Immigration reality check

Top post up at LabourList. I think we need to concentrate on winning back the whole working class vote and the progressive wing of the middle class (i.e. for the most part, liberals). ‘Get tough’ politics won’t satisfy one, while well-to-do soppy New Labourism won’t satisfy the other.

May I suggest some honest appeals to both, and a programme of redistributive, explicitly class appealing, socially liberal left wingery?

Bonus: it’s morally superior correct and opportune, as well.

The worst kind of dentist

“This is going to hurt”, he said. “lots”.

The assistant braced himself. I felt a wrench, and another, but I was numb to it all, while it took place at least. And when the anaesthetic wore off (that seemed to take an age), I fumbled two fingers into my mouth. Lots of mess. Dribbled.

He had taken out all of my teeth.

The poor old Labour Party is getting blamed for everything everyone else does. Pretty much any bad choice that anyone makes is Gordon Brown’s fault, you see. It’s Gordon Brown’s fault that the Lib Dems just *had* to do a deal to put the Tories in power, it’s Gordon Brown’s fault that the Conservatives *have* to subject us to a massive binge of cuts. Even though he proposed an alternative path to the sort of cutting Cameron proposes as an election manifesto, and campaigned on that basis. Obviously.

So it doesn’t really seem fair to blame Gordon Brown for something he campaigned on a promise not to do. Maybe fashionable. But not at all fair. I predict that the hacks will absorb the narrative wholesale, and repeat ad nauseam, without ever publicly considering this point.

Cameron has a sneaky dig at Brown’s wider legacy as part of constructing the whole thing, which is very clever. Apparently the economy should have done much better. Brown had kept growth continuous for the longest period in history, with historically low interest rates. The Tories accuse him of not ‘fixing the roof’, i.e. building a big public sector balance, but the whole way through New Labour, they were calling for massive cuts in government revenue. They would have been worse. As well as seeming to believe that not enough cash was held in reserve by the state, they also believe that the state being too large is the primary cause of current ills. They complain about the size of the structural deficit against GDP, but the truth is that it had to undergo huge growth to pay for the idiocy of their earlier binge of ideologically motivated cuts in the 1980s and the recession of the 1990s. Our whole deficit is not too large compared to our GDP when seen against other countries.

The real problem with spending more is our international credit rating, and it’s about the only argument about this I’m willing to accept as any kind of sensible basis. Why the sudden prospect of a credit rating downgrade? Well, that would be Labour not letting the financial system collapse. Denis MacShane, a man who rarely makes a good point, identifies the real cause. The alternative to bailing out people’s mortgages and bank accounts was an outright catastrophe.

Brown couldn’t really choose to do anything other than bail out the banks, the cost of which was vast. The global recession hit our capacity to grow, but Brown did not cause it. In fact, he cut VAT, which worked. The Tories now plan to do the opposite, which won’t. Brown also brought in the ‘Time to Pay’ scheme, which stopped many perfectly good, often slower-growing and smaller businesses from defaulting.

So in one case his hand was forced, and in another, he did the right thing as a matter of choice.

Rather than choosing a slower, more steady and perfectly viable route to cutting the deficit, as offered by Gordon Brown… just as the Lib Dems chose to enter this Government, that same Government is now choosing to cut faster than it has to, if indeed we agree that it must at all, and in a way that will be manifestly damaging to individuals and communities.

And there may be alternatives to cuts anyway. Ah, and we need, of course, to remember that “we’re all in this together“.

This is going to hurt.”, he tells us…

And it might hurt more than he thinks.

UPDATE: This is worth a read. Perhaps Labour needs to start talking about how state and society move together and overlap.

A post worth reading

Dave Semple has a post up which I pretty much agree with. I think there is currency in the argument that MPs should nominate who they want, but from the point of view of the left, it is very important to get McDonnell on – and MPs know they can indulge this push for a wider debate if they wish. The fact that there will likely be no ‘left candidate’ is a great shame.

What’s good about Dave’s post however is the deeper reasoning, so it’s worth reading it here.

Not who, but what?

I must say that I am almightily concerned by the vacuity of the leadership contest so far. There seems to be a lot of zombification going on. David Miliband appears to be the most vacuous of the lot, with Ed Balls a close second, if only because Andy Burnham has declared himself the ‘continuity candidate’. Which happens to be exactly what I don’t want to vote for.

At least he has cards on the table, and will receive my last transfer, which DM and EdB aren’t yet worthy of until I get some policy commitments or real philosophy.

On David Miliband in particular, I completely agree with my fellow Bevanite here, save for the fact that I think free membership is a good idea. I feel that David Miliband is perhaps a little unfairly typecast as eye-wateringly Blairite, but I don’t see what’s wrong with doing that given that he seems to keen not to repudiate what is effectively the most powerful attack against him.

I am concerned that he doesn’t want to disassociate himself from neoliberalism, the war in Iraq, civil illiberality or the abolition of the Labour Party via the smashing of the union link. He seems to have nothing to say about any of it.

Low turnout – Labour’s biggest enemy

I spent a good chunk of this week and last campaigning for Comrades in Haverstock Ward, Camden, who were fighting a council by-election. For a start, I was very surprised to see such a large amount of Lib Dem activists openly identifying themselves. New Labour has had many wrong-headed (and sometimes catastrophic) policies. But New Labour never went in with the Tories, or started massive organised programmes of job losses. Liberals were using the same arguments on a national basis that they had used for their sorry local alliance with the Tories previously – ‘Labour didn’t want a deal with us’.

Good politicians are not political harlots. A situation of accepting the uglier bedfellow simply because of the strength of the urge is no defence. Maintain chastity. Nobody ever has to enter coalition with anyone else. That is a simple fact, and a convenient one to abandon if you are power-hungry and utterly unprincipled.

That is not to say that all coalitions are unprincipled. More that for any party left of Ghengis Khan, or even any party rooted in a local community, all coalitions with Tories are unprincipled.

The Lib Dems narrowly beat us, and I was honestly gutted. But it does confirm that in many places, the Lib Dem vote is simply a middle class anti-Labour vote, not based on policy or which direction the country will take, but because of a ‘progressive’ disdain for the poor and their annoying habit of crudely organising to defend themselves.

Why did we lose? Well, turnout was 34%, despite everyone being knocked up multiple times. Any cross section of the registered electorate is always more Labour than that which turns out on the day. Our supporters are the type of people who are more likely to do hard physical work, long hours, or simply not to know what is going on with any certainty.

This has implications for the core vs marginal debate that Labour often indulges in. People call this silly, which is very nice, but objectively it still matters.

No matter how marginal a place is, you still need a core to make up a majority of the vote you do get. What we need more than anything is to be widely perceived as a party which inspires these people. Even with the Con-Dem government in place, we still need a positive vision, image, articulation and accompanying organisation which can do this. A lot of it is there. The PR job that will need to be performed by the next leader is therefore crucial.

In short, we need a leader who looks like a break from the last 13 years, and provides vision over triangulation.

Leadership election

Well, that’s an opportune time to get blogging again. Needless to say, my first choice would probably be Jon Cruddas, who I hope will run. And win.

Failing that, Ed Miliband has my vote.

The problem is that all the possible contenders are different stripes of Blair, or they are John McDonnell… who I have found in the past to be surrounded by the wrong people, completely nonconstructive when it comes to working with the wider Labour left, and completely unrealistic in most political senses. Which is a shame, because he speaks well, and is a nice guy in person.

More coverage here soon. In the meantime, Ken Livingstone has a piece in this week’s Tribune which I think sets out the real big issue with absolute perfection. We must move on from New Labour.

Update: I couldn’t agree with this more. A lot of people will feel like this, but they need to have the courage and the opportunity to back a candidate who shares their point of view.

Sign of the times

In a rather confused, agitated (agitating?) puff piece, the Times has broken cover to stand alongside its sister publication, the Sun, as an out-and-proud anti-Labour rag. The former newspaper of record was already virtually indistinguishable in any event.

Any pretence to balance, authority, nay, basic understanding of the political world… it is a thing long since departed. A close friend comments via gmail:

“I thought the Times was supposed to be a decent paper?
That article reads like the Mail, almost”

I must confess that in this fittingly critical first post, I am simply attempting to articulate in a more structured form a fractured mess of facebook bemusement. Sourced from a range of virtual acquaintances. Nevertheless, many of those assertions scattering the intertubes are nowt if not bang on.

Firstly, Mr Murdoch, it is difficult to understand why the Times seems so averse to Union backed candidates winning selection for, shock horror, a Labour Party.

A party linked to labour is what a Labour Party is. So it is fitting, then, that the Times has chosen to attack representation of union views in parliament at the same time that the Tories are busily trying to chip away at the union link, while preserving their link to the organised forces of capital. I wouldn’t even call them ‘business’; trade unionists depend on surplus producing ‘business’ just as much as senior personnel. For them, one form of economic organisation is acceptable (one that is massively undemocratic, dependent on hierarchical power relationships, and primarily advantages a minority interest within that grouping). Others are somehow a moving of the political goalpost.

Conservatives are in the habit of looking to America. In certain ways, this is healthy. Like all societies, the US has advantages and disadvantages. During the American Revolution, Tory predecessors, with the notable and heavily influential exception of Edmund Burke, stood against the American Revolution, its ideals, and its participants. Whiggish Radicals such as Charles James Fox backed the revolution wholeheartedly, and, despite this act of apparent treachery, maintained a large rump of parliamentary support.

In any event, as time passed into the full swing of Pax Victoriana, Britain was blessed with two parties who strongly emphasised the apparent differences between them. Some were significant, particularly the issues of free trade vs protectionism, political and religious freedom, and home rule for Ireland.

But despite these differences, way over half the country looked on with a total lack of understanding, mostly unable to vote, and if one should be so fortunate, faced with the choice between a shit and a shite. A large chunk of the population saw two parties with roundly similar policies and integral interests. These were parties of business owners who routinely and murderously ignored the greatest issue facing the country at the time; the plight of the massively expanded industrial working class, toiling in their millions for little reward in atrocious conditions, dying in their thousands as they built the railways, roads and bridges that business still profits from today, consumed as children in the mangles of weaving machines or the gas chambers of deep pits.

Men looked on from the benches, replete with their top hats, isolated, indifferent, and indistinguishable against the context. Many think that the main parties are too alike today. I would argue that this is because to a smaller or larger extent, they all represent capital as the a priori concern, no force pulls them the other way. There is an absence of opposition, and even an absence of compromise. This is more true in America, so admired by the Tories. Parties debate what kind of not-universal healthcare to have, what kind of regressive low rates of taxation they can implement, what variety of population, domestic or international, is worthy of oppression or abandonment, what kinds of guns they can let people carry around school.

This cosy irrelevance was even more true of the age here 1900. For all the lavish praise that constitutionalists and politicians heap on America, in a sense, and with great historical irony, it has preserved each of the trappings of political wrongness it tried to escape with independence.

For every action of political economy, there is a political response. The response in 1900 was great. The bulk of the population which existed in near slavery was forced to politically and industrially organise to defend its working men and their dependent families. Yet this, the need for jobs, sustenance and political representation as the final guarantee… it never come us when Tories discuss their ‘family values’. Unless they want to attack it.

1900.

A Labour Party was born. It broke consensus. And it needed to be there. It was demanded.

2010.

A Labour Party exists. It is sometimes allowed by the press into government, if it agrees not to represent its core values and core voters. Sometimes, like in 1945, it gets in anyway.

Some within it struggle ceaselessly for it to accept these external boundaries, for it to accept its own weakness as a movement and a body of opinion in the country. If it its subservience to the politics of papers like the Times and the Tories, who appear to hate the concept of trade unionists being represented alongside the top-hats, or funding, like business, a political party to represent them and the families who depend on them.

The times will attack the candidates, the Tories will attack their funding and the right of individual trade unionists to donate through their unions (you would never see that kind of thing with business donations). A Tory friend claims that I am being alarmist by saying this, but what they are attacking is the general concept of a Labour Party.

They want us to be Liberals circa 1900, and seeing as that’s not what most of Labour believes in, a few ultra-Blairites and the man himself aside, the Tories want to use their democratic mandate to make our party’s decision for us, through the law.

Next, they will be using the commons and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency to pass our conference resolutions for us.

Between Times and Tories, their merry tag team is attacking a reform to the political system which happened 110 years ago, the Lib/Lab split.

Their political ambition and paternal, undemocratic unscrupulousness knows no bounds.

As it happens, Labour currently demands in the rule book that members join a trade union if eligible to do so. Not so surprising then, that candidates usually turn out to be members.

As for the ‘left wingers’ (by which the times means anyone left Murdoch, presumably), I noticed that the Times piece didn’t include any criticism of the bonkers right-wingers, the Donal Blaney lickspittles who line the benches opposite. But someone suggesting we shouldn’t allow predatory advertisers to target kids for pester power (for that was the real proposed policy)… that’s just wrong, surely?

The Trade Unionists who founded the Labour Party were preceded by Chartists, who won working-class people the vote. They did not just do so as a result of industrial activity; indeed, for much of their period of agitation, unions were actually banned outright (perhaps David Cameron will leave this one for the next manifesto).

They were primarily political, not industrial.

As such, progressive who have diverted from the Liberal/Tory stitch up ever since 1900 have been characterised by patterns of alliances between political socialists and social democrats, and those whose interests they believe they represent, primarily represented by Trade Unions.

I shan’t claim that Compass have any comparison of value to Chartists, because I’m not an idiot in totality. But why is the Times so concerned that voters might now be able to choose to elect people who believe in and work for left-of-centre values? Why are they so concerned that the leadership of the Labour Party is no longer quite as committed to control freakery and nepotism as a matter of routine practise?

I have an alternative proposal, you see. Let people select candidates, fund them domestically and openly (not that Labour has a perfect record on this), then let people vote for who they want to vote for.

We can have democracy without this kind of utter nonsense, and it would be a lot easier to achieve if people ignored the hysterical alarmism that now seems so routine for Britain’s abused post-broadsheet.

Oh yes, just to round off, once again sourced from facebook

“The Times appalled 14 new of Labour’s new candidates have worked for a union. GMB says 63 Tory candidates come from banking and finance.”

I won’t go in for the divisive Thatcherite rhetoric of ‘enemies within’, but as it happens, as much as I think financial expertise should be valued, I think that trade unionists have played a defter hand over the last couple of years than the Tory banking establishment, hmm?

Trade unionists, right or wrong for the country, want to protect their jobs, their colleagues, and the well-being of their children. What do the bankers on the opposite bench want?

See. There’s a reason for unions in politics.