Sunday, 30 August 2015

Dan Jarvis' analysis is steered towards his desired narrative

Dan Jarvis has released findings that says Labour need to defeat UKIP, and that Andy Burnham is the man to do it. He's right and he's also very wrong.

Actually, I don't really agree at all: UKIP did take votes from Labour in May and Labour need to win those votes back but tackling them head on by making immigration an even bigger topic is not necessary or right. People are concerned about immigrants taking their jobs or increasing the benefits bill and in doing so forcing austerity on us. But that's not because it's true, it's because almost all of the media and most politicians are as good as telling them that it is. 

Labour's failure for the last few years has been to win arguments. They did not cause the recession but people think they did. Austerity is not the only option but people believe there is no alternative. Failure to win an argument doesn't always mean you're wrong, it just means your opponents managed to convince people that you are.

Jarvis' analysis hinges not only on the idea that Labour need to address the concerns popularised by the Daily Mail and UKIP but that Andy Burnham is the only candidate who can do that. Apparently Burnham is the only one who has talked about doing so but I guess I couldn't make that out, since I now tune out all disingenuous populist soundbites. 

In truth is - and Jarvis will know this all too well - that the candidate most likely to appeal to people in the way that Nigel Farage has is Jeremy Corbyn. Of course he is towards the opposite end of the political spectrum to Farage but a lot of voters don't read much into what they are voting for, concentrating instead on who. Farage as the everyman is inaccurate - if you know anything about politics and politicians beyond the superficial - but it is nonetheless the reason for his success, and that is acknowledged by pretty much everyone. 

And herein lies the flaw with Jarvis' contrived take on Andy Burnham being the one to win over UKIP voters. Burnham, and his advisors, have cultivated his image. He speaks in sound bites and shifts his position to the tune of whatever seems currently pressing. He wears a pristine suit and tidy hair at all times. He exudes the sort of sincerity that no one really believes. How on earth will people be turned by this? I like Burnham as Shadow Health Secretary (and hopefully as health Secretary) but few of the voters who have turned to UKIP in search of something different to the Westminster conveyor belt of 40-something clones will be won over him, no matter how much he talks about his modest upbringing in the Northwest. It is ironic that it is Burnham's attempt to be more popular, talking about every popular issue with as much conviction as the last, that will in fact turn people off him. 

Corbyn has never attempted to garner mass appeal and as such, has never muddied his messages by trying hard to make sure no one can take anything he says the wrong way. The appeal of someone who clearly means what they say and isn't trying to be everything to everyone is almost universal. The ill-fitting suit and imperfect hair just add to it. While Burnham will twist himself inside out trying to talk tough on immigration while appealing to ethnic minorities who are used to that sort of talk having a rather bitter 'them and us' aftertaste, Jeremy Corbyn will be trying to convince the public that the real figures don't support the right-wing agenda and explaining how positive immigration has always and will always be to the UK. And if they've got any sense they'll believe him. And frankly the idea that those who don't would vote for Andy Burnham rather than Cameron or Farage is fanciful.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Labour need more voters but they are the people being turned away!

Labour are shooting themselves in the foot. And probably the face.

Huge numbers of people wanted to join the party or become an affiliated member to have a say in the Labour leadership election. And this appears to be something Labour don't want! Here are some quick points:

  • The Labour powers-that-be are only worried about this because they don't want Corbyn as leader. If anyone else was leading the polls, this wouldn't be an issue.
  • People signing up to vote will get to vote for a candidate who has been NOMINATED BY THE PARTY to stand as leader. No one will get to vote for a conservative or a communist.
  • If people who do not share "Labour Values" had tried to get a vote, they would be more likely to vote for Liz Kendall, who has made it clear she is much more concerned with winning over people who believe what the Tories said before the last election is right.

Jeremy Corbyn's popularity is embarrassing for the other candidates. And Labour don't want that? He's a Labour MP and has been for longer than any of the other candidates and he's both bringing new people to the party and bringing people back to the party. In their THOUSANDS.

My last, huge, glaringly bloody obvious point is this:

Labour need to attract more voters to the party so that they can defeat the tories. But they are asking some people who have signed up as new or affiliate members who they voted for at the last election and presumably rejecting them if they say anyone other than Labour!

It's a complete farce.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Cost of living

This is something of a departure from my usual posts which tend to be directly about politics. This one is indirectly about politics.

The cost of living crisis became a topic of conversation in the media as Labour's polling improved in the build up to the election. Funny how even inaccurate polling can affect what gets published. But it's pretty much vanished since the Tories won their slender majority and recent talk has been mostly about how Jeremy Corbyn is bringing lots of new people towards the Labour party and how unelectable he is (the contradictory nature of those two subjects was intentional). 

I consider myself lucky. Despite being an early victim of the recession (December 2008) and having to find myself a totally new career - which was far from easy and brought some incredibly difficult times (without the emotional support of my now wife, I can't be certain I'd be here to write this) - I now have a good job with a moderately impressive sounding job title (unfortunately it comes with a less impressive salary). My wife has two doctorates and works for the NHS as a Clinical Psychologist. We now have a baby and own a house with a garden. 

All good. But the sacrifices we have made would belie our job titles. First, we had to put off getting married and starting a family as I wasn't in a secure job and then, once I was, my wife was only temporary and part-time. Once we were finally both in more secure jobs, we started looking for a house. We couldn't afford a house in the area we've lived for the last decade, so looked at other areas. Many other locations were unaffordable too until we compromised on an area where we could afford a small house with a garden and with a train station no more than a mile away so I can get to work. It's not close to where our friends live; it lacks nice shops, cafes, bars, restaurants; the streets aren't very well kept; the nearby primary school does not have a good Ofsted report; public transport isn't great. But it seems safe enough and it's just about big enough for us and our baby, and the occasional staying guest. And it's the best we could afford.

Since our son was born and with my wife on maternity pay, we've struggled financially. Fortunately, family have been able to buy nursery furniture, a pushchair, clothes etc and friends with older children have donated things too. I'm ashamed to say I never passed my driving test. I really need to be able to drive so that my wife doesn't bear the burden of long journeys to see family and friends (many of whom live between 150 and 230 miles away) but at over £20 per lesson and about £60 for the practical test, I simply can't afford it. One of my work shoes is split: I put off buying new ones and five weeks later, I'm still wearing them. I bought myself a new shirt at the weekend for the first time in a long time - it was in the sale and cost me £6. My beard trimmer no longer works (and replacement parts no longer exist) so I dug out some razors (still in the cupboard from when I did 'movember') and shaved my beard off. When I run out of razors, I'll grow my beard back and see if I can afford a new beard trimmer then. My wife doesn't complain at all but I know she has been worried about money and probably doesn't want to worry me more by talking about it. Our next challenge is paying for childcare. My wife will be going back four days a week (on 0.8% of her full-time salary) and I'm going to be squashing 35 hours into four days (starting early, finishing later, skipping lunch breaks etc) so I can look after him for one day without losing pay.

If we, a Clinical Psychologist and an Administrative Manager, are having financial difficulties like these, how on earth are other people coping? As I say, I know we're lucky to have houses and full time jobs. I really worry about people on lower incomes, in insecure jobs, possibly with debt (which we don't have, apart from our mortgage and my small old-style student loan). Apparently the economy is growing and pay is rising. I'd like to see the stats on these 'facts'. I would imagine that house price increases are causing slight growth in the economy and I would put money (if I had any) on the vast majority of wage rises going to only the top earners. I certainly don't know anyone getting any kind of rise over the rate of inflation.

The biggest challenge in our economy is getting wages and tax revenue up. Anything else is tinkering around the edges, and I have a little flow chart that shows how low-pay is holding back growth and increasing the need for benefits which in turn, causes our economy to stagnate.

I'd like to make one final point: many people rely on hand outs from their parents for deposits on houses, buying furniture and appliances, repairs to homes and cars etc. Some people still rely on this even into their 40s and beyond. Those people are very unlikely to be able to do the same for their children. So who will help them? Wages must start to rise, urgently. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Labour cutting off its nose

I'll try not to go over ground well-covered by journalists and commenters from the left but some of their points seem so bloody obvious it's insane to think that so few people realise what a catastrophic error Labour are making.

This leadership election is supposed to be a democratic process. Members and affiliates - all who have paid in some way to have a vote (either via a regular membership fee, small fee direct to the party, or via their Union fees which also helps to fund the party) - will decide who they want as the next Labour leader. Some will agree that their choice might not be the best to win the next election but will choose that person based on how closely the candidate shares their own political views. Others will firmly believe that the candidate they have chosen is the best person to lead Labour to victory at the next general election. Whatever their reasons, they have a right to vote and the winner will have won fair and square.

Some in the party suggested that there should be a discussion about Labour's direction before any leadership election but the powers that be decided to go straight into deciding the next leader. So if those who have been running the party for the last 20 years don't like the direction the most popular candidate might take the party, then that is just tough shit. Get behind them or get out. Instead of discussing sensibly why each candidate is more or less popular, certain dinosaurs (and their feathered, Tory-lite offspring) are already causing the very rifts they claim will happen if they don't get their way.

What is even more disturbing and worrying for Labour's future is the way they are handling new memberships and affiliate registrations. Mark Steel who, like me is a life long Labour supporter, has been barred from voting in the leadership election and hasn't been given a reason why. I can understand the party wanting to make sure that right-wing party supporters don't get a vote but Mark Steel campaigned with the Labour party before the election in May! He's not a member of any other political party or organisation, so the only reason he could possibly be excluded is because his articles have been critical of the direction of the party, and he has written about his support for Jeremy Corbyn. Many many people have left the Labour party in recent times and may have joined other parties such as the Greens, or Left Unity. But those people did not leave Labour, Labour left them when they began to tear up their history: backing austerity which makes the poor poorer and the rich richer; distancing themselves from people who can't find work and agreeing with benefit caps; blaming immigration; cutting ties with unions who built and support the party. I could go on.

Many of these people are former Labour members, or family members of former Labour members who want to come back to the Labour party if they will once again support the many against the powerful few. If this is how Labour treat people who want to get involved with the party and engage with politics, then people will give up on them again and this time, they will not return.

If Labour want to permanently reduce their membership numbers and never again be the party of working people in Britain, they are going the right way about it.

I continue to be baffled

I'm continually astonished and baffled by the ideas of people who claim to support the Labour party and yet who seem aggressively negative about Jeremy Corbyn. They have been brainwashed by the right and just can't see that other ideas about how to run our country are valid.

There are all sorts of claims being thrown about, that Labour would spend decades in the doldrums if he is elected; that the Lib Dems would take so much of Labour's vote that Labour would end up the third party; that he is "wrong, on many, many things" (with no explanation of what) etc. And yes, these are coming from people who claim to support the Labour party.

Corbyn's politics would not have been considered particularly radical 20 years ago. And 40 years ago, even many Tory MPs also believed in some principles such as nationalised industries, welfare, building social housing etc. It was only when the strikes and mismanagement of certain industries in the 1970s gave the free-market zealots writing policies in thinktanks a window of opportunity to hand over public assets to the private sector and found a willing underlay of Tory MPs that any of these ideas came under attack. Now the majority of the UK population seems to accept that we can never again afford to control our rail network without private profiteers creaming millions in profit whilst leaving us with shit public transport, or that we will only ever have smaller councils without sufficient resources to repair the roads, provide decent local authority housing or expand crowded schools.

However, there is another side to this: despite this general resignation, most people want nationalised rail and energy, even a national bank, and they want the NHS to go back to being state-owned and operated. A number of studies by a range of different groups have found these things - even amongst Tory voters. Socialism dragged the UK out of the post-war slump and rebuilt Britain for the many, but we have been conned into believing that even though it's what we want now, it is somehow no longer possible.

We have had our hope taken from us by three decades of rampant capitalism and politicians and the media convincing us there's no alternative. If even Labour supporters think this, maybe we should just hand over all of our cash, possessions and our freedom to Serco and perform frontal lobotomies on each other.

Or move to Scotland.


Jeremy Corbyn is a reluctant leadership candidate who would probably be a lot happier backing another left-wing candidate. But there aren't any. I watched the debate on Sunday Politics and Burnham and Cooper particularly looked as though they were giving a very carefully written presentation on the merits of a new financial software system they want your workplace to invest £2m in. Liz Kendall sounded like someone who at the last minute had been asked to stand in for someone who couldn't be there because they were busy destroying children's dreams.

Corbyn, meanwhile, sounded genuine. He believes in what he says and always has. He might get flustered when someone takes a quote out of context or deliberately misunderstands what he says because he doesn't come from the school of presentation politics: to him it actually matters and he doesn't waste time crafting soundbites that can't be taken the wrong way. He's too busy being active in politics to do any work on his image.

I think people will be pleased to see a normal person talking passionately about things he genuinely believes in and has campaigned on for decades. Hopefully if he doesn't win, he will come close enough to spark a resurgence of the left within the Labour party. At the very least, having a left-winger in the debate will shift the 'overton window' a little back to the left after so many years of rightward drift. The fact that there are already rumblings of concern from some MPs who leant him their nomination and even rumours of a possible coup should he win suggests he is doing very well indeed.

But what of the 'other way'? So many dismiss his ideas as impossible, or keep banging on about the need for Labour to be seen as economically 'credible' and so far, very little airtime or column inches have been given over to discussing what the alternative to austerity is.

Essentially, it's speculate to accumulate: ironically, the very thing that the government expects the public and small businesses to do, and the very thing that they adore the City for doing so recklessley and destructively. Spending money on infrastructure not only improves peoples' lives (better transport, homes, schools, hospitals etc), it provides work which boosts the economy. A living wage (a proper one, not a re-badged minimum wage) would benefit the country via much lower in-work pay subsidies, low paid employees would be paid more of course and businesses would get more custom as disposable incomes rise. Tougher tax policy tidying up avoided and evaded tax and new ways of getting additional tax from the wealthiest (e.g. a higher top rate of tax, removal of the allowance for buy-to-let landlords, a banking levy etc) would also make a huge difference to our economy.

Austerity is only one way to 'balance the books'. It's also the most painful for the most vulnerable in society. And as a final point, it's worth noting - again - that it wasn't until one thinktank pointed out that the recession was a good excuse to shrink the state and hand over public money to private profiteers that the Tories changed their tune from one where they backed Labour's spending (which they now claim was ridiculously extravagant). At that time, the shadow chancellor was one Gideon George Osborne and the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. The fact that 'making tough decisions' and Labour needing to accept austerity to be seen as 'fiscally responsible' is now the only idea in town is an enormous success for right-wing propaganda. If failing banks should stop automatic bonuses, surely writers and editors in the sun, the mail, the times, the telegraph etc should have huge increases because what they have done is brainwash an entire nation and turn sound economics into a complete joke. It's incredible.