31 May 2008

Labour - Down, Down... Out?

Trying to make up for a shocking lack of posts during May with a sudden rally at the end of the month. So this'll be quite a long post, to make up some ground... I do have the excuse of having been on holiday last week, during which I missed the Crewe and Nantwich by-election results. No real surprise that the Conservatives won, but following the local election drubbing, it does make the punters start to think how long Gordon actually has left to run in his job.

Being Gordon Brown right now must be like having Status Quo's "Down Down" on repeat play on the iPod (he's probably more likely to have a 70s rock classic like that on there than the Arctic Monkeys, whatever the spin doctors say.) Deeper and down... 23% for Labour in the latest YouGov poll.

Whilst Brown is a duffer in many respects - an appalling bully at work (just ask anyone you know who has worked with him), obsessed with fiddly schemes that deliver good objectives badly (PPPs for additional public sector investment, tax credits for redistribution), mates with the editor of the Daily Mail, etc, infatuated with an unworkable and irrelevant obsession with 'Britishness' - it gives me no great pleasure to see him in this position. Tony Blair, a far more evil and dangerous figure, seems to have escaped relatively scot-free from the government's present morass and difficulties. He's off travelling the world, talking crap about faith, getting big money on the lecture circuit, while the remnants of the Labour party reap what he (partially) sowed. Some will say that's fair enough... Labour members voted in droves for Blair to become leader in 1994, what the hell did they expect?

But a crushing defeat for Labour in the 2010 election is unlikely to serve the interests of anyone on the left. My hope - and I think the hope of many anti-New Labourites on the left - was that the increased popularity of Cameron relative to previous Tory leaders would deliver a hung parliament, securing a Labour-Lib Dem coalition which would drag the country kicking and screaming into the political modern age with such innovations as proportional representation. But instead the Tories have climbed into a massive lead, and it now looks quite possible that the next election will deliver a 1983-style Conservative landslide which will destroy any chance of political innovation in the country for a generation. At least, unless the Tories prove to be so bloody incompetent that they get voted out after one term... but that's clutching at straws.

None of this is yet inevitable, of course, but I can't see how Labour can get out of this one without changing leader. Brown is out for the count. It's obvious to any observer (even The Observer!) that he hadn't ever expected to be in this weak a position - he thought he would have plenty of time to build on what looked like a good start in his first few months, finesse the position, and then kill off the weak Tory challenge, maybe in Spring 2009. Instead, his position collapsed completely over the winter as bad news on the economy was compounded by avoidable policy mistakes on stuff like the 10p tax debacle and 'discgate'.

The overall mood now is similar to the mid-90s. To use an old Malcolm MacLaren phrase, people are "sick and fed up" of the current govt and hence seem ready to endorse an alternative which offers almost exactly the same policies as the Blair/Brown years but just with a different set of faces. But to a large extent that's what they voted for in 1997, but the other way round.

The way forward must be a different set of policies which actually look appealing to anyone with a progressive bone in their body rather than the tired old crap being served up now. The campaign for the Crewe and Nantwich by-election was an embarrassment - an attack on alleged 'toff' Tories (including the Tory candidate) who were actually no more 'toffy' than their Labour counterparts. Blair and Ed Balls went to top public schools, ferchrissakes. Balls is the worst class war faker in the cabinet. Norman Tebbit - one of the most odious right-wingers ever to hold office in this country - is the product of a state school, as is the current Tory front bench's leading exponent of "hang 'em/flog 'em", David Davis. Tony Benn - perhaps the greatest left wing figure of the past 50 years in the UK - is an aristocrat who abandoned his heriditary peerage. Where someone is from, socially speaking, means f*** all. What matters is what they say and do now, and the struggle to create a society where these class distinctions don't exist. Both the Tories and New Labour have failed miserably at this latter objective, and there is nothing in either parties' programme to suggest that they will do any better next time round on current policies.

Well, I'd like to sign off for the moment by saying something about who I think should succeed Gordon Brown as leader if the Labour Party has the balls (no pun intended) to get rid of him before 2010, but I've already gone on long enough for now. So, more on that tomorrow. Hopefully June will be a more densely-posted month than May, which has been pretty skeletal. Sorry folks.

29 May 2008


I've said it before and I'll say it again, but just so you know for sure...

Tony Blair is a twat.

A quote:

"Faith is part of our future, and faith and the values it brings with it are an essential part of making globalisation work."

If making globalisation work means bombing the World Trade Center in the name of Islam, or invading Lebabon in the name of Judaism, or turning the USA into a fascist state in the name of 'Christian family values', he's dead right. Except he's actually just Right (of centre). And it increasingly looks like we're dead.

Richard Dawkins is right (small 'r'), Tony Blair is hopelessly wrong. Religion is one of the greatest dangers we face in the 21st century, along with climate change and multinational corporate power. The (un)holy triumvirate, if you will. Dawkins goes OTT sometimes in saying that anyone with a religious belief is a dangerous imbecile - that's clearly B.S. - but it's a damn sight closer to the truth than Blair's vision of reality. And in particular, given that the Catholic church is one of the worst exemplars of Stalinist, Orwellian thought-tyranny in the religious pantheon, Blair's recent conversion to Rome is a clear sign he is mentally unhinged.

All the same, I'm kind of relieved about Blair's reemergence as a religious zealot as it at least provides some kind of respite from reading how badly Gordon Brown is doing in the polls. And reminds us that whatever Brown's faults, compared with Tuberculosis Blair Gordon is God. If that's not too religious an expression.

15 May 2008

A tepid fightback - but a fightback nonetheless.

Well, my prediction that Ken would hold on in London turned out to be doggy-do, and now we have Mayor Boris. Lucky us.

In the end I think a combination of the number of people Ken had managed to piss off during 8 years (4x4 drivers, people who don't like bendy buses, etc.) and the fall-out from the general unpopularity of the Government finished him off.

And what unpopularity it is. The government is now plumbing depths unheard of since the 1982-3 period when Michael Foot was "in charge". Down to 23% in the latest polls, with the Tories on 49%... it's grim reading, for sure.

Hence the attempted fightback this week. A two-pronged strategy:

  1. a £600 increase in the income tax personal allowance, meaning that any basic rate taxpayer will gain £120, hence being compensated for the abolition of the 10p tax rate.
  2. a raft of new policy measures announced in Parliament yesterday.
So will any of it work? Most of the new policy measures are pretty lame, it has to be said. Proposals for 'elected police chiefs' look interesting but there is no detail on how they will be delivered, and the extra help for housebuyers is tiny in scale. The personal allowance increase is a good idea far too late - it should have been announced at the same time the 10p rate was abolished last year. Also, with no countervailing tax increases announced, the tax cut will have to be paid for by borrowing - and the government is already pretty much on the edge of the 40% debt-to-GDP level that its 'sustainable investment rule' specifies. £2.7 billion of additional borrowing makes it extremely likely that the rule will be breached.

But so what? It was a daft rule in the first place. While it's generally agreed among economists that if the ratio of debt to GDP were to rise steadily over time, eventually this would be become unsustainable, there's no reason why breaching a specific level of debt to GDP should have any adverse effects. 40%, 50%, 60% - it doesn't really matter provided there's some expectation that the ratio will stabilise at some point in the future rather than spiralling out of control. Really, the substainable investment rule always was dodgy economics, and the Government would do well to drop it if at all possible, and replace it with some looser criterion specifying that debt should be kept within 'manageable' levels or some such phrase.

Still, a fightback was certainly called for after the mauling the Government suffered in the local elections. No guarantees whatsoever that the apology over the 10p tax rate will have any positive impact, but it was the right thing to do. Now they need to put some sort of strategy in place so they don't keep making these basic errors...

Personnel-wise it's hard to see Alistair Darling making it past the summer recess. He is damaged goods, even though the 10p debacle wasn't his fault (it was announced when Brown was still chancellor). He will be thrown to the wolves as a sacrifice. Alan Johnson would be a good replacement - especially as, if there is a leadership challenge to Brown (not impossible if his poll ratings are static or get worse over the summer), it is Johnson who would be one of the strongest candidates. But more on that another day.

02 May 2008

Local election disaster - Brown is lame, and it shows

Well, on current trends it looks very much like Gordon Brown is going to "do a John Major", but sadly, without emulating Major's teeth-pulling election victory of '92 first. Brown is going straight down, and taking the Labour party, all the way from the hard left to the Blairite crypto-Tories, with him.

For the first time since 1992 the Conservative party is getting a projected national vote share (44%) which would win an overall Tory majority if repeated at a general election, even given the biases in the electoral system. It's a savage prospect for sure, and Gordon is not in danger of overturning the nightmare any time soon. Indeed, his speciality is finding new holes to dig with one hand while his other hand digs the increasing number of existing holes deeper. And deeper.

Here's the condensed Gordon Brown guide to becoming Prime Minister:

  1. spend a few months tweaking round the edges of your predecessor's policies whilst wandering about on camera trying to look hard.
  2. when your poll rating inexplicably rises, toy with the idea of a general election (preferably for so long that even your best friends and advisers get bored).
  3. At the first signs of a political response from the Conservative party, run back to the red corner with your tail between your legs.
  4. Do an impression of the most tongue-tied, complacent moron possible.
  5. Repeat until dead.
It's pretty f***ing lame, and the public realise it.

The problem is that the worst predictions of the dreadful anti-Brown crypto-Tories who surrounded Blair - Matthew Taylor, Phil Collins (not the singer, sadly) etc. are coming true. John Hutton famously said that Brown would make "a f***ing awful Prime Minister", and whilst he's almost never right about anything, that statement seems to be an exception.

Some of this is due to the dire position which ten years of Blair/Brown dual control of UK plc has left us. With the UK economy pumped up by an unsustainable asset and debt boom, when the credit crunch hit, we were stuck up slack alley with no reverse gear... just waiting for the economic collapse. When you've spent ten years talking about stability, to see it suddenly whipped away like the most flimsy house of cards in history must be a tough gig to handle.

Equally, the lunacy of many of the Blair/Brown public sector reforms - which involve paying as much money to private sector consultants and infrastructure companies as possible, to deliver badly built, overpriced schools and hospitals, and management consultancy whose productivity impacts are, if anything, negative - has now swallowed up so many of our tax pounds that, when it's combined with rampant inflation in essential goods like food and fuel, people are feeling the pinch.

Notice I've said "Blair/Brown" rather than "Blair" above and that's very important. The current crisis is partly due to the idiocy of Blair, but Brown was a willing participant in all of this (and in some cases the initiator of these crazy policies - tube PPP, for instance). That's why it's very difficult for him to make a clean break with the failures of the Blair years.

It would mean having to undergo a Blues Brothers - like instant conversion to radical politics - this could perhaps be stage-managed at the next Labour conference. A shaft of light appearing say, a third of the way through another lumpen Gordon speech, and then suddenly, he's a changed man. Out goes that f***ing awful blue tie and back comes the red tie of the 2003 Conference speech ("we're best when we're labour" etc.) He needs to start by emulating Nikita Kruschev at the 1956 Soviet Party Congress. Kruschev's denunciation of Stalin set the tone for the Cold War's "detente" years and Brown could spark a similar new era by jettisoning the whole Blair legacy in one fell swoop. The speech needs to go something like this:

(pointing to picture of Blair forming the conference backdrop) "see this guy here? You remember him from a couple of years back? Well, he was WRONG! And so was I. WE WAS WRONG!!! (huge red cross is superimposed over backdrop, which fades into collage of many of the dictators of the past - Stalin, Mao, Maggie Thatcher, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Bowker, etc.) From now on it's NEW New Labour! Let a thousand flowers bloom. PUBLIC SECTOR PENSIONS FOR ALL! AN END TO PFI! etc. etc. etc.
Personnel changes would also be essential. The Blairite detritus currently clogging up the cabinet table would be summarily dismissed. Hutton, Blears, Purnell... all for the chop. And demotions for rubbishy Brownites like Ed Balls and Alastair Darling. Promotions for solid and trustworthy performers: Denham, Benn, Ed Miliband. Most importantly of all, a senior cabinet job for John Cruddas - I recommend Home Secretary. A replacement for Darling at No 11? It's got to be Alan Johnson. Trusted, respectable, comprehensible to people from the South.

Only a total relaunch - in policy and people terms - can save the Nu-Lab project now. What is least likely to save it is yet more sanctimonious, dunderhead b.s. about "listen and lead" (Speak and Spell?) and "tough decisions in difficult times". I know we live in environmentally conscious times but please, someone change the f***ing record on Gordon. The public are sick to death of hearing a Budget speech that was stale as far back as 2000, with the nouns slightly changed each time according to the policy area being discussed. And can we ban any talk of "Britishness" please? The BNP performed spectacularly poorly. So that's enough of that, then.

I could turn the situation around so that in 18 months' time Labour would have a narrow poll lead or at least level pegging - starting with that conference speech. But I won't. Partly 'cos they'd never give me the job anyway, and partly 'cos I wouldn't take an adviser job even if it were on offer. So go on Gordon... lose big time. See if we care. RIP.

(By the way... my earlier prediction of a Ken victory looks to have been pretty damn wrong, so I'm sorry if I spread false hope. All hail Boris the blond bombshell. So glad I got the hell out of London in 2000 now. Around the time that Gordon speech started to grate... more on London soon when we have the actual results, god help us.)