May 6th Vote Labour

I felt Gordon Brown played a blinder on Thursday, that he was more able to articulate the plans to pick up the economy and not let it slide into a grey hole as would the Tories with their ideological cuts to services. GB’s position seemed far more considered, Cameron was a little too immature on the subject, way out of his depth, and Clegg – not his usual self – appealed to niceties and low, hypocritical anti-politics stereotypes – that will eventually come to shoot him in the foot in event of a hung parliament, and we’d all do well to remember.

In spite of this, the leader debates were a game of politics, swiping statements,base argument, and GB did his best to stop it from being a case of who can be the rudest to who. Further, as they were the most popular political events on the calendar before the election, it might have been more sensible to curb the illusion that it was an individual, and not a party, that we are going to vote for. This will be bad for the less confident voter, but those of us more alert to the ins and outs (warts and all) of these things would do better than to decide who to vote for on these debates – for me they did little to clarify what the parties stood for and how one man could undercut the man to his left or right. Surely vote for the party, not the individual – for this is not a road mature British politics should go down, we’ll leave that to the x-factor politics of the US.

We’ve all seen shifts in direction for the labour party, but whether we like that or not they did well not to follow the line in Europe and keep the economy afloat as best as possible with easing measures and capital injections. On a wider note for the economy, something that is a small expense, but could potentially be a great benefit to young people growing up during economic austerity is the child trust fund, which the lib dems plan to scrap in favour of smaller classrooms.

As for migration, labour surely has to change the tune its whistling, but we are not a party of xenophobes. I personally don’t feel amnesties promote illegal immigration, they are a solution to the wicked issue of illegal immigrants forced to lurk among the shadows, but I don’t see it at all as in conflict with the party’s moral compass, nor my own, which is why I think these things might better be campaigned for within the party of fairness (we have solid border controls, which don’t run contrary to my socialist principles at all, in fact quite the opposite; it is about who provides the ideology behind the borders, and if they are to just, they will be best to observe and safeguard migrants who might otherwise get lost in the ether, opening themselves to a whole host of unpalatable occurrences and wage depressions from exploitative criminals, who also operate from outside regulation).

That is why the labour party should get your vote – unlike what Sunny or the Guardian are saying – because they are the party of fairness, they are the party that is committed to saving the economy for the majority and not on account of an ideology, and because to vote lib dems is to implicitly say to the right wing of the labour party (who inform negative rhetoric) you win! I for one am not prepared to do that.


Childcare vouchers U-turn was wrong

Gordon Brown has decided to retreat on the childcare tax vouchers decision. A concerted effot by the 70,000 online petitioners, and Progress, all expressing concern about something the latter considered to be one of Labour’s greatest moves. But it all came down to Brown being told that the move to scrap the childcare vouchers could lose votes. Where have our bollocks gone?

Brown’s intention was to scrap the relief as it was badly directed. Arguably true, it saves parents £2,400 a year on nurseries, nannies or childminders whether or not they are in high or basic tax paying brackets. If this is a system of welfare, to try and level out the gap in wealth and the state of services received by all in society, then why should high rate taxpayers enjoy tax breaks when that money would be better spent on making services widely available.

But, however, Progress showed that 74% of those (340,000 parents) who were eligible for the vouchers were basic-rate taxpayers. Certainly something to consider when working out how the voucher system fares with trying to level out quality of services, with budgets in mind.

Progress also said, on account of their results, that the voucher system is not “a middle class perk”. To reiterate, it is not a middle class perk because 74% of its beneficiaries are basic-rate taxpayers. Out of that remaining 26% many will be high-rate tax payers. So, as a result – and to modify slightly what Progress have said – it is only a middle class perk when it is a middle class perk, which it is for middle class people. Slightly confusing right? No, not really. The voucher system for all, securing tax relief is not itself a middle class perk because there are working class beneficiaries, but it is a middle class perk for those middle class people who enjoy the benefits of it. What this means is that middle class people enjoy more benefits from it – not only getting vouchers rewarding them, being high earners, and paying the same as basic rate tax payers for the those services the vouchers are set up to provide money off for.

Call me controversial, but, providing there was some transparency as to prove that the money was being used to make nurseries, nannies etc more affordable, I prefer the idea of scrapping the vouchers.

Brown wouldn’t lose more votes on it if the reason why he was getting rid of the vouchers was widely publicised. I wonder how many of those 70,000 signatories heard voucher cuts and acted without any further ado. I don;t blame them for this, I blame certain taglines:

Ending childcare vouchers will stop many families from working

Controversy grows over plan to axe tax aid on childcare vouchers

and the best one


Nothing in any way to suggest that the voucher scheme may well have been badly directed, and that the 250,000 planned free nursery places will have to be put back to 2015 now.

More market fundamentalism than methodism

I scorned at the plans to take Sir Alan Sugar on as enterprise tsar, I turned my nose up at him getting a peerage, I guessed that it was all glamour, it had nothing to do with Alan the individual, it was all to do with his media personality. A move to be expected at the time of Brown’s reshuffle after a disappointing European election effort, ideas needed to be circulated on how best to woo the prime-time television voting public who perceive labour as little more than a failed spectre, trying to flirt and provide champagne parties for the city, whilst repeating any redundant  rhetorical mantra to keep the usual base as mere voting numbers.

Not enough any more to say that Labour have shot themselves in the foot with taking on Alan, a symbol (or if not a symbol, a reminder) of how much of a political price Labour are paying to remain in the pockets of the city. Not enough because they are no longer shooting themselves in the foot. This is the New Labour project plan in action, they’ve succeeded. It’s not compassionate capitalism, or capitalism with a human face. It’s not even the reluctant understanding that socialism has failed, Labour owes nothing to Marxism, but every day it becomes more market fundamentalism than methodism.

This turn may have abandoned the usual base, but did it succeed politically? This needn’t be discussed at length, but the recent smattering of essays and articles (and of course blog entries) about a return to a riotous age, like the poll tax riots, or the riots of Brixton. See for example Dominic Sandbrooks’ essay in the staggers, Alistair Darling can sleep easy without fear for his head, but we are closer to the edge than we may think. The political mob may well have found its temporary accomodation on the internet, but when panic meets flesh, just what will the next 10 years bring?

Again, perhaps not a symbol of, but certainly a reminder that everything New Labour touches turns to shit is Alan Suagr’s recent burst about small businesses losing money being moaners. Like Tony Blair around the time of the Iraq invasion, for my sanity and persistent support for the party I spend more time berating than beloving, I want our unpalatable spokespeople to be guilty, not pompous (I was not alone as an atheist to want Blair to bring more Catholicism to the party, not less). Even if Sugar was the epicentre of loving and kindness, I know it would be bollocks, but if we as a party must employ business gurus, they should be the lying ones, the ones who feel only guilty about their wealth in public, not the ones who stick their fingers up at the poor, but who pretend to care. I’m thinking more Soros than O’Leary.

This is not an isolated incident either, only a few days ago he publicly humiliated a woman who, owing to her husband losing his job, was forced to take benefits to keep their house. After Sugar told her she must come off benefits to spend more time for her business (she could only work 24 hours on the business in order to be eligible for benefits) he then said “If you wish to remain on the benefit system that’s your decision. What am I supposed to do, wave a wand and change the benefits system?” These are not just the words of someone with a history of unprovoked claptrap, but the words of a Government spokesperson. Call me unrepentent, or even too optimistic, but he should be fired.

In February 2005 Sugar predicted that the iPod would be “dead, finished, gone, kaput” by the following Christmas. I’m not as politically dim as to predict anything as stupid, but it won’t stop me hoping that Sugar’s political career goes the same way as his predictions.


Update: And this is what I mean, Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy and co-director of the centre for research and development in higher education at Liverpool Hope University, has written an article today on the Guardian website criticising Lord Mandy’s new framework for higher education, saying:

The second proposal is that business should have a bigger role in determining the university curriculum, in return for making a greater contribution to costs. Leaving aside the question of precisely which firms these will be, this is highly questionable. Designing and delivering a programme of study requires a specific set of aptitudes and skills. It is far from obvious that business has these aptitudes and skills or that it has any better idea of its likely skills requirements in 5 to 10 years’ time than anyone else. As for the idea that business should pay more, one can only refer to Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on second marriages: this represents the triumph of hope over experience.

It’s bad enough that the logic of capital champions infiltration of education, but when our Labour politicians actively promote it, we are in trouble.

An economical plea for Reallocation

Last Thursday The Telegraph reported comments by David Blanchflower who warned about a ‘lost generation’ of workers, which will be attributed no less to George Osborne and his plans for deep cuts in the public services. He said that such plans ‘could force unemployment up from its current 2.5 million to four million over the coming years.’ Gone, also, are the days where Labour can say with a grin that the Tories are the party hell bent on slashing spending, for Brown, just days before Blanchflower suggested that any changes should be put off until at least 2012, himself accepted the “need” for cuts.

To my surprise Ed Balls was one of the first high profile names to put a figure to the amount of cuts in public spending. Balls, earlier this year, was lambasted for his insistence that we avoid spending cuts, why the U-turn? From my own experience with working in schools I learned something very interesting about allocation of funds, namely that a school is allocated so much to meet the needs of the children it accepts, for example children requiring special educational needs, that require increased funding. A school, in knowing that it will need increased funding for the next school term or year may perhaps keep quiet about the fact that it doesn’t need as much funding in the present term, in order to secure that increased funding for the next, often resulting in unnecessary spending, that is to say the obligation to make it look like the school needed that money (the school I worked in had twice as many televisions as it had classrooms, and with the new term bringing a child with severe special needs, spending seemed like the only guarantee to match that same money again).

This can be seen as a kind of microcosm for local and national spending in general, that the wrong things are being prioritised, and silence is a safeguard for a rainy day. But with swingeing cuts looming, rather than waste that money to ensure it is matched next time, another system should be sought. The system I propose is called reallocation, which in other words is the renegotiation of necessity in spending, rather than huge cuts, that also protects provisions where necessary. So for example if one service in the public sector has enough money leftover after necessities to, say, build a state-of-the-art sports centre or visitor centre, but another is struggling with plans to build adequate social housing, the choice should be there for the former service to reallocate that money to its counterpart, but still be entitled to receive that same money from local government the next year.

What’s good about the idea is that when local government allocates the different sectors its varying amounts, if one sector realises that it has been allocated too much, or to meet its target it must spend unnecessarily, that sector can opt to reallocate that money to another, perhaps less off sector, or at least a sector of more importance. What’s unique about the idea is that the sector itself is responsible for the reallocation, dialogue with local government would most definitely be promoted in order for further decision making at the top, but more options would be delegated to the public sphere, while the state sustains a position of financial overseer, in charge of maintaining the established standard for what is necessary spending, and what can be shelved for the common good.

Reallocation is partly inspired by, this infamous turn of phrase, left communitarianism, in that the local authority, with necessary input from renewed civic institutions, takes a large portion of control over the way it spends its money, with the state acting as the bastion of sensible spending.

Some naysayers will say that those in central and local government haven’t got it within them to dictate what is and what isn’t sensible spending (I wonder where such an opinion could’ve ever been formulated?). However that is not true always. Many influential politicians have signalled to what is for keeps and what is frivolous and can be shelved in a time of economic struggle. Some rather idealistic commentators have pointed to curbing excessive pay, extending inheritance taxes, and even getting rid of the Royal Family, the latter apparently making the saving of £185 million. Though I’d be happy to see some of these put into action, we don’t even have to get that radical (though, obviously, sometimes it helps). The Trident missile programme is priced at £16bn, ID cards luckily are as good as shelved, why before almost the entire political establishment is in favour of cuts isn’t the 50p top rate taxation not set in stone, why are top earners able to get tax relief on pensions.

There are those who are always going to say that taxing the rich like this is akin to punishment, but if measures like this are not taken, then it is the poor who suffer, and why should they be punished?

The basic premise of reallocation is to take from extravagant spending – usually, as with Trident, mandated at a more optimistic economic period – and not draw anything away from the public sector, who at once have done nothing to deserve it, but will bear most of the burden. Furthermore, it is a way of re-engaging civil society back into decision making over how local authorities should best spend their money, as well as bringing authorities together and sharing – not wasting – money in hard times, without jeopardising the way in which central and local government allocates money in future.

Reallocation to save the public sector

Fierce reminders on the telly last night and this morning are reminding us of the fire burning mass strikes that took place in protest at Tory cuts, and my goodness back then they didn’t mix their words, its a price worth paying – who’s paying?

Trade Union leaders at TUC have warned that this could be the reality again, wildcat strikes, already a feature of the year gone by.

There may have been a secret let out the bag that the Tories, under George Osborne’s jurisdiction, want to cut spending by 30%, but on the Labour side discussions are under way about where best to cut from, if the budget is going to be slashed.

Many of the Labour commentators are calling for cut in the middle class purses, not so much out of an able-to-pay philosophy, as such, but in order to keep afloat the working and lower middle who might not have been able to prepare for such an event.

It seems pretty reasonable, but then this propsal, featuring in yesterdays Observer also seems like a modest one, in these times;

Slash bankers’ bonuses, build more affordable homes, enshrine equal rights for agency workers and support better childcare provision. And while you’re at it, stop top earners getting tax relief on pensions, axe the £16bn Trident missile programme, scrap ID cards and use the money to rebuild Britain’s manufacturing base and protect key public services and jobs from cuts.

Gordon Brown will try desparately to stop unions from mass striking, saying that it is realistic that cuts will be made – for the greater good?

The basic premise of the above proposal is to say lets take from extravagent spending – set about at a less spendthrifty time – and not draw anything away from the public sector, who at once have done nothing to deserve it, but will bear the most burden.

If there was anything to be said for a high pay commission, it is to fund a sector that is constantly made vulnerable by private sector mistakes – i.e. there should be no unreal bonus pay after a fiscal stimulus – inappropriate it may be, but furthermore, it’s a slap in the face for those to where the money has been reallocated.

Indeed the reallocation of funds for antiquated plans such as Trident, unnecessary items as ID cards – which can be shelved at least – and caps on unrealistic earnings – not just in a recession, but at any time – will safegaurd the public sector from sinking.

George Osborne, recently in an interview with John Harris, said that under his watch, the banks won’t mind tougher regulation if it means wider change, if that were true, then the banks won’t mind if that change goes ahead by people who mean it, and that doesn’t mean scrapping the FSA – a city regulatory system – but strengthening it.

Do we really want Mandy as the face of the party?

To repeat that oft used phrase it is not often I agree with Letters from a Tory today reading his letter to Peter Mandelson made me smile in agreement.

Regarding the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, LFaT points out that

You [Peter Mandelson] apparently spoke briefly about the case with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi while on holiday in Corfu, yet your spokesman had the nerve to suggest that the subsequent reports of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s possible release from jail were “entirely coincidental”.

My own support for the Labour party was not informed by a love of coincidental meetings, but this and the letters containing the words lets keep this whole ordeal away from the media, it is sleaze politics and it doesn’t excite me. Lets not get carried away, the conspiracies that this was all to do with business deals is all without foundation at the moment, but when enough of a gap is left open, enough to see that much is to be hidden, then this raises the voters eyebrows and it is at the expense of the party.

What was that other coincidental meeting Mandelson attended the other day

You are proposing cutting the broadband connection from users who swap copyrighted content, which has outraged internet providers who said that it would breach fundamental rights and would not work.  Even though this proposal was rejected by Lord Carter, the former Digital Britain minister and Downing Street special adviser, a matter of months ago, you have mysteriously changed your mind.

Now simple decorum would have done nicely here, namely, do not change your mind from something reasonable (like a reasonable crack down on illegal internet activities) to something potentially illegal (like cutting off a music downloader’s internet connection altogether) after meeting for dinner with David Geffen, the billionaire producer, then allowinng officials to claim that the topic of internet piracy did not come up.

Now the trouble with all this is, as sleazy as it may seem, as slim as it may look, the case that these examples were mere coincidence is plausible. It is damaging, but it may be unfounded. So what is there to be concerned about Mandy for, from the perspective of a Labour supporter?

Despite appeals from Mandelson that he will never become leader through choice, one or two aspects seem to show that his being head honcho through other means goes a way into undermining the leadership, and this doesn’t include the speculation that he was leader of the country via blackberry during his holiday.

Peter Mandelson’s part in the undermining of Brown when he announced, unknown by anyone else, particularly Brown himself, that Brown would engage in a live television debate – though I think everybody knows Brown would be up to it – was if not rude then rather up front of Mandelson. For someone who has no apparent desire to be leader one day, he has a way of making sure his powerful presence is known.

With Jack Straw’s new move to qurantine peers for 5 years who want to sit as MPs has caused speculation that it is a personal swipe at his foe Mandelson. But Straw has flatly denied this, and indeed the rule does apply to all sitting peers. But where are the explicit efforts to curb Mandy’s power inside the party?

The further speculation that Mandelson will resign from the Lords in order to save the party from despair and obscurity will obviously have some high end supporters. But is his really the face we want fronting the party? He who holidays with the shadow Chancellor and a Rothschild, he who changes his mind on policy over dinner dates, he who seeks not to challenge business as much as see it untie its regulation under his watch, he who mysteriously pays off fat mortgages, and he who has become the most important member of the Labour party without ever having been elected to do so? Is he really the face of the Labour party?

What of David Miliband’s Moral Philosophising?

It might be remembered by some an article written by staunch atheist A.C. Grayling, the philosopher at Birkbeck college, who during the first time a Labour party leadership challenge against Gordon Brown was on the cards in 2008, spoke enthusiastically about the prospect of David Miliband becoming the new PM for his atheist beliefs.

The many reasons, written almost like a list of guidelines, that Grayling figured an atheist PM would be beneficial included scepticism towards publicly funded sectarian faith schools, belief in the disestablishment of the Church of England, a down-to-earth approach that dissuades the belief that paradise will be better for the poor, and the likelihood that the “Atheist leaders will not be tempted to think they are the messenger”.

Of course the 345 comments made below the article were mostly covered by criticisms of this very flawed and idealistic approach. And rightly so, for it would not be unheard of that a person of faith can feel uncomfortable with some of the peculiarities of faith schools or the notion of paradise used to justify poverty, nor is it inconceivable that a person of faith can support secularism and not think they are the messenger.

On the flipside, it is also not a given that an atheist be immune from the criticisms that are usually reserved for the religious. For example, Grayling states rather specifically;

Atheist leaders are not going to think they are getting messages from Beyond telling them to go to war. They will not cloak themselves in supernaturalistic justifications, as Blair came perilously close to doing when interviewed about the decision to invade Iraq.

Now of course Miliband is a supporter of both wars the UK is currently engaged in, and whether we like him or not Tony Blair did not use anywhere near the same level of spiel as Bush for the war, in fact in any public address regarding Iraq Blair seemed to me rather more apologetic, and less hubristic than his US counterpart (even if his private convictions tell a different story).

But recently Miliband went one further in actively (though not consciously) proving Grayling’s opinions wrong that a leading atheist politician is any better than one who believes: by justifying the use of terror in certain exceptional cases. Contrary to the opinion that Miliband is acting on a series of rational atheistic principles, structured by the enlightenment period, as no doubt Grayling assumes, his sentiment is actually the heir to some very specific Christian codes, namely that of Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catholic scholar and father of Thomistic theology, who first posited the doctrine of double effect, or DDE, which provide specific guidelines for determining when it is morally permissible to perform an action in pursuit of a good end in full knowledge that the action will also bring about bad results.

The formulation of the doctrine is based on four principles and are as follows, firstly that the action taken is entirely a good action, secondly that the bad result is not at all intended, thirdly that the good result is not in direct consequence to the bad effect (such as is dissuaded by Paul in the Romans 3:8 “Do evil that good may result”) and then lastly that the good result be proportionate to the bad result.

So when Miliband, in reply to Matthew Paris on whether violence is justified, said

I think I’m right in saying that one of the ways in which the ANC tried to square the circle between being a movement of political change and a movement which used violence, was to target installations rather than people … there are circumstances in which it is justifiable, and yes, there are circumstances in which it is effective – but it is never effective on its own.

he was actually using arguments that conflict with the most developed philosophy to have emerged out of the enlightenment period – utilitarianism – which looks at the overall manifestation of happiness, rather than what good can come out of the ends.

Overall, what Miliband’s recent statement means is that though a person might be an atheist, it doesn’t necessarily mean to say that they are any less predisposed to the tenets of the Christian legacy, so perhaps this isn’t a good reason to support Miliband as leader after all (It is also an interesting point of note here that Grayling in his article was using Blair, who had recently converted to Roman Catholicism, in parallel with Miliband. In a philosophical paradox, can Miliband’s words imply that in a way he is just as Roman Catholic in his actions as Blair is, although perhaps not consciously acknowledged?).

Recently Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham, warned those on the left wing of what he called the “liberal drift” in the financial sector, encouraged by Ramsay MacDonald and Tony Blair who were both, as Cruddas tells us, “fatally attracted to wealth and power.” But the liberal drift does not stop here. Utilitarianism as an ethical model has dominated British left wing politics to the point that liberalism and socialism in Britain have almost become synonymous (to whom does Nick Cohen refer to as the liberal-left in his book What’s Left?? Everyone on the left, by his own admission). So why, I ask, is it disturbing that a politician should start observing moral philosophy, as it has so disturbed Chekov? I don’t think it could have arrived at a better time.


This entry is in response to Three Thousand Versts article Miliband’s terror comments were irresponsible as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment