Tag Archives: Labour Party

Poor Old Jacqui Smith

Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is embarassed. Say it with me – ‘awwwwww':

Reflecting on this period, Smith said: “Having to fight your way out through TV cameras when you go out of your house in the morning, having press photographers outside your house for weeks on end is a real intrusion. It’s horrible”.

She added: “I could have coped with it on my own but my oldest son was doing, has just finished in fact, his GCSEs … and I just felt that it was not fair on all of them.”

Poor her. This is someone who thought that it was ok to tread on the constitution and allow the Metropolitan Police to investigate an opposition MP on political grounds. This is someone who thought that it was necessary to tag the entire population with an ID card and fine them for not updating them. This is someone who thought it was a clever idea to tap every single text, email and web access made by every single person in the country. This is someone who thought it was alright to send a gay asylum seeker back to Iran as long as he was ‘discreet’. And she has the nerve to say she was embarassed at press intrusion after her parliamentary expenses were made public? Disgusting. We’re well rid of her.

Get Some Guts, Brown!

But it’s not just Brown is it? This after all was the party which voted for an illegal war. They may bleat on about Brown not listening, but how many of them have recently? John Kampfner sees electoral oblivion:

So, like lemmings, Labour MPs have been bought off by a combination of fear, bullying and the promise of a fresh start. They feared the onset of an autumn general election, believing that by hanging on they stood a better chance of salvation next May or June. They allowed the haranguing and the briefings by the thuggish to get the better of them. And they appeared to accept the prime minister’s assertions that, this time, he will improve his own behaviour, and that of those around him.

Behavioural change is hard to achieve, particularly for a man of Brown’s wizened years. But perhaps in adversity he will throw caution to the wind on policy. If so how about, for a start, political and constitutional reform, genuine measures for fiscal redistribution (rather than the belated stunt from the last Budget), a fully independent and public inquiry into the Iraq war, and legislation that would enshrine into law greater punishments for banks and other institutions that put greed ahead of the public good? I, for one, will not be holding my breath.

Most of those who believed that Brown would give the Labour party fresh impetus after the Blair years, who believed that during his decade of scheming he might actually have come up with a plan, saw their hopes evaporate quite some time ago. Others are prepared to give him one final opportunity to turn around their party’s fortunes. In so doing, they have begun a slow sleepwalk to oblivion at the next general election, and the dismantling of what is left of the British left.

I fear he’s right. Johnson and Miliband may demonstrate an understanding of the need for electoral reform, but the government’s hardly talking about it. Where’s the constitutional convention? Where’s the public education campaign to sell PR to a public no longer sceptical about constitutional change? As was mentioned at the Liberty conference last weekend, a government eager to teach the electorate about swine ‘flu should have no problem leafleting about PR. So where is it? And where’s the swine ‘flu leafleting for that matter? Sigh. They’re incompetent aren’t they, both the government and the party? Polly Toynbee even has a speech prepared for the Prime Minister, be they Brown, Johnson, Harman, Miliband or Straw:

“Friends, there will be an election and a referendum on constitutional reform. I relinquish the injustice of the prime minister choosing the date: from now on elections will always be on the first Sunday in May, with fixed parliaments. Before then, we will clean up expenses and every sitting Labour MP will undergo reselection. A convention on the constitution and on liberty will bring in clean party funding: democracy will not be in hock to the whim of millionaires. We will have an elected Lords, sweep away obscurantist flummery in the Commons and devolve more powers. This parliament that made a mess of things must clean it up before it goes. A referendum on proportional representation deserves time for the arguments to be put fairly.

‘But above all, as a new prime minister, give me time to lay out my priorities. In a time of hardship we will share the burdens more fairly, protect the most vulnerable better, make sure benefits and the minimum wage are pegged to earnings levels in perpetuity. Green jobs, already begun, will be increased with more housebuilding – and no, there will be no third runway. All we do from now on will be for cleaner, greener and fairer government. I will apologise for things we have done wrong, so you may better believe me when I boast of all we have done well. There is much to be proud of, and much that will be put at risk if we don’t sing the praises of the considerable good Labour has done: Sure Start is just one emblem. Don’t let anyone say the money was wasted or that the state should be shrunk. We stand for all the important things in life that we can only buy together – health, education, safe streets, beautiful parks and the long fight to stop climate change.”

Brilliant – one of the best pieces I’ve ever ready by Toynbee. But even she knows he & they won’t go for it – their supine nature, cultivated by Blair ironically to win elections won’t allow for it. The clock is ticking for an entirely avoidable Cameron premiership and renewed hell under the Tories, with their promises to repeal the Human Rights Act for starters.

Brown Won’t Change

I think Chris Ames is right:

Is this as good as it gets? The spin coming out of Number 10 is that Gordon Brown will use an Iraq inquiry and a delay to the part-privatisation of the post office to appease voters and, more immediately, the Labour MPs who are circling him. There is virtually nothing new in the Iraq inquiry story, but Brown’s attempt to get a few quick brownie points shows he is still wedded to the old, discredited way of doing politics. He still doesn’t get it.

So far, it has been the old routine of nods and winks signifying nothing – and to achieve not so much party political advantage as personal political advantage. After the savaging Brown got at Friday’s press conference for first briefing that Alistair Darling was for the chop, then denying it when he was too weak to wield the blow, you would think he would learn. But he seems incapable of learning. He has only one way of doing things.

Delaying part-privatisation of the post office and a quite possibly private inquiry into the Iraq War aren’t anywhere near enough to change Labour’s fortunes. There’s no talk anymore about ending child poverty, about reducing the gap between rich and poor, in fact noone seems to know what’s driving New Labour anymore other than the pursuit of power. As far as we can tell they still want to control us with ID cards and superdatabases, and Jack Straw’s odd response on Saturday to one side they aren’t giving any indication that the police will behave any less violently, nor pursue climate protesters any less doggedly. There’s no indication that they have realised just how totally markets have failed in areas of civil society in which they don’t belong, like education and health, or just how inhuman it is to withold legal aid from asylum seekers and make ‘failed’ refugees destitute. These are not things which a Labour government should be doing.

They have to realise they’re gutting local communities, that boosting the fortunes of the mega rich accelerates the gap between rich and poor and that boosting faith schools will only divide communities, not bring them together. Labour has to get back the guts it started out with – radical social, financial and constitutional reform (regardless of what the Daily HateMail thinks) – if it has any chance of even surviving as a viable national force at the next election.

Bye Bye Gordo?

It begins

A group of rebel MPs have begun soliciting signatures for a round robin letter calling for Gordon Brown to step down, which they plan to hand to the prime minister after the results of the local and European elections have come in on Monday morning.

The Guardian has learned there are reports that the backbenchers think they can reach 70 or 80 signatories, with some claims that the letter could be delivered to Downing Street by the end of today.

Johnson must be better, otherwise this is an exercise in futility. He must demonstrate an understanding of how Barack Obama was elected, but also roll back the illiberal politics of control which even Obama has balked at. Should he become Prime Minister he must follow through with his public ruminations about government giving up power in order to increase democracy. It’s the only way (apart from its record on devolution) for New Labour to retain any positive legacy.

David Miliband Hasn’t a Clue

New Labour uses entirely the wrong man and the wrong argument to attack David Cameron on his EU policy, ahead of Thursday European parliamentary elections:

Labour’s constitution commits it to put “power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few”. Devolution, freedom of information, incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law, and party-funding reform are a record of merit. Gordon Brown set out the links between economic, social and political reform on taking office. He said that we had to go further. He has taken the project forward most recently in the work on a constitutional renewal bill.

And yet it’s put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of the few. It’s fought against its own freedom of information provision, regularly slanders its own Human Rights Act and has done next to nothing to reform party funding. Brown isn’t offering anything of note for constitutional renewal, indeed he alongside Blair ditched the Jenkins Report advocating proportional representation after Labour took office and found it an inconvenience. This government has avoided any positive engagement on the EU at all since taking office. Where’s the case for the Euro? Where’s the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty?

To say:

A week today, while Labour MEPs will start work on taking forward manifesto pledges on the economy and environment, Tory MEPs will be frogmarched by their leadership out of the mainstream centre-right grouping in the European parliament. The Tory MEP Caroline Jackson calls it “pathetic”. Every European leader I meet thinks it mad to give up influence with the mainstream for a deal with Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom party.

is entirely right, but it’s too late. It’s hypocrisy in the extreme to say that the Tories are being eurosceptic or europhobic when Labour has failed to make the slightest counter-argument. Remember Blair taking sides with Bush rather than the EU over Iraq? The Tories may have an asinine and borderline dangerous policy regarding the centre-right bloc in parliament, but their offer of a referendum will succeed in focusing minds, in sharp contrast to Miliband’s limp policy of…what exactly?

People do feel a sense of powerlessness in politics. Domestic political reform is vital to that. Gordon Brown has been arguing this and will carry it forward. There is also an international dimension – the “runaway world” needs politics.

They do indeed Foreign Secretary, and New Labour is now entirely to blame. Brown hasn’t argued for such reforms at all, and it’s why he really has to lose his job this week. Cameron’s nationalistic argument has gained ground partly by default, but partly because this government has regularly itself pandered to such sentiments. It only has itself to blame. Brown, Smith, Straw and all their discredited ilk must go as a matter of urgency.

Brown and Smith or Johnson and Miliband? Easy!

Where do we go with politics now? The conventional wisdom (which the papers seem to have a vested interest in shoving down our throats) is that the electorate has given up on politics altogether – the expenses scandal has soured everyone’s view of politics, and only a dramatic change will reengage us and stop us voting UKIP and BNP in our disillusionment. I’ll buy Stephen Fry’s argument to a point to be honest, that excessive behaviour with expenses is universal – to hold MPs to a different standard to the rest of us (most of whom do the same thing to differing extents) is unfair and unrealistic. But I also think that the public disdain for all politicians has now taken on a life of its own, and it’s partly because things have come to a head – a process which began before Blair, but which he and Brown have cynically accelerated – has now bitten them on the backside.

We have a first past the post voting system, whereby the first party to the biggest single share of the vote wins the election, even though the majority of people end up voting for someone else. This has led to shameless abuses with no political mandate ever having been given – the road to ID cards, torture, the withdrawal of legal aid to most people, allowing the police to become a brutal, semi-autonomous militia, an illegal war in Iraq. Most people thought Blair was a liar in his first term but accommodated him as long as his lies didn’t abuse the will of the majority; Iraq scuppered that and destroyed his premiership. MPs in turn were assumed to be cheats in small scale, but not to be rampantly stealing taxpayers’ money and trying to cover it up – their mandate too has now been crushed. It can I believe in part be restored by changing the voting system to proportional representation. It’s a reality which David Cameron and Gordon Brown both fail to realise. Nick Clegg and crucially Alan Johnson however do:

The adoption of AV+ would shift the political focus currently concentrated almost exclusively on a few swing voters in a handful of marginal seats. It would end the perversity of the party with the most votes nationally forming the opposition rather than the government, as has happened twice since the war.

Labour is the only party ever to win under First Past the Post (FPTP) and then use its majority to explore a change to the system that elected them. I recognise that Jenkins is gathering dust because we lost the will to carry it through — but that was at a time when it could legitimately be said that there was no public interest and when narrow party political advantage dominated our internal debate in the Labour Party. Of course, I recognise that many colleagues on my benches support FPTP for more valid reasons.

My proposal is that we offer the public the two options of AV+ and FPTP. We should debate these two alternatives freely and openly with no party whip and no government recommendation. Then on the date of the next general election we should have a national referendum and let the people decide. This is a genuinely radical alternative that only Labour in government can facilitate.

Where Brown, Smith, Straw et al are still talking about a British ‘bill of rights and responsibilities’, still wilfully conflating civil liberties and human rights for the most cynical political motives, Ed Miliband is advocating reempowering parliament instead of this almighty executive:

Miliband said the Commons should look at giving select committees more power to shape legislation. But he did not favour moving too far towards the US system, where Senate committees can destroy bills or delay them indefinitely. “There are upsides and downsides,” he said, citing lobbying by fossil fuel companies of the House of Representatives’ energy sub-committee which had the power to weaken climate change legislation. “You do have to protect an elected government’s ability to legislate.”

Brown doesn’t get it, whilst Cameron (who is against proportional representation) is a cynical opportunist who has no reform minded ideas of his own at all. Parliamentary term limits? Great, but repealing the Human Rights Act? It’s not exactly in keeping with the people’s will to restore power and rights to them from a cynical and overly mighty government, leaving Cameron a dangerous, unelectable option. Brown and his disconnected, out of touch cronies must thus be kicked out, and within the next fortnight at that. Whilst I don’t think Alan Johnson could save Labour from losing the next election, he has very clear allies, from Miliband to James Purnell who have grasped the clear (and overdue) means of reconnecting the public back to the political process, and whom together could begin reforming the party and political system itself. It really is Labour’s last chance for its principal legacy other than devolution to be progressive rather than embarrassing.

Is Labour Doomed Regardless?

Polly Toynbee says what few on the left want to admit:

It’s all over for Brown and Labour. The abyss awaits. As long as he remains leader, there is nothing that wretched Labour candidates can plausibly say on the doorstep at next month’s European elections. They are struck dumb. Why should people vote for them? The horse manure bought on expenses is garnish for a decomposing government. The heart of the matter is the economy, and Brown’s responsibility for the bubble years. He personally is to blame for Labour’s failure to ensure that ordinary people on median incomes and poor people at the bottom received a bigger share in national growth: it turns out that they fell back and only the wealthy prospered. Labour made the rich richer and the poor poorer: growth for the few, not the many.

She then claims:

The one person around whom the party could gather speedily would be Alan Johnson. It’s nonsense that another unopposed leadership would mean disaster: a general election is coming soon enough. Orphan boy, genial postman, self-made, clever but modest, he has the grace and charm to match his perfect backstory. He was always the one the Cameroons feared. His political talents turned the NHS from a danger with closures and denials of drugs into an asset for Labour. Good to work with, good in public, he inspires considerable admiration. This time I will not say I know he would be a good leader – that’s unknowable until too late. I doubt that he can win for Labour. But, goodness knows, Cameron is still there for the taking.

Off the cuff I’m in the odd position of wanting to agree. Cameron is winning in the polls by default. Blair in 1997 had Major over a barrel (despite turning out to be a fraud himself) – Cameron isn’t winning on his own merits – it’s Brown who’s losing because he has none. His government has allowed the police to behave like a quasi-autonomous militia, has presided over the near-destruction of the economy, has created the biggest divide between rich and poor since Victorian times and played with very basic civil liberties like toys. Their record on the environment too is a joke, still beholden to big business as they are at all costs. The question though remains: what would Johnson bring to the leadership which Brown hasn’t already? And this is where the argument falls flat – Johnson is New Labour through and through. ID cards? Check. Foundation hospitals? Check. Iraq War? Check. The list goes on. They really shouldn’t replace Brown – they’re toast either way.