Beleaguered: word of the day?

Martin Kettle, in his article earlier today argued “if Darling’s own story[on his expenses] is the true one, then on what basis can the chancellor properly be regarded as beleaguered?

It was quite clear throughout the article that Kettle disapproves of the word “beleaguered” to refer to Darling’s situation, and Kettle himself poured scorn on the London Evening Standard for qualifying it.

But 4 hours later Patrick Wintour and Nicholas Watt used it themselves in their update of the proceedings, in the Guardian. 

To those who have read Kettle’s article, should this clarify things for him?

Where Miliband is short on Europe

David Miliband, in an article to complement a debate he has taken part in tonight with the Fabian Society, has taken on the Tories and David Cameron over Europe.

The article does present well due finger pointing at Cameron’s decision to engage with, among many others, Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom Party.

On other issues, Miliband assaults Cameron on “support[ing] overseas development – but denounc[ing] the Lisbon treaty’s shift to majority voting that will make it faster and more efficient.”

He buries his knife by saying what Labour will deliver, where the Tories will dwindle: “The EU needs support and reform through engagement.”

Myself, I agree with the latter – that we need to engage with the EU and introduce our take on it, but the former point made me confused. I’m certainly not coming from Cameron’s camp, but its not denouncing the Lisbon treaty’s shift that gets me, but rather the inkling that Lisbon treaty will not be doing anything to curb the anti-union, pro-social dumping ideology that surrounds it.

Obviously, the engagement element of Miliband’s sentiment seems to work well, to use our MEP’s to send a message of worker’s rights to Europe, but not only do I see no chance of this judging by European election polls, also blindly buying into any “shift” the Lisbon treaty forges is just as boneheaded.

Appearing in tomorrow’s Guardian, along with Miliband’s article, will be a one time Miliband supporter (who did her bit to ruin his chances of becoming Prime Minister by shouting, and might just join another emerging trend for the LibDems at Miliband’s, and Labour’s, expense) Polly Toynbee spelling out her reasons why we shouldn’t listen to David Miliband anymore, and vote for the Liberal Democrats in Europe (although this is not full scale support, as some seem to be confused about).

She suggests that a vote for Lib Dems on issues regarding Europe is a vote for consistency, but is no one on the left worried about a consistent dismissal of those things once the territory of the Labour Party; unions, national industry, free elections and the representation of foreign workers.

Putting our Balls at risk

What surrounds the talk of reshuffle is a feeling that Brown is not only bringing to the fore fresh talent, but that he is shedding dead weight.

There was despair when he criticised Blears but not Purnell and Hoon.

Now Darling is clinging on. Just.

But do the rumours that Brown is tactically losing Darling hold?

On the side of YES it is a tactic, is the looming prospect of Ed Balls becoming introduced to the treasury, which Brown made no secret of condoning over the weekend.

Reuters notes;

“Some aides say they have been urging Brown to put schools minister and close ally Ed Balls into the Treasury for a while, arguing it would bring more discipline to the ministry and give Labour a better chance of winning a national election due by next year.”

Balls would be a fresh face to the party’s top team, and is already a recognisable face to the city, not only being a former FT journalist, but as Brown’s right-hand man when he was finance minister.

While Darling is in the media for his expense claims, Martin Kettle in his article today suggests that the Telegraph‘s reporting of Darling was scandalous itself, and that Darling, and his team, are all pretty straight guys. It is all hype, Darling’s claims were not as bad as the ‘graph made it seem, and its all a plot.

On the side of NO it is not a tactic, Brown doesn’t want to stand down, so reports the Guardian, because he wants to deal with the issues at hand, namely the economy. And as the Balls move would look too much like the Brown/Darling duo haven’t had hold of the economy the whole time (bearing in mind the promise that the economy will stop sliding sometime early next year, as opposed to other predictions that it could be at least 3 years) surely only a massive cock-up like “Darling billed us for two homes at the same time” could spur on such a dubious reshuffling.

There is, of course, a viable third option suggesting that it is a little of YES and a little of NO.

But in any case a leftwards shift in finance – spearheaded by Balls – would be an encouraging prospect, despite the view that Balls will have little opportunity for manoeuvre in the present economic climate.

As the Reuters report finishes;

“Darling, 55, is also less likely to take risks than Balls, 42, part of a younger generation of ministers who will probably fight to replace Brown at some stage”.

An alternative manifesto

It was not too much of a surprise over the weekend to see the Tory undead wake from their slumber to criticise David Cameron on his decision to remove the Conservatives from the European People’s Party, and shift to the non-attached – that murky layer utilised by detached fascists and cretinous cro-magnon (the sophomoric, the asinine yada yada).

I was hardly surprised at the time because I knew there were mildly pro-European Tories, and that even the likes of Ken Clarke didn’t like the sound of those “neo-fascists” and “cranks”.

But Bob Piper’s slating of Jackie Ashley’s article on a centre left coalition made me think about the weekend reporting again. If, as Piper states against Ashley’s thinking, those “centre-right Cameroonies” look to be as congruent with any Lib-Lab centre, does this not mean that the government and the opposition have both moved into a political no man’s land?

For sure Cameron doesn’t belong in that strata of coalition for he doesn’t fit the criteria given by Ashley, that of “pro-welfare, mildly pro-European and support[ing] constitutional reform, including PR”. But certainly some Tories do fit this bill.

So how did this remind me of the weekend reports; there operates in Cameron’s Tories a sagging group of grump’s that don’t conform to his vision, those that I once thought occupied the right of the Tory party. But I’m having second thoughts. Perhaps it is Cameron who is on the traditional right of the Conservatives, and a wallowing group, maybe even unbeknownst to them, have shifted naturally to that point Piper identifies as being the space occupied by “Jackie Ashley, Martin Bright, Polly Toynbee and the rest of the chattering classes on their cocktail circuit.” The point where elections seem pointless since all major parties meet head on there.

To be sure, if Piper is correct – and I really rather suspect he is – that all party rebels are in the same shoes (dwindling in that so-called “centre”), the two main party leaders – Brown and Cameron – are to the right of them.

Which means that a space needs filling on both the left of those leaders, and of that political no mans land that occupies that so-called “centre” (but which I suspect is just a meeting of “unrelated solutions” as Piper has it), and since Nick Clegg is the political homo sacer, that left space can be filled by someone of the Labour Party willing to trump the wrongdoings of the last 20 or so years…

Faith, Reform and Danger

Michael Sparling

There are many things I believe need to be done to confront this latest, dramatic crisis over faith in British politics.

Firstly let me say that it is sad that the anger directed at Westminster has had such a negative impact on those at a local level who are out there doing their best for their communities in difficult circumstances. Certainly, Members of Parliament, the institution of Parliament itself and also the party machines have a lot to answer for.

Now is not the time for appealing to the status quo, so here are some of my thoughts on what can be done.

Labour were bold in the early years of this government, particularly in the area of constitutional reform. This process needs to be taken further now. If the events of recent weeks don’t serve as a catalyst for further reform, then the government’s constitutional reform agenda can credibly be called into question. I believe that the Jenkins Report needs to be revisited urgently. Electoral reform at Westminster is still outstanding. House of Lords reform too must be prioritised. The change initiated in the early years of this government was decisive, necessary and long, long overdue. That said, the current settlement is a half-baked job that further undermines Parliamentary authority and any remaining faith the public have in the institution. I believe that there should be fewer Members of Parliament. Almost countless millions have just voted in India and yet they have fewer Parliamentary representatives. This could be managed effectively by introducing border changes resulting in 50 fewer returns over the course of the next three Parliaments. This will not be a popular one, but I believe that Members of Parliament need to be reimbursed adequately in the form of their salaries. At the same time I believe the allowances system must be culled and the new transparent arrangements managed by an external, independent auditor. 

Ultimately, whether those who are angry like it or not, we need politics. The dangers of protest votes and knee-jerk reactions in this election are, as I have stated in previous postings, all too clear. Those families who need help the most are the ones who will ultimately suffer if those elected in local communities and to Europe do not have the capacity to govern or represent fringe sentiments – not the politicians whose wrath such protest votes are aimed at.

Michael Sparling is the Labour Party candidate in the Devon County Council elections (Tavistock Division)