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

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Is New Labour dead?

The obituary writers have been in full swing since last Wednesday's Budget.

Lance Price, writing in the Daily Telegraph and Andrew Rawnsley writing in today's Observer have declared New Labour dead.

They point to the new top rate of tax on higher earners as the final nail in the coffin for the Party that won three general election victories in a row.

Now, I have always considered myself to be an uber-Blairite but I don't think the new 50p top rate of tax has to mean the end of the New Labour project.

It is true that the promise not to raise income tax was central to New Labour's appeal in 1997, but that was 1997.

The circumstances have changed since then.

And if the rumours are to be believed that Tony Blair is privately disappointed with the decision, then he should remember that he would be the first to argue that different circumstances require different solutions. The Tony Blair I know would not hark back to an outdated, irrelevant policy. He would adapt to the changing circumstances.

And I believe that is exactly what Brown and Darling have done.

This is not a tax for its own sake. The £2 billion it will bring in every year will go to paying down the national debt.

It also make sense while we are paying for initiatives to help the young and unemployed through the difficult times ahead.

It doesn't have to mark the end of Labour's commitment to aspiration either. Half of the population earn less than £23k. Most people don't even know someone who earns £100k, let alone £150k. The tax isn't going to affect most people. In fact, the lastest opinion polls show that its popular too - so the politics, for now, is right.

More importantly, it is about fairness.

The top earners in this country have done exceptionally well under the Labour Government. It isn't too much to ask them to pay something back and do their fair share helping Britain mend its finances. We all have a part to play - not least the richest in society who have benefited the most. Remember, aspiration also has to come with social justice.

My only regret is that it would have been more convincing had Labour done this during the fat years. I think people would have been more willing to listen to the case then. It may also have been a good idea to hypothecate the revenue from the new top rate and direct it at eradicating child poverty. It would have been harder for the Conservatives and the Tory press to criticise it then. As it is, Labour will miss its child poverty targets now - a cause of great shame to us.

No doubt the doomsayers will argue that aspiration and entrepreneurialism will be gone under the new tax. That there will be a mass exodus as the richest pack their bags and emmigrate to Spain. Let them. I'm willing to call their bluff.

This is about fairness and justice and doing the right thing. In fact, it's the first good decision this Government has made in a while.

Rather than the end of New Labour, maybe its a different version of New Labour: A Better Labour.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Why We Blog: Our ethic of progressive activism

Just over twelve months ago, I set up this blog because I wanted to start a conversation about politics. I was impressed by the way the Obama campaign had managed to utilise new media to build and drive a coalition of activists. And I wanted to be part of something similar in the UK.

However, as the last few weeks have shown, there are many people who think bloggers are just the purveyors of scurrilous rumours, innuendo and gossip.

I think blogging can have a positive impact on our political process though. I believe it can help kick start debate and I think it can reach people which the traditional print media ignores. Blogging can be a tool of empowerment.

That’s why I am one of the signatories to the following statement. We are a group of like minded individuals who believe that blogging can make an important contribution to progressive politics. There is no room in our world for the politics of personal destruction and we reject the argument that the internet is “inevitably a force for anti-politics”. This is our ethic of progressive activism. Let me know what you think.

Our ethic of progressive activism

Please let us know what you think: you can sign this statement at, post or write about it on your own blog, discuss this with those who have signed it on the participating blogs linked below, or discuss it on twitter using the hashtag #cwn

We are a group of Labour party members and supporters who believe that blogging can make an increasingly important contribution to progressive politics. We are seeking, in different ways, to make our own individual contributions to that, and wish to set out the ethic which informs our blogging and the broader politics we are working for within the Labour Party and beyond it.

Many of these are truths which should be self-evident. We are well aware that the broad spirit which we seek to articulate has long informed what most Labour bloggers do, as it also does most of those who blog in other parties and in non-partisan civic activism. So we do not claim any particular originality; still less do we seek to impose our views as a new regulatory code, or to attempt to police others.

Our purpose is simple. We do not believe that new technology leads to inevitable outcomes, but rather that we must all make choices about how we use it and for what purposes.

So we wish to set out why we blog and how we want the party which we support to change so that it can connect to new progressive energy for the causes we support.

1. Ethical and value-based

We believe we must act as ambassadors for the political values we profess. This applies to all politics, online or not. The Obama campaign's power to mobilise was rooted in supporters living its ethic of 'respect, empower and include'. As Labour supporters, we wish to ensure that our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect are reflected in how we do politics as well as the causes we seek to serve.

So we oppose the politics of personal destruction. We believe that the personal can be political, where it reveals the hypocrisy of public statements, the wilful misuse of evidence, or breaches proper ethical standards in public life. Where it doesn't do that, it should be off limits. Politicians should be able to have a family and private life too. A politics of personal destruction violates progressive values and brings all politics into disrepute.

2. Positive about political engagement

We do not believe that the internet is inevitably a force for anti-politics. We reject the mythology of the internet as a lawless and ethics-free zone. Bloggers are subject to law, as well as to the ethical and civic pressures of our online and offline communities. We are clear that the left can never win a politics of loathing and mutual destruction, because the faith in politics that we need will inevitably be a casualty of war. The nihilistic approach practiced by a few online should not overshadow the greater energy and numbers engaged in constructive civic advocacy.

We believe that we can challenge our political opponents without always questioning their integrity. We believe that there are big political arguments to be had between the left and the right of politics, and the left has every reason to be confident about our values and ideas, which have done much to change Britain for the better over the last century and which are in the ascendancy internationally after three decades in which anti-government arguments have often dominated.

We also believe that what is pejoratively called 'negative campaigning' has a legitimate place in politics. Scrutinising the principles, ideas and policies of political opponents is an important part of offering a democratic choice. We should challenge the ideas, claims and sometimes the misrepresentations of our political opponents, just as we would expect them to challenge us. We believe that this is effective when it is done accurately, and that this will become ever more important as the internet makes politics more transparent. So we will point out where there is a mismatch between professed principles and policies, or where the evidence does not back up what is claimed, but we will try not to assume our opponents are in bad faith where we do not have evidence to support that.

3. Pluralist and open

We believe that pluralism must be at the heart of the progressive blogosphere. We believe that debate and argument are what brings life to politics. We want to promote a cultural 'glasnost' of open discussion within our party, to show that we understand that the confidence to debate, and disagree, in an atmosphere of mutual respect helps us to bring people together to make change possible.

We believe we must change the culture of Labour's engagement with those outside the party too, including those who were once our supporters but who are disillusioned, and new generations forming their political opinions. For us, democratic politics is about individuals working together to create collective pressure for change, but also about the need to continue to talk even when we disagree deeply. We believe in engaging with all reasonable critics of the Labour government and Labour Party, wherever we can establish the possibility of taking part in democratic arguments in a spirit of mutual respect.

4. Independent spaces

We believe that attempts to transfer 'command and control' models to online politics will inevitably fail. Labour must show that it gets that - in practice as well as theory - if we are make our contribution to the progressive movements on which our causes depend.

The government and the political parties should use their official spaces to contribute to and enable these conversations. We also want to see Ministers and MPs having the confidence to engage in political debate and argument elsewhere, while being clear that there is no value for anybody in seeking to control independent spaces for discussion.

5. Participatory and cooperative

We believe in a cooperative ethic of blogging, because the internet is most potent when it harnesses the creativity, ideas and expertise of many people. The internet is a powerful tool for individual expression. We believe it also enables citizens to interact and collaborate in ways that were never previously possible, and catalyse new forces for participation and activism. As citizens, and as bloggers, we believe in asking not only what is wrong with the world but how we can work together to improve it.

We hope that others will offer ideas and responses - supportive and critical - about these ideas and how they can help to inform the future of our politics. We know that the outcomes of politics matter deeply, that politics is about passion and argument, and that we may ourselves sometimes fall short of the values and standards that we aspire to.

But this is why we blog - and what we hope to achieve for our politics by doing so.

Sunder Katwala, Fabian Society

Nick Anstead

Will Straw

David Lammy MP

Rachael Jolley

Jessica Asato

Karin Christiansen

Paul Cotterill

Laurence Durnan

Alex Finnegan

Gavin Hayes

Mike Ion

Richard Lane

Tom Miller

Carl Nuttall

Anthony Painter

Don Paskini

Andreas Paterson

Asif Sange

Stuart White

Graham Whitman

Thursday, 16 April 2009

The Tories Are Not Blameless

Gordon Brown finally apologised for the Damian McBride emails today.

Good. I hope it helps draw a line under the affair.

But one of the most nauseating aspects of the email smear plot has been the Tory reaction to it.

Paddy Ashdown's serialised memoirs in the Sunday Times at the weekend included the following extract about his "Paddy Pantsdown" episode:

"All this made life for my family even more difficult and seriously undermined my self confidence too. That, it appears, was precisely what was supposed to happen - as we discovered after the election, when we learnt that some Tories had imported a group of US activists called "the Nerds", whose job was to spread malign rumours and make unfounded personal accusations against senior opposition MPs."

"Perhaps this was done without official sanction from the top of the Conservative Party. But after the election Kelvin MacKenzie, then editor of The Sun, revealed that at least one cabinet-level Tory minister had approached him seeking to retail scurrilous and untrue allegations against a number of senior opposition MPs."

I don't know if David Cameron read that or not, but it puts a slightly different perspective on his holier than thou comments.

Did I also mention that his Director of Communications, Andy Coulson, was forced to quit his previous post as a News of the World man, after he was implicated in the small affair of the newspaper paying someone to tap into the mobile phones of senior members of the Royal Family?

As this shows, Cameron doesn't exactly surround himself with reputable characters (Coulson, Osborne, Ashcroft...the list goes on).

I am not for one moment trying to diminish the unjustifiable smears McBride was trying to spread.

But it does put things in a bit of perspective. The Tories are certainly not the innocent victims in all of this.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Has Labour succumbed to anger rather than hope?

A great article by Rachel Sylvester in today's Times pretty much sums up what I've already said about the McBride email scandal (see below).

Sylvester is spot on at pointing to the laddish and bullying atmosphere that surrounds Brown.

She is also right that his brand of politics is driven more by anger than hope. Who ever voted for that? If you're in doubt, ask John McCain.

And I was pleased that Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers both spoke out today against this culture which has been allowed to creep into our politics. I know they have their own axes to grind, but in all honesty, who can blame them? They know what it's like to be on the receiving end of such innuendo and smears.

A colleague said to me today that you have got to expect a bit of rough and tumble in politics and after all, it was a "dirty business". But, there is a difference between negative campaigning and exposing your opponents weaknesses and viciously going after people in the way McBride had planned to do. It's immature, petty and not very effective.

As the affair drags on, it leaves me feeling more and more depressed about the leadership of the Party.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Brown is responsible for McBride

There's not many people within the Labour Party who will lament the loss of Damian McBride.

His actions have brought the Party into disrepute and led to huge reputational damage. It is only right that he goes.

Its not like we should be surprised though. McBride has pulled this sort of stunt before, only this time he was directing it at the Tories rather than his own side. No wonder there were so few in the Labour Party willing to defend him. Not for nothing did he earn the nickname, McPoison.

McBride's suggestions for attacking the Tories, which included sexual, emotional and professional smears reveal a deeply flawed, nasty character. People like him are not fit to serve the Prime Minister or the country.

Of course, politics is a blood sport with plenty of rough and tumble. And if you can't dish it out or take it, then you won't last two minutes. But this is the politics of the gutter and it has no place in our system.

McBride and the rest of Brown's cabal are bullies and thugs who think that politics is a big game, one huge joke, in which its all about 'getting one over on the other side'. There's not even a semblance of high minded principle of reason with these folks about.

I am very surprised that Draper, a trained therapist, would find it funny that jokes were being made about the emotional state of George Osborne's wife. Even if this were true, which it isn't, where is the compassion or humanity on display here?

Tony Blair never would have and never did surround himself with advisers who thought this sort of behaviour was acceptable. They didn't plunge to these sorts of depths.

So what does it say about Brown? Well, it once again reveals his Jekyll and Hyde persona. A man who can be so moral, purposeful and good can also resort to the type of political skullduggery and smearing that Richard Nixon would have felt comfortable with.

The Tories want Brown to personally apologise and I think he should. McBride wasn't just a 'here today, gone tomorrow' adviser. He had been with Brown for over a decade and was immensely powerful.

Brown is responsible for McBride's actions because he has presided over a culture at the Treasury and in Number Ten which has allowed this sort of politics to develop. And in that sense he is to blame.

It is a dreadful day for the Prime Minister and a dreadful day for politics.