Time to quit the debating society and get some proper work done

In recent years, the folk at the Houses of Parliament have gone some way to civilising the process.

They changed the hours of working, and substantially cut down on the night shifts and so on.

This period has also resulted in an electorate which feels increasingly unrepresented and let down, both by the government/s and the effectiveness of the oppositions.

During this period, whilst PMQs has retained an albeit stage-managed confrontation, much of the day-to-day politics has been pretty civilised, culminating in Labour’s front bench abstaining on the recent Welfare bill, using some procedural excuse.

This may well be a valid, practical approach to politics – the governing party have a majority, which normally would enable bills and legislation to pass into law no matter what the tactics employed by the opposition. This leaves the battles to be fought in the media, where each party can jostle for their position to be heard, and where the knock-out blow comes from zingy one-liners that play well with the public.

And this suits the politicians on both sides – these folk were always the ones to be in the debating society, to take an argument and try and outwit their opponent. That’s their culture.

This also has added benefits; – media exposure & sensible working hours, and ultimately for most folk in the public eye, these are VERY GOOD THINGS.

I get that.

But the public outcry over the oppositions apparent capitulation suggest this isn’t a good long term move. Over a period of growth and reducing poverty, with all main parties idealogically close to each other you can get away with it. But when the public feel persecuted, excluded, trampled and ignored, it doesn’t look good, and it doesn’t win support.

A recent piece by former Conservative MP Jerry Hayes struck me.

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The new leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition will have the choice – how far to appease, be the sensible politician, but risk losing the momentum of their election result, the Labour party support that is currently so passionate; or to embrace that feeling, to decide that now is the time to let rip – after the summer recess the MPs should be rested and ready, so enforce the party whip and put the government under the most indecent pressure.

Imagine the impact on those part-time MPs with lucrative second and third jobs, they’re gonna get pretty narked pretty quickly, imagine the view of the electorate suddenly turning to the inability of Cameron to get things done. The lobby reporters would have to change tone, it would be “will Boris be here to vote, this MP is out of the country, that one is poorly …” –  Suddenly a tiny majority looks fragile, the opposition is heaping the pressure on, the usually calm will start to fray.

Time to do the hard graft, Labour, this is the pre-season training phase – get fit and lean now, and hit the new season like a team of world-beaters, set the scene.

Jerry Hayes piece: http://jerryhayes.co.uk/posts/2015/08/13/a-corbyn-victory-will-herald-a-dramatic-change-of-tory-tactics

Labour Leadership – how does it feel?

A bloody lifetime.

All those tedious meetings with wetsock councillors, local activists, and associated crackpots.

All those blancmange judgings.

All those requests for help cheerfully passed onto the relative who works in your office to send a pat response, with occasionally, getting some that need some attention, a hidden gem of an EXAMPLE to fight for, a Cause to Back.

And the press releases, the puppy-SpAds, the casual chats with ministers and shadow-ministers.

The hours on the train, the juggling of 2 homes and 2 lives – yes it’s a good earner, but actually a pain in the ass when you don’t remember the sandwich toaster only exists in your constituency house.

20 years or more, going through it all – the quarrels and pointed-elbows, the petty insults, the time spent avoiding this one or that one, or circling another.

But Ed quit (about time), and here comes your chance.

Maybe I’ll get some fight from one of the others – Andy, or Stella, it doesn’t matter. I sense my time is here. I’ve bloody earned it. I’ve fought the causes, built the profile, said the RIGHT BLOODY THINGS.

And this fucking Jerry fella chips his fucking stupid hat into the ring.

Jeesus. We used to chat once in a while – he seemed alright. Didn’t behave properly (what was he thinking), all worthy and all that. But never the bastard party leader, no way.

How? WHYYYYY?

It’s MY time, I’m smarter than Osborne, I’ve even had talks with Rupert. Polly Toynbee has my mobile. Who are these people and where is their right?

I know I had some worries when Ed B lost – I think we all felt that was a bit weird, a freak storm, he was popular, and so smart (usually, altho’ he did always get flu on budget day); I don’t know why people didn’t see it.

What do these people want – we are their party, I have worked for them all this time – I know what’s possible, I know the BBC Director General.

What do I do now?

Andy says it’s like being a football manager who has a run of bad games, and this new bloke comes in and suddenly you can’t stop winning. I don’t know.

Is there a way back, are the polls wrong? What do these people want FFS? just because they don’t understand how parliament works, I get the blame. Harriet had that vote worked out. Is it that vote? Or the other one? We did that for YOU, you silly people. You think they’ll let some cardigan wearing worthy into the hot-seat? Boris will have ’em flogged.

Fools.

And you think it’s good when he challenges the govt on everything – how would you like the graveyard shift at the house listening to some over-promoted wonk drivel on. That’s not how it works anymore.

I will keep trying. I will.

Booked on WATO next week.

On the point of politics

The Labour party will be electing new leadership over the coming few months.

So far, a number of prominent Labour Westminster MPs have thrown their name in the ring, and there’s a lot of guff in the media & blogosphere about why Labour didn’t win, and who they need in charge to win next time.

Pragmatic analysis of messages, personalities, butty-eating skills, perceptions, demographics, tactics, leaflets. How did you do on the doorstep? How to defeat yr opponents. How to win voter x,y,z. How to inspire the squeezed middle, white van man, the women of Swindon, the aspirational, the wealth creators – nonsense terms that hide the reality of real people with real problems.

For the majority of politicians of our major parties, Con, LIb, Lab, the problem is how to win power.

And if you take that approach, Labour as a party will lose, because they cannot influence those people nearly as effectively as a moderately competent Conservative party – loyalty sticks and influence (press, employer, social) is hard to get past.

Call me an unreconstructed idealist, but this is a depressing argument, and reinforces some key issues I have with the Labour Party.

In life, I try and understand problems, assess solutions, and implement the best solution the best I can. I don’t think that’s unusual.

Politics ought to be the same thing, except looking at bigger problems, for larger groups of people – how can I/we fix that problem? What’s the symptom, what are the causes – the real causes? follow the trail. It’s a purpose, a calling – an over-riding need to secure better outcomes.

Is it too much to ask that our prospective governors first identify the problems, offer solutions that will fix those problems, and then ask for the vote?

The problem for Labour isn’t about getting the vote of the folk of Swindon, Scotland or Morley; it’s about having a vision of how to transform a dysfunctional nation state into one that inspires others, one that surpasses expectations by offering real solutions to real issues. You can’t fake that, you don’t get that without questioning EVERYTHING.

You need a MISSION, a PURPOSE, a point, you need to articulate that, and most importantly – IF IT’S NOT DIFFERENT TO THE COMPETITION, you’re doomed to failure.

It’s not about winning first, austerity-lite, safety first. it’s not about votes. It’s about vision.

(And I’m not sure many MPs have much of a vision these days

The debt I never promised

Something I was reminded of.
Apologies for lack of original thought, but just maybe this has passed you by.

William Shakespeare
I know you all (“Henry IV, Part 1”)  

HENRY, PRINCE OF WALES.

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyok’d humour of your idleness.Yet herein will I imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder’d at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;But, when they seldom come, they wish’d-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.So when this loose behaviour I throw off,And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault,Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.I’ll so offend to make offense a skill,Redeeming time when men think least I will.
[Exit.]
(Prince’s soliloquy, “Henry IV, Part One,” Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 199-221)     

Labour must forget ‘austerity’ and offer a vision of a more equal society…

What Labour Should Do ...

If Labour have designs on representing those who crave a more equal society then they ought to be aware of the huge elephant in the room … Labour support for Osborne’s ‘Austerity Agenda’ .

Let’s begin by pointing people in the direction of the evidence. It quickly becomes apparent, once you examine Britain’s previous levels of debt, that there is no need for austerity, it’s an ideological attempt to shrink the state and in doing so punish the poorest people in our society for the crimes of those in the City of London who gambled, ‘crashed the economy’ and were bailed out by Gordon Brown and the Labour government.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 11.54.30Anyone who has read Naomi Klein’s superb ‘Shock Treatment’ will recognise that the signs were there from the moment Osborne killed a recovery dead in the water by warning that Britain, a sovereign country with its own currency, was in danger of becoming ‘another Greece’. The…

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Oblomov III returns from the wild frontier

I can’t keep my trap shut any longer.

So for a few months you get your head down, get things done, teach your children. And around you events unfold, things take shape in the mists, patterns emerge, and (as ever) if only for the sake of my own sanity, but also for the sake of sharing, I can’t keep things to myself any more.

We’ve seen global forces at work, with the neo-liberals of all shades starting wars, picking winners and losers, apparently based on what wealth can be appropriated from this nation or that, now or in the future. Beggar the populous. But just maybe, overall, it’s good for us. 

And then there’s the economics.

Maybe the best thing that can happen is that we decimate a public service, break the will of the users and workers, and privatise it, because ultimately that makes everything better and nothing worse.

And free markets (who doesn’t approve of freedom and choice), except they’re rigged and nobody told you, but that’s alright cos that’s animal spirits and entrepreneurialism, and if it’s wrong then the folk involved might get told off.

And loading individuals with debt for their education, their transport, their shelter, so there’s always a rent to pay. We all understand that. We all want to get stuff, and don’t mind working hard to achieve it. So maybe that’s the best way to do things.

 

If all these things were of a benefit to us they’d have a ton of evidence (both financial and anecdotal) to prove it.

And the population of these countries would be better off, and would know it, and feel it. We’d revel in the security with improved productivity and creativity. The infrastructure (roads, rails, ports, power, sewers, hospitals, social care systems, parks, museums), would be in the best state ever. The environmental challenges facing us all would be understood, and we would have the joy of creating the great technologies and innovations that can help us and the planet through them. And the opportunities for our children would be better than ours, and they and we would see that, and they would feel proud of their parents, their nation and we’d all erect statues of Friedman, Reinhart & Rogoff.

And if all this made the world better, the media would actively seek to get under the bonnet, understand the successes and failures, and discuss them in detail so that we may all have a better understanding of how we, the people, changed things for the better.

 

I don’t see that do you?

I think it’s pretty obvious to everybody that life for most people is actually a bit worse, or a lot worse. And for various reasons (state pressure, owner pressure, incompetence, bias, Stockholm syndrome) the media are very selective about how they show this, and so for most of us, we know things are bad, but we have to take the expert opinions on-board. We look to our opposition parties, who all want slightly more of the medicine, or slightly less of the medicine, or a cheaper medicine, so we conclude that the patient is sick and the doctors are doing their best. But we don’t get to ask if it’s an illness or poison.

And we are taking the poison. Every day. And the doses are getting bigger.

What I’m trying to say, really, is STOP. Have a think about our perilous, tiny existence. 

What do we, COLLECTIVELY, want to get out of this life, for us, and for the future generations of us, and other species?

Because, if we don’t know what a good outcome looks like, then we can’t challenge our systems and structures, and we can’t question our leaders and their media orators on the really important stuff. And while ever we don’t understand that, the poison keeps being administered. I don’t know if we’re doing it consciously or accidentally, but the point being, WE ARE THE PATIENT.

The recovery is a long road, but relatively painless, but we need to stop taking the poison, start being our own physician, and we start with understanding, and work our way up individually, because even the villainous hate figures (take your pick) at the heads of Govts, parties, NGOs, they’re all just folk too, and I reckon we’re smarter than them. Well, you are.

 

 

 

(apologies for the complete lack of structure, narrative framework etc – you can tell I haven’t written anything in ages, but I hope you’ll forgive me)

 

Dangerous Subsidies

Call me daft, but I’d imagine most people think that holding a full-time job in a developed western society should enable someone to feed, clothe and house themselves without additional help.

But that doesn’t happen – we need additional tax credits, housing benefit, winter fuel allowance etc just to survive. So why is that? The main answer is dangerous subsidies.

The logic of a minimum wage was that people working decent hours should be paid enough to meet their basic needs. The campaign for a living wage is attempting to tackle this. Low wages enhance corporate profits, and govt subsidies to low wage individuals work as subsidies to corporate profits. High corporate profits then get eaten up in excessive executive remuneration, with a little left for dividends. The dividends mostly go to corporate investors and pension schemes. But the pension scheme providers are charging more in fees than the schemes are earning, in order to cover excessive executive remuneration!

The winter fuel allowance is necessary for many of our most vulnerable pensioners. This covers their bills, which are paid to the energy cos. But the energy companies, and the fossil fuel wholesalers are massively subsidised by Govts across the world, either in direct subsidies, or via tax breaks.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/feb/08/fossil-fuel-subsidies-tax-breaks

So we subsidise the production and supply of essential fuels, (for companies who make super-massive profits). Then we tax the user massively at the pump (for vehicles), and at the same time provide price support via Winter fuel allowances. The net beneficiaries are the extremely well remunerated executives at BigEnergy Inc, and once again, the executives running your pension scheme.

Oh, yes, and my personal favourite, housing.

2/3 of recipients of housing benefit are in social housing, the rest in the private market. But 40% of the spend (£17bn a year) goes to private landlords. That’s £7bn a year. Housing a million people. If we invested £7bn building houses we could house a 200,000 people a year. So lets look at the beneficiaries of this subsidy – firstly it’s the private landlords, people with enough wealth to be able to afford a house they don’t live in. Secondly, the beneficiaries are other property owners – this subsidy makes private renting a worthwhile “job”, and keeps the price of properties high (the poor can’t buy them; the landlords don’t need to sell them). Expensive properties are particularly loved by the wealthy, as with zero effort, their capital grows by the day. And lastly, the other happy beneficiaries of the subsidy are the banksters, insurance co’s etc. Because the bank’s investments can be held at the balance sheet valuations, meaning no losses incurred, PLUS they can then gamble many multiples of it.

So what on the face of it is a means of giving extra income to the poorest, is actually a subsidy to the wealthiest in our ranks, and ultimately to the detriment of the direct recipient. That’s a subsidy so nasty that most people would struggle to follow the money!

And, then there’s agriculture. The EU Common Agriculture Policy was set up post WWII to stabilise food production. The single payment scheme pays directly to landowners, who by happy coincidence already happen to be among the richest people in Europe. The more land you own, the more you get, paid for by the taxes of ordinary Europeans. The richest landowners have been using this money to increase their land, taking an even bigger cut of the subsidy. In Britain, 2/3rds of its 60m acres are, rather amazingly, owned by only 0.26% of the population. Of that, the vast majority is owned by the even more astonishingly small number of just 1200 individuals. Other major recipients are British Sugar plc, Unilever, Nestle, banks, distillers. That’s where the majority of the £3.3bn a year in CAP payments go in the UK. Now there are arguments to be had around food, self-sufficiency etc, but paying the richest to keep fields “ready” for agriculture, when demand and populations continue to rise is madness.

(see this piece by George Monbiot http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/26/europe-bung-landowners-farm-subsidies) and this http://www.tlio.org.uk/reformCAP

Summing up, that’s a lot of billions of money being siphoned away from the average folk, and into the arms of the wealthiest landowners – so tell me again this isn’t a feudalist society. It’s definitely not free-market capitalism, or whatever our governors and talking heads claim it to be. So when you’re in the queue at the Post Office, or in the pub and someone mentions the problems with the welfare state, please do remember to tell them that the biggest claimaints and indirect recipients are the Queen, the banks, and the richest landowners in the country. And don’t feel bad for claiming for that extra bit of benefit or tax credit, it’s what the “most successful” people in the country do all the time.

On the Europe debate

I don’t know about you, but in the Europe debate i’ve switched sides several times over the years.

Why?

I think it’s because I’m a practical person – I’m not too fussed WHO leads us. I don’t care if it’s England, Britain, Europe or the Govt of the Milky Way. Further, I don’t care which party they belong to, what colour tie they have, or which schools they went to.

I just want to be governed by smart folk, who do their best for the other folk (the governed). They need to constantly search for the best ideas, monitor evidence, and act on the results. It’s not that difficult.

And within, or without Europe, we are nowhere near that.

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