Category Archives: Labour

The Laws of New Politics (have a decent excuse and fudge the numbers)

So David Laws, architect of the Orange Book movement, believer in economic prudence and smaller state spending, and vociferous critic of those who abuse the expenses system, is having a week off work as punishment for claiming £56,000 dishonestly from the state on expenses.

Many of you may have recalled that I blogged on this last year when it became clear that Laws had indeed dishonestly claimed expenses. In my blog I called for him to go, and was greeted by Coalitionistas insisting he should stay. Though all the facts were there, they insisted there was no wrong doing.

What’s become clear in last 24 hours is that there has indeed been wrong-doing, and as a result David Laws has been punished by the parliamentary authorities. This was followed by Laws’ statement to the house where he admitted his wrong-doing and accepted full responsibility for his ‘mistakes’, though whether deception is a mistake is questionable. Regardless, Laws’ guilt is without question, he has been found to be dishonest and has admitted it.

My question is, does this cover the full extent of his wrong-doing?

Laws has claimed that he set up his finances in order to maintain his privacy. Any fool knows that anything you want kept private you keep off the books. However, I’m just not buying that argument anyway, the more I learn about this incident the more convinced I am that Laws has much more of a case to answer, as do those who conducted the investigation.

One of the primary defences of Laws is that he would have spent £30k more had he correctly claimed for his Yeovil home. However, this uses the mortgage repayments AFTER he had re-mortgaged his house in order to ‘gift’ his partner £99,000 in order to purchase a house, the same house Laws moved into and paid rent way over market value (as accepted by Laws) on the taxpayer’s tab. Talk about fudging the numbers.

What would that figure have been if Laws had not re-mortgaged in order to pay for the London property.

Regardless, does it sound to anyone else a lot like this was essentially a house that Laws truly shared with his partner but that he kept his name off the deeds to cook the books?

Laws wasn’t just paying his partner who he was staying with. Keeping his property down in Yeovil, he was able to build asset wealth within his relationship on the back of the taxpayer. Now I know a lot of MPs build asset wealth on expenses, the rights and wrongs are for another time, but don’t tell us that this is in any way the ‘honourable’ thing to do.

Does anyone actually believe that the deeds wouldn’t be changed once Laws had left politics? Or that financial reparations would not have been made were the couple to split? Let’s just think about the figure, £99,000.

This is the age-old trick of putting stuff in your partner’s name. It is a fiddle.

Also, the time-line doesn’t support his story. The rules changed in 2006 to prevent MPs renting from partners. According to the report by the Standards & Privileges committee, Laws re-mortgaged his Yeovil home in 2007 in order to buy the London property. Surely this was the point when they moved into the property, thereby giving him a perfectly reasonable juncture in order to change his stated 2nd home without raising any suspicion?

None of this adds up to supporting his reasoning for his deception, which is why I’m also keen to see a tax accountant’s evaluation of Laws’ finances, were there any ‘tax efficiencies’ of him working it this way? I think it’s already pretty clear that the £30k figure that he could have claimed doesn’t factor in his remortgaging, but I want to know if there are any tax burdens he has avoided or loopholes exploited.

He has already admitted his dishonesty so we need to see cold, hard proof that the taxpayer did indeed get a better deal (laughable as a defence anyway), because frankly I have a strong suspicion that if we looked at the couple’s finances over all, this is not the case.

I keep coming back to this point on twitter, but how would a benefit claimant be treated if they pulled off something even a 10th as dodgy?

I want to see Laws investigated and punished properly. This doesn’t mean jail, just because I’m a proper pinko liberal who hates the prospect of people going to jail (rather than a libertarian squatting in a formerly Liberal party). No, I can’t call for someone to be jailed, but Laws should be kicked out of politics for his dishonesty.

For it is here that UK politics is getting it wrong. The public see a man who fraudulently helped his partner pay off a mortgage, paid builders and phones bills by claiming £56,000 in expenses he shouldn’t be claiming, they see this man being given a punishment of a week off work, they see the entire Westminster establishment and political hacks telling them that this is an ‘honourable’ man. This is what Westminster calls an honourable man? How on earth are the public supposed to react to that?

They couldn’t do more to damage public trust in politics if they tried. The public see this as dirty politics, and it’s dealing with the likes of Laws in an appropriate fashion that would draw a line under the expenses scandal and begin to heal public perceptions of British politics, not daft referendums on voting systems no-one wants.

Let’s not forget the deceit, Laws was one of the most vociferous attackers of those involved in the expenses scandal, he made great gestures to prove he was better than Labour & the Tories. His tub-thumping has now been proven to be demonstrably not true, and Laws is now a major part of the chip-chip-chipping away at public trust in politics.

So in order to restore trust Laws must face a proper investigation, we must see his books, and he must be properly punished. Punishment should mean an end of a political career, or at very least a recall for his constituents. Indeed, thus far the CPS seem to be operating in a partisan fashion, surely the CPS need to take a look at this case, with Laws having admitted his wrong-doing, to see if he has charges to answer.

The political establishment needs to stop toadying around Laws, Labour (if you can call Frank Field that), Tories and Lib Dems need to stop making excuses and start looking at the facts and start condemning Laws. I’ve yet to see a Coalitionista condemn Laws yet, are we to believe that they all universally buy the privacy gambit, or is this tribal politics at its worst? So I call on Tories and Lib Dems reading this to open their minds and make an assessment based on the facts.

And finally, serious questions have to be asked of those responsible for the investigation. Why weren’t they looking at:

– The timeline that gave Laws the opportunity to maintain his privacy
– The £99,000 gift essentially making it Laws’ property in all but name
– The claim that Laws overpaid rent based on incompetence rather than greed

Finally, what kind of investigation accepts someone’s excuse that they wanted to protect their privacy, seemingly without any further digging.

This whole episode has left a very sour taste in the mouths of many, and whilst I’m sure the Coalition want this swept under the carpet so they can get their prodigal son back on the front-line, it’s clear that there’s no way this should be ‘case-closed’. Even my amateurish digging has thrown up a number of serious questions that need answering, what would a thorough investigation by those skilled throw up?

In order to save politics from complete indifference, or worse, total distrust, we need to see Laws and those like him who would abuse our system be properly investigated and handed appropriate punishments. The question is, is Westminster ‘New Politics’ enough to do it?

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Filed under Activists, AV, Campaign, ConDems, Conservatives, David Laws, Election, Expenses, FibDems, Hompophobia, Labour, Lib Dems, Liberals, Libertarians

AV; a No Vote From a ‘Meh’ Man

This May the British electorate face a choice as to whether they want to keep FPTP or adopt the AV system of elections for members of the lower chamber. Overall this as exciting a decision as helping Ken Barlow choose a tie, but the campaign has become a bit heated lately and wherever I sense an argument I’m straight in, as regular readers will well know (all one of you – hello mum).

The whole premise of the debate is being framed by ‘Yessers’, they will to you that AV represents a ‘fairer’ vote. They will tell you that AV is fairer, it is more democratic and as we get closer to the vote in May, that you’ll be more attractive to the opposite sex (probably).
In 2011, after a year of abuse the word ‘fair’ has about as much meaning as the word ‘progressive’ and an apology from Richard Keys. ‘Fairness’ as a concept is bloodied, bruised and begging to be left left alone, but still Yessers can sometimes talk like they have a monopoly on fairness.

However, let’s look at it this way, if you give everyone of voting age one vote each, with the candidate that gets the most votes winning, that sounds like a pretty fair type of democracy to me.

Some people live in areas that have large populations of voters for a single party, but that is democracy. It does not mean a vote has less value, it just means that in democratic terms that constituency/region should return a candidate for that party. In fact, if we want fairness shouldn’t we be giving candidates with bigger majorities a larger vote in parliament? (No, of course we shouldn’t)

It’s simply not the case that AV is fairer, as there is no set definition of fairness. What AV is, is an attempt by those who don’t like the results they get to change the system in their favour. If voters are too bunched up do something about boundaries (more on that later), do not chuck away a perfectly democratic system.

We need also to think about the potential results that we could have. We could end up (indeed we will end up) in a situation where a candidate who has the most votes is beaten by candidate who has mopped up second & third choices etc. How is it fair that the candidate who is wanted by the most constituents does not win the seat to someone who is no.2?

This is the real reason the Lib Dems want AV, it is not for fairer votes or to be more democratic, it is because they know they will benefit the most from 2nd options at a national level. A Tory is unlikely to put Labour as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem, a Labourite is unlikely to put a Tory as their 2nd option, they are likely to put a Lib Dem (bit less now I assume). The Lib Dems will campaign hard for AV because they believe it is they who will benefit most by mopping up 2nd options and this must be prevented.

If it were about democracy, do we believe they’d be going for AV in the lower chamber? Like it or not, the lower chamber IS democratic. If the Lib Dems cared so much about democracy, if they cared about reform would they not have held out when they were in a massively strong position during the coalition negotiations to have forced through real reform?

Why tinker with the lower democratically elected chamber whilst we still have the House of Lords? Much as Yessers will tell you that anyone against AV is a dinosaur, I want real reform to our parliament. I want a fully elected upper house, I’d also like to see the monarchy replaced, or at least having all political power (even ceremonial) stripped away (the latter is unlikely I know). We live in a society where many of those who make our laws are unelected, but we want to mess around with the elected lower house? Someone’s taking the piss. This is a fop to reform, designed basically to somehow draw a line under the expenses scandal, designed to essentially keep everything the same in Westminster, keep the Lords sitting, keep the whole thing ticking along much as it was before, when in the electorate there is a real hunger for change. I’d go so far as to say that not only is AV no fairer, it’s actually an insult to the electorate to offer up such a miserly reform, to waste tax-payer’s money like this. AV is a clever distraction from the real problems of Westminster politics. A no vote is the only possible answer to such an insult.

‘But if you vote no there’ll not be any future reform’ the yessers will tell you. Real reform is already dead, for a parliament at least. Real reform died when it was allowed off the negotiating table when the coalition was being formed, it was so easily put to one side one has to wonder if it was ever a real objective for those negotiating. Does anyone believe after what looks set to be a spiteful campaign about something that the electorate simply don’t care about that the same electorate will have any stomach for another referendum? When the press go to town on what a huge waste of money the referendum has been will there be any politician who will stand up and say ‘encore’?

No, reform, for this parliament, has been killed stone dead, it’s in the ashes of the purple ‘revolution’ of the election and it makes me angry that we’ll have yet another few years of unelected cronies being given jobs for the boys and having a say on our lives.

(Obviously, the real reform many yessers want is full PR, the fact that FPTP has worked relatively well for hundreds of years, is democratic and has never returned some God-awful extremist government and by and large keeps extremist candidates out of parliament is to be ignored. No, yessers want full PR, because many yessers are Lib Dems and Lib Dems like PR because it would give them the constant balance of power. PR isn’t being discussed but I raise it because it’s part of the debate. One day I’ll write a fuller blog on it, one day, maybe…)

Let’s not forget that AV, this vast step forward in democracy has been bundled in with a direct and unhidden attack on democracy. The bill for the referendum has been bundled up with a guillotine of 50-odd MPs from parliament, the reason is vague, ‘we need to level out boundaries’ (why? Different constituencies are very different, even the geography can impact on the MP’s role) ‘we need to save money’ is the other one you’ll hear, whilst exactly 50 new unelected Lords were sworn into the other chamber (this is actually amazing in its breath-taking arrogance). I may be stupid but more representation feels more democratic to me.

It stinks doesn’t it?

What else stinks has been the nasty, spiteful Yes2AV campaign, which has not only had to fire people for making islamophobic jokes in support of AV (I shit you not) but the campaign has so far been a consistent barrage of abuse, making out that anyone who is against AV is against democracy, against fairness, against reform, is stuck in the past, is a dinosaur, even linking no2av with such shits as Nick Griffin (again, I’m not joking). The vote isn’t until May and the yessers have got to this phase already.

The effect of this negative campaigning has been very real, it has changed me from being a simple no to AV with a big ‘meh’ to the whole thing, to a firm campaigner for the no camp.

One of my other major problems with AV is that for many Westminster is already too consensual, many don’t feel they have any real options. AV will help make Westminster even more one-dimensional. It will mean that candidates will spend too much time playing to second option voters more than their core vote, whose votes they will feel they can count on. It’ll be the bland leading the bland (well, only leading once you’ve factored in 2nd and 3rd votes). This is the exact opposite of what we want right now. The major parties have to be able to display their differences or we are at real risk of seeing swathes of voters move to the fringes. AV could well lead to those extremists doing well in the longer term as mainstream candidates become more homogenised, more like eachother, more bland to avoid dropping 2nd votes. I think that’s pretty bad for democracy myself, and it’s another reason I’ll be voting no.

The final consideration is more of a happy accident really, voting no will give Clegg a bloody nose, it will take us closer to a world we once again have a socially liberal Lib Dem party and much as it’s no reason to vote against AV, it’s an enjoyable extra benefit.

Let’s not get too hysterical because the electorate frankly don’t care, but join me in May in voting No 2 AV. Join me in giving those who would insult the electorate with this fop, this sorry little compromise, a slow clap for throwing away the chance for real reform. But mostly join me in holding the whole thing in the disdain it deserves.

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Filed under Activists, AV, Cameron, Campaign, Civil Liberties, ConDems, Election, Expenses, Labour, Lib Dems, Liberals, Meh2AV, No2AV, Voting Reform, Yes2AV

Here’s some fresh ideas for you…

Over the weekend EdM made a speech to the National Policy Forum that created some excitement.

There was some good stuff in there, I particularly liked the (admittedly non-committed) noises that there should never be a Labour election again where members cast multiple votes. I hope it does become a firm committment because my long-term membership of the party is 100% dependent on it.

During his speech, EdM stated that we’d enter a period of policy review lasting 2 years in which Labour and the public could get involved in shaping the party of the future, even voting in our leadership elections (possibly the worst idea I’ve ever heard).

At the same time he launched his #freshideas website, where people can register to get involved. The site includes a video from EdM talking about why he’s doing this, and allows punters to register their details.

The copy reads:

Everyone knows the country needs fresh ideas for the future. Fresh ideas for our communities, fresh ideas for making Britain the best place to be, and fresh ideas for how we do things in politics. Make your voice heard, sign up and share your fresh ideas.

And that’s it.

Firstly, it doesn’t set out a process of engagement. It doesn’t tell us whether there’ll be meetings, web forums, how our ideas will be discussed. It tells us nothing and I can only imagine that this is either because they don’t know, or because this is a fresh data capture exercise. Either way, reaction I have seen has been very poor indeed. It’s a fairly basic rule of consumer engagement that the consumer understands what they’re getting themselves into, this looks nothing more than a holding message and I think it’s pretty damaging. Saying we need to find new ideas is one thing, but you have to set out your strategy for finding them – without it there is a strong risk you’ll look rudderless and with some of the criticism that has been flying around I think this was massively ill-advised.

So my confidence isn’t exactly 100%, this is further compounded by he fact that, having signed up I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement. Guys, this is basic stuff and it’s not acceptable. If you don’t even acknowledge the sign up how on earth will people have confidence that their ideas will be listened to. You need to fix this right now, and I’m prepared to offer my help and advice to the party gratis to turn it around.

However, then there’s the bigger problem, the one that really worries me. This process is going to take 2 years. We’re not exactly putting up a strong opposition at the moment, during the leadership we had some heavyweights putting it into the Tories and our polling improved. EdB was particularly effective at fighting the Tory/Lib Dems on the economy which is still a major battleground. However, we can’t put up an opposition if we don’t put forward an alternative vision. On cuts, on fees, on nearly everything mostly we’re saying ‘the same, but a bit nicer and a bit slower’.

(Don’t even get me started on Housing Benefit – if Labour support city destroying cut in Housing Benefit then #stay will be opposing them as well.)

And now, as we look for a vision over 2 years the risk is we’re effectively resigning our duties as an opposition. It could make good strategic sense, wait for the Tories and Lib Dems to make a mess of things and flow with the public mood, identifying movements that gain traction and take our vision organically.

Unfortunately there are risks of this holding position. Firstly, if Labour aren’t fighting the government you can bet your arse there’ll opportunists who will. And when a society is suffering, as ours is going to, it’s always the extremists who benefit. Without an effective Labour opposition the likes of the BNP will be gleefully stepping in to fill the void. As Labour councils are forced to make cuts they don’t want to make, they can’t argue that these aren’t ‘their cuts’ if the PLP aren’t on the telly and in the newspapers putting forward an alternative. The extremists will benefit and other parties will benefit, the only people who won’t benefit are the poor who are being punished brutally.

The other risk of Labour waiting to see which movements emerge is this; why should they work with Labour? These movements are going to come alive without them, often in the face of Labour policy so there’s a serious risk that Labour will miss the boat.

What I’ve seen since the speech is not a buzz of excitement but a real sense of disappointment and frustration. What’s worse than someone not listening is someone telling you they’re listening but acting like they’re not.

So EdM if you want my fresh ideas come read this blog, I’ll be sharing thoughts on what 21st Century Labour should be and policy ideas. Or better, invite me for a cuppa or a pint and a chat. Engagement is a two-way street, and as a party Labour has to learn that it needs to engage its membership in ways that are relevant to them. Our members are skilled, passionate individuals but in a world of diminishing party memberships Labour better learn that member frustrations will turn into cancelled Direct Debits.

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Filed under Activists, Campaign, ConDems, Conservatives, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Election, FibDems, Labour, Lib Dems

I Fought The Laws…

Obviously, it’s imperative for the good of all mankind that I give my opinion on David Laws so I’m going to.

He has to go.

David Laws is in a long-term relationship and renting a room from his partner, this is against the rules, it’s dishonest, and I consider this to be fraudulent even if the law doesn’t agree with me.

£40,000 isn’t a huge amount of money in the grander scheme of things, but helping your partner pay their mortgage at the tax payer’s expense whilst literally millions of Londoners can’t afford to get on the property ladder is not acceptable.

Keeping one’s relationship a secret is no reason for financial dishonesty, and as many have pointed out, if he were claiming benefits he’d now find himself on the wrong side of the law with a fine and a prison sentence: http://benefitfraud.blogspot.com/2010/02/slow-investigation-of-single-person.html .  In his statement, he says that he was motivated by his desire for privacy, not greed, but surely if this was the case he would have simply not claimed? He could certainly afford not to claim.

His position as one of the key protagonists in government cuts is completely untenable, he now has no credibility to ask the British public to tighten their belts, and this level of financial irregularity should mean that he’s never let near any kind of budget again, let alone the giant excel spreadsheet of the UK Government.

What’s worse though, is that this was an MP who campaigned vociferously on a ‘clean politics’ ticket, as part of a Liberal Democrat party that claimed it was ‘different’, was ‘clean’,  and would introduce a ‘new politics’.  Laws himself claimed to be whiter than white, criticized other MPs and then even went on to use the Yoevil Lib Dems’ website to boast about the fact that, unlike other MPs, he had not had to pay back any of his expenses: http://www.yeovil-libdems.org.uk/news/press/1305.htm – a boast he made knowing that it was dishonest, knowing that he was breaking the rules.

Laws has failed the test of honesty, of probity and of transparency, his theft of £40,000 to line his partner’s pockets means he has to go.  If Cameron and Clegg fail to take action this will be a double failure of ‘new politics’, and will quickly take the shine off this coalition.

This brings me on to the ConDems.  It’s been interesting to see how cosy the cheerleaders are for both parties. Tories hacks and bloggers have rushed to Laws’ aid, even having the audacity to brand those criticising Laws as homophobic (in the same week that Grayling was elevated to the Privvy Council and IDS appointed Stroud as an aide). 

It’s the behaviour of the Lib Dem activists that has disappointed me most.  The Liberals bandy words like ‘tribalism’ around on a regular basis, particularly at Labour supporters. Yet I’ve not seen a single Liberal Democrat admit that Laws has done anything wrong.  Their defences of Laws have included the following:

Laws wanted to protect his privacy
I can understand that Laws may not have wanted to reveal details of his relationship to the public, or to some family and friends, and though society has moved on in terms of sexual equality (props to Labour deserved), even I know people who have kept their sexuality from family members.  So I do sympathise. But if you want to keep your partnership private you should keep your partner off the accounts.  You do not help him generate asset wealth by having the tax payer contribute towards his mortgage.

Also, the issue of privacy is one that everyone entering politics must surely consider? One of the reasons that I pause before throwing myself into a high profile political life is because I value my privacy (and because I’m a dislikeable twat).

And then consider the privacy of a benefit claimant? There isn’t a tick box for ‘private’ under living status on any of the benefits forms as far as I know.  The only solution for the plebs that may want to maintain privacy is to simply not claim, which brings me onto…

Laws Had To Do This So He Didn’t Out Himself
I’m absolutely convinced that this is not the case.  Firstly, he could simply have not claimed, he can certainly afford to and this would be the only way out for someone on the breadline living on benefits.  However, there must have been another solution, but none of these solutions would have seen him lining his partner’s pockets with £40,000.

Laws Was Saving Tax Payers Money
This is total and utter bunkum.  Laws was renting a room in Kennington from his partner for £950pcm.  In a 5 minute search I identified entire flats with gardens that were available for less, some of them even look quite nice such as this one: http://www.findaproperty.com/displayprop.aspx?edid=00&salerent=1&pid=721086 . So if this is his ideas of ‘saving money’ then there’s absolutely no way he is competent to hold the purse strings of the nation.

This Wasn’t Laws’ Partner
Well this would insinuate that a homosexual relationship is not equal to a straight one and is frankly offensive.

Economic Stability Depends On It
This ‘get out of jail free’ card has to be nipped in the bud right now.  Economic stability depends on having credible trustworthy people heading up the treasury, Laws’ behaviour has proven that he is neither.  Besides, I thought Vince Cable was the saviour?

And the one that the Liberals are turning to most: Well What About Labour?
So David Laws defrauds the tax payer of tens of thousand of pounds and what do the Liberals do?  Have a moan about Labour MPs.  How does £40,000 stand up next to Jacquie Smith’s £8 that it was claimed was spent by her husband which the Liberals were delirious about?  But their rhetoric has even included attacking the MPs receiving Legal Aid as a response.

What Liberals fail to understand is that many supporters of both Labour and the Conservatives were horrified by the expenses scandal. I was unable to campaign for Labour on principle for MPs that hadn’t even broken the rules, but had claimed second homes allowance even though they were representing London constituencies, and have praised Libs such as Sarah Teather, who didn’t claim second homes, and who even used public transport.  Many of us called for MPs to be deselected and Ministers to stand down.  I have yet to see a single Liberal do this for what is a massive abuse of the system and a breaking of the law.

The lesson the Liberals are going to have to learn is that being in government means being accountable, which is something they’ve had no experience of whilst heckling both sides.  Enjoy that accountability whilst it lasts.

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Filed under Activists, Cameron, ConDems, Conservatives, David Laws, Expenses, FibDems, Labour, Lib Dems, Liberals, Resign, Scandal

Before we start, we need to stop

So now we find ourselves in opposition.  This is a chance for us to reflect, to refresh and adapt in order to not only win a full majority in the next election, but for us to use that majority to make Britain a better country, a fairer country which supports those in need and gives each and every one the chance to succeed, whatever success is to that person, regardless of gender, class, colour, sexual inclination or lifestyle choice.  We must create a meritocracy in the truest sense of the word, as this not only is the fairest way, but if you really believe in the market then it is the best way.

The defeat has hurt, but despite fears (or in the case of much of the media, hope) that we would be wiped out we have stayed in touch.  We have lost a vast number of seats but we still lie second in terms of seats and votes.  Indeed, in the Local Government elections we managed to make gains, it’s clear that despite the best efforts of the media, Ashcroft and in so many ways, ourselves, the Labour Party is still one that is supported by millions and trusted by millions more.

So we have a chance. As I say, not just a chance to get back into government, but a chance to make changes for the better when we are back in government.  However, in order for this to happen we need to take this opportunity to make changes to ourselves.  We need to understand what people love about our party, what they like about it, what their expectations are, but we also need to understand our mistakes, our errors, what we’ve done wrong.  I think it’s clear that in many ways we ended up more in the business of government than in the business of being Labour, and in many respects we have lost our way.

What did we get wrong?  Well below is a lengthy (yet still not exhaustive, cripes I can go on), badly written and poorly thought out rambling prose that outlines some of the things we need to consider:

The Campaign
My views on this are covered my views on the campaign in this blog: https://drummerboyblog.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/ourcampaig/

Civil Rights
I feel we lost sight of something that is a key pillar of the Labour movement, and this is that people are fundamentally good.  When Tony Blair came to office he promised to be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, but not ‘tough on everyone in case they might carry out a crime’.  Labour is now viewed by many as the party of the police state and this is a very sorry state of affairs.  We must review our strategy and our policy in relation to civil liberties. Of course I.D. cards are now dead (and I would have gone to prison rather than carry one), but areas of policy around watching, snooping and tracking people, keeping and their behaviour and then keeping databases on them have to be completely rethought out and in my view, simply got rid of.

We need to go further than just not taking civil rights away, we need to become the party that actively promotes freedom of the individual. 

This has to start from childhood, every child’s freedom of religion, freedom to receive a fully rounded education and progressive sex education programme.  In the interests of liberty, our party (and therefore our next government) must spend much less time cosying up to religious interest groups and to stop making concessions to them when passing laws against discrimination and we need to push forward against the growing influence from conservatism.

There are many other areas of civil liberties, (take AJ’s rows with David Nutt) where Labour have been heavy handed and conservative, and a full debate on the freedoms and rights that we should have, and the responsibilities that will be expected in return is key, and the results of this debate should make up a Bill of Rights for British Citizens, though of course that means we must be citizens first which brings me onto…

Electoral & Constitutional Reform
Firstly, we didn’t do enough to promote what we’d achieved in government in this area.  The removal of Hereditary Peers, the setting up assemblies in Scotland, Wales and London were great moves.  I guess we couldn’t shout about our achievements as our programme of electoral reform had stalled.  We stopped short of introducing a fully elected second chamber and this was a complete failure which will damage us going forward, the ConDem coalition could steal a march on us here and that will leave an indelible mark in the opinions of the electorate and will allow both parties to deliver a strong key message in forthcoming elections.

So how do we make ourselves the party that is for Electoral and Constitutional Reform? Do we need to be that party? Is reform needed? I guess we need to see what this Government does, maybe they’ll get all the reforms through and we’ll need make no further changes, though I doubt it.  I don’t have the answers. My personal view is that Lower Chamber should not use PR, and should instead use AV in order to maintain a constituency link.  The second chamber should return members based on region and should use full PR, even if that gives us some distasteful results.  After all, Griffin’s not done brilliantly now he’s an ‘official politician’.  I see the second chamber also playing a role in representing interests and groups, a house of specialists if you will, and a house where communities that aren’t set out by constituency border can also seek representation (see the blog about reorganising Labour and apply that I guess).

Personally, I want to see us as a republic with an elected Head of State, I find the idea of being a subject offensive, and this isn’t aided by the particular family we find ourselves stuck with as a monarchy being entirely loathsome.  Sadly, I cannot see us being able to remove the Monarch completely, but we can introduce reforms.  Firstly, we can trim the role of the monarch to being entirely cosmetic.  We’ve seen the ludicrous turn of events where we had to ‘activate the Queen’ and it’s nonsense, if we want to be a democracy they must play no role whatever in government, ceremonial or not.  Therefore, if we must keep the monarch they should be stripped of all constitutional power, their estate must be stripped back (including property and civil list) and their role should be confined to one of being an international ambassador.

However, the bigger issue here is that we are still subjects.  We must become full citizens with a bill of citizens’ rights and responsibilities enshrined in law.  What this is to include is up for debate, but I’d be keen to hear what other people think it should include.

Foreign Policy & the Wars
Now mentioning the wars tend to bring about the kind of BBC Have Your Say nonsense that I hate most about the internet, and no doubt if anyone bothers reading this the comments section will be filled with the kind of clever word-plays and unsupported allegations that this debate always brings about. These are that Nu-Liar-Bore, Tony BLIAR and Gordon the MORON are war criminals.  They’re not war criminals.

However, regardless of this Labour did take the country into an unpopular war using shitty evidence and justifications.  I believe that had Blair not made claims about WMD and had been honest about why he believed the regime needed to be toppled the opposition to this war would have been less vociferous, but still strident nonetheless.  Personally, I’m not opposed to interventionist foreign policy in order to topple murderous dictatorships, but it’s difficult to do that in one country and then be chummy with another despot from the country next door.

We then didn’t help ourselves by either allowing torture or not properly dealing with accusations of torture in the name of the ‘War On Terror’ and then being ludicrously one-sided around issues in the region.

I’m not sure how we deal with this.  We need to draw a line under the war and that maybe admitting our mistakes and apologising for them.  Blair’s never going to do this, but without the chalice of office around his neck maybe Gordon may be able to point to mistakes and make suggestions on what could have been better. We may also have to accept that we may not be able to elect a leader who is associated with the war, which could make a former Foreign Secretary a bad choice, unless he’s prepared to walk the line of a potentially career ending mea culpa.

Going forward we certainly need to set out the criteria for our withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and in order to do this we have to understand what our objectives actually are. Is it stable democracy in both countries? If so (and I hope it is) then we could have troops stationed in both countries for some time.  Anything less will be a failure in my opinion.

However, this still leaves the question that we need to answer.  What do we want Britain to be in the larger world?  Do we need to let go of the myth that we are ‘Great’?  Do we need to be more isolationist, or more outward looking as a friend to countries all over the world?  Do we need to be closer to Europe or the USA, or (as I believe) become the bridge to Europe, not only for the USA but for many countries with which we enjoy close ties.

Pssst. As an aside, it seems clear to me that the USA is not really interested in Britain anymore (if it ever were), and I’d almost go so far to say that Obama has verged on being disrespectful – but maybe I’m still bitter because his present to Gordon was a Sex and The City box-set and a dog-eared Epcot Centre Guide Book.

Who we are in the world and our place in the international community are important points for debate, and I suggest we start with the question ‘what is it we want from international relations’?

Home & Immigration
As we explore who we want to be in the wider world, this surely means that we need to ask ourselves what we want Britain to be? What is it to be British? For me, I want Britain to be the most or one of the most liberal, most tolerant, most diverse, most caring whilst most pioneering societies in the world.

In order for this to happen we need to start shooting down some bollocks which is being preached unchallenged about immigration.  We do not need to tackle immigration; we need to tackle perceptions of immigration. Now I’m for open borders on principle and in terms of practicality. Firstly we need to accept the following and get the message out there in a meaningful way that our country is not full, our economy and services rely on immigration, our society is getting older and we will need immigration to service this fact and to make the required tax contributions needed to maintain it.

Now a lot of chat about immigration is bigoted, and a lot of it is self interested, and I hate the politics of self interest (which is why I cannot abide the Conservative party).  If there are working class ‘core Labour voters’ who think that immigration is an issue, then maybe they’re Labour because of self interest, just throwing it out there.  If they are, then they’re almost as loathable as a Tory.  Though breadline self-interest is considerably more understandable and defendable than the self-interest of the wealthy, who actively pursue policies to push the tax burden onto those that can least afford it, I still believe that empathy is one of the most admirable traits in a human whether they are rich or poor, and if you have empathy you can’t spout crap about ‘all them Eastern Europeans coming over here, where are they coming from’.

However, a lot of people do lack empathy, do put ‘them and theirs’ first and therefore do need persuading of the benefits of immigration.  A lot of the rhetoric that has come from the party lately has been about fighting or tackling immigration and it’s put the argument backwards (and frankly it pisses me off because it’s right wing nonsense).  We need to tackle this, we need to meet this head on and we need to make our argument, because the argument is there to be made (as anyone who has been following my Twitter feed will have seen me try to demonstrate).

Again though, as a party we need to investigate what our objectives are for British society.  In fact, this is our key question and if we don’t answer it, we’ll just be heading into another election with the winning of the election being our aim.

Personally, I think we need to set ourselves some goals.  I believe we need to strive further towards creating a true meritocracy. I believe we need to set ourselves the goal of having the highest standard of living and the highest minimum standard of living of any country in the world, bar none.

The Economy
Now I happen to believe that the city is a great asset for our economy and fully appreciate that the tax revenues generated will help us make a better Britain for everyone.  However, they’ve fucked us over.  Banks have to be made responsible for digging us out of the hole they dropped is in, they have to make sure that profits are not pushed as quickly as possible out of the companies and into their own pockets and they have to start acting with a bit social conscience.  Another day I’ll touch on the failure of the banking industry to communicate their role in society, but for now Labour need to understand their relationship with banking and with the markets and I believe they need to start by setting out a very clear new stance.  Government exists to serve the people and not the markets.  Whilst I accept the more than vital role that the markets play in the success of our economy, wealthy and influential organisations acting under the guise of ‘the markets’ must not have the right or the power to dictate to democratically elected governments through words or deeds, especially when we’ve just saved their arses .

Don’t get me wrong, people getting stupidly rich is totally acceptable, in fact I openly encourage it.  However, we need to reset our relationship with the markets, in fact I think internationally all governments do.  Therefore I believe Labour’s aim must be to ensure that Britain is not a slave to the markets, but has a more robust approach and seeks to work with the international community to make markets work for us.

We also need a more diverse range of successful revenue generating industries alongside banking and services.  We’re a well educated bunch with a history for leading the way in new technologies and new processes.  It’s not just about making stuff and building stuff in the industrial revolution, it’s also about new ways of organising.  We need to be the pioneering economy.  Our system of taxation and government support has to be geared to making Britain the leader in inventing, developing, delivering and then exporting new patents, new technologies and new processes.

Therefore economically I think, whilst ensuring that our goal for the highest general standard and highest minimum standard of living is our priority, having the economy which also delivers the highest number of self-made wealthy individuals should be top of our priority list.  We need to usher in a new age of entrepreneurial endeavour and success and we need to generate a buzz throughout our society based upon this.

The Environment
Well I believe this is intrinsically linked with the economy.  Again, we need to understand what our objectives are here.  There’s a lot of panic about how we confront the environmental crisis ahead of us (from people who aren’t too stupid to believe that there is one), but I sense an opportunity.  Whilst we’re ushering in a new age of entrepreneurial endeavour we must set our industries and inventors the goal of making Britain the greenest, most energy efficient and energy diverse society in the world whilst not compromising our way or standard of life (hey, I set the bar high), and then export the tech and skills that go with this to the world.

I also feel that a better, greener environment is not just about fighting global warming, it’s about creating greater energy independence for Britain, and therefore allowing us greater independence as a society combined with a reduced need to interfere internationally out of blind self-interest.

However, the greatest benefit will be a better standard of life, cleaner air and streets, hopefully fewer breathing & health problems combined with a skilled workforce generating cold hard cash.  Maybe I’m being idealistic and unrealistic here, but it’s something I’d love to see us pursue.

What now
Firstly, STOP. We need to stop with the initiatives, we need to stop the campaigning, we just need to stop, we need to think, and we need to plan.  And before we start planning, start policy making, start trying to win the next election, and hopefully start being a high quality opposition (for a short time) we have to answer a couple of fundamental questions, without answer to these an election victory will be an empty one, simply for the sake of winning an election.  For me these questions are ‘what is our place in the world’, but the biggest question that we must answer, and without knowing the answer we’ve lost our way is this, what is our objective for society?

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Filed under Activists, Campaign, Civil Liberties, David Miliband, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Election, Foreign Policy, Immigration, Labour, The Wars

Our campaign: we need to organise better in the future

Now I’ve got all that rage out the way it’s time to reflect and I have to say that, though we were badly beaten, I’m surprised that we did as well as we did with the campaign we had.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but from a communications point of view, our campaign was shit.  I work in communications and have supported Labour all my life, and I still don’t know what our key messages were. 

Our communications and marketing strategy must be much improved, not just for the next election, but now, in opposition.  We need to find the right individuals or organisations with the right creative vision to take the party forwards because another election with comms as bad as that will be a missed opportunity.

However, it’s not just the quality of our strategy, our campaign was also badly organised.  It’s 2010 but cold calling, door-stepping and leafleting was our campaign.  We have a massive pool of supporters, but getting them involved went no further than ‘can you hand out some leaflets’, or an e-mail from Peter Mandelson asking for a donation and asking us to tell friends to vote Labour.

I know we can’t match the funds of the Conservative Party but I’m sure we can match their resources.  We have to start by reorganising the structure of the Labour party, to allow everyone to get involved in ways that are exciting to them and useful to us.  The division of the party down constituency lines is important as to a certain extent, doorstepping does work, people need to see their candidates and the local community is important.  However, I think that we need to activate party members rather than recruit activists. If we’re honest, the rosette-wearing activist from any party is a massive turn-off to everyone (no offence), and that style of politics isn’t right for everyone.  As long as the party is organised in this way we’ll continue to have a relatively one dimensional relationship with the electorate.  I say we need more ambassadors, less activists.

We have to engage our members and remember that we cannot arrogantly rely on their support just because they’re already members. We must also remember that, if we do engage them effectively we can do so much more than simply rely on their support.  This means that we need to work not only on our external comms strategy, but we also need a properly planned internal comms strategy. 

I have to say, as a party, I’m not sure if we’re very well organised, as a party member I certainly feel that the party could do a much better job of communicating and interacting with me.  What do other party members think?

Also, communities no longer define themselves by location.  In the modern world, someone’s personal ‘village’ can contain people from all over the world , so organising our party by constituency, whilst representing our electoral system no longer represents our society.

Therefore, I’d like to propose a new additional layer of party organisation, I’d like the party to create groups for Labour members with similar trades or interests to meet both online and in person, to debate and to work together for Labour.  The number and type of groups is limitless really.  However, thinking about my career and interest, when I imagine what the Labour Advertising, Marketing & Media Group could do it’s quite exciting. 

These groups could meet and organise nationally, regionally and locally and would give members a chance to interact with each other and the party.  This would not only give Labour an inside track to the issues and concerns of people from within these industries (and therefore insight and policy ideas) but could also provide a resource of ideas, skills and labour for the campaigns.  It would mean that we could properly brief people in these groups so they could properly answer criticisms, deliver key messages and therefore become an army ambassadors.  Instead of a Business Secretary saying what Labour have done or would do for manufacturing we could have people within manufacturing doing this job within their own business and personal communities, and then giving high quality feedback to the party.  Modern marketing is about conversations rather than old fashioned experience of viewing or watching advertising after all.

Coming specifically on to LAMM Group (it’s got a name, in my head that means it’s real), imagine what this could have done in the election, to have a large number of passionate, intelligent, creative and ORGANISED individuals from advertising, digital, entertainment, maybe even the press, working together to assist in the campaign in ways that actually utilise their skills and about which they are excited?

 We can’t afford to buy media and we’re facing a right wing press, then surely we need to go back to our ideals.  Surely the Labour way is to work co-operatively, to see the best in our members, and to make sure that those with skills get to utilise them?  This way we’ll not only be overcoming the barriers that we face, but it would also be placing our ideals at the very core of how we organise, and how we communicate.

I haven’t thought this through as an idea completely yet so it’s a bit whooly, and I’ve also rather selfishly looked at it from the angle I best understand, so please let me know what you think. I’d be interested in hearing the following such as… What groups do you think we should create? Do groups like this already exist that need promoting? Should we even bother? Do we need to set them up ourselves? Does old fashioned activism work?

Drop a comment in down there and let me know!

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Filed under Activists, Labour

Before the election…

I wrote the following just before the election, but computer problems combined with quite a major night out led to me not getting round to posting it.  But here it is now, later than a Stoke City tackle, for you enjoyment.  Pass the Xanax.

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A plea for Votes on Thursday

On Thursday Britain faces a vital choice about the type of society it wants to become in the future, each outcome offers a very different path, nearly every single one has it benefits and it pitfalls and nearly every one would provide some level of progress for our society, apart from one.

And unfortunately guys, we can’t hide from this anymore, we need to talk about this and get it out in the open so I’m just going to say it.  By Friday afternoon David Cameron could be the Prime Minister.

Does that scare the shit out of anyone else?

If David Cameron wins on Thursday we will take one firm step back into the past whilst also taking another firm step towards the worst parts of the US that we laugh about whilst watching Jon Stewart.  We’ll take a step into our own past where merit’s not important in getting ahead, but where you went to school and who your parents are is.  Where breaking a few windows as a teenager (sorry) will lead to criminalisation unless you can buy off the victim, such as an Oxford club owner.  Speaking of which, great idea for inner city gangs, just nick some tuxedos from Moss Bros and go on a rampage under the guise of the Bullingdon Club.

We’ll be heading towards a society where the wealthy need not contribute towards the betterment of society, towards investment in health, schools, education, policing because some nice people will come and do it in their spare time.  Maybe a street-talking priest will stop kids from committing crimes like in some shit-awful episode of The Equaliser.  Maybe a canny group of pensioners will do a nude calendar to raise funds for a rape crisis counselling centre. Maybe parents can club together to pay for vital repairs and for textbooks for schools like they fucking used to the last time this shower of selfish shite-hawks were in power, busy as they were saving a few quid for their buddies.

It’s like the entire policy has been based on some bollock-awful mash-up of 80s series that Cameron watched when he was growing up in between killing animals for fun.  “Maybe, if you have a problem, and you know how you can find them, and you can put up with a bunch of hyper-active socially backward twats doing all they can to constantly try and tell you how unhappy you are without God and that’s the only reason you drink, take drugs, like non-marital sex, like Star Wars too much and enjoy swearing, the Alphacourse-team can help you – if you’re not a dirty hell-bound gay of course”.

No, this return to the past isn’t some cosy night in with Claire Grogan and Stuart Maconie talking about Speak & Spell, this is fucking awful.  Swingeing cuts (where the fuck has ‘swingeing’ come from?) means benefits and jobs being cut.  This means people losing their homes. This means people without food on their table.  This means anger. This means a breakdown of our society.  One thing that Labour has managed is to make it through one of the biggest economic crises in history whilst keeping unemployment at a decent enough level (though awful for all that have lost their jobs) and avoiding social disruption.

Vote Tory on Thursday and it’ll be tatty-bye stability, hello inner city strife like those lovely nights in the 80s. It’s a vote for unemployment, it’s a vote for crime, and it’s a vote for social strife in our cities as this is what always happens under the Conservatives.

Still, at least there’ll be work for you in the countryside of a weekend if you fancy helping out on one of Dave’s friend’s hunts.  Big Society means we’ll see a return to the times when the police would work with community groups like the local hunt to assault and maim trouble makers like hunt protestors.  And besides, there’ll be plenty of work for you if you don’t want a living wage.

And then there’s Cameron’s move to turn Britain into the flyover states.  Who do you think will be running big society?  Normal bods like you or I? No, we’ll be too busy working.  We know who it’ll be, it’ll be busy bodies.  It’ll be right wing conservative Christian groups like Alphacourse and UKGC, the kind of groups who are ploughing cash into the Tories,  groups who influence the  IDS’s Nutter Policy Club, who claim to have influenced over 70 Conservative policies and who openly fund 37 Tory candidates.  It’ll be these homophobes, who want one type of family (not just for them, for everyone) that’ll be providing the Big Society.  It’ll be them arbitrarily choosing who should and should not get help based on their own beliefs, and who of the weakest they think will most likely fall prey to their overtures and sign up for their particular brand of God-squad.  What happens to the unfashionably afflicted? Who will look after the real undesirables?  Who will be running our schools and deciding what our kids should learn about sex or even evolution (oh yes, we’ll be having creationism in many more schools too)? It’ll be the type of fucking nutters that the Tories love rubbing shoulders with in Europe, that’s who.

A vote for Conservative on Thursday is a vote for allowing the weakest in our society to be left to these religious interest groups, it’s a vote for collection pots and leaking roofs, it’s a vote for a step back in time in education (and it’s much better now than it used to be) it’s a vote for those who can look after themselves.

The media’s already seen the future and is going Fox News style as well.  We’re already seeing it. We’re already seeing words like Liberal and Elitist being thrown around like insults whenever someone has the audacity to think that using religion as an excuse for homophobia is a bit, well, awful and cuntish.  We get told we’re an out of touch intelligentsia when we feel that stating ill-informed xenophobic bullshit is actually bigoted.  We may as well get Rush Limbaugh over here now and be done with it; at least he has the stones to say what he actually is.

A vote for Conservative on Thursday is a vote that will finally allow the ‘PC gone mad brigade’-brigade the keys to the engine room.  It’ll see freedom of religion take precedence over freedom from it (only for the nice European faiths of course) because every time we make progress towards a genuinely equal society the Tories fight tooth and nail to prevent it, in order to preserve ‘our’ ‘Christian’ cunting ‘values’.  Don’t believe me just look it up on http://www.mygayvote.com, 74% of Tory MPs voted against the equality act, the small-minded nasty pieces of shit that they are.

I’m genuinely worried about the result on Friday.  I’m genuinely worried that all the (admittedly slow) progress we have made towards a fairer society, a more equal, tolerant and more merit-based nation could literally go down the pan in 5 short years.  I’m worried about millions of unemployed, I’m worried about reactionary attitudes towards crime and the role of poverty in creating criminality seeing crime figures soar back to Thatcherite levels. I’m worried about my beautiful city, a wonderful diverse mixing pot which can so easily become a crucible under the right pressures.  I’m worried about the peace process, and entrepuenership in our country both going down the pan as Dave protects the interests of his chums.

So please, do whatever you can to prevent a Conservative victory, vote tactically if you have to but if you’re reading this and you agree with any of it, please I implore you, you have to vote on Thursday.  And if you don’t agree you’ll be delighted that the Conservatives have managed to secure a special voting privilege on Friday afternoon for Tory voters, just wait at home on Thursday and we’ll send you instructions.

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Filed under Alphacourse, Cameron, Conservatives, Election, Labour, Nutters, UKCG