Jun. 9th, 2017 03:13 pm
smhwpf: (BuffyAnne)
Well, that was a lot better than expected.

I don't feel that celebratory, as we still have a Tory government, albeit a minority one, propped up by the far-right DUP, with potentially serious negative consequences for political stability in Northern Ireland. (Some good analysis from [personal profile] nwhyte ).

However. It is far better than expected, in line with the most optimistic (from a Labour point of view) polls towards the end of the campaign. The Tories have lost their majority, Theresa May has egg all over her face, and is pretty much a lame duck. The Tory-DUP effective majority will be only 13 or 15 (higher than it would otherwise be, due to Sinn Fein not taking their seats), which will make them vulnerable to defeat on individual issues, and to further whittling of the majority by by-elections. The Tories will probably also have a lot of internal divisions as a result of this, not least because there are likely to be not a few Tory MPs who are distinctly queasy about the deal with the DUP. Like, the 19 openly LGBT Tory MPs.

I think, I hope, they will have to moderate some of their more extreme policies, including o n the ultra-hard Brexit. Theresa May's negotiating in Brussels will be massively weakened, so it will hopefully be much harder for her to plant her feet on the ground and say no to everything. (The DUP, for all their faults, do not want a hard border with the Republic of Ireland).

The best thing is the revival of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn, on the basis of a solid, sensible, but full-throated social democratic platform, with no attempt to pander to soft racism. In spite of all the ferocious media campaign and the highly damaging internal party battle after Brexit - one thing voters consistently do not like is a divided party - Labour achieved the biggest increase in its vote share in a single election since 1945. That Corbyn has inspired large numbers of people, especially young people who actually turned out to vote (I saw a figure of 72% among 18-25 year-olds, don't know if that's a solid figure?). Hopefully, having got the voting bug, they will continue with it.

Blairism, and the strategy of 'triangulation', the endless quest for the fictional 'middle ground' is, maybe not dead, but at least in abeyance for the moment. I do believe that the only way for center-left parties in both Europe and North America to go if they are to reverse their catastrophic decline is to offer something clear and inspiring that is clearly an alternative to both Neoliberalism and anti-immigration nationalism. This is clearly the direction Labour is going in now, and hopefully after this election the party will be united behind it.

Beyond the Labour Party, there is now actually a generally progressive majority in Britain again. Left of center parties (excluding NI), got 52.52% of the vote (excluding Kensington, which hasn't declared but won't change things much), while the Tories + UKIP got 44.3%. (Independents, the main NI parties, and Other got 3.18%). That's an increase of 5.1% for the center-left, and a fall of 5.17% for Tories+UKIP.

There is clearly still a lot for Labour to do to go from this close defeat to an actual win. Paul Mason has some good suggestions, but it is actually possible to be hopeful about the direction of British politics for the first time in, well, my lifetime.

smhwpf: (BuffyAnne)

It appears that my emails were illegally hacked by the Metropolitan Police, probably some time in the 2000s.

The Guardian ran an article on Tuesday about how the Met, in cooperation with Indian police, used Indian hackers to illegally access the email accounts of hundreds of activists, and were regularly reading their emails. This was revealed in information sent by a whistleblower to Jenny Jones, a Green Party member of the House of Lords (Britain's unelected Upper House of Parliament). The information will be submitted to the ongoing Pitchford Undercover Police Enquiry, which resulted from revelations about police spies forming long-term relationships with women they were spying on. (Who were unaware of their true identities).

In particular, the information included a list of ten names with associated passwords. The article says that lawyers from Bindmans, a leading UK human rights law partnership, had contacted 6 of the people on the list, who had all provided passwords that matched exactly, or in one case almost exactly, the ones on the list.

I was one of the four who had not yet been contacted at the time the article was written. I got an email from a Bindmans lawyer on Tuesday, (which at first I took for spam - this was before I saw the Guardian article), informing me that I may have been the target of illegal hacking.

My main problem was, I have had a lot of email accounts and a lot of different passwords. It seems the list just had names and passwords, no details of the email accounts in question or the time they were hacked. But after some emails back and forward, he sent me a set of eleven dashes, corresponding to the length of the password he had for me, with two of them filled in. This fit one of the passwords I have used in the past (and will not be using again for anything!), so I sent him that one, and this was indeed the one he had on the list.

(Obviously it would not be nearly so strong evidence if he had just told me the password and I had confirmed it.)

The password in question is one I did not use before 2003. As I left the UK for Sweden in late 2007, and soon stopped being active in the UK activist scene (beyond the odd letter to MP or online petition, etc.), I would guess that the hacking can't have taken place too long after that. My best guess is that it related to my involvement with Campaign Against Arms Trade, in particular as a member of their Steering Committee from I think 2004-2007. We know, after all, that BAE was spying on our emails around that time. But there are other possibilities.

So our email correspondence will be going into the Pitchford inquiry. The Bindmans guy will be getting in touch at some stage to discuss next steps, whatever this might involve.

I can't say I am massively surprised. When you're involved in left-wing, environmentalist, trade union, or peace activism, etc. etc., you pretty much expect that the government may well be spying on you in some way, while wondering if you are just being paranoid or self-important.

You are not being paranoid or self-important. If you are involved to any significant extent in activities that fundamentally challenge the government, then the government probably are spying on you in some way, and not just the bulk meta-data collection by which they are passively spying on just about everyone.

The police are not, and never have been, neutral, apolitical upholders of the law and protectors of the public. They are, and always have been, first and foremost the protectors of the rich and powerful, and upholders of the established order. This should not be news to anyone who is paying attention. (I'm not saying that there are not plenty of police officers who are decent people who are seeking to serve the public, or that the police do not also provide an important public service. But as an institution, their raison d'être is fundamentally politically reactionary).

So I am not surprised, but I am certainly angry that the police were illegally reading my emails: potentially my personal correspondence with friends and family as well as my political activities, professional correspondence, Buffy fandom exchanges, and whatever else. (I am not completely sure which accounts they hacked; I can't remember which accounts I used this passwords for when. So I don't know for certain if my personal email was one of the ones hacked). The fact that this sort of behaviour by the police is normal (and that they have done much worse) does not make it acceptable or right.

I hope that Pitchford will succeed in digging out some of the truth of all this and that there will be some sort of consequences, although I can't say I'm optimistic that the state will stop spying activists who oppose them; a unit may be disbanded, and declared to have been a Very Bad Thing, and not at all in keeping with our values, and we do things differently now; but other ways will be found. It is the nature of the beast.

(For those who do correspond with me: I am confident that this password is one that I have not used for my main personal email account for at least, oh, 7 years or so. I am going to start shifting away from that account, however, which is not with the world's most secure provider).
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
Should I join the Labour Party? Or the Green Party, or some other party, or no party. Interested in thoughts and opinions.

I actually tried to join the Green Party before the election. I emailed them to ask if I was eligible to join as an ex-pat voter, but they never replied.

I would not remotely have considered joining the Labour Party pre-Corbyn. Now their is actually a real possibility of them starting to once again promote the sort of values and policies I support.

I'm not sure exactly how to describe myself ideologically these days. I sometimes say Libertarian Socialist, except the term 'libertarian' has possibly been irrevocably damaged. But generally leftist, and I tend to regard political parties rather pragmatically, as imperfect vehicles for advancing positive things in a particular time and place, rather than representing undying loyalties. Though the election of Jeremy Corbyn maybe puts a counter-argument in favour of party loyalty even when your party strays very far from what you see as its true values.

I have a ot of sympathies with Green politics in terms of a) prioritizing the environment, as climate change kind of is the single most important issue facing humanity (though there's every possibility that a Corbyn-led Labour Party will develop positive policies in that regard too. b) I see them as having a less-centralized, more democratic approach to tackling problems than Labour traditionally has, including the Labour left (though again that may be changing). Finally I think they are still likely to emerge as more left wing in a lot of areas than whatever compromise emerges between Corbyn and the Labour establishment. Jeremy Corbyn is great, but so are Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas.

However, Labour is a potential party of government, which the Greens are not, and moreover the Labour Party has much more of a possibility of being a real mass movement. The connection with the Trade Union movement, frayed as it is, is also something I regard as really important. Basically, Labour still has something left of its roots as a working class party, as again the election of Corbyn has shown, while the Greens, love them, are not and likely never will be.

(I am myself decidedly middle class, though I am also a proud Trade Unionist, but the point is that a political party that can, by and large, *only* attract the middle classes and hippy peacenik types, in other words that only attracts people like me and the sort of people I tend to socialize with, is not going to be able to effect change.)

Then there is the thing where the UK constituency in which I am registered to vote - Bristol West - is actually one of the few constituencies in the country where the Greens actually have a shot. They came a not-too-distant second to Labour in the election, with the Tories nowhere in sight. So I could actually be tempted to vote Green, which would rather contradict being a member of Labour. (If I do join Labour, I will be put into the Labour International branch, rather than the Bristol West Constituency LP, however).

I really am not sure what I think about this, so as I say welcome different thoughts and opinions and arguments for one or the other. (And feel free to argue as to why I should join the Lib Dems (of which I was actually a member once before), or even the Tories, though in the latter case there is not a snowball's chance in hell that you are going to convince me. But I would not consider it trolling.)

(If and when I get my Swedish citizenship, I will likewise contemplate joining a Swedish party - most likely the Left Party, but possibly the Green Party or the Feminist Initiative. But that's for later, and there are only a few people likely to read this who would be likely to be able to say much on that!)
smhwpf: (Buffy fire)
I am delighted that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party. That the disparate voices advocating for a more just and equal Britain, against austerity, against the war on the poor and disabled, has finally found political expression in a major, UK-wide political party. That the Tory government and their vicious agenda will finally have a clear and consistent opposition. I think the effect of this will be enormously beneficial.

But can a Corbyn-led Labour Party win a general election, or at least deny a Tory victory? I don't know.

There has been a lot written on this, and it is not worth rehashing all of it, though I will attempt to summarize some of the main points. Some very good analysis by Owen Jones. Some interesting advice in terms of style, based on Ken Livingstone's successes and failures. A very positive view from a few weeks ago; and a highly sobering note from Andrew Rawnsley.

Briefly, the positive case: he has created an enormous amount of enthusiasm and got a movement behind him; he can reach out to those disenchanted by mainstream politics, both by presenting a genuine alternative to austerity and by his 'anti-establishment status'; he is perceived as honest, principled and likeable. The negative: Labour lost because they were not trusted on the economy or welfare, and Corbyn's politics are doubling down on those perceived weaknesses; getting non-voters to vote and to vote Labour isn't as easy as it sounds; he will have the media against him; he wil have half his party against him.

Who might he attract? ex-Labour supporters who have turned to the Greens, SNP or Plaid Cymru; young, disollusioned non-voters (if they can truly be reached); some UKIP supporters who vote UKIP out of a general, vague anti-politics sense, rather than ideological riht-wing politics. Who might he repel? Reasonably comfortable, centrist, swing-voters who went for the Tories this time; UKIP voters for whom immigration really is a dominant issue.

Overall, I suspect that the odds are against Labour, andI suspect would have been whoever won; Labour, in opposition, were not going to be able to convince centrist voters that they were more trustworthy on the economy simply by moving even closer to Tory positions, and they certainly weren't going to win over dissolusioned voters that way.

I think the main thing that will determine how people view the relative economic credibility of the parties is totaly out of the hands of any Labour leader, namely, what happens to the actual economy, which depends on both government policies and the world economy. If it crashes and burns, which may well happen given the way things are going in China, then that could totally destroy Tory credibility, however much they protest it is not their fault. Austerity policies will undoubtedly exacerbate any downturn, and the pain that is being inflicted through Tory welfare policies will suddenly start hitting a lot more people.

Jeremy Corbyn's message might start looking appealing to a lot more current 'centrist' voters then. On the other hand, there's a risk that, if the Tories and the media are successful in portraying Corbyn as a dangerous loony lefty, then such voters might be inclined to 'stick to nurse for fear of worse'. But it will certainly give Labour a much stronger chance, and it would create an environment in which the sort of anti-establishment mass-movement enthusiasm that Corbyn has generated through the leadership campaign might have the chance to spread further into a potential winning coalition. On the other hand, I suspect that if things do not go too terribly economically, then this movement may find it hard to break out of the circles of the already convinced, the ones who go to Corbyn rallies and share lefty articles and memes on social media - which is not enough to win an election.

The Tories could destroy their credibility in other ways too - they may tear themselves apart over the EU referendum - which is something that Corbyn and Labour can influence, depending on how they play their cards - or the new Tory leader - if Cameron keeps to what he said about not running for a third term - may not prove convincing to the electorate. Cameron, much as I loathe his policies, is a highly skillful politician, and has an air about him (however unjustified) of confidence and competence. With someone else, the Tories may fare less well.

But before all this, the biggest hurdle Corbyn faces, I think, is party management; he has the support of much of the rank-and-file members (he got just a shade under 50% of 1st preference votes amongst full party members, and now something like 15,000 new members have joined, presumably most of whom approve of the latest developments) but he is opposed by the great majority of Labour MPs.

From everything I've seen he is going to try to be inclusive in bringing all sections of the party (that are prepared to work with him) into the Shadow Cabinet, and proclaims a commitment to being open and democratic about policy-making - which presumably means being willing to accept policy positions he is not too keen on where that is the clear will of the party - and all of this will be very necessary. But it's going to be a very tough balancing act of picking which battles to fight, and where to make painful compromises. Only time will tell if he is actually able to do this.

For the record, my inclination is that he should probably stand his ground on most matters of economic policy - both because it is right, and because the anti-austerity, anti-welfare cuts message is where he has most chance of capturing public imagination. I doubt, actually, that many Labour MPs are really all that convinced of the arguments for austerity, maybe some of the Blairites, but they have been convinced that Labour only has a chance if it accepts it. So many of them might be willing to say "Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound", or something like that.

But where I think he really does need to compromise is foreign/defence policy, if he is not to totally break the Labour Party. Most especially, Labour needs to be supporting staying in the EU in the referendum. Flawed as the EU is, I really don't think there's much appetite on the left and center-left for leaving, and it is something that most Labour MPs would fight tooth and nail for. (For what it's worth, I also believe Britain needs to be in the EU, disgusted as I am by Fortress Europe and Eurozone-imposed austerity.) Likewise NATO - I am no fan, but there would be no better way to both break the party and leave an open goal for the Tories than advocating for leaving.

In opposing Trident replacement, I think there's a much better political case for him holding firm (not to say moral), and where I suspect a lot of ordinary party members would be with him (and perhaps, in their heart of hearts, any MPs). Apart from anything else, British nukes are militarily useless, as a lot of military figures recognize, and Trident replacement will take up a huge proportion of the defence equipment budget. But here the compromise might be to argue for, say, putting half or even more of the savings from cancelling Trident replacement into the conventional defence budget, with the rest for (say) green energy; even if Corbyn would ideally like to see a lot lower military spending (as would I). But it is probably a good area to open up to wider party debate to see what ordinary members actually think.

In the end, I am not higely optimistic in terms of the odds of Jeremy Corbyn walking though the doors of Number 10 in 2020 - I think it is probably no more than 50/50 that he can hold the party together long enough to make it to the election as leader. But I am hopeful, in that this is the first time in a very long time that there has actually been a real major left-leaning party in England. And he could just pull it off; the normal rules of politics says it is very unlikely, but those same rules said he was a 100-1 shot for leader in the first place; the world is changing fast, and the rules of politics with them, so just maybe Jeremy Corbyn, together with a newly-invigorated Labour Party and movement, can create a new set of rules. I hope.
smhwpf: (Despair)
Well, that was bloody depressing.

Not all of it, not in Scotland. My family were pretty much all actively campaigning for the SNP (though generally from a position to the left of the SNP), so for them, and huge numbers of others in Scotland who hope for a real alternative to Neoliberali austerity, it was a night of celebration - though certainly not untouched by what was going on south of the border.

But for the UK as a whole? Really hard to see any positives - isolated bright spots maybe, but not that affect the overall picture.

5 years of majority Tory government mean that people will die. People will go hungry, they will be forced onto the street, they will die. The NHS will be mutilated. Policies on immigration and human rights will become even more draconian, and And Britain may well be on its way out of the EU.

I do not see any point in blaming the elelectoral system. Yes, the Tories got a majority on 37% of the vote. But the fact is that the Tories plus UKIP, to the right of them, together got 49.5% of the <i>UK-wide</i> vote, including Northern Ireland (where these parties do stand, but are marginal). By contrast, in the 1983 election when Thatcher won her landslide, the Tories got 42.4% of the vote. Meanwhile, the 'progressive' parties (a stretch for Labour) got 39.8% this time (including SDLP as Labour allies). There is no way of painting this as other than a clear vote for the right.

I support PR, but if we had had it at this election, then what we would have got, instead of a Tory only government, is a Tory-UKIP coalition.

Blame the right-wing media by all means, feeding people lies and thus persuading millions to vote against their own economic interests. But you know, I kind of think that if people buy these lies, it's parftly because it's the sort of lies they're all too ready to believe. It seems to me (and this is anger rather than anything that claims to be rigorous social analysis) that this is neither simply selfishness nor ignorance, but a sort of wilfully ignorant mean-spiritedness; I don't think people are unaware that the rich are screwing them, but this just makes them all the more determined to make sure that no immigrants or workshy benefit scroungers are taking advantage of them too. No NHS? Well at least it won't be there for asylum seeers to feed off either! No social safety net if you fall ill or lose your job? Well at least it won't be there for the workshy and the fakers! No human rights? Who cares, so long as criminals and immigrants don't have them! It is the mentality of the playground bully who, knowing he can't touch the top-dog popular kids who beat on him, looks for someone lower down the hierarchy to take it out on.

I would like to believe what some people on the left are saying, that if only Labour had been bolder, offered a real vision and alternative to austerity, then they could have done better, but I don't buy it. I would certainly have welcomed such a thing for all sorts of reasons, but I think the reality is they'd have been hammered even more by the media, and perhaps scared even more people off. Such a message might play well in Scotland, but not in southern and Middle England. Ranting aside, I think the reality is that England is, in the main, a fundamentally right.wing country, where values of social solidarity are battered and frayed, something no longer of interest to the majority.

I don't think that means that Labour could have won by moving even further to the right either, or that they can have a better chance next time by doing so; I mean what reason exactly would they have given to people to vote for them? It would hardly have bought off Murdoch, who - unlike with the Major government of 1992-97  - seems very happy with what Cameron has to offer. I think there's a lot of truth to the maxim that oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them. What Labour needs to have a serious chance in the next election is neither a move to the left or the right but, first and foremost, for the Tories to either royally screw up or to have the next major crisis happen on their watch.

This could happen; Another major economic crisis is nothing to welcome, but whatever does go wrong with the economy (and Tory policies are likely to wreak plenty of damage in any case) will be increasingly hard to blame on 'cleaning up Labout's mess'.

Perhaps even more significantly, and especially with a narrow majority, the Tories still have an enormous potential to tear themselves to shreds over the in-out referendum on EU membership they're promising. Cameron will try to negotiate 'reforms' with the rest of the EU, but I suspect that the most likely outcome is that he will get some token concessions that he will try to sell as a win and justification to campaign to stay in, but which large swathes of his party will condemn as a sell-out.

That doesn't change the underlying reality of the right-wing value system of the plurality of the English majority. They may occasionally be willing to a vote for a watered-down centerist alternative when the Tories really screw up, but, well, we need a lot better than that. How you go about changing that basic equation - not really got any bright ideas, I'm afraid. I am fairly convinced that building, or rebuilding, a sense of social solidarity depends on people being actually involved in struggles that affect them - through unions, local campaigns and self-help, and so forth, and of course there are many, many people trying to make this happen. Keeping up that good work is the only thing I can really advise, cheering on here from a distance in my Scandinavian refuge. Getting it to a point where it makes a serious difference at a macro political level is not something that will happen overnight though, or in the space of a 5-year parliament.

Then there is Scotland, and that I think is the one bright spot. Although there influence will be limited in a Parliament with a Tory majority (though a small one), the fact that there is now a block of 60 MPS (including Plaid Cymru and Caroline Lucas for the Greens) who will be putting forward a genuinely progressive, anti-austerity message is something. And the likelihood is that a Tory government, especially if Britain heads for the EU exit, will hasten the departure of Scotland from the UK, and being free from Tory rule once and for all. While this would mean a stronger right-wing majority in the rest of the UK, I think losing the Union could be a massive shock to the Tory system, while allowing Scotland to act as, what I hope would turn out to be, a successful progressive English-speaking alternative on England's border. (And, very possibly for some, a place of refuge, A statue of Nicola Sturgeon saying "Bring us your poor, your huddled masses".)

That, however, is as maybe. What we have now is 5 years of awfulness. My heart goes out to those of you who hoped for something better, and who are going to be on the sharp end of it.
smhwpf: (Treebeard)
The election results are in. Party A has won. Well, sort of. They have more seats than their main rival, Party B. But they don't have a majority, and can't reallly get a coalition that gives them a majority.

Moreover, Party C, the 3rd biggest party, is adamantly opposed to more or less everything Party A stands for. Actually, in many respects their policies are rather close to Party B. Party C made a big breakthrough this election, and now hold the balance of power. Many people in Parties B and C think that they could cooperate and lock Party A out of power.

So Party B has maybe won after all? Not so fast. Thing is, there is one particular issue, which is at the core of Party C's raison d'être, but where Party C's position is seen as complete anaethama by both Parties A and B. Indeed, such is the distaste with which this policy is viewed by the main parties (strongly backed by the mainstream media), that Party C has come to be regarded as a pariah that no other party can possibly have dealings with. Party B could maybe do a deal with Party C to gain power, but the price would be too high; they'd be hammered by the media, it would probably split the party (many of whose activists heartily loathe Party C), and it would be a highly unstable government that probably would not last the distance.

So Party A try to form a government. They are, after all, the largest single party. But then when they present their budget, Parties B and C vote it down. (They don't need to talk to each other to do this.)

Could Party B then form a government without taklking to Party C, just informally relying on their support, at least most of the time? Maybe, but the problem is it would be widely seen as illegitimate, it would be (again) highly unstable, and anyway Party C might not be willing to put up with supporting a government that treats them as a pariah.

So only Party A can form a government, but they can't actually govern. What to do?

Read more... )
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
One of the stupidest things I've heard recently in British politics was from Labour's Shadow Employment Secretary, Rachel Reeves, who said "We are not the party of people on benefits... Labour are a party of working people, formed by and for working people".

The context was an interview in which she actually said quite a few positive things, including reducing the severity and arbitrary nature of benefits sanctions, but this line - in many ways rightly - grabbed the headlines.

The list of cuts and tightened controls associated with various social security benefits in Britain - except for pensioners - under this government is long. Some listed here. A summary below the cut, many of you will already be familiar with a lot of them, in some cases through personal experience.
Cuts below the cut )
The consequences are dire. Food banks. Increased homelessness. Benefits sanctions leading to suicides. Children coming to school hungry.

Back to Rachel Reeves. What she said is of course denigrating and dehumanizing. Does Labour not want the votes of benefits claimants if they are not a party for them? Just who should they vote for? Or does Rachel Reeves rely on them just staying home because no party is for them? Do they not deserve representation, not deserve to exercise their vote even, as people who do not contribute to society? No, perhaps she didn't mean it quite like that, but her words drip with contempt for people on benefits.

But as I say, her words display, IMO, not just a lack of empathy, but a fundamental lack of understanding.

Labour was indeed set up as a party of working people. And who do you think fought for the existence of a welfare state, including benefits for the old, children, the unemployed, sick and disabled if not working people and the Labour movement? Not simply out of charity for the less fortunate, but because the people who formed the labour movement mostly were themselves the less fortunate, or knew that they could easily become so.

Any of us could lose our jobs, that have them now. Any of us, temporarily able-bodied, could fall sick over a long period of time, or become disabled. Once upon a time, most people knew this. The Labour Party, certainly the leadership, seem to have forgotten it.

If one is rich, or has a rich family, then one may well be able to ride things out, financially at least. The privileged and well-connected are unlikely to remain unemployed for long. But most of us are but one major misfortune away from needing the welfare state for our survival.

By "most of us", I mean those who do not have sufficient capital to sustain ourselves. That is, who are dependent on our labour, or that of those with whom we share a household. Or, to use another phrase whose meaning the Labour Party has mostly forgotten, the Working Class.

(For myself, I am by the common usage very definitely middle class, and I am better off than the majority in my income, my position in the labour market, and my degree of autonomy in my work. But by the above definition, I do include myself in the Working Class, albeit a relatively privileged member of that class. So yes, I do mean "we" and "us".)

So, while I do welcome some of the welfare changes Labour are promising: abolishing the bedroom tax, easing up on the sanctions, reforming the work capability assessment; not only do they not go far enough (Labour have made clear that they are not going to reverse all Tory cuts), but they do not remotely challenge the mindset behind the past 35+ years of welfare policy: that benefits are an act of charity from the better off to the poor; that those receiving it must therefore be made to jump through all sorts of hoops to prove both that they need it and, increasingly, that they deserve it; that, if you are claiming benefits, especially for unemployment, then in return for this generosity the state owns your ass and has the right to control your life in whatever ways it deems fit.

Rather than, what I think it should be, the welfare state as a material expression of solidarity amongst members of society, of a system that benefits the majority of us in society as a system which, when and insofar as we can, we all pay into, and which is there for all of us when we may need it. So the main questions should not be "How can we spend as little as possible?" "How can we make sure no-one is cheating?" "How can we really make sure recipients are doing enough to deserve it?" - but "What sort of system do we want to be there for us as and when we may need it"?

Solidarity. Another largely abandoned word. As I see it, "solidarity" has an aspect of compassion to it, of empathy, of putting oneself in others' shoes; but also an aspect of englightened, collective self-interest.

That second aspect is crucial, politically. Compassion is the most important human virtue. But, in the world we are in, appeals to compassion alone are not sufficient to make a successful progressive political programme. For that, you need Solidarity.

I am not talking revolution here, or fundamental changes to the Capitalist system. I am talking about the preconditions for a functioning social democracy.

Which is why, I think, that liberal appeals to conscience regarding the benefits system are never going to be enough. The horrible thing is, most of the Tory changes (with a few exceptions like the Bedroom Tax) are popular. Because most people do not currently see the welfare state as being about collective self-interest.

Why is this? Media propaganda. Labour abandoning the cause.( But is that itself just following public opinion? Maybe also the professionalization of Labour politics.) The fragmentation, individualization and consumerization of society. Because people are idiots. Take your pick.

How can this be changed? Wish I knew. But, unless and until this sense of collective self-interest is regained amongst substantial sections of the population, the argument for a generous and humane welfare state will continue to fail.
smhwpf: (Six words)
The UK General Election has been called, the national polls are still very close, and now fivethirtyeight - these days a much bigger outfit than just founder and CEO Nate Silver - has published its first U.K. General Election predictions - based on a combination of national and constituency polling, and a great deal of regression analysis based on past polling and election history, local demographics, the state of the economy, and so forth. The central predictions are:

Read more... )
smhwpf: (Way out)
As all but the proverbial Martian vacationer know, last week the US Senate released its report on CIA torture since 9/11 at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. It found that the CIA's practice of torture had been far more widespread, more brutal, and less effective (as in 100% not) than previously claimed, and that the CIA had systematically lied about it.

Senator Feinstein and her colleagues are to be congratulated in persisting with this enquiry and getting it published in the face of opposition from the CIA itself and the Administration.

Hard to find much to say that has not already been said about this, beyond echoing the utter, unspeakable horror of such acts, whoever commits them.

There is one aspect of the discussion around it in the US, though, that gets me: namely the way the victims of this torture seem almost invisible or even irrelevant to it.

It is as if the real victim of the government-sponsored CIA torture programme was America itself. A stain on America's character, contrary to America's values. A terrible 'mistake' (which seems to be how Obama and others like to describe it).

No suggestion that America should make an apology to those it has violated, nor that it should pay them reparations. Still less, heaven forfend, that anyone should be prosecuted for these crimes. Nor that the US should close down Guantanamo Bay now, and not only free anyone it can't prosecute, but grant them a home in the US as the very least it owes them, along with compensation for the years of their life that has been stolen.

Because of course America cannot owe anything to, or be answerable to anyone but America.

If the torturers and those - up to the very top - who authorized torture - were to be put on trial, that would be like saying that there is a a higher law to which America is answerable, which is heresy. No: America decided to torture, and now America has decided not to torture, it has realized that that was wrong, it has woken up to its own values once more. That is the end of the story.

This report came out in the middle of Advent, for Christians a penitential season; but for America's great and good, for all that they invoke God and pay lip service to Christianity, there is previous little sense of repentance. Of course not for the Republicans, even louder though they are about their Christianity; the very idea that America could have anything to repent about (apart from homosexuality maybe) is heresy: if America did something, it must by definition have been right! But even for those who do recognize that torture is wrong and that the US did it, it barely scratches the surface.

Not that the US is particularly exceptional in its exceptionalism; it is a common feature of empires and hegemons throughout the ages, along with the self-righteousness and refusal to contemplate the possibility of wrongness; and even when a wrong, like the slave trade, is acknowledged, it is no sooner corrected than forgotten, and indeed self-praise for having stopped becomes the dominant sentiment. While there is such a thing as a patriotism that seeks all the more to right one's nations wrongs, in general patriotism and self-reflection and penitence rarely go together.

There are also many other nations culpable in the CIA torture scandal, most notably the UK, but also many, many others, including Sweden, which arrested two Egyptian asylum seekers in 2001, and handed them over to masked US security agents at Bromma airport in Stockholm, to be flown to Egypt for torture. If we are lucky, we may see enquiries that dig out more of the truth of what happened in various countries, but prosecutions? Well, if they happen I will be pleasantly surprised.
smhwpf: (No power)
There was going to be a bigger post, but there was too little sleep.

I'm not Scottish, but most of my family have lived in Scotland for 25 years now (my stepdad is from Scotland), and I visit there a couple of times a year. I have never lived there full time though, unless one counts summers between one thing and another (university, voluntary work, job in some combination) when I have not had any other address. My expat voter registration in the UK is where I last lived in Bristol, so I do not get a vote in the Scottish independence referendum (and nor should I). The decision is for the people of Scotland. Otherwise I'd have probably been posting a lot more about this, here and at the Face. But I certainly have a direct interest in the matter. I would almost certainly be eligible for Scottish citizenship if there's a Yes vote, and my family are all avid Yes supporters, and in many cases active campaigners.

I am likewise definitely rooting for a Yes vote. For me, the fundamental issue is that, with only about a twelfth of the population of the UK, Scotland's influence on political outcomes in the UK as a whole is always going to be marginal. This might not matter so much if Scotland and England and Wales had a roughly similar political trend, but they don't. For the past 30-40 years - especially since Thatcher - Scotland has taken a decisive turn against the dominant party of government in the UK, the Conservative Party. Scotland has thus been ruled by, and will periodically continue to be ruled by, governments that Scottish voters have overwhelmingly rejected, so long as Scotland remains in the UK. Scottish votes can shift the outcome a little (for example we now have a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition instead of a Conservative majority without Scottish votes -oh joy), but overwhelmingly, the UK government will be determined by votes south of the border. That is not a good position for Scotland to be in. Scotland needs to be able to elect its own government, determine its own economic policy, immigration policy, welfare, foreign policy, defence policy.

There are lots of other individual reasons for supporting independence, but most are essentially aspects of this same basic equation. Trident for example; most Scots do not want nuclear weapons on their soil, but are not at present in a position to decide. I very much doubt if an independent Scotland would have joined the invasion of Iraq. The appalling policies pursued by the current UK government, some of which the devolved Scottish government can exempt Scotland from, but not most of them. Yes, there could be more devolution, but why settle for having control of some of the decisions that most affect you when you can have control of all of them? (Foreign policy and defence, in particular, will always be a UK-wide thing.)

The main concern for many No voters and undecideds is the economy. There are a lot of things that can be said about this, there has been a lot of ink spilled on whether an independent Scotland would be richer, or poorer, or about the same. But the way I see it, the fundamental point is that, the trade and industry that exists in Scotland the day before independence will still exist after independence. Being part of a larger country does not magically create jobs and industry where demand and infrastructure does not otherwise exist. Ask Cornwall. Scotland would continue to trade freely with England, and Europe, as it would be in everyone's interest for that to happen. The rest is details. Important details to be sure, but the basic equation is that Scotland would not be, in the long run, much richer or much poorer inside or outside of the UK.

(In fact, I think it could be richer, if Scotland is able to do something sensible with the oil revenues while they last, like put them in a sovereign wealth fund as Norway did, while the UK squandered them.)

The EU is a bit question, admittedly. But at least one major EU think tank, the European Policy Center, thinks that Scotland would be able to remain in the Eu. To quote:

From a practical point of view, no member state has a material interest in Scotland remaining outside the EU, even for a short time. This would deprive the EU of the benefits of Scotland's membership (budgetary contribution, fisheries resources, etc). Scotland outside the EU, and not applying EU rules, would be a legal nightmare for: EU member states, whose citizens and enterprises would lose their rights in Scotland. No member state, particularly not the rest of the UK, would have an interest in creating such an anomaly.

This includes Spain. They are certainly against Scottish independence, as they don't want a bad example for Catalonia, but they have made clear that Scotland is a fundamentally different case, as the UK has consented to the referendum and to respecting the outcome, which Spain has not done in the case of Catalonia. The Spanish government has made clear that the view of the UK is the key factor, and the UK would certainly have no interest in blocking Scottish membership and seeing trade barriers go up between England and Scotland.

The new President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Junckers, has also expressed sympathy for Scottish EU membership.

Nothing is certain, except that there would be a lot of hard negotiating to do, but the other side of this is that remaining in the UK is no guarantee of EU membership; the way it looks to me, the UK is headed rapidly for the exit.

Another big question is the currency. Here I think Alex Salmond is making a mistake on insisting on keeping the pound, with or without a currency union. I think a key aspect of sovereignty is control of currency. Economically, monetary union - whether with the rUK or with the Eurozone - does not work well without fiscal union. Recent experience in the Eurozone bears this out. To my mind, Scotland would be best with its own currency; start out with a one-for-one exchange rate, maybe keep it pegged for 6 months to give some predictability, then let it float. But that would be for Scotland as a whole to decide, through elections, referenda and political processes post-independence. An independent Scotland will, like any other country, make mistakes.

In the bigger picture, I think Britain as a whole would be healthier for Scottish independence. Relations between England and Scotland would be stronger and on a more level footing. No more blaming the English for things that go wrong. Who knows, in a generation, maybe Scotland fans would even start cheering for England at football! No-one is interested in putting up border controls; travel would remain free, trade would remain free, English people would continue to live and work in Scotland, Scottish people would continue to live and work in England. But maybe also, from England's side of things, this would put the final nail in the coffin of post-imperial pretensions of greatness, of the idea of being a "Great Power" that throws its military weight around (as a side-kick to the US at any rate). The UK, with Scotland as a fully active participant, conquered and dominated an Empire on which the sun never set and the blood never dried. Good riddance.

English left-wingers have valid reason to be worried that, without Scottish votes, Tory government would be more likely. The other side of it is that Scottish independence would throw the Conservative and Unionist Party into utter turmoil. It would create a new playing field in which progressive forces would have the chance to put forward their own vision of how England and Wales (together or otherwise) could go. I would not be greatly optimistic at the moment about how rUK would go, but I am not greatly optimistic about how the UK is going at the moment. But at any rate there would be new possibilities, and it would be up to the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland to take them. But the idea that Scotland should chain itself to continuing periods of right-wing Tory government just so that some of the time England can instead get merely center-right Labour governments that will be slightly less awful, is grotesque.

I said this wasn't going to be long. Ah, well.

Do it, Scotland!
smhwpf: (Treebeard)
For those unfamiliar with the intricacies of UK politics, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), who made a spectacular surge in yesterday's English (and one Welsh) local council elections, is perhaps the nearest thing we have in Western Europe to the US Republican Party, though without most of the big money backing. Their anti-EU stance reflects the general distrust of foreigners that has always been a major thread in English sentiment, as does their extreme anti-immigrant position. (They want to stop ALL immigration for 5 years. WTF?) They are also climate-change deniers, and the only major party in the UK opposed to gay marriage. On the plus side, they seem to have slightly more of a sense of humour than US Republicans.
Read more... )
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
I see no reason to celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher. I see no reason because her policies, her agenda, are not only still alive, but are being taken forward further than she could have hoped. Apparently she once said, well after leaving office, that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair. That Labour had adopted so much of her agenda. Now Cameron has taken up the torch with even more zeal.

Should one ever celebrate the death of a human being? There's a good case for saying no. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee". Beyond such philosophical considerations: her family, Mark and Carol Thatcher, I don't know (nor care) if she has grandchildren, are human beings. Not perfect human beings, perhaps not very nice human beings (the former at any rate seems to be a bit of an ass), but their grief is the same as anyone else's. They have had to watch their mother/grandmother decline into the living death that is dementia, something that I literally would not wish on my worst enemy (for which Mrs. T is a pretty strong candidate), before the final guilt-ridden release/grief that has now come.

Maybe there are some cases where one may legitimately celebrate a person's death. When General Franco died in 1975, Fascism in Spain died with him. Not immediately, and one couldn't be sure of it at the time, but at the very least it opened up the possibility of hope and change, which indeed came to be. I read that they ran out of Cava in Barcelona that night, and I would gladly have drunk along. Likewise, when Nigeria's military dictator Sani Abacha died in 1999, it heralded the end of military rule. One might say that one should celebrate not the passing of the human being, but of their tyranny, but it's rather hard to separate the two.

But while Thatcher is dead, Thatcherism lives on stronger than ever. The time to celebrate (which I most certainly did) was when she was forced from office. I don't blame people for celebrating or for crying "ding, dong the witch is dead" (actually I do for the latter, as it's mysogynistic and demeaning of Wiccans), but I can't share the sentiment.

But the fact that I do not see cause for celebration does not mean that I feel the need to find nice things to say about her.

Margaret Thatcher pursued, deliberately, vigorously and highly successfully, a class war aimed at increasing the wealth and power of the rich and powerful at the expense of the majority. She, along with Ronald Reagan, were the driving forces behind the triumph of Neoliberal political economy that sought to dismantle the public sector, the welfare state, and the power of organized labour, reversing the vast social gains of the post-war era and massively increasing the gap between rich and poor. The increase in inequality was not some unfortunate, unforseen consequence of her policies, but their very goal. Her policies had been trialled to an even more brutal degree by her good friend General Pinochet in Chile; but she was the first to apply them in a developed, democratic nation.

When, in the mid-1970s, unemployment reached one million in Britain, for the first time since the 1930s, it was considered a scandal. Within 2 to 3 years of Thatcher coming to power, unemployment passed first two million, then three. The shift in unemployment under Thatcher was permanent. When Thatcher came to power the unemployment rate was 5.3%. At its height in 1984, it reached 11.9%. Since then the lowest it has been, under the last Labour government, was 4.6%. It had not been that low since summer 1975, and before that it had not been that high since WW2.

The phenomenon of towns, of housing estates blighted by chronic mass unemployment, lack of hope, lack of expectations, the "broken Britain" that Cameron deceitfully spoke of? That was an invention of the Thatcher years. Her policies - cuts in public spending, pushing up interest rates to vast heights to subdue inflation - laid waste to British industry and to the people that depended on it. Her government did nothing to provide fresh alternatives for the hundreds of thousands cast on the scrap heap. Her government's economic policies created the 'lost generations', the 'sink estates', the ghost towns, and then the Tories blamed the sexual licentiousness of the 1960s. Obviously.

With Thatcher too started the victim-blaming: Norman Tebbit telling unemployed people to "get on their bike" and find the work that wasn't there. The proliferation of "schemes" for the young jobless, starting with the notorious Youth Opportunities Programme, ostensibly to help people into work, in reality ever more ways to shift responsibility for unemployment to the unemployed, to create new hoops for them to jump through to prove their "worth" to receive their ever more meagre benefits.

Ah, but she took on the unions! They had way too much power! So says the popular mythology. Has productivity, has economic growth, been any higher since the Thatcher revolution? Actually, no. The average rate of growth in the 31 years pre-Thatcher was 2.67%, in the 32 post-Thatcher, 2.14%. A fairly crude statistic, but looking at shorter periods doesn't make things look that different, and it gives the lie to the idea that Thatcher "saved" Britain from terminal decline.

Yes, she smashed the unions, especially the miners. What smashing the unions means is tilting the balance in the workplace decisively in favour of the owners and the top management and against the ordinary workers. Hence, the massive widening of the gap between CEO's and ordinary employees' pay. Hence the widening of the standard measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, which rose from about 0.25 to about 0.34 over Thatcher's term of office. (It's generally carried on going up since, but not by nearly the same rate; now it's only a couple of points higher than when she left office in 1990.) Thus, increasingly precarious working conditions, lack of employment rights (somewhat improved under Labour), zero-hours contracts, and so on.

Yes, all these trends happened elsewhere, indeed in most Western countries. But that was because they pursued, to a greater or lesser extent, the same policies and ideologies. Those that did to a lesser extent, like Germany and the Scandinavians, suffered those trends less. Moreover, she was the pioneer. She was the one that made the unthinkable thinkable.

What else can we say? The deterioration of public services through spending cuts. The "private affluence, public squalor". The massive rise in homelessness (for which her policy of selling off council houses without replacement was a significant contributory factor).

Oh, and the warmongering. For the most part, we got away with it, the ramping up of Cold War rhetoric, the re-armament, the new levels of the nuclear arms race. We were lucky. We might not have. At least Reagan was able to recognize the possibilities for peace that Gorbachev represented and find a different course. The deceptions and intransigence that made an all-out war in the Falklands/Malvinas inevitable, costing nearly 1000 lives, when a peaceful solution might yet have been possible. At least that allowed to rid themselves of the dictator Galtieri. They "lost" and got democracy. We "won" and got an extra decade of Conservative government.

While we are on the international front, there was her staunch support for Apartheid South Africa, her resolute opposition to the sanctions that eventually helped bring the regime to its senses.

Clause 28, banning the "promotion of homosexuality" as a "pretended family".

Ooh, the Poll Tax, the happy fault, the necessary sin, the step too far that brought about her downfall.

One could no doubt think of much more. But it would not add a lot to the big picture.

What may one say in her favour? Everyone says that, whether one agreed with her or not, she was "strong", she was "determined", she had "conviction". Yes, she was strong in attacking the weak. She was determined in promoting the interests of her class at the expense of all others. She had convictions and principles, all of them at odds with fairness and compassion. Virtues directed to evil ends become worse than vices. I see no reason to praise her for these.

Maybe there are good things to say about her time in office. I'm finding it hard to think of any. As to what good may have dwelt within her innermost heart, I leave that to God's mercy to find, for I find I have no inclination to look for it.

Deja vue

Aug. 8th, 2011 11:13 pm
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
A Tory government comes in, enacts massive cuts, attacking the poor while privileging the rich. And within a year or so, the streets of the nations' cities are in flames.

Predictable, much?

Last time round, in Maggie's day, it took two years before the riots spread all round the country. This time they've managed it in just over one. (Like this time round with the Stokescroft riots a few months ago, Bristol was first off the mark back then, with the St. Paul's riot of April 1980). Mind you, we did have a global financial crisis this time round to set things going.

Sheer criminality. How strange that these outbreaks of sheer criminality always seem to come in the wake of poverty, unemployment and hopelessness. (And how an incident of racist police brutality always seems to be the trigger).

Plenty of people have already said it all, and not much really to add.

Just this: whatever your economic analysis, read the signs of the times. When riots erupt in the nation's streets it is a sign of a society that is diseased, broken, in crisis. It means something is fundamentally wrong. You can't blame the 60s any more. There's only one option left, and that's the one that, to my eyes, ought to be bleedin' obvious.
smhwpf: (Dr Who shell shock)
Bloody hell. News of the World to close. Knew things were looking bad for them, but didn't see that coming.

For non-Brits, Cut for Brits who know all this )

Well, there's already talk of the NotW's sister paper, the equally vile The Sun going to 7-day publication, but even if it does, this has got to be a massive blow to Rupert Murdoch. Dare one hope that this marks the beginning of the end of his poisonous influence over UK politics?

Such thoughts aside, I would just like to conclude by saying

smhwpf: (Buffy Restless)
A commenter on my last post but one wrote something to the effect of "What were you expecting, and what's the alternative?" which is a good question. I found my answer getting so long I thought I'd turn it into a separate post.


I knew things would be bad, I just hadn't quite taken in how bad. (And the parties weren't exactly advertizing it in advance. The whole campaign - from all 3 - was very non-transparent on that score).

Everyone has been saying that there would have to be pretty drastic action in order to deal with public borrowing deficit.

Actually, everyone has not been saying that. Britain is not Greece, the deficit is horrendous but debt as a share of GDP is manageable. In fact, plenty of people, economists, the US President, international organizations, have been warning against cutting too far too fast at risk of a 'double dip' recession. There simply is not a consensus that immediate large-scale cuts are the only option. Certainly the deficit would have to be tackled at some point, the question is when, how fast, and how. They could have chosen to go more slowly, cushioning the blow, and also allowing renewed economic growth to do some of the work of reducing the deficit.

So I'm not entirely sure why you seem so surprised about the government making cuts and increasing taxes.

The big question is the balance of the two. I'm not surprised that they're going for spending cuts over tax increases, they said they would, but I still disagree with it. The spending that is being cut includes welfare that provides benefits in cash to poorer people; and services that provide benefits in kind, in principle equally to everyone, in practice disproportionately used by those in the middle and below. Hence, spending cuts are more regressive than tax increases in general.

Secondly, which taxes. VAT, which has been increased, is a regressive tax. They did increase CGT for higher-rate taxpayers, but still to less than the rate for earned income. I cannot fathom how it can be considered fair that unearned income should enjoy a lower rate of tax than earned. They also could have made a much more serious tax on the banks, like the financial transaction tax proposed by many. Or the Lib Dems "Mansions Tax" which has been dropped. There's also a lot more scope for serious attempts to curb tax avoidance by the rich and by rich corporations.

Finally, which spending cuts (some would certainly have been needed at some point). Well, I'd obviously like to see Trident cut, but we knew that wasn't on the cards. Defence in general. (Which, while not exempted from cuts, is to get an easier time of it). We're spending tens of billions on major weapons systems designed to fight enemies that don't exist and have no prospect of existing in the forseeable future. An "insurance policy" people say, but it's kind of like taking out an expensive meteorite strike insurance policy. Ending the British presence in Afghanistan. It's not keeping the streets of London safe, and if it's about helping the Afghanistan people (aside from the fact that they're getting pretty sick of our "help", there are war-torn countries that can be helped out far more effectively at far less cost and without British soldiers getting killed and maimed on a daily basis.

That wouldn't cover everything, but between them, these measures would substantially reduce the cuts that are now being made to welfare, education, housing, transport, and other key areas. And, as I say, I am (for once) fully with Labour in saying they should be started a year later.
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
Oh, and apparently the ConDems are going to launch a big new arms export drive to compensate industry for expected military spending cuts following the Strategic Defence Review. Defence Equipment, Support and Technology Minister Peter Luff told reporters:

"There's a sense that in the past we were rather embarrassed about exporting defence products. There's no such embarrassment in this government"

The Lib Dems before the election were often rightly quite critical of Labour's arms exports policy. If they're not embarrassed about a new selling spree now, it only proves that they signed away any capacity for shame as part of the coalition agreement.

An apology

Jun. 23rd, 2010 06:06 pm
smhwpf: (Default)
Following yesterday's budget, I would like to apologize to the people of Britain, in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, for voting Liberal Democrat, and for allowing myself to be deceived into thinking they were a party with principles, or a party of the "centre-left". I will not make this mistake again.

Slashing welfare, slashing public spending in virtually every department - including Education, putting up VAT, and just a few fig-leafs nodding towards Lib Dem policies. These cuts will worsen poverty for many, devastate services which everyone (except very often the rich) depend on, and greatly increase the ranks of the unemployed.

Yeah, we're really all in this together.

Clegg and co may be genuine about their abstract liberal principles, but wen it comes down to it they're a bunch of privileged upper- or upper-middle-class white males with no understanding of and little empathy for those in the lower sections of society.
smhwpf: (Buffyanne)
So, Cameron in No. 10, at the head of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition.

In a way it was fairly inevitable, once the Tories got over 300 seats, that it would be hard to keep them out. A Lib-Lab government could have ruled, just, but would have been highly vulnerable and open to being castigated in the Tory press as a "coalition of the losers". The fact that Labour were so keen to dismiss offers of co-operation from the SNP didn't help. Then the row of Labour backbenchers lining up to denounce a deal with the Libs left the possibility dead in the water. A small number of Labour MPs defying the whip on something like PR could have scuppered such a coalition very quickly, and led to what would probably be a Tory majority in a new election within a year.

My first reaction is that it's not as bad as all that. The fact that New Labour is out, with its appalling record on issues such as Iraq and civil liberties, is itself a good thing. I hope now that, facing both the other parties in government, it will realise that the only direction it can oppose from is the Left, and start renewing itself with that in mind.

Secondly, the worst excesses of the Tories will be tempered by the Lib Dems - some stuff we know about like raising the inheritance tax threshold, is already out the window. That's not to say there won't be a lot of Tory stuff I don't like getting through, but not as much as were there a Tory majority. And, a prospect of some genuinely progressive Lib Dem policies getting through, including of course a referendum on AV - not an ideal system, but some move away from FPTP at least shows that it is possible. I am also encouraged by having Vince Cable of the Lib Dems as Business and Banking Secretary, and Chris Huhne as Energy & Climate Change.

However, I think that probably the worst immediate effect of the new government will be the speeding up of the cuts package, with £6 billion extra cuts in prospect this budget year. Just today came news that UK unemployment reached 2.5 million, 8% of the workforce. More cuts now, leading to direct reductions in government jobs and indirect losses through reduction in demand, will create more job losses.

In terms of opposing from the Left, this may be one of the most important issues for Labour to take up. Unemployment is a traditional Labour issue, and one of the big successes of the Blair-Brown government - loathe as I am to admit it - was to reduce unemployment substantially, at least until the current crisis.

Right now everyone focuses on the deficit as the big economic problem. It certainly is a problem, and if allowed to remain at these levels for very long would be a serious problem. But unemployment causes widespread human misery now, and may continue to do so well into the future. This should receive far more priority from government and the media than it does. Cameron talks about "Broken Britain" - insofar as parts of Britain are "broken", it was mass unemployment that broke it, which began in the Thatcher era. That is what created housing estates where no-one worked, whole sections of cities abandoned by the economy and the government. That is what has blighted Britain's youth and destroyed social solidarity.

The Tories do not care about unemployment. If anything, it is welcomed by the right as it weakens the power of organized labour. That was certainly a big bonus for Thatcher. The default response of Conservatives to unemployment is to blame the victims. The Lib Dems are bigger, but they lack Labour's traditional connections to the union movement and the working classes, all but destroyed as that was by New Labour. On this issue, I do not trust the Lib Dems to soften Tory policies that much.

Will anyone speak for the unemployed under the new government? A lot of that will be down to the next Labour leader, whoever that is.
smhwpf: (Buffy fire)
Votes: Con 36.1% Lab 29.0% Lib Dem 23.0% UKIP 3.1% BNP 1.9% Green 1.0% SNP 1.7% Plaid 0.6% DUP 0.6% Sinn Fein 0.6% SDLP 0.4% UCUNF 0.3% Alliance 0.1% All others 1.7%

Seats: Con 306 Lab 258 Lib Dem 57 Green 1 SNP 6 Plaid 3 DUP 8 Sinn Fein 5 SDLP 3 Alliance 1 Lady Sylvia Hermon 1, Byelection (safe Con) 1


My first thought? It's not as bad as all that. )

What next? )

What happens depends not just on the strength of Clegg's spine, but on the degree of support and public pressure for a change in the system. There is a post-election Take back Parliament - post-Election demo for democracy in Trafalgar Square at 2pm today. (Sadly my flight from Sweden today - I'm spending by chance the next week in Britain for work/friends-visiting - gets in too late). No doubt this will not be the last such thing. At any rate, the last thing progressives in Britain need to be doing right now is leaving it to the politicians.
smhwpf: (Default)
At the moment the Tories are up 92 (from a base of 210). The remaining seats that are uncertain are:

- 2 Lib Dem seats highly vulnerable to the Tories, plus maybe 1 long shot
- 6 Labour seats highly vulnerable to the Tories (including Amber Valley where there's a recount) plus about 2 long-shots
- 1 Tory seat vulnerable to the Lib Dems
- Fermanagh & South Tyrone where there is a second recount between Sinn Fein and the joint Unionist candidate. Apparently at one stage the difference was 8 votes.
- 1 Labour seat that the Lib Dems might take, where there is a recount (Oldham E & Saddleworth).

Best guess: based on the regional swings, and information from counts, the Tories should take (albeit narrowly) the 2 Lib Dem seats and 4 of the Labour ones, with Labour keeping Morecombe & Lunesdale and Poplar & Limehouse. Let's assume that happens. Then, depending on the recounts we have:

Tories 307 (plus 1 they will expect to get in the byelection caused by a candidate dying)
Labour 259-260
Lib Dems 54-55
Plaid 3
Greens 1
Joint Unionist 0-1
Ind. lefty Unionist 1
Alliance 1
Sinn Fein 4-5

Thus, Labour+Lib Dems + Labour allies (SDLP & ILU) would equal 318, whereas Tories + probably allies would have 315-316. But these figures could vary by, say, 1-2 seats either way.

The upshot would be that either would need the Nats on board to scrape a majority - and I really can't see the SNP and Plaid being keen on sustaining a minority Tory government, especially when the Tories have done so badly in Scotland and Wales.

So: Labour + Lib Dem + Nats (+Green?) could just get a majority. Or, the Tories would need to get the Lib Dems on board to be able realistically to govern.

There's going to be some hard bargaining over the next few days.

ETA: Labour hold Poplar & Limehouse and Ellsemere Port, the former a serious Tory (and Respect) target, the latter a Tory long-shot.


smhwpf: (Default)

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