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?

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The Tories and Progressivism: Those Oxymorons

Politics is very exciting at the moment: real thinking is taking place, words are being articulated and debated, and ideas are the bedrock of policy once more. Take the example of Roger Helmer MEP, his stupidity on the subject of homophobia had a brief moment of genius, it was an analysis of the subject of etymology in that it focused on whether meanings of words stack up to public attitudes, and also how certain attitudes may be perceived from the outside. Deeply philosophical stuff. Only it was magnificently wrong. Despite Iain Dale’s totemistic, scant reflection.

Another revival of etymology in politics surrounds the word progressivism. George Osborne hyperbolically asserting that the Tories are the only progressive force in UK politics today, and Peter Mandelson riposting back that for Osborne to think this is categorically erroneous.

Indeed for these two former yachting buddies, as one blogger puts it correctly, it is a battle of ideas, and how to put those ideas into practice, which as cat-and-mouse as it might appear, makes for interesting reading. Mandy is right to say that what Osborne thinks he means by progressive is whatever it is that the Tories stand for “this month”. It certainly feels like that anyway, that Osborne figures that if a compassionate grin emerges from his po-face as he pours over public spending reform, this will sideline what lies behind the rhetoric.

This, too, goes for inheritance tax, which isn’t thoroughly progressive.

But, for the left, is there not a sense of satisfaction in that our historically right-wing party have found solace in entertaining ‘radical’ sentiment. Firstly it was Cameron’s call for a ‘day of reckoning’ back in January, saying that the nation’s modest earners – “nurses and cleaners and [sic] teachers” – should not have to fund the “multi-billion pound taxpayer bail-out of the banks” adding “[t]here cannot be one law for the rich and another for everyone else.”

Agreed. But this, given the circumstances, would have to imply a tax raise, and I’d like to think this was the case, but it will most certainly not be, so Hopi Sen accounts.

Then this notion of Red Toryism, or Conservative communitarianism, that amounts to replacing welfare with investment vouchers, or rather, a regulated system with a rearticulation of dog-eat-dog capitalism.

Progressivism is a system of formulating change, and the Tories at the moment are engaging in an exciting game of new words that would have once been oxymoronic such as progressive conservatism, but in actual fact it seems that its all talk. The Right inside the Labour camp are short-circuiting, and a shift to the left is imminent. A host of leftist elements are waiting in line, anticipating the death blow to New Labour. Why that blow has had to receive electoral punch from null Tory sentiment is beyond me, but to be sure, even if New Labour is hardly a progressive force worth defending lock stock and barrel, the Tories version of progressivism is a simple veil. Its a pity the traditional Labour base can not hold Mandy up as one of their own, in the battle of words in the new (possibly brief) epoch of political etymology.

Royal Mail pension deficit: where and why?

Ken Livingstone, on a separate matter, but with usual aplomb, today wrote;

“Time and again, we have seen the nationalisation of losses and the privatisation of profits. It’s also the latest demonstration that it is a fairy tale that privatisation means the private sector takes the risk as well as taking its profit. In truth, every time a privatisation of a vital public service fails, the public sector picks up the tab. This culture of parts of the private sector fleecing the taxpayer has to stop.”

And, of course, though the original piece referred to the National Express Group, this is rather an apt sentiment across the whole spectrum of privatisation, including the 30% stake of Royal Mail, which until yesterday, was being waved around waiting for private money.

Well these are not the market conditions to do such a thing, so says Lord Mandelson.

Since the Tories foam at the mouth over privatising Royal Mail, they never did condemn Mandelson’s original proposals, but – within the frame of parliamentary contrarianism – they have not vindicated him for his U-turn either. Instead voices have emerged – not least of all from BBC’s Nick Robinson – saying that the move has demonstrated a ‘loss of authority’ – which Jack Straw rightly rejected.

This, indeed, was not why the plans were ‘shelved’. I do buy into the notion that certain market conditions forced a re-think, but also a concerted effort by unions, think-tanks, Labour MP’s and the worry of further disruptions spelt out the necessaries for calling off the issue.

What is continually embarrassing for the Labour Party – rather than the so-called ‘loss of authority’ – is the continual destruction – facilitated by New Labour – of the heart and soul of the party and its values. To suggest this turn is anything other than victorious for the true nature of the party, is to suggest that Peter Mandelson represents what is solid about the party and its history. And I for one will not accept such a statement.

Whether or not, as Mr. Straw has stated, the changes over the past few days mean that the party is ‘listening’, it certainly means that Labour has to listen, and this itself is no U-turn whatsoever (in the historical sense of the Labour party).

The problem is still focused upon the pension scheme, though. As Ian Pollock puts it – in a dazzlingly simple manner – “The deficit in the scheme – the difference between the value of the assets it needs to pay pensions, and the value of the assets it actually has – is shooting up.”

But, as it becomes clear, certain previous measures – not to mention nonchalance in the economic equilibrium years –  made deficit inevitable. As Pollock continues (to quote at large);

“For 13 years, from 1990 onwards, the Royal Mail – in common with other large organisations – made no contributions at all to the old pre-1987 section of its scheme, in a grand contribution “holiday”.

It should have been paying in money at a rate of 9% of salaries per year.

Ostensibly this was to avoid running up a very large surplus, which was a very common phenomenon in final salary pension schemes in the early 1990s.

But the saving of £1.5bn over that time – when staff were still paying in 6% a year – rather neatly covered the £1.3bn that the Royal Mail paid back to the Treasury during that time in an annual dividend.

If that money had been steadily invested over the past 19 years, there is little doubt that the scheme’s deficit would be far smaller now.

If the £1.5bn of annual payments had been invested in shares and bonds over those years, and had grown at an average annual rate of 6%, including dividends and interest, then the fund would now have an additional £3.1bn.”

Well what a surprise; Thatcher government, holding back on the suspicious pre-text that it was running on a surplus.

Whatever the outcome, and even if Mandy returns to this when the time is right, as he promised he will, it would do us well not to forget which system of governence tried to make private finances an inevitability in the public sector, and which style of governance should do all it can in order not to emulate the former in any way possible.

In defence of striking (or, not quite what Richard III had in mind)

Richard Duke of Gloucester never did utter the words “Now is the Spring of our discontent” so we shall perhaps be spared the same levels of corruption as was the case in 1978-79, but never the less, striking workforces are monopolising news columns and commanding the attention of idle chatterers.

For the Lindesy oil refinery workers we’ve been here before. In February of this year, French oil company Total, which owns the refinery, were brought into meetings with unions over an Italian sub-contractor who had hired its own workforce – including 200 Italian and Portuguese workers – excluding the British workers.

Trade unionists argued that management used this measure to undercut domestic wages.

The left made it clear at the time that foreign workers were not to blame, but rather the loopholes that management were able to practice impinged on workers rights – since those foreign workers hired were working more hours for less pay than the company would be obliged to pay the British workers. Workers, regardless of their nationalities, the left argued, should be paid a fair allowance and one that reflects the legalities of wages in this country.

This time the strikes concern the decision by Shaw, a subcontractor at the Lincolnshire refinery, to dismiss 51 workers on the HDS-3 project while another contractor RDC was hiring 61 staff on the same project.

Those workers have no been told they have until Monday to re-apply for their jobs. As of this a number of wildcat strikes of sympathy have taken place around the country.

Dave Osler for Liberal Conspiracy blames Total for hypocrisy. He notes that Total would be afraid to commit such an odious act for fear of both legal and strategic reasons (he mentions the “notion” of le bossnapping). So why, he asks is it acceptable to do it here? He goes on to say;

“The difference is that where continental countries guarantee some form of employment rights, Britain celebrates the hire and fire culture”

Perhaps a little too simple, but certainly the issue of contractor’s rights should be raised again. More legal emphasis on the rights of agency workers, perhaps?

Total have said they will not talk to unions until production has started again by striking workers. And herein lies the strategic deadlock of wildcat strikes, i.e. the legalities.

A Times entry explains;

“those involved [in the wildcat strikes] have far less protection. Unofficial strikers breach their employment contract by not making themselves available for work, and can be fairly dismissed by the employer as a result. The employer can dismiss and re-engage selectively, so could pick off the ringleaders, whilst retaining or re-employing the rank and file strikers it needs to continue the business.”

But Dave Ossler seems correct again when he adds;

“Total’s nakedly nasty move makes its intention absolutely clear. Shop stewards, troublemakers, lippy bastards and/or anyone with minimal self-respect need not apply. What we are seeing is the return of hardline, back-to-the-eighties, management’s right to manage old skool union busting, pure and simple.”

Total are holding the workers to ransom; deal with our unfair sackings, or get lost we have plenty more contractor opportunities.

Lack of communications are the problem here, no dialogue has been verified yet between the unions and Total unlike in February, all on Total’s own terms.

But for the postal workers it is not communication that is (altogether) the problem. A modernisation agreement in 2007 [doc] was supposed to be put in place after talks with union officials. Yet signs of modernisation, or improvement, have unyet materialised.

Reuters reported David Ward, deputy general secretary of the CWU, having said;

“it was only a matter of time before staff cuts without pledged fresh investment, in machinery for instance, would have a major impact on the service.”

Not a good prospect, especially when even oiks of the Labour Party like Peter Mandelson (I know things will perk up for my party when he is not the most important member of it) would bend over backwards looking for justifications for his plans to part-privatise Royal Mail.

John McFall MP has issued an interesting idea for avoiding Mandy’s proposals to his correct insight that “the taxpayer must be rewarded”. Where Mandy wants to part-privatise in order to maximise profit-margins (makes me sick to think something like this could be said by a member of the Labour Party, let alone one so highly ranked), McFall’s solution is, “[r]ather than selling a stake in the company, why not raise bank debt or issue bonds?”

With bonds, the government could have creditor stake security, and have a defined term for fixed interest payments. It might indirectly curb excessive bonuses and obscure pension pots, and with increased international pressure on tax havens, could spell out good things in finance for years to come. Those taxpayer savings could rescue the Royal Mail as it is today, and still be no match for its competitors.

So for the contractors at Lindsey oil refinery it is lack of talks; for the postal workers, of what communication there had been it didn’t stop promises being broken; and for the tube strikers communication wasn’t enough since talks with TfL brought about no progress anyway.

Though already a Downing Street official said of the Lindsey dispute that ‘Unofficial strike action is never the right response to industrial relations problems’, the ends to which those workers are strking for should be in direct correlation with the overall project of the Labour Party; worker’s rights, public services.

Are those old criticisms of Tories for us?

I’ve just read Mark Steel’s latest article for the Indy and it is pretty blunt:

“Back then [in 1983], although the election was a disaster, the Labour Party had active branches in every area, with thousands of young members bursting with ideas of why they wanted to run local councils or the country. Now the branches barely exist, debate has been eliminated, and all that’s left are careerists frightened of losing their careers.”

This would have been my Grandad’s argument against the Tories once upon a time (and it still could be, were it not that his party are career politicians now too).

A friend of mine from school – who has Conservative listed as his political views – today had as his status;

felt really sorry for this old fella i see out today , 78 years old and delivering take away leaflets to earn a few extra quid cos his pension is worth nothing and he is getting fucked over by this labour government .. what a way to treat the old ! poor old sod : (

Again, once upon a time pensions, welfare, and regard for the elderly were fodder for Tory criticism. Now Tories use it against us. And is it fair game? Perhaps exaggerated, but the Labour Party needs a sea change – and soon.

The Greens and the LibDems as a “protest vote” has gradually turned into a Green Party or LibDem lament of Labour’s social-democratic past. Is not the possibility of their coalition – a perceived snub at New Labour and the rightwards shift – testamant to this?

I said before the European elections that poor results for Labour would result in a shift to the left, and this was vital since such a shift was inevitable, and should not wait – hands behind backs – until a general election disaster.

Royal Mail is a good start. The part sell-off plans have been postponed for now, but this is clearly not enough, the plans should be scrapped and Mandy should be apologetic for even considering its untapped capital potential.

Just off the top of my head, the scrapping of tuition fees should be next, shortly followed by making a damn big fuss about how the whole thing was a massive mistake on the campuses of British universities.

Then what will follow, we can discuss another time.

It might not phase Labour activists much that a former swappy like Mark Steel is pouring scorn on them (I heard that Steel only left the Socialist Worker’s Party after they refused to be present for his comedy shows anyway), but it must certainly be embarrassing to hear the criticism’s their Grandfather’s probably directed at the Tories once upon a time, be used quite convincingly at them.

Will Gordon Brown ruin Labour forever?

The rebels failed to amount to anything at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting; the reshuffle has settled the shifts; Mandy is happy, the Miliband’s are happy; Polly Toynbee is furious; the James Purnell story on Guido Fawkes is probably bollocks; he probably helped keep Brown from drowning; Alan Johnson has not ruined his chances of being leader by looking like he wants it too much, and Brown lives to see another day.

So we rebels who hoped Compass would help direct Brown to the door have to ask ourselves the question; is the question of leadership change big enough to collapse the party (see David Aaronovitch’s intervention) or will the party suffer as a consequence of rebel silence?

In other words, should the rebels bite their lips to save the party, or will this complacency lead to defeat beyond repair.

Nick Cohen offered up some scary details at the weekend, and though rather exaggerated, do outline the very worst case scenrio for the Labour Party if the wrong decision is to be taken. He says;

“The banking crash led to recession, which led to a popular fury at the often minor, but still telling, corruptions of MPs who were fiddling expenses while the financial system boomed and bust. That anger has now concentrated on the shattered Brown administration, whose manifest failings could destroy Labour’s chances of winning another election – maybe forever, if the Liberal Democrats and Greens take over what remains of the centre-left.”

Roy Hattersley reminded us elsewhere that Labour should re-deliver its social democracy promises, just as Europe reminded us that the left’s chance to prosper (during an economic crisis) had failed.

But this is by far not a call for the left to give up, and I back Hattersley’s sentiment. The point remains; is Gordon Brown doing the right thing for the greater good by staying, if the worst that could happen come next election is that Labour slip into fourth place, behind the BNP, forever more?

The consequences of Brown staying on are far greater than an election defeat in 2010, and so the question is on: will the (definitely disavowed gesture of) silence by the rebels be a gesture that returns to haunt them in the future?

What dirt will £300,000 buy you?

My local MP Angela Smith said in todays Basildon Recorder that Gordon was the man to save the economy (the same edition that regretfully informed inhabitants of Essex that the BNP is fielding candidates in all 75 Essex wards next month).  But Brown’s efforts may well be for nothing if he doesn’t inject the country with some reasons to trust his party.

The information leaked today concerned expenses. The telegraph bought the stolen disk containing MP’s expenses, which was being dangled in front of the media’s noses at a high price.

The disk showed details of Gordon Brown paying his brother Andrew £6,000 for cleaning his Westminster flat, but Brown, although seen to be defending the allowances system,  admits the system must be changed.

The disk also reported;

Justice Secretary Jack Straw claiming his full council tax despite receiving a 50% discount from his local authority, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown claiming for the same plumbing bill twice within six months.

As the Guardian reported;

“Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell, a member of the commission, said the information was being offered to national newspapers for up to £300,000 in March and that a hunt had been launched to find the mole.

Bell said: “All of the receipts of 650-odd MPs, redacted [edited] and unredacted, are for sale at a price of £300,000, so I am told.

“The price is going up because of the interest in the subject.”

Peter Mandelson, who by this has been accused of “defrauding” the taxpayer, on the back foot tried to claw away difficult questions by asking what kind of questions the public will be asking about the tories’ expenses. But this is not a game of well they did it, Mandy!

The police have been called to investigate and find the mole who stole and sold the information, while some see this as a grave error, and have come out in defence of the telegraph for purchasing stolen goods, arguing that it was in the public’s best interest (see link above telegraph bought…).

The police will not be unfamiliar with high-cost purchases of dodgy information, reports have just been fed through that police paid informants £750,000 in four years for information on Plane Stupid!, the bubblegum protest group who seem to encapsulate everything older people hate about teenagers; hubris, close contacts, disposable money (not income), and media attention.

I’m sure more on this will emerge by Monday, providing it is not obfuscated by ten more scandals and leaks.