Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Why Green is Good for Red

Labour's old Constituency of the urban industrial working class has ceased to be. As the social groupings that were solid during the post war consensus have disappeared, both Labour and the Conservative party have suffered declining support.

The way to electoral success, as shown by Tony Blair and David Cameron, has been to appeal to a soft middle and hoping that the smaller hard core vote stays with you, as it has nowhere else to go.

This approach has resulted in an over emphasis on chasing the swing voter. Grumbles are abound both left and right that the heartlands are being ignored. Our Prime Ministers are now more managerial than ideological.

Without an idealogical base, our politics have become soulless. The interesting stuff in recent years has been coming from smaller parties with clear, distinct ideologies - The Greens, UKIP and the BNP.

13 years of New Labour ended on May 2010. Tony Blair took Labour, and moulded a party more friendly to business leaders than workers. Labour used view Unions as it's friends and the City with suspicion. That was turned around 180 degrees. Labour 1997 victory followed the direction set back in 1979.

Labour is now looking for it's soul once more. Looking broadly, although born in a different place, the Green agenda resonates greatly with it's modern critique of capitalism. I believe that a Labour Party based on sustainable development would not only be true to the founding principles of the labour movement, it would also appeal more broadly than it does now. This article advocates adopting some principles into the Labour Party not a merger with The Green Party.

Derek Wall (a Green Activist and Socialist) advocated some Central features of this philosophy:

  1. Ecological Wisdom
  2. Grassroots Democracy
  3. Non Violence
  4. Social Justice
The world we live in is fragile. We have growing populations struggling to feed themselves, our economies rely on oil, get scarcer and more expensive by the year and through pollution we are damaging the planet and creating global warming, a threat to us all.  Ecological wisdom must be part of our future if we are to have one.

People feel increasing powerless, their lives being run from Westminster that doesn't listen to them, The EU even less and Corporations that run rings around whole Governments. Part of the renewal people seek is real grassroots democracy.

Non violence has gained momentum following difficult conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. The only answer long term is put the guns down and talk, and arrive at a political solution. Peace at the end of a gun is no peace.

If one pillar is key for Labour, it is social justice. Labour was built on it, but from 1997 to 2010 social mobility shrank and the wealth gap grew. This is Labour's biggest failure. Societies that experience such wealth and power inequalities will always be disjointed and weak. The most happy and stable countries tend to have less inequality.

I am not trying to promote Green Labour. Labour is Labour. However, if Labour's core values could encompass these four pillars, it could just be a revolution.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Where's the Next Radical Big Idea?

Observing politics since May 2010, one thing has become clear to me: no mainstream political party has a credible radical big idea.

Let me explain from the view of the English big three:

The Conservatives

The only real game in town for the Conservatives is reducing the deficit. This goal looms over everything. A number of strategies are being employed:

  1. Increasing taxes
  2. Reducing spending
  3. Reforming public services
There is no big idea about 1 and 2. These tools have been used by all previous Governments.

Health, education and the welfare state have been subject to major reform.

Andrew Lansley's proposals to change the way health care is delivered does appear to be radical. However, on closer inspection, the increasing involvement of the private sector and devolvement of power is really an extension of the reforms begun by Labour. The scale is somewhat larger, but the idea isn't new. A common theme with the more radical proposals from the Government is a failure to convince the public and poor implementation on the ground.  The health proposals have been halted short of clearing the commons for 'further consultation'. In other words, no matter how much they have tried, they cannot convince health professionals that the proposals will work. So, even if the reforms are a radical big idea, they look far from credible.

On education, once again, the Conservative policy of increasing tuition fees is just extending the fees introduced by Tony Blair. The implementation has been terrible, as the envisaged average fee has been exceeded by even the poorest Universities. This will cost the Government an extra £1 billion as they pay the fees upfront. Where will the money come from for this black hole, a few months into the plan? This level of fees was entirely predictable - demand outstrips supply for University places, so the even the worst Universities have a captive market. Basic supply and demand economics.

Free schools just extend the principles that created academies, another Tony Blair policy. Michael Gove's handling of the details and the delivery on the ground has been very poor.

On welfare reform, IDS over many years had really worked hard to develop an understanding on the failure of the welfare state. In Government, these plans required serious upfront investment to make the changes, supported across the political spectrum. In truth the investment hasn't been there to deliver the policy as originally conceived. What we are left with is cuts to the help required by the most needy.

In summary, the Conservatives are largely following the path begun by Tony Blair, but with very poor delivery and implementation. Barely big ideas, hardly credible.

One final note about 'The Big Society' - it is clear that most of the public don't have a clue what it means, and the work of the third sector in our communities has been totally hamstrung with the cuts to local government. Potentially, the most radical and biggest idea of the Conservatives, appears to be rather ethereal, to say the least.


Ed Miliband has said in a number of speeches after winning the leadership that New Labour is over.

However, it is clear that his blank page actually still bears the traces of New Labour. His leadership of the Labour Party is currently based on opposition to the Government's ideas, without indicating the direction of travel  he wishes to take. A long term policy review is under way, but some in party like myself, feel a drift. Ed drifts along the current, seeing what will turn up.

Ed has made his Shadow Chancellor accept the orthodoxy of deficit reduction without much criticism. He has also used language around choice, which tells me he while he hasn't used the terms third way and New Labour, his breath smells of them.

Labour is stood staring at the headlights of the 2015  Conservative General Election truck, as it races towards it. Ed shows no sign of making the radical reform of the Labour Party that it needs, breaking entirely into a new direction with big, radical ideas. If he carries on the 'will I' 'won't I' indecision on party direction, I'm afraid he will soon see George Osborne holding the truck's steering wheel with glee as it mows Labour down.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg's party is clutching onto the Coalition at one level, in a hideous death lock.

At the grass roots it is traumatised that the leadership is leading the party to electoral oblivion.

Before the Liberal Democrats can develop some serious and radical big ideas, they must face the voter's wrath. Only when it has picked up what is left of it after this battering can it move forward.


The Electorate of this country are desperate of an alternative to the Conservative/New Labour ideology. What our democracy needs is a well constructed approach that is different. New ideas that will help the underclass move from the trap that the free market has left them in, and promote real social mobility.

These ideas will be need to be big, radical and carefully crafted.

Sadly, no mainstream party is offering this.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Religious Freedom and Tolerance

Despite being a lifelong Atheist, I have always been interested in religious matters. Questions about the right to agree, or just as importantly to disagree, with someone else's beliefs yet retaining respect and tolerance, goes to the heart of freedom in a democracy. I have misquoted Voltaire as much as anyone on this matter. Some recent events have brought these issues to the forefront of my mind.

In France a law has been passed to make the wearing of a full Islamic head-covering illegal. France has a 'muscular' secularism, and because the law makers in France have decreed this type of clothing is 'illegal', the tiny minority who have chosen to follow this Islamic dress code face arrest.

Today, I heard Damien Green, Conservative Immigration Minister, talk about an issue with immigration as being the lack of a shared experience within the whole community creating tension.

The nature of the debate around the UK's Religious Freedoms has often been framed around fundamentalism in recent years, and in particular fundamental Islam. Since 9/11 the West has struggled to reconcile the freedom we enjoy with a sense that some within our society would wish to bring death and destruction to us.

I believe that the strength of a society's freedom can be measured by how well we tolerate minority views that we personally might not approve of. I am a vegetarian of 24 years, and personally think that killing animals for foods is unethical and distasteful. However, it is a view shared by a minority within society. I will gladly argue with anyone about the merits or otherwise of being a vegetarian or being a carnivore. Such disagreements must take place where both sides have a basic respect for each other and be tolerant of those who do not see the world in quite the same way as ourselves.

Muslim women in France live in a democracy, where the law should protect their right to choose. If a small number choose to follow a religious code that means they wear a head scarf, it is for them and not the State to judge that.

Back in Britain, we also have a choice. We should allow all people to practice a religion without the fear of discrimination.  Those forces that declare that because someone has a strong faith in Islam, it means they don't respect British values are wrong. British values are broad, reflecting the myriad of influences that have shaped our Nation, culture and language.

I have travelled across the world and one thing really strikes home – most people, whatever Country they live in, whatever religion they follow, want the same things. A safe home, a happy life and a healthy family.

Extremists are very small in number and are not representative. We must not let them change our core values, because if we do they have won.

So to anyone concerned about 'integration', just ask them to go out there and talk to their fellow citizens of other faiths, skin colour and ethnicity. They just might be surprised to discover they are no different to themselves underneath their skin or Burqa.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Grand National - When Will the Cruelty End?

Another Aintree meeting has finished, and yet again the nation was glued to the most famous horse race in the world, The Grand National. No other horse race has the power to get Grandmothers, Uncles, Mums and Dads to enter a betting shop quite like this race. It is estimated that £300 million is bet on the outcome.

So what makes this race so special? Firstly, it is over a mammoth four and a half miles - a real endurance test. Secondly, some of the fences are huge, so represent a real challenge for both horse and rider. Thirdly, winning the race relies on skilful jumping, physical endurance and more importantly, a bucket load of luck. The usual method of predicting a winner based on form is often no better than picking out a name you like or the the colour of the rider's silks. Fourthly, it has a record of producing 'emotive' winners, like Bob Champion recovering from cancer. 

Ballabriggs came in first, and the race reports concentrate on the winner. Sadly, barely earning a small paragraph at the bottom of these reports, Ornais and Dooneys Gate fell and were destroyed. The Daily Mirror report did not even name them.

Since the year 2000, 20 horses have died trying to complete the Aintree course. Over the longer period it claims the lives of around 3 horses every year.

This is totally unacceptable in animal welfare terms. We are told that the horses like racing and jumping, and wouldn't do it if they didn't want to. This entirely misses the point, in my opinion.

Race horses, like all animals, are not our objects to use for pleasure or our purposes as we see fit. We have a moral duty to protect all living creatures in our care, to protect them from harm. Would it be acceptable to allow your dog to enter a competition, where 5% of the animals taking part will get killed in the process? 


The metaphorical pile of dead horses piling up at Beeches Brook and The Chair surely tells us it time to stop the Grand National in it's current form, and if it can't be changed to radically reduce the risk of to the horses then it should come to an end entirely.

Animal Aid and other groups have been campaigning to this for some time. Please lobby your MP to do the right thing and end this barbarity.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Political Renewal - A Philosophical Approach - Socrates

I have been thinking a great deal about political philosophy in recent times.

Following May's Election defeat, Labour is searching for renewal. The philosophical basis on what this will be based on is currently unclear.

Traditionally political parties have based their philosophy on writers such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman and others. A thought occurred to me - What would Socrates make of current politics? How would Nietzsche view things?

I have looked at the position Labour finds itself in, and how the great thinkers might just have seen it. I will begin with Socrates

The Socratic Method

Socrates believed in the application of logic. Every policy would be examined to see what hypothetically it was intended to achieve. He would then ask questions about the assumptions present, and see if those assumptions are actually correct. Socrates was clear that many ideas that are considered to be common sense by the majority are based on incorrect assumptions that are taken for granted without a rigorous analysis. Contradictions would be eliminated - if the stated aim  was improve the incomes of those at the lowest levels, reducing income tax at the same time as increasing VAT would fail the test.

A practical upshot of this is that the well considered view of an expert, even if a minority view, should carry more weight than the unconsidered view of the majority. He would strongly support Quangos that are expert bodies advising the Government.

For instance, with regards to the Health Service, he would consult widely amongst Doctors and Nurses and others who directly deliver the service. He would no doubt have very little time for Civil Servants and Treasury Officials.

He would also give short shrift to Dogma. Any policy aimed at delivering an ideal that not evidentially provable as beneficial would soon be seen off.

Self Development not Material Wealth

He believed that we should aspire to self development, and working entirely for material wealth alone was not good for the individual or the community. Possessing wealth is not virtuous in itself.

Financial gain would need to lead to improvements in the person and the community for it to virtuous. I think that he would be keen to see the earnings of the very wealthy being directed to improvements for everyone, via better funding for education, housing and health care. Whether this would be achieved via philanthropy or taxation would probably be less important.

Policies that redistributed wealth from the rich to the poor would surely be Socratic. The value society places on education would also be enhanced. For instance, policies that broadened education, such as tertiary education for all regardless of background, would in his manifesto.


A Socratic approach to politics would be a technocratic meritocracy in my view. The view of the mass media would not hold much sway. The views of 1 million tabloid readers on a technical subject would probably be discarded for the small committee of experts. One could conclude that a Socratic Government would care less for listening to the electorate and more  for doing something well.

Whether such an approach would meet the modern democratic ideal is doubtful.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

It's no to AV for me

Here is a letter that I had published in the Batley News on the 24th February 2011:

Regarding the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum, May 2011, I would recommend that everyone looks closely at both systems, as I believe AV is being sold as something it isn’t.
First Past the Post (FPTP) is criticised for not being proportionate, but AV can be much worse. Using AV, in 1997 and 2005 Labour would have got even bigger majorities than under FPTP. In 1997 the majority would have been 245, not 179, 68 per cent of the seats with 43.2 per cent of the vote. In 2005 the majority would have been 108, not 66, 59 per cent of the seats with 35.2 per cent of the vote.
AV does not help small parties. The parties with fewest first preferences are eliminated first, so they have no more chance of winning seats than under FPTP. In addition, if for example, the Conservatives lose a seat because 2000 people voted UKIP, that is the sharpest political lesson. Under AV, the UKIP vote would probably go to the Conservatives as a later preference. Therefore, the effect of the UKIP first preference would be entirely wasted.
I support electoral reform - genuinely proportionate systems such as STV, AV plus or AMS could be really be transformative. However, we are not being offered a proportionate system.
AV does not solve any of the issues encountered with FPTP, but loses its key benefit - a clear simplicity. My tag line would be ‘AV - What is the point?’