Tag Archives: coalition

Two Eds May Not Be Better After All

So, apparently the relationship at the top of the Labour Party between leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is breaking down. This supposed friction between Labour’s top two was reported last week in the media and even if, as has been argued, the account of Miliband snapping at Balls at a shadow cabinet meeting for tapping on his Blackberry is indeed a mere repeat of an event that actually happened and surfaced in the media almost two years ago, a potential rift between Balls and Miliband does not bode well for the Labour Party’s chances of regaining power at the next general election.

At a time when the economy was undoubtedly going to become the most important factor at the next election, Miliband, still not wholly accepted by the Labour Party, particularly those of a more central than left leaning, is in desperate need of a shadow chancellor who can not only expose the Tories mishandling of the economy but also work with him to produce a Labour party with policies that can convince the public that they are a government in waiting. Any rift between the two therefore could be catastrophic.

However, it seemed nigh on impossible that the rift would not occur at some time or other before the election. For starters, Ed Balls was still smarting at his rejection by the party at the leadership elections following Labour’s loss of power. Balls came in a distant third behind Ed and his brother David, and this was a rejection that must have hurt. Furthermore, Balls was then initially denied his second preference job, that of Shadow Chancellor, a position granted to Alan Johnson, only for Balls to be given the job when Johnson resigned a mere three and a half months after taking up the role. Balls was further aggrieved by the fact that he was Miliband’s second choice and it is likely that his leadership ambitions are far from evaporated.

It appears that Balls and Miliband are determined to follow in the route of Labour leaders and their (Shadow) Chancellors falling out and tearing the party apart, an eventuality that Miliband has already had to fight hard against as the party has an innate instinct to enter into a bitter civil war whenever it is removed from power. So far, Miliband has done a splendid job of balancing the needs of the trade unions, Blairites and other Labour factions all vying for control of policy.

The last thing that Miliband needs on top of this is a petulant Shadow Chancellor determined to undermine him. Miliband therefore has two options. The first is to continue with Ed Balls as shadow chancellor, concede ground to Balls and hope to maintain the current level of unity present in the Labour Party. This has the obvious advantages of avoiding disruption as well as being viewed as overseeing the constant removal and implementation of Shadow Chancellors, a sign of uncertainty, instability and potentially weakness.

The second option is to remove Balls and find a new shadow chancellor to take the fight to the coalition. The truth is that Balls isn’t all that likeable. I believe that the general public do not really see Balls as a future Chancellor. After all, this is the man that the Tories jeer delivered us an economic crisis that Labour has to try and distance itself from. So far, Tory insults concerning the origins of the financial downturn are sticking in the mind of the public and the closer they can associate Balls with the crisis the more the insults will stick. Also, Balls appears determined to disrupt the Labour Party, bitter at the loss of the leadership election. Furthermore, the truth is that not much of the Labour Party backed Balls in the leadership election, around 11% of first preference votes, and even fewer would now, knowing the damage it would cause and taking into consideration the promising start of Ed Miliband as Leader of the Opposition.

A problem created by removing Balls however is where Miliband would find his replacement. I believe that the best candidate would be Chuka Umunna, the current Shadow Business Secretary, who is eloquent, intelligent and a good economist. Furthermore, although inexperienced, this means that Umunna is distanced from the record of the pat Labour government. He is a likeable, attractive character and would impress the general public, as well as seeming part of a more approachable top team to the Lib Dems.

Miliband therefore is faced with a difficult decision, to risk splitting the Labour Party and taking the bold move of giving the job of Shadow Chancellor to a relatively inexperienced, yet bright, politician, or to attempt to maintain harmony but appear weak and leave the Labour Party open to Tory attacks. Certainly Miliband cannot allow Balls too much freedom to manoeuvre against him and act in a petulant and undermining manner. If Balls is determined to disrupt the Labour ship on its way back to power, now would be the time to depose him.

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Sorry Isn’t Good Enough for Clegg

Elton John once famously sang that sorry seemed to be the hardest word. However, as Nick Clegg found at yesterday, on the eve of a conference of Lib Dems baying for blood, with your job on the line and faced by a public that quite openly hates you, it actually slips out quite easily. And so it was that Nick Clegg decided to grovel to the British public yesterday in a rather pathetic video message on the eve of the Lib Dems annual conference.

The intentions behind Clegg’s message are obvious. Firstly, he probably genuinely is sorry. Not sorry that he’s forcing many of the poorest to reconsider going to university by trebling tuition fees but sorry that he managed to, with one fatal move, place his party on a collision course with voters. Clegg’s shameful reversal struck at the heart of Lib Dem voters, who expected their party to stand tall in coalition, not to be bullied by the Tory party, yet Clegg’s reneging on the Lib Dems’ promise to abolition tuition fees was a reversal too far. It not only hit at the student vote, previously very generous to the Lib Dems compared to the country as a whole, but also moved the party towards the right-wing, whilst Labour moved away from their days on the right under Blair and retook the space that the Lib Dems had filled since Blair dismayed Labour’s core support. In reneging on one of his party’s central promises then Clegg, in one fell swoop, split the Lib Dem vote, losing a large chunk. This explains the real reason why Clegg is sorry.

However, perhaps as some Lib Dems have suggested, Clegg’s apology with be seen as a breath of fresh air within the country? The same Nick Clegg that voters were attracted to, the man who was different to the other politicians, may have proven the validity of these credentials by apologising, a move rarer in the Westminster village than a heart in the Tory party. Well, no. The truth is that Clegg’s apology looks opportunistic and is simply too little too late.

Firstly, the necessity of Clegg’s backtracking over the initial problem simply proves that the Lib Dems were unacquainted to, and unready for, the power thrust upon them by the coalition agreement. The Lib Dems, in a desperate measure to garner support, appear to have been making all the right noises probably presuming that they, once again, would be out of power. Therefore, when they found themselves in the middle of a squabble between the two larger parties, both of whom wished to court the Lib Dems into coalition with them, their policies suddenly became important, and the truth is they didn’t stack up. If Clegg is now admitting (as both the Labour and Tory parties realised prior to the 2010 election) that abolishing tuition fees was unrealistic, the question remains why on earth did he ever commit the Lib Dems to the policy? Committing to unrealistic policy measures such as this when outside of government shows the voters a level of political immaturity that is simply scandalous.

Furthermore, Clegg’s apology looks even more opportunistic when we consider his other reneged upon promises which he is yet to apologise for: one example being from a conference speech a number of years ago when he has this to say: “Will I ever join a Conservative government? No!” He is yet to apologise for this. He is also yet to apologise for the rise in VAT which he promised to oppose. He also promised to protect the NHS and is now standing idly by whilst the Tories happily take it apart and sell it off to private companies. Whilst I realise that the Lib Dems, being the smaller party in the coalition cannot have their way on every policy measure, you would think that there would be some kind of pre-drawn line based on principles such as the protection of the poor and public services such as the NHS. The lack of apology, or even mention of, these further policy failings proves just how opportunistic and deceitful Clegg’s ‘apology’ is. It is not simply luck that the deputy prime minister has chosen to apologise for the one policy change that still really rankles with the public and is particularly blamed on the Lib Dems.

The truth is that Clegg is ruined in the eyes of the voting public and this is most likely an irreparable relationship. Clegg has consistently broken policy pledges and allowed the Tory party to use Lib Dem principles as a welcome mat on the steps of Downing Street. It is time for Clegg to stand up for Lib Dem principles or stand aside to allow someone who will to lead the party. In the same conference speech where Clegg lied about joining the Tories he said that “everyone wants to be in our [the Lib Dem’s] gang”. The sad truth for Clegg is that no-one wants to be in his gang anymore, not even his own party.

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Cameron Must Rid Himself of Mitchell

The saga surrounding Andrew Mitchell continues to rumble on in the Westminster Village as Labour continues to apply pressure to the new Chief Whip, and the coalition continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with a man who has not only shown himself to be bad tempered but also conforming to the public’s image of a Tory party that is arrogant and disconnected. This view of the Tories risks the success of the Cameroon project of moving the Conservatives away from their “nasty party” image to a party that could govern for all classes.

On his way out of Downing Street, Mr Mitchell was asked by the police who guard his own, along with the Prime Minister and other government members’ lives, to dismount his bicycle and leave Downing Street by the pedestrian, rather than the main, gate. Mr Mitchell is then said to have taken offence at the request, calling the officers “plebs” and swearing profusely. Whilst Mr Mitchell denied his use of the word “plebs”, along with other language that was claimed to have been used in The Sun newspaper, the country, twice as likely to believe a police officer as a politician, simply did not believe him. Mr Mitchell did however apologise, presumably in the hope that the event would slip into the past and be forgotten, but evidence since his apology has reinforced his wrongdoing, and Labour should continue to push the case for Mr Mitchell to lose his job.

Particularly offended by Mitchell’s comments were the police force themselves. Following the murders of two female police officers by just a few days, Mitchell’s comments were particularly harrowing and distasteful. Indeed, some police officers not only rejected Mitchell’s apology, and called for his resignation, but also claimed that David Cameron’s public apology to the police force was disingenuous. The truth is that the public feel that Mitchell was not only wrong on the day, but exposes the real heart of the Tory party, a bunch of ex-public schoolboys who feel that they’re born to rule and who have little or no understanding of the heartfelt positivity that the public feels towards their police force.

Whether in a bad mood or not, Mitchell’s outburst seems to show a similar Tory feeling to that shown by David Cameron in the Commons and the smarmy George Osborne the Chancellor. The public feel that the Tory party is out of touch with normal people. Not only is the cabinet packed with multi-millionaires, not only have they been shown to be in connivance with illegally operated corporations such as the Murdoch empire, not only have they cut taxes for the few whilst retracting the vital services that serve the many, now they attack one of the bastions of the United Kingdom in the form of the police force. Time and time again, the Tory party has proved its personal critic, Nadine Dorries, right. The party is led by arrogant posh boys and everything they do exposes the falsity of their words. Cameron’s apology, Mitchell’s apology, Osborne using non-existent deficit-reduction policies to cover up a mass privatisation and break down of the state, all smack of nasty party Toryism. The problem for Cameron is that this image, if it becomes the prevailing image of his party, will undo the work of the Cameroon project.

Cameron’s biggest mistake was immediately backing Mitchell, his second was not sacking him when the police logbook evidence was leaked to The Sun, his third will be not sacking him at all. Mitchell must go. He has abused the police force of this country, a well-respected institution and shown himself to be arrogant and detached from society. If Cameron fails to sack Mitchell, he will be, and should be, tarred with the same brush. Ed Miliband and the Labour Party will rightly continue to press this point harming the Tory party. Perhaps even more worrying is Boris Johnson’s less than warm reaction, in which he has backed the police over Mr Mitchell. If this was to become a turning-point in Cameron’s premiership, and the Cameroon project, this would only be in Johnson’s interests in any future leadership contest. Mr Mitchell has exposed the decrepit face behind the Cameroon mask of the Tory Party, and if the prime minister wants the mask to be replaced, he must remove Mr Mitchell first.

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Hollande’s Importance for Labour

Francois Hollande’s rise to become French president and remove the centre-right administration of Nicolas Sarkozy was a big moment for Europe. Hollande’s accession marked the rejection of technocratic and conservative led recession in favour of a more equal, painless route out of Europe’s woes. Furthermore, Hollande’s triumph appeared to personify the anti-austerity tide sweeping across Europe from the streets of Athens, Dublin, London and Paris. The French elections symbolised the democratic wishes of the peoples of Europe to escape the bonds of austerity in favour of a growth-led recovery in the interests of the many not the few.

The initial triumph for Ed Miliband’s party therefore was simply the impending signs of a turning tide. The people of Europe had realised that it was leftist, growth supportive policies that would drive Europe out of recession not more and more cuts to vital services which starved the economy of oxygen. Hollande gave British Labour supporters a huge boost with his election, even if we have found his early days in office underwhelming. That is we have until four days ago, when Hollande unveiled his first budget, including his centrepiece policy: a super tax on the super-rich. From now on, the richest in French society will pay a tax rate of 75%. Whilst Ed Miliband has done some marvellous work in raising Labour’s ratings in the polls (even if his own are rather less satisfactory), it will be the results of Hollande’s super tax that could define whether Labour can be trusted with the British economy in 2015.

Ed Miliband has long been making moves against what he sees as predatory capitalists and the super-rich. Recently he announced plans to forcibly break up banks if they refused to do so themselves, whilst attacking the Tories watering-down of the Vicker’s report into banking practice. Furthermore, he has dedicated Labour to repealing the tax cut for the rich, which the Tories implemented in George Osborne’s budget, in the interests of fairness and to squeeze those who contributed to the financial crisis that has led to Britain’s terribly recessive economic period. These policies are controversial to say the least.

Whilst the public generally agree with Ed about the need to make Britain a more egalitarian and fair society, they fear that Labour, still blamed for the financial collapse of 2008, cannot be trusted with the economy. These fears are compounded by the Tories, although their economic credibility is dissolving gradually due to the double-dip recession. Another Tory argument, central to the idea of taxing the rich and squeezing the banks, is that if we squeeze the rich too hard they will simply pack up and leave, simply go on strike, in a scene reminiscent of one of Ayn Rand’s sauciest wet dreams. This is why Hollande will be key to Labour’s election chances.

Although the French economy is not based around a rich financial centre such as that in the City of London, the French nation has its fair share of the super-rich, people who will presumably become disgruntled by the notion of having their taxes raised to 75%. The key tests for the Labour party will be the tax receipts of the French treasury over the next couple of years and the number of rich who decide to leave French shores in search of a more generous tax deal.

The Tory argument that a Labour government will push away the banks, the rich, and their enterprises by squeezing them too hard is about to be tested across the Channel and if their arguments are proved wrong not only will the Tories look even less economically credible but they will suffer further humiliation. Furthermore, if Labour are right, Ed Miliband will once again be proved right on one of his main themes (remember Murdoch and the Leveson Inquiry). This would be a major boost to Miliband personally and Labour economic policy and credibility as a whole. The success of French policy could cement Labour’s chances of re-election and consign the Tories to a swift return to opposition. The advantage for Miliband is that, even if he is wrong, the consequences for him are much less severe.

Firstly, Miliband can still take the moral high ground. He would remain the politician who was backing the little people over the rich and powerful. He would still be the one standing up to the banks and their gambling practices. Plus he would still be right to demand the morally and ethically correct route even in the face of a wealth rebellion. After all, even if the wealthy threaten to leave, that would not make it right to simply cave in to their demands. Miliband cannot let himself to be seen selling his ethics away for the concern of money. The public will understand and appreciate this.

However, I really don’t see it going that far. The rich will not leave France on their yachts and private jets. Instead, the French people will be seen to be enjoying a fairer deal, where the rich pay their way and the poor are not used as sponges to be wrung dry so as to pay for a tax cut for the rich. Hollande may just have provided a huge boost to the British Labour Party’s chances of victory

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Lords Reform and the Coalition

Today, Nick Clegg declared an end to the Liberal Democrats’ fight for House of Lords reforms during this Parliament. Following the brazen refusal of Tory backbenchers to toe the party line and honour the coalition agreement, and Labour’s justifiable, yet still suspiciously partisan, no vote to setting a clear timetable for Lords reform, the Lib Dems now consider any continued push for reform at the present time to simply be fighting a losing battle. The problem that the prime minister will now face, in response to Clegg’s speech, is that, having now conceded defeat to his own backbenchers, how can he first, restore his reputation as in control, and secondly, prove to Clegg and the Lib Dems as a whole that the coalition can continue to work effectively in the interests of both the country and the Lib Dems.

Firstly, the Tory rebellion was the explosion outwards of Tory backbench frustration at the Lib Dem ‘wagging’ of the coalition tail. It has been a constant complaint from Tory backbenches that the Lib Dems have far too much influence upon government policy considering the disproportionately few number of seats that they contribute to the government’s majority in the Commons. Therefore, when a bastion of conservatism, the House of Lords, one of the final two seats of British government’s unelected officials, came under threat, Tory backbenchers reverted to type and refused to, in Clegg’s strong words ‘honour the coalition agreement’. All this suggests that David Cameron lacks real control over the Tory party, particularly with his arch-nemesis Boris Johnson waiting in the wings, basking in the glory of the London Olympics as well as the failings of Cameron and Osborne.

Furthermore, on the back of Tory rebellion, Cameron is now being confronted with a rebellion from his coalition partners, not just from the backbenches but even amongst the Lib Dem’s most senior members and government ministers. Indeed, Clegg himself today said that his party would be instructed to oppose the Tory plans to gerrymander constituency boundaries (as if they’d need any instructing at the moment). All this bodes unwell for the coalition.

Therefore, Cameron, despite finding himself stuck between rebelling Tory backbenchers and rebellious Lib Dems has to take drastic action to repair his personal image as well as that of the coalition. Initially, Cameron must make it clear to the Lib Dems that, despite being forced to accept their rebellion regarding constituency changes (a damaging blow to the Tories who would have gained exttra seats in the next general election had the changes passed through Parliament), he cannot accept frequent rebellion. He has the power to do so, as both parties know that a collapse in the coalition would be disastrous for both, leaving behind a frail, powerless government and the possibility of a destructive early election for all involved. Two parties that so “heroically” came together in the ‘interests of the public’ cannot now jump overboard petulantly at the first sign of choppy waters.

However, Cameron will be well aware that he has to placate the angered Lib Dems, whose centrepiece policy will now be lost amongst the turbulent seas of coalition. With Cameron’s personal standing plummeting alongside the British economy, perhaps now is the time for Cameron to take the boldest move of his political career and consign his long-term personal friend, but hangman of British economic recovery, George Osborne, the chancellor, to the dustbin. Currently, Osborne is probably the one man more hated at the top end of British politics than Cameron himself. Furthermore, his obstinancy in the face of mounting economic problems, means that Osborne has tied himself to the mask of a shinking ship, one that Cameron can only save by changing economic course, an impossibility under Osborne’s leadership. Cameron’s only hope of maintaining a Tory role in government in 2015 and beyond is to save the British economy, and therefore, for the sake of his leadership Plan A must be rethought, even if this does mean stabbing Osborne in the back (after all Osborne isn’t even popular within the Tory party anymore).

If Cameron did grow the balls to finally ditch the troubled Osborne the question would remain of who to replace him with, an answer that I think lies in the placation of the Lib Dems. The one member of the British government, who in the eyes of the public, still retains a shred of respect is Vince Cable, the man who foresaw the global economic collapse, bashes the bankers and Murdoch and is the darling of the Lib Dems. This move would not only give the coalition a boost with the voters, Cable being a man much more in favour with voters than Osborne, but also cheer the Lib Dems and allow for a change in economic course.

Surely now it is time for Cameron to wake up to the dangers of retaining Osborne as chancellor and save the coalition at the same time.

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Social mobility really is a force for good

I read an article on the Guardian website today by Zoe Williams in which she claimed that the idea of social mobility is not as brilliant as we all presume it to be. Williams claims that Nick Clegg’s form of social mobility, in which the cleverest children are allowed to achieve their full potential, is not progressive as it merely means that a minor reshuffle takes place in personnel between the classes and many of those who begin in the gutter are left there to rot.

However, having moved from a comprehensive school at primary level into a grammar school at secondary level and for sixth form, I must disagree with Williams, as I see grammar schools as an important tool for social mobility and look forward to the day when grammar schools can replace our private education system and allow an equality of opportunity to prevail in the British education system.

Firstly, let me say that I find private schools and education an abhorrent idea and one which in Britain allows for the continuation of the class system and the elite, ruling class in society. I wish to see all private education demolished and replaced with a system where no-one can pay for the privilege of a better education. It is this private school system which continues to allow Britain’s elite to keep the positions of politicians, the rich and the powerful within the upper classes and keeps bright members of the working-class out of these positions.

Nick Clegg has suggested that the brightest children, no matter their background, should be given the chance to achieve their full potential, and I believe that grammar schools are an effective vehicle for this development, taking from my own experience.

Williams asks how social mobility will help those who are not blessed with high levels of intelligence and I would hope that she is wrong to dismiss social mobility for this reason. As Tory MP Nadine Dorries has said recently, part of the problem with the current Tory leadership in government is that they do not understand the effects their policies would have on normal people, claiming that they would have no idea what the price of a pint of milk is. I agree with Dorries on this point (although little else), as the privileged background of a lot of Britain’s ruling classes have enabled them to achieve their positions of power with relatively little work and/or merit, a system that could be rectified by allowing even those who begin from humble backgrounds the same opportunities as those at the top.

The difference to society of having members of the working-class making it to the top and positions of power would be that these would hopefully remember their roots, and have a greater idea of the effects of their policies on ordinary people. Furthermore, it would hopefully be an ambition for these people to allow people from a similar background to their own to achieve what they have, rather than see the top jobs go to privately educated, rich kids with little experience of the real world.

I believe therefore that Williams is wrong to claim that social mobility does little to help the lower-classes in society, as it is only through furthering the aspirations and achievements of these classes that we will gain rulers who are prepared to fight for the rights of these people to equal opportunities in society.

 

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Coalition infighting

The Lib Dem attack on Adrian Beecroft’s call for no-fault dismissals to become commonplace within British businesses has led to even further coalition infighting, a trend that has continued to worsen for the Tories and Lib Dems ever since their respective trouncings in the local elections earlier this month. As this infighting continues and indeed deepens, is it finally time that we can envisage the coalition falling apart and an early general election being called?

Today, Beescroft, smarting from the rejection of his repressive, ideological proposals to further degrade the rights of British workers, attacked the Lib Dem leadership in a very personal, and Toff-like fashion. Firstly, the Lib Dem business secretary and party darling, Vince Cable, who, until recently was seen as the left’s big hope within the coalition. This reputation was of course besmirched by the lack of backbone displayed on central liberal and progressive issues by the Lib Dem leadership. Beecroft however, clearly still feels that Cable can do a job for the left in coalition, labelling him “a socialist who found a home in the Lib Dems”. Despite the fact that I, and I suspect many others, would receive this as a massive compliment coming from a large Tory donor, I suspect that Cable viewed Beecroft’s remarks as a personal attack in retaliation for Cable labelling his no-fault dismissal plans “bonkers”.

As if attacking the Lib Dem’s favourite minister wasn’t enough, Beecroft then took to attacking the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, accusing him of threatening to go “nuclear” and meltdown the coalition. He was backed-up in this case by the head of an Oxford, private school, who claimed that Clegg was using “communist tactics”.

It would appear that the tensions that have previously simmered away under the coalition’s surface are finally beginning to spill over into the public realm and Cameron and his Tory friends will have a lot of work to do to patch up the coalition, particularly if they wish to forestall major Lib Dem backbench intervention; they too are far from happy with the direction of the coalition.

With Lib Dems worrying about the party’s reputation at the next general election, as well as their leadership’s lack of ideological backbone on issues such as tuition fees, which have caused the party copious amounts of distress and hatred, and Tory backbenchers worrying that the Lib Dem’s are having more than their fair share of input into coalition policy, there is a chance that backbench pressure will tell and cause the breakdown of the coalition. Certainly, this possibility appears more likely now than at any time since the 2010 general election.

However, both parties would be impulsive and self-destructive were they to bring down the coalition having only made things worse for the country economically and with both receiving recent batterings at the polls. For Labour of course coalition infighting is good news. Ed Miliband can now expose both parties for what they are, the Tories as ideological and regressive and the Lib Dems as power-thirsty and unprincipled. This would fly right in the face of the coalition’s claim to be working together to sort out the economic conundrum Britain is still in.

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