Tag Archives: Miliband

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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A Question of Substance

this_is_what_a_feminist_looks_like_tshirtSome days, I don’t tweet at all. Other days, I explode. Today was one of those days.

Let’s cast our minds back to September, when Ed Miliband was roundly mocked for refusing to pose with a “Help for Heroes” wristband for the Sun newspaper’s campaign backing the charity for ex-servicemen. He refused because he has staked his reputation on standing up to the Murdoch press, and had been roundly lambasted for posing with a special copy of the Sun backing England’s World Cup football team in June. Now, it’s October, and David Cameron has been slammed because he refused (five times!) to pose with Elle Magazine’s “This is What a Feminist Look Like” T shirt.

I’m with David on this, as I was with Ed Miliband last month. A t-shirt, or a special edition of a newspaper, or a wristband – does nothing to advance the causes in question. Nothing. And no, “raising awareness” doesn’t count. Instead of badgering Miliband to pose with a wristband, why not press him to adopt policies to improve the lot of former soldiers in Labour’s next manifesto, and holding Ed and his party to it if they win the election? And do we need Cameron to put on a fancy T-shirt or to address the fact that cuts are falling disproportionately on women and ethnic minorities?

Furthermore, the Sun’s campaign for ex-servicemen does a lot of admirable work, no doubt, but it also benefits… The Sun. They can get the party leaders to jump when they ask, and they can punish them if they refuse. That’s another subtext to their “empty chairing” of Miliband the next day. The fact that he didn’t pose with them became the story and another useful stick to beat him with. As for Elle – they have been occupied trying to “rebrand” feminism. It doesn’t need it. It’s necessarily confrontational and difficult because you’re challenging power structures. In many ways, given his policies, Cameron refusing to wear the T-shirt is actually somewhat honest. Elle wanted their feature spread, and they didn’t get it. Good causes are becoming entwined with corporate interests. Neither Elle nor the Sun are impartial – otherwise we’d hear less about the alleged slight of being rebuffed for a photoshoot and more about what concrete policies could be enacted to further the cause or end inequality between men and women.

And the second thing that had me frothing at the mouth before 10am was Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s non-apology for his earlier comment on British towns being “swamped” by immigration. He has said that his comments were “reckless”, and the BBC this morning said that he had been “slapped down” by No 10, but I have two issues with this.

Firstly, this dominated the weekend papers. Sure, he retracted, after dominating the news cycle over the weekend and this morning. So… the message got through, make no mistake. Secondly, No 10 never rebutted what he said. It looks like he has been (reluctantly and very slowly) shushed. Which fuels the conspiracy theorists who believe the immigrant invasion of Britain is being covered up by a liberal elite. For that matter, when he said it, not one journalist asked him to justify the claim. No facts, no figures. Boring, you might say. Yes, but in such an inflammatory debate that is fuelled by fear and xenophobia, facts matter more than ever. The average person may say such a thing, but Fallon is a Minister, he has a pulpit and he has staff to fact check for him. Either he didn’t, or he ignored the facts (that this is patently untrue). So either he is incompetent or deliberately stirring the pot. Whichever it is, it’s a case of style over substance. And he got all the PR he needed. Thanks, media, for not interrogating this at all.

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Why we shouldn’t trust the markets with civic life

You know that feeling when you’ve been bumping up against an idea, something that you’ve been thinking about for a while in a muddled sort of way – and then someone comes along and spells it out so beautifully that it’s like a light bulb goes off over your head? That’s how I felt watching Michael Sandel’s Ted Talk: Why We shouldn’t trust the markets with our public life.

“We’ve drifted, almost without realising it, from having a market economy to becoming market societies.”

“The more things money can buy, the more affluence – or the lack of it – matters…when money comes increasingly to govern access to the essentials of the good life: decent healthcare, access to the best education, political voice and influence in campaigns; when money comes to govern all of those things, inequality comes to matter a great deal. “

“With some social goods and practices, when market thinking and market values enter, they may change the meaning of those practices and crowd out attitudes and norms worth caring out.”

There’s a lot of heat and not much light in the press right now about capitalism and socialism – particularly when trying to figure out Ed Miliband. I think that’s more to do with his attacking of vested interests and accepted market assumptions than any principled concern that we’re a breath away from communism. He hit the nail on the head with his attack on the profits of energy companies.

I’m not a fan of his – nor of David Cameron or Nick Clegg – but I think he has hit a nerve. The truth is this: while economists quibble about 0.1%  of growth and whether this means we had a double-dip or a triple-dip recession, and celebrate that economy is recovering (on balance sheets anyway) – down here in the real world, people are hurting*

I see my energy bills soaring but energy companies posting record profits. I see the same thing going on in rail, water and eventually, the NHS. The idea of the common good resonates with me – especially now – and I think the press obsession with the binary capitalism/socialism dividing line is a way of dodging the more difficult questions – which need some answers.

The truth is that not everything is for sale. The private sector can’t do what the State should. It’s there to make a profit, which is fine, but the State has a mighty big lever it can use (sparingly) to level inequality – though it’s not the only tool – and that matters because we don’t all start from the same point. And we all benefit from what previous generations left behind. As Obama clunkily put it:

“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

I don’t have the answers and the press is having a 1980s ding dong rehashing the old arguments about political systems (spoiler alert: capitalism won and is still winning) but Sandel’s has (one) of the big questions:

“In the end, the question of markets is not mainly an economic question. It’s really a question of how we want to live together. Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honour and money cannot buy?”

*STILL hurting. Some since 2008, many since before then.

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