Monday, 25 May 2015

Let's Organise and Co-ordinate Progressive Action

I’ve left it for a couple of weeks or so to comment on the result of the general election as it is always helpful to wait for the dust to settle before trying to acquire a clear view.

For starters let us say I got it wrong – but with YouGov, MORI, ComRes, the whole of the world’s media and most inside political opinion I was in pretty good company. I still maintain that a Lab-LD coalition would have been the outcome had the numbers stacked up differently, but with the Tory overall majority that is just so much history and speculation. Probably we will never know.

As seems to be the norm these days when serious parties lose elections their leaders fall instantly upon their swords. There was the Clegg resignation and the Miliband resignation, the Farage resignation and then the Farage unresignation. The expected SNP landslide in Scotland did indeed materialise, UKIP and the Greens are left ruing the inequities of First Past the Post as the millions of votes they attracted between them earned them one solitary seat apiece. The Lib Dems now are not only unable to claim third party status but can only with a certain stretch of the imagination profess to be Britain’s fourth party, having been soundly beaten by UKIP in terms of votes and boasting fewer members than the Greens and only the same number of parliamentary seats as the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile David Cameron will by now have unpacked the furniture at No.10 once again, while the new member for Uxbridge takes a look around and makes notes.


That the Lib Dems will come back some in the fullness of time from their 8-seat nadir is in little doubt. British politics needs a viable, UK-wide third party. But the big issue of the day is wherein lies the future for the Labour Party, which was second to the Conservatives by a massive 99 seats, not only leaving the Tories as the largest party but even handing them a completely unanticipated overall majority, albeit one of only twelve seats, making redundant all the pre-election speculation about the dreaded SNP holding the balance of power.

Already Labour has set out its stall for a leadership contest in September, accompanied by a very public bout of naval-gazing. The party consensus would appear to be that Ed Miliband led a party into the election that was “too left-wing” and which paid scant regard to the electorate’s “aspirations”. A headlong rush back into the arms of Blairism, or at least of some horrible mutation thereof, now appears inevitable.

Certainly the Labour narrative employed during the campaign, that electing a Labour government was a matter of life and death to which all considerations of working for a better system and a fairer and more sustainable society in the long-term had to be subordinated, was distasteful. It was also appallingly hypocritical when one considers that incessant criticisms of “Tory austerity” were quite deliberately constructed to mask the fact that the intended remedy was its replacement with a programme of Labour austerity.

However the argument that Labour’s rejection arose from the fact that its agenda was not sufficiently identical to that of its Conservative opponents would appear to have been given the lie by the fact that the Scottish National Party, which contested the election on a manifesto far more progressive than that of Labour, swept all before it, capturing half the Scottish vote and in the process taking 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats.


One could argue of course that Scotland is different. What works north of the wall may not, indeed probably will not, work in the leafy shires of South East England. But against that argument one could equally point out that swathes of northern England and even the Midlands have far more in common with Scotland than they have with Kent or Berkshire.

The other inherent danger faced by Labour when embracing a strategy of trying to out-Tory the Tories in what has come to be described as “Middle England” is that any chance of it succeeding depends very much on the more traditional Labour vote acquiescing faithfully without a murmur. What Tony Blair and New Labour got away with in 1997, before the social media revolution and in the wake of an orgy of self-destruction from within a crumbling and decrepit Tory Party that had been in office for almost two decades, there is no certainty it will get away with again. With the Green Party slowly acquiring some political nous and the example of the SNP to show us the way, there will be viable options for progressive opinion which simply did not exist in 1997. Labour abandons these people at its absolute peril.

I make no secret of the fact that I detest the Labour Party as an institution. The completely undeserved and unwarranted sense of superiority that it imbues in its followers is a nauseating spectacle for me and others like me on the outside to behold. If there is anything worse than elitism itself it is elitism coming from a group of people who profess to be about equality for all and to eschew discrimination and bigotry. The vicious anti-community agenda that we here in my locality have been compelled to witness stems entirely from a belief that people existing outside of the Labour organisational bubble are inherently incapable of working for the betterment of their own society, and that any evidence which appears to suggest the contrary must be ruthlessly expunged before it has the opportunity to manifest itself as a viable counter to the party orthodoxy.

Nevertheless it is an undeniable truism that in order for progressive politics to break through from the fringes of English politics it will be necessary to bring with us many of those people who currently still regard themselves as loyal followers of Labour. At times the inane tribalism of some folk makes this appear an almost impossible ask, but then there can be little doubt that very many of those who rallied to the SNP banner earlier this month were former Labour voters and in many cases former members. When the conditions are right and the argument is made, nothing is impossible.


What progressives need to do right now is to prepare the ground for a social media-inspired offensive which will lift them from the fringes and elevate them into a viable political force, taking full advantage of Labour’s problems which should be viewed as an opportunity rather than cause for regret. We need to remember that as an organisation Labour is there to manage our expectations rather than as a vehicle for real change. Ultimately its demise is essential before progressive politics can have any hope of making meaningful progress.

This in turn requires some semblance of unity, or at least a vehicle for interaction between those on the progressive wing of politics who may themselves have their own fields of vision obscured by organisational loyalties. To this end I have set up a humble forum through the medium of Facebook, for friendly and constructive discussion between those of a radical bent, whether they happen to be members or supporters of the SNP, Plaid, the Green Party, community organisations, “traditional” left groups or indeed of none in particular.

Called the Forum for Progressive Action, the objective of it is simple – to engender debate and to explore possible options for practical co-operation to the benefit of all.

I don’t profess to operate with any authority, with any special knowledge or in possession of any particular talent which might be of significant benefit to the struggle. I only believe that an opportunity exists in the aftermath of Labour’s electoral drubbing which must be seized mercilessly, and soon, and that as a starting point for such an initiative a Facebook forum must be as good as any. Please use it, and encourage others to do likewise.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Brentford Near Miss?

I took this photo over Otho Court on Brentford Dock at 1.00pm today. The helicopter was hovering and the aeroplane was descending on the flightpath to London Heathrow.

In actual fact they were at least a thousand feet apart, the chopper being much closer to the ground. So whoever said the camera never lies wasn't quite correct. Scary though eh?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

"With a Heavy Heart, and in the UK's National Interest"

Am I really the only person who can see the elephant that fills the proverbial living room as we crank our necks around it to watch the dying throes of the UK’s longest ever election campaign on our television screens this evening?

Much energy has been expended discussing the prospect of anything between 35 and 59 SNP Members of Parliament holding the balance of power, and what an outrage it would be to have Scottish MPs that nobody in England voted for legislating for the whole of the UK in a way that only English parties that nobody in Scotland voted for should be permitted to do. In the constitutional fog that has been visited upon us from Alba we could be excused for forgetting that the Liberal Democrats had ever existed.

And yet in spite of their low poll ratings, the Lib Dems look good for maybe 25 to 30 seats as they fight a rearguard action in their areas of strength whilst remaining content to battle it out with Bus Stop Elvis in the remainder. Thirty seats of course is less than the SNP is expected to receive, but probably enough if combined with either of the major parties to be able to outvote the other one.


It occurs to me that, with the SNP having pledged to do nothing to help put the Tories back into office, a new dynamic has been created which moves the hitherto forgotten Liberal Democrats very much centre stage.

Assuming (as we shouldn’t, but for the purposes of this article we must) an outcome tomorrow which is something akin to what we have been seeing in the opinion polls, a 30-seat Lib Dem premium added to either the Tory or the Labour total would, discarding for the moment other parties, give the beneficiary a numerical advantage over its competitor. For whatever reason the assumption would appear to be being made that the Lib Dems will line up with the Tories. But if the combined total number of seats won by Labour and the SNP was to exceed the combined total for the Tories and Lib Dems (possibly fortified by those of the DUP and/or UKIP) then both Tories and Lib Dems would suddenly find themselves powerless. And powerless is not what Nick Clegg aspires to be.

If, on the other hand, the Lib Dems were to throw their lot in with Labour in what would probably still be a minority coalition, it kind of dares the SNP to line up with the Tories or face being effectively airbrushed from the picture. Abstaining on votes would not be enough. In order to defeat the (Lab-LD) government on any vote the SNP and the Tories would have to join forces, if only on an ad hoc basis and strictly for the purpose of.

Would the Liberal Democrats abandon their present course and join with Labour instead? There are a number of catalysts which have the potential to unite to bring this about, the first being the Tories’ proposed EU referendum which is being touted as a red line issue for the Tories in any potential future negotiations. As the most Euro-friendly amongst the parties this cannot be an easy one for the Libs. Labour, taking the opposite position, may have more appeal.


And then there is the question of proportional representation. A major negotiating chip for Nick Clegg in the coalition talks of 2010, he somehow allowed David Cameron to schmooze him into accepting the half-arsed Alternative Vote option as an acceptable substitute and then suffered the indignity of watching his coalition partner rubbish it as being, well, a half-arsed alternative, at the ensuing referendum. Although Labour is, on balance, opposed to PR (and for pretty much the same self-serving reasons as the Tories), there is a substantial body of opinion within the party – including, significantly, Ed Miliband – which sees things differently, looking upon PR as having the potential to rally progressive voting support under one roof, thereby providing a near-guarantee against a conservative majority at any time in the future.

Informed opinion has it that Nick Clegg, as Leader of the Liberal Democrats, is instinctively more comfortable around the Tories than he would be with the Labour Party. This could help to explain why reports from Clegg’s constituency in Sheffield Hallam are strongly predicting widespread tactical voting for Clegg from Tory supporters as a counter to a strong electoral challenge from Labour. But were Clegg to lose his seat, or were he to be ousted through an internal coup as soon as the new Parliament is formed, his successor might well be less wedded to the Tories in any event.

Other Lib Dem “red lines” might not prove insurmountable. Clegg has thus far promised more in increased funding to the NHS than has Miliband, but then Miliband has already told us he wishes to be a Prime Minister who “under-promises and over-achieves”. More spending on the NHS is unlikely to be a cause for violent protests from traditional Labour supporters. The Lib Dems also insist upon lifting more of the lower-paid out of tax, which is a euphemism for saying that for an ever-greater number of people wages should be kept so low that their tax contributions will not be missed. As we move towards a society in which “Minimum Wage” effectively becomes the wage that almost everybody can expect to earn, Labour is already doing its bit to manage expectations by raising it to a marginally more generous level.


Which leaves Clegg’s obsession with “legitimacy”, a term which he treats as being synonymous with a party having won the largest number of seats, surely a peculiar position for an opponent of First Past The Post to take. Most of the polls seem to have the Tories slightly ahead in this regard, although unlike Ed’s promises it is far from being carved in stone. But his policy is only to speak to the largest party first, not necessary to ally himself with that party. If a better deal can be made with the second largest party we can bet our bottom euro that is where the Lib Dems will be heading.

When all is said and done the clincher could well be that by allying himself with Labour, and in so doing rescuing Ed Miliband from the indignity of having to depend on the hated SNP for support, Clegg could consider himself to be “acting in the UK’s national interest”, much indulging his penchant for striking a lofty pose. The elephant in my living room tells me that this is a prospect he will find difficult to resist.

Meantime the reaction of the Scottish voters to having been stitched up a second time is unlikely to differ very much from the first. The case for independence will become incontestable. The case for change moves ever forward.