Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A good strike (for Ed, that is)

Ed Miliband has done the second smart thing in less than a week by explicitly not backing the impending public service strikes on his personal blog yesterday, as we suggested might be a good course of action here last week.

Hell, if we keep this up, who knows what could happen. We might get elected.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

NHS reforms: a pyrrhic victory?

So, government reform plans stymied. The smile wiped off Cameron’s face. Lansley humiliated. Been rather a good few weeks, hasn’t it?

Not so fast. A few thoughts, before we raise our glasses in unrestrained Schadenfreude, might give us pause.

What has certainly happened, over and above any disagreements we might have with them on policy, are two major errors: first, that the Tories foolishly bit off more than they could chew. They tried to completely restructure the largest employer in Europe with a rather hastily-put-together plan, whilst simultaneously trying to make real terms cuts. When what they really needed was an administrator of global stature – think the chief executive of a multinational, the former prime minister of a minor European state, or something similar – to plot out a gradual-but-radical approach to reform this huge, complex beast over a number of years. Instead they had the luckless Lansley, a career politician who enjoyed one brief period as a civil servant. In short, this job is not like restructuring the Passports Service (and look how difficult that turned out to be).

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Credit where credit is due

Regular readers may be shocked at this, but I just want to register my approval - no, my delight - at reports that Ed Miliband wants to dump the odd tradition of Shadow Cabinet elections, which allow MPs to vote for who they want to see at the top table. For years they have been a way of a certain number of politicians of doubtful competence making it to public prominence for no other reason than they can muster support amongst their MP colleagues. In the old days, it usually gave members of the parliamentary awkward squad ample opportunity to embarrass the party and try to ensure it never made into government, although the PLP is nowadays a little more sedate.

I don't know of any other Western political party which deliberately narrows the talent pool available to a party leader when in opposition. It's precisely when they need access to all the talent they can get. Neither is the system consistent, as leaders are allowed to select the Cabinet when in government (if they ever get there, that is). For those who think this hurts party democracy, the obvious answer is that party leaders are much better positioned than backbenchers to decide who is or isn't a decent administrator. You elect a leader: let them lead.

It's also a bold move - not quite Clause Four, but bold nevertheless - and shows him to be able to be pushing against the comfort zone. We need a lot more of these.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Cuts, pensions and the wrong side of the argument

As you read this, union leaders are meeting and discussing, moving seemingly inexorably towards industrial action over the summer. And you know what? It’s entirely understandable. After all, as Dan Hodges points out, what on earth do we expect them to do? If organisations largely representing public sector workers did not take some retaliatory action, after the biggest public sector cuts for half a century, combined with a major assault on retirement age and pension rights, it would be incomprehensible. If I were a public sector worker, I’d be wondering why on earth I was paying my subs, honestly.

No, this is exactly the action we should expect unions to take. This – in contrast to the occasional and often unwise flirtations of some with international politics – is what they were created for. Standing up for their members, their jobs and employment rights, as they should. That said, the extent to which in this case (a) they are right, and (b) industrial action will take their cause forward, is a different question altogether.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The normblog profile

Norman Geras is Professor Emeritus in Politics, University of Manchester, founder signatory of the fine Euston Manifesto, jazz fan, author of the excellent, forensically-argued normblog and general all-round good guy. For the last eight years he has been running series of profiles on bloggers - particularly political bloggers - about why they blog, what makes them tick and so on. Yesterday it was my turn, and people were very nice about it.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Labour’s faerie weekend

It was a strange Midsummer Night’s Dream weekend. There seemed to be dark shadows of plots in every corner. The “Balls papers” of leaked memos reminded us that no-one plots quite like the Brownites; the ghost of David Miliband’s never-uttered leadership acceptance speech was rather unhelpfully leaked to the press, neatly exhuming the Miliband-fratricide stories. And the Labour body politic ended up starting the week a little jittery.

So jittery, in fact, that by Tuesday, and after Ed Miliband had made rather a good fist of pulling it all back together, our esteemed Uncut columnist, Dan Hodges, was still being accused of disloyalty for complimenting the party leader(work that one out if you will). I put it down to the faeries.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

An end to banker-bashing, please

Ok, I am going to make a confession now which will probably damn me forever. In my foolish youth, I once used to work for a bank.

There, I’ve done it. I’ve come out. I hear a faint chorus of “aha”s and knowing looks being exchanged. On the Labour Party’s own internal Axis of Evil, I suppose that puts me up there with Iran and North Korea. I should add that, on the day of the 1997 election, when they found out I was a Labour candidate, an email did the rounds, insisting on my immediate dismissal as a socialist infiltrator. They were joking (at least, some of them were).

In the end, I lasted a few years more as a backroom boy. It wasn’t, frankly, the right place for someone who was “a bit of a lefty”; now I do other things, which I like better. But it was a good insight into another side of life: and perhaps a bit of balance in the membership enriches us in the Labour Party (it’s notable that fairly few senior Labourites have ever worked in the private sector, let alone the financial sector).

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Much obliged, m’lord Ashcroft

On discovering, via Tim Montgomerie’s Saturday piece, that Michael Ashcroft (former Tory Deputy Chairman has commissioned a report into the future of the Labour Party, one’s immediate reaction is that it was exceptionally kind of him. After all, as Montgomerie points out, the party is not exactly awash with cash at the moment to do its own polling. Really a very public-spirited action by the noble Lord.

Alright, perhaps Ashcroft is not really bankrolling a report for our benefit. It is of great politi
cal value to the Tories to show Labour to be out of touch and polling poorly. But you know what the smart thing for us to do would be? It’d be to read it very carefully anyway. And the article is a good starting point. It is uncomfortable reading, naturally, but it is always a position of strength to listen to criticism, especially when it’s based on the opinion of ordinary people. And it is always a position of weakness to ignore it.

Friday, 3 June 2011

May roundup - in case you missed them

Just to say thank you to all our followers for a fantastic May: traffic was doubled from the previous month.  Labour had a fairly ugly election result, Brendan Barber wrote back about Chávez and we had a laugh at Nick Clegg's expense.  We rewrote political strategy to the music of New Order.  Oh, and the "progressive majority" passed, unloved, into history. The Centre Left was linked and tweeted all over the place, even by the Tories (not sure if that's a good thing)!  So, in case you missed them:

Thursday, 2 June 2011

UCU and the siren call of “my enemy’s enemy”

Hate figures and bogeymen are convenient for everyone. Up to a point, they can be harmless. I’m not averse to a bit of knockabout with the Tories or the Lib Dems: that’s the rough and tumble of tribal politics. But, in some less-travelled corners of party and movement, we have developed some hate figures over the years which we don’t need: at worst, they become pathological.

The most obvious example of this is the European left’s mixed feelings about the United States. At lowest common denominator level, we can perceive that the centre of gravity in America is politically to the right of us, and that puts us off. We might confuse the American President and American politicians with the American people: or talk about “the Americans” as if they were a race of identical people, at one with their politicians. But some of us feel uneasy about America; and a few of us actively despise it.



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