Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


A new politics needs a new parliament

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

As the fifth of November approaches, I go back annually to one my very favourite films ‘V for Vendetta’. For those not familiar with this adaptation of a  comic book, it’s story about a dystopian United Kingdom. The government is a right-wing fascist one, where the public are controlled through fear, violence, mass surveillance, media control and the ‘disappearance’ of dissenting voices as punishment for not being compliant with the system. Against this backdrop a masked stranger emerges, who undermines the government, and eventually leads the people see the light and overthrow their oppressors. The finale is the demolition of the Houses of Parliament by an underground train packed with explosives, timed to the music of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The film is firmly fiction, yet as each year passes, the resonance with contemporary politics grows. Most people have political ideas they are interested in, yet dissatisfaction with Westminster politics is significant. I can’t be the only one that thinks after watching yet another PMQs full of partisan hot air, with no light and all heat, the idea of blowing the whole place up seems quite a good idea. Hearing another round of media interviews where political opponents just oppose for opposition’s sake, without making a positive contribution , and the main parties just play games and set traps really hacks me off. Most of the public realise that while these squabbles go on, real life issues are left unresolved – the NHS, the housing crisis, job security and all the other things that concern voters the most.

It turns out that we don’t need a tube train full of explosives to destroy Westminster – it’s doing a great job of falling down all by itself. Westminster is aging, and  is badly in need of repair, with recent estimates putting the cost at up to £5.7 billion. Bad electrical cabling, leaking sewerage pipes, asbestos and sinking are just some of the issues. MPs are expected to make a decision by the middle of 2019. This will certainly involve parliamentary business being moved elsewhere for a number of years.

I have been to Westminster twice, and in truth I think blowing it up is a little harsh. It is a magnificent place, and preserving it must be a priority for nation. The history of centuries of politics is in it’s bones and permeates the air. Combined with the stunning architecture and deep traditions, time spent there is like walking through a history book. This creates the perfect atmosphere for a museum or art gallery, but a wretched place to build new progressive and transformative democracy that we desperately need for the twenty first century.

So how can this opportunity be used reshape our democracy for the better? Here is my plan:

Move out of London

Our national politics are far too London-centric. Moving parliament to another place would be transformative in the national perception of it. A new parliament in Birmingham would be around two hours from most areas in the country, and much cheaper to build that a similar building in London.It would help break up the London/South East centralisation of the country.

Move from adversarial to cooperation

Parliament is based on adversarial politics. The premier event of the week is considered to be Prime Minister’s Questions – nothing more than a tribal, pointless ding dong.

MPs line up opposite each other. They are separated by two lines (two swords length apart). The effect of the positioning of people in a room is known to change the ambiance and nature of the exchanges. This is why when power, control or hostility is required, people sit opposite each other with barriers between. For example, the layout of police interview rooms when questioning suspects. People sat around each other, without barriers, creates a more cooperative environment, for example, people in counselling groups sat round in a circle. A good example of a better layout is the European Parliament, where MEPs sit in a semi circle.

The current First Past the Post electoral system is designed to give one party an excess of parliamentarians to command an unrepresentative majority. This immediately creates a them and us set up from the start. A better alternative would be a PR system, where cross party cooperation is normally required.  In most parts of peoples’ lives, be it at home, work or leisure, they do a good job at compromising with different people to create a more conducive environment and get on with things. A common complaint of the public is that politicians don’t just get on with running the country and work together. The petty, tribal squabbling that constitutes much of our politics brings it into disrepute.

Conclusion

Westminster politics is crumbling like it’s roof, sewerage system and electrics. We can fix the building and preserve it’s architecture and history. However, it’s political culture need to thrown in a skip, and new modern parliament, fit for the twenty first century, created. This new parliament can then give birth to a new political culture, one we can be proud of and that is relevant now and into the future.

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How PR could be Labour’s next radical reform

Unless the opinion polls are wrong on an massive scale, it’s likely that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will be massively defeated by a coalition of Theresa May’s Conservatives and former UKIP voters fleeing their rapidly sinking ship.The Tory lead of 15-20% predicted could produce a landslide for the Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority of over 100.Labour MPs could be reduced to well under 200 in number.

It would easy to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this (and many Labour MPs surely will), but the truth is Labour has been suffering from a long term decline, at least for the last ten years. The big tent that held together Dennis Skinner and Tony Blair has fragmented and split.

Labour and the Conservatives stride across our FPTP landscape, one where only two parties can be in contention. The political ecosystem squeezes out smaller parties. Yet times are changing. These two predators once enjoyed over 90% of the vote within living memory, but have in recent years had to survive on slimmer pickings, with the support of barely two thirds of the electorate. There is simply not enough food for the two dominant dinosaurs any more.In addition to less votes to fight over, the political tectonic plates have been shattered by two earthquakes – the 2007/2008 banking crisis and Brexit.

The Labour dinosaur is dying. Once confident and strong, it is wobbling badly. Those previously willing to tactically support it are standing aside. If propping up a dying beast is pointless, perhaps the best thing is to let it die sooner rather than later. Westminster politics is a zero sum game. There are a finite number of MPs and a finite number of voters. If a great tree crashes down, on the exposed ground where it lay, fed from the rotting trunk and new sunlight, new life can form. Left and centre-left voters would be free to build a new party or parties, better equipped for the new world.

Labour has a great tradition of radical reform, and herein lay an opportunity to forge a new democratic future for the country, just like it forged the NHS and Welfare State. Instead of refusing to adapt or change, and just die away, it could become the party to create a new democratic system. Proportional Representation would undermine the inherent benefit the Conservative Party enjoys. Of course, we need a FPTP winner to bring this about, and it therefore must be led by the Conservatives or Labour. Conservative turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.

Labour could become the party dedicated to reform the system. By committing to PR, Labour would attract voters from across the centre left. A Labour Party asking for non-Labour voters to lend their vote, to win the election to smash our out of date system, would be fresh, exciting and relevant. Labour will always be remembered for creating the NHS – it changed Britain. The 1945 Labour Government was a radical reforming Government.
By promoting a radical change to our democratic system, Labour could do that again.


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The Left must not turn on itself over Europe

Until recently, much of the EU Referendum debate has been seen as a blue-on-blue matter. David Cameron on one side, and the person most keen to replace him, Boris Johnson, on the other. This has been the perception, but it hides a more complex picture under the surface.

Without a doubt, the Conservative Party is deeply split, and the rift could be very long lasting. Conservative MPs are evenly divided between Remain and Leave, and the membership similarly affected. No matter what the referendum result, the Conservatives will have to try to form a working Government with a tiny majority, hindered by the self-inflicted campaign wounds.

Labour also have difficulties. Their Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a long term critic of the EU, but is supporting Remain alongside 90%+ of the PLP. Labour voters are far less supportive of the Remain camp than the Labour Party itself. The latest You Gov poll show support for Remain at 65% and Leave at 24%. There have been warnings from Labour Campaigners that in many areas of the country, Labour voters are not coming to the Remain side. If the country votes for Brexit, the vast majority of Labour MPs will have backed the wrong horse.

I support Green Leaves, a campaign group for Green Party members and supporters who wish to leave the EU. Labour also has a campaign to leave the EU. There is a substantial debate within the left about how to vote on the 23rd June. This debate has become more and more fractious, and has become very hostile in recent days, given the poll movements that have brought the chance of a Brexit vote becoming more likely.

Baroness Jenny Jones, Green Party Peer, has published a number of articles setting out a left-wing and progressive case for Brexit. I have seen comments about her that are utterly disgraceful, and disrespectful to a person who has worked for the Green Party and progressive causes for decades.

I know good left wing people, who were supporting Leave, but due to being tired of being called fascists, UKIP supporters, traitors and so on have switched their support to Remain under duress.

There are no certain outcomes, no matter what the referendum result is. There are a range of possibilities that exist, and it is for each person to evaluate the best way to vote for themselves. Supporting Leave does not mean supporting Nigel Farage or the Tory right. Leaving the EU does not mean workers rights being destroyed or environmental protections diminished. Should Brexit occur, our Government who has struggled to get fairly basic things passed with a tiny majority, will have even more difficulty removing holiday pay or others workers rights, given they will be in civil war. The Conservative Party has too many MPs in marginal seats, who will surely cave in under the pressure a constituency mail bag, threatening their seat at the next GE. And the power handed to UKIP? They have one MP now, and will still have one after June 23rd.

I ask that people of the left understand that voting Leave isn’t traitorous.

I ask that people of the left understand that voting Leave isn’t a sign of stupidity or character defect.

I ask that people of the left understand that given the same partial and ultimately subjective information, others may come to a different conclusion.

 

 


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Cameron’s Mythical Dragons

01021_george_and_the_dragon

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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The Left Should Unite and Strike Now

“Anyone in this party who’s in any doubt who we should be fighting, what we should be debating, where our energies should be focused – I tell you: our battle is with Labour. This is a bunch of self-satisfied Labour socialists who think they can spend your money better than you can, make decisions better than you can and tell you what to do, and we should never, ever let that lot near government again.”

David Cameron, Conservative Spring Conference, 16th March 2013.

This passage from David Cameron reveals the hole in which he and his party find themselves.

The Conservatives surely never thought it could get as bad as this. Several things have come together.

Firstly, their key aim of this Parliament was the elimination of the deficit, an aim now stretched out way into the the distance. The austerity medicine delivered has killed patient. 2013, instead of seeing strong economic growth as predicted on 2010, is a zero growth struggling mess.The Government is actually more more money, not less, to plug that gap left by anemic economic activity.

Secondly, David Cameron policies have been a story of flip-flop, cock-up and disaster. The Coalition agreement always a back-of-the-fag-packet look about, and this has been borne out in practice Some policies such as NHS and education reform have been carried our despite deep unpopularity and the obvious fact they will not work. Other policies have been ditched for no reason other trying to popular after the event, such as the minimum price of alcohol.

Thirdly, they expected Ed Miliband to be a disaster. To their shock, Ed has not only not been a disaster, he is doing well. The Labour Party has not fallen apart, but has actually been a successful tactical opposition at least. This week’s PMQ’s, with Ed’s joke about organising things in a brewery, demonstrated the it is David Cameron, not Ed Miliband who appears on the back foot and struggling.

Not only does the Prime Minister have a united opposition to trouble him. The Conservative Party is split and ill-disciplined about issues such as gay marriage and Europe. Many Tory MPs see the Prime Minister’s stance as not Conservative enough, blaming the Liberal Democrats for unduly influencing the Coalition. This has created an opportunity that UKIP has taken with both hands. Eastleigh’s by election humiliation, where UKIP forced the Conservatives into third, was a stinging blow.

The polls also show no comfort either. A recent large poll by Lord Ashcroft showed how successful Labour could be in 2015 and how poor Conservative supporters thought their chances were. Polls have been showing a strong Labour lead of about 10 points for many months.

All these factors led David Cameron to his speech. He knows he is looking down the barrel of defeat if he gets to 2015 as leader. He also knows that he is polling the sort of numbers that Maggie Thatcher was when removed as leader. In addition, he knows that polling at the low 30’s is the irreducible core vote that they got at their biggest kicking in the modern era – 1997.

So should Labour prepare for Government?

Labour is in a strong position, yet quite frankly have done very little. To just allow the Government enough rope to hang himself is not enough. It is complacent and will not allow Ed to lead what would be needed in 2015 – a national renewal on the scale of 1945,

The real fear for Labour has always been stigmatised with being associated tax and spending. Virtually all we have heard from the Government since 2010 is blaming Labour for spending too much. Labour has meekly defended itself at best, and so it has stuck firmly despite being fundamentally wrong.

In addition, the signs are that Labour are drifting to the next election with caution, and a probability to match the Conservatives spending plans as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did in 1997.

This would be very bad, as the clear aim of Cameron’s Government has been to privatise health and education, destroy the public sector and dismantle the welfare state. Another five years of following this Governments spending plans would make these changes permanent. What is required is a clear and loud rejection of austerity, and a laying to rest the economic myths that have now sadly become unquestioned. Anyone who thinks that these myths are true, don’t listen to amateur left bloggers, read the works of Paul Krugman (Nobel prize winning economist) and others.

Given the weakness of the Conservatives, now is the time to strike and strike hard. Labour now has only a few years to set out an alternative economic agenda. It will take time to blow away the myths, and this conversation may not be easy.

Labour needs to articulate their plans for health and education, and on how key services can be better by not auctioning them off to highest bidder. We need to accept that the treatment of the poor, frail and elderly in the UK is a disgusting abuse that shames us all. Vulnerable people need the dignity and care they deserve in a civilised society.

The need for not just growth, but the right growth should be made. We don’t need everyone to buy a new TV or pile money again into a housing bubble, we need to grow by building low carbon energy technologies that supply us for decades cleanly and safely. We need to build in infrastructure – better, cleaner transport and high-speed broadband – that can be the backbone of future businesses. We need to ensure we build enough high quality housing to ensure that everyone can live in a modern, energy efficient home that ordinary people can afford.

The values of our society need to be challenged. As a nation we simply cannot accept the inequality hard-wired into our economic system. Work should earn a living wage, and excessive salaries by the elite should be both limited and action taken to ensure they are not squirreled away in off-shore tax havens.

These are the bold messages that Labour should be shouting from the roof tops now, and every minute up the next election. Labour are well placed to lead a coalition of the left, and with the agenda set out here would surely drive Cameron and company out of Downing Street and deliver a society we could all be proud of.


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David Cameron’s UKIP Conundrum

The Eastleigh by-election can described as a hard fought win for the Liberal Democrats or a sign that Ed Miliband’s one nation message has travelled no further south than the Watford gap.

However, the second place by UKIP, dumping the Tories into third, has brought home to the Conservatives the fact that UKIP are a dangerous threat to them winning the next general election. This is the big message from Hampshire.

Eastleigh by-election, 2013
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton 13,342 32.06% -14.44%
UKIP Diane James 11,571 27.80% +24.20%
Conservative Maria Hutchings 10,559 25.37% -13.93%
Labour John O’Farrell 4,088 9.82% +0.22%
Independent Danny Stupple 768 1.85% N/A
National Health Action Iain Maclennan 392 0.94% N/A
Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party Ray Hall 235 0.56% N/A
Christian Kevin Milburn 163 0.39% N/A
Monster Raving Loony Howling Laud Hope 136 0.33% N/A
Peace Jim Duggan 128 0.31% N/A
Elvis Loves Pets David Bishop 72 0.17% N/A
English Democrats Michael Walters 70 0.17% -0.33%
TUSC Daz Procter 62 0.15% N/A
Wessex Regionalist Colin Bex 30 0.07% N/A
Majority 1,771 4.26% -2.9%
Turnout 41,616 52.8% -16.5%
Liberal Democrat hold Swing -19.2

The effect of UKIP has been to divide the right. Mirroring the impact the SDP had on Labour in the eighties, UKIP is taking crucial votes from the Conservatives.

Below is a graph showing the percentage lead in each seat the Conservatives won in the 2010 election over the second place party.

UKIP

 

As can be seen, if just 10% of the Conservative vote goes elsewhere and the second placed party just stands still, the loss of seats would be around 80. Is this possible or likely?

Below is a chart showing the change in vote share for the Conservatives and UKIP in the by-elections they have fought this Parliament.

CON UKIP

Of course, by-elections can exaggerate the sort of changes seen in a general election. However, the Conservatives are not only under threat from UKIP. In the north and urban areas Labour is moving strongly against them, without the sort of splits that divided them in the eighties. Eastleigh demonstrated that Liberal Democrat heartlands have a tough core.

There is irony in that two euro-sceptic parties have split the vote, allowing a pro-European party to win the seat. One might think that an electoral pact would help to ensure a bigger voice for euro-sceptics. This is unlikely for several reasons in my view.

Firstly, Nigel Farage, UKIP Leader, now has almost a cult following. He is driven and motivated, and the smell of fear from Conservative HQ will be too strong to resist.

Secondly, the Euro elections loom next year. Given the proportionate system used to elect MEPs and subject being UKIP’s key issue, they are very likely to kick the Conservatives hard. With less than 12 months before the general election campaign, a bruised set of Tory backbenchers will be very nervous about their future. They will be in no mood to talk deals with the very party who threaten them.

Despite claims that the Eastleigh by-election was just another mid-term protest vote, I think the roots of the defeat of the Conservatives in 2015 are growing strongly.


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Moving From the Fringe

The Green Party is firmly established as a minor party in the United Kingdom. Currently it has 1 MP, 2 MEPs, 2 London Assembly Members and 147 Councillors [1]. The question it must face is how does it become a party of the mainstream?

Both the Conservative Party and Labour Party are in an ideological cul-de-sac. Since the financial crisis in 2008, neither has come up with a coherent alternative that can mend our broken economic system. Neither has come close to recognising the scale of carbon emission reductions required to ensure that CO2 levels do not rise above 450 ppm units, essential to capping global warming and preventing a global environmental catastrophe. Neither has a plan that that solve both national and international inequality.

The 2010 Green Party Manifesto [2] was a broad policy platform that provided a real alternative. It demonstrated that it had good policies for jobs, the economy and all the areas of concern to the citizens of the United Kingdom. It demonstrated a party that had moved beyond being just an environmental party, an image the probably still exists in the minds of many voters.

So how can the Green Party move onto the main stage of UK politics?

A new media strategy

The established media focuses heavily on the big parties. There is no national news channel or newspaper willing to give the party any sort of decent coverage.

However, the recent past has seen a growth in social media platforms, and this offers opportunities. Many of the people who would be attracted to the Green Party are young people, to whom Facebook, Twitter and others are a way of life. The Green Party should actively promote themselves in a viral-fashion, and this would get the message to huge numbers of people who probably do not watch many news programmes or read newspapers. This type of promotion is very cheap too.

Publicise itself on all issues

The party has a solid policy base in many areas, so when unemployment figures are announced the party should aggressively deploy it’s messages about how it would do things better that the Government. This would drive home to people that Green’s don’t just care about CO2 emissions, they care about their gas bill, their job and their child’s education.

Work the local community

The base for any party is its activists. Local newspapers and simple, cost-effective leaflets should be used to engage with local communities. If near to an estate is a waste ground that is used for fly-tipping, let the local Greens raise the issue, start petitions and communicate locally about getting it sorted out. This demonstrates to people that Greens don’t just worry about the rain forests, they want the local neighbourhood putting right.

This approach is an excellent base to win Council seats, which is a spring board to winning Parliamentary seats in the future.

Form alliances

The truth is that under FPTP the chance of getting Green MPs is virtually nil. In 2015, with just 600 seats to fight for, Labour will be desperate to hoover up the non-Conservative vote. No doubt people will be told a vote for the Greens is a vote that lets the Tories in. It is critical that Green voters do not allow themselves to be bullied into this. It should be made crystal clear – for Greens to support Labour (the best option at removing the Conservatives) Labour must commit to introducing proportionate representation. No commitment to PR, then no support.

PR would open the way for a better democracy, and if voting Labour in one election to get it is the price, it is worth it.

Overall, these steps would put the Green Party on the road to having a much bigger impact in the future. Of course, after years of fighting a guerrilla war from the fringe, the act of moving into the mainstream would be considerably out of the comfort zone of many people. However, if Greens want to turn their dreams and ideals into the policies of those power , these crucial steps must be taken.

Sources

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Party_of_England_and_Wales

[2] http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies/policies_2010/2010manifesto_contents.html