This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Tories Haven't Changed

Where's the evidence that the Conservative Party has changed?

Tomorrow, the Justice Bill returns to the House of Commons where it will seek to make it illegal to incite homophobia.

The Tories have already voted this amendment down THREE times before.

When the Bill was in the House of Commons, only five Conservative MPs supported the ban on inciting homophobic hatred.

In the House of Lords, when the Bill was there previously it was wrecked by some Tory nutter.

And when it went through the Committee stages in the House of Commons earlier this month, all of the Tory MPs on the Committee voted to remove the amendment.

Some of these Tory MPs think it will stop the odd comedian telling a joke or two. It won't. That's not its purpose. It is designed to make it an offence to bully or abuse people because of their sexuality.

The Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles might think its funny to make jokes about gay people but there is absolutely nothing funny about inciting hatred of anybody. Foolish people with half a brain might laugh at 'gay' jokes but really they are just another way of bullying people. I remember similar arguments being made when laws were passed that banned incitement to racial hatred. There should not be any double standards.

If you needed any evidence that the Tories haven't changed one bit you should take a look at their actions over this.

Compassionate conservatism? Now that is a joke.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

From New Labour to New Socialism?

I have thought a lot about the article Jon Cruddas wrote in the Guardian this week and I have to say I like the sentiment behind it.

Cruddas understands - and its surprising how few in government do - that a new set of initiatives or policies isn't the solution to Labour's problems. What we need as a Party is a fundamental rethink about what we stand for and where we are heading. Cruddas even suggests a new label: "New Socialism".

What I like is that Cruddas thinks about these things. He understands that the Party needs to find new ways of communicating its values to a different generation of voters. A generation which is much more politically savvy and demanding now. Rehashing the arguments of 1997 or rigidly sticking to New Labour dogma is not going to win us the next election. So we need to revisit what we are for.

I also think he trusts people to make decisions for themselves. He wrote that he wanted to see a new localism, the devolution of public services and proportional representation "not as a preserve of the liberal metropolitan intelligentsia, but as a core mechanism with which to combat a sense of working-class alienation".

Firstly, to talk about devolution of public services and localism is a very Blairite idea. It sounds like he wants people to have choice and to make decisions for themselves. Great. I believe this is a mechanism that drives up quality and standards in public services and is genuinely popular with the electorate. We should steal a march on this before the Tories outflank us with it.

Secondly, he's also trying to find ways of reaching out to the working class, which only him and Hazel Blears seem to be bothered about. Perhaps, it is time that we go back to the idea of electoral reform and reconsider it as a way to do this.

In the same article he also says:

"Labour lost the language of generosity, kindness and community as it lost the tempo of the country. England's abiding culture was never socialist, but as we misunderstood its essential ethic of solidarity we lost our ability to build a politics beyond the market - to mould a radical hope for the country".

I could not have put this better myself. He is not repudiating the last ten years, but he is pointing out that our language needs to adapt and reflect new circumstances. We have to be radical. A positive, forward looking agenda that does seek to build a "Good society" still offers the best hope of winning the next election and staying in power.

At the end of the article he quotes Tony Blair for heaven sake. I think his verdict on Blair is harsher than it ought to be but discovering some of the early radicalism of Blair and using the language of change and hope seems to me to be pretty sensible. He understands this.

At last year's Labour Party Conference in Manchester, I listened to him and Hazel Blears take part in a fringe event. Two politicians, two different outlooks, two sides of the Party. But united by a quality which I think is lacking in some of our politicians: "authenticity". Both of them know what needs to change, both of them say what they think and both of them offer good solutions about how we reach out to people.

In the end, I think that Cruddas just 'gets it'. He understands what needs to be done and his judgement appears good. If he keeps his seat at the next election - and it is a marginal one - this will put him in a powerful position should there be a leadership contest.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Who's Sorry Now?

It should come as no surprise to anyone that most Tories are hypocrites.

But I find it particularly galling that David Cameron has chosen to "apologise" for the Conservative Party's failure to identify the problems in the economy over the past ten years.

In the last few days, the Tory leader has admitted that the Party had not done enough to warn people about the rising levels of debt and borrowing. He said that the Thatcher and Major governments should shoulder some of the blame for the crisis.

But wasn't it the Conservatives who repeatedly criticised the Labour government for too much regulation of the City and business? If we had done what they wanted, goodness knows where would we be now.

After all, Cameron was one of Norman Lamont's special advisers - an arch de-regulator. And I didn't hear him complain about any of this when the good times were rolling.

He may be right to point out that many of our economic difficulties relate to weaknesses that have been there for decades, but in a Tory leader, who once used to advise the government, this sounds pretty hollow and hypocritical.

If he thinks that his so called mea culpa will build trust with the electorate he is politically naive. It only serves to further expose the weakness of the Tory position now.

The Conservatives have been all over the place since the credit crunch hit. They don't know whether to shift left or right, be pro-regulation or anti-regulation.

They don't know whether to pin blame on Labour for the credit crunch or accept some of the responsibility for it themselves.

They don't know whether to stand up for the rich (mostly their chums) or defend the poor.

They don't know whether to be the tough party of law and order and fiscal conservatism, or the party of green taxes and wellbeing.

In short, they don't know what they're doing.

This is not a man with a plan.

All too often, Tory attacks are strident and angry - but not in a good way. There have been times when Cameron, Osborne and the other highly strung members of the shadow front bench team have worked themselves up into a near state of hysteria. They often act and sound like a rabble.

This is not a Party ready for government.

This means there is a good chance that Labour can expose the essential problem at the heart of Tory strategy:

Cameron doesn't know where he stands on the major issue of the day - the economy.

While he is flapping about trying to come up with some ideas about what to do, the Prime Minister must put the knife in and attack the Tories with renewed force.

He needs to expose their weaknesses, undermine the individuals and attack their half baked policies.

This is the path to re-election and it is one which Gordon Brown must follow.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Mandy Gets Gunged

Leila Deen, the woman who gunged Lord Mandelson last week, has just blogged on labourlist.org

Firstly, good for labourlist.org for letting her blog. She’s written a thoughtful piece about the way women are represented in society. Plus, she is a different voice from the usual suspects and that’s a good thing.

But, I don’t think this should excuse her.

What she did last week was neither clever nor thoughtful it was just yobbery pure and simple.

Mandelson was on his way to a summit on how Britain could achieve a low carbon economy. His Department has just launched an industrial strategy for delivering a low carbon economy – which includes things like electric cars, energy efficiency measures and renewable technology, all stuff any self respecting Green should care about - and of course Deen ignores all this.

There’s nothing funny about this type of stunt. Its puerile, silly and a waste of time. It’s also the politics of punishment. She didn’t like the decision Mandelson made over Heathrow (a decision I disagreed with as well) but she thought she would throw green custard over him. Did she think this was going to change his mind?

No, of course not. She wanted to embarrass and humiliate him. I am not sure I like her motivation.

He popped up two minutes later in a new suit with a big grin on his face so the only person who was embarrassed was her.

Not big. Not clever. Just Plane Stupid.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Was Brown's speech any good?

I thought so yes.

It was strong, clear and at times spoken with genuine conviction. Some foolish commentators – who never like what the prime minister does or says anyway - said that there wasn’t much to get your teeth into, but I thought there was plenty of substance.

He pushed the US on climate change and reform of the international economic system and he even reminded his audience not to succumb to protectionist instincts. Quite a brave thing to do considering the current climate of opinion in Washington.

He also didn’t forget to talk about Africa or international development – two issues close to his heart. I thought it was brave of him to mention both in the midst of a recession to a chamber which has a reputation for being hostile to the idea of foreign aid.

If leadership is about bravery and courage then that was firmly on display yesterday.

He also signed up to much of President Obama’s policies like stricter regulations for tax havens. Good. People in the Labour Party have been calling for this for years. His support for Obama's policies must have gone down well in the White House and will have provided the President with crucial political support. I think it's also good politics because it cements our relationship with them. Who cares if the Republicans didn’t clap?

If at times he was a bit too gushing about the US, then I can forgive him this. He actually does love the United States. He holidays there more than Blair ever used to, so his warm praise for American culture and values is entirely natural and authentic.

No, he doesn’t have the star quality of Tony Blair, we know that by now and the jokes were a bit thin on the ground, but the rest was all good stuff.

Typically, sections of the British press tried to concentrate on all the perceived snubs and so-called problems with the visit. The Conservative Party’s Propaganda Chief, Nick Robinson from the BBC, seemed to think his job was to go around trying to catch the Prime Minister out as much as possible, rather than just reporting on what happened. Nothing Brown does or says will ever get reported correctly by cynical hacks.

But, if his job was to make a case for the reforms of the G20 in April and show the British public that he had thought about the issues and had an idea about what to do about them then it was a good job done.

No time to bask in the glory mind - the economy is still crumbling and we are still behind in the polls – but well done Gordon.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Good luck tomorrow, Mr Brown!

Tomorrow Gordon Brown makes one of the most important speeches of his life when he addresses both Houses of the US Congress.

I am still unsure as to why the Obama Administration has granted our Prime Minister this rare honour.

But never underestimate the importance of a set piece speech like this in helping to define an agenda. Some of Tony Blair's speeches like the one he gave to the Labour Party Conference after 9/11 helped to define an era and shape government policy for years. There is a chance that Brown's could be equally significant.

Brown should use the occasion as a chance to push for whole scale international reform of the financial markets and the financial system. This is what he knows best and is most comfortable with - so he should stick to the serious, substantial stuff. There is no need to be hectoring but he must impress on the Americans the importance of international co-operation in fighting the credit crunch and reforming the financial systems. And he must not be afraid to criticise some of the protectionist instincts within the Democrat Party and the wider political scene.

However, he shouldn't try to be something he isn't and fawn over the new President. To be quite frank, any forced familiarity would be embarrassing.

The worst case scenario would be that the whole spectacle of our Prime Minister next to the President would somehow diminish Brown in the voters' eyes and remind them of his flaws - especially next to the charming and eloquent President.

We should see it as a good sign though that a British Prime Minister is the first European leader to meet the President and has been asked to address Congress. It lays to rest the argument put forward by some 'doom-mongers' who said that the special relationship would be over.

In fact it suggests to me that the Obama Administration might be willing to cut Brown some slack over the forthcoming G20 meeting in London in April and agree to the Prime Minister's reforms. Why else would they have allowed him to make a political case directly to the American people? The Prime Minister's speech will be covered tomorrow by the US news networks.

This is excellent news. The current economic situation lends itself to active, interventionist governments which progressives on both sides of the Atlantic should be trumpeting. No doubt Brown will make this case passionately.

Finally, in all of this Brown has to remember that the most important audience is the one at home. I don't believe for a second that the Presidential magic is suddenly going to rub off on Brown and transform him in the eyes of voters. But the occasion might just show Brown at his best.

A Prime Minister - who more than any other world leader - actually knows what he is talking about when it comes to the economy and has a plan about what to do. Brown must convey this tomorrow. If he does, it is job done and who knows it might just enhance his image in the eyes of the voters at home.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Obama announces troop withdrawl from Iraq

Barack Obama fulfilled another campaign pledge this week, when he announced that he was bringing the troops home from Iraq but leaving a residual force there after 2010.

This has not pleased all Democrats though. Some like Nancy Pelosi, Leader of the House Democrats, think he should bring home all of the troops much sooner.

I disagree.

Obama is right to be careful about getting out of Iraq, after all we were careless about getting in. So an exit strategy has to be implemented carefully and properly, making sure we leave Iraq in a better condition than it is now.

However, it does mean that Obama goes into the next General Election having fulfilled his main campaign pledge to end the war.

After all it was this promise that won him the primary in the first place and then the election. Hillary always struggled to explain her initial support for the war amongst Democrat voters and McCain was too pro-war to overcome the suspicion and anti-war sentiment amongst the electorate.

Along with Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo and dismantle the Bush Administration’s so called legal apparatus i.e. torture and rendition, it amounts to yet another repudiation of the Bush Doctrine.

Obama has been so honest and forthright about America’s failures in Iraq, I wonder why our Government is still so reticent to admit to its past mistakes.

Perhaps, it’s because Obama has the authenticity and legitimacy to talk about Iraq because he opposed it in the first place. He does not have to explain any u-turns or wriggle his way out of difficult questions like ours do. We are all guilty of allowing Iraq to turn out the way it did but Obama has his hands clean.

His judgement was right in 2003 when he was marching in the anti-war rallies and his judgement was right again this week when he sought to draw a line under the Iraq War once and for all.

This gives me confidence that when he says he wants to bring the troops home and do it properly, he actually means what he says.