This is pretty funny, but of course the first debate has so far proven to be a game-changer for the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg seems to have tapped into a deep resentment towards the last parliament – the worst in living memory – and towards politics in general, and as a result is riding at the top of some opinion polls. Time will tell what the effect of that will be, but I find it enormously exciting – if the Lib Dems hold the balance of power in 2 1/2 weeks then the rollback of the government’s authoritarian project, electoral reform and constitutional change get thrown to the top of the political agenda. Clegg may yet provide the most important jolt to British politics in generations, and my fingers remain tightly crossed. Interestingly Labour have now started codedly to woo Clegg:
Lord Mandelson, who heads Labour’s campaign, criticised some Liberal Democrat policies but made clear that a coalition government would not be a disaster. It is the first time a senior Labour figure has spoken about a Lib-Lab coalition, in which Liberal Democrats would sit in a Brown Cabinet. In a memo to Labour members, Lord Mandelson said: “I am not against coalition government in principle and for Britain, anything would be better than a Cameron-Osborne government.”
The Secretary of State for Business said a two-party government would not be so stable without a “big unifying challenge”. He named that as constitutional change, urging Liberal Democrat supporters in 100 or so Labour-Tory marginal seats to vote Labour to secure reform of the voting system for Westminster. He predicted, however, that the voters would turn away from their current “flirtation” with Mr Clegg.
I think some will turn away from Clegg, as people reach for what they know when they reach the ballot box. But I’ve been saying for a long time now that the two main parties have completely underestimated the electorate’s hatred for politics as usual, and to offer only that at this general election could yet prove fatal for either of them.
My question is whether that even matters, if the big breakthrough needed for constitutional change, parliamentary reform and a rollback of the authoritarian project is achieved. Peter McHugh, former director of programmes at GMTV disagrees:
It was Question Time without the fire and brimstone.
And as for the show, News at Ten also managed to tell us that the debate was exciting and that we learnt lots from the 90 minutes. News at Ten told us that in three minutes, but left out the 87 minutes of irrelevance around it.
One thing for me is certain – somebody has got to look at the rules, because this programme was as sterile as the set on Holby City.
You couldn’t say for certain the audience were in the same studio. It was 40 minutes before David got in a mention about his wife’s pregnancy, but it was 9.17pm before he finally showed emotion and Gordon displayed the rictus grin.
Was it style over substance then?
Hmm. That certainly was the risk – the presidentialisation of British politics isn’t actually desirable after all. I haven’t yet watched it, but most of the accounts I heard suggested that Clegg walked it. With that being true, this result is an absolute bombshell:
johnrentoul ComRes/ITV: CON 36 (-3), LDEM 35 (+14), LAB 24 (-3) But note polling among 4,000 people who watched the debate with view to being asked opn
The rider underneath is extremely important but this result has still already acted as a nuclear explosion underneath a campaign which hadn’t fired even the parties’ bases up. It’s true that the first debate didn’t lead to any broader a look at each parties’ policies, that much of the change of opinion appears to be based on non-political, cosmetic issues. But what if this result were even partially replicated across the board? The two ‘big’ parties would finally start having to look at what was driving ‘their’ voters to the Lib Dems, and said constitutional change, parliamentary reform and rollback of the authoritarian project might actually become critical election issues. Particularly so when:
That is so far the most important conclusion to be drawn either from today’s first polling result or last night’s snap polls. First-past-the-post might finally be proven to the majority not to reflect their views fairly. Even if were the only outcome from the first debate, it would have to go down as an unqualified success. Perhaps the argument of style over substance is too simplistic after all.
Astonishingly the long arm of the #DEAct has affected the digital aftermath of the #leadersdebate last night on ITV1:
ITV has tonight blocked anyone from uploading footage from the Leaders debates to YouTube because it may violate their own copyright.
Instead, viewers are forced to watch clips from ITV’s own archive on YouTube. Even short short clips of several seconds have been taken off.
I’d be interested in someone putting a flattering clip from last night up of Gordon Brown, and then see if material which would be beneficial to the Prime Minister (and to democracy in general) is still banned on ‘copyright’ grounds. The irony would be overwhelming – truly hoist to his own petard.
I didn’t watch it last night, but of course the entire debate is available above. What were your thoughts on the evening’s proceedings? Appalled by the presidentialisation of British politics? Thrilled at Clegg’s performance, which may yet transform the entire contest?
Now I love Eddie Izzard – really really love him – but…
It’s an appalling fudge. Noone can fault Eddie for what his values are, nor for what he saw and experienced in his multi-marathon adventure across Britain last year. But he talks about Labour as a party ‘founded on fairness’, and immediately shoots himself in the foot. Control orders – are they fair? What about ID cards? The Independent Safeguarding Authority – who’s that fair to? A policy of destituting asylum seekers and jailing ‘failed’ asylum seekers’ children – I’m not quite sure that’s fair. Were the police fair when they beat protesters and killed Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protest? How’s about the Tamils’ protest soon after when they attacked women (I’ve seen the video)?
He talks about compassion, but where’s the compassion in pre-criminalising protesters on secret databases, on holding DNA profiles of entirely innocent people, children amongst them? Was it compassionate to invade Iraq, when there was no evidence of WMD? He talks about community too, but how is it fair to promise to slash public services for the poorest in society when a Robin Hood (or Tobin) Tax could recoup money from those who caused the economic crisis in the first place? Was Labour’s utter dismissal of the online campaign by tens of thousands of people to hold back the Digital Economy Bill a demonstration of ‘community’ support?
Is Eddie unaware of these issues or does he really think they don’t matter?
The man who wants to be Prime Minister isn’t above the odd terminological inexactitude, any more than the incumbent. From his article today in The Times:
So instead, we are asking you to join in the government of your nation. We want everyone to get involved in the running of their country. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you want — we are offering you a heartfelt invitation to join with us and help change Britain for the better.
What an absolute fraud. As Graham Linehan on Twitter says:
A week ago, MPs ignored thousands of people who wanted a proper debate on #debill. Now, they want us to “get involved”. They can go hang.
They can indeed. New Labour promises ‘power back in your hands’:
The people will be given ‘the power to decide’ how to make parliament more ‘accountable’ and ‘democratic’, they say. Another utter fraud. They’ve already had their opportunity to be accountable and democratic, tens of thousands of us asked them to and almost to a number they refused. This general election is a whole lot of hot air – meaningless promises offering nothing to anyone. What we need is a proportional voting system. What we need is an elected Senate to replace the House of Lords. What we need is fixed term parliaments to remove the need for ‘wash up’ periods. What we need is new blood coming into the Commons who aren’t career politicians. What we don’t need is yet more platitudes about how we should ‘get involved’, but Cameron more than Brown has no interest in relinquishing the power necessary for that to mean anything.
This is what is known on t’internet as a #fail. A future built on Green and digital industries? Vestas anyone? Digital Economy Bill? More police on the beat, yet less accountable than ever before, and more frequently a law unto themselves. Voicing opinions more than once every five years? Why then such strident attacks on protest and photographers; why ignore mass protests like the campaign against the Digital Economy Bill? If people’s opinions really are that important why kick the referendum on voting reform into touch? And where’s a fully elected Senate to replace the House of Lords? Do these people think we’re idiots?!
If by some miracle New Labour manages to get re-elected again based on this, we’re going to Hell sooner than I’d imagined…
Hear Gorvid Camerown explain why youll be voting Labservative at the General Election.
Following yesterday’s ban on the ‘legal high’ mephedrone, Britain’s Labour Party has today declared itself illegal as part of an ongoing crackdown on readily-available ‘dangerous governments’.
The controversial political organisation – which has been linked to numerous tragic pieces of legislation during the last thirteen years – will tomorrow be upgraded to a Class ‘B’ party.
The ban comes as a welcome relief to millions of disillusioned Labour supporters, who accuse Tony Blair and Gordon Brown of telling them “how high we’d get if we voted Labour – but not how low”.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson told a packed press conference this morning: “I have consulted with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Political Parties, and on their recommendation I am rushing through a law that will make my government illegal, at roughly tea-time tomorrow.”
“This legislation will also enshrine a generic definition to stop unscrupulous politicians peddling different but equally harmful political parties, such as the Conservatives,” he continued.
But Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg condemned the move as a cynical ploy to win the ‘junkie’ vote and edge his own party out of the reckoning.
“Until today, Labour and Tory politicians alike could talk to the smackheads’ hands, but the smackheads’ faces weren’t listening,” he said.
“Now, every bloody mephedrone-honking hoodied scally will be gagging for their illicit fix of two-party state shit – and we Lib-Dems will be consigned to the terminally unhip dustbin of staid and proper legality.”
“I daren’t canvass in da ghettoes after dis, innit,” he simpered, in what he genuinely believed to be a convincing stab at urban vernacular.
Meanwhile Conservative leader David Cameron welcomed the ban, but described it as “long overdue”.
“If this legislation had been in force in the 1970s we’d have been spared the tragedy of Thatcher, Heseltine, Howe, Lawson, Bottomley, Archer, Howard, Patten, Portillo, Major, Blair, Prescott, Cook, Mandelson, Campbell, Blunkett, Smith, Balls, Miliband, Miliband and Johnson,” he said.
“Or then again, maybe not. You know what UK voters are like when they’re off their faces on miaow-miaow.”
Brendan O’Neill argues that the authoritarian New Labour project had it’s origins in the aftermath of two year old James Bulger’s murder in 1993:
For the changing Labour Party and its supporters in the media and the intelligentsia, the murder of Bulger became powerfully symbolic – of out-of-control communities, of the rise of individualism at the cost of community solidarity, and primarily of the dangers of ‘too much freedom’. It is striking that it was Tony Blair, who was then shadow home secretary but would later, of course, become the colossus of New Labour, who most keenly exploited the Bulger tragedy. For him, the killing was not a mercifully rare or inexplicable occurrence, but a ‘hammer blow struck against the sleeping conscience of the country, urging us to wake up and look unflinchingly at what we see’.
What Blair and his supporters saw was a society that needed more ‘order’ and ‘respect’ – his two favourite buzzwords of the time. The killing of Bulger revealed a ‘moral vacuum’, said Blair in 1993, and ‘if we do not learn and then teach the value of what is right and what is wrong, the result is simply moral chaos, which engulfs us all’. Blair had already been presenting New-ish Labour as the true party of tackling crime (he made his famous promise to be ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ just a month before Bulger was murdered) and as one sympathetic biographer points out, the Bulger killing finally showed that Labour ‘had taken the issue of law and order away from the Conservatives and made it part of the Labour agenda’.
It’s a strong and unsettling piece of analysis, particularly the line about ‘too much freedom’. In the last 13 years New Labour has used that implied excess to justify its entire authoritarian experiment, from underpinning its identity strategy to attempting to lock people up for 42 days without charge, to justifying the Digital Economy Bill. Because there haven’t been mass protests in the streets, because the tabloids aren’t currently campaigning against the Independent Safeguarding Authority, you have to assume Blair got it right, at least in electoral terms. There does appear to be an attitude that ‘too much freedom’ is a bad thing, which just manages to justify the surveillance state, despite continuing potshots taken against it. O’Neill is right when he later describes the whole ‘rights and responsibilities’ narrative: obedience to the state before you are allowed to access constitutional basics which had previously been sacrosanct. It’s not how the modern state has ever operated before, but at least New Labour is winning against evil teens and pre-teens, and then the bogeymen it’s developed since: paedophiles, terrorists and ‘pirates’; order is everything, and who’s to know it’s all a fraud?
Through the permanent demonisation of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson New Labour has managed to convince us that there are people in our midst who are fundamentally evil, whom we need absolute protection from. The ISA, ID cards, the Digital Economy Bill, you name it, the name of the game is to protect through subjugation. It’s an equation which has proven successful in different ways in Russia, China, Singapore, even the United States (Patriot Act anyone?), and given the right-wing dominance over the press in this country I don’t see it coming apart any time soon.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has unveiled New Labour’s five ‘key’ election pledges, repeating a scam they’ve tried in previous elections, and in this case completely missing the point:
Gordon Brown has unveiled Labour‘s key election pledges, promising a re-elected Labour government would help create a million skilled jobs, a state-funded citizens’ right to take antisocial offenders to court and “the largest set of constitutional reforms this country has ever seen”.
The Labour pledges, to be enshrined in a new pledge card, will be readily enforceable. The first of the five pledges is to secure economic recovery, halving the current £167bn budget deficit.
The second is to raise family living standards – with low mortgage rates, increased tax credits for families with young children, helping first-time buyers and relinking the state pension with earnings from 2012.
The third is to build a hi-tech economy through support for businesses and industry in creating a million new skilled jobs and the delivery of high-speed rail, a green investment bank and broadband access for all.
The fourth is to protect frontline investment in policing, schools, childcare and the NHS – with a new guarantee of cancer test results within a week.
The fifth pledge is to strengthen fairness in communities through controlled immigration, guarantees of education, apprenticeships and jobs for young people and a crackdown on antisocial behaviour – with victims entitled to take out civil injunctions, funded by the local public authority, if the police are not taking action within a set time.
His hubris is unbelievable. ‘Securing’ economic recovery? Try massive slashing of public spending (which Alistair Darling this week admitted will be ‘worse than Thatcher’), instead of a Robin Hood tax. Raising family living standards? Well that’s fine, but will there be a high pay commission, to help stop the unprecedented acceleration of the rich and super rich away from the poor? He offers a ‘high-tech’ economy, yet whilst promising broadband access for all is ramming through draconian legislation which would take it right back again. Where’s the environment in this, and for that matter why not a green New Deal to transform our economy, which would prove to developing countries like China and India that cuts we demand of them are actually achievable and desirable?
Brown promises to ‘protect frontline investment’ in public services, yet throughout his tenures as Chancellor and Prime Minister has failed to grasp that throwing money at public services has only solved half the problem. And he fails to mention the horrific spending cuts he’s imposing on universities, which will destroy his party’s pledge to get 50% of young people into higher education, and gut existing services. I’m not going to dignify pledge five with much time. Talk about playing to the BNP. And what about making a pledge against poverty, what about enforcing minimum pricing on alcohol, and what about actually pledging what the government should be pledging?
They could apologise for their authoritarian experiment, for the attacks on photographers and demonisation of protesters, or promise to protect civil liberties and the rule of law. They could pledge not to force people to prove (at their cost) they aren’t paedophiles in order merely to get work. They could kill Trident, the ID cards programme, abide by the European Court’s ruling on the DNA database, abandon the Digital Economy Bill or offer a more proportional voting system. Notably none of these things is even hinted at. At the Progressive London conference in February Harriet Harman was pointedly asked to name a single new progressive policy which New Labour could offer to renew people’s engagement in politics; she refused. They’re still refusing and will pay a heavy electoral price.
The Labour Party has released an advert which attacks David Cameron’s policies on crime. No surprise there you might say, we’re in a pre-election period after all, but what’s done in the video below is actually quite sinister. They present their authoritarian project as absolute and unquestionable – our streets are so unsafe that any human rights-breaching use of the National DNA Database or overextension of CCTV (how many actually work, and how effective is it statistically in either reducing crime or prosecuting it?) are prices worth paying. Cameron standing against Labour’s surveillance society’s and database state’s human rights breaches makes him somehow weak and pro-criminal. This video makes me absolutely furious, but it does help in knowing once and for all that their position isn’t accidental; it’s tactical.
Where’s the evidence that retaining DNA profiles of innocent people on the scale (and without any debate) perpetrated by the Home Office has actually led to more matches and more convictions? Oh there isn’t any. But hey vote Labour folks, after all they have policies which may breach human rights, but they make you safer. Except they don’t. Instead we have police forces which fail adequately to protect the public, but admitting to that wouldn’t be a vote winner in marginal seats. This started out as a government committed to human rights; its third attempt at retaining power proves it’s now more interested in power. That’s something we should be afraid of. New Labour, New Danger.
Henry Porter makes an excellent point – neither of the Big Two major political parties in Britain is talking at all about civil liberties or human rights in the run-up to the general election the month after next. Remember this is the election where we can thoroughly repudiate this authoritarian government’s surveillance agenda, and refuse to vote for anyone who doesn’t guarantee to repeal it:
It is [also] a very dangerous government – it has attacked liberty and rights like no other administration in the past hundred years, and it will continue to do so unless stopped by the electorate in 70 days’ time, for the one area which requires absolutely no skill at all is the creation of new offences, the erosion of ancient liberties and filling our lives with endless checking, vetting and surveillance.
Cameron has spoken about these things in the past but this great issue is not apparently big enough to be one of the main themes of an election campaign in which so much is obviously at stake. The only conclusion to draw is that the Tories believe either this is not important, or that the public don’t think it is important. I am not sure which puts them in a worse light because the first displays shallowness, while the second a lack of leadership.
The Tories have rejected changing the voting system and they’re uninterested in talking seriously about civil liberties – this mustn’t be an election about personalities, nor must it be reduced to who can cut public services and how fast. It must be about repairing the social damage caused by New Labour, and proving to all the major parties that the trade-off between security and liberty is a false one.
I shall be voting Green, because they have a strong chance of removing the government minister who doesn’t represent me in any way, shape or form. You should be voting for parties which are against ID cards, think vetting the population for paedophilia before being allowed to work is unthinkably wrong, which don’t demonise asylum seekers (or lock up their children), and which couldn’t condone throwing people off the internet without a trial, or secretly banning websites they don’t like. If the Tories don’t start talking all of these abuses down (and more), you can’t vote for them merely to get Brown, Straw, Johnson, Balls et al out, because they clearly won’t have any intention to do any better. The database state and state surveillance culture must be stopped – this is your best chance to take a stand and make it happen.
Gordon Brown wrote this morning for the Guardian. He might as well not have bothered:
I am proud of Labour’s record in reducing poverty, improving public services and limiting inequality – in the last 13 years we have done more than any government to tackle poverty, and raised 500,000 children and 900,000 pensioners out of poverty.
Erm withdrawing the 10p tax band? Allowing the extraordinarily rich to get even more rich, at a much faster rate than anyone has been taken out of poverty? He seems to have forgotten his own raid on pensions early in his reign as Chancellor too. Quite appalling.
As we address climate change, we will see a wave of low-carbon industrialisation in the UK as well as the rise of new professional service-sector jobs.
As you address climate change? Third runway at Heathrow? The Vestas fiasco on the Isle-of-Wight? How is that addressing climate change? Where is the low-carbon industrialisation?
We will rapidly make Britain a leading world power in digital industries, introducing the fastest possible broadband system in every part of the country to benefit every business and household.
And in the same bill Peter Mandelson is trying to enshrine the right of government to block any website it chooses, at any time, in secret and without needing a reason. Is that really taking a lead? It’s despotism.
It is increasingly clear that the Conservatives want to remove the security and protection of guaranteed, strong, universal services on which all can rely and in which each has a stake.
I don’t think he wants to see the City Academies’ track records scrutinised too closely. I don’t think he wants to talk about Foundation Hospitals either. And he clearly doesn’t want to talk about universities, whose budgets he’s about to slash, and whose standards have been dumbed down by his and Blair’s insane belief that setting a target of 50% of all school leavers to attend university would lead to increased social mobility. Why bother having universal services if they’re simply crap? Let’s not talk about PFIs either – we’d rather keep that invisible too.
Brown has got to be joking if he expects to win in May on his record (and notice how civil liberties aren’t even obliquely mentioned). And it would have to be on his record, given the complete absence of new ideas in this piece. Fairness? Tell that to asylum seekers and their children. Tell it to people barred from work when the ISA thinks they’re undesirable to work with ‘vulnerable people’ (which is pretty much anyone if you think about it). Tell it to the working class people who can’t get (or keep) jobs because the neoliberal economic system and EU deregulation is allowing foreign workers to get paid even less than them and take their jobs. No, the Tories won’t be better – David Cameron would be much worse, for all sorts of reasons (some of which I’ll mention in a blog post later today), but this man’s record is a disgrace. Do we really want more of the same?
We have a budget deficit of about £178 billion, but New Labour can still find the money to keep locking people up:
The £4.24bn bill for the government’s prison building programme is unsustainable and the cash would be better spent on rehabilitation and prevention so as to cut crime, says a Commons select committee report on justice published tomorrow.
The MPs say the prison building scheme is at present a “costly mistake” that will take jail capacity in England and Wales to 96,000 by 2014, making it the prison capital of western Europe.
The report, Cutting Crime: the Case for Justice Reinvestment, is based on a two-year inquiry by a cross-party group of MPs. It discloses that the £4.24bn cost of creating 10,000 extra prisoner places by 2014, from 86,000, has “more or less been guaranteed by the Treasury” regardless of the coming squeeze on public spending.
The MPs claim the government “is wedded to a prison-building agenda” despite overwhelming evidence showing jail is not the most effective way of reducing reoffending for many people. At the same time the justice ministry is being asked to make £1.3bn of cost savings.
“This forecast represents an incarceration rate of 169 per 100,000 in England and Wales, the highest proportion in western Europe,” says the report. It estimates that the annual cost of keeping someone in jail has reached £40,000 a year per prisoner.
So the government’s authoritarian agenda doesn’t look set to disappear any time soon. Ironic really that they were elected in the first place, considering a ‘lock em up’ policy was one of the many hated by the electorate of the previous Tory administration, and Simon Jenkins shows the scale of the explosion in criminalisation under New Labour:
Labour has created more than 3,000 new offences since 1997, of which 1,472 at the last count were imprisonable. You can go to jail in Britain for not having a licence for a church concert, smoking in a public place, selling a grey squirrel, trans-shipping unlicensed fish, or disobeying a health and safety inspector. In many cases a prison sentence is casually tacked on the end of a statute, like some macho cherry on a cake. Parliamentarians, judges, lawyers, prison officers all complain of overwork – but complain all the way to the bank.
When the justice select committee acknowledges that jail doesn’t work in reducing reoffending, it begs the question why the Home Office should remain so resolute about chucking so many people in jail, particularly when they can’t afford it. New Labour really no longer gives a toss about being tough on the causes of crime. The reason why is clear: cowardice. The Daily HateMail’s response to the report:
The prison population should be slashed by a third – putting 28,000 offenders back on the streets, according to a group of MPs.
The justice select committee says Britain will have 96,000 prisoners by 2014 – the highest incarceration rate in western Europe – but spending £4.2billion on building the extra 12,000 prison places needed is a ‘mistake’.
The committee wants the prison population to be stabilised at its current level of 84,000 – then slashed by a third.
It would leave 56,000 inmates in jail and put 28,000 criminals on the streets.
They’re terrified of being seen as soft on crime, or at least as being portrayed by the nastiest tabloid as being soft on crime, and 12 years later are as paranoid as ever. I mean why not just explain why it’s not a good idea, stand by the argument and prove it by example? The Right manage to do that with their ideology (even though they never succeed in proving it by example), so why can’t the Left, when they actually could demonstrate the truth of their argument? Why continue to try to outflank the Right by being rightist?
The Spectator picks this from the Climate Change Secretary’s Observer article:
Let’s start, as our manifesto will, with what the country needs in the coming five years. It can’t be about business as usual. We need to rebuild our economy in a different way from the past, with more jobs in real engineering not just financial engineering. This economy of the future can only be created if we understand the role of government, complementing the private sector, in making it happen, nurturing industries from digital to low carbon. The last thing Britain needs is a government that thinks its only role is to get out of the way.
This is true of so many of the issues our country faces: climate change, reforming social care, getting more young people a good education, dealing with crime and antisocial behaviour. All require a party that believes in the power of collective action.
What’s the point of the article, they ask? I think the answer’s obvious. Ed’s prepared to weather the oncoming storm, and set out a no-nonsense stall for the leadership post-general election clamity. He’s articulated a new political thinking – it’s threadbare, sure, but there’s a cohesion to what he’s suggesting which is not what is coming either from Brown or the cabinet. My money is still on Ed Miliband to lead the Labour Party in opposition, which if he plays his cards right could be quite brief. There’s no love for Cameron out there, and I’m going to guess his majority will be slim. On contentious issues like the repeal of the Human Rights Act he may well find himself at the painful end of a vote of no confidence. That’s the time at which David Miliband would fail to strike – leaving the question: what about Ed?
My question remains – if he has any intention of providing governmental solutions by ‘collective action’, will it be by authoritarian diktat or will he enable the individual freedom needed in order to achieve them? New Labour decided it would force people to behave as it wanted in every conceivable sphere – what follows will have to decide to undo that mentality. If a Miliband shadow administration were prepared not to kowtow to every corporate interest coming its way, it may the first one in some time with something positive to offer. Time will tell.