Tag Archives: politics

A Friday thought – the shape of art to come

Here are some musings I had over the course of the last week, somewhat related to the outcome of the general election (but less firm than I was on Monday).

It’s about how the new political landscape may affect the shape of art over the next few years. I am not here talking about funding cuts (though I know some in the arts are fearful of their livelihoods being threatened), but rather what forms of creativity that do emerge might take.

Will there be a rise in escapism? Or are we, in the post 9/11 world, at the peak of escapism, as may be seen with the literary and televisual popularity of Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) and the apparent takeover of the real world by the Marvel Universe. Yet they are predominantly American features that have infiltrated British culture.

What about the home-grown aspects of the arts? Will we see a return of satire, which has largely been nullified by the preposterous goings-on of politicians in the last few years. Under Thatcher, we had Spitting Image; under Blair, we had The Thick of It. But nothing else has had quite the bite. The Revolution Will Be Televised got close, but didn’t gain the popularity of the others and Charlie Brooker’s various Wipe programmes are too sporadically placed in the schedule to establish traction. A traction which, I might add, should have been the place of Have I Got News For You, but which has, for the most part, become as sharp as a Fisher Price saw.

One of the things that struck me about the media coverage (and conversations both taken part in and eavesdropped on) was about the impression that the leaders wanted to project. For example, there was the pre-planned (and I thought, transparently co-ordinated) tweets that declared David Cameron to be ‘strong and commanding‘. Then there was the negative campaigning, portraying Ed Miliband as a “north London geek” – a point pushed by Jeremy “I’m a one nation Tory” Paxman, amongst others. So I wondered if some parts of the arts may return to an impressionistic sense, as a reflection of the current mindset.

Then there are the allegorical art forms. Might we see a rise in horror writing? I can imagine that the planned erosion of human rights could well translate into stories whereby someone, a family member perhaps, slowly becomes less and less human. The rest of the family may be fearful, may try to restore their humanity, but when they finally go past a point of no return they have to be got rid of.

Possibly one of the reasons I can imagine that plotline is because it summarises quite a lot of Shaun of the Dead. Ho hum! I never said I was original.

Maybe you can think of other ways the creative world might choose to express itself in themes or forms shaped by the political climate.

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The election happened, what next for the left?

Since last week’s general election, many have been quick off the mark with writing the post mortem, suggesting what went wrong and a few early hats have been thrown into the ring for the vacant party leadership roles.

I hope you’ve not become bored of reading such articles. I’ve written this over the course of the weekend; so I’m sorry that’s not been as quick off the mark as others have been. The plan is to look at the disparity between what was widely expected to happen and what did happen, try to look at some of the reasons behind this, suggest how the UK political left might start the fightback and what the ordinary citizens of this country can do in the meantime.

What was expected to happen?

With the opinion polls that were published prior to the election, there was no clear winner. It seemed likely that the Conservatives would win the most seats but fall short of an overall majority. Labour were expected to suffer heavily at the hands of the SNP in Scotland, but that they might gain a fair few from the Liberal Democrats, meaning an overall small loss in the net number of seats.

My own particular guess was that in the Lib/Con marginals, the Liberal Democrat voters would, in spite of their party’s betrayal, remain loyal. After all, their sin was to go into coalition with the Conservatives, so it would make no sense for voters to go from Lib Dem to Conservative. I thought they might lose some voters to Labour, ultimately diluting the Lib+Lab vote and allowing the Conservatives a few wins, but not many, as they would vote with the Lib Dems as a tactical manoeuvre.

I also thought that, given the cuts the Conservatives unleashed in the last 5 years that Labour would pick up some Lab/Con marginals. Further Labour gains would result from the rise of UKIP which would dilute the Conservative vote.

The result would be that the Conservatives wouldn’t be able to win a majority and that another attempted coalition with the Liberal Democrats would still fall short. The other possibility was that Labour would try to form a coalition with the SNP but that too would fall short of a majority. Yet crucially, Lab+SNP would be greater than Con+Lib.

As a result, I thought that we would end up with a minority government. Such a government would not last long, being unable to pass a queen’s speech and losing a vote of no confidence, triggering a second election this year. Given a quick failure, whoever formed the minority government would likely lose the subsequent election, making this May a good election to lose. My hope then was that since the Conservatives had the most seats, they would be the ones to drink from the poisoned chalice.

What happened?

My estimate was wrong. I’d bought in too much to the published opinion polls prior to the election and when the exit polled showed a clear lead (though not quite a majority) for the Conservatives, I didn’t believe it.

The expected windfall of seats for the SNP did happen, with a number of high profile people losing their seats, including Douglas Alexander, Danny Alexander, Jim Murphy and Charles Kennedy.

The first real warning sign, though, was in Nuneaton. It was a target Labour seat that they needed to win if they were going to beat the Conservatives. But instead of that happening, the Conservatives won the seat with an increased majority. This happened in several marginals, though Labour did take some (and the Conservatives won a few Labour-held marginals). This was not a case of a significant victory (though I would say it was a notable victory) for the Conservatives; more a stern defence of that which they held most precariously. Also, the success that UKIP had in the last round of local elections was not replicated, meaning that they did not dilute Conservative support as much as had been expected. A case in example was my incorrect prediction about what would happen in Crawley, where I lived for 7 years.

The real surprise was what happened in the Lib Dem dominated area of South-West England. Here, contrary to my (and others’) expectations, the Lib Dem voters did abandon their party in droves, and went to the Conservatives. It was these wins that really helped to ensure the Conservatives won a majority.

Why it happened?

We have to acknowledge that this is now a highly divided country. Scotland is undoubtedly the country of the SNP. London is predominantly a Labour city. In England, outside of London, the Conservatives are the dominant party except for in former mining communities. Wales is predominantly Labour, by population, at least. As with London, their support is greater in more urban areas, though the constituencies with larger areas are more mixed, so the Labour majority doesn’t show up well on a map. Northern Ireland has a quite different politics altogether, which has a far deeper and more painful history than I can reasonably go into here.

I would need to add: the SNP ensured that Labour had a bad night. But the SNP are not to blame for allowing David Cameron back into Downing Street. If they had increased their share of the vote, yet not won a single extra seat, then David Cameron would still have a majority. The difference would be that Labour would have a greater share of the opposition benches.

I have long maintained the idea that governments are not so much voted in as they are voted out. In 1997, the Conservatives had lost any shred of credibility and all Labour needed to do was present a credible alternative. They did that successfully and won the election with a landslide. At the time, people asked if it was the end of the Conservative party. It wasn’t. It was damaging, yes, and they were unlikely to win the next election either. But then Labour took 418 seats, with the Conservatives on 165. Compare that to last week, when the Conservatives won 331 and Labour won 232. So I think one cannot say that 2015 was as bad for Labour as 1997 was for the Conservatives.

In 2010, Labour were the ones who had lost credibility, so it should have been a cake-walk for the Conservatives to win a majority, but it was a reflection of their electoral failure that we ended up with a hung parliament, resulting in a coalition. A part of this may well be due to the fact that the Conservatives came off worse than Labour did in the expenses scandal. Though trust in both sides was severely dented by that episode.

They key thing that happened in electoral terms was where the disaffected Lib Dem voters went. In London, having looked through some of the constituency results (I haven’t done a full numerical analysis yet), they seem to have gone largely to Labour and the Greens, with some to UKIP and a handful to the Conservatives. This is what I expected to happen nationwide, but elsewhere, particularly in the south-west, the largest chunk of Lib Dem voters went Conservative. I confess, I don’t understand why they would really do this. It’s not a part of the country I live in and I haven’t been able to speak to anyone who did switch their vote that way.

Beyond that, though, my view is that the Labour message was too piecemeal. They were chasing the agenda set by the mainstream media (see below), coming up with policies in response to what others had said, instead of leading the way with an alternative vision. Much of the discussion over the last few days has asked whether they were too far left (which doesn’t wash with Scotland, nor with the opposition to their ‘control immigration’ mug) or too far right (which doesn’t explain why they didn’t take the English marginals that were ripe for the picking).

How to fix it?

There has to be a long term strategy from the left. Ideally, this should be a 13 year strategy, starting from now. Why 13? Well, there should be 3 phases: the first starts now and needs to establish a plan for bringing down the Conservatives at the next election, replacing them with a credible, progress and egalitarian government. But it would be too short term to say the aim is to be elected. The strategy has to include a full 5 year plan for government. Yet we know what the Conservatives have done in the last 5 years of coalition, and we have some idea about what they will do, untethered, in the next 5 years. Will a single term be enough to unwind the legacy of the David Cameron, George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith? Maybe not. So we need to think about how to start undoing the damage they’ve done as well as the further damage they will do; this will entail fixing the country and preparing for a 2nd term.

The strategy has to be two-fold: national and local.

On the national level, there has to be a whole, coherent and credible alternative. The first thing is the substance of the message, be it on business, on housing, on debt, on immigration, on debt, on taxation, on education, on defence, on health, etc. More than that, though, any election strategy has to incorporate the media. While there has been some progress with social media, it remains the BBC and the newspapers who set the agenda. Given these are largely Conservative biased (the BBC’s main political team of Nick Robinson, David Dimbleby, Andrew Marr and Andrew Neill being the most notable of the pro-Tory group) then an infiltration strategy is partly what’s needed. One can combat the right-wing hegemony head on, to sing a different tune. Yet one can also attempt to change the tune from within the choir. In the wake of the election, people have been joining both the Liberal Democrats and Labour. Yet party members are unlikely to find employment in press run by Murdoch, Dacre or the Barclay brothers. A little more subtlety is required. In short, to be as clever as a fox, whilst remaining as innocent as a dove.

Then we have the matter of the Independent’s betrayal, as they encouraged a continuation of a Conservative-led coalition, while the Evening Standard, owned by the same tycoon who runs the Independent, backed the Conservatives. My proposition is that we need a new left-leaning national newspaper. I suggested this on social media on the election and was subsequently trolled for saying it. Amongst the irrational rantings that were aimed at me, they said that the Guardian and the Mirror were sufficient and that there was nothing wrong with the over-arching dominance of the newspaper market by a very small number of very rich men with a vested in interest in keeping the Conservatives singing their tune.

On the local level, the obvious answer is to set about targeting the seats to win. However, there has been a strong suspicion that to counter this, the Conservatives will attempt to rig the next election by changing the constituency boundaries so as to favour them. I’ve read comments from Conservative supporters saying that their primary aim is to make sure than Labour are locked out of government for decades. As an example of how this could be done, they might enlarge the London constituencies (making sure they are larger both in terms of population and area), thus reducing their number; or they might take two adjacent Conservative constituencies and make them into three.

For the Liberal Democrats, they have space to come back. First of all, though, they need to acknowledge their responsibility for helping to introduce the bedroom tax, for Sure Start centres, for cuts to disability benefits, for targeted sanctions against the unemployed. They can’t say that because they were in coalition they were forced to do those things. They need to acknowledge that they were wrong. Then, depending on how the majority Conservative government play things out, they can (as some have before the election) list out the things they prevented happening during the coalition’s reign. Things like the Conservative plan to repeal the Human Rights Act, to change the boundaries, to make even deeper cuts or further and faster privatisation of the NHS. If they can do this, then they stand a chance of taking back some of the Lib/Con marginals they lost, particularly those in south-west England and south-west London.

In the mean time

I am not a politician. I am not a journalist. I am someone who cares. Someone who is worried and fearful of the harm that this government will do.

On Saturday there was protest held in Westminster. I had looked around to see if I could find any plan for a protest but could find none. The first I heard about it was on Twitter after it had begun, by which time it seemed a little late to go and join. I supported that protest, and let me say why.

Democracy should not be an event that happens one day every five years. Democracy should be woven into the fabric of the society we live in. When we’re not at the ballot box, we can protest, we can petition, we can march, we can write letters, we can go and see our MPs at their local surgeries. Such expressions of democracy can be firm, they can be loud and at times, they can be disruptive. There are lines to be drawn, though. I do not advocate violence, nor do I advocate inappropriate protest, such as the graffiti that one person put on a war memorial.

Protests against austerity or against the removal of human rights are not, as some Conservatives have been saying, moaning or whinging about the result of the election. While there is a debate to be had over the effectiveness of our current democratic system (c.f. the referendum debate and the outcome of every close election – my particular favourite example is 1951), I do not dispute the Conservative’s right to govern. It has been suggested to me, by several on the political right, that accepting the legitimacy of the result means that we shouldn’t protest. I cannot agree with that.

When Labour won the 1997 general election and sought to introduce a national minimum wage, Conservatives would have been well within their rights to take to the streets to demand that employers should be allowed to employ people for as little pay as they saw fit.

Nor do I agree with the accusation that protest is in any way sanctimonious or self-righteous. To speak out against the Conservatives is an act of compassion; of standing up for those who have been, and will be hurt, by the acting out of Conservative policy. To turn one’s back or adopt an “I’m alright, Jack” attitude is an act of wilful negligence. There will be a time for gentler persuasion, but right now the time is right to give Conservative voters a metaphorical slap across the face, show them what they have allowed to happen. So that, like the end of The Bridge On The River Kwai, they may realise what they have done. I do not wish to demonise Conservative voters. Instead, my prayer for them is “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.”

Book Review: The British Constitution – A Very Short Introduction by Martin Loughlin

When reading the Very Short Introduction (VSI) series, I find them to be ideal for subjects where one has some modicum of understanding, but where any level of detail is currently unknown to me. Having grown up and lived in Britain all my life, and having observed our politics for most of my adult life, I get an idea of what it means for something to be “constitutional”. Unlike the Americans, we don’t have a fixed, codified constitution. It is very much something of a ‘sense’ that we have, but which is instilled in us through roughly 800 years of history since the signing of the Magna Carta. As we mark the octocentenary of that famous document it seemed appropriate to have a read of this.

The opening discourse is about the nature of a constitution and what could count as one. The most famous example is, of course, the American constitution, but it’s noted that that’s quite an odd example as it was designed as a founding document to a country with no history, no legal precedent of its own. So Thomas Paine (whose Rights of Man I have, but haven’t read yet) makes a rather post hoc argument defining a constitution as a single document with several features which just happen to coincide with a description of the American one.

One might well think, as I did at the outset, that there would be considerable focus on the Magna Carta and its legacy, but its role in British constitutional history is heavily downplayed here. Instead, Loughlin opts for a “common law” approach, claiming that what we understand as the British constitution is the combined history and tradition of the laws of the land. In order to colour the picture in we get a rundown of some specific pieces of legislation that have been passed over the centuries and their effect on the democratic make-up of what we now know as the United Kingdom.

Oddly enough, the author never mentions Erskine May, the guide to parliamentary procedure. This prompted me to then have a look at the author’s background, and here we can see that perhaps Loughlin was not the best choice to author a book on the constitution, as his expertise is in law. So it is little wonder that he views the constitution as the combination of various laws passed through the centuries. If it were labelled as “British legal history – A Very Short Introduction” then we might be less disillusioned.

In amongst a bit of a hodge podge of pieces, there is some really good stuff. For example, we get a good summary of the political history of the various unions that have taken place to give us the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that we now have. Interestingly, it’s very much a book of its time, as it frequently references the current coalition government. So it will be interesting to see how later editions may be changed to reflect the government of the day.

Thoughts of an undecided voter (and how to persuade me to your side)

With about a month left until the general election it seems right to have a little bit of thinking out loud about how to vote. At present, I’ve not firmly decided which way I will vote, but the hope is that by writing down the thinking process and opening it up to critique that there may come a sharpening of these slightly blunt thoughts. The interested reader may wish to refer to the Voter’s Manifesto I published last autumn for specific areas of policy:

Part 1 – Democratic reform, Debt, Deficit & Austerity
Part 2 – Environment, Employment, Inflation, Transport and Healthcare
Part 3 – Company Law, Corporate Tax, Personal Tax, Loan Sharks and Regionalisation
Part 4 – Welfare, Europe, International Aid, Housing and Utility Costs
Part 5 – Education, Immigration, Tobacco & Gambling, Culture and Defence

Here I will make a few comments on each of the parties standing in my constituency. Consequently, I will not be making extensive comment on any of the regionalist/nationalist or minor parties that I cannot vote for. I shall deal with them in the order of the size of their current parliamentary parties.

The Conservative Party

Nationally

I am not a natural conservative and have been highly critical of the evils perpetrated under the current leadership. They try to make much of their economic record with buzzphrases such as the “the mess we inherited” and “our long term economic plan”. What they fail to ever mention is that they inherited a recovering economy. Not only that, but they have been consistently dishonest in their appraisal of the causes, only attributing it to the previous Labour administration, failing to mention that the Conservatives supported Labour in the bail out of the banks, the single act that pushed up the deficit and increased the debt. Still further, as any reasonably educated and economically literate person could tell you, the causes of the banking crash was a lack of regulation and oversight, sparked by the deregulation of the markets in the late 80s. Successive governments, Tory and Labour, oversaw the growing problem, with ineffective regulation, though it was always the Tories who called for less and less regulation. In the last 5 years, the coalition’s economic record can be summed up by the fact that nearly a million people have had to use foodbanks between 2013 & 2014.

Their attacks on the disabled have been, and I do not use the word flippantly or in ignorance of its implication, immoral.

Locally

With this being a safe Labour seat, the Conservative candidate is something of a sacrificial lamb. The fact that she put herself forward for selection must have come to a great relief to the local party that someone had bitten this particular bullet. Her main campaign thus far has been a mixture of parroting the party line and having a petition against the ridiculous management of London Bridge station, where many of the residents of the constituency commute through.

I am led to understand that she has not been well lately, so most of the campaigning has been done by the local party on her behalf. I hope she recovers to good health soon.

The Labour Party

Nationally

I have voted for Labour in the past, but I did not in the last elections to be held, the European elections. Part of the reason for that is that is the different electoral process there. You may recall that I am no great fan of the first past the post system. But for a general election, it’s what we’re stuck with, not least due to Labour’s campaigning against the introduction of a more democratic method. This means we remain with voters having to consider tactical voting.

My biggest concern is that Labour are just too far to the political right and as such are almost indistinguishable from the Conservatives. When looking at what a Labour cabinet might look like, one has to assume that the current shadow cabinet will, by and large, be the cabinet of government. I have particular issues with some of the cabinet. For example, I still do not find Ed Balls to be a credible candidate for chancellor; Margaret Hodge would be a far better candidate. When it comes to education, Tristram Hunt just seems as though he is in the wrong party, just as Robert Halfon’s campaigning for the disabled has been most un-Conservative like. The recent comments by Rachel Reeves to the effect that Labour are not the party of the unemployed does little to make me think that her ideology is vastly different from that of Iain Duncan Smith – probably the most heartless person on the Conservative front bench.

I have also heard very little about reversing the damage the current government has inflicted. So while they make a lot of noise about the NHS, they do not go far enough by way of banning the privatisation of the NHS or repealing the Health and Social Care Bill.

Locally

The incumbent MP, a former minister, is stepping down this election. Her successor has been curiously quiet. The most notable campaign has been one about the overcrowding at London Bridge, in parallel (but seemingly not in cooperation) with the Tory candidate. Secondary to this has been about the small businesses based in railway arches, particularly those near Herne Hill and Brixton stations. As yet, though, my only encounter with a Labour activist in the area was a gentle door-to-door enquiry when the gentleman couldn’t remember the candidate’s name.

The Liberal Democrat Party

Nationally

The Lib Dems are another party I have voted for in the past. Not the recent past, I might add. For whatever they may claim they stand for, they are tainted by the Faustian pact they entered into 5 years ago.

They have, though, been behind some of the better measures made by the coalition, such as increasing the personal allowance. As the minor part of a coalition government, it was almost inevitable that they would make compromises. The question to consider is whether those compromises were reasonable or whether the Lib Dems violated their principles in order to ensure they occupied, if not the corridors of power, the broom cupboards that lie just off the corridors. Their biggest own goal was to back the Conservative’s plans to make higher education unaffordable for many, in spite of having promised to not raise tuition fees.

Because of this, it seems meaningless to ask what their policies are, as their voting patterns will be dictated to them by whoever they may end up in coalition with, if they even retain a large enough parliamentary party to be the kingmakers as they were in 2010. The last projection I saw had them down to 17 MPS, making them the 4th largest party, behind the SNP.

Locally

The Lib Dem candidate has climbed the ladder through local politics and is by far the most recognisable of the candidates, having been a local councillor. He was also the first to get his leaflets through the door. This, though was where they lost any chance of my vote. There was a misleading graph on the front of the leaflet which exaggerated the Lib Dem share of the vote. This was a dishonest measure and when I confronted the candidate about it, he failed to acknowledge that it was wrong, trying to somehow argue that to graphically represent the share of the votes fairly would be misleading. I will not vote for a candidate that seeks to mislead the electorate.

LD poster

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Nationally

Where does one start with UKIP? From one perspective, their recent increase in popularity (due in no small part to the exposure afforded to them by the BBC, Daily Mail and other bastions of the right wing media) is quite interesting, but in many aspects it is also deeply worrying. Their rhetoric of hatred directed at the migrant population, blaming all the countries ills on the European Union, is built upon a paranoid delusion.

The rate of embarrassments they have had over the racism of members, their cavalier attitude towards to expenses and their whole far-right ethos go completely against what I, and many others, see as good about British values of multiculturalism, tolerance and reasonableness.

Locally

I heard nothing from the local candidate. Just as the electorate here are too intelligent and well-informed to vote en masse for the Conservatives it seems highly unlikely that UKIP be a significant force here. At the European elections, their poster in the area was defaced with an message saying that their politics of division and fear was not welcome here.

The Green Party

Nationally

I have for some time been more inclined to the Greens than any other party. As a scientifically educated person, though, I do not agree with their objection to nuclear power. Their lone MP, Caroline Lucas, is one of the few members of Parliament who is genuinely deserving of the title “honourable”. She has consistently spoken good sense in the Commons and been a thorn in the side of the coalition. Natalie Bennett, though, has had a massive crisis of credibility lately. It began with an interview on the Daily Politics which was followed up with an infamous radio interview when she came completely unstuck over some rather gentle questioning on their economic policy.

I regard their “citizens’ income” policy as nuts and any time they have been given an opportunity to explain how it will be funded they have completely failed to do so.

Locally

The local candidate is the biggest reason to not vote for them. For starters, he doesn’t seem to be very aware of where the constituency is. His rhetoric is nearly all based around Brixton. Yet only a tiny bit of the constituency is in Brixton; furthermore, only a tiny bit of Brixton is in the constituency.

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)

Nationally

This is a minority party with no realistic prospect of gaining any candidates. Founded by the late Bob Crow, they are ostensibly a party that stands against things, not for them. On their website, under a heading entitled ‘What we stand for’ they say:

“TUSC will oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions. Reject increases in council tax, rent and service charges to compensate for government cuts. Vote against the privatisation of council jobs and services.”

One of the puzzles is that if they really are a trade unionist party, why is it that the trade unions, on the whole, back the Labour party and not TUSC? That’s a question I don’t know the answer to. I could speculate, but that will be of little help.

Reading through their policies, it is clear that they are a left wing party and probably most aligned with my own thinking. While my own manifesto was (and I hope it was clear) a sketch, theirs seems even more simplistic. For example their entire tax policy is “Tax the rich. For progressive tax on rich corporations and individuals and an end to tax avoidance.” – there are no proposals as to how this will be done, how much it will raise or even what thresholds will be used to determine “rich”.

Locally

The local candidate comes across as the antithesis of a typical politician. In this respect, he very much like the other left-of-centre candidate, the Green Party’s candidate. He is clearly a passionate man who has put himself up for election more because of what he believes and less because of party loyalty. This makes him quite different from the other candidates, where I think the weightings of the motivations may be quite different.

I do not believe he stands a real chance of being elected, but I am tempted to vote for him, if only so that he does not lose his deposit.


After enunciating those thoughts, am I any closer to a decision? Closer, certainly; decided, no.

How to persuade me to vote for you

If you’re allied to a particular cause and you wish to persuade me to vote for you, here’s how to go about it:

1) Have good policies. Without these, you’re a non starter. They must be well thought through, overall financially viable (allowing that some areas will be net spends and others net gains, e.g. funding the spending of the NHS through taxation) and must leave no group left behind. See my voter’s manifesto (links above) for what I consider to be “good”. Others will differ to a greater or lesser extent.

2) Spend more effort speaking about your own policies than you do of others. There is nothing more offputting than trying to portray your cause as the only viable one, dismissing all other alternatives as “chaos”. As a corollary to this, I would also ask that you not make promises on behalf of another. By all means, critique a manifesto promise that one of your opponents has made or point out failures to meet promises, but do not make assumptions about what another party will do unless they have stated it. It makes you look as though you lack the conviction to back your own policies and are relying on voters to make you the default option of “not them”.

3) Don’t be a sycophant. Anyone who wholeheartedly and uncritically supports every policy of their own party is a person who falls into one of two categories: a) the gullible, believing everything they hear with a slavish devotion to the party line; or b) the dishonest, who advocate views they do not hold for fear of seeming to be disloyal. The former is a fool whose opinion is valueless as it is swayed and tossed by the wind, devoid of a firm foundation. The latter is a schemer who cannot be trusted as it impossible to tell what they truly believe and what they are saying because it serves an ulterior motive.

A Wednesday thought – a case for corporate profits on the left

In the last week, the election campaign has focused on which of the two main parties are the better prospect for “business”. I use the term in quotation marks because it is such a broad term with many aspects, that anyone can almost mean anything by it.

The focus has been on a small number of Conservative-cheering chief executives come out and in a shock move that took everyone by surprise criticising Labour. In some cases the attacks on Labour were more vicarious as the criticisms were more directed against Ed Miliband.

Needing to save political face, Ed Balls was sent off to the Newsnight studio where he made a bit of a mess of things. Now while there is a very good case for saying that today’s Labour party is far too far to the political right, they remain further to the left than the Tories, even if that has as much meaning as saying that a place is further south than Greenland.

So here’s my attempt at making a case, from a left wing perspective, for why companies should be making profits.

The core of the case has to be that for a civilised, progressive country that looks after its young, its elderly, its sick, its disabled, its unemployed, its homeless or any other vulnerable group, there has to be a guaranteed provision for them. By being a guarantee, this means that the charity of the wealthy cannot be relied upon. For too long there has been a meta-narrative of the “deserving poor” when what is needed is social justice that, like legal justice, is blind to any impediments or prejudice.

Such a guarantee is a costly thing and it needs to be funded. This is where companies can make their contribution. By making profits, which are then taxed fairly, sufficient funding can made for every necessary public service. The main obstacle to this is neoliberal trickle-down ideology that insists, contrary to evidence, that the private sector, subject to market forces, is best placed for the provision of services. Once this false idol can be slain, then the tricky job of balancing the books comes first with a forecast of what central costs will be in the coming years. Then one can determine how much tax needs to be raised (though given the huge cost of the bank bail outs, an over recovery is needed) in order to recoup the costs.

But if companies are not paying sufficient tax then we will continue to run a budget deficit, funded by ever increasing debt. Such has been the case for the last 6 years.

Therefore, one of the major contributors to the public purse has to be corporation tax. The two main obstacles to this are tax avoidance and not having sufficient (un-avoided) pre-tax profits from which tax may be paid. So there are two prongs to using corporations to help fund public services, but they are not mutually exclusive.

This why many on the political left have made such a big deal out of tax avoidance. From the current corporate mindset, though, tax is seen merely as an expense that should be minimised. In this regard, what is needed is a change in the mindset, so that tax is seen not as a burden but as a contribution to the society in which the corporation is based.

The factor that the left is less noisy about is the fact that in order to be able to pay tax, companies must be allowed to make pre-tax profits. The difficulty that this brings for the left is that the cause of profits is generally attributed to some combination of over-charging customers or exploiting workers. If one accepts this premise, then it cannot be morally right for any company to make profits but the consequence then is that there’s insufficient funding for public services. If one is to then make a moral case for profit-making activities then the two-fold premise of profit creation must be brought into question. In other words, can a company pay its employees a reasonable wage, charge its customers a fair price for its goods or services and still turn a profit?

If the answer to this is ‘no’, then reducing loopholes that allow for tax avoidance is meaningless since, if all loopholes are closed, we would only seek to then go on and eliminate the existence of profits that could be taxed in the first place.

Therefore, I contend that profits are necessary. Whether they are regarded as a necessary evil is certainly a point that could be further debated. And, of course, what constitutes a reasonable size of profit could also be debated, hopefully in relation to the size of revenue of the business but without falling into the financially naive trap of trying to make a point of rhetoric based on “Co X had £Y of revenue but only paid £z in corporation tax”.

The Rochester & Strood by-election: a prediction

I must confess from the start that the title is a little misleading as the purpose of this blog is not really to predict the precise number of votes and therefore who will win the forthcoming by-election. Rather, this is a prediction about the fallout after the result.

For what it’s worth though, I think it will be a close-run election and that the Conservatives and UKIP will be the top two parties. The Labour proportion of the vote will go down, as will the Lib Dems, with a small, but insignificant increase for the Greens. If the opinion polls are to be believed, then UKIP look set to come out on top.

However it goes, the fallout is what will be more interesting. The fact is that Rochester and Strood has been a safe Conservative seat. Though given the change in British politics that we have witnessed in last few years, it seems reasonable to suppose that a lot of those on the far-right, which the Conservatives rely on for electoral success, will switch to UKIP, thus eroding the Conservative vote.

As a result, whether or not they win, the relentless optimism of the UKIP leadership will be declaring this a success. The extent to which that celebration takes place will, of course, depend on whether Mark Reckless wins the seat he previously won for the Conservatives. I would predict that Nigel Farage will be given plenty of air time and column space to enunciate his view that this is indicative of a sea change in public opinion, that people are fed up with traditional Westminster politics and that UKIP are the ones to deliver change.

The Tories, having either lost the seat or seen their majority severely dented, will need to have their spin on it. And of course, that spin will be: “[what a disaster for Ed Miliband]”. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Tory playbook would parrot the same line even if Labour were to have an unlikely win. If I were a Labour voter in the constituency I might even be tempted to vote UKIP as a tactical vote, though given the proximity to the 2015 general election I might just not bother this time around, as it won’t change who’s in government. Either way, the Conservatives should have a tough job on their hands, but they will look not to their own failings but will react like a wounded beast to lash out at those around them. Don’t expect David Cameron to be put in front of the cameras and interviewed extensively; that job will fall to someone else, offered up as a sacrificial goat to the right wing media who are increasingly finding their loyalties split between an ailing Tory party and the strengthening, yet still dilute, poison of UKIP.

In a seat where the Tories have had a majority of just under 10,000 any movement in the votes for Labour, the Lib Dems or the Greens is of such comparative insignificance that any attempt to make generalisations about the state of the parties and of the country as a whole will likely have an extremely high conjecture-to-fact ratio.

It is interesting to note that in the last general election, the English Democrats polled higher than the Greens in the constituency but that they’re not standing in this election. Instead, there are 4 independent candidates as well as representatives of the Monster Raving Loony Party, Britain First, People Before Profit and the Patriotic Socialist Party. I wouldn’t expect many of these to have a significant effect on the outcome, and indeed most will probably lose their deposit.

What might be most interesting is the Labour reaction. In some ways, being the previous runners-up but with no realistic chance of winning, they’re in a no-lose situation. The ground would be set for an attack on David Cameron’s lack of leadership, just as the right wing press have attacked Ed Miliband recently on the basis of journalists passing off rumours from other journalists as news. However, given that this looks set to be a two-horse race between the two right wing parties, it seems likely that the media will grant them the lion’s share of the coverage. As such, if there is to be any comment from Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Greens on the outcome of the election, don’t expect them to make the headlines.

What we’ll get is airtime afforded primarily to Nigel Farage with maybe the odd comment from Mark Reckless, though he’ll mostly be silent so as to not steal the limelight from his party leader. The upper echelons of the Tory party will be strangely quiet and none of the main media outlets will question why. They’ll put up someone to take any flak for them, though any questioning will tend to be along the lines of “[are you not far enough to the political right on immigration]”.

In other words, no change from what we’ve grown used to over the last couple of years.

A Voter’s Manifesto (part 5 of 5)

Link to part 1

Link to part 2

Link to part 3

Link to part 4

Education

Education is a tough one for me, as it’s not a sector that I have much experience with or recent exposure to. I am aware that there have been sweeping changes made recently, mostly implemented by Michael Gove, and that they have been hugely unpopular with those who actually work in education and understand the sector far better than either Gove or I do.

In the past, we had universities without tuition fees. Scotland scrapped tuition fees. We should follow Scotland’s lead and return to tuition that is free at the point of use. Yet universities should not be privileged above other forms of education. The recent rise of apprenticeships has been a good thing and continued investment in this area, with post-secondary education funding being split in the proportion of people going to university to those entering apprenticeships.

The start of a child’s education is important, and the closure of many Sure Start centres was a backwards move. This should be reversed, so as to enact and signify a real commitment to the future of our young people.

Education should not be merely about learning facts and rote recall. Any amendments to the syllabus must not be so radical as to disrupt teachers or students. A fair balance must be sought whereby knowledge is valued, but where understanding of how to use facts is also highlighted.

As well as the academic subjects, there must be a recognition of the value of the creative subjects and sports, but no child should be expected to do well in all fields.

Immigration

The recent rise of the far right, including but not limited to, support for the EDL, BNP, UKIP and some portions of the Conservative party, show that there is an appetite for a discussion on immigration. Such a discussion need not be conducted on the same racist terms that its agitators choose to frame the debate in.

Unfortunately it needs to be stated that there should no quotas on either gross or net migration. Any public discussion on the matter must include a proportionate measure of the facts, not speculation, including but not limited to the numbers of migrants, the numbers in work, the number unemployed and their net contribution/cost to the economy.

Tobacco & gambling

Tobacco and gambling provide some little amount of leisure whilst at the same time causing a great level of harm. Profits derived from these industries will be taxed at a flat 90%. This is not intended primarily as a tax-raising measure, but as a deterrent against such corrosive industries that do more harm than good to society.

Culture

For too long, there has been disproportionate spending on the arts focused on London. This needs to be more equitably distributed. However, as it is a non-essential part of the economy, I would not propose any above-inflation increases in funding.

Defence

In the words of Tony Benn, “If you can find the money to kill people, you can find the money to help them.”

Any company which manufactures instruments of death will be subject to a 100% tax on their profits, with those funds ringfenced to the medical treatment of those wounded (both physically and mentally) as a result of war. If this means that they are no longer able to carry on in business, so be it. I would rather spend money on unemployment benefits for a short time than on war.

The nuclear weapons programme, Trident, is to be wound down and eventually scrapped. Yet this should be done gradually, so as to ease the unemployment that will inevitably ensue as a result of this corrective measure. The collective engineering expertise that is currently employed by the defence sector may be gainfully employed elsewhere, not least in the construction of new  power stations, new homes, new transport infrastructure, to name a few.

Concluding remarks

Thus concludes my preliminary sketch of a manifesto. I could go into much more detail on more issues. I have also chosen to not include my more radical ideas as I don’t think they could be realistically implemented in the next parliament. Instead I have opted for optimistic realism rather than pie-in-the-sky thinking. Though no doubt some will think I have opted for the latter.

This has been something of a wishlist. Things I would like to see included in a manifesto which I think I could vote for. But on top of all of these, what I would love to see is an honesty in our politicians that while they will aim for these, that they will fail. No party in my lifetime has successfully met all its targets and fulfilled the promises made in their manifesto. So I will be less inclined to vote for anyone who promises the earth.

Unforeseen circumstances will arise for which there is no manifesto promise, but which needs to be dealt with during the course of the parliament.

The real aim though has been twofold. One has to been to clarify my own thoughts, and indeed I could go on tinkering with this for ages. But the other one is for your benefit. It has been to stimulate thought. You might disagree with me wholly and that’s OK. If it gets you to think and wonder what sort of things you would want to see, then you can get a jump start on the political parties and examine their manifestos with something in mind. If you are a member of a political party, you may even have some say in shaping the policies that end up in a manifesto.

I have not written this in a way that has been designed to persuade. I have not asked that you agree with me. But I would do so on this final point. In a democracy, we should all count equally and be allowed to have our say and to be listened to. We need not be limited in our choices by the options that are presented to us. We can be imaginative in coming up with solutions to the problems we face as a society. If we can present alternatives to our politicians and stand strong in our beliefs, then there is room for democracy to work.

So that’s my manifesto. What’s yours?