Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Some Leave voters have every right to be angry. They just need to work out who with.

So quite an extraordinary act took place last week. 3 judges from the High Court in London made a decision on a technical point of law and sent the news and the political sphere into overdrive. This doesn't happen very often, but given the topic they were ruling on this was hardly surprising. They were passing judgement on a case brought by a group of private citizens against the UK Government on the specific legal steps the government must take to invoke Article 50 of the EU - that is to start the formal process of Brexit.

This has been jumped on, by members of the public and experienced politicians alike as an attempt to derail the democratic will of the UK - that we want to leave the EU. The majority have spoken, and here are a bunch of bremoaners trying to stop that from happening. Is that the case though? Our democracy that has been hard won and hard protected now under attack? Certainly during the Leave campaign much was made of our governance, rights and democracy tying back to the Magna Carta and being uninterrupted since then. Is someone trying to run roughshod over that?
I believe the answer is an unequivocal yes. Should Leavers be angry? For some of them, I think they have every right to be.

Lots of leavers voted that way for lots of different reasons. I think it is a real shame that so many have wanted to tar them all as racists. Some Leavers had decided, long before any cases were put forward that they wanted to Vote Leave. That is absolutely fine. It is a democracy. We don't get a right to limit the vote to only people who consider issues in the way that we do. It is the system we have. But over the course of the referendum campaign, there were really 4 key issues that were used to push the Leave vote. Firstly, to take back control of unchecked immigration. Secondly, to take back control of our laws and rulings. Third, that we would be able to create new and better trading relationships with a wider range of partners. Finally, that we could save money paid in to the EU and use this, for example, to give the NHS an extra £350 million a week. 

These 4 issues, when combined and brought together, spoke to the very heart of the issues a large group of people care about. It spoke to our national pride and national strength. Anyone arguing against this could easily be derided as not patriotic (I know this, because I took this claim fairly regularly). But I can see the emotional flow of that argument. These claims were pushed very strongly, not just by the official campaign, but by UKIP and the majority of the British press too. 

It's quite easy to see, when someone is faced with this level of emotional argument, and see a set of factors that are so clearly wrong and unjust, that they expect everyone else to see it too. I actually wonder why there wasn't more aggression and violence. But also, if you have been given this story, you would assume that once through the referendum, this horrible situation would be remedied quickly. No more EU, no more money paid, no more immigration, control back in your hands.

Unfortunately, they have been both badly let down, and badly lied to. Firstly, David Cameron has let down not only Leavers but everybody in the country. This referendum was only ever meant to kill off UKIP. There was never any intention within government that Remain would actually lose. For this reason, there was never any clarity or honesty as to what would happen if they did. The government didn't even make contingency plans for that outcome. Just imagine that, a government not planning for a possible outcome of a binary referendum. Leave was never on the cards. Why else do you think the PM immediately resigned?

The other effect of this is that there was never any clarity given on how we would or could leave and what leaving would free us from. Had government departments been allowed to work on both outcomes then a clear option would have been given. Stay, and you get A. Leave and you get B. Unfortunately, this was taken away from the electorate. Instead, the Vote Leave campaign, UKIP and press barons were allowed to fill the void where official government guidance should have been. 

A really good example of this is shown by the reaction to the court case last week. The legislation which allowed the referendum was quite clear that it was advisory. Any decision was always going to be subject to British laws and British government - in the shape of the houses of parliament. But if you have been told for three months - you, personally - that you were taking back control, wouldn't you be shocked to now hear that? I would be. 

But this belief that people were given, came quite clearly from UKIP, Vote Leave and the press. It is therefore not at all surprising that all of those bodies have immediately come out and attacked the judges and the law of this country. Not because they ever believed it. But because the alternative is that this raw emotion they have unleashed turns on them to hold them to account for selling them a fairytale. 

Indeed, the judges had not made any ruling on whether we could or couldn't or even should or shouldn't leave the EU. They were purely ruling to say that British Law must be followed. However, social media and the mainstream media were awash with this attempt to stop Brexit by these judges. Never mind the fact that reading of it is completely untrue - UKIP, The Daily Mail, The Express all presented it as an attempt BY THE JUDGES to stop Brexit. In fact, in ever more dangerous behaviour Nigel Farage has called on people to march on the Supreme Court. Because nothing says respect for the rule of law like attempting to intimidate judges. 

Of course, this is just one example where a lack of planning and honesty is going to cause problems. There was never any decision or agreement on whether we would have any future relationship with Europe at all. This was not covered in the referendum. We were given a binary choice between the status quo and whatever the Leave campaign wanted to sell us. So it is far from certain whether our final leaving deal will include: Trade tariffs, freedom of movement, single market access, accepting some European rules. But the Leave camp have already sold all of these things. Given the level of emotion they have plumbed and brought to the surface, this could lead to even greater anger in the future. 

If you voted or now want to Leave, I would not expect any other outcome. But it is time to look at what you have been sold, and whether you actually want it. And if you do, what should it look like? The problem is that other Leavers might have a different view from you. There is no way you can all be kept happy. So, you have every right to be angry. But be angry with David Cameron for making a mess of such an important democratic process. Be angry with those who have lied to you. But don't be angry with the courts. Once this is all over, it is likely they will be the only ones left to us. Do you really want to damage them to the point that they can no longer hold the government to account?

Saturday, 22 October 2016

How to attribute blame, apparently

         Justice, and the perception of justice, is something that can be very personal. Many people will see acts, or offences, or outcomes of criminal or civil cases and overlay their own experiences and views on them. Similarly, this must happen to those people who have been asked to act as jurors. Additionally, we have a whole host of people in the UK who are charged with seeing justice delivered - police officers, lawyers, judges, Police and Crime Commissioners. They will also use their own experiences. I want to look at the reaction to two very different situations which are surprisingly closely linked. Our system of justice works on the basis that we believe people will be as fair as they can be. But can we really trust that still?

        I am no legal expert. I am sure that any lawyers who read this will have a field day with my lack of reasoning. Having said that, I still find myself wondering what drove the jury in the Ched Evans case ( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/ched-evans-rape-verdict-footballer-cleared-not-guilty-a7361701.html ) to their decision. To recap the points of the case that are NOT in dispute. His friend chatted up and took an extremely drunken girl back to a hotel room.Once there, his friend phoned him, and he travelled to the hotel, got a key card for the room, went in, had sex with the girl and then left via a fire exit. 
       Initially, this was sufficient evidence to have Ched Evans convicted of rape - a decision he appealed, on the basis of new evidence. What new evidence could possibly throw light on what appears a straight forward case to the uninitiated? Surprisingly, it was evidence that aimed to make the case about the previous actions of the victim rather than the accused. The new evidence was that the person in question had, in previous encounters, consented to sex with other men whilst drunk. It wasn't evidence about the night in question, or the act itself, but rather evidence that this girl could have consented AND had done so previously with other men. That was sufficient for Ched Evans to be found not guilty. Not only that, but there has been an outpouring of support for him and talk of how his life has been ruined. 

         I can just about understand how today's world can be confusing for young men. Ironically for someone who uses the internet to share his thoughts, I can see how corrupting an influence the internet can be. Recently a friend of mine had to post the following message on her Facebook account
"Just a friendly reminded that if you're a left winger and I accepted you as a friend on here based upon our similar political affiliation PLEASE don't inbox me being a perv because I'm really not interested - I mean seriously - even if you look like Daniel Craig and have the political principles of Jeremy Corbyn. I'm here for friendship / comradeship / solidarity - not sex. 
I'm getting REALLY pissed off with the amount of men inboxing creepy stuff and I refuse to stop accepting people based upon the actions of a few because we're socialists and socialism is all about being social! But let's keep in mind there's a line and let's try not to cross it! " 

         People are confused about what the social conventions are, particularly on the internet. At the same time we now have unfettered access to free pornography and the impact that has on our view of what is normal. But I defy anyone to tell me that travelling to a hotel because you believe a girl is there who is so drunk she will have sex with anyone can be seen as positive behaviour. We have to assume the court is correct. But even if it was consensual, how many of you would be happy to hear that your brother, or father, or son, or friend had behaved that way? So how exactly do people now see him as an innocent victim? Whatever the answer, the court ruling and parts of public opinion are clear - if any blame can be attributed to the victim (real or not) then they shouldn't receive justice through the courts. 

        To contrast that I want to also talk about another news story that has occurred recently. The assistant chief of police in Leicestershire said that people who don't lock doors and windows shouldn't have crimes investigated ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3841248/Police-chief-claims-burglaries-shouldn-t-investigated-victims-leave-WINDOWS-open-12-months-telling-officers-ignore-attempted-break-ins-odd-numbered-houses.html ). So his argument is that if you are a victim, and you could have done more to prevent the crime, in other words you carry some of the blame (by making it easier for thieves) you shouldn't get access to justice. As you can imagine, this caused uproar. Even Tory MPs rushed to condemn his comments as victim blaming. 

          I find this incredible. I don't agree with the Assistant Chief by the way. But I find the hypocrisy sickening. We may as well write the rules and laws down as "if any blame can be attributed to the victim (real or not) then they shouldn't receive justice through the courts - but only where the victim is a woman". We really can't allow this to continue. This level of horrific, damaging, harmful patriarchy simply shouldn't still exist. A system where the past behaviour of a victim (any victim) is considered as part of the crime surely can't be right? Particularly where this seems to be much more used when it comes to rape and sexual assault. When was the last time you heard a murderer get away with a crime because their victim wasn't very nice for example? Quite simply justice must be available to everyone in the same way. It is one of the cornerstones of a mature democracy. But all the available evidence shows that we don't have that, and in some cases, we don't want it.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The party is over, long live the party.

          Ah, the morning after the night before. I was lucky enough to get a ticket last night to the closing party of The World Transformed – the Momentum fringe event at the Labour Party conference. Sadly, due to childcare arrangements I left 10 minutes before Jeremy Corbyn arrived. But I did get to see a visibly “emotional” famous Guardian columnist arriving. It was a great party – I managed to see fantastic sets from Barbieshop (who did the most amazing cover of Birdhouse in Your Soul) and All We Are. Who knew people were still making music like that? Anyone who likes 80s pop electronica really should go and see them. Of course, it is now 8am the next day and I am travelling to London by Virgin “You can stick your data protection laws around CCTV up your arse” trains. So feeling a little jaded.
            Of course that is the party over, but we still have one day of conference left (although by the time I publish this we will know what JC had to say). Whilst details of his speech, in time honoured fashion, have been given to all of the major reputable news channels (and News International I imagine) I am not going to delve so much into that speech, but more generally look at the state of the overall party, given the conference so far.
            Firstly, we now have a twice elected leader. Once could be seen as a fluke. Twice, with an increased mandate, and the fact that the runner up in the election was Purged voters, really should show to those who are unhappy with JC that they will not be able to get rid of him that easily. For a man who is unelectable, thin-skinned and unresilient he has proven to be remarkably electable and robust. Of course, those are only the votes of the Labour Party members, and they are all mad lefties who don’t understand the real world or concerns of the general public. So what would they know. It is, after all, their party.
            Whilst JC has again won the leadership of the party, it looks as if he still doesn’t have control of it. I mean this in 3 different ways.
Firstly, as can be seen from the lack of discipline in comments at conference from some people – and the “faux” outrage that Laura Kuenssberg has spent 3 days trying to ferment over the Clive Lewis speech – JC does not have the level of control over the party that Blair / Brown / Mandelson / Campbell mastered. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Anyone who has seen it will remember the Mark Thomas Comedy Product where he used a list of pager numbers to frighten terrified MPs and delegates into giving repeated standing ovations during a speech (Series 3, Episode 8). I am not sure we should want to return to a party that has absolutely unwavering discipline to a messiah at it’s heart. I believe that debate and democratic tension is really important. If we lose this we will lose the right to call ourselves a democratic, socialist party.
Secondly, due to movements behind the scene, JC has also lost control of the National Executive Committee. Just days after gaining control of it. Depending on what you believe, the decision to increase the size of the NEC by an appointed member by the leader of each of the Welsh and Scottish parties has been on the cards for ages, it just happens to be now that it has become imperative OR Progress / Saving Labour have done this in order to ensure the balance remains, for now at least, against Jeremy Corbyn. Now, you can make up your own mind on that. But one thing that I certainly would draw your attention to is the fact that on the evening before these proposals were going to be voted on Saving Labour begged people who backed this to be in conference early to stop a card vote / line by line discussion. Even asking their members and supporters to “incentivise” people to turn up early and vote their way with free drinks.
I think that shows a third way that the left wing faction / JC is not in control of the party. And that is they are playing a different game from Progress in terms of how to pull the levers of power and how to get things done. We will really see this in 3 ways through the next cabinet reshuffle and elections to it (should they be reinstated), formulation of our policies and getting on an election footing, and how any question of positive selection of Labour candidates is handled.
I strongly believe that we should aim to be a party of power, and that to do that we have to win elections. I also believe that to win you have to have strong performers in your team, and that your team needs to work as one. I would therefore strongly urge that there is no immediate major reshuffle. I think that would show quite poorly however it goes. If too many MPs who have no loyalty to the leader and who are seen as superstar parliamentarians go back in, we end up with a fractured top team. It also sends a really strong signal to people like Clive Lewis and Angela Rayner and Emily Thornberry (who have been doing an excellent job) “Thanks, you have done a really good job, but the big boys are back now”.
If not enough changes are made then Jeremy Corbyn will be pilloried in the press and the right wing of the party as having snubbed them, aiming to be a party of opposition etc. If a major reshuffle happens, then it would need to be done with a deftness that so far we have not really seen from Corbyn and his team – balancing all of those things, individual drive and ambition, views from the party and an ability to deliver people in to jobs they might not have necessarily considered. So far, in my opinion, JC has not shown the level of managerialism to pull that off well.
Of course, delaying it does risk(?) a move towards some form of direct democracy in terms of choosing the shadow cabinet. Now whilst I believe that there are some in the PLP who are not pulling for the party (and fuck knows why Tristram “the 1% should rule you all” Hunt is still a Labour MP) I find myself moving towards some or all of the positions being chosen by the PLP and some by the party leader rather than direct democracy from the membership. My rationale for this is that any form of democracy or governance needs to be robust. That is, it needs to be the right size for the job, strong enough to get things done and flexible and agile to deal with issues. If we had direct elections to the shadow cabinet from the membership the administrative burden of this would be so great as to tie us down. We would not be able to deal with issues quickly and if there were resignations we would end up paralysed until the process was put through the NEC and the invariable legal challenges so beloved of millionaires and members. So maybe certain key posts being appointed by the leader, regular elections to the others by the PLP (maybe every 2 years) with any resignations being filled by the leader’s choice. This allows and forces the PLP to work together with the incumbent leader (whoever that is) and vice versa.
Of course, that also plays into the next point – formulation of policies and getting onto an election footing. Many would see this as having a fixed direction of travel in terms of policy aims, which we are settled on and that are easy to explain and understand. We can’t simply go with platitudes. We need to focus on offering an alternative to not only the tories but UKIP and the SNP. They are the parties damaging us in what are working class areas. I’m stealing from a friend of mine here but as he said “winning power means winning back UKIP voters – let me know how many of them you see at your next Momentum event”. This will not be done by going back into arguments around Trident, internal party politics, whether capitalism is good or bad. The focus on these, because they are close to the leaders and many members hearts (and rightly so) needs to stop. That is not a party geared up to face the country.
So we should focus where we can win – with clear unambiguous policies. I think we must focus on the reasons for the brexit vote. 52% of voters voted brexit. Whilst we can’t know why they all voted that way, we need to understand for those voters where it was a protest vote what we can do to improve their lives. But we need to listen to them first.
We also need to act in unison. We can not, as a party, win an election whilst we have Chris Leslie MP running around briefing against Labour policies and actively trying to scare voters away from voting Labour. It is not enough for the party to try to connect to the electorate. MPs need to connect to the party, the message and their electorate too. Where they can’t or won’t do that, then they need to consider whether they still have the desire to be a Labour MP. Part of that needs to be in my opinion, a move away from threats of deselection or mandatory reselection. I don’t even recognise what those terms mean. However, I strongly support the idea that each CLP should, on a regular basis positively confirm who they wish to support to stand up and go in front of the public on behalf of the party. Whilst there is currently a trigger ballot mechanism, this is unhelpful, combative and goes against working in a co-operative democratic party.
I would therefore strongly support a standing, regular scheduled positive confirmation from each CLP that they still support their candidate, before that candidate stands in front of the public. This should include, where it is welcomed by the members of the CLP, the opportunity for others to stand for that candidacy. We must ensure we have a strong link to the local CLP – after all their funds, hard work and resources will be spent in any election campaign. If not, then there can be NO argument if we go back to the days when Peter Mandelson could decide who would stand in constituencies where a resignation or retirement takes place, only now with Corbynites parachuted in.
My worry is that when you look at how the party is being run too many decisions are being made still by those who directly and openly oppose the current leadership and direction of the party. Momentum are (so far) holding true to their aims of developing a community, grassroots and activist movement. Even dispatches when they tried couldn’t find evidence of concerted efforts to get hold of those levers of power. What they found was what is there – a group of people of mixed ages, abilities and social backgrounds trying to embed a new way for the world to be from the ground up. What we need to see is some level of maturity and control from the centre. If Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum are not going to do this for the leadership, they need to find someone who will. But it is hard to see who will be able to save the party by pulling it back in line – without being willing to go against the leaders newer, nicer way of doing politics. And without it, will Corbyn ever control the party? Well, we should know by the time of the next general election.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Our Leadership Candidates

            Well, another summer comes to an end. Children are going back to school, the 2 weeks in Torremolinos are a distant memory for us all. Nights are just starting to draw in, and another Labour Leadership election is drawing to a close.
             I wonder which was worse now. Was it last year’s or this one?
At least for the one last year, there felt like a real purpose to it. We had lost the general election for reasons that the Beckett Report went into (http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/beckett-report-into-labours-loss-is-uncomfortable-reading-for-all-party-factions/) whether you believe that or not. We needed new leadership to change the direction of the party on some fundamental issues. We didn’t have a leader – Ed Miliband had stood down. We now know (thanks to Ed Balls) that he had to – after all, it was all his fault for not including Ed Balls in his decision making (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/02/ed-balls-interview-speaking-out-memoir-labour-blair-brown ). I am sure his professional dance partner is bricking it. I think we can know whose fault it will be if he is voted out.
We had a plethora of contenders. There was Jeremy Corbyn, Blairite 1, Blairite 2 and Liz Kendall MP of the conservatives for some unknown reason. (I am well aware that at some point in this blog I am probably going to fall into “purge-able” territory, but to be honest, anything you now say counts so may as well be damned for doing). There was, from the membership, a resounding decision. 59.5% of the party members voted for a non-Blairite, left-wing politician to be leader. Worse than that, the man was a serial rebel who didn’t then appear to be particularly keen on being leader. He didn’t have the polished façade of the modern politician, honed to a cutting edge by SpAds and an office funded by millionaires and staffed by consultants from the Big 4 accountancy firms. What the hell were we thinking?
It’s almost like, and I realise this may surprise some in the PLP, the membership were lashing out at this ideal they themselves had built of a professional political operator who was simply focussed on what they had been told would be the best way to win votes. Or maybe, like me, members of the Labour party really fancied a party leader who seemed to be a bit “socialist”. Whilst that terminology and that ideology are not beloved of everyone, you have to assume it was a mixture of those 2 things. After all, he won. I don’t think there was a huge swathe of Labour members saying “I disagree with his positions and policies and that is not the direction I want the party to go in, but man does he look good in a grey tracksuit. I am voting for him”.
Not only did he win, but the Labour party saw a groundswell of new membership. The reasons behind this can be argued about, but what this did mean is a massive increase in our available resources to fight the electoral battles coming up. Even if we assume that all of those members pay only £1 per month, the minimum, then that is an extra £3.6 million per year pouring into the Labour party coffers. By an eerie coincidence the tories outspent Labour by £3.5m at the last election (https://www.ft.com/content/bb84c98a-bf74-11e5-9fdb-87b8d15baec2) . So there has been a financial boon to the party of Jeremy Corbyn being leader – no matter how much has been spent on questionable court cases over whether he should be allowed to stand as leader.
Of course, there have been problems with his leadership. A central one seems to be that he is not the leader that the PLP see for themselves. Now, there has been yards (sorry, we are no longer European so I am not using metres) of column and newsprint spent on whether that is because Jeremy Corbyn is a good leader or not. For some reason whilst Clive Lewis and others find him easy to work with, many MPs say he is distant and dismissive. They can’t all be telling the truth. So, I have come to the conclusion that some of them are not being completely honest. I know. The problem is, for those of us who are rank and file members who should we believe?
That really is a question for you and your conscience. For me personally, I have seen enough to believe that perhaps the drive from the PLP was coming irrespective of his performance as leader. Not that I am entirely happy with his performance as leader. There certainly have been enough questions over his abilities. What concerns me is the consistency of his performances in front of the media. This is not only about the clear and obvious bias against him – which even those Trots at the LSE have confirmed is genuine (http://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/pdf/JeremyCorbyn/Cobyn-Report-FINAL.pdf). -but his own performances. Of course, we should have expected this, but even then the ferocity of the attack has left many startled.
So here we are again and, having followed the various leadership debates, it really doesn’t leave us as a party in a great position. From the tone of the debates themselves to the decision to leave the BBC question time debate which was always likely to be the one which more people viewed to the very end. What you ended up with was 2 battered and tired characters replaying the same lines with less zip and vigour and more simple acrimony. When you know your contenders comeback lines so well that you have a prepared “on such and such a date you said such and such” you don’t look like a leader, you look bitter.
What have we learned from the combatants in these battles? Well, the choice seems to be simple. In the red corner you have Jeremy Corbyn – beleaguered, nice guy, who wants to reach out to his membership with promises of nationalisation but who is unable to honestly answer questions on security and defence because he realises that the answers he wants to give are completely unpalatable versus Owen Smith in the slightly less red corner.
Owen Smith, the Great, White, Middle Class, Middle Aged, Managerialist, Male hope. You have to feel some sympathy for the “Anyone But Corbyn” camp that this was their chosen prizefighter. The obvious candidate – Angela Eagle - was so clearly not going to win that she was unceremoniously dumped by the very political class who had initially rallied around her. She was never going to stand a chance once the Chilcott report was published. When she had fallen back on her “Well, it’s about time it was a woman” rhetoric you knew she was defeated. It is hard for me to decide which is more depressing from an equality point of view – that she thought this was an acceptable line to take or Jeremy Corbyn’s remarks that obviously men don’t want to go home and look after their children.
The biggest challenge for Owen Smith has been that, in all of his outings, his lack of depth and of core principles has led to him spouting platitudes whilst being woefully inconsistent. For example, he tells us he will do whatever it takes to gain power because that has to be the most important measure – and in the next breath is saying he will fight for a re-run of the referendum (a strategy that seems guaranteed to keep us out of power). That he is passionate about disarmament – but only if every other country does it at the same time. That he believes in an end to nuclear weapons but would happily pull the trigger.

Worryingly, his method of delivery (in fact, his persona) is so screamingly political class that voters must worry they are seeing the re-run of Blair / Cameron / Clegg. His use of macho metaphors and empty promises that can never be held to scrutiny are exactly the things that are turning people off politics and politicians. The decision to make is whether that would be worse than a Jeremy Corbyn who makes gaffes and blunders and is completely unsupported by his own parliamentary colleagues.  Because although Corbyn seems to misunderstand a lot of the social and political changes that have happened in the last 30 years, at least he cares. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The missed opportunity on reporting the gender pay gap

This is a first for me. I am writing the same post for my blog (very political, very left-wing, unforgiving in its views) and for LinkedIn (my professional self, steady, don’t rock the boat, nothing too contentious). The reason for this is that there is a subject I feel so passionately about that crosses into every area of our lives. That is gender equality in the UK and the fact that we are STILL so far away from it in so many respects. And, in my view, we are applying the wrong initial mindset to every really do anything about it.
                This has come up (again) this week because of a new  report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (you can find the full report here https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8428 ). Sadly, the report is really nothing new. The messages remain the same as they ever were. Men earn more than women. The gap is seen at all occupational or social levels (so we aren’t educating our way out of it). Generally, the pay gap increases once women have taken time off to raise children. If we really needed a report to tell us this, we simply aren’t paying attention.
                It does make me wonder – did the Equal Pay act happen 46 years ago, or was that just a myth (http://www.inbrief.co.uk/employees/equal-pay/)? In a country which has over that period had 2 female Prime Ministers we still languish behind most other developed countries in terms of ridding ourselves of the gender pay gap.  Certainly, when compared to Scandinavian countries who are in many ways near neighbours to us we are nowhere close to their understanding.
                I am not going to say this isn’t an important subject. But I do wonder, are we actually framing this in the right way to achieve equality for men and women. Let me give you an example – TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady was quoted as saying “It is scandalous that millions of women still suffer a motherhood pay penalty. Many are forced to leave better-paid jobs due to the pressure of caring responsibilities and the lack of flexible working” ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37156178 ). I think part of the problem lay in that statement. It could be put another way – “many men face a taking time-off penalty because of the expectation on them to provide for the family”.
                I think we need to reframe the conversation. Instead of the IFS report focussing solely on “The Gender Wage Gap” perhaps it should look at both sides of the problem – “The Gender Wage and Caring Responsibilities Gap”.  If we take a look back at how this conversation has been framed, since the Equal Pay Act, the language has been chosen by the patriarchal view of our society – that the important thing is Pay, how much we earn, how much we provide.
                This has an impact on both men and women. It can not be right that our society forces us to think that the only measure we should focus on is pay – and then thrust the next generation into trying to win a game where the rules are stacked against them. This is a complex problem, and there are lots of remedies that need to be considered to address it. But are we really open to considering all of them whilst we focus on equal pay only? Whilst the recent legislation in the UK to provide Shared Parental Leave (https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/overview) is a step in the right direction, many men (including myself) are priced out of using it because it didn’t include equal access to Company Maternity Pay.

                There are some obvious things that need to happen. Firstly, men and women need to be paid similarly from the outset. That is a no-brainer and large companies will soon be forced to report much more in-depth information to make this harder to get away with. I am certainly not saying we should stop the fight for equal pay for equal work irrespective of gender. But until we can move the conversation on, and talk about work-life balance, sharing our parenting / caring responsibilities as part of the gender pay gap, are we really trying to break out of the patriarchal view that keeps women at home and men in the workplace? We need to push towards a culture that sees raising children and supporting a family financially as the responsibilities of all parents. Until we reframe the questions, I worry we will ever reach it. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

Another Leadership Election

Sad that we are at this point really. I think it is pretty clear that nobody wants to be at this point. The membership of the Labour party certainly don't. The PLP certainly don't - hence their aborted coup. Jeremy Corbyn himself seems not to either. But, we find ourselves at one of the most monumental points in national history looking inwards at what sort of party we want to be. It seems to be what we do. Apart from a few years from 1994 onwards when the party was gripped tightly and controlled centrally. But even that left a lot of people unhappy. 
Of course, after the abortive attempt by Angela Eagle to take power from Jeremy Corbyn we are now left with a straight two way fight. Clearly, this shows that the PLP have learned from last year when 3 candidates occupied the right of the party leaving just one left winger. So we all have a couple of decisions to make: what sort of party do we want, and what sort of government do we want to offer the electorate when the next General Election is called. But both of those are tied up into – who do we want to lead the party. (Before I write this, I would like to silently thank a new friend of mine who has helped me work through my own thoughts on this point. I would probably give him joint credit for the piece – but given that anyone who puts the head above the parapet in the Labour Party at the moment is liable to have it hacked off. So I will claim all of these views as my own.)
For me, what sort of party do we want is the first question we should ask. I only recently joined the Labour Party. Not because of some late awakening. But because I didn’t feel either the need to join until we lost the last general election AND because I never felt until then that the Labour party really addressed my left of centre views for most of my adult life. Certainly, during 1997 and 2010 the Labour government did a lot of good things. We shouldn’t deny that – Sure Start centres, increased funding of the NHS, a buoyant economy.
But equally, they committed some really grievous sins during that time. Public sector reform in NHS and education through marketization, burdening the country with huge PFI debts, overseas wars, failing to really understand and control what was driving the buoyancy in the economy. They become too close to big businesses who told them “Don’t worry, we know what’s right for the country, we’ll help you free of charge with policy decisions”. For this reason they didn’t see the global economic collapse of 2008 coming towards them. Mind you, very few did. What is genuinely sad is that many of them still don’t accept the things they got wrong.
Part of the reason that the party went in this direction was the absolute belief amongst many in the government that we had to go this was to stay in power. That the only way to win votes was to buy in to this. I wonder how true that is. How many voters really sat at home thinking “well, I’d vote for them, but only if they introduce an element of competition into our school system”? Sadly, the party was so well controlled that a lot of dissent from members and a minority of MPs was drowned out – not allowed to be heard. We were sold Blairism as a way of stopping the Tories being in power. And found ourselves wearing their clothes.
I don’t want to be that sort of party. I don’t want to be with a party that will sell its founding and basic principles for a taste of power. I want to be in a party that holds its socialist principles dearly. But we must be willing to make some sacrifices to the gods of necessity. And we must have being able to implement our policies as a fundamental goal. This means a party that wants to be in power. It must be a party that never forgets what we are here to achieve for those who most need us in society.
But to do that we need to live by the old Socrates quote “The only way to live with honour in this world is to be in all things that which you appear to be”. So if we want to be a party that can push policies that stand up for fairness, for social justice, for democracy and for equality of all people we have to be all of those things internally. That means that we can’t be seen as a PLP that will ignore the choice of their members. One where there is no whiff of racism or sexism or any other discrimination. And one where we can have open, honest and passionate discourse without trying to silence those with whom we disagree. My worry is that over the current debate we have lost many of those things.
This is a charge that can be levelled at both wings of the party and a number of various groups. But for me the behaviour of many in the PLP has been simply unconscionable.
I am not in the parliamentary Labour party. I am not an insider who sees how things are working in Westminster. I can only pick up what we see and hear from the reports and media. That puts me in the same boat as the overwhelming majority of Labour members. We can not know what happens on a daily basis there. I watch Jeremy Corbyn sit on interview shows and say that he is willing to speak to MPs. Then MPs – including many who seemed initially supportive – tell tales of not being able to reach him. Meanwhile MPs talk of policy hold ups, press gaffes and dithering over decisions. But some of those MPs have had a goal of removing Jeremy Corbyn since it became obvious he would win the leadership election. But we can’t point that accusation at everybody. I do not believe it is possible that 150 Labour MPs have been secretly conspiring for the last year for this to happen. It simply doesn’t pass the bullshit test.
So we are left with a seemingly unsquare-able circle. Either Jeremy Corbyn is a habitual and well practiced liar who can make whole swathes of the party believe what is patently untrue. Or the Labour Party is full of two faced backstabbers who are lying to our faces. Or maybe a third option – which is that the problems are not with Jeremy Corbyn himself, but rather with the team around him. But ultimately, the man who picks the team must bear that responsibility. Therefore, I would suggest that if Jeremy Corbyn does win this election, he needs to consider a real rapprochement with the Party. Not just inviting them back in, but making some of the changes being asked for, including reviewing his personal team. That also means he must reach out further than his core supporters. Whilst rallies are amazing spectacles, he is only reaching those people who would follow him anyway.
So if that is the sort of party I want (and I believe for the most part we are that party, even if we forget it sometimes), what sort of government should we offer the electorate? I think quite clearly the history of the last election is that we need to offer an alternative to the tories. Wearing their policies but trying to look as if we are slightly nicer clearly doesn’t work. So, we do need to offer social democratic policies – ones that we believe in. There is clear support already for many of the things that Corbyn has said. But there has been too little meat on the bones. We need clear, well argued policies that relate to the problems people in the country have. Whilst issues such as Trident, Palestine, Globalisation are important, they are not the issues which people feel in their every day lives. This is not the time to fight the fights that we lost within the party a generation ago.
Our focus should be on poverty, living standards, injustice, social inequality and aspirations. Our leader should not be so naïve as to repeatedly work on to the end of “rope a dope” tactics in TV interviews on topics and arguments well versed for 40 years. The agenda must be set by the Labour Party – this is what we are offering the electorate. It is different and better than the opposition. We also need to re-frame the conversation away from talking about the tories as our enemy. We have lost votes to UKIP and the SNP. We should be talking much more, at all levels in the party about our real enemies – inequality, poor corporate  behaviour, injustice, lack of opportunity. They should ALWAYS be the enemies we call out. Not a feud with a particular party. A large number of those people who voted to leave Europe did so out of a sense of anger that whilst we are constantly told how much better off we are, large swathes of the country don’t feel that way. Imagine what we could achieve if we tapped into that anger and said to those people “let us be your voice”. Or we can go back to being angry with media bias and focussing our energy on that.
Well, almost 1600 words and no mention of who I will be voting for. So I want a party that holds its socialist principles dear, but one that wants to be in power to deliver policies based on them. A party that is open, democratic and welcoming to all. We should offer a government to people that doesn’t just look like another load of middle aged men in nice suits offering platitudes whilst helping the rich stay rich. Fairness, social justice, democracy and reducing inequality – with a chance of implementing those.
It is for those reasons that I will not be voting for Owen Smith. Two big things stand out for me.
Firstly, if we want to let people know that we are serious about listening to them, and addressing what they need instead of simply being part of a machine they are angry with, we have to stick with something different. If we want to show that we believe in democracy and the votes and views of individuals we can’t allow career politicians in London to decide who is the leader of a party which is meant to stand up for those without power. Those eligible to vote in the election have chosen once Jeremy Corbyn. They need to know that the choice rests with the membership, not the elite.
Secondly, I am not convinced that he is truly for the policies he is currently espousing – or that he can differentiate the party sufficiently from the tories. My worry is truly that come the next election he would have moved away from the “left” and back to the new centre – which is further right-wing than it has ever been in history. Could he deliver a government? Potentially. Could Owen Smith deliver the sort of policies that the Labour party wants to see? I don’t believe he has that in him.
So I will be supporting Jeremy Corbyn this leadership election. Not because I necessarily believe that he is the best possible leader for the Labour Party. More that he is a better choice than Owen Smith. But also, to send a message to the PLP – this is the party of the members, fighting all the ills that people in society face. Not a plaything that is there to keep you employed.


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled

               I am of a certain age where there are some films that absolutely define me. Most people could guess my age pretty accurately, given that my favourite films include Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Jerry Maguire, Top Gun, Die Hard and The Usual Suspects. In the last of those there is a brilliant line delivered by Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint – “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist” (If you are a young person, I would suggest watching that movie straight away, along with Fight Club).
                As a member of the Labour Party, at the moment I feel a great deal of sadness and anger in terms of where my party is. I am at heart an unreconstructed socialist, who has wound his way back here via a variety of other views being tried on for size. The ongoing / stalling / necessary / evil / failed / righteous* (delete as appropriate) coup has really shown the worst of our politics on all sides. What is equally saddening has been that within the Labour Party and the wider bit of society that sees itself as left-leaning we have seen the worst of absolutist thinking and “othering” behaviour. You are either a Corbynista or a Blairite. You are Progress or Momentum. It is black and white, chalk and cheese. For god’s sake whatever you do, pick a side. Certainly you must not see anything in between (don’t worry, I am not going to use the phrase “a third way”). You are either for or against – and that view will completely and entirely colour whether something is acceptable or not – not the act itself.
                It is because of this thinking that I have separately heard a wide variety of possibilities in terms of the underlying cause of the coup in the Labour Party. It is either a right wing coup orchestrated by Portland (http://www.prweek.com/article/1401004/portland-forced-deny-involvement-plot-oust-jeremy-corbyn) on behalf of the permanent political class who rely on voter apathy (http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/02/the-real-reason-the-permanent-political-class-is-trying-to-topple-jeremy-corbyn/ ). Or alternatively, it is evidence of the party fighting back against an existential threat of Momentum Entryists trying to steal the party (http://uk.businessinsider.com/corbyn-could-split-labour-and-create-a-new-socialist-party-2016-6?r=US&IR=T). When you look at either of these theories they BOTH have an awful lot of “if and then” logic in them.
                The quote from The Usual Suspects comes from an original from Charles Baudelaire. But given the above theories, if either of them prove true, it will certainly need to be changed. So, depending on where you are on that perfect duality where any behaviour is allowed as long as it justifies the ends, you can either have: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was after failing to convince 3 MPs involved in the plot to stand aside so there was one candidate standing against Corbyn to not fully engage in the EU referendum; stop the newspapers reporting what Jeremy Corbyn was doing during the referendum campaign; stoke hatred of Jeremy Corbyn by people he works with in the House of Commons; convince almost all of his shadow cabinet to resign in a timed way one after the other (and the press to report it in that order); convince other MPs in the party that it was all his fault; pass a vote of no confidence; but be so incompetent as to botch a leadership challenge by being unclear on what the rules are; to avoid Tony Blair being impeached for war crimes”.
                I am going to go out on a limb here – if you could manage to make 90% of that happen without problem then you would have been able to control the Blairite candidates, and you would have known that you could push through the coup by way of Leadership challenge. Was there anything as disappointing as seeing Neil Kinnock brandishing a print out of the Labour Party rules on the Andrew Marr show saying that Jeremy Corbyn definitely wouldn’t be on the ballot for leader because the rules could stop it? A couple of things show how silly that is – if you know you can get rid of someone through a leadership challenge you go down that route rather than publicly humiliating someone on front of their colleagues. Secondly, sane people do not walk around with a certificate to show they are sane. If you are going on air with a copy of the rules in your pocket, you are not sure the rules really support you. You are using them the same way a drunk uses a lamp post – more for your own support than illumination.
                Oh yes, two possible changes to the quotation. For those of you who are Blairites (and remember – you must be one or the other) “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing MPs who didn’t support his views to nominate him to get on to the paper; then to have hundreds of thousands of entryists prepared to spring into action and join the Labour Party (myself included); then get them all to vote for him; convince the other contenders to not drop out so their vote was split; hang on to power through both local elections and an EU referendum whilst seizing control of the Labour Party machinery; manufacture outrage within the party to create a split in the party (by way of smearing a PR company with links to Tony Blair) ; in order to get all of those people you have convinced to join the party 12 months earlier to now leave the party and join a newly set up Momentum party; convince the Union Leaders to come with you and bring their members; and on the way get an establishment judge to find that Tony Blair does have a case to answer over the Iraq War; call for and get an impeachment against him; thus destroying the Blairite Labour Party and start afresh with a clean left wing Momentum party”.
                Again, stretching this a bit but maybe there are easier ways to do that. Quite frankly, the thought that a government inquiry into a decision to go to war would ever (or would ever be allowed, take your pick) to find that a Prime Minister of this country had performed in a way that could lead to criminal charges against that PM seems a long way from the truth. If it was going to do that it wouldn’t have been delayed so much. There are not enough people in Politics, irrespective of parties who want to see that happen. I realise that I am making myself a hostage to fortune by calling that before Wednesday. The whole project would be based on the outcome of other things – not a successful strategy usually.
                There is a well-worn approach when considering different theories called Ockham’s razor (or maybe Occam’s Razor depending on your spelling) which isn’t proof of logic of an argument, but is a good starting point – the theory is “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected”. In other words – the idea with the fewest parts should be your starting point. Looking at those competing viewpoints above anybody outside of the debate would be forgiven for saying they both smell a bit fishy.
What is interesting is that both sides of the argument are giving the appearance that any means is justified because their ends are just. So Jeremy Corbyn allegedly refusing to take Tom Watson’s calls (although clearly these calls must have come after the Glastonbury weekend), the public defrocking of Jeremy Corbyn in parliament which was only second to Cersei’s walk of shame in its gratuitousness, threats for mandatory reselection and taking legal advice on whether MPs can keep the Labour party name whilst splitting from the leadership are all acceptable weapons. As well as that we have entered a lockdown phase where everything Corbyn has done is right OR everything Corbyn has done is wrong. Whether this is what you think or not, it is how it is playing out in the media. And both sides are looking at their own constituencies as an example of them being right, as if this is a binary decision “we have the members on our side so we must be right – is democracy” versus “we have the voters as well as the party members to think about so we must be right – is democracy”. Yeah, because voting on things democratically has been working out so well for us in the last few weeks.
                What is needed now is calm heads and moving away from that sort of thinking – and pretty quickly. We need to save the Labour party and the ideals it stands for. Unfortunately, that would mean both sides would have to learn and grow up a bit. Let’s get rid of the conspiracy theories, and stick to things that we do know or at least can agree on. There must be some of those mustn’t there? Or are we so far down the rabbit hole we can’t find any common ground.  I have tried to list these in order of increasing contentiousness.
1.       Leaving the EU referendum provides immediate short term risks that the Labour Party needs to be ready for
2.       As a party we are better off together, looking outward rather than fighting ourselves
3.       Our enemies are those who oppose social justice, fairness, workers rights, an end to poverty (look, I am trying to be cool but quite obviously that is code for the Tories and UKIP)
4.       The PLP never wanted Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, and some have openly attacked him, some have been half-hearted and some have supported him
5.       The membership did want him – even without us nasty Entryists, the full members of Labour voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn
6.       Having a vote of no confidence in him which carries no constitutional weight whatsoever is a clear indication that you are too nervous to run the gauntlet of a leadership election when that would have been quicker and easier. Stop pretending we are dicks who don’t get that
7.       Jeremy has achieved some things – particularly government u-turns around education cuts; benefit cuts; police funding etc.
8.       Jeremy Corbyn (or possibly the team around him) has made mistakes and what is clear is that something does need to change. Anyone willing to cling to their rationality could see that mentioning ISIS and the state of Israel in the same sentence was going to be a bloody stupid idea

  What isn’t clear is whether the aim of the PLP is to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn (the person / the team) or whether it is to get rid a left wing agenda of policies. This is going to be really crucial in winning many of the party over to looking at a way ahead, potentially without Jeremy Cobryn as leader if that is what it takes. For many people (ie me, and trying to claim the moral high ground) we joined because we were attracted to the agenda rather than necessarily for the person. For those on the Corbyn side it may be time to accept that a new leader is needed – but one who can carry on his views and direction of travel for the party (although let’s be honest, no-one thinks that is Angela Eagle). How we handle this WILL define how we handle the upcoming months and years of turmoil in the country and the next general election. This will therefore help to decide how successful we can be in standing up for the values of the Labour Party. Perhaps, in that we can take something positive from this. It reminds me of my most favourite film quote from Fight Club, delivered by Brad Pitt “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight”.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

A heartfelt letter to Nicola Sturgeon

               It’s a funny old thing when you start writing a politics blog. I chose to do it entirely for my own interest and to get myself writing regularly. My original aim was to write semi-amusing articles that some people would like and some wouldn’t – and to deliver something every couple of weeks. I hadn’t realised that politics in the country would be turned on its head by a vote to leave the EU. I sat down last night and counted 15 separate topics I wanted to cover in separate blogs. It’s a funny old world sometimes. We now have a smirking Nigel Farage trying to destroy any goodwill remaining in the European Parliament, racism and xenophobia rampant on the streets, David Cameron resigning, looking less likely that we will actually Brexit every day, Boris Johnson not standing for PM (right now) and a thoroughly horrible coup in the Labour party threatening to rip the party apart. But there has remained one constant – Nicola Sturgeon would like to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom.
Dear Nicola Sturgeon MSP
               Firstly, well done to Scotland for voting to remain within the EU. This would have been my preferred outcome for the whole of the UK. Many people across the country are still reeling from that vote. The only thing that we can say with clarity because of that vote is that we are heading for a great deal of uncertainty. This uncertainty affects all of us – whether we are in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar.
                The numbers in the vote were quite stark – and the differences between the countries marked. 1.6 million people voted to Remain across Scotland compared to 1 million people who wanted to Leave. That is a 62% remain vote within a turnout of about 67% (http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/find-information-by-subject/elections-and-referendums/upcoming-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum/electorate-and-count-information) . A huge push for Remain. Whilst this was across the UK the biggest democratic exercise that has ever been performed (in terms of turnout) it wasn’t in Scotland. Many more Scots voted in the Independence referendum in 2014. Then you have another 1 million people voting.
                Obviously, we can’t know which way people voted in each referendum – whether people who wanted to stay in the UK wanted to also stay in the EU for example. I am not sure the data is readily available for that. But it is a desperate shame that we couldn’t get more EU remainers out to vote in Scotland. It could have had a big impact on the overall result. As it is such a low turnout in Scotland may have helped the Leave side – and forced you into considering a second referendum yourself.
                Although I say forced, I am not sure that is quite the correct word. You are after all the leader of the SNP. Your entire raison d’etre as a party is to take Scotland out of the UK. The party line following the defeat in the last independence referendum was that something would have to materially change to hold another one. This certainly seems to count. I can understand to some degree how you must have felt after that result – I am sure it was similar to how I felt this week. But here’s the thing – given the uncertainty can you be sure that is the right thing for Scotland?
                My often repeated views during the original referendum were quite simple – the case put forward for independence was pie in the sky and didn’t add up, and that we are all better being part of something bigger. That co-operation with others was always the best way to go. To not follow arguments that were purely nationalistic rather than actually good for the country. I would have argued until I was blue in the face that the people of Britain believed that. I would have argued that leaving to go it alone was an inherently more risky proposition for Scotland. I can see how some of those arguments have absolutely been holed below the waterline now.
                Of course at the time we had no idea what the Scotland Out campaign would really deliver. A manifesto that promised a government to be all things to all peoples was never going to wash. The fact that the manifesto was predicated on receipts from oil money that has largely dried up also now shows the wisdom of the Scottish voters in rejecting it (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scottish-independence/12052565/Independent-Scotland-would-be-bankrupt-and-appealing-to-IMF.html) . There seems to be an interesting learning from both referendums best summed up by Jamie Vardy – “Chat shit. Get Banged.”. If you try to sell the voters a clearly unreal picture they will rally against you. Of course in your case that was a picture of Scotland that could never come to pass. In the EU case that was a serious of threats to do horrible things to pensioners and the working class that no-one believed by George Osborne.
                I would imagine you have learned from that. I am sure there are some very clever election strategists working out how to avoid that pitfall. Maybe that would help in any future campaign to deliver the result that your party has been seeking for its entire life. Certainly it must be really tempting, whilst the rest of the UK and our politicians are looking the other way to try and push ahead with your agenda. Knowing they are out of the game whilst fighting within their party or negotiating with the EU would certainly make me go for an early referendum.
                But would that, right now, be in the best interests of Scotland or Scottish people? Or is your desire for independence at any cost clouding your judgement a little bit? Because to win a referendum you would have to change the minds of about half a million Scots – and if I may generalise for a moment – it is hard enough getting one Scot to change their minds once they have decided on something. Would using the fact that Scots want to be part of the EU be enough to change how voters would vote?
                Firstly, you would need a clear, realistic plan of what would happen if you left the UK. That needs to be clear from 2 points of view to win people over. One of those is that you would have to be clear what you are going to. If you ceded from the UK, what would that plan be – to immediately rejoin the EU? If so, you would need to be really clear the terms that would be on and get assurances from the EU on that. Do you think that is going to be, right now, a top priority for EU politicians? Never mind the fact that you would have Spain standing in your way at every step (because of their own Catalan separatists) (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-36656980)? So how quickly would you be able to do that? Also, given that the oil price has fallen off a cliff and doesn’t look like recovering the economic case this time round would be much weaker that isn’t helping your case.
                The other point of view is showing people what they are voting away from. As you have shown once simply answering “The English” to this question really isn’t enough. Whilst the Leave EU campaign managed to tap into people’s anger, you have failed to do that once. So what would you be taking people away from? The answer is that you simply can’t know. I get that neither would any Stay campaign – and from a political point of view that would possibly help you massively. But look inside yourself and be honest  - would that really be doing your best for the Scottish people as a whole? There still remains a possibility that a UK outside of the EU would be a good thing for Scotland. There also remains an increasing possibility that nobody will be brave enough to pull the trigger on Brexit – or as Leavers hoped – we end up with all the benefits and none of the costs.
                You simply can’t know. And so you would be asking the Scottish people to vote blind-folded, with one hand tied behind their backs on what would be right for them. Purely to achieve a vote for independence from something unknown and unknowable on the basis of nationalism. If you think you can live with that on your conscience, perhaps go and talk to David Cameron.

                I understand that the SNP will re-run this referendum time and again until it gets the right result. But please, do what is right for Scotland first and foremost, and wait until people can honestly know what they are voting for and against. Because voting in the absence of knowledge can often get you the wrong result.  

Monday, 27 June 2016

I shouldn’t be writing this blog

           I really shouldn’t. On Thursday the UK voted that we should leave the EU. 1 million people more voted to leave than remain. Whether you agree with that decision or not it is a fact. The people who voted most strongly for Leave were, based on the official polling data, from working class towns who have been let down and left behind over the past 30 plus years. This was a chance for them to scream out their anger and rage at the state of their lives and the fact that they don’t feel listened to. Since the results the far right, the racists and the xenophobes have used that as an excuse to peddle their hatred, believing (I think wrongly) that the vote has shown more people agree with them than they previously knew. The Prime Minister has resigned. The EU want us to start negotiations. The Vote Leave campaign have come out already and said their big claims (more NHS money and lower immigration) were never actually true. People who voted leave are about to find out that when the campaign said “Take Back Control” they added a silent “and give it to Etonians in London”. We are about to go into one of the angriest phases in this country’s history.
We should all be sitting down, and working out what we do to get from this point to one where we can act as a country again. Hell, we need to decide what sort of country we really want first. Not what sort of country are we being offered by career politicians in London. I should be setting out, as a socialist, my view for what that could look like and how we could achieve it. We need cool heads, reconciliation and calm debate to answer all of those people who voted in anger. We must not fail to hear that voice – they are the majority in this country. That is what I should be doing.
But no. Instead I am writing a blog about another attempted coup in the fucking Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). A party which now appears to be so full of career politicians from the Blair years that it is incapable of seeing outside the Westminster bubble they live in. Who think it is more important to get the “right” result from the leadership election they were on the wrong side of than look to their constituents and address their concerns.
Now, in an attempt to upset every Labour party member in one go, I am going to admit to something which people will see as an act of treason itself. I no longer believe that Labour would get the best possible results in a general election with Jeremy Corbyn as their leader. I voted for JC, and I strongly believe that we need a left leaning leader in order to win back not only votes, but those people who have roared at the government in this referendum. We must not allow them to fall down the route of listening to the racist demagogues of UKIP. So I think we need a left-wing leader who can get those people back. I believe there may be better candidates than JC. I do not believe his performance in the referendum was strong enough. There were enough instances of poor performance and behaviour that we should all be able to see it. I do believe that a move towards a left wing leader who is a more natural vote winner is the direction we should go in.
But this is not the way to do that. At a point when we need a strong, united and responsive Labour Party we are turning our backs on the country to fight internally. What a hideous joke. I am still waiting for the punchline. Let’s be clear on this – dear politicians of pretty much every party YOU ARE NOT DELIVERING WHAT THE PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY WANT. Many feel they no longer have a voice and government is a long way away and not listening. Well done to the PLP for showing those people that is exactly what politicians do. Particularly when you consider the reason for this timing – so that this coup can happen before changes to the NEC lead to rule changes that might make it more difficult to get rid of the party leader.
The problem is one entirely of your own making PLP. The party in parliament is so far further right than the party members that when the leadership election comes up there is only ever going to be one left wing candidate – the fact that they take turns putting themselves forward proves that. But what happened last year (after the tories won an outright victory) is that people said “enough is enough, we want left wing policies and a left wing leader”. We gave you those instructions. By an absolute landslide. There is no questioning the view of the party members in this. The fact that people signed up to join the party in their thousands to make sure that happened should have given you some idea. This, I believe, is the route to taking our country back from those who no longer care about the working class.

Instead of working with those instructions and that leadership you have used every opportunity to undermine and challenge it. You have shown no loyalty to your party members. I do now hope you understand that those party members should feel no loyalty back to you. Neither should the electorate of the country as a whole. You have put your own self-interest ahead of the national one. For that you should be appalled at your behaviour. If you do not like the views of the membership of the Labour party feel free to leave and join another party. Get elected on the back of their membership fees, their hard work and activism, their policies. You truly should be ashamed of your behaviour. We certainly are. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

WARNING! This post contains SPOILERS about what happens after a leave vote

              Or, then again it might not. I say that because nobody actually knows what will happen to the economy if we leave. Nobody can. David Cameron and George Osborne don't. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson don't either. Nor do Economists for Brexit, the IFS, the WTO or The Economist magazine. Neither do I. But given that the economy is one of the main areas of discussion in the EU referendum debate we can't possibly ignore it. So, before you read any further, there is a massive health warning - any projections which are made OR referenced might be completely wrong. This has been part of the issue that has been turning so many people off from this referendum. The repetition that as soon as one side trot out an indisputable fact, the other side dispute it with their own fact.
              So what can we say about the economy and the impact of leave or remain? Well a really good place to start is to understand some basic ideas which are directly relevant to the question at hand. Let's set out then what the EU is (from a purely economic point of view), where it came from (again from an economic point of view) and what are trade deals, tariffs and the regulations that are often discussed by various commentators on both sides. This might take a while and bore the shit out of you - so if you want to go and get a drink now is the time to do it (I'm certainly having one). This is the explanation nobody else will do - because it is incredibly long and boring. But I think worth getting to the end of. One thing I will try NOT to do is to address any claims or counter claims - there is enough of that round already.
               The EU was originally set up very much as a trading block. The underlying theory of many politicians at the time was simple (and actually pretty true) - that most wars, when you get down to it, are really about access to resources. Those resources might be money, land, water, access or a million others. Given that Europe had spent the best part of a thousand plus years at war, then wouldn't it be better to settle disputes over a negotiation table instead of a bayonet? Therefore a "trading block" was set up relating to Coal and Steel - at the time the 2 key resources you needed to fight a war and also the 2 resources you would be likely to fight over. To avoid using an EU reference, you can find all of that information on wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_European_Union ). How would that trading block work? Well, they would work together to decide how much to produce, who to sell it to, at what price and what would be the rules for producing it. The last point is really important. They would also allow the countries in the block to sell to each other without "tariffs" - that is the governments wouldn't add costs to goods coming in from the other countries. To make this fair and achievable, what was very important to the countries involved was that the produce was created in the same way. So, same workers rights, same standards of outputs etc. This was so that no individual country could make more profit by undercutting the others unfairly.
               These are the regulations that are often held up by leave as blockers to British dominance of markets. These hated "regulations" that are thrown around as such a terrible thing include measures to ensure that:

  1. What you are buying is actually what you are trying to buy
  2. You are not paying too much for products and services
  3. When you buy something it wont kill or injure you and your family
  4. The people producing goods are not being abused / have employment protections
  5. Producing these goods doesn't damage the environment more than it has to
  6. There is a standard level of quality for goods that you buy
  7. No single organisation or country can run the entire market and abuse a leading market position.
              As a general rule of thumb then, regulations are good for consumers, good for the market, good for workers and costly for businesses, and if it is costly for businesses that increases prices for consumers too. So whenever you hear the term "regulations" - run through that as a checklist and decide if they are things you want or not. Of course part of the problem identified by some on the Leave side is that these regulations attach to all companies whether they trade across Europe of not. I personally quite like the idea of regulations to stop all companies abusing workers and damaging the environment - irrespective of where they trade.
              In very basic economic terms then, the EU has now become a single market where lots of products and services are sold across Europe - with common regulations, but without tariffs being added if they come from within the EU. Tariffs go hand in hand with international trade - so let's look at what they are. Say your country and it's economy is very reliant on the production of "thingies" as an example. You as a government want to make sure that the "thingie" industry is protected. Therefore, what you do is add an import tariff to any "thingies"made overseas being imported - with the aim of making foreign "thingies" more expensive. It is called protectionism. It has existed since the start of international trade. Why wouldn't you do it?
              There are a couple of big problems with protectionism. The first one is quite simple - that protectionism breeds protectionism. Therefore whilst we are trying to protect our engineering industry, France is trying to protect their wine industry. Italy and Germany are trying to protect their car industries. And it goes on, and on, and on. What that means is that we all pay more for our products and services, but also because people don't want to pay higher prices they don't buy, so economies are held back. Secondly, protectionism favours rich countries. After all, if you have more to protect and trade, then you can afford to be tough to other countries with your tariffs ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protectionism ). So as part of a global world we screw other people, our own consumers and ultimately our own economy. Again, as a rule of thumb then, tariffs are bad for consumers, bad for the overall economy but potentially good for individual companies in an economy.
                There are other ways of course as well as tariffs that countries can protect their own industries. Nationalised companies obviously have government support so can (generally) borrow money more cheaply. Or Labour costs can be controlled by government to help companies. Or grants, or a variety of other measures and methods that can be used. For example, the recent furore over the death of Tata Steel in the UK is often blamed on cheap imports of Chinese Steel "flooding the market". There is a huge lack of transparency around why the EU didn't stop this. The arguments (depending on which side you are on) are that the EU rules stopped the UK from intervening to help our steel industry OR the EU tried to block the chinese steel (by increasing tariffs) and the UK government stopped them from doing that. Whilst it is unclear what happened in this instance, the EU rules on this are quite clear - we could have increased tariffs at a European level to counter the protectionist measures of the Chinese. What is worth considering is whether the whole EU standing up to China would have more impact than the UK standing up to them on it's own.
             So, a single market, with common regulations and no tariffs, across a regional trading block, with an end consumer base of 500 million people. That is great because it gives companies (particularly international companies that trade across borders) certainty. Set up in Britain and access that market. Sounds pretty sweet. The main problem raised though is that in order to access that market we have to be (currently) a member of the EU. That in itself comes with a few costs. Firstly, the cost of complying with regulations as discussed above. Secondly, we have to pay to be a member of the EU. This is not a small amount of money, and the budget is set in Europe - we don't decide ourselves how much to pay. After rebate (which we do control) we pay £14 billion a year to the EU.                 That sounds like we might just be better off paying the tariffs in the first place. To put it into perspective - that is out of total UK government expenditure of £772 billion. Our payments to the EU (before looking at what they give us back in other ways) equate to 0.5% of the cost of government ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_spending_in_the_United_Kingdom ). So less than half a penny in every pound paid in tax goes to the EU. Finally, there is a cost of being part of the EU when we try to trade with non-EU countries. Because we are members when we trade with other countries without a trade deal the EU makes us apply tariffs. This is why the EU is currently trying to agree trade deals with a range of countries - Canada, the US, China as examples. However, overall tariffs are coming down across the world - in some cases slowly, but in other cases more quickly.
              There do seem to be some other major costs too economically. One of the obvious key ones is that if you are running a business in the UK then because of the close integration of the markets you are potentially not just competing with the business next door - but also the business in Paris, Madrid and Berlin. Is this a bad thing or a good thing? Well, first of all it means that the businesses in Europe are also competing with you - you can enter and sell to their local customers. Competition should also (according to prevailing economic theory) lead to better prices for consumers and a more efficient market, innovation and better products and services. The impact of this will depend on your business - common sense would suggest it is much easier to sell "knowledge" services over a phone line or internet connection. It might be much harder to sell fresh cream cakes.
            Finally then, there is also the concern over free movement of Labour - one of the central tenets of the European model of tariffs and regulations. Now, I have already written a blog about immigration generally ( http://unexpectedsocialist.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/if-immigration-is-your-answer-someone.html ) and I don't want to revisit a lot of those points. But being part of Europe also requires us to allow workers to seek employment in any other part of the EU without barriers to that. Is this a cost to our economy? At a very basic level it would seem intuitive that having a greater Labour pool would help companies make money. They can drive down wages and salaries by hiring people from lower paid countries to work for them. This could therefore be good for companies (and earn more money for an economy) but bad for employees. It could also transfer funds from wealthier economies to poorer economies - by individuals remitting wages back to their home country. At the same time though, we have more individuals in the country spending their money here, paying taxes here and generally because they are of working age using less public services (remember, we are only talking about working migrants). Unfortunately, I do need to refer to a study here ( http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/brexit05.pdf ) that shows that immigrants have NOT reduced wages for the UK population. It is simply a not true assertion. BUT TAKE THAT WITH A PINCH OF SALT.
           Economically then, what is the EU? Well a single trading block that increased potential customers but also potential rivals. A law making body that creates a lot of regulations that apply to all companies irrespective of whether they trade internationally. A body that tries to reduce protectionism and tariffs for the good of the global economy, not just ours. A bloc that negotiates on our behalf with other large economies that sometimes doesn't get the results that we would want. A larger, more competitive market that companies either thrive in or fail in. And one where the free flow of Labour allows people to work across a different range of countries depending on their skills, abilities and needs. This of course sounds rosy, but then again I am for remaining in. The problem is that whether we vote to stay in or vote to leave we are picking winners and losers. Some businesses will benefit from staying in. Some will benefit from losing. What we have to do is decide is whether getting rid of or replacing the things above will benefit US as individuals / companies AND what will be the impact on the overall economy.