Saturday 28 December 2019


It is now  a given of UK politics that whoever Labour elects as its leader, he or she will be scorned, derided, misrepresented, mocked and denigrated by the 80% of our press that supports the Tories.

In my own adult lifetime Harold Wilson was patronised  for having been a King's Scout, liking HP sauce and apparently decorating a wall inside No 10 with a flight of pottery ducks.  Michael Foot was ridiculed for wearing a reefer jacket (rather than a morning coat) at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.  Neil Kinnock was routinely derided as a "Welsh Windbag."  Ed Milliband  was pilloried for having a Marxist father and inelegantly eating bacon sandwich (hint, hint, he's actually Jewish so should not be eating bacon). *

First prize for having opprobrium dumped on him must go to poor Jeremy Corbyn for having a beard, working an allotment, talking to Irish Terrorists (as did negotiators on behalf of Mrs Thatcher) and whose views on the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians were routinely distorted as being Anti-Semitic.

And the muck stuck.

Whatever conclusions the Labour Party reaches in its inquiries into their defeat, there can be no doubt that the "unsuitability, " to put it mildly,  of Mr Corbyn as prime minister will be top of the bill.

Yet the flaws in the character, actions and opinions of Mr Johnson, which make him completely unfit to be prime minister, were somehow brushed aside or ignored, even though they were publicly identified by leading members of his own party.

If their main priority was to retain power, as opposed to the good of the country, Troy MPs in the last parliament were right to put Johnson on the slate for election as their leader.  Whatever his flaws he had "electability" and had proved it in twice winning the Mayoralty of London,  normally  a Labour-leaning city, and in maintaining a 10 point lead it the opinion polls.

In the four years he has been Labour leader I have tended to admire Mr Corbyn as an honest and decent man who on  issues from the Iraq war to the rights of the Chagos Islanders has been usually right. True he does not seem to have been much good as a party manager or resolver of internal disputes,but I did not expect the electorate to swallow the poison poured on him to the extent that they did.

However, it now seems that the Labour MPs of the last parliament were right.  What I saw then as an unhelpful stab in the back was in fact a realisation that he made the party unelectable and so they tried to get rid of him.

Which leads me, reluctantly, to the conclusion that we maybe need to go backwards, take away the right of party members to choose the leaders, and return it to the MPs.

Whether there is in the ranks of current Labour MPs anyone with a background so saintly as to be impervious to right wing bile I doubt, but from the outside Keir Starmer seems a good bet.  I'm also intrigued by the possibility of David  Lammy, I think the only MP outside my own constituency and party to whom I've ever written (urging him to take on the leadership of the Remain campaign - sadly he didn't bite.)

*Tony Blair seems to have escaped, and Liberal Democrat leaders don't attract such a high profile, though in the brief period of Cleggmania in 2010 the Daily Mail was quick to point our that he had a Russian grandparent,and, not only that, was married to a foreigner!

Sunday 22 December 2019

Thus we are heirs of endless woes . . .*

We are now ten days into the unfettered reign of Mr Johnson and his cohort and there are no surprises: the outlook is as gloomy as predicted.

The programme announced in Parliament omits the promised protection of employment rights as we leave the EU,  there is to be no compassionate treatment of refugee children and the promised increase to £10 per hour in the minimum wage will only happen "if economic circumstances permit."

Parliamentary scrutiny  of the negotiations with the EU re our future is to be severely restricted, the government is to reserve to itself "Henry VIII powers," the Fixed Term Parliament Act is to be repealed and the constitution itself to be reviewed, presumably to increase the powers of the executive and reduce the powers of the courts.

This is not our sovereign parliament "taking back control" but a power-hungry executive with the interests of only a privileged few at its heart.

With a parliamentary majority of 80 the Opposition parties can bleat and tub-thump to their hearts content, but there's not much they can do about it.  This lot are impervious to shame.  My friend John Cole, a former Liberal Democrat councillor in Bradford, quotes from Liz Gerrard in the New European (16th December}

"This isn't about whether the government is Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green.  It isn't about Leave or Remain.  It is about allowing our society to be  built on lies, deceit and dishonesty."

In the short run, the government may be quite popular if it does implement some of the much desired public investment in the North and North East.  This will have the Keynesian multiplier effect that this blog, among other has been advocating for years.

But very little if anything that we'd like to do for our country will be made easier outside the EU than it would have been had we remained in.  The Remain campaign has been mistaken in talking about a "cliff edge." The effect of our departure on the economy will be much more akin to a slow puncture.  And, of course, we have already lost much international prestige and become something of a laughing-stock.

With his 80 seat majority Johnson claims democratic legitimacy for his policies, but, as so often , the facts when scrutinised don't bear this out.  Even in this general election 52.7% of those who voted did so for parties (Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP) who advocated either remaining in the EU or putting the matter to a People's Vote.  Only 47.3% voted for parties (Conservative or Brexit) determined to leave.

One thing that desperately needs reforming is our electoral system so that such distortions are reduced if not entirely eliminated.  We must hope that whoever is elected leader of the Labour Party is open to working with others, preferably on a whole range of issues, but at least on electoral reform.

In the meantime, we must grin and bear the pain of rampant Tory-ism.  Easy for the comfortable such as myself. Terrifying for the homeless, the disabled, the struggling, those serving in the gig economy and those without adequate pensions.

*  The title is a line from the Shropshire Carol which begins:  This is the truth went from above.

Thursday 12 December 2019

Lest we forget.

I was born in 1937, have taken a serious interest in all the general elections of my adult life, and fought as a Liberal Liberal Democrat candidate in four of them.  I write this on the 2019 election day and before the results begin to emerge.  Whatever they are, whilst no election campaign has quite reached the level of honesty and nobility that my Boy Scout upbringing would require, this has been the nastiest, dirtiest most dishonest and ignoble yet.  It beggars belief that, after 70+ years of universal secondary education ++ our society, our civilisation, our aspirations, could have sunk so low..

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but based on things I have noted in the past four months or so.

  • It is difficult to date the start of the rot, but a significant step was when the 300 or so Conservative MPs in the last parliament, most of whom are probably decent men and women who genuinely feel  they want the best for the country and the world, put an incompetent, lying chancer  such as Johnson on the ballot paper for the Leadership of their party.  They did this because they thought he would be an election winner, and it looks as though they may be proved right.  But they should have known better.  They are mostly serious politicians and, apart from a delusioned small clique, know the the country's best interests are to remain in the EU.  But they put their integrity aside to preserve their seats.  Birthright for a mess of pottage comes to mind.
  • This same Johnson and his team illegally, attempted to prorogue parliament in order to stifle discussion of their EU Withdrawal Deal.
  • Constitutional meddling continued when the Monarch was forced into a pantomime of delivering a "Speech from the Throne" which everyone, including presumably the Queen, knew was a pointless charade.
  • When forced by the Supreme Court to continue the parliament, Johnson attempted to confine discussion of his  Withdrawal Bill, possibly the most important piece of proposed legislation for half a century, to only three days.
  • When about 20 of the more decent Tories voted against his machinations he expelled them from the parliamentary party.  So many of them, and the former leader Sir John Major, have publicly said he is not fit to be PM and urged Conservative voters to support other parties.
  • In the first few days after the election was called Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of Johnson's closest allies and a leading , if not the leading, Brexiteer, claimed that the Grenfell Tower residents who died in the fire did so because they lacked  "common sense " in obeying what were then standard fire fighters' instructions.  We have  seen and heard little of him since.
  • A report on possible  Russian interference in the 2016 Referendum campaign has been kept under wraps for the duration of the campaign (and possibly beyond). Why?  Because if there were such interference if would  demonstrate even further that the 2016 referendum result and all that guff about "17.4 million voters" and the "will of the people" is invalid?
  • It is alleged that the Brexit Party were persuaded to withdraw from fighting in Tory-held seats by the offers of peerages and other bribes.  Denied of course, but Anne Widdecombe, a devout Roman Catholic, is prepared to swear that it's true.  A peerage for Nigel Farage? Really?
  • After a key debate in the campaign Conservative Central office rebranded its Twitter account to appear that it was an independent source of factuality - FACTCHECK UK.  A contribution to "fake news."
  • Johnson failed to join the other party leaders in a debate on the Climate Crisis.
  • Having presumably given the impression that he would, Johnson refused to be interviewed on the BBC by Andrew Neal, reputedly the toughest of the interlocutors.
There have ben other incidents which, by happenstance or engineering, have made life more difficult for the opposition parties.

  • There was an  intervention by the Chief Rabbi which basically called on Jews not to vote Labour. This was timed for a day on which the Labour Party issued some policies on faith matters and was presumably timed to distract from anything positive that was said. There was also the publication of some evidence to an official enquiry on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.  The Chief Rabbi's intervention is unprecedented for any religious leader.  Did the "evidence" to the enquiry have to be published  in the middle of the campaign when most potentially sensitive political material is embargoed?  I am not and never have been a member of the Labour Party so I cannot comment with authority, but I suspect that much of the disquiet arises from opposition to the policies of the Israeli government rather than genuine disrespect for Jews. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that both intervention and publication are party politically motivated.
  • The resignation of Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party on the day campaigning started was something that Corbyn and the current mainstream Labour Party could have done without.  I believe Watson resigned  for health reasons, but the timing was unfortunate.
  • The BBC has been criticised, I think justifiably, for being over-kind to the Tories.  In a news item they cut out the derisive laughter one of Johns's replies to a question in public engendered, and replaced his fudged laying of the government wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday with another version.  They allowed him to be interviewed by the less aggressive Andrew Marr "in the national interest! after the London Bridge killings, having said thy would refuse him such air time unless he appeared with Andrew Neal
  • All the media spent much more time and pages of ink on the alleged sexual activities  of Prince Andrew and  Virginia Roberts than they did on Johnson and his alleged  favourable financial  treatment of Jennifer Arcuri, a one time girlfriend, or, for that matter, any other Johnson affairs.
  • It is reported today that the BBC chief political correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, thought by most of us on the left to be over-right wing, has "leaked" the news that the opening of the postal votes seems to indicate "grim news" for Labour.  Revealing postal votes before the close of poll is meant to be illegal. Another key figure in BBC political reporting is Nick Robinson, who was President of Oxford University Conservative Association in his youth.
  • On the plus side, the BBC and other media seem to me to have been more generous than usual with coverage of we Liberal Democrats.
And finally:

  • Some would claim that this winter election was triggered by collusion between the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists in allowing Johnson to call an election with a simple majority in the Commons rather than the two-thirds required by the Fixed Term Parliament Act.  Whatever the result, serves us right? 
  • On the other hand that 19 Labour MPs led by Stephen Kinnock voted FOR Johnson's Withdrawal Bill meant that hopes of gaining a confirmatory referendum in the last parliament had expired.
We shall see how the "blame game" develops.

What is ironic is that, apparently, the   best we Pro- Europeans can hope for in this election is another parliament without a Tory majority, which is what we had six weeks ago.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Pre-election final thoughts

First, two  gems I've heard in the past few days:

1.  From the joint leader of the Greens, Jonathan Bartley,  on a radio "Question Time" last night: "If the environment were a bank it would have been rescued already."

Yes indeed: the powers that be rushed to rescue the financial system - and don't forget it was Gordon Brown who led the world in this in 2008, though the Tories aren't too keen on acknowledging it.  One at least is still peddling the lie that  the UK Labour Party were responsible for causing the world financial crisis.  Be that as it may, the climate crisis has until now received no such urgent action.  Welcome to XR and Greta Thunberg: they have so far proved the only game changers in this election.

2. Words to the effect that: "The Labour Party have been unveiling goodies like some sort of political Advent calendar."

I think this has been a major mistake by Labour. 

I suspect most Liberal Democrats are happy to go along with most of their policies, though we might express them differently -  for example taking back into "public ownership" rather than  top down  "Nationalisation" such as the energy suppliers and railways, and putting more emphasis on consumer and employee participation.
But does it all need to be free, and does it all need to be done at once? 

For example, does super- duper broadband need to be free from the start? The earlier form of distance communication, the postal service, had to be paid for, and a 1d (that's a penny, hence Penny Post)  was quite a whack in those days.  And, as I've argued in earlier pasts, not every pensioner needs a free TV Licence.  Nor do many WASPI  women whose pensions have been delayed need compensation, or every primary school child need a free breakfast provided by the state.  

Yes, I know the arguments for universality, but it doesn't all have to be done at once, which is the impression the Labour (panic?) announcements give.

One economic commentator has said that although all political parties now seem to have rediscovered the benefits of Keynesianism, much of the electorate has still to catch up.  "Where's the money coming from?" is a common reaction,  and Labour's promises are not seen to be credible.

Talking of Advent: the readings in mainstream Christian Churches last Sunday, the Second in Advent (year A) were  from Psalm 72, and St Matthew 3vv 1-12

Psalm 72 asks God to bless the ruler (the king in the psalm: for today read "political leaders") with "justice" and "righteousness."  He is (they are) to "judge the people according to right and to defend the poor."  

For good measure rulers are to  "defend the children of the poor" as well, and "bring peace."

Oh, and "punish the wrong doer. " 

  I  suppose the Tories would go along with he last bit (provided it's not a banker, or, indeed, a philanderer and  deceiver )

In the passage from St Matthew's  Gospel John the Baptist exhorts both rulers and the rest of us to be like trees that "bring forth good fruit." He  warns that that trees that don't "bring forth good fruit" will be  "hewn down and cast into the fire."

Ye that that hath  ears to hear, let him (or her) hear.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Election: a game changer?

When the news of the killing of two young people by a terrorist near London Bridge last Friday was first broadcast my heart sank.  This was partly, of course, in sorrow  at yet another violent attack in our otherwase relatively peaceful society, but also that this incident could boost yet further the Tory lead.

Past elections have sometimes  been knocked off course by unexpected incidents.  In the first one in which I stood, as he Liberal candidate in my home patch, the then Batley and Morley constituency in 1970, from the outset the main question was how big Harold Wilson's Labour majority would be.  However, a few days before the election international trade figures were released showing that our overseas trade (the difference between the value of exported and imported goods) was in deficit.  I think it was by about £60m, peanuts* by today's standards, but it was enough to shatter confidence in Labour's economic competence and the Conservatives under Ted Heath won a majority.

A similar "game changer" occurred in 2017, when the Tories published their manifesto.  It contained reasonably sensible measures for financing social care but Labour dubbed them a "Dementia Tax" and Theresa May, who had been on course to win, lost whatever momentum she had and, in the result, her majority.

It may well be, however, that these murders may turn out to be the game changer in this election.  The Tories can't lose their majority because they haven't got one, but as information about the killing leaks out,  Johnson's initial and predicable reaction, the traditional Tory "Lora Norder" response of "lock'em up and throw away he key, " which probably did resonate with many if not most of the electors, may come to be seen as a crass "knee jerk" reaction.

In the past few days incident has brought to light more reasoned approaches.  The two young people killed, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, were former students of law and criminology, and were working with an organisation, "Learning Together" designed to explore ways of effectively rehabilitating former criminals.  

Jack's father, Dave Merritt, has publicly declared that "Jack would be livid his death has been used to further an agenda of hate."  A pity he didn't write  it in the Sun or the Daily Mail rather than for the (mostly I presume) already converted readers of  the Guardian.

We also now know that one of the members of the conference at which Jack and Saskia were helping to lead, who risked his own life  by rushing forward to restrain the killer, was an ex-offender, Marc Conway.  For good measure, another person who put his own life at risk was a Polish kitchen porter named Lukasz, presumably the sort of person who would not be welcome in a Tory "points based immigration system."

Equally telling has been publicity given to the impact of recent cuts in the staffing and funding of the judicial system and police, prison and probation services. The Ministry of Justice budget has been cut in real terms by 40%, resulting in a 20% cut in police funding, several thousand fewer prison officers leading to prisoners spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells, and the disastrous part-privatisation of the probation service engineered by Chris Grayling

These details give the lie to the fatuous business-speak mantra that government departments can "do more with less."  This applies equably our NHS, local government. education, social security provision, consumer protection and health and safety monitoring.

The ideologically driven government austerity regime of the past decade has had consequences and will have more.

Of course there is no guarantee that the best provisions in the world would absolutely rule out to possibility of a maverick individual surviving the system unreformed.  But a rich country such as ours should be aiming at the best provision for the vulnerable, rather than cheeseparing to benefit the rich.

Locking people up and throwing away the key is not now and never was a civilised approach to criminal behaviour.  It was Douglas Hurd, one of the better Tories of past generations, who when Home Secretary told the party conference that  "prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse."

Sadly so far there is no sign of a more reasoned approach to tackling the problems of our society is affecting public opinion.  The polls remain static.

But there's still time. The best memorial for Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones would be a substantial dent in the Tory lead.

* It was in fact about 0.2% of the then GDP, compared with today's 7%. The 0.2% was largely the result of one-off payments for two Boeing jet aircraft, and was more than balanced by a 0.7% surplus on trade in services.  But his information didn't "trickle down" to the electorate.  On such misconceptions do the fates of general elections rest.