Monday, 28 March 2011

The aftermath

I don't want to decry those who went to Saturday's "March for the Alternative" demo. After all, they did it with all the best intention in the world, and they had every right to. But, for the historical record: the demo was an undeniable car-crash for the Party, in which almost all the things discussed in my previous post (by the way, the best-read by far in the short history of The Centre Left) came to pass.

The most worrying thing of all is to read, in the gushing tributes on Labour contributor sites today, an almost wilful denial of the reality that, for those not actually taking part the result was overwhelmingly negative. And we were seen by the Great British Public as guilty by association. 
From the shots of smashing windows interspersed with Ed's speech, to the moment when the speech tried to compare the struggle against the speed of the cuts with that of the suffragettes, anti-apartheid and Martin Luther King. Oh, and the burning effigies at Oxford Circus. So far I have heard blame for the Black Bloc, UK Uncut and the media. In  fact, typically, everyone except ourselves.

How could we have let this happen? I am gathering my strength to do a longer post on this soon.

Friday, 25 March 2011

The wrong demo: five reasons why

On Saturday Ed Miliband will be speaking, but not marching, at one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations for many years.  Activist Luke Akehurst writes passionately and eloquently about the need for all of us involved in the Labour movement to march and, on the face of it, it is an obvious way to capitalise on the unpopularity of the Tories. But there is a big difference between it being right for individual members to be involved, and it being right for the Leader of the Labour Party to speak there.

Ed is in an uncomfortable position – “walking a tightrope”, as the New Statesman’s Mehdi Hasan puts it. He’s not wrong: look, and you can find at least five compelling reasons for his not being involved in the demo.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dance like no-one is watching

I have been shamed. I am not worthy.

For two reasons: firstly I realise that recently I have been
posting quite a lot of Centre Left articles on the blogsites Labour List, Labour Uncut and Left Foot Forward (some of them modestly successful, though I say it myself). But you, dear readers, who have been kind enough loyally to subscribe to my blog, deserve at least to be able to read things here that you can't read anywhere else. So, I hereby promise to ensure that, at least once or twice a week, I will post here JUST FOR YOU (you lucky people).

The second reason for my mea culpa is that a couple of weeks ago veteran blogger Hopi Sen started a post with the words "I never link enough to other people", and then promptly linked to an article of mine. If Hopi can take the time to single out his fellow bloggers, so can I. I often link to articles on the Labour contributor sites and press but not to people who take their time to write and maintain their own stuff, which frankly is a bit rubbish - there are few enough of us as it is, and we should really be encouraging people to read other independent blogs. The great advantages of independent blogging, of course, are that you don't have to write for a particular audience and no-one edits your stuff.

In the interests of propagating the genre, and generally spreading a bit of link-love, then, here is a list of quality, independent left-wing blogs I read on a semi-regular basis, over and above the media and the left-wing blogsites. They are all people who do it like me, for love, starving in a garret with nothing but a candle for company (I slightly over-emphasise, but you get the point). Not only are they sensible, rather than nutters, but with all of them I have at one time or another exchanged words, tweets or other banter and to me seem like rather decent human beings as well. Bookmark them and you will significantly improve your political thinking.

Hopi Sen is, like me, a former Labour staffer-turned-blogger who is furthermore not only clever and
knowledgeable but also writes with great wit. Scarlet Standard (Emma Burnell) is a bit more lefty than me but is fair, straight and knows what she believes in. I respect that. Luke Akehurst manages to be sensible, moderate and still a member of the NEC Constituency section (you'll have to ask him how he manages that). Tom Watson is yet another former staffer, although he went and sold out and became an MP (just kidding Tom) and has been a tireless promoter of the use of the internet in politics (unlike me, who took a break for about, er, 10 years after setting up the Party's website). Alastair Campbell clearly doesn't need me to introduce him, but you would be foolish not to read such a first-class political brain, agree with him or not. And Martin in the Margins is a well-read liberal-left independent thinker with no time for lefty dogmas (we need more of those).

A couple more people who I have never had contact with but whose blogs I have picked up over recent weeks: Norman Geras and Marbury (Ian Leslie). There are many other great blogs such as the Fabians' nextleft, which are afiliated to some body rather than personal, so don't count for my list (sorry Sunder).

And that's it - my overall point being that we bloggers shouldn't perhaps worry so much about getting the big viewing figures of the press or the main contributor sites, although obviously it's a useful thing to do if you want more people to read your stuff.

We should also all try at the same time, as it were, to dance like no-one is watching*.

*For those who have seen me dance, you may think this isn't such a good idea. My wife, the night we met, said she fell for me because of what she thought was my great sense of humour, for being able to dance in such a satirical and amusing way. No, I said, somewhat crestfallen. I really do dance like this.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Libya: why do we still look at conflicts through 19th Century glasses?

To the intense surprise of everyone, the UN has finally voted for a no-fly zone over Libya. Russia and China were at least convinced not to veto. For the first time since resolution 1441 on Iraq – let’s not forget, unanimous and fairly uncontroversial at the time – the international community has decided to do something in concert which has a big impact. Even if even that approach is fraught with dangers and might be seen by some as too little, too late. So, one cheer for the UN.

Obama’s 11th hour rescue – and, being realistic, it was largely his decision whether it happened or not – should not be underestimated. It was important because US fence-sitting would have sent precisely the wrong message to Gaddafi on both genocide and restarting WMD production, both of which seem almost inevitable if he survives. It was important for progressive politics for Obama himself not to be tarred as an indecisive, weak and disappointing president (although the jury is, at least, still out on this). And it was important because, in many ways, this really was the last-chance saloon for the UNSC to show it could still be relevant and capable of doing something useful. It did.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Emperor’s new progressive majority

With his LSE lecture David Miliband is back. We should be delighted: not, one would hope, because there are too many partisan squabblers who wanted him to lead the Party and can’t accept that he lost, but because we are all grown-ups and he is a huge talent which we cannot afford to waste.  But some of his speech is both disturbing, and remarkable, nonetheless.

First, it is disturbing because you realise how constrained he is by the awful combination of filial loyalty and media scrutiny. So, whatever he says needs to be said in a code so opaque that it seems asking the impossible for any speech to break new ground. As Sunder Katwala points out, when talking about British politics he is carefully higlighting points of convergence with his brother, determined not to provide a credit-card-breadth of difference between them. But these contortions ultimately twist his message. For example, one of the other points of convergence seems to be on the befuddled topic of community organising, which even the more committed members of David’s own campaign team thought its weak point. Much as we try to think otherwise, it is painful to watch David attempt to locate and reinforce these points of brotherly convergence.  The ultimate conclusion of all of this must be the obvious one, that it cannot be good for Labour for one of its true remaining heavyweight talents to be hobbled thus; to be neither in the Shadow Cabinet nor truly enjoying the freedom of the back benches.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Genocide, intervention and defending our indefensible institutions

There’s an odd, and slightly twisted argument doing the rounds at the moment. It goes: it’s perfectly ok to let genocide happen, yes, even on your doorstep. Let’s just restrict the discussion to that. Not regime change, not geopolitical advantage, simply the prevention of genocide. It’s ok. And, don’t worry, you can always find a bunch of other countries – the “complicated and ethically dubious” position of France in recent years being a prime example, or Spain – also happy to stand back, even for years, looking on (Western Sahara, anyone? Bosnia? And, let’s face it, none of us were exactly covered in glory over the Kurds).

Why? Because, according to this argument, it’s much more important that we work within the out-of-date and dysfunctional framework of the (UN/EU/NATO, delete as applicable) which was designed 50-odd years ago and which we know that, often as not, doesn’t solve the problem, or certainly not in a remotely adequate timescale. Rwanda and Bosnia, ultimately, were good. Because we played by the rules. That is what matters. Sierra Leone and Kosovo were bad. Never mind what the population of those countries think about whether we succeeded or not. This argument says these campaigns failed, because we didn’t play by the rules.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tax: it’s the politics, stupid

Not content with the questionable strategy – not to mention thoughtful gift to David Cameron – of our insisting on the extension of 50% tax band indefinitely, Ed Balls has now indicated in a Progress interview that he is thinking about implementing one of his leadership campaign planks as well, and lowering the threshold of the band.

Now, I have no doubt we could usefully use the money to invest in public services.  But before we get into the classic Labour argument of how much money you can make, or not make, by taxing the rich, let’s pause for thought and consider the following argument.

It.  Doesn’t.  Matter.

The question right now is political, not economic.  It is about perceived competence; the fact that we are in opposition, not government and its impact on the way we do things; and, most importantly, our electoral future.  These are things that both Blair and Brown keenly understood, and that is why they were successful.

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