This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The language of politics 2006

In the UK it seems like the three main parties are trying to outbid each other in seeming to position themselves onto the centre ground of British politics.

Of course, the centre of gravity as to what constitutes the centre ground has actually been decisively shifted rightwards by Blair's authoritarian Labour party since 1997.

In the early days of Ming Campbell leadership we've had the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail passed by the Lib Dem Spring Conference and David Laws proposing cutting state benefits to lone parents. Now Ming repeatedly claimed to be a 'creature of the centre-left' during the leadership campaign, but these proposals will surely be a real vote loser amongst the centre and left inclined voters.

The language used by leading spokespersons seem to more frequently echo that of 'New' Labour and the Cameroonians.

Modernise - in progressive parties this seems to mean moving the party further to the right than their tradition or party activists generally support. Greens, Labour, Lib Dems have all been ripe for being 'modernised' and 'fit for the 21st century'(sic).

'Credible' policies - means abandoning most areas where your party is most distinctive and in economic terms offering the same explicitly free-market solutions as your opponents.

Public Service 'Reform' - as above. 'Choice' [for some] and a view of private provision good, state provision bad prevails. Good job the 1906 Liberal government and the Beveridge inspired welfare state had a differing view of 'reform' !

Radical - now means daring people wishing to go against the grain of party tradition and surprise, suprise, move their party rightwards.

Dinosaur - usually confered on people like me who seek to adhere to the progressive left-of-centre social liberal tradition within the party. Pre-eminent amongst these in Lib Dem terms is 'Lord' Tony Greaves. Donnachadh McCarthy used to qualify but is now a extinct Lib Dem dinosaur.

One quaint tradition with the party dinosaur - with Tony Benn being Labour's equivalent - is that as you become an 'elder states[wo]man' and as you begin to have less influence you get to be described as being 'much loved' by the party faithful in the media. You get cheered for making radical speeches at conference, but trouble is, party leaderships persuade representatives / delegates into voting for something the dinosaur virulently opposes.

Simon Hughes should worry already as he is frequently described in the press as a 'favourite' with party activists. Another ten years and dinosaur status could be his too !

In the case of the Tories most of these words mean to suggest as if the party is moving leftwards from their recent Thatcherite history. There are no actual policies to confirm the reality of this 'radical' shift to date though.

One common feature is also to talk lots about the environment, but especially in the case of the Labour and Conservatives , means actually make no tough decisions !

Where have the real radicals gone ? Even the youth / student wings of the three main parties seem so orthodox and on-message these days.

Ah for the 'good old days' of the Liberal 'Red Guard', the NOLS and Trots bunfights within Labour and the preposterous 'Hang Mandela' T-shirts and craziness of the Federation of Conservative Students !

Unlike David Cameron, I don't mind the occasional bit of 'Punch + Judy' politics. It shows passion and difference and much better and honest than the 'Richard + Judy' politics-lite of Blair. Political opponents should be on the canvas from a knockout polical blow and not on the bloody sofa !

EDM 1706 - Union Recognition at ASDA WalMart

ASDA, now part of the largest supermarket chain on the planet, the notorious union-busting WalMart group sought to de-recognise and bully workers into 'giving up' their trade union membership.

This is in breach of UK legislation and the broader fundamental right of anyone to freely join a trade union in a democratic society should they so wish. Therefore I ask Liberal readers and others to encourage their MPs to sign Early Day Motion 1706.

It reads :

EDM 1706


Kemp, Fraser

That this House notes that Asda Wal-Mart has been fined £850,000 in the United Kingdom for offering employees a pay rise to give up union rights at their depot in Washington Tyne and Wear; congratulates the GMB union on its successful campaign on the legal right to maintain union recognition which is fundamental to society; expresses concern over the role of the Portland public relations company in its attempts to discredit the GMB; and further notes that trade unions play a constructive role in the United Kingdom for employees and employers.

I am delighted by the positive response of my MP - Adrian Sanders - in signing the EDM. I'd be pleased to hear if others are equally successful.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Letter to Herald Express 070306

Several months ago I expressed concern that our then newly elected executive Mayor seemed to have very few specific policies or long term strategic view or 'vision' for the bay. Recent events seem to confirm the lack of a coherent policy programme. It seems policy 'ideas' are trialled via the columns of this newspaper rather than being adequately debated with and engaging democratically elected councillors of all parties and none.

Typical of this 'kite flying' was the alarmist media announcement of the need for 10% cuts in spending across all council departments, thereby resulting in undue worry for some of our most vulnerable people, their carers and service providers. More latterly the Mayor has floated loosely articulated plans regarding a 'super casino, the future of Oldway Mansion and the Pavilions and now car parking charges along Paignton seafront. Nick Bye skilfully avoids explicitly supporting these ideas in case they are unpopular so they can be later quietly shelved. What we're getting is policy by opinion poll with the Herald Express being the conduit for an extended de-facto mayoral 'focus group'. As I said before, where are the policies ? Where is the leadership ? How is Mayor Bye justifying his near £60,000 salary ?

Mr Bye feigns surprise at the state of the council finances despite having been a senior councillor of several years standing and having experienced budgets from both main parties represented on the council. It's time to stop the 'spinning' and 'kite flying' Nick and time to reveal your medium term policy priorities and direction for the years ahead. Crucially, make the executive decisions that the job requires of YOU and be judged accordingly.

With power being concentrated in the hands of one man and one party [the Conservatives] accountability is key if the new model of local government is to work. Readers therefore may like to know that the opportunity exists for the public to question the Mayor at both Cabinet and full council meetings. There is no need to wait for the next Herald Express sponsored event !

Barrie Wood

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Letter to The Herald Express 020306

With thanks to Simon Mollan for the woodstain analogy !

All Things to All People ? - Flip Flopping Cameron !

Another week passes and with it comes more spin and marketing trying to sell a re-packaged Conservative party. With this weeks offering the Tories have adopted yet another pointless slogan: Built to Last. Now if the 'product' was a power tool appliance or quality woodstain then it would makes sense, but a political party ?

During his short tenure as leader in terms of consistency we've had David Cameron as a 'liberal' conservative, the temporary 'green' who didn't support climate change levy and now the vacuous Built to Last 'vision' of this week....sounding very New 'Blue' Labour'. There is little in this latest pronouncement that Tony Blair [rather than socialists] would baulk at ! Quite breathtaking ! The re-working of the classic 'I Have A Dream' speech must be next !

I await the explanation from Marcus Wood and local Tories as to how this shoddy rummaging around of; and the gross misrepresentation of, others' political ideas amounts to a coherent political, let alone Tory, philosophy. You can re-market a product but damaged goods still remain exactly that !

Barrie Wood

And the Winner is .... Chris Huhne !

Well, not in terms of votes as yet ! But in terms of an enhanced policy and personal profile Huhne has been the clear winner. He has, much to the consternation of Simon Hughes no doubt, claimed the 'green mantle' despite Simon's much longer and consistent promotion of environmental concerns.

Simon has been, well, Simon ! I voted for him and his liberalism, explicit concern for the less well-off , his energy and campaigning style, plus the ability to 'connect' with the wider public got him my vote. Essentially though I think little new was learned about him (bar THAT not so surprising expose). The 100 seats promise and the handling of the issue of his sexuality were gaffes or errors of judgement in my book though. Nonetheless if voting opened up again tomorrow, it'd be Hughes 1 again.

Initially it was to be Ming 2. However, his patrician style, aloof demeanour, his lack-lustre campaign and attendant cliches ( gut liberal .. bridge to the in the garage..iraq 'closure' position et al) put me off greatly. His knowledge on domestic policy seemed shaky and his Commons performances less sure than before. His web campaign apart, there was little 'fizz' from Ming. And, a surprising degree of tetchiness during the campaign illustrated how the contest was evolving.

However, going on past performances, his depth in comparison with Cameron, his lawyerly debating style will enable him to be once again a heavyweight political contender. Compare his consistency with David Cameron. So far the latter has been a 'liberal' conservative, the temporary 'green' who didn't support climate change levy and now the Built to Last 'vision' of this week....NuBlu Labour. Quite breathtaking !
I'm waiting for the 'I have A Dream' speech next !

This from Simon Mollan's blog is so apt - and funny ;

The Tories have adopted yet another meaningless slogan: Built to Last.

Despite sounding as if they imagine the Conservative Party to be a power-tool or a type of woodstain that does exactly what it says on the tin, it is in fact that title of a management book, which no doubt George Osborne discovered on his way to the economics and finance section of his local Borders.

Built to Destruct more like! I sense more coughing over the Corn Flakes from Tebbit and foaming at the mouth by Simon Heffer and Melanie Phillips....their faces must be a real mess now ! The former is not a pretty sight at the best of times !

Curiously these last couple of weeks both the fortunes of Nottingham Forest and the Lib Dems have picked up despite having no permanent leader...why bother with the beauty contest at all ?!

To conclude : expecting Simon to come third, with Ming edging out Chris. C'mon Ming raise you game should you win and to Chris you need to be more than a [policy] wonk-er...inject a bit more passion and personality into your politics !