22nd November, 2011

“When did lefties becomes so unreasonable [about Obama]?”

by Sunny at 9:28 am    

There’s a brilliant article in NY Mag this week on President Obama, titled ‘When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?‘. I read it and agreed with most of it, with caveats (about civil liberties and the ‘war on terror’).

Jonathan Chait first makes a historical argument: that while liberals (lefties) in the US keep saying Obama sold out and didn’t do as much as promised, especially compared to earlier US Presidents, this is rubbish. In fact they complained just as much, if not more, in past decades.

Bill Clinton’s election, following a dozen years of Republican presidencies, ushered in buoyant hopes of renewal. But liberals experienced his presidency as immediate and almost continuous deflation and cynicism. Clinton did enjoy one major triumph in his first year, when he passed a budget bill that raised the top tax rate, expanded the earned-income tax credit, created a new national-service program for graduates, and reformed other parts of the budget. This was the progressive apogee of the Clinton administration. Liberals at the time viewed it as a sad half-measure.

Today, Carter is remembered as a president anchored in liberal values, a revision of history both conservatives and Carter himself are happy to leave uncorrected. But the truth is that Carter’s domestic agenda carried only small bits of liberalism, and those small bits (a consumer-protection agency, tax reform) met with total failure in the Democratic Congress. Carter’s policy accomplishments tilted right of center—he deregulated the airline and trucking industries and cut the capital-gains tax. Most infuriatingly to liberals, Carter refused to push for comprehensive health-care reform.

Kennedy’s reputation benefited from a halo of martyrdom, deepened by liberals’ rage against Johnson, which retroactively cast Kennedy as far more liberal than he actually was. In reality, Kennedy’s domestic agenda slogged painfully through a Congress controlled by a coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats. He campaigned promising federal aid for education and health insurance for the elderly but didn’t get around to passing either one.

Franklin Roosevelt is hard to compare to anybody, because his achievements were so enormous, and his failures so large as well (court-packing, interning Japanese-Americans). But even his triumphs, gleaming monuments to liberalism when viewed from the historical distance, appear, at closer inspection, to be riddled with the same tribulations, reversals, compromises, dysfunctions, and failures as any other.

So why does this keep happening, again and again?

Why, for the most of the past 60 years, have been in “a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage”?

And why does this not apply to Conservatives?

There is obviously the willingness to quickly forget the past. But it’s also because conservatives think differently, he says.

Conservatives, compared with liberals, have higher levels of respect for and obedience to authority and prefer order over chaos and continuity over change. They are more likely than liberals to agree with statements like “It is more important to be a team player than to express yourself.” (Interestingly, libertarians tend to resemble liberals on these measures, which may explain why libertarian politics also so frequently resemble a Life of Brian–esque farce.)

That sounds about right.

Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor, defines the contrasting moral styles of right and left like so: Conservatives excel at competition between groups—your team, your nation, your tribe—while liberals care more about fairness within a group.

He also says this is partly why Tea Partiers were able to quickly suppress racist signs at their rallies, while Occupy protests have been unable to stop a small group of anti-semites from bringing them under attack.

In contrast, Obama has managed more than every other Democratic president in the past (except Roosevelt):
- “His single largest policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, combines two sweeping goals—providing coverage to the uninsured and taming runaway medical-cost inflation—that Democrats have tried and failed to achieve for decades.”

- “The Recovery Act contained both short-term stimulative measures and increased public investment in infrastructure, green energy, and the like.”

- “The Dodd-Frank financial reform, while failing to end the financial industry as we know it, is certainly far from toothless, as measured by the almost fanatical determination of Wall Street and Republicans in Congress to roll it back.”

And don’t forget the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Marriage Act (which said it could only be be between a man and a woman). And there’s plenty more.

If Obama gets re-elected then all the above legislation he passed, especially healthcare, gets entrenched (by tests forge severly). Otherwise Republicans will repeal it – including the legislation on banks. Next year, that alone is worth fighting for.

Filed under: Party politics
19th October, 2011

Faibian society elections: my choices

by Sunny at 4:56 pm    

The Fabian Society election ballots have to be returned by post before 5pm on Friday 21 October. So today’s like the last chance you have, unless you deliver it by hand!

And voting at Fabian exec ballots is usually quite low (colleagues tell me) so voting is VERY important!

Anyway, here are the people I’m definitely voting for and would recommend (in alphabetical order)
Asato, Jessica
Ibrahim, Sara
Khan, Sadiq
Loewe, Marie-Noelle
Malhotra, Seema
Rampulla, Vincenzo
Roberts Marcus

There are other solid people on the list too, but these are my key recommendations. (obviously this post is only relevant to people who are Fabian Society members)

Update: Sara Ibrahim and Ellie Cumbo are standing in Young Fabians elections too – please support them!

PS – I would write biogs on each explaining why I think they’re good people but I don’t have the time (by tests forge severly). They just are…!

Filed under: Party politics
18th October, 2011

The political dilemma on immigration and welfare

by Sunny at 7:59 pm    

This is more a quick note and thought than an extensive analysis (which I’ll write up later).

Anthony Browne at ConHome writes that immigration is ‘cooling’ as an issue.

I’m entirely unsurprised by this, and it illustrates how these issues change in importance on the left and right.

Voters generally assume that Tories will be harder on issues such as immigration, ‘welfare cheats’ and reducing govt spending. They also generally think Labour will be better on issues such as the NHS, jobs, education and looking after ‘ordinary people’ (some readers may disagree but these are broad brushes and the polls bear this out).

Take an issue such as immigration: most voters don’t expect immigration to come down significantly. But they expect Tories to do as much about it as possible, given their rhetoric. So it becomes a less politically charged issue for them since they expect the party in power to be harsh.

Same goes for the economy. I was talking to a mate at Labour party conference, who said his company had done some private polling on the economy just before the election (by tests forge severly). They found that, given the choice between what a govt should focus on, 70% picked reducing the deficit while just 30% picked jobs. I was a bit taken aback but it makes sense I suppose.

At the time – the deficit was seen as a higher priority than jobs. And the media was hyping it up as massive issue (for political reasons too, obviously).

But I’m So betting that pre-election poll will now have inverted. As soon as the Tories came into power, an increasing number of people who picked the deficit as their priority will start choosing jobs instead. Partly because unemployment is rising, but also because they think the Tories will tackle the deficit anyway, but need other priorities too.

That was my first point. My second point is this:

There is a dilemma for Labour (on immigration and welfare – where voters overwhelmingly thought they were too soft), and for the Conservatives (on education and NHS – where voters overwhelmingly thought they didn’t care for ordinary concerns), on how do you keep your natural supporters on side while dealing with concerns of the centre that you’re crap on the issue.

To be more specific: I don’t want Labour to triangulate on welfare or immigration any more either. This is specifically why I didn’t vote for them in 2010. But I also recognise I was more to the left of the public on the issue, and it’s difficult to make the argument that just by listening to the likes of me, Labour will win elections.

The good news is that the election showed triangulation didn’t work either. But I’ve not heard a convincing narrative out of this dilemma either.

Filed under: Party politics
22nd May, 2011

Is an EDL-BNP tie up on the cards?

by Rumbold at 9:11 pm    

After their electoral disaster in last year’s elections, the BNP have increasingly faded from view. As the author of a new book on the BNP, Matthew Goodwin, points out, the BNP has only really been focused on electoral success for the last decade or so:

Born into the spring of 1982, during its early years the party steered clear of elections. It was not until the arrival of Nick Griffin as chairman in 1999 that a serious quest for votes commenced. Influenced by his time in the 1970s National Front, and inspired by its more successful French counterpart, Griffin went about revamping the BNP under a strategy of “modernisation”. The goal was to attract a broad and stable electorate by detoxifying the brand, adopting community-based activism and throwing resources at local and European elections.

At this point, it seems unlikely that the BNP will pose a serious electoral threat in the near future, as the anti-Griffin rebellion grows and senior figures leave or have left already. But, as Matthew Goodwin argues, there is still space for an “anti-immigrant populist party”. This opens the way for the EDL.

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12th May, 2011

The alternatives to Labour in a local by-election

by Sunny at 11:57 pm    

Last month I campaigned hard in central London. There was a by-election in Peckham Lane ward in Southwark, south London. There are always lots of stories to tell in such campaigns. I started recognising people who’s doors I had knocked on before. I remembered the first names of people we were trying to convince to go out and vote on the day. It was fun, but hard work.

It’s an area full of estates and social housing. And many of them are right next to leafy streets with middle-class residents. It’s a nice mix.

It’s also an area hit hard by cuts imposed by the central government, which the Labour-controlled Southwark council had to carry out. So surely Labour would have paid the price for imposing the cuts?

Rowenna Davis (Labour) won. In fact, by a landslide and a majority even bigger than before. The Libdem vote collapsed, naturally, and the Greens beat them to second place by one vote. The Tories came fourth. TUSC – the Trades Union and Socialist Coalition – got just over 100 votes.

Voters didn’t blame the Labour-run council for imposing the cuts; they were intelligent enough to know who was behind the cuts. They just wanted Osborne and Cameron out of power.

There are lots of people who constantly accuse the Labour party of betrayal over lots of things. Fair enough, that’s up to them. But I didn’t see any lefties come out and support the Greens nor TUSC there either. Peckham was in fact the only local-election in London in May. The TUSC had no support, no money and no activists. They didn’t even come close to making anyone else sweat on a platform of no cuts to local services. Even the Greens were starved of activists.

Now, obviously I wanted Labour to win and I worked hard for that. But it seems to me that if people are going to start talking about supporting alternatives to Labour, they should do so in practice too (exception for disabled people who can’t knock on doors easily of course). Even Sue Marsh campaigned hard – despite her illness – and got some amazing results for Labour. My utmost respect to her.

The other point is this. Lots of lefties seem to think it’s quite easy for a new party to spring up, win people’s trust, and get elected. But left of Labour is littered with failed alternatives. Of course they don’t have the money or the organisation. But they also under-estimate how difficult it is to win people’s trust, to become comfortable with them, and start worrying the more established parties.

This doesn’t mean I always support whatever the Labour party does. I don’t. I’d like Labour to win power in four years time but I’d like an engaged electorate that has plenty of choice. This is also why I campaigned for AV – it would have given people the opportunity to support smaller parties while making sure the vote wasn’t split so Tories get in. But we’re stuck with FPTP for the time being. The choice won’t be there.

Filed under: Party politics
8th May, 2011

A year on, regrets on voting Libdem?

by Sunny at 5:50 pm    

The New Statesman asked if I regretted voting for the Libdems a year ago at the General Election.

My reply was:

I regret the course of action Nick Clegg took after the election – but at the time it was the only decision I felt at ease with. The Labour Party of May 2010 was trying desperately to triangulate on the economy, on cutting benefits, on immigrants and asylum-seekers. It had no positive vision for the future and it was intellectually spent. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for it.

In hindsight, many decisions are regrettable, but we have no choice but to stand by them. I saw how quickly the Lib Dem leadership were willing to ditch their principles; I saw a much better vision articulated by Ed Miliband – so I joined Labour to support his leadership bid and that vision. And there were plenty who followed the same path. You live, you make mistakes and you learn. But you can’t whitewash your own history.

Laurie Penny was also asked the same question and says she nearly voted Libdem but changed at the last minute because she had a good Labour MP. I didn’t. I had Alan Keen: who was happy about going into Iraq, happy about the Third Runway at Heathrow and was claiming absurd amount of expenses. I just could not bring myself to vote for him.

I don’t really care much for some ultra-left idiots who keep mentioning this as some sort of proof that I’m not a leftie. Grow up, fools.

At the time I did campaign for Labour candidates in south London who I felt had more principles. I wasn’t alone in being a Libdem voter who joined Labour or switched the allegiance after the election. I hope both the Libdems and Labour keep that in mind.

Filed under: Party politics
27th April, 2011

What Will The Death of Communism in Bengal Bring?

by guest at 8:05 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji

Today is Election Day here in Calcutta, and could be a historical one for the state of West Bengal. The CPI(M) – The Communist Party of India (Marxist), that has ruled the state with an iron sickle and hammer, for three and a half decades, is said to be on its way out! People of my generation, who have never known a Bengal under any other influence, can’t quite fathom what this change might bring.

But there is an uneasiness that’s discomforting. There’s police everywhere, and para-military — in full battle gear, armed to the teeth, patrolling the streets, and directing polling booths. I suppose till India learns that democracy means the free and calm exercise of choice, this is how we will continue to vote! Since the Lok Sabha election polls, two years ago, when the electorate first indicated that they were weary of the CPI(M) and desperate for change, even if it means choosing the Trinamool Congress party led by the chaotic and highly strung Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal has been in a state of a virtual blood-bath. There’s news of abductions and killings almost every other day. The CPI(M) has no intentions of leaving without an all-out fight! Nine of the eleven constituencies in Calcutta have been declared “sensitive” for the polling period – meaning prone to violence.

Wishing to avoid the poll warriors, I was at my designated booth by 6.30 a.m. There were about 50 other people there, already, in line who probably thought the same way. My poll booth is an old, ram shackled, government school-building. All schools remain closed today as they double as polling booths. The voter’s line ran parallel to the water line – that is the line of people with buckets and plastic drums waiting to fill water at the municipal tap, which for some reason is located 6 feet directly in front of the school’s entrance. A woman at the water line, with about 4 big buckets in tow, smiled at me and said, “Remember to give the water vote.” I smiled back and asked, “Now who would that be?” She thought about it, and shrugged her shoulder, “Probably no one. We’ve waited 40 years for water, voting for it every year.” I asked, “Aren’t you going to vote?” She laughed. “No, I think water is more important.” The municipal tap does not release water again till mid-afternoon, and if her family wants water for the day, for drinking, cooking and cleaning, she’s got to get it now.

Mamata Banerjee has been hailed as the down-to-earth, friend of the poor, and saviour of the down-trodden, who knows what it means to be deprived, as she amply demonstrates by wearing her rubber bathroom slippers to the Parliament meetings. Oddly, that was just the line—the Robin Hood avowal—that brought the CPI(M) to power and kept them there for almost four decades. That, and a network of goons. A few months ago, a policewoman who had stopped a busload of Ms. Banerjee’s party workers at a cross-light so an ambulance could pass, was beaten up and gang-molested by the party workers for daring to to make them wait. The woman in the water-line, waiting with four buckets knows what she’s waiting for. The question is what are the rest of us waiting for?

21st April, 2011

The BNP and AV

by Rumbold at 9:14 am    

There has been a lot of debate about whether introducing the Alternative Vote (AV) would make it more likely that a BNP or similar candidate would be elected. Given that AV is not a proportional representation system, I think that this is unlikely, but, more importantly, it shouldn’t matter.

The problem with the BNP and other extremist groups is not that they might send a representative or two to a legislature (where they usually behave badly and often fail to get re-elected), but that support exists for them at all.

If the BNP/EDL have, say, 5% support nationally, then that is what needs to be addressed, not worrying which voting system will best keep them out of power. It is in day to day life that this matters the most; the BNP are a racist, anti-immigrant party, so it will be local non-whites and immigrants who bear the brunt of living in an area where people support the BNP.

Having no BNP representatives at any level doesn’t mean that support for them has disappeared. No one should be happy if a BNP representative is elected, but that is a symptom of the problem, not a cause.

28th March, 2011

The amusing contradiction of the ‘agitators’ from Saturdays protests

by Sunny at 7:54 pm    

Saturday’s TUC march excellent and undoubtedly historic. After a bit though of walking I decided to head down to Oxford Circus to see what was going on.

There, I took part in a UKuncut action against Dorothy Perkins (owned by tax avoider Philip Green) – we all sat down peacefully at the entrance on Oxford Circus. A police chief threatened us with arrest for not letting customers out of the store, but we made space for them to leave. He also didn’t seem to have an identification number (when this was pointed out to him he abruptly left and didn’t carry out the threat).

That aside, I also saw ‘Black bloc’ kids walking up and down Oxford Circus with their black/red flags. There were also some people with the ‘global revolution’ flags and some Communist Party flags. It was people from these groups that were earlier seen throwing paint bombs at TopShop, and later burning the big paper Trojan Horse. That’s for a bit of context for those who didn’t attend.

Anyway, one of those ‘revolutionaries’ has written this cliche-ridden piece of hilarity for Guardian CIF, with gems such as: “To try to make distinctions between a “peaceful” and a “violent” protester is inherently flawed” – yeah Mahatma Gandhi, Dalai Lama and MLK jnr, you hear that? You lot were just middle-of-the-road half-assed revolutionaries who didn’t understand the need for violence! You failed with your silly preference for non-violent protest!

I find this bit of guff amusing too:

Something out of the ordinary is happening – parts of Britain aren’t bothering to be so polite anymore. Sometimes, to make your voice heard, you have to speak softly and carry a big stick.

That’s right – there was never any violence at protests before in the UK. Suddenly people getting angry now. This is all new if you’re 15, with a sense of history that stretches as many years, perhaps.

But here is the main point:

The point is to maintain a momentum, a united show of resistance, against a spectre that shadows us all.

That is perhaps the best illustration of how muddled how many people are. The black bloc crew and other anarchist grouups intent on ‘smashing the state’ have nothing in common with the public sector workers there who wanted the government to maintain spending. In that sense, the marchers have more in common with centre-right Tories than they do with this gaggle of libertarian-communists, anarchist and other assorted groups.

Its not just that, as Medhi Hasan points out, they don’t understand ‘solidarity’, it’s actually very unclear what solidarity means in this context. Do they really believe the fire-fighters, nurses, teachers etc marching that day share their goals? I highly doubt it.

Filed under: Party politics
17th March, 2011

Labour shadow minister accuses government of planning mass deportations

by Rumbold at 9:29 am    

Karen Buck, the shadow minister for work and pensions, has accused the government of wanting to deport non-whites and women from central London by with their housing benefit reforms:

She said: “[The Government] do not want lower-income women, families, children and, above all, let us be very clear – because we also know where the impact is hitting – they don’t want black women, they don’t want ethnic minority women and they don’t want Muslim women living in central London. They just don’t. They want people to be moving out of anywhere that is a more prosperous area into the fringes of London and into places like Barking and Newham. I have nothing against Barking and Newham. The problem is they are already full of people who are quite poor.”

No evidence was provided for this statement. There have been some valid criticisms of the proposed housing benefit reform, especially surrounding the change in percentile reaction (though its ultimate impact is unclear at this point), and the impact on very expensive areas needs to be rexamined (and a broader debate on paying housing benefit should be had). Ms. Buck’s hyperbole does not to help the debate though.

She also made this accusation:

When you listen to the Tories speaking in Parliament, there is an arrogance and an ignorance that I have never known in my 13 years in Parliament: basically, thinking that anyone whose income is below the top rate of tax shouldn’t have children.”

That is presumably why the Conservatives abolished child benefit for people earning enough to place them in the top rate of tax, whilst leaving it in place for everyone else.

9th February, 2011

Different categories of left-wing activists

by Sunny at 8:25 pm    

There is a spectrum of groupings on the left and I think its worth trying at least to point them out as fairly distinct identities. These are my definitions and this is how I see people – others are under no obligation to adopt them.

There is not only overlap, but they also vary on the liberal-authoritarian spectrum. So its not an exact science.

Labour Right: The the most rightward end of the spectrum. Represented primarily by the Progress faction. Mostly social liberal and economically centrist, though contain some socially conservative people too, such as Tom Harris and Frank Field.

Soft Left: Slap-bang in the middle within Labour; represented primarily by the likes of Compass and Jon Cruddas. I’m somewhere here, though less statist than many of my peers.

Labour Left: Primarily represented by the Labour Representation Committe. Most hardcore socialists within Labour identify with this faction.

Non-aligned liberal left: People who would normally vote Labour but can’t bring themselves to, thanks to its unwillingess to tackle inequality properly, the Iraq war and rhetoric on issues such as immigration. Includes many who voted Libdem or are within the Green party. They are closest to the LRC or Compass within the Labour party.

Non-aligned hard left Your assortment of SWP, communist types. There’s little point in trying to split the difference here to be honest, and its beyond my pay grade to do that. I find some highly engaging and passionate and idealistic. In most cases however, I find them incredibly annoying and destructive to any campaign / movement.

Update: Alex points out that the SWP are a political grouping in themselves, so why do I refer to them as ‘non-aligned’? Good question. I suppose when I say aligned, I mean to the main political parties (in the Parliamentary sense) that includes the Greens. Though I can see some sense in separating out the SWP from other non-aligned hard left, there are far too many minor categories there for me to start dissecting. But I suppose his point stands.

update 2 To clarify, I’m not that big a fan of Labour Right positions or their own brand of sectarianism either

Filed under: Party politics
15th January, 2011

Wasted Warsi

by Rumbold at 10:19 am    

Baroness Warsi, the Chairwoman of the Conservative party, is under attack yet again from elements within her own party after criticising the right wing of the Conservative Party. This has led to renewed calls for her to be moved from her role, and extensive briefings characterising her as ‘gaffe prone’ and pointing out that David Cameron has already handed some of her responsibilities to someone else. There have been accusations hat she was only appointed as Chairwoman because Mr. Cameron wanted to show how the Conservative Party had changed by appointing a Muslim woman as head of it. I would like to see Baroness Warsi move on too, but not for the same reasons.

I do not know about her competency in her present role, but she is wasted there. Prior to the general election she was Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, which has a faintly sinister ring, but she was an effective advocate in that position. She faced down both far-right and Islamist extremists: in Luton she was pelted by eggs thrown by Anjem’s Choudary’s gang. On Question Time she confidently bested Nick Griffin, a night which in hindsight was probably one of the BNP’s biggest setbacks. As a British Muslim woman too, her background meant her words often carried more weight, whether speaking on extremism or forced marriage.

She has been a consistent opponent of forced marriages and ‘honour’-based violence, speaking out against them on numerous occasions and helping to research and combat forced marriage in Pakistan. For all the faults of the previous Labour government, they did make some progress in tackling ‘honour’-based violence and forced marriage, from increasing funding for specialist police officers to establishing a Forced Marriage Unit. This momentum has stalled under the Conservatives. The most powerful advocate against such practices was Baroness Warsi, and her current role doesn’t really allow her to focus on these things, and who else in the Coalition is talking about this?

Baroness Warsi should again become the Minister for Social Cohesion, because these issues need a competent champion.

28th December, 2010

Why I have a problem with the SWP

by Sunny at 6:15 pm    

In the past few weeks I’ve taken minor pot-shots at ‘trots’ and the SWP, which annoys the hell out of a contingent of my Twitter followers.

They accuse me of wanting left unity while being sectarian, which sounds plausible in that context, but needs some explanation. There are a few things that annoy me about the SWP and, sometimes, their related factions (don’t ask me to name them all):

1) Going too far, in a tendency to join in an alliance with people who go completely against left-wing values / ideals. The hero-worship of people such George Galloway, who praised the Iranian regime when it was cracking down on student protests, is a prime example. Also in the past, groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir.

2) Being protest parasites. Sure, I get that the SWP lot spend money on banners, but it annoys the hell out of me when they try and brand protests and events organised by others with their own placards.

That isn’t a selfless contribution: that’s like saying if you volunteer in a charity you want it written down and proclaimed loudly. Their people did it at UKuncut protests too (conveniently placing themselves in-front of pictures) – it looks shameless and completely opportunistic.

3) Entryism. Tales of SWP people trying to take over successful left organisations that didn’t follow their line are everywhere. It smacks of opportunistic control-freakery and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be criticised.

4) Ignoring other left movements. People at the SWP and other similar organisations believe that only class politics matters. Sure, class underpins a lot of outcomes but it is not the sole driver of people’s behaviour. By that, I mean that people on the far-left completely ignore (and ridicule) other movements such as feminism, environmentalism, civil liberties etc.

The upshot seems to be that you’re either fighting the class war comrade or you don’t really understand politics and you’re a bourgeois sellout. This simple narrative isn’t just frequently wrong because it fails to understand the intersection of movements, but it really is sectarian and patronising.

Just because I don’t spend half my day ruminating about what Marx said on a particular development doesn’t mean you understand politics better. Really – it is that straightforward. And if you ignore other movements then frankly you don’t understand how broad the left is.

5) Sectarianism aimed at the centre-left. People on the far-left want unity with people with agree with, but not others who might not be as radical as them. The thinking goes: ‘if you’re not as radical as us then you’re part of the problem‘. Their line of thinking is that people within the Labour party are sell-outs while they are the only true defenders of the working class.

People who think there is very little difference between (post Tony Blair) Labour and the Conservatives either know very little about national politics, or stay so far out in the political fringes that everything else looks like a vaguely similar blur. I’m not sure that attitude makes them an effective proponent of ‘left unity’.

I find this as sectarian as people on the centre-left who dismiss those more radical than them.

* * * * * * * * * * *

That said, I don’t go around saying the SWP aren’t really part of the left and are ‘sell-outs’. They are part of the left even if I don’t regard them as particularly important or effective, despite their past organisational effectiveness.

I just don’t like their way of working, and saying this is no different to saying I don’t like the way the Labour party conducts its internal democracy. Or criticising Phil Woolas, or their take on civil liberties etc.

Unfortunately there are too many childish lefties on Twitter who think any criticism of the SWP is akin to blasphemy and spend hours / days / months call you “part of the problem”. There are plenty of good reasons to call out the SWP, and if their defenders can’t take the criticism they shouldn’t really be in politics.

[PS - post written rather hurriedly as I've got a ton of stuff to do, but as I'm trolling socialists on Twitter, I though it was worth getting out there quick]

Filed under: Party politics
20th December, 2010

If Tories want transparency, why not ask the TPA to declare their funders?

by Sunny at 10:02 am    

Iain Dale wrote a very muddled rant in the Mail on Sunday against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, combining the sex allegations, the claim that ‘WikiLeaks has revealed nothing really’, and the Andy Coulson story to generate outrage against ‘hypocritical lefties’.

In one paragraph we’re told he’s just published “purient gossip” and in the next paragraph we’re told that our national security is at risk from the man. Julian Assange’s ego is out of control… from the blogger who starts off by talking about how he caused a “minor stir” when he stopped blogging. It’s all par for the course, quite amusing, and easily ignored.

Two points need to be made. Dale says:

You’d have thought that The Guardian would be the first newspaper to support the concept that he should be judged under the rule of law. Its journalists are normally the first to assume that men who face court on rape charges are guilty. And yet here, they’ve done a volte-face.

They haven’t. They have actually published the most detailed account of the allegations so far (causing Assange’s lawyers to howl in outrage) and published an editorial saying the allegations should be investigated. Not sure what the volte-face is over.

Secondly, he says:

Julian Assange purports to believe in total openness – except when it comes to himself.

Erm – there is a difference between details of your private life being all over the media, and details of government policy or workings being released. Even Daily Mail readers (see the highest rated comments) understand that.

But if the right is suddenly interested in transparency and disclosure – why aren’t they demanding that the Taxpayers’ Alliance reveal how they are funded?

Representatives of the TPA are constantly in the media as commentators. They release reports that the media then dutifully regurgitates without fact-checking. They have also sister-organisations such as the Drivers’ Alliance and Big Brother Watch. And yet, despite constant requests, they don’t disclose who is funding them and where their funding comes from.

If you’re going to call for transparency – have some consistency please (not that I expect it, over transparency or free speech)

Update: It’s not just Iain Dale who’s confused, the idiots at Harry’s Place can’t tell the distinction between private and government secrecy either.

Filed under: Party politics
22nd November, 2010

Why Ed Miliband is right to play the long game

by Sunny at 10:00 am    

Lots of lefties are rather annoyed and frustrated that Labour ministers aren’t doing more to attack the Coalition cuts and undermine the Coalition.

They’ll be more frustrated after Ed Miliband’s announcement, in the Guardian today, that he is playing the long game, and will look at overhauling party policy and thinking. But we have to take on the Coalition now to protect families, lots of lefties will say. They’re not wrong.

But there are a few points to make.

First, Labour needs a deep re-think of policy, ideas and structure. This is the right time to do it, rather than two – four years down the line closer to the election.

Second, the media isn’t paying much attention to Labour anyway. So even though Ed Balls, Ken Livingstone et al are doing their best to attack their government (believe me, I get the press releases) – the media isn’t that interested. Labour isn’t going to grab headlines now, except for things that it disowns from the past (like 42 days detention).

Third, even if the media pays a bit of attention, voters won’t do. They still have negative connotations from the last election, and that will take time to eradicate. The same old soundbites by familiar ministers aren’t going to make voters look at the Labour party again.

Fourth, the Coalition has the votes to push its agenda through and it’s going to be very difficult to oppose them in the short term. Especially since the Tories are masters at lying and framing their arguments in a way that wins public support.

My reading of the polls is that while people generally support the Coalition on many changes they’re making (on housing, benefits, workfare, cutting civil service etc) – they still feel a deep sense of unease about it all. Especially since they feel they’re having to pay for mistakes made by bankers. In the short term it’s difficult for Labour to win the media debate because the Coalition get to frame how things are presented in the media.

Fifth – and this is the most important bit – I don’t think the fightback should be led by Labour anyway. If the education protests were led by and fronted by Labour ministers, I bet it would look like one big political rally, rather than something authentic that students are angry over.

Civil society (Big Society?) should lead the fightback and constantly seek to undermine and argue with the Coalition. The protests against Vodafone and tax avoidance are a prime example of this. But even activists have to be prepared to play the long game – organising, building support and leading local campaigns against Coalition cuts is not something that can be done tomorrow.

It might take at least a year before we get into full swing. We can’t afford to turn around in a year or two and say that all that activism went to waste. Forcing the left into mindless short-term opposition is the trap we have to avoid.

So, Ed Miliband is right to play the long game, and we have to do the same.

Filed under: Party politics
21st November, 2010

Labour change policy on detention without trial

by Rumbold at 8:42 pm    

In a welcome shift, Ed Balls, the shadow home secretary, has abandoned support for Labour’s policy of detaining terror suspects for up to forty two days without trial:

A major policy shift on the length of time terror suspects can be held without charge was signalled by Labour today, after the shadow home secretary said he could support cutting the limit to 14 days.

Ed Balls said that the party was ready to abandon backing for the current 28-day limit, which was introduced by the Labour government in 2006, and added that previous plans to raise this to 42 days had been “a step too far”.

Some credit for this shift should also go the Coalition. During Labour’s time in power, there was a drive to appear ‘tougher’ than the opposition: harsh measures were in part enacted for populist reasons so as to play to the tabloid gallery, with the other parties at risk of looking elitist and soft if they ‘sacrificed the safety of the British people’ for the legal rights of terrorists by opposing new laws. Since the Coalition government came to power (thanks mainly the the Liberal Democrats), this posturing has ceased, and civil liberties have come to the fore again. This meant Labour have had to shift their policies to avoid looking too extreme.

6th November, 2010

Labour MP loses court case and seat

by Rumbold at 11:47 am    

Phil Woolas, the former immigration minister, has lost a court case brought by his defeated Lib Dem rival which alleged that Mr. Woolas produced leaflets suggesting he supported extremists:

Shadow immigration minister Phil Woolas has vowed to fight on after his 2010 election win was declared void and he was suspended by the Labour party.

Mr Woolas faces a three-year parliamentary ban after being found guilty of deliberately making false statements about a Lib Dem rival in campaign literature…

He was accused of stirring up racial tensions in his campaign leaflets by suggesting Mr Watkins had pandered to Muslim militants, and had refused to condemn death threats Mr Woolas said he had received from such groups.

He was a very unpleasant individual whilst a minister, so it is no loss to parliament. Given his slanderous statements, which probably swung the election for him, I don’t think that there is a free speech issue here either, as Mr Woolas made baseless accusations against his opponent. It will be interesting to see what sort of precedent this sets though; it would be unfortunate to go down the route of defeated candidates taking their opponents to court to challenge them over exaggerations.

28th October, 2010

How faith groups are coming together to deal with the welfare crisis

by guest at 12:39 pm    

by Alex Goldberg and Asim Siddiqui

Some of the UK’s largest faith organisations have been having crisis management meetings discussions this week as they begin to explore the full impact of the public spending review is felt.

Religious communities have historically provided social care and education services and in the last few decades have been doing this increasingly in partnership with the welfare state, working with it on cradle to grave provision.

There is a real sense that the impact of the review will lead to an increase on demand for their care services as unemployment and social need rises whilst diminishing public resources for their work are cut.

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Filed under: Party politics
14th October, 2010

Why voting records are a crap indicator of anything

by Sunny at 9:45 am    

All manner of people constantly cite voting records to justify their outrage. In some cases this is relevant, in many other cases it’s not.

Yesterday, not a single Libdem MP voted for PR. You might look at their voting record and think – why would they vote against PR, it’s absurd! The amendment was put forward by Caroline Lucas, who wanted PR on the referendum question. But Nick Clegg had made a deal with Cameron so the only question on the ballot would be for AV. And so you have the bizarre scenario of Libdems voting against the one thing they’ve always been steadfastly for.

Another example. I went to a public meeting yesterday where Caroline Lucas gave a short speech. She said the Westminster amendments and voting system was archaic and confusing (not to her, but outsiders). She pointed out that sometimes people would table amendments to a specific bill. But there was no guarantee it would be debated or voted on – that was entirely under the discretion of the person in charge of dealing with amendments. They could let through completely irrelevant amendments while ignoring important ones, they didn’t even have to give a reason.

Furthermore, she said, you could have several things attached to each other. So a vote on spending more on renewable energy could be coupled with another amendment for investing more in nuclear energy. And so you couldn’t vote for one while voting against the other – you had to vote on them together. And if you didn’t vote, then it looked like you couldn’t be bothered to turn up to Parliament to vote.

The point I’m making here is that people who use voting records as an indicator of what that person thinks, or will do in the future really annoy me. It is embarrassing to watch people make that argument.

Filed under: Party politics
4th October, 2010

Glenn Beck: Indians, desire to commit multiple murders, whitewashes slavery

by Jai at 4:45 pm    

Further to the recent PP article about the influential Fox News anchor Glenn Beck, there has been an interesting article in the New York Times providing more information about Beck’s background and his activities. As previously discussed on PP, his fellow Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly has described Beck as “the leader of the Tea Party movement”. The Tea Party itself has of course recently been exposed as being bankrolled & manipulated right from the start by the Right-wing billionaire Koch brothers, who have links to both the Republican Party and Fox News. Beck himself also has ties with the Republican politicians & potential 2012 presidential candidates Newt Gingrich (whose own racist remarks about President Obama were discussed on PP here) and Sarah Palin.

Readers are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with the previous PP article about Beck if they have not done so already. One of the best ways to further understand the various problems with Beck’s worldview and behaviour is to view footage from both his Fox News show and his various radio shows. Some of the following videos are very disturbing indeed.

1. Glenn Beck’s racist diatribe about Indians

He begins by attacking Indian doctors, and follows it with a lengthy bigotry-and-stereotype-riddled sneering rant about India itself, at one point even describing the River Ganges (sacred to hundreds of millions of Hindus) as a name that “sounds like a disease”.

Beck’s remarks may be placed into further context by the fact that he has unashamedly promoted viciously racist books by two Nazi-sympathising authors, one of whom (Elizabeth Dilling) not only attended Nazi party meetings in Germany along with speaking at rallies by Nazi groups in the US, but also described non-white, non-Christian people as “savages” along with calling Hinduism and Islam “debasing and degrading”. Beck himself has explicitly described Dilling as one of his ideological predecessors, ie. “people who were doing what we’re doing now”.

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28th September, 2010

The escalating extremism of Fox News’s Glenn Beck

by Jai at 11:45 am    

This article follows directly from the PP article yesterday focusing on Newt Gingrich. Readers are therefore advised to read that part first before continuing below.

Fox News anchor & Tea Party icon Glenn Beck, who has described himself as a “borderline schizophrenic”, increasingly reminds me of Ron Perlman’s “right-wing media icon” demagogue in the 1995 film The Last Supper. Anyone who has seen that movie will understand exactly what I mean. And like his fictional counterpart, Beck has even started holding huge rallies with exactly the type of audience Perlman’s character was shown as being such a dangerous influence on. Life disturbingly imitating art, 15 years later.

A selection of examples focusing on Glenn Beck, Fox News and the Tea Party

· Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly has stated that Glenn Beck is the leader of the Tea Party movement. Beck has repeatedly declared that his aim is to oppose progressivism, which he calls a “cancer” in American society. Beck has also repeatedly claimed that there is currently a vast, secular, liberal, progressive conspiracy underway to seize control of America and destroy the republic in its present form by manipulating the democratic system and subverting the Constitution.

· As previously discussed on PP, an in-depth investigation by Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has revealed the huge scale of the Right-wing billionaire Koch brothers’ involvement in bankrolling & manipulating the Tea Party movement from the very start, with the deliberate intention of furthering their own agenda (also summarised by the New York Times). The Koch brothers have direct links to both Fox News and the Republican Party. Not only have the Koch brothers been doing everything they can to destroy Obama’s presidency, but one of their main aims is to destroy progressivism itself.

· Glenn Beck has an extensive history of extremely violent rhetoric. He has also openly stated that he is going to spend the rest of his life hunting down and “exposing” progressives. Furthermore, he has repeatedly made bizarre comments about his opponents potentially “shooting him in the head”, along with suggesting that the Obama Administration plans to kill 10% of the American population and is deliberately pushing the US towards a civil war.

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27th September, 2010

The escalating bigotry of Newt Gingrich

by Jai at 11:45 am    

Tea Party icons Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck have recently been going into overdrive in terms of the scale of their extremism. During the past few weeks, there has been considerable controversy over Fox News contributor, senior Republican politician, and potential candidate for the 2012 presidential election Newt Gingrich in particular due to the following remarks he made about US President Barack Obama:

Via Media Matters for America:

Citing a recent Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza, former House speaker Newt Gingrich tells National Review Online that President Obama may follow a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview. Gingrich says that D’Souza has made a “stunning insight” into Obama’s behavior — the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.”

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25th September, 2010

An Ed Miliband leadership should be good for the country

by Rumbold at 9:07 pm    

I will note be voting for the Labour party at the next election. Their long stay in government caused significant damage to this country, whether it was through overspending, curbing of civil liberties or any other number of reasons. I feel that the present government, for all its faults, has started off rather well, attempting to curb the massive deficit and increasing civil liberties. Logically then, I should want Labour to be as ineffective and divided as possible. But I don’t.

Governments should always be scrutinised as heavily as possible. This can be done by the media and voters, but the Opposition has a part to play too. The more competent and focused the Opposition, the better the scrutiny. They are there to question and highlight mistakes. It can be galling at times to watching Opposition politicians who helped to ruin the country doing this, but it needs to be done.

Of the three most plausible leadership candidates, Ed Miliband seemed the most likely to refocus the party on its primary task; providing Britain with an effective Opposition. Ed Balls was loathed by Blairites, David Miliband by Brownites. Ed Miliband seems to be relatively well regarded by various factions (even though he was close to Gordon Brown), and so should be able to unite (or Unite) them, as long as he avoids the trap of being the unions’ man in Parliament. A more unified Labour party should then provide better scrutiny of the executive, which benefits the country.

Filed under: Party politics
20th September, 2010

In partial defence of Sally Bercow

by Rumbold at 9:45 am    

Sally Bercow, best known as the wife of the Speaker, has come in for criticism once again after repeatedly tweeting various controversial views. Sally Bercow deserves to be heavily criticised for her use of ‘mental’ to describe George Osbone; a sadly all too common theme amongst people who feel that mocking mental issues and the people who suffer from them is the best way to criticise an opponent’s policies.

That aside, some of the criticism is unfair and sexist. A number of critics have called for the Speaker to ‘rein in’ his wife, as if she is some sort of animal. Mrs. Bercow is entitled to air her opinions on whatever she sees fit. It was her husband who was elected to the speaker’s chair, not her. She should be free to continue her political career, providing that she doesn’t not use the resources of the Speaker’s office to do so:

Some critics have said her comments cheapen the historic office of Speaker. And the fact that the Speaker is supposed to be impartial is undermined by Mrs Bercow’s attempts to find a Labour seat so she can become an MP, they claim. In May, Mrs Bercow failed in an attempt to become a Labour councillor.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries said Mrs Bercow only had a platform because of her husband and should not be using it to attack her party. She said: ‘It is absolutely outrageous that she should now be commenting on debates that the Speaker may or may not have granted. ‘It is totally unprecedented, unseemly and in bad taste. Mrs Bercow is letting down Parliament and the majority of people think she should just shut up.

Moreover, John Bercow was already politically compromised when he was elected, having been put in the chair despite massive expenses fraud, solely to annoy Conservative MPs.

3rd September, 2010

Right-wing billionaires exposed as financing “Tea Party” movement

by Jai at 1:00 pm    

Further to my recent articles about Fox News’s bankrolling of the Republican Party and Jon Stewart’s exposé of the connections between Fox News and the “Ground Zero Mosque’s” alleged Saudi financier, some more information is continuing to come to light about the sheer scale of what is actually going on behind the scenes.

Firstly, let’s start with Fox News’s connection with the Republicans. It goes far beyond the $1 million which the channel’s parent company News Corp has now been confirmed to have donated to the Republican Party:

Via ‘Media Matters for America’:

“In recent years, at least twenty Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes, or against Democratic candidates or causes, in more than 300 instances and in all 50 states. Republican parties and officials have routinely touted these personalities’ affiliations with Fox News to sell and promote their events.”

The rest of the Media Matters article gives a detailed breakdown of exactly who has been involved, what activities they’ve undertaken, dates & locations etc.

Comprehensive details about the exact amount of money involving people associated with Fox News during the 2010 election cycle alone can be read here. Apparently it comes to nearly $50 million to date, with far more pending.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. During the past few days, both the New York Times and the New Yorker have published articles revealing the billionaires who are actually bankrolling the “Tea Party” movement and doing everything they can to destroy Barack Obama’s presidency. The details below expand considerably on Sunny’s recent PP article which also mentioned the matter, although that article focused on environmental issues.

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