Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


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Cameron’s Mythical Dragons

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You know a Government is in trouble when they start slaying mythical dragons.

David Cameron announced this week that immigrants families would face being ineligible to apply for a Council house for up to five years. The Prime Minister has been under pressure from Conservative MPs since their appalling Eastleigh by-election result, where they slumped to third behind UKIP. The UKIP campaign was based strongly on an anti-immigration and anti-EU stance.

With a background of a stalling economy, poor poll ratings, internal conflict and a stress-cracked Coalition, the omens for the next election look poor for the Conservatives. With under three years to go, it would take a remarkable and unlikely turn around to reverse the trend.

So how does such a Government in this mess move forward?

They roll out their mythical dragons to slay.

For the Conservatives these are the EU, immigration, the public sector, unions, the welfare state and the so called deficit. Each is chosen for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the myth must be commonly shared. It is useful if your friends in the media will propagate helpful stories, using one-off extreme cases to demonstrate the rule. For example, a single mother with eleven children was the centre of a media storm last month. This case was used to demonstrate the ‘failing of an over generous benefit system’ , despite being a highly unusual case that represents a minuscule percentage of benefit claimants. The domination of the right-wing press ensures that such issues are rarely portrayed accurately, or with a fair evidential basis.

Secondly, each dragon should represent a group that is vulnerable and weak. This applies to immigrants and welfare claimants. These groups do not have the influence to seriously fight back.

Thirdly, the concept of scape-goating should apply. Are immigrants responsible for the lack of social housing? No, the issue is decades of not building them, while simultaneously selling the stock off. Are people on Job Seekers Allowance holding back the country and responsible for their own worklessness? No, our economy is so configured to ensure a permanent high level of unemployment to create a downward pressure on wages, and transfer wealth to global corporations and the super-rich.  Scape-goating also helps to ensure ordinary workers focus their rage on those they should unite with. Why should the elite fight everyone else, when they can have ordinary people fight among themselves?

The Conservatives know that organised labour remains a barrier to eroding employee rights and creating the  preconditions which would enable global capitalists to further asset strip the people of the United Kingdom. This is why the public sector and Unions are targets for slaying, not because they are bad, but for ideological reasons. The Miners strike in 1984-85 was a classic case of artificially constructing a fight, with the intention of destabilising the union movement and to justify a reduction in union rights.

The Conservatives always talk about the deficit as something Labour grew so large due to spending too much. This is nonsense, and even a cursory look at historical data blows this myth out of the water. The deficit is being used as a trojan horse to fragment and privatise our services for corporate profit.

So given the Conservatives inability to win the next election based on their performance or benefit they have brought to people, we can expect two years of further attacks on the classic Tory dragons.

Those on the left need to ensure that they fight every myth propagated by this Government, as it gets down and dirty heading towards 2015. No action should be done or speech made that gives credence  to these myths.

This lesson needs to be quickly learned by the Shadow Cabinet.

Are you listening Liam Byrne?


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A Shuffle to the Right

The Cabinet reshuffle has set the tone for the second half of this Parliament, and gives a guide to the shape of the next General Election.

By leaving George Osborne in place, the Prime Minister has set out his stall to stick to an economic approach based on cuts and Austerity. This plan is now set in stone, and the Coalition is firmly chained to it.

The Green credentials of this Government, already looking very shabby, have been firmly cast away. Justine Greening, firmly opposed to a third Heathrow runway, has been removed as Transport Secretary. The Government is already talking about reviewing Airline capacity in the UK, a real insight into their current thinking. The Coalition agreement does include a no third runway clause, but increasingly that whole document is looking as durable as one of Gerald Ratner’s earrings. In addition, the Conservative back-bench rebellion over wind farms have borne fruit. A wind farm sceptic is now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

David Cameron is shaping his Cabinet to supply the red meat that Tory back-benchers and local activists are demanding. I believe we will see further benefit cuts, more anti-ECHR rhetoric, additional curbs to union rights and range of other policies to keep the Tory faithful cheering. He has realised he cannot win the election on the economy, so a line up of traditional dragons the Tories can slay is being prepared. David know full well he can cut back the public sector, attack benefit claimants and when the left stands up to this, he has created a common enemy. With the media largely behind him providing PR support, it could be an effective strategy.

The Liberal Democrats are in an appalling position. They know they have the power to pull down the Coalition. They also know they are politically dead whenever the General Election happens. David Cameron can push and push, and if they complain too much they will be left with a single-shot revolver on their desk. If they don’t like it, they know what the alternative is. Every time Nick Clegg’s MPs have caved in – the health bill for instance – they become weaker and weaker. They are now pitifully weak.

This shift has serious consequences for Labour. Labour has in effect been shadowing much of the Conservative’s policies. When the Coalition promises Austerity, Labour hasn’t fully rejected it. Labour simply says it would cut a bit less sharply and more fairly. When major cuts to disability benefits are on the cards, Labour says that they do need reform, but they wouldn’t do it quite like that. The timidity in offering a principled alternative is something that Ed Miliband may regret in the future. He has been good tactically, but on the strategic aspects of creating a credible alternative Government in time for the 2015 General Election, he has done much less well. How will Labour handle a media-led campaign against the ECHR, and a new populist attack on benefits? The record to date suggests very passively.

To conclude, this reshuffle is a serious game changer. Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats that haven’t yet turned into invertebrates need to work hard together to challenge what David Cameron wants to offer the country. If they don’t, Britain may be sleep walking into a nightmare.


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The Lessons for Labour

We are approaching half time in this Parliamentary term.

Team Cameron are looking worried. Labour, having appointed a new young Leader, are 2 – 0 up at half time. Ed Miliband had a slow start, but has grown in confidence. David Cameron found hostile economic winds blowing in his face from the Euro crisis, and own goals by his key player, his Chancellor , have left his side up against it.

While 2015 is not in the bag for Labour, they are in a good position, with a 10 % lead solidifying in the polls. The Conservatives need about a 10% swing from Labour to have the chance of winning an outright majority. Given the sluggish economy, real cuts to people’s living standards and the inevitable tension between the Coalition partners as they begin to fight for a distinct pre-election identity, this looks an uphill task.

The first challenge is how to get the economy working again. Any fair-minded person must accept the global economy as a whole, especially the Euro-zone crisis, is an ill wind beyond the control of the UK Government. The Euro-zone crisis looks to be nowhere near a conclusion. The reality is that any Government in power now has a poor hand to play with. While Labour might claim they would not have made the same mistakes as this Government, we will never know. It is likely they would have had great difficulties too. While the global economy struggles, so will the UK economy.

Secondly, the Coalition always looked an unlikely partnership. In many areas of policy – Europe, education, health and taxation to name a few – the heart of the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats beat to a different rhythm. The Coalition Agreement was not a well thought out document. It was a quickly cobbled together set of policies to straddle the major differences between the parties. It has been clear that the poor implementation of the policies, the U-turns and the major revisions to key legislation are all symptomatic to the back-of-the-fag-packet agreement.

This has led to Liberal Democrat MPs voting through policies based on an ideology most of them have spent a lifetime in politics fighting. Conservative MPs also feel fatally compromised on totemic issue like Europe. Both Coalition parties have lost traditional support because of this. They will need to break free and set out their own stalls before the next General Election to try to get that support back. When this occurs the Coalition will become paralysed and totally dysfunctional. David Cameron’s MPs demonstrated over the reform of the House of Lords that they are willing to to break rank. Rebellion is running wild.

Given this then, what can Ed Miliband learn? How can he make Labour’s lead more than a protest vote that will drain away?

The key is the economy. Mistakes have been made by the Coalition, but saying in essence that we wouldn’t start from here is inadequate. Recent polling evidence from YouGov demonstrates that when asked, less that 20% of respondents think George Osborne is doing a good job, and over 50% think he is doing a bad job. Yet despite this, there is very little improvement in Labour’s economic credibility. The public basically don’t trust the Coalition or Labour to make it better.

Labour really needs a good idea of how it would make a difference and engage the public directly. Do they want to cut the deficit? If so, how quickly or slowly? Which taxes would they raise? Which areas of spending would they cut? If further investment in infrastructure was to occur, which projects would they be, how much would it cost and where would the money come from? Until these answers are forthcoming, then their economic competency ratings will not improve.

Another area is it’s response to the NHS reforms made by the Coalition and other policy areas. Rather than policies pulled out the hat eight weeks before the next election, it really needs well thought out policies prepared and a strategy to deliver them. These policies need to live, and updated as time elapses, so that whenever the election is called, they are ‘shovel ready’. The public need to really start to understand what a Labour Government in 2015 might do if the lead they enjoy is to really stick.

The next election could easily result in another Coalition. It was reported in June this year that Senior Liberal Democrats were meeting Senior Labour figures. Labour needs to ensure that it keeps it’s options open, despite an obvious severe and understandable dislike of the Coalition at present. The Liberal Democrats post 2015 will be different, and would be likely partners should Ed not secure a majority. Areas of common ground between Labour and the Liberals Democrats would considerable.

Ed can sit his team down at half time and be satisfied. However, the real work in providing an alternative Government in 2015 has barely begun.