The Thick of It


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Politics is bankrupt

Labour is £10m in debt and the proposed changes to party political funding threaten its future further. If donations are capped at £50k then the party, so heavily reliant on trade union funding, wouldn't be able to operate.

Blair tried to move away from the union dependency, unsuccessfully. He instead sought funding from wealthy businesses. That ended in tears with the cash for honours "scandal." Rob Marchant highlights that Blair regretted not reforming the party more to put it on a more stable future footing. That opportunity was missed, leaving the party vulnerable to a Tory Lib Dem pincer movement.

The simple reform that would have stopped this becoming a problem of debt and trade union funding would have been state funding of political parties. This was the favoured option of the man who led the most recent investigation into political funding in the UK, Sir Christopher Kelly. Yet his recommendations were deemed unpalatable.

Given that politics is already largely funded by state money in paying for MP's researchers and caseworkers, plus opposition support and civil servants it would be more honest to do this properly and openly. I'm sure most voters don't realise this at all. It is unhelpful that many of these costs are currently described as MPs' expenses, when office costs and those for moat cleaning are quite different.

That the Tories and Lib Dems are even in a position to push through a chance that would have such a one sided impact on party politics shows how wrong the system is. We need something fair and independent of parties that means politicians and favour can't be bought. Yet nobody seems to be making this case.

Politics will become morally and financially bankrupt if this happens. It leaves the door open for a future scandal. That in turn will only put people off politics even more and close the opportunity for the only honest solution available.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Where is your society Cameron?

Cameron expressed shock and anger at the riots, like us all. Unfortunately he has talked Britain and our sense of community down since. Now that the initial shock should have passed we need to focus on understanding what happened and why. Bringing back the cheap slogan of "Broken Britain" won't help that. 
Tony Blair's response to the riots was right and highlighted where David Cameron has failed to understand British society. Blair highlighted that the reaction to rioting, with mass clean ups and funds to help victims tells us more about our society than the rioters do. 

"Broken Britain" turns a society where community is valued to one where there is no community. Cameron's rhetoric has echoes of Margaret Thatcher's claim that "there is no such thing as society." Perhaps that is because Cameron and his millionaire cabinet colleagues have never lived in an ordinary community.

Cheap jibes at the expense of community from Cameron doesn't surprise me as he is a Thatcherite to the core but it goes against the compassionate Conservatism language he used a couple of years ago. This shows that to be acting and that he has now reverted to type. 

What British society needs is a reaffirmation of community. Talking it down, denigrating the sense of togetherness that most people feel about where they live won't make things better. If we all bar our windows and stay at home every night for fear of a feral youth attacking us there will be no point in living in any of our cities.

If Cameron wants to lead he needs to show that he has moved on from the opportunist rhetoric of opposition drawn up by Andy Coulson and start to show he has a positive vision of the country. Panic and derision will only lead us into the gutter. 

Bigot bandwagon goes on

Setting up a news search for racist comments by Tory councillors is throwing up a conveyor belt of examples. The latest to join the club is Brighton councillor Lynda Hyde. She has been forced to apologise for emailing "offensive" "jokes." When will they learn?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Does a social site extend your campaign reach?

To much comment among the Labour twitterati Ken Livingstone yesterday launched his social campaigning site Your Ken. Building on the social media success of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign has been the holy grail of political campaigning everywhere else since. does Your Ken do the trick?

Other attempts to create new political social networking sites have failed because they haven't been better than Facebook or Twitter. They also failed because people didn't follow and use the sites. That led to sites such as Labour's Members Net being little more than empty shells. In attempting to draw younger members together through social networks local groups have preferred to create their own Facebook groups or to create a sense of belonging through Twitter hashtags, such as #labourdoorstep.

Whether Your Ken becomes another empty shell or not depends on whether there is enough reason for people to dwell on the site. Will there be enough exclusive content? Will activists be able to interact in a way that they are not able to elsewhere? Will activists want to compete for the prize of the leading activist?

Even if all that happens what may not happen is that Your Ken opens up his campaign to anyone who wasn't already interested. If the site can enthuse new activists and get more out of existing activists it will have been a success.

Gaining the London mayoralty might not be the same status as President of the United States but to a Labour supported denied power nationally it would be a great start.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tory conveyor belt of bigotry rolls on

Yesterday's Tory news of the Dover councillor who dubbed rioters "jungle bunnies" has now apologised though still hasn't shown that he understands why his remarks are so offensive. Unfortunately today sees more Tories showing how out of touch they are with the modern world:

Tory tweeter @londonistar shows a startling mistrust for women in politics. I wonder what she thinks about Margaret Thatcher?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Conveyor belt of bigotry

A few times a year a Tory somewhere comes out with something racist. The latest on the conveyor belt of bigotry is 49 year old Dover councillor Bob Frost. He referred to rioters as "jungle bunnies" on Facebook.

Nasty man. 

He responded to the accusations:

"'Looking at the dictionary it would appear that the term jungle bunnies is perjorative [sic] and is a racist slur relating to African-Americans. Needless to say I did not mean to use any offensive racist term and was referring to the urban jungle."

His faux naivety would be endearing if his comments were not so despicable and offensive. His non apology just twists his bigoted knife further. 

How does Cameron's "compassionate Conservatives" continue to allow this type to represent them in the first place? 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Political blog awards

It is that time of year when you get to vote in the Total Politics blog awards. I'd love it, just love it, if you voted for me.

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Blog Awards 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Phone hacking: a story

A tabloid newspaper journalist walks into his Monday morning editorial meeting.
He editor asks him what stories he is running that week.
He says he has an exclusive that a famous person is having an affair.
The editor says great, lets run that on our Sunday front page.
"One thing" he says to the journalist, "is our evidence reliable? I don't want us to get sued."
"That's OK" replies the journalist, "we've got recorded evidence of the two people discussing the affair."
"How did you get that?" asks the editor.
"From their mobile phones" says the journalist.
"Oh" says the editor, realising that phone tapping or hacking is illegal. "Lets run the story anyway and never discuss this again. Good work."

It couldn't happen could it? An editor would never sanction that for the sake of an exclusive would they?

Clive Goodman's letter confirming that the editors of the News of the World knew about phone hacking should be no surprise. Andy Coulson knew, so I'm sure did Rebbekah Wade and James Murdoch.

The cuts in this story get deeper, making it even more absurd that David Cameron still felt it OK to employ Coulson even though he knew this had happened on his watch. The more this story goes on, the more the wagging finger wags at Cameron.

Cameron thought News International support was more important than keeping his office clean, so he overrode any concerns. This was naive and he will continue to suffer for it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime

Tony Blair's words of 1993 are as prophetic as ever in setting out what we do as a society to tackle this huge problem of urban unrest. We need to come down on rioters and looters hard. People don't want that and those involved need to know that there is no place for that behaviour.

People will speculate about the causes of the riots. Nobody will ever agree. A poverty of ambition and aspiration among the criminal rioters seems prevalent. This comes despite many years of additional education funding and opportunity. That obviously wasn't enough. Taking away much of that, as the Tories have done and are doing, won't help. It explains but doesn't excuse.

Today's parliamentary debate saw some agreement between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. That is promising. If this tragedy is turned into a political game of ping pong nothing will get done. A lot needs to get done.

It would send out the wrong signal to cut police numbers and budgets now. It did anyway but eve more so now. Otherwise how will the authorities react in future if something like this happens again? Cameron still wants to cut budgets which threatens to roll back the progress made over recent years to reduce crime and make our streets safer. In London I've personally felt the benefit from Safer Neighbourhood Teams. Cuts to those in this context will show that the Tories really just don't get it and don't have the backs of ordinary Londoners covered.

The key challenge is to ensure that the right words now don't filter away as they did in the 1980s and in the USA after Hurricane Katrina. We need to show that we've learnt from that. Cameron needs to show that Conservatism really is compassionate and that it won't just be tough on crime, but also its causes. This means that budget cuts should never take precedence, as they seem to be, over public safety or rebuilding our communities.

Cameron isn't Blair yet and never will be.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Cameron as Jim Callaghan

Now that the leading Tories are all heading back to the UK with their tails between their legs serious questions had I be asked as to why it took them so long. With serious unrest breaking out over London and other cities over the weekend it was clear that politicians needed to take charge. 

People need their leaders to take their problems seriously and show they care. The Tories failed to show that leadership and that they've belatedly woken up to the scale of the rioting crisis begs big questions. 

Why has it taken them so long? Did they really care? Their PR advice if they had any has been woeful. It reminds me of former PM Jim Callaghan returning from holiday during the 1978 winter of discontent and being dubbed 'Sunny Jim' while also being derided for playing down the crisis. He was misquoted as saying 'crisis, what crisis?' the mud stuck. 

Reacting slowly to the hacking crisis and now rioting, Cameron needs to be careful. That man who had his finger on the nation's political pulse and reacted quickly to the MP expenses scandal has gone AWOL. Cameron needs to find that skill again and sort out this mess. 

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