Tag Archives: Labour

Who Won?

I was appalled, but not surprised, by Harriet Harman’s decision, as interim Labour leader, not to oppose the Budget measures on the welfare cap. 

Even though they will continue the work of reversing Labour’s strides of reducing child poverty. (Not that we’ll know, given that the government is simply going to change the way it classifies poverty, to make this obfuscation more convenient)

Even though they are the Opposition.

She’s right, the Opposition aren’t there to reflexively oppose everything. But, these welfare reforms are supposed to be the antithesis of everything Labour stands for.

Right?

*crickets*

It brings me to something that has occupied my mind since the election. Who won? On the face of it, given that we have the first Tory-majority government for about 17 years – the Conservatives? Their majority is slim.

Certainly not Labour, though the election was theirs to lose.

And judging from the Budget: not workers, unions, the poor, the disabled, the young (snapshot: higher minimum wage for only over-25’s, while simultaneously housing benefit, university grants have been cut)….I need to take a moment for the young people of Britain. It’s staggering, and indeed frightening, that we’ve collectively agreed that shafting the future of the nation is acceptable. In today’s Times Camila Batmangeligh of Kids Company talks about how young people are being refused specialist care due to budget cuts. Whatever you think of the current scandal at Kids Company – her charity is not alone in speaking out about the dangerous cuts being made to the welfare state and social fabric.

The old did quite well. More flexible pensions among all sorts of other sweeteners – oh, and the price of the free TV licence for over-75s being shunted onto the BBC from the DWP. But…I refuse to submit to the seductive generational battle being set up between old and young.

As we slash and burn everything to “balance the books” – on the backs of the aforementioned groups, shaking down the most vulnerable for small change to meet the projected £12 billion of cuts,.corporations are sitting pretty on about £93billion of corporate welfare.

Who won?

The elites – corporate, political and otherwise well-heeled wealthy types.

And Labour, in the throes of a moribund leadership contest, can’t muster the wherewithal to consider that this is still a battle worth fighting. They’re “listening”, apparently. People voted for diverse reasons, but I’d bet my hat that a minority really voted for a ringing endorsement of the Tory plans. If they had, the majority would have been more substantial. In actual fact, the only party with a ringing endorsement was the SNP. Nationalistic yes; but also progressive, anti-austerity and principled. They are currently the only left-wing party in the UK.

Labour is conceding dangerous ground. Having already allowed the Right to misdiagnose the cause of the financial crisis, it is now allowing the flawed “solution” to hold the day.

What frightens me is that this is not just an ideological game, played with cool hands and wry smiles (Hat tip to George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith); this is about people’s lives. This is about the future of the nation. The changes being made now will reverberate for generations. And the false “consensus” has doomed an entire generation of young people, especially those without the family networks and wealth to insulate them from the worst effects of austerity – to a bleak future.

Labour lost the election. And the future is theirs (and ours) to lose too.

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Pre-election interview with BBC Derby’s Devon Daley

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Scottish scare stories

Funny. Labour is on the ropes, apparently, forced at every turn to deny that it would join in coalition with the SNP. It’s mischievous political reporting in my opinion, but the messaging used by the Tories in their briefings betrays an unease with the UK. Or, rather, with Scotland. The message appears to be, “Don’t ally with those people who want to tear this country apart”. So, when it’s not immigrants or the poor who are the outsiders of the day, it’s the Scots, whose democratic choices are seen as some sort of subversive plot to undermine the country. The SNP has more of a mandate than UKIP, who are deferred to as the self-appointed voice of England. Little England. A miserly, miserable, nostalgic England of moral pygmies. But hey.

The real, sobering fact shouldn’t be the prospect of a left-wing coalition, but that so many Scots feel ambivalent at best, hostile at worst, towards the UK. That so many feel that they would have nothing to lose and all to gain through independence. And is it any wonder, when the prospect of a coalition with a party that’s not in England stirs up this undercurrent of hostility, this sense that the Scots are outsiders here to rip up “our” UK? Why not build a country which offers a fair deal and a positive vision to all of its constituent parts?

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On guilt and grasping

I’ve been thinking about Emily Thornberry’s tweet all weekend. OK, maybe not all weekend. I got my first taster of gin cocktails on Friday night at the Star at Night in Soho, and I had two of my favourite cocktails at London Cocktail Club on Saturday night – the Pornstar Martini (a passionfruit delight that comes with a shot of prosecco) and the Heisenberg (tequila-based homage to Breaking Bad that comes with a knowing sachet of blue coloured salt)….ok, I’m back- where was I?

Yes, so when I wasn’t drinking, or recovering from the latter, I was thinking about Emily Thornberry’s tweet and the reactions to it. She posted, without comment, a picture of a terraced house  festooned with England flags and with a white van outside. The fact that she did shows that it was almost as if she was in a foreign country, far away from Islington. It shouldn’t be so. But she didn’t mock it.

However, the Labour party’s scramble to compensate for her perceived lack of tact and out-of-touchness with the working class strikes me as a bit of an overreaction that betrays their own anxiety and guilt about not standing up for working class people. What she did was embarassing, but the cover-up is usually worse than the crime. That holds true in this case. Ed Miliband, who can’t (won’t) even back the care workers in his constituency battling for a living wage condemned Thornberry (I’m outraged! etc)  and then went on a grovelling campaign.

If Labour really wants to respect people like White Van Man (who is fast becoming our Joe the Plumber equivalent) it would push back on austerity rather than accepting it wholesale, and work on lifting people out of poverty wages that were topped up with tax credits. It would challenge  UKIP. I mean properly challenge UKIP by dealing with people’s legitimate concerns but without pandering to bigotry.

Right now they (and the other parties) pander to UKIP rather than tackling the causes behind what drives people to protest there. And some of those reasons also require honest talk – on migration, for instance. It’s a reality of the 21st century. Now… that will never be acceptable to some. But recent research from British Future reveals a moderate – anxious, yes, but nuanced – majority who could be persuaded to accept migration if their concerns are addressed. Instead, we have nervy soundbites and grovelling op-eds about….a tweet.

And just as the “UKIP are right but vote for us to get UKIP policies” is a patronising (and incidentally, a losing) strategy, that confirms the prejudices and conspiracy theories of UKIP supporters (Nigel is right! And now the establishment just wants us to be good and vote for them again anyway)-  the scramble over Thornberry scramble is unedifying because it’s almost as though Labour was caught out showing its true colours – rather than one woman betraying her snobbery. Their reaction actually confirms everyone’s suspicions that Labour does indeed no longer stand for working people.

(There’s a  great discussion over on the Guardian politics podcast – one of the commentator makes the point that UKIP is a nasty vehicle of protest. I agree very strongly. I do think there is a crisis of representation, but protesters should weigh up the impact of allying themselves with a racist, extremist, truly nasty party just to give the establishment a bloody nose. And…about that establishment, UKIP is hardly anti-establishment)

 

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Labour goes emo

If political parties were people, Labour would be the teenager with a chance of edging a tight race on sports day, but who spends the days beforehand lying on the floor in her room, being emo about the fact that her running shorts aren’t that great, rather than training for the big day.

I’m doing a massive disservice to teenagers here. But really, instead of bringing the fight to the Tories and UKIP, Labour is engaging in some self-indulgent introspection and fretting over a situation they can’t reasonably change (Ed and his personality and popularity deficit) before the election in May next year.

Sure, it won’t be easy, as David Lammy points out, (ok, he doesn’t think a Labour majority is possible, and he may be right) – but at the same time, Cameron didn’t win last time either, even with the economic crisis and Gordon Brown being so unpopular. Labour could bring a fight – they need to. They need to scrap for every seat, but it’s as if they’ve already given up, despite the fact that the Tories are actually in trouble. Sure, they’ve got the polls closer than ever, but they about to lose a second MP seat to UKIP, the economy is going slightly off the boil again, and people are still generally hard-up. And the cuts they propose will make it even harder. They haven’t even done the *one thing* that they said they would – the deficit has grown. In fact, two things. They didn’t meet their arbitrary and bizarre immigration target.

But Labour is chasing its tail. It’s as if the fact that they might not win outright means they won’t even try. And triangulating messages according to what UKIP is saying hasn’t yielded any results. Not with UKIP supporters, not with the hostile sections of the right-wing press, and not with Labour’s natural supporters, who are unconvinced at best and annoyed with the duplicity at worst. It isn’t who Labour are, and it’s obvious. Its attempts to ape UKIP are craven and cynical – and it looks that way. At least UKIP are consistent. I don’t like them, but they are what they say on the tin. So, given that Labour aren’t convincing anyone and certainly not building any new coalitions with this narrow appeal to the bigoted minority…why not fight? Why not be full-throated and bring.the.noise?

Whether Lammy is right about the election outcome remains to be seen, but he definitely has one thing right – Labour needs to figure out who it is first:

For Lammy, Labour has to be “relentless at communication, we mustn’t move around on policy areas like immigration and Europe” because Labour is “a pro-immigration party, we are a pro-European party”.

He added: “I don’t think that posturing and positioning each time there’s a new immigration poll is right for the Labour Party.”

 

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Party On

We’re just emerging from party conference season. Today David Cameron promised tax cuts for those who earn the most and the least, hot on the heels of George Osborne’s pledge to cut even more from welfare – but not pensioners, who make up the bulk of those on welfare (and who happen to vote), and not the disabled (though they’re still getting slammed by the bedroom tax. So…cuts will hit those who are already struggling so that “welfare doesn’t pay more than work” but there is nothing to address in-work poverty, which the Joseph Rowntree Trust has pointed out has grown. And for ethnic minorities, they found, it’s even worse.

Miliband forgot some stuff, but remembered some other stuff. Labour’s message, which emerged from the fog of conference, sounded to me like something-something mansion tax something-something hard choices something-something cutting child benefits. See…the problem here is, when the Tories are mean, they at least throw some tax cut candy in there. Labour just looks like it’s aping them. But what’s the point? As Sunny Hundal pointed out today, they are doing so to win credibility from a section of the press that won’t give them any, while sounding unconvincing and uninspired to the rest of us:

“The media’s attitude to Labour on austerity has been akin to Eurosceptics Tories with Cameron: forever demanding more concessions without giving an inch.”

UKIP meanwhile, were batshit crazy as always. Farage claimed that Cameron raised the terror threat level and recalled MPs to vote on bombing the “Islamic State” to distract from their conference. Yeah. But he still managed to make the political weather with Reckless’ defection and nabbing a Tory donor too. I still think that UKIP are allowed to influence the agenda in a way that is disproportionate to their number of MPs (to date, zero) compared to, say, the Greens. They will probably win in Clacton, but for a party that’s meant to be a grassroots insurrection, they seem to rely heavily on poaching MPs with ready-made support bases.

So far, so establishment.

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IDS watch

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: is anyone monitoring Iain Duncan Smith? How has he survived two reshuffles? How does he just get to “reset” a project that has cost *hundreds of millions of pounds* and it’s not front page news? If I could do infographics I would look at the amount wasted by DWP on IDS’s legacy project and the amount spent on the unjust, punitive bedroom tax, among other measures. How can we allow policies that disproportionately affect ethnic minorities and the disabled, causing hardship and distress, and allow IDS to obfuscate and waste money like this?

The answer is, of course, that when it comes to austerity and welfare, it’s ideological. That there was a need to cut the deficit is beyond doubt, but what’s going on now fails on its own terms. It’s just perverse that the coalition is willing to fritter away millions in the pursuit of dismantling the state and the safety net.

If I was to don my tin foil conspiracy theory hat, I’d say these are the actions of a group of ideologues who know that they may not be here to finish the job after the election, so they’re inflicting the maximum amount of damage now, in the hope that it cannot be reversed. And Labour, of course, has next to nothing to say on this for fear of being cast as the party of “welfare cheats”. They won’t even try to speak about the suffering and hardship being felt by so many, or the fact that the majority of those on benefits are pensioners. They will play it safe, hoping that they can just squeak past the finish line at the election with the support of people like me, who cannot abide what’s happening now but have no other viable political choice. I suspect that the hobbled vision may not be as successful as they hope.

And where does that leave us? Clegg, with no mandate, as king maker to either party, who will continue this project to fundamentally alter the State beyond all recognition, supplanting a democratic mandate with a consensus won through the demonisation of immigrants, the poor, the disabled and the unemployed, and fashioning a nastier, smaller-minded nation that’s as much afraid of its own shadow as these groups so helpfully cast as the dangerous “other”?

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I know what you did last summer

I remember when summer’s were quiet, filled with fluff and cotton wool as everyone left the city on holiday. I guess it’s a year before the election, hence the immigration drive, but then it was that way last summer too. It’s just over a year since the Go Home vans and they’re gone, but the hostile environment campaign never stopped and if anything is ratcheting up a gear.

And so to an excellent (I need to say this slowly because I can’t believe it) piece by Dan Hodges in the Telegraph on the “consensus” on immigration that has finally been achieved among the main parties, mainly in response to the UKIP threat. It follows Cameron’s Eurosceptic reshuffle that promoted placeholders and right-wingers, giving an indication of what we can expect until May.

What jumped out at me in Hodges’s article are four (inconvenient) truths:

  • There really isn’t much to divide the main parties on immigration now:

    “With Clegg’s surrender, the final domino has fallen. For the first time in over half a century each of the three major political parties will enter the election calling for curbs on immigration. The anti-immigration lobby, which at turns has counted such diverse figures as Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Frank Field, William Hague, Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage among its number, has won.”

  • And that’s politically expedient because, basically, that’s the way public opinion is swinging

    “[the mainstream party leaders] know that migrant labour, at all levels of the economy, is vital to Britain’s prosperity. They have seen the OBR statistics that immigration is crucial to the recovery . And they know too that no one wants to hear it. That negative perceptions of the social, cultural and economic impact of migration are so embedded as to make any attempt to reverse them political folly.”

  • But, ultimately, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right or makes sense, which is why the parties are lying:

    “So our politicians embark on a greater folly. They tell the voters “yes we get it”. They pledge ever tougher measures to crack down on an imaginary tidal wave of Romanian bandits, and Polish benefit fraudsters. And then pray the voters won’t notice that despite the fiery rhetoric, immigration continues to rise.”

And the net result really is a horror story: Voters can see craven from a mile off, so they probably won’t be convinced by this scramble. But having legitimised the public’s fears by pandering to them, the fact that the parties will ultimately fail at their stated immigration aims (because: globalisation, economic reality etc) will only annoy people more, leading to more cynicism at politics, and fuelling support for people like UKIP (who, by the way, are left to sound vaguely dignified as they demand policies instead of repellent rhetoric, which is, as they quite rightly point out, disgusting – even if the policies they want are crackers).

But the saddest truth of all, and the one that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone articulate as eloquently as Hodges (pinch me someone, please!) is this:

“It would be easy to paint this capitulation as a triumph of prejudice. As we saw in the European elections, with Ukip’s toxic campaign, when immigration is debated prejudice is never far below the surface. In fact what we are witnessing is the triumph of fear. Despite our occasionally bombastic rhetoric, Britain is now a scared country, lead by scared men. With Nigel Farage circling them like Banquo’s tweed-clad ghost.

We have become scared of the outside world. Scared of changes in our own society. Scared of each other. Where once we looked to the future with optimism, we now do so with trepidation. Where we saw opportunities, now we perceive only threats: terrorists, scroungers, grooming-gangs, criminal overlords, cut-price cleaners and plumbers.

One day our confidence will return. When the economy stabilises. When the Ukip revolution is shown to have been just another passing political fad. When we realise the River Tiber is not foaming with blood. And when it does, we’ll point the finger at our leaders and say “why did they scare us like that?”. But they didn’t. We scared ourselves.”

Damn straight.

*Incidentally, my dissertation, that I am painfully giving birth to this summer, is concerned with exactly that – the politics of fear and unease

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The Good Wife

Perfection Eltahawy tumblrNo, not the TV show (arguably one of the best on TV at the moment and one of my favourites of all time, especially for the female characters) – the political theatre.

So, Ed Miliband is a geek. I think that’s always been fairly well-known, but the media is convinced that being “weird” in his particular way means that he unelectable (Come on, you must be a *bit* weird to be a politician, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so they all are IMO). The evidence is meant to be unassailable: he can’t eat a bacon sandwich, unfortunately he looks a bit like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, he has a nasal tone of voice etc etc.

I find the narrative irritating, but the solution to his perceived personality problem even more so: his wife, Justine. The last few days have seen a flurry of articles about Ed playing the “wife card” , columns on how Leader’s Wives is no longer a derogatory term, and a long profile of Justine Thornton in the Times.

Despite the earnest attempts to dress up this accessorizing role, it remains exactly that. It’s ridiculous that Ed should seek or expect a boost because he had the good sense to marry what appears to be an accomplished, smart and beautiful woman. He is the elected official, not her. And while the role of a leader’s wife is high profile, this is not the USA. You wouldn’t know it, but we vote for parties, not presidents. It’s ridiculous to expect Justine to assume the role as a foil to Ed’s career – and I salute women like Miriam Clegg who seem to have mostly eschewed the role.

I don’t know if it reflects badly on the media for appearing to require this farce, or for the politicians for trying to use it, or we the public for buying into it (they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work, right?)

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Past, present and future

Three news pieces caught my eye this week and raised my hopes that the counter narrative on migration and race is getting stronger, reinforced by factual research.

One. A long read but a good one –  The Institute of Race Relations paper which looks at past and present political and media discourse to determine that:

“The rhetoric on migrants shows how politicians and the media have created, and embedded, racism in British politics.”

It makes for sobering reading because it shows how the main political parties and the media have reinforced each other’s messaging and perception of the public mood to develop a “politics of grievance”:

“The electorate is also seen as ‘entitled’ to be racist, politicians are simply giving them a voice, and the myth of the lack of debate on immigration and asylum is wheeled out. “

I think the main reason that politicians do this is because they see the very real grievances of those who struggle with lack of school places or housing and pressure on health services and they know that this is the result of policy failures of successive governments.  Just this week the Local Government Association reported that there are hundreds of thousands of houses waiting to be built that have been approved at local level but held up by central government.  Unfortunately, a person (stranger) down your street is easier to see than  a faceless official in Whitehall and that’s where the blame falls.

Two. Formidable Labour MP Diane Abbott has warned that Labour has to do more to change the discourse on immigration. Keith Vaz said the same last week. I just doubt that this will happen. Ed’s heart might well be “in the right place” as Abbott kindly suggests, but actions matter. Language matters. And Labour is scrabbling at the bottom of the barrel that the Tories have rolled out, hobbled by opinion polls that suggest that the public  is very hostile to migration at a time of high youth unemployment – even though figures show that the two issues are not linked. The papers say this is proof that immigration must be tackled by politicians; it shows me that they’ve done a fine job so far…misleading everyone.

Three. This is a good time to mention that new research from the impartial Migration Observatory shows that the press uses overwhelmingly negative words when discussing immigration. The most common word is “illegal”. The most common adjective for asylum seekers is “failed”.

Which brings me back to the first article, which concludes:

“It is surely time to reinvent and organise an effective wider anti racist resistance movement bringing the many campaigns together. The Tories’ racist ‘Go Home’ campaign on ‘illegal’ migrants may have become the last straw.”

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