31 December 2010

Happy New Year early

This is a few years early but it's just so i don't have 111 posts for 2010 - which seems like an unlucky number (i mean 111 not 2011). Have a good year whatever your bag.

30 December 2010

A nice round-up of 2010

Not from me (I just don't have the time at the moment), but from the New Statesman.

The bit about the election campaign is particularly amusing. It certainly was a long, strange trip - and all of the punters (including me) were pretty wrong about just about every aspect of it. Which just goes to show that you shouldn't read stuff like I post up here and believe a word of it.

I particularly like the fact that, if anything, Brown's ratings improved slightly after he called Mrs Duffy a bigot. It was similar to Prescott punching that guy in 2001. Unorthodox election tactics - working more often than not.

258 seats for Labour, on 29 percent of the vote, seemed like a miracle in the context of being 20 points down in 2008. And for a fleeting moment (about 10 minutes in my case) it looked like the 'rainbow coalition' would deliver us from the Tories.

But the hung parliament bred a new monster: the "ConDems" (I'll be using that word a lot more now, because Blairite Guardian columnist Martin Kettle doesn't like it.) And before we knew it, a programme a lot more right wing than the Tory manifesto was being implemented with aid and comfort from the spineless Lib Dem collaborators.

Chief comedy moment of the year has to be Tony Blair's neo-conservative and Coalition-supporting memoirs A Journey (brilliantly tweetsummed by my friend Chris Brooke of Virtual Stoa fame). The fact that ConDem ministers claim it is their favourite political book tells you all you need to know.

How is the Labour party doing? The answer depends on who you ask. The most "glass half full" assessment comes from Tom Watson MP who argues that Labour would have killed for a 5 percent opinion poll lead this time last year, when yet another coup attempt was being unleashed on an increasingly moribund Prime Minister. The opposite "glass half empty" assessment is taken by Dan Hodges on Labour Uncut, who argues that "the left is losing its marbles". Like Martin Kettle, author of the infamous Guardian editorial of a few weeks back castigating the unions, Hodges seems to think that the best way for Labour to get re-elected is to say nothing against the Coalition whatsoever, keep reading Tony Blair's A Journey", and wait.

Well, fuck that and fuck people like Kettle and Hodges. Ed Miliband will probably not be 100% happy with his start as Labour leader; he's made some good speeches but then most politicians can do that. He's had some very good PMQs and some not so good ones - again, pretty much par for the course for any opposition leader. The main problem for Ed is that a lot of senior people and not-so-senior people in the Labour party are incensed that this upstart won the leadership and are trying to take him down any chance they get. The only answer, in the short run (and it won't be easy because it's not Ed's natural style) is to roll a few symbolic heads, cut a few people down to size and say that if Blairites don't like it they can fuck off and join the ConDems.

Because the energy of opposition to this government is not with Martin Kettle, Dan Hodges, or Tony goddamn Blair. It's with the student protestors, the people fighting for a fairer tax system, and basically all the people who Gordon Brown should have listened to between 2007 and 2010 when he was trying to come up with half an idea for how to run the country. And mobilising THESE forces is the way to win - not the tired old D. Miliband Blairite snooze. Of course it has to be done within sensible boundaries - for example, people throwing fire extinguishers is fucking stupid, and I'm glad Ed said so - but for God's sake when the hell is Labour going to rediscover its basic sense of purpose, the basic energy which is going to put hundreds of thousands of volunteers out there canvassing on the streets to win a general election?

More on this over the next few days as I'm well short of time tonight, but the end of 2010 finds me simultaneously hopeful and fearful. The opportunities for a major advance by the left in the UK are in many ways bigger than at any point since 1945 - because the threat to our basic social structures is greatest. Labour's leader is potentially brilliant - but he is inexperienced, and under huge pressure from enemies within who are pissed off that their comfortable little Blairite operation has been disturbed. As Compass have suggested, perhaps the best hope for the long term lies in melding left-wing Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens into some kind of new progressive force. That's brilliant for (say) 15 years' time; but we need the ConDems to be beaten at the election in 2015 (if not before), not 2025 or even 2020. It can be done but it sure as hell ain't gonna be easy.

29 December 2010

Big play

And so England retain the Ashes in Australia for the first time since 1986/87.

I still remain of my opinion (probably the only person in the world to think this) that test cricket is a silly game, all things considered; the idea of being able to play something for 5 days without getting a proper win/lose result is ludicrous, and the fact that the weather plays a key role in determining this, even more so. Having said that, when the gulf in performance between two sides seems as wide as it was in this Ashes series (third test strangely excepted), it doesn't really matter if you're playing test, one-day, 20-20 or tiddlywinks; Australia were at the end of the day, just too shit to compete. Sorry guys.

Who knows when this will happen again - probably another 24 years? Given UK government cuts to school funding, we'll probably never win again. So enjoy it while you can.

23 December 2010

Some unexpected and welcome pre-Xmas turbulence for the "Coalition"

This week, which politically I would have expected to be very boring, has turned out quite interesting, thanks to those Good Old Boys at the Daily Telegraph. First we had Vince Cable claiming "I can bring down the coalition any time I want" (er, how? Pulling the Cable? Ho ho) and then a variety of other Lib Dem ministers saying that George Osborne is Not A Very Nice Guy. Well we know that kids, but neither is Cleggie and you voted him leader...

But it does show that the Lib Dems - apart from Clegg and a few other crypto-Tories like David Laws and incredibly, Shirley Williams - are not "down with the kids" with the Tories in quite the way the media has portrayed it. Behind the scenes there are all manner of tensions and unhappinesses building up.

And I guess with the LDs slipping to 8% in the poll ratings you would expect that. The question is: will it bring the govt down?

Given the parliamentary arithmetic, I don't see how it can. Let's say there are 10 Lib Dem MPs who will stick with the Tories no matter what - that's probably a very conservative (sorry) estimate. That makes 316 MPs and they need 324 to survive a no confidence vote. So it would just be a matter of getting the Northern Ireland unionists on board and there they have it. If there were only 280 Tory MPs rather than 306 then maybe it would be on the cards. But unless Clegg is deposed and the new Lib Dem leader whips his party to vote against the Tories on a no confidence vote, I can't see it. And given the poll situation that would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. It seems unlikely...

But in any case, anything that makes the Conservative-led govt (as Ed Miliband is now cunningly referring to it, and I think he's right) is fine with me. 2011 could well be the year where the Tories join the Lib Dems in the opinion poll basement. Labour 20 points in front by the end of next year does not sound unrealistic. And that at least means Ed Miliband's job will be secure. Meanwhile, it's up to the new alliance of students and trade unionists to challenge the ConDems on the streets...

14 December 2010

Pickles pickled

Even if you read no other commentary in the wake of the swingeing local government cuts announced yesterday, you should definitely read this piece by David Walker.

There is superb passage, which I simply have to quote in full, explaining just how much of an idiot Pickles is:

Pickles, not a man for figures, made a catastrophic error when he was one of the earliest cabinet ministers to settle with the Treasury. The size of the pending service cuts has since rattled him. Publicly he sneered at the Local Government Association's prediction of 140,000 jobs lost next year; privately he has been pleading with councillors to raid reserves to sustain their spending and begging George Osborne to ease off.

The man is a intellectually bankrupt fool. If people like this are being put in key positions in the ConDem govt it doesn't say much for its chances of re-election.

Pickles of course will try to put the blame for the impending collapse of local services on local government - but that will hardly be an easy sell, given that all the key parameters that local govt has to work with - the size of the funding settlement, and their ability to raise local taxation - are being determined by central government.

This is a supposedly "localist" administration that won't even allow elected local councillors to increase council tax.

One good thing about the local govt disaster is that Eric Pickles is not a Lib Dem and so there is no "human shield" for Dave Cameron here - Pickles is a Tory, and a particularly unpleasant one. A friend of mine with close links to the Labour party whom I had lunch with last week said it best: "Eric Pickles is behaving like a student activist". And this was a guy who was paraded up and down by Dave Cameron at the Tory conference as an example of a "good Cabinet minister". Draw your own conclusions.

13 December 2010

Ed is capturing the real spirit of the Lib Dems

A very good press conference today by Ed Miliband, with a clear message to the Lib Dems: if you are pissed off with the extreme right approach of Nick Clegg, we are happy to work with you. As a first step, former Lib Dem policy director Richard Grayson has agreed to submit papers to the forthcoming Labour policy review.

This is good politics from Ed. Nick Clegg is essentially interested in furthering the interests of just one politician: Nick Clegg. He's been completely willing to abandon any principled position just for five years at the Cabinet table and presumably the chicken run to a safe Tory seat at the end of it. The other Lib Dem ministers went along with it like the spineless bunch of collaborators they are, but people like Vince Cable and Steve Webb must know that the game is up. Less than 10% in most of the recent polls... if more than a handful of Lib Dems survive at the next election it'll be a miracle.

But of course some of them could save their asses by either pulling out and forming a new party, or joining Labour. It's going to look like a more and more attractive option as the next election comes closer. And Ed is very well advised to pick up as many defectors and collaborators from the Lib Dems as he can.

Given the disaster that was the later stages of Tony Blair's premiership it's hard to remember that the guy had a few good ideas early on - and one of them was getting closer to the Lib Dems. Electoral reform was another. If we'd had some kind of formal arrangement between Labour and the Lib Dems during the New Labour period, we'd have never had the ToryCrat coalition, and we would have saved the country a whole lot of pain and anger.

But for now, the Lib Dems are going the way of the Liberals in the 1930s... any of you politics historians remember the result of the 1945 election? With the Liberals reduced to about 3 seats? Welcome to 2015. Although there has been a trend towards 3-party politics in the UK (and more, if you include the nationalists) since the 1970s, in England at least I feel we are headed very much back to 2-party politics next time round. With the Lib Dems reduced to (say) 5% or so, that only leaves the question of where those disaffected Lib Dem votes will go. At the moment they seem to be breaking 2 to 1 in favour of Labour, who have gone from 7-point deficit with the Tories in the general election to at least level pegging and probably a small lead. And that's not with Ed and the shadow cabinet firing on all cylinders, by any means. Needless to say, none of this looks good for the David Cameron project.

06 December 2010

Ed Miliband: a good time to play Bad Santa

An old work colleague of mine once sent an email round to the rest of the senior management at the research institution I was working for at the time with the heading: "expenses policy: Bad Santa". Although the content of the email was, by its nature, rather dull - some minor restrictions on hotel expenses that employees could claim - the title was inspired.

By the same token, I think Ed Miliband could do with delivering a couple of nasty Xmas presents to disloyal colleagues with the mince pies and mistletoe this year.

The problem for Ed is that there is a Blairite faction inside the Cabinet who are clearly never going to accept him as leader. The principal culprit seems to be Alan Johnson - and I'm surprised and saddened by this as I'd always seen Alan more as a skilled pragmatist than a Blairite ideologue. But The ever-reliable Mehdi Hasan nails the Alan problem down brilliantly in his New Statesman blog: Johnson has openly disagreed on two central planks of Ed's policy platform - the graduate tax and the 50p top tax rate.

Now, on the graduate tax, I have some sympathy with Alan. I think a graduate tax is certainly implementable; the simplest way of doing it would be to have a flag on employer PAYE returns and a box on individual tax returns for whether someone is a graduate or not, and change their tax code accordingly. No conceptual problem with that. But given that we already have a progressive income tax system, is it really worth the bother? Given the graduate earnings premium, high-paying graduates are already paying back more than most other people over a lifetime anyway. I'd be inclined to have the simplest possible system - tax-based graduate finance with means-tested grants and HE free at the point of use. So I think Alan's criticisms of the graduate tax have a certain validity; but nonetheless, using every opportunity in interviews to attack Ed on this issue, rather than attacking the Torycrats (my new name for the Coalition) for the fact they are wrecking the country in short order, is just plain stupid. (I almost wrote 'palin stupid' there - an easy slip to make...)

Alan should be hitting the Tories on economic policy and saving disagreements with Ed for behind closed doors, not trying to undermine him at every turn. Alan's stance on the 50% top income tax rate is even worse. This is one of the most popular Labour policies of all time, and indeed there is strong support for a 60% top band. So why the hell ditch a popular policy just to attempt to appeal to a gang of super-rich who would never vote Labour anyway? Just totally insane.

As Mehdi Hasan points out, the case for putting Johnson in the Shadow Chancellor job and not Ed Balls was that Johnson would be loyal whereas Balls wouldn't be. But in fact Johnson has been about as disloyal as anyone could in the job, short of mounting his own leadership challenge. Once you discount the loyalty argument, the case for having Alan in this particular job looks a lot weaker. He is articulate and popular, but by his own admission, doesn't know much economics, and maybe something like Shadow Foreign Secretary would be a better fit for his talents. Or, if Ed is feeling particularly vicious, the shadow Northern Ireland portfolio.

So I think Ed needs to deliver a particularly nasty Xmas present to Alan Johnson this year. At the very least a warning to toe the line or he'll be out of the job. At most, a reshuffle of the shadow cabinet, moving someone else to Shadow Chancellor. I'd actually be more inclined to go with the latter as it sends out a clear message to Blairite insurgents: this leader is not A Soft Touch, and if you step out of line, that Northern Ireland portfolio is waiting for you. Without making a clear stand like this there's a real danger that the Ed regime starts to look like Michael Foot circa 1982. Or even IDS's Tories circa 2002.

Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper would be the obvious choices - both of them are chomping at the bit to destroy Osborne. If that really is a no-no (and it does seem to be, at least for the moment), then as an alternative, allow me to propose Andy Burnham for Shadow Chancellor. He has been 100% on the money in his critique of Micky Gove's education "reforms" - admittedly the crapness of Gove makes that like shooting fish in a barrel, but nonetheless it's true. Burnham made some good arguments on areas like Land Value Tax in the leadership campaign and it would be great to give him an opportunity to flesh those out. So one could say that the campaign for Andy Burnham for Shadow Chancellor starts here.

05 December 2010

Great news - England NOT collaborating with organised mafia sport

... or if you prefer...

Great news - England not hosting FIFA World Cup.

I was very, very pleased when I found out. As previously discussed on this blog (and exposed earlier this week by the BBC's Panorama programme), FIFA is a totally corrupt and unaccountable organisation, very likely in hock to the same organised crime interests that control Russia (who will be hosting the 2018 World Cup, and I think that's a good match - pun intended).

The sight of Dave Cameron toadying up to the FIFA officials (with superannuated clothes horse Dave Beckham - the Bryan Ferry of English football) was toe-squirmingly ugly, although hardly worse than Tony Blair's exercise in glad-handing to secure the 2012 Olympics. Anyway it doesn't matter Dave. It's most unlikely you'd have been in office to welcome the World Cup mafia to English soil in any case. 2015 - at the latest - is your Best Before date.

So I'm ecstatic that we're not going to host this PoS tournament. In fact I'll go one step further. We should boycott all future World Cups until FIFA is replaced with a democratically accountable, non-corrupt organisation. Boycott and replace - it's a strategy that I prescribe for all manner of monolithic, unaccountable organisations including FIFA, the Catholic Church, the British royal family, the banks, and U2. And if pursued, it would work every time.

Red Two was right all along. The debate over video replays was an irrelevant, time-consuming smokescreen which distracted attention from the real issues with FIFA. But no longer.

For more discussion of FIFA and the World Cup I can recommend this post and comments on Richard Murphy's excellent Tax Research UK blog.