Tag Archives: gordon-brown

The week Labour finally abandoned liberalism?

Last week I attended Labour’s autumn conference as an exhibitor. These are my thoughts on how it went.

By Labour’s own standards, they have had a good conference – but it is a sign of how far they have fallen that those standards were so low.

Simply put: the widely predicted civil war didn’t happen, or at least fizzled out as soon as they had to look each other in the eye last Saturday. That the coup attempt failed quite so spectacularly suggests they didn’t really know what they were doing in the first place, which in turn poses serious questions about the competence of Miliband et al.

The people who unquestioningly had a good conference were the left and more specifically Compass. Speaking to some Compassites immediately after Brown’s speech resembled a game of Compass bingo, with them ticking off the stock phrases and themes that he had pinched (freely given, to be sure) from what they had been arguing for eighteen months ago.

Now, I disagree with a lot of what Compass say – in particular their proposals for a windfall tax which violates a pretty important principle of good public policy for me, namely that there has to be a much stronger justification behind it than petty avarice and base popularity. Indeed, while Compass have published the occasional discussion paper which suggests they may have something more intellectually robust to say about tax, broadly speaking it doesn’t get more sophisticated than “squeeze them ’til the pips squeak.” But they have played a canny game within the party itself and now find themselves in the rather odd position of being the party loyallists at a time when the Blairites and Brownites are fighting like rats in a sack.

I don’t think Compass are the answer to making Labour electable again (although they do) but they are what Labour needs to weather the storm in opposition. They provide the party faithful with a comfort blanket. By contrast, the right of the party offers nothing apart from a few ten-year-old platitudes, fear of the Tories and a lot of bitterness. There are no new ideas coming out of “new” Labour. It is no wonder Compass seem so appealing.

The general mood of conference delegates that I detected this week was stoicism. They weren’t in denial and they weren’t panicking, they were simply preparing themselves for the oncoming storm. That is more or less where I felt Gordon Brown pitched his speech as well. If he can keep it up, I think he’ll close the gap – not completely, but by enough to prevent the opinion polls from looking like a complete Labour rout. He might even be able to deny Cameron a majority. But that in part depends on whether the right resume hostilities again.

On the last day of conference, a woman working on one of the other exhibition stands pointed out to me that not only was attendence down this year (which it surely was) but that there were so few black faces. She had a good point – in terms of ethnicity the Labour conference was down to almost Lib Dem levels of hideous whiteness. Partly this could be explained by the relative lack of BME-related exhibitors. The stall for the National Assembly Against Racism – one of Lee Jasper’s fronts which badly needs friends at the moment – was largely abandoned. But I don’t think that entirely accounts for it.

I can’t help but wonder if this has something to do with the other detectable trend within Labour this year – the authoritarians have won. For all Compass’s warm words about civil liberties, when it came down to it in the counter-terrorism bill, both Cruddas and Tricket voted for extending pre-charge detention without trial. They both then symbolically resigned their places in Compass but it is clear from their website this is nowhere near a priority for the organisation. At the Observer fringe, a big majority of attendees revealed they supported ID cards. The only people arguing for liberalism within the Labour Party are in the Blairite wing, and they are now hopelessly compromised.

For a party that likes to claim that fairness is in its DNA these days, it is clear that they are all too comfortable with the idea of arbitrary authoritarian state control. That battle has now been decisively won within Labour. It isn’t surprising that black people are more alienated from them than ever, as they will inevitably be on the sharp end of this brave new world.

Parliament should have scrutiny powers? How radical can you get?

If you want evidence of how weak the UK’s model of Parliamentary democracy truly is, you only need to glance at this article:

Parliament should be able to bypass ministers and launch its own inquiries into issues of “exceptional” public concern such as the Iraq war, MPs say.

This is a power that pretty much every single Parliament in an established democracy takes for granted. It goes to the heart of the point of democracy, yet here it is considered to be radical and should be reserved for “exceptional” circumstances.

Meanwhile, the government’s Constitutional Renewal Bill, which was supposed to usher in a new era of Parliamentary scrutiny, only actually codifies existing conventions on things like the government’s (or “Crown’s” if you will) war and treaty-making powers, and actually proposes to reduce scrutiny of the attorney general. Even Charlie Falconer dismisses it as “trivial“. That is what Gordon Brown chose to launch his premiership on all those months ago – a complete figleaf. Is it any wonder his government is collapsing like a compost heap on a sunny day?

Tony Blair “lead from the front” in by-elections? In WHAT universe Mr Cameron?

Having a pop at Gordon Brown for failing to show his face in Crewe and Nantwich is all fair and good, but why does David Cameron have to go and spoil everything by talking unmitigated bullshit like this?

Mr Cameron taunted him by saying his predecessor as PM, Tony Blair, “led from the front” at by-elections.

During the Blair years it was a standing joke, as it is now, that the Prime Minister never attended by-elections. Indeed, in the last general election, using a picture of Tony Blair (almost always with George Bush) on your literature was one of the easiest ways to pick up votes (assuming you aren’t the Labour Party of course). Blair was ballot box poison, at least after 2003.

David Cameron, having as he does a bit of a schoolboy crush on Tony Blair, may like to think different, but that’s the way it goes.

Triangulation and the Treasury

Credit where it’s due, at least Alastair Darling’s statement today has the virtue of being a simple change, rather than the convoluted nonsense he was talking about a couple of weeks ago.

I find the psychology of Labour ministers throughout this debacle fascinating. At each and every turn their response has been to sell off their critics rather than sort out the problem at root. At first, they simply couldn’t understand why a change that benefited the majority of people was proving so unpopular. In interview after interview they blathered on about most people being better off and “hard working families” as if the inherent unfairness of it all didn’t matter. When that didn’t work, both three weeks ago and now, their response has been to buy off not just the people least effected by the change but a large number of other voters as well.

Three weeks ago, it was a massive bribe aimed at the over-60s while offering almost nothing to young workers. Today it is an even bigger bribe aimed at most of the workforce (at least this time it isn’t something that people paying the higher rate of tax will be benefiting from), the only catch being that the worse off you are, the more you will remain out of pocket. It remains a cynical exercise in squeezing the least “attractive” element of the working poor – single, young, un-unionised (for “attractive” read “deserving” in NuLabSpeak) in order to bribe the fattened masses; the bribe has just ended up being a little bigger, that’s all. That should tell you all you need to know about Labour’s commitment to social justice.

What will be fascinating is how they manage to dig themselves out of the hole they’ve effectively dug for next year’s budget. They’re options appear to be limited. Do they not increase personal allowance by inflation next year? That will effectively mean that their plan is to claw back all of this tax over the next few years. Do they cut spending by £3bn? Another stealth tax? Or do they bite the bullet and whack it on higher wage earners?

Of course all these numbers are a bit fictional; Darling could still be saved by the Laffer Curve and a spot of wage inflation. With the precarious state of the economy though, I wouldn’t bet on it.

My budget take on Comment is Free

Well, I seem to be all right. As a public transport-using, non-smoker on a decent wage who is a moderate drinker, I suspect I’ll be the beneficiary of the 2p income tax cut overall (although the devil is always in the detail). But it doesn’t look as if too many people will be particularly happy with this year’s budget.

More here.

Referendum Rebels: how far is too far?

The row brewing within the Labour Party over whether or not to withdraw the whip from the IWannaReferendum Three is an interesting one.

Predictably, over at Iain Dale’s gaffer, the cries are all “Stalinist!” even after I pointed out that the only party to withdraw the whip over a vote on a treaty referendum is the Conservative Party and FedUp reminded them about Howard Flight. Field, Hooey and Stuart are being hailed as giants and giantesses of political stature.

But hang on a minute. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with their stance, they are supporting a campaign that is actively campaigning against Labour MPs in marginal seats. In the case of Stuart, she is a member of the advisory group which presumably agreed that strategy.

And what is Iain’s view of rebels who happen to believe in something he doesn’t share? Like Clare Short?

If I were a Labour supporter I would be furious at the kick in the teeth she has administered to the Party which made her.

The gulag was too good for her – but what’s the difference?

A couple of footnotes. I observed two weeks ago that IVantToBiteYourFinger.com had just 35,000 signatures on it – in six months they got 5,000 fewer signatures than the Independent got in a month for electoral reform. Now it has 36,000 signatures – this is not a campaign that is going anywhere.

Back in September I predicted that Gordon Brown had a strategy aimed at boring the public to death on Europe. Despite the fact that events took a life of their own regarding the early election – and a May poll is obviously right out now – I stand by the bore-us theory and as far as I can see it’s working (why are the Tories floundering in the polls at the moment just as the Lib Dems and Labour are rallying?).

And before we get too chummy with Labour, we should remember this report by Frank Field of what Hoon has been saying about what the Eurosceptics tactics should be:

“The chief whip suggested we should instead campaign in Liberal seats. I am happy to take that idea on board. I am in the business of ensuring that Labour fulfils its manifesto pledge.”

I’m not sure what’s worse – Hoon’s “principled” stance or his understanding of basic strategy (bear in mind this man sent thousands of troops into Iraq).

Is Brown’s “incompetence” remark a honey trap for Cameron?

You have to wonder sometimes if there might be some guile behind Gordon Brown’s apparent ineptitude.

Take last night’s remark about Peter Hain’s incompetence. A spectacular gaffe? Or, given that we have PMQs tomorrow and the strong likelihood that Cameron will not be able to resist the temptation to make something of it, is it a ploy to make his opponent look stupid.

Because as Lib Dem Voice has pointed out, Cameron has recently demonstrated a bit of “incompetence” himself. Handled correctly, and assuming Cameron falls for it, Brown could use this to devastating effect.

On the other hand, knowing Brown’s past form, he is more likely to fall flat on his face. But we’ll know in an hour.

The new flag for a vassal state?

Governance of Britain LogoMillennium reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while now.

The Ministry of Justice’s Governance of Britain initiative now has a logo (pictured). Is it my imagination or does it look rather like an airstrip?

Given Gordon Brown’s avowed Atlanticism and scandalous adoption of Son of Star Wars by press release, is this the sign of things to come, perhaps?