Monthly Archives: November 2006

“Shagger” Wells lends Labour money from beyond the grave

Curious. The H.G. Wells Centre has lent Orpington Labour £2,000. I mention this because:

  • What does Orpington Labour need two grand for? It’s hardly a target seat.
  • I thought the H. G. Wells Centre got knocked down years ago and the site is now the Waitrose car park.

As a Bromley escapee, I may be mistaken about the second point, although it certainly didn’t look like it was there when I went through Bromley South on the train on Sunday. Perhaps someone Local can set me right.

Top 100 Tree Huggers

I should declare an interest as he is one of my bosses, but I was disappointed to see that Ron Bailey didn’t make the Department of the Environment’s Top 100 Environmentalists.

Pretty much anyone who has campaigned nationally on environmental issues in the last 20 years must have come across Ron, or worked on one of Ron’s project at some point. And he has a tremendous record of success at a time when it was much less easy to be green: the Home Energy Conservation Act, Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act and the Road Traffic Reduction Act. The Bailey-masterminded Local Sustainability Bill (note – contrary to what certain people would have you believe, this didn’t spring perfectly formed out of David Cameron’s arse) has just been adopted by Nick Hurd MP, who came top of the private members’ ballot. Supported by 363 MPs (a majority – and that includes all 63 Lib Dem MPs I’m pleased to say), it has a real chance of becoming law.

If that isn’t enough to be Swampy, for Pete’s sake, what is?

Bloggers Bad! (part 93)

I suppose the obvious (nerd) joke is that all blogs already abide by code in order to get read (wakka wakka). Seriously though for a second, I don’t have a particular problem with a voluntary code (so long as it doesn’t stipulate a minimum number of posts per month which I would no doubt fail to abide by), but I can’t see what good it will do. Responsible people will continue to behave responsibly, while irresponsible people won’t sign up to it in the first place. And it’s not as if readers will be particularly bothered who is or isn’t signed up.

There is, no doubt, a lot of offensive stuff out there, but so what? What tangible harm does it do that isn’t already covered by existing legislation?

I can’t help but feel that talk about voluntary codes is code for something quite involuntary. And it isn’t as if the Press Complaints Commission are the paradigm of self-regulation.

Tossers and John Hutton

Now that my various major work crises are out of the way for another calendar year, I will hopefully have more time to spend on this blog.

Right now, two things leap out regarding Intergenerational Equity.

The first is John Hutton’s call today for raising the pension age to 68.

I have to say, I’m with Hutton on this.  The choice really is as stark as raise the retirement age, or force our children to pay the price.  Personally, I’m prepared to accept that there is some give and take on this.

Unfortunately – and unsurprisingly – Labour’s paymasters, the Trade Unions do not share this view.  Indeed, the Labour Conference actually voted down proposals to raise the retirement age back in September.

Malcolm Sage from the GMB union, led the opposition to “any suggestion that the state pension age should rise before health inequalities in the UK are eradicated and improved longevity is equally shared by all.”

Well, actually, the proposal is to phase in raising the retirement age over 40 years.  Is he seriously suggesting that longevity won’t be significantly higher across the UK in 40 years?

Barry Camfield, from the TGWU, added to the criticism: “We want to abandon this threat to voiceless children today that they will have to wait until 68 for their pension and I nor my union are prepared to mortgage and sell out children in years to come. We stand up now for those children.”

No, you’re selling out those children by forcing them to pay massive extra taxes just so you can squeeze a bigger pension out of them.  Trust me, mate, they don’t want your “help”.

Speaking of Tossers, the Tories have launched this new viral marketing ad, which must work because I’m linking to it.

On the one hand, it is true that many people are lured by cheap credit into buying tat they don’t need.  That’s all fine and dandy, and obviously these people should be discouraged.  But if you think that is the be-all and end-all of the current credit culture we have, you are sorely mistaken.

Take me for example.  I resisted getting a credit card for as long as possible.  Eventually I succumbed because of a combination of an employer shitting me about, and the fact that no bank would lend me a responsible loan until I had “improved my credit rating” – i.e. got myself a credit card.  Later, when I sought to consolidate my loan, the same company wouldn’t help, forcing me to get a loan somewhere else.

I’m not claiming to be entirely blameless here, I freely admit to making mistakes, but I’m really not that profligate.  Most of my debt mountain was accrued during particular crises when I needed credit at short notice.  And it was accrued using credit cards with high interest rates because no-one would give me a cheaper loan.

The bottom line is, a lot of the current credit crisis is rooted in the fact that young people are being clobbered by a combination of student debt and exorbitant house prices.  The Tories have precisely nothing to say about either issues.  Until they do, they should watch who they go around calling tossers.

New Generation Network

Writing this post later than I would have liked, I’m surprised that there has been so little commentary today about the launch today of the New Generation Network, founded by Pickled Politics‘ Sunny Hundal.

I think Sunny has hit on something here, something not all that dissimilar to my own contributions on the subject recently. In my own view, what we seem to have seen over the last five or so years, is an importation of the worst kind of multicultural politics that we see at a local (particularly Northern metropolitan) level into the national stage.

When I first got involved in Lib Dem politics, I’m ashamed to say that the first campaign I worked on was a blatant and cynical attempt to court the Pakistani vote in Rusholme, Manchester. In my defense, I was young and naive, but we were also inheriting a situation exacerbated by Labour’s own approach.

I would imagine that most people who have had a similar background would recognise the technique. Find a few ‘community leaders’ from the Pakistani or Bangladeshi community, beef up their egos and work on the assumption that they can single-handedly deliver you thousands of votes, simply through talking to the right clerics and family leaders. The fact that we weren’t particularly adept at it in the mid-90s was simply because Labour had got in there first, something which held firm until the Iraq War in 2003. This wasn’t about representation, dealing with basic needs such as housing and crime, it was about buying off the ‘right’ people with things like money for religion-based community centres and ‘partnerships’ with schools in Kashmir. And it has only helped to increase tensions and divisions.

This all should have reached its nadir with the 2001 riots. Much of the reportage at the time reflected on the complete failure of both ‘community leaders’ and mainstream politics to connect with the second- and third-generation of black and Asian communities. But 911 seemed to end what looked like the beginning of a sensible national conversation about race, religion and identity. Since then, national government seems to have treated ethnic communities in a remarkably similar way to what we’ve seen on the streets on Rochdale and Bradford. And the result seems to have lead to even greater tension and lunacy such as Trevor Phillips’ monthly predictions of race riots.

So I welcome NGN, its manifesto and its unequivocal call against prejudice, for equality and for freedom of speech (in light of some of the rows I’ve had in recent months I particularly welcome the line “we reject the idea that representation should mean ‘ethnic faces for ethnic areas’, which would ghettoise minority representation.”). I would urge my fellow bloggers and Lib Dems to sign up.

James Gra(v)y

James Gray and I are separated by more than just one syllable, but it’s been interesting following his progress since he announced he was dumping his cancer-surviving wife for another woman. Interestingly, more Conservative-leaning members of the blogosphere don’t share my interest. Here however is my handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the saga so far:

Personally, I was unaware until recently – and it certainly hasn’t been widely reported – that Ellie Brand, the approved Tory candidate who was felled for passing around a racist email, is a North Wiltshire constituent of Mr Gray’s and thus a possible beneficiary of his deselection. Coinkidink?

Secondly, the West edition of the Politics Show this Sunday, revealed that he has recently taken out a full page advert in his local paper about his local activities, at taxpayers’ expense. By his own admission on the Politics Show, he usually gets such communications delivered by local Conservatives. All MPs regularly contact their constituents in this way, but it is rather fortuitous timing, to say the least.

Rather more eyebrow raising however is the revelation that the reason his wife is being forced out of their family home is that “James has to use it as his constituency office.

I have to say I’m unaware of any other MP who uses their home as their constituency office – why would they even want to? But what this means is that both his London home and his constituency home are both being subsidised by the taxpayer. A glance at his expenses reveals that last year he claimed £22k in Additional Costs Allowance (the money that goes to non-London MPs to live in London during the week) and £20k on Incidental Expenses Provision (which includes office costs, but excludes staff costs). Unfortunately, MPs have thus far resisted calls for a more transparent system of expenses (unlike in the Scottish Parliament which allows you to download individual invoices from its website), and to what extent this money is spent on office space itself and isn’t spent on subsidising his lovely £500,000 home is not at all clear. If MPs continue to resist calls for more transparency, then it is only reasonable that issues like this should be investigated as they come up.

Staines’ and Taylor’s self-righteous face-off

Paul “Guido” Staines and Matthew Taylor are having an indirect war of words today, with both sides blaming the other for the current ‘crisis’ in democracy.

Frankly, this is self-aggrandisement on a massive scale. Websites such as Order-Order hardly help restore people’s trust in politics, but anyone who believes, as Matthew Taylor appears to, that they are the problem rather than a mere symptom, is reading the situation incredibly wrongly.

There have been both cynics and gossips around since the dawn of politics. In the 19th century, Punch Magazine was brutal about politicians (I was given a wonderful set of pages from Punch by a colleague a year ago featuring some rather rude caricatures and poems about the then Home Secretary James Graham). Staines is doing nothing more than producing an online version of the type of diary column that have always been published in newspapers. The only difference is the speed with which he can get stories out there (and, perhaps, a slightly more appealing knowing sense of humour).

Ultimately however, while “Guido” might get the occasional scoop, he’s as much a part of the system as Taylor. He thrives off it. He isn’t actually for any reform, other than some vague libertarian dismantling of the state. If he was genuinely interested in pursuing this goal, he wouldn’t dedicate all his time to gossip. Similarly, it is hard to see how anyone reading the site is going to have their views about politics changed.

Unremitting cynicism seldom does anything to change hearts and minds. Matthew Taylor should know this: New Labour has only ever been about pandering to people’s prejudices (see this for example), never challenging it. The fact is, cynicism breeds cynicism. Worse, authoritarianism infantilises the population. If you treat the population like they are irresponsible children, you can’t be surprised if they fail to respond with gratitude. New Labour is as responsible for Guido as it is for Cameron’s own particular shade of “anything-you-want-gov” politics.

So bemoaning about all this is to spectacularly miss the point. The crisis in democracy is rooted in authoritarianism, elective dictatorship and a lack of moral backbone. Until these quintessentially New Labour tendencies abate, the blogosphere will inevitably be an uncomfortable mirror through which apparatchiks such as Matthew Taylor will always flinch when looking at.