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

Monday, 29 June 2009

Building Britain's Future

The Prime Minister’s package of reforms that he announced today, “Building Britain’s Future”, is good stuff.

It has been attacked for containing ‘rehashed ideas’ but it does establish clear dividing lines with the Tories and there is an attempt at the ‘vision thing’ in it.

Importantly, it is an opportunity to move away from the economy and get back to reforming the public services which have been understandably neglected over the last year.

The parts I liked included:

• The mandatory training or employment for every young person who has been out of work for a year

• Training or a school place for each 16 or 17 year old

• An energy bill which pledges support for 4 CCS demonstration projects

• Extra investment in housing with a focus on new council build; and

• Reform of the House of Lords

All of this was positive and right.

However, I still think that the Government’s strategy of going into the next election with an offer of Labour investment versus Tory cuts is fundamentally wrong. I don’t think it is going to wash with the British public.

We have a £140 billion debt. Our public finances have taken a battering. Everyone knows this. It is isn’t credible or truthful to go into the next election saying that we’re going to carry on spending at the same level as we are doing now.

We all know that there will be tough choices ahead and yes indeed, some cuts. Wouldn’t it be better for Labour to be honest about this? Draw a line in the sand with 4 or 5 key things that we will defend like new Sure Start centres and then tell the British public where the sacrifices will be made.

I would start with Trident and ID cards for one. Both are totally unnecessary, have clear alternatives and would save us billions. It isn’t too late to do this and still be believed.

The political journos and the Westminster village might worry about u-turns but all the British public are concerned about is making the right decision. On this, I think the public would reflect and think the Government had got it right.

If we just start telling people that the Tories will cut 10% across the board, we face the danger that the public might actually think this a good idea. I don’t know anyone who would like to see their taxes increased as an alternative. It simply isn’t a good enough argument to vote Labour.

And while Brown had a good day today so did Cameron. I know some people think this is a problem for the Tory leader, but I think he is most effective when he is angry.

At the press conference he gave this morning he was asked about the debate over Labour investment and Tory cuts and he replied:

"I don't care what the government does any more. They can announce cuts, they can announce increases, they can set out whatever they want. Set the whole thing to music and do a karaoke. I have lost faith in a prime minister who stands up and says black is white. We will make our own decisions about what's right for the country."

This was powerful, brutal, elegant and steely stuff. If Mandelson saw this he should worry.

It just goes to show you that even when Labour has good news days, Cameron now has the power to effectively hijack our coverage.

Today was a good start for Brown after the tumultous last few weeks but we are not even close to being out of the woods yet. He must know this.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Alan Milburn Stepping Down

I have been on holiday the last couple of weeks hence the lack of blogging.

But I did consider Alan Milburn's decision to stand down at the next election, announced yesterday, as further evidence that senior people within the Party have given up on Labour winning the next election.

This isn't a criticism, merely an observation. John Hutton and Alan Milburn have both concluded that they are done with front line politics and don't want to spend another ten years slugging it out on the opposition benches. They have done their service so I can't really blame them.

I think both are quite creative thinkers so it's a bit of a loss for the future. But it can also be a window of opportunity. Fresh blood and fresh thinking is what's required - a new generation of Labour activists to take the Party forward - so it's no bad thing that one or two of the Party's top brass calls it a day.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

We Bottled It

It looks like a done deal then. Gordon Brown is staying on as leader. The Party bottled it. What a pity.

At last night's make or break PLP meeting, there simply wasn't enough support to challenge the Prime Minister.

It was blind loyalty that allowed Labour to walk into electoral defeat in 1983 and we are repeating the same mistake now.

Last night, Brown claimed he would change. I don't believe he can. I don't believe a word he says.

Well done to Tom Harris and Charles Clarke for sticking to their guns and saying what they thought. I agree with them 100%.

Well done to Jane Kennedy too. She got into politics to fight the bullies of Militant in Liverpool and she has resigned because of the bullies at Number Ten. Another one of the many good ministers who have resigned over the last few days.

I attended the Progress event last night in Parliament, held just minutes after the PLP showdown and there was little sympathy on show for the Prime Minister.

Although the acting Director of Progress, Jessica Asato and Ben Bradshaw, the new Culture Secretary, valiantly tried to steer the discussion onto policy there was no getting away from the elephant in the room.

The question marks over leadership and loyalty could not be ignored.

Stephen Byers, the former Transport Secretary, launched a withering attack on the PM which was received with considerable applause by the audience.

Ben Bradshaw, convincing and articulate (why wasn’t he in the Cabinet sooner?) responded with a passionate defence of the PM which helped to change a few members’ minds.

Arguments were strong on both sides. The passion intense.

But the overall feeling was that nothing was really resolved. My sense was that the audience was split 50:50 on the leadership – much like the Cabinet, MPs and the Labour Party.The Prime Minister will limp on like a wounded elephant.

But we should have had more courage to remove him, particularly after the poll in the Independent today suggests that Alan Johnson is more popular than Brown and would deny the Tories an outright victory.

After achieving 15% of the vote in the European elections and losing to the Conservatives in Wales, believe me, it doesn't get worse than this!

I believe that the Labour Government needs an ambitious, radical programme of change between now and the next election. This should start with the type of massive constitutional and electoral reform many people have been calling for.

Number Ten should forget about all the small initiatives and concentrate on 4 or 5 big ideas that can get pushed through in the next ten months. This is where our possible salvation lies.

But Gordon Brown isn't the person to do this.

He lacks the legitimacy, credibility and authenticity to do it properly. He is neither liked, respected or trusted.

As Tom Harris points out, the British people already have a settled view of him and this will not change. He is a liability to the Labour Party and the wider movement of progressive politics. By clinging on, he does the country a grave disservice.

And if you think that a change of leader would necessarily force us into an early election, then you should read Polly Toynbee's convincing argument in the Guardian today. There is a way of changing the leader and still delaying an election until next year.

This was our chance to get rid of Brown and the Party blew it. After the next election, we will all have to live with that guilt - some more than others.

I am prepared to admit that my judgement about Brown might be wrong. I also recognise that there is now a settled view of him. He is staying on and we go into the next election with him. After this week, you won't hear me call for a change of leader again. These are my last words on it.

But I suspect that no matter how good Brown's speech to the PLP was last night and no matter how much he tries to change, most Party members know that its over. It will take more than just one good speech to turn around the fortunes of this Government.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

My Forecast for the European Election Results

Tonight, when the European election results come through, Labour will have performed very badly.

I predict that Labour's share of the vote will be less than 20%. We will be lucky if we hold one MEP per region.

More seriously, in one area at least, we will come behind UKIP. All that money sloshing around Nigel Farrage will have worked. Voters will flock to the fringes and desert Labour in droves. The BNP will do well enough in some areas, probably the North West, to make all of us worry.

Because the elections are proportional, the humiliation will be worse for Labour because the elections mean more.

The results will be more ammunition to those that think, like I do, that Brown must go. They will be an indictment on his calamitous leadership.

Our presence and effectiveness in the European Parliament will be severely curtailed. Our influence in Europe will diminish.

John Prescott on Labour Home blamed a bad campaign. True. But he then rather pathetically focused his attack on Caroline Flint and other current and former members of the Cabinet who he accused of not doing enough. Wrong. It takes more than just licking a few more envelopes and knocking on a few more doors to win John.

You need vision, direction and leadership. Brown did not make a single substantial speech on our membership during the whole campaign. He demonstrated no leadership and his visibility was virtually nil. The buck stops with him.

One more reason why he should go.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Like shuffling the deck chairs about on the Titanic

Another tumultuous day in Westminster.

Another awful day for the Labour Party.

We have become a laughing stock.

Gordon Brown’s reshuffle is a bit like shuffling the deck chairs around on the Titanic. It ain’t gonna solve anything.

It is window dressing – something which the Prime Minister knows all about, according to Caroline Flint.

Her brave and direct attack on Brown is very serious because we all know it is true. By the way it is not just women he treats like that, its men too.

However, she weakened her case by professing such loyalty only twenty four hours before. In the end, at least she had the courage to eventually say what she thought, unlike some of her colleagues. It was a stinging rebuke to a Prime Minister who treats his colleagues with utter contempt and sanctions the poisonous briefings against them which have sadly become the norm in the Brown Government. Flint has done the right thing.

What a pusillanimous Cabinet. They have tied their fortunes in with Brown and they’ll go down with him. After the next election, James Purnell will be in a very strong position indeed.

I can understand the disappointment of many MPs that not a single other Cabinet Minister was prepared to support Purnell, even though many of them privately agree with him. If Miliband ever hoped to be leader, his chances have surely now gone for good.

The fact is Labour has never had such a disastrous local election result. We are no longer in charge of any county councils. We have lost in places like Lancashire and Derbyshire which should be the backbone of Labour Party support. They have gone – perhaps for good. Responsibility for this rests with Brown.

I am an instinctive Party loyalist and I have defended this Government until I am blue in the face. But Brown has tested my loyalty to the limits and I can no longer support him. He is dreadful. I do not want anything to do with him.

In nailing my colours to the mast, I know I will be criticised. I still believe in the Labour Party and its values. I still believe that a Labour Government is always preferable to a Tory one and I still believe that our Party can go on to achieve great things for the British people. I am Labour through and through and prepared to accept it if people think I am wrong. But I can’t be loyal to a Prime Minister I have no confidence in. I have no faith in him and no belief.

If he thinks that bringing Alan Sugar into the Government (who, incidentally I do admire) as Enterprise Tsar is suddenly going to provide us with the vision and direction we need, he is very fickle. What next, ‘Casualty actor’ for Cancer Captain? Please.

To lose half a dozen Cabinet Ministers within four days makes his position look untenable and yet he clings to power with a desperation that makes him look pathetic.

And yet, cling he does. The rebels are divided and unsure. They may even cock this up – which would make it all pointless. I urge them not to.

Purnell, Milburn, Clarke and those on the Progress wing of the Party have to find a way of working with the impressive Jon Cruddas and his Compass band of supporters. It is nothing to do with being Blairite or Brownite, on the left or on the right of the Party. It is about character and values. The Prime Minister lacks both. He is an electoral liability. A change of leader would be a damage limitation exercise which might mitigate our loss at the next General Election.

If we change leader, we can find a way of uniting behind a centre left agenda – starting with huge reform of Parliament in an attempt to regain voters’ trust – that could recapture the political initiative and lead us into the next election in a stronger position. Remember, the Conservatives didn't have the brilliant night they had been hoping for on Thursday. Their vote was down, hardly a ringing endorsement for Cameron.

But Brown is an obstacle to any chance of reform. He does not have the trust or credibility to see it through.

The Euro election results are going to be equally as bad for the Party and powerful because they are proportional. MPs should seriously consider them on Sunday night, weigh up how this would look in a General Election and act decisively on Monday when they return to Westminster.

The British public would never forgive us if we gave up on them. But if we stick with Brown, we seal our fate and theirs. We leave them to the rot of a Tory Government.

The pressure on him must be maintained. More ministers must resign. More senior figures on the backbenches need to speak out. There should be a secret PLP vote on Monday night. Time is running out to get rid of him. Go he must and go now.

*I was very angry when I wrote this, apologies.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

For the love of God, Go

It is clear to many of us that Gordon Brown must go. He has neither the character nor the policies to see us through to the next election. As long as he remains Prime Minister a Conservative election victory is more likely.

It is for this reason and for the sake of the Labour Party and the country that Gordon Brown must go.

He should resign or be pushed.

He has no vision for the country.

He is not trusted.

He is not liked.

He is not competent.

And he is not respected.

It is time he went.

He is simply not up to the job.

James Purnell’s decision to resign to force Brown’s hand is very brave. He has been prepared to put his reputation on the line and for this I applaud him. His reasons for leaving are clear and heartfelt. It is an act of immense honesty. He quits, now Gordon must quit.

Loyalty is an underestimated quality. But loyalty for loyalty’s sake is just plain stupid. And tribalism is ridiculous, when you are heading towards political annihilation.

I hope that all Labour MPs and those that love the Labour Party, like I do, do what is necessary to get rid of Brown. This isn’t about saving your own skins, it’s about saving the Labour Party and as long as he remains in charge the Party has no chance of being rescued.

If we cannot save the Labour Party then we leave the country to face the Tories. This would be unforgiveable. There are many people who depend on a Labour Government and we would be hanging them out to dry if we let Cameron in through the back door.

The rebels are not just the usual malcontents either. Blears, Purnell and Smith must have agonised over their decisions and thought it through hard. We need a leadership election to unite behind a different leader – one who doesn’t have Brown’s personal and political flaws – who can communicate with the electorate, provide us with a vision for the country and reconnect with voters.

If the local and European elections are half as bad as we can expect then the man responsible for this is Brown too. I have not known what to say on the doorstep to defend him. I don’t know what Gordon Brown believes in, I don’t know what his vision is for the country.

It is with a heavy heart, that I urge Gordon Brown to resign.

If he is not prepared to, we – as a Party – must get rid of him.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Hazel Blears Is Right

Hazel Blears decision to resign is brave and politically astute.

Constantly underestimated, Blears has shown her steel. Rather than knifing the Prime Minister in the back, she has looked him square in the eyes and done it.

Fed up with being briefed against, she must hope that her decision to leave government and pre-empt a ministerial reshuffle will fatally undermine the Prime Minister.

I don’t believe she would have done it if she thought Labour had any chance of winning the next election with Brown as its leader. Like many of us, she has concluded that as long as he stays, we are headed for defeat. And she cares too much about the Labour Party to do nothing and let that happen.

She owes him no loyalty. He has shown her none. Her loyalty is to the people of Salford and elsewhere who depend on a Labour Government and would suffer under a Tory one. She resigned for them.

Like Jacqui Smith (and maybe others) why would she want anything to do with a Government that was drifting to defeat? Better to get out and disassociate yourself from it and him. And campaign for Labour on your own strengths and values.

It is interesting that it is the women in the Government who seem to be leading this charge. They obviously don’t like Brown’s brand of politics. I don’t blame them. I agree.

Without her, the Cabinet will be a worse place. She was doing good work as Communities Secretary and her political instinct is better than most of her colleagues. She speaks to a wider audience than just the party or the trade unions and she is a great campaigner.

A personal consideration must be at work here too. She was badly damaged by the expenses scandal and I am sure she is the first to admit that she needs to win back some trust starting in Salford and then elsewhere. She can do it – this is retrievable for her but she will have to work hard to win over Salford’s sceptical voters. She is one of the best campaigners the party have and I have every faith she will.

Blears will relish the opportunity of taking on the Tories from opposition and she will be good at it. No, she shouldn’t be counted out. This is not the last we have heard from her.

Anyone who thinks the Labour Party and progressive politics needs saving from fifteen years of opposition to a Tory Government should applaud Hazel’s actions.

If only more were braver.

We look like a rabble

Jacqui Smith’s resignation was inevitable. She jumped before she was pushed.

But, I can’t help thinking it’s all ended a bit sadly for her. I was not her greatest fan. She made mistakes, like over the Gurkhas or 42 day detention, which could have been avoided. But the failure of these policies rests solely at the door of Number Ten and it would be wrong to blame her for the government’s troubles.

I hope she fights to keep her seat at the next election and is successful.

The resignation of Tom Watson is more interesting. One of Brown’s henchman, he was plotter in chief when an attempt was made to remove Tony Blair a few years ago. He may have personal reasons for quitting, but like Patricia Hewitt and Beverley Hughes perhaps he already sees the writing on the wall. Very few sensible people should mourn his departure.

And yet a reshuffle could be very dangerous. If Brown demotes Miliband and sacks Blears they could both go nuclear.

Blear’s credibility is damaged (perhaps irrevocably) but she would be a dangerous threat on the backbenchers and should not be counted out.

If Miliband refuses to be moved, there would be nothing to stop him from sticking the knife in.

It would also seem unfair to remove Alistair Darling – although I accept that this might be inevitable know. He has been steady and courageous in the face of very difficult circumstances and to remove him, might look like Brown is repudiating his own policies.

The effect of yesterday’s resignations makes the Party look like a rabble – leaderless, unfit to govern, incompetent.

Number Ten has no control over events. Ministers are making their own calculated decisions, MPs are refusing to act. Rather than doing what is necessary to save the Government and the Labour Party, they are thinking only about saving their own skins. Can anyone blame them?

An excellent editorial in today’s Guardian, makes it clear what needs to be done.

On a final note, the decision to stop Ian Gibson standing at the next election is a harsh one I think. I know he is an awkward maverick and annoys lots of people. His judgement and politics, at times, is questionable. But he is also one of Parliament’s few trained scientists, with a nationally renowned reputation in cancer medicine. He supports the work of many cancer and patient charities – who will miss him being around – and I can’t help thinking Parliament will be a worse place without him. He is certainly not corrupt.

But that is what the expenses scandal has done – ruined reputations and ended careers.