Monday, 31 May 2010

One Laws for them

Here we go again. How many more skeletons are there in the vast cupboards of Westminster? How many more MPs will pontificate seriously about fiscal deficit while simultaneously trousering large sums of public money in ways that do not bear close scrutiny?

The latest revelation (who tipped them off?) appeared in Saturday’s Telegraph.

‘The Daily Telegraph’s Expenses Files show that between 2004 and 2007, Mr Laws claimed between £700 and £950 a month to sub-let a room in a flat in Kennington, south London. This flat was owned by the MP’s partner who was also registered as living at the property. The partner sold the flat for a profit of £193,000 in 2007.
In 2007, Mr Laws’s partner then bought another house nearby for £510,000. The MP then began claiming to rent the “second bedroom” in this property. His claims increased to £920 a month. The partner also lived at the property. Mr Laws’s main home is in his Yeovil constituency. The arrangement continued until September 2009, when parliamentary records show that Mr Laws switched his designated second home and began renting another flat at taxpayers’ expense. His partner remained at the Kennington house.’

It is a nonsense to continue with this second home shenanigans. It is time to buy decent flats for MPs, owned by the state. If MPs choose to live elsewhere, “to protect their sexuality” so be it – but at their own expense.

How many more MPs are sweating, waiting for further revelations – brought about by mendacious coalition colleagues? And just how many more greedy stupid MPs are there?

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Clarse Warriors

Johnny two jags Prescott has railed against privilege and flunkery all of his political career. So why is he going into the House of Lords?

Sir Michael Spicer was the chairman of the 1922 committee and had embarrassing expense issues to deal with before he stood down. Why has he been chosen by ‘It's a new dawn Dave’ to don the ermine?

Then there is Quentin Davies, a former Tory MP, who crossed the floor of the House and joined the Labour Party when Mr Brown became prime minister. He also now becomes a peer after losing his seat at this month’s election. Last year it emerged that he had claimed for repairs to the bell tower of his stately home on his taxpayer-funded expenses. Nice!

Judge our leaders by their deeds not by their words.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Phoney War?

After the turbulent and momentous events of the previous week, this one has been considerably quieter. Is it the calm before the storm? A mini budget on Monday before the State Opening on Tuesday means things are quickly going to get a lot hotter . With Her Majesty's Opposition weighing up the merits of 5 be-suited white males and a black female, it is a good time for the new government to steamroller through massive cuts.

Cue much weeping and wailing.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

It's what they do

The airwaves have had several people whingeing and whining that the coalition is, ‘not what they voted for.’ As the excellent Muriel Grey put it in her article in this mornings Sunday Herald, “People are reacting to this election as if casting a vote is like ordering up a purchase, as if a mark on a ballot paper buys you your own tailor-made, bespoke society."

"But a political party’s manifesto is not a catalogue that you pick a sofa from. It’s a process that begins with intentions and promises, and ideally a strong overreaching philosophy, but then inevitably has to bend to events and respond to public ­reaction. Given that hard truth, it seems absurd to assume anything concrete about our new pick-and-mix administration. It’s not just the coalition government which will be forced to compromise. Everyone will.”

She then spells it out succinctly, “Here’s what politicians do. They try to get into power, and then when they do, they try to stay there. That’s it folks. Being disappointed that Clegg is now slapping backs with people it was previously his job to insult, undermine and attack, is like being disappointed that a lion has eaten a zebra.”

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Simon Hughes MP: defender of the day.

As the wrath of their supporters and tactical voters descends on the LibDems, step forward Simon Hughes. What a busy boy he has been recently. Question Time, Any Questions and the Today programme have all featured the ever-ready Mr Hughes attempting to justify the decision to coalesce with the Tories to a sometimes very hostile audience. He has struggled to convince, though he has shown more fire in his belly than usual.

Failure to deliver anything meaningful; being gobbled up by the Tories or filling a scapegoat role, could consign the LibDems to electoral meltdown.

Fighting their corner, getting their ideas through and showing themselves as effective leaders could change the way we do politics in this country for the foreseeable future.

Libertories? Concrats? Conrats? Conservocrats? Torycrats? 
Whatever you want to call them, the stakes are high.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Right wing Tory threat to coalition

The move by Cameron to offer a deal to the LibDems has upset the more extreme elements in his party. They are a rumblin’ and a grumblin’ and it’s only the third day!

Not happy about Europe, Electoral Reform, Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax, Climate change and the fact that 5 of their number have been deprived of Cabinet positions. All play badly in the shires, clubs and hunts of Toryland. There is talk of ‘continuity Conservatives’ and ‘the real Conservative party.’

Which gives pause for thought that if the hard Right aren’t happy then the coalition may be better than expected. 

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Taking Liberties

Set out below are the measures agreed between the Tories and the LibDems over civil liberties as detailed in the coalition document.
“The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.
This will include:
  • A Freedom or Great Repeal Bill.
  • The scrapping of ID card scheme, the National Identity register, the next generation of biometric passports and the Contact Point Database.
  • Outlawing the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
  • The extension of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
  • Adopting the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
  • The protection of historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
  • The restoration of rights to non-violent protest.
  • The review of libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
  • Safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
  • Further regulation of CCTV.
  • Ending of storage of internet and email records without good reason.
  • A new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.”
Sounds good to me – however it will be deeds not words that matter.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Re-writing the rules or a brief interlude?

Well gee whizz. Politics in the UK enters uncharted waters. Listening to the commentariat and various MPs over the last 24 hours has been fascinating.

It is possible, although unlikely, that the coalition will re-define politics in the modern era. Should they manage to stick it out, rein in the economy and return civil liberties to the people then some of the people who voted for the LibDems to keep the Tories out will have their anger assuaged. It works in other democracies – it should be possible to work here.

And then again……Last night a selection of Tory backbenchers and potential ministers were interviewed on Newsnight. And what a depressing bunch they were.

The electorate were fed up with Labour and had fallen out with Gordon Brown.  Some voters dallied with the LibDems but not enough to make the breakthrough they threatened. Then there is the anti-tory vote. Massive in Scotland, less so in England. Many folks actually hate the tories with a passion, including many LibDem voters. They will watch the goings-on with more than passing interest. Two out of the three ‘hatchet’ jobs in the cabinet have gone to LibDems, tying them in to a programme of cuts. Nice one Dave!

The right wing of the Tory party are less than happy to see this coalition. They will use their friends in the press to stir up trouble. Cameron has enemies in his own party. They feel that the election campaign was poor and robbed them of outright victory. The speed with which Cameron grabbed the opportunity is revealing and may herald a fresh start - if he survives.

And where have all the women gone?

The dangers for the LibDems are obvious. Mess it up and they face virtual oblivion. There are threats for Labour too. A successful coalition rewrites the rules. The AV system (not the best, but a stepping stone) will make smaller parties slightly more electable.

What will happen next?

As Harold MacMillan said, “Events dear boy, events.”

Watch this space.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Summing up 3

Turnout and turmoil

The Chinese have a curse ‘ may you live in interesting times.’ Quite. As we listen to the to-ing and fro-ing, the dealing and the wheeling, and all the talk of mandates, it is worth remembering the turnout.

65% in a time of crisis! And when the electorate were supposedly ‘energised’ by the Leaders Debates, is actually quite poor. Yet again 35% of our voters did not bother or were too disaffected to turn out. Remember this when Cameron or his minions talk about having a ‘mandate,’ that 36% of 65% is not very convincing. Less than a quarter of us actively want them. The inner cities produced the lowest turnouts. As for Labour the figures are worse, 28% of 65% with the LibDems coming in even further behind at 23% of the 65% turnout.

Disaffection with our political system was evident by the lack of placards and billboards around the area. There were a lot less than in previous general elections. No canvassers called either. Will today’s events make people more likely or less likely to engage further with politics?

Finally, there is nothing like chaos at several polling stations to make people realise what they are missing. Maybe it was a cunning plan (as cunning as a plan thought up by a fox who went to the university of cunning etc) to mobilise the electorate into action?

Or perhaps it was a cock-up?

Summing up 2

Quality of candidates

There were MPs who should have lost and didn’t. In many cases they were good constituency MPs who ran an excellent, well-organised campaign. In the course of the election, 8 Hustings were attended in 5 different constituencies. It was striking to see the range of quality of candidates on show. One Independent in Macclesfield was impressive. The others weren’t.

Three Labour candidates in unwinnable seats were streets ahead of the one picked by High Peak to fight a marginal seat. She was a lovely lady but who admitted on two separate occasions that, “public speaking was not her strong suit.” What? Was this a claim to be the country’s first Trappist MP?  It goes with the territory. So why stand? And why on earth get selected?

The Tory in the High Peak had paid his dues and had come a close second last time. He made his pitch ‘a local man for local people’ and will probably be ok at constituency matters. However, in a time of national crisis it would be better to have someone with a view of the bigger picture. He did not strike me as someone who would robustly stand up against the whips office. The Liberal Democrats ranged from excellent, through ordinary to poor.

Selection procedures matter. Congleton (a safe Tory seat replacing the other half of the odious Winterton duo) used a primary system to select their conservative candidate only to find out after the event that the winning candidate had bussed in supporters from her church to boost her vote.

Several people came forward in response to Cameron’s plea that the Tory party had changed and that they were looking for newcomers who shared their values. They paid £1500 each to get trained as a candidate. Not one was selected to stand as a candidate.

Having seen how poor some candidates are, it is understandable why major parties try to parachute future stars and members of the political class into relatively safe seats. On the other hand it was delicious to see the electorate give the two-fingered salute to several Cameroonies. These were members of the beautiful people club who thought that to turn up would be enough.

There has to be a better way to get the best people as candidates rather than selecting time-served local councillors, Z-list celebs, mates of the leader or bent businessmen.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Summing up 1

While our political leaders exchange vitriol for complements in an effort to form a coalition it is time to look back on recent events.

It was a most unusual election night. (See previous posts, ‘What a farce 1 and 2’) The variable swing from safe Labour seats 8 – 10% to the marginals 0.5 – 3% made predicting the outcome less than straightforward.

Corrupt MPs

Labour were punished by the electorate far more than the Tories were. Even where sinning MPs had stood down there was a marked difference. The Tory replacement candidates enlarged their majorities. Labour replacements were punished. The electorate clearly expect Tories to fiddle their expenses and are shocked when Labour MPs do it. Hazel Blears had her majority reduced by 15%, Tony McNulty and some other sinners were kicked out which was good. Shame it was such a one-sided affair. Cameron was far less than squeaky clean yet managed to deflect attention onto the pathetic responses from ‘wee Gordie.’ 

Will they have to drug him to get him out of Number 10?

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Shostakovich Symphony No. 4

Listening to Shostakovich’s 4th symphony at a time of political upheaval is salutary. Written in 1936 at a time of terror in the Soviet Union, the symphony was not played until 1961. Ian MacDonald in his brilliant book, “The New Shostakovich’ describes what happened in January 1936. As Shostakovich was waiting for a train he read an article in Pravda. “On page three was an article, headlined ‘Muddle Instead of Music’, attacking his opera Lady Macbeth as a cacophonous and pornographic insult to the Soviet People and threatening that unless the composer of this degenerate work changed his ways things ‘could end very badly’. Though unsigned, the article was obviously by Stalin himself.”

“To be publically condemned by Stalin was tantamount to a death sentence. In a single day, Shostakovich went from being a cosseted piece of Soviet property to an anathematised outcast – and this at a time when outcasts were being packed off to Siberia in scores of thousands every month.”

“The composer’s fall was resounding. To know him was dangerous, to associate with him suicidal. Like millions of others, he now lay awake every night, listening for the sound a car drawing up outside, of boots thudding on the stairs, of a sharp rap at the door.”

One out of every ten Soviet citizens were arrested and ‘disappeared’ during this period. Most went to the Gulags in Siberia. Hundreds of thousands were taken away and shot. Everyone knew what was going on but no-one could say anything. Fixed false smiles were the order of the day. If you looked unhappy it was taken as evidence that you knew about the disappearances and so you were a threat to the authorities – and taken away.

It is an astonishing piece of work. Played brilliantly by the BBC Philharmonic it is not easy listening. Menace, sadness and fear combine with manic fairground music to give a flavour of life lived under constant threat.

It is worrying that there are moves in Russia to rehabilitate Stalin and to rewrite history.

Friday, 7 May 2010

What a farce(1)

Flicking between channels last night as events unfolded, it quickly became apparent that the way major news networks covered the election was little short of puerile. On a night of very unusual swings and an exit poll that became more credible as the evening developed, we were treated to ‘toys for the boys’ graphics and a reliance on celebrity and wild speculation. Detailed analysis and facts and figures were in very short supply, even when the results started to pour in. Andrew Neil, a most capable political questioner, stuck on a boat on the Thames making inane conversation with B-list celebrities, epitomised the misplaced priorities. Jeremy Paxman in his Rottweiler role when there was little to Rottweil about.  Too many glitches and too many shots from helicopters of people in cars – Why?

Where were the facts and figures? Why were there so few voting figures from the last election compared to this? Why did ITV establish a result lead early in the evening? Why did these programmes treat us like imbeciles?

What a farce(2)

For years our nation has sent scrutineers to various far-flung parts of the globe to check on electoral proceedings. Coming from the much vaunted ‘mother-of-all-parliaments’ their pronouncements carried weight and gravitas. Not any more.
Following on from cash for honours, MPs expenses, Lobbygate and a really crap voting system, we now have the sight of hundreds and hundreds of voters being turned away from the polling booths. Reports of polling stations running out of ballot papers add to the sense of an inept, outdated and inadequate voting process. Deeply shaming and a national disgrace.
It is time for observers to come from all over the world to check that our system is fair.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Decision day. Polling day. General Election day.

The last two elections have been low-key affairs with turnouts to match. Today is different. Today is not the same. It is the first election following a rotten parliament. It is an election under the biggest financial cloud since the 1920’s. It is the election where the voters are reluctant to put their trust in status quo politics. It is an election where we have a massive 40% of the electorate still undecided or unsure where to put their cross. All results are possible.

There is a mood among the public for a change in the way we select our leaders. The Tories promise the recall of unpopular candidates, the increasing use of ‘primaries’ to select candidates and a reduction of MPs to 500 with redrawn boundaries. However they still support ‘first past the post’ – because it suits them. Not because it is fair. 200,000 voters spread across 150 constituencies currently decide how we are governed. What nonsense! Under this system, it is possible for the party getting the lowest support to have the highest number of seats. This is farcical. The Tories also stand for greed and stupidity.

After 13 years of tinkering around the edges and having had reform of parliament in their 1997 manifesto, New Labour rediscovered reform too late and with too little enthusiasm to convince. They also have an appalling record on civil liberties, corruption and the economy. Throw in an illegal war and accompanying lies and it is time for them to depart, regroup and rediscover their values or rip themselves into oblivion.

The LibDems are on record as having tried to reform parliament to no avail thanks to blocking moves from both the other parties. They have argued for electoral reform for years. They are woolly in several areas but their MPs are more known than their Tory counterparts. [Challenge: name 10 Tory shadow cabinet members]. In Vince Cable they have a respected and rated figure. They did not flip their homes unlike MPs in the other parties. They did not claim second home allowances for MPs living in Greater London.

Above all else we must reform our rotten system. Therefore the Liberal Democrats will get my vote and I fervently hope there is a hung parliament out of which emerges a Single Transferable Voting system and an end to old corrupt politics.

Today – it matters. 

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

What next for New Labour?

Many left-of-centre voters will face the ballot paper with despair and a sense of a wasted opportunity. 40% of the electorate are still undecided or unconvinced. It is quite possible that despite puffery to the contrary, the Labour vote in many parts of the country will implode. A narrow defeat is the best Labour can hope for. A collapse into a third place way behind the others will set in train a chain of consequences some good, some bad. A significant swing away from Labour would see the Tories elected with an overall majority. A positive outcome could be a re-alignment of British politics. This will follow a period of bloodletting within Labour that will be a battle between the old left and the Thatcherism-light of New Labour. However, without meaningful electoral reform, it could mean the Tories sustaining and tweaking the discredited first-past-the-post system to their advantage. A government headed by a Blair wannabe, supported by less than a third of the electorate would not have the moral authority to take the difficult decisions without provoking civil unrest.

Muriel Gray writing in the Herald last Sunday summed up what a lot of Labour supporters feel.
“Like so many other voters I’m desperate to forgive Labour. I’m terrified of a Conservative government, of a return to the unreconstructed certainties of the right wing that will polarise society, or a limp coalition government with the child-like LibDems, whose plans for the coming financial apocalypse are as well conceived as those of a man sawing off the tree branch he’s sitting on. Where is the party that, for all its faults, actually believed in the common good, and that politicians were the servants of the people’s will?
The stumbling block is that the sins of Labour in power have been so enormous, so grotesque, that it’s impossible to overlook them and let their leader carry on, however skilful we may know him to be in fiscal management. How can we forgive and forget the war? Not just the sheer, repugnant scale of how wrong it was, but all the attendant lying, spinning and self-preservation that followed in its bloody wake.
How can we forgive the staggering losses in our personal liberties, engineered by a party that used to shout about protecting them? Did we ever think that Labour would become the party of the police state? Do we forget about how Labour snuggled up to the bloated fat cat bankers, or how they courted money and sold off peerages? Can we stomach their slithering Mandelsons and their revolting Jim Devines? Do we forget all those expenses sharks and forgive the party’s total abandonment of the working man and woman? Can we shrug our shoulders at an immigration policy that was deviously designed to increase a loyal bloc vote, and instead ended up creating ghettos full of misery and disenfranchisement?
It’s impossible to forgive. The list is too long, the crimes too serious. So what Blair started has effectively finished Brown, and now we stare ahead at years of an ideological desert where the only jobs the administration will care about will be their own, and the idea of the common good will be an anachronism to equal the hostess trolley or the lava lamp.”

Her despair is palpable. It is the end result of years of a silenced membership, mainly mute MPs and government by sofa cabal.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Fat Cats and Rats

Several commentators have come out recently and declared their support for Labour 'while pinching their nose.’ In today’s Guardian, George Monbiot states why he thinks the case against Labour is strong and why he will not be voting for them. He lists many examples of NewLabour failings and he uses an interesting image to enhance his case.

“There's a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that colonises the brains of rats, altering their behaviour to attract them to the scent of their predators. The rats seek out cats and get eaten, allowing the parasite to keep circulating. This is New Labour. It has colonised a movement that fought for social justice, distribution and decency, rewired its brain and delivered it to the fat cats who were once its enemies.”

This is of course in total contrast to the Tories, who are happily in bed with the fat cats and engaged in acts of mutual masturbation.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Moral Authority

Cameron is making a bid to be the man who sorts the mess out, promising to hit the ground running when elected to rule over us. The strategy seems to be to get elected as a minority government, set out his case and go for another General Election within 6 months.

The proportion each party gets of the actual vote will be fascinating. A 5% difference has an enormous and different effect on the number of seats won. It is possible under our ridiculous electoral system for the party with the lowest number of votes to get the most seats. Anyone claiming ‘moral authority’ to deliver swingeing cuts will be hard-pressed to make their case. The fact that Cameron has not said where over 84% of planned cuts are coming from undermines his credibility. Unfortunately he is not alone. None of them are being honest with us. And all this follows on from the most rotten parliament in living memory when trust in MPs is at its lowest.

Apparently 40% of the electorate are still unsure about how they will vote on Thursday. This is far higher than in recent elections. What prevailing emotion will govern where people put their crosses? Fear? Hope? Greed? Or despair?

Travelling through Knutsford today, we were in the constituency of George Osborne – aka, ‘The Hidden Shadow Chancellor’ who has been put in a large box labelled ‘Do not open until May 7th.’ Several trees were voting for him and some of the posters carried his picture. A graffiti artist had added a Hitler moustache and hair. Uncanny.

Mahler 8 - Election 0

Had the very good fortune to attend a special event at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester on Sunday evening. It was a performance of Mahler’s eighth symphony – a huge work with massive choirs, several soloists and an enormous orchestra. Mahler wrote it as a hymn of praise to the universe when he knew that he was dying. The conductor has to organise and marshal all these forces into a coherent whole. Sir Mark Elder more than delivered.

It is known as the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ as it has about a thousand participants. From the opening chord it is a sonic spectacular that gave the Bridgewater Hall a real workout. Because of the huge forces involved it is performed very rarely.

A 15 minute standing ovation at the end was no more than the performance deserved. Special mention must go to the Halle Children’s choir that has only been in existence for 2 years and comprises children ages 8-13. They were superb.
The 1000 players comprised: Halle Orchestra; BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, 8 soloists, Halle Choir; Girls of the Halle Youth Choir; Halle Children’s Choir; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Who said collaboration and coalition produced weakness? What twaddle. However you do need a Mark Elder figure to bring things together and make it not just effective but brilliant.

Any offers?

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Amicable coalition anyone?

Anyone concerned about our immediate political future should have been at Marple Methodist church in the Hazel Grove constituency last night. It was a most amiable and courteous occasion with a predominantly elderly audience. All three main parties were present. UKIP were running their own meeting elsewhere, following confusion over invites. Questions were submitted on the night so candidates had to respond spontaneously.
The sitting MP, a very experienced LibDem, is a thoroughly decent chap and is recognised as such by his opponents. He has a nice line in gentle humour and gives credit to his rivals when appropriate. The Labour candidate is very effective and relaxed about his non-chances. He is happy to go ‘off-message’ and detached himself from key Labour decisions. The young Tory is well briefed, articulate and personable but struggles to think on his feet when asked questions outside the usual. He does however parrot vapid nonsense from campaign briefing notes. Having seen many candidates in action over the past few days it is clear the Tory campaign machine brief candidates with bullet-point issue notes. It is striking to hear the same answers in very different locations. The responses to the ‘Hung Parliament’ issue have been identical – and generally not well received. Let us hope the candidates feed the reaction back to their masters.
This was not red-blooded politics. Any cut and thrust was gentle and good-natured. There was consensus on several issues. Candidates acknowledged their rival’s good points and the Tory even applauded (yes, incredible but true) a comment by the LibDem.

Since posting the above earlier today, it has emerged that the Tory candidate is a special advisor to Oliver Letwyn, who is in charge of the Tory policy unit. Funnily enough he never mentioned any of that. The noticeable absence of any personal background in his opening remarks in retrospect appears even more telling.