more dramatic changes of direction than one brother beating another for the top job. They have come back from far more extreme leadership and domination by their left than this.

These are though interesting times… who will capture the political opportunities they present… only time will tell. Liberal Democrat prospects for the next election though look much brighter.

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Review of conference by Mark Littlewood

By Angela Harbutt
September 25th, 2010 at 2:45 am | No Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Uncategorized

markWell said Mark Littlewood of the IEA  (founder of Liberal Vision)… written for LDV….   

“What a strange few months it’s been for the Liberal Democrats. In Bournemouth a year ago, few LibDems would have truly believed that this was to be their last annual conference in opposition.

My sense of the mood in Liverpool this year was that it matched the political and economic times we live in. Serious, but somewhat apprehensive. There seemed a lot of quiet satisfaction – although never smugness – that there were Liberal Democrats in government, but a nervousness about what the “end game” might be.

A few things truly surprised me. Support for the principle of entering Coalition with the Conservatives was close to unanimous. A straw poll at the IEA’s fringe meeting showed about 95% felt that Nick Clegg had made the right decision in those tense few days after the General Election. The national media were, of course, on the look out for any sign of coalition-fatigue, but seemed initially disappointed – and then rather impressed – about the absence of much strategic dissent.

But looking through the tea leaves of Liverpool, there are some longer term issues which the party will have to address. The first is the status – or lack of it – of the policy-making machinery. The passage of a motion critical of free schools may have caused just a few jitters in the leader’s entourage, but pretty much everybody else shrugged their shoulders. Not only was the government going to completely ignore the decision of conference, but LibDem MPs would do so too. And rightly so. What then is the real point of Liberal Democrat party policy? Sure, conference reps can point at a piece of paper and insist “that is our official policy”, but so what?

Secondly, Nick Clegg has a fight on his hands to try and reframe a Liberal Democrat approach to “fairness”. I wish him well in doing so, but he will need to try harder than he did in Liverpool. Many Liberal Democrats – or at least the most vocal ones – still take a “bar chart” approach to fairness. A policy which has the effect of improving the immediate financial position of the relatively poor at the expense of the relatively affluent is deemed “fair”. Little or no attention is given to dynamic effects. Nick Clegg – and the Coalition as a whole – are surely right to argue that the challenge for government is not simply to shift someone’s income from £9,000 to £10,000 per annum through redistributive mechanisms, but to provide such people with the opportunities and incentives to rapidly ascend the income ladder. Liberal Democrat activists, however, have yet to fully buy in to this approach.

Finally, no one seems to have fully addressed the question of how the Liberal Democrats can maintain a separate and distinct political identity as junior Coalition partners. Or whether it’s even possible to do so. Vince Cable may have stretched Cabinet collective responsibility to the limits with his rather off-piste and ill-judged broadside against capitalist “spivs”, but that hardly amounts to a distinct identity – let alone a liberal one. This is going to be the real challenge – and the largest area of disagreement – at Liberal Democrat conferences in years to come”..

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