The Far-Right Rise!

Kaiesha Page

Image © David Hayward

Last year thousands watched across the world with a mix of uneasiness and anticipation as the face of the monster behind the Norwegian mass-murder was revealed. The revelation of the attack in what is normally a peaceful and quiet country was greeted with a gasp of shock by the world. How someone could do such a terrible thing? However, this shock was to be outweighed by the shock that was expressed when his face was to finally grace our screens sometime later. The man behind killing of many innocent teenagers looked so ordinary, so human. Perhaps, in many ways, Breivik is the perfect image to represent the far-right movement: a normal looking person who has radical and dangerous beliefs. The biggest threat of the far-right’s is how far they are willing to go and how unnoticeable they often are.

Although his actions were unprecedented and his murders unique, his beliefs are far from new and are part of a growing movement that’s arms are spreading far and wide. Breivik is the epitome of this growing movement, a warning of exactly what radical hatred can cause a person to do. Across Europe over recent months we have witnessed the far-right parties exceeding expectations and polling a significant number of votes. In Greece, the Golden Dawn Party (discussed in detail later) received almost 7% of the vote, securing themselves 21 seats in the parliament. Just two years previous in the 2010 election they achieved just over 5%. In the recent French presidential election the National Front party achieved a staggering 18.5% of the vote. Why are these parties on the rise?

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Osborne doesn’t need to spend more time in the Treasury

Image © HM Treasury

Image © HM Treasury

Tom Bailey (@baileys72)

Tim Montgomerie recently argued that George Osborne should restrict his role to being Chancellor, rather than also acting as ‘chief election strategist and general busybody across government’, so that he can get a grip on the economy. I’d argue that he should be sacked from both roles rather than restricting his duties to the Treasury. Of course, it is unsurprising to read a left-wing blogger demand that a Conservative chancellor be sacked but I believe many of the coalition’s problems, both political and economic, spring from him. However unrealistic it is, I think there are various reasons why the Conservatives’ long-term prospects would be best served by Cameron ditching his part-time Chancellor.

Firstly, Osborne has not demonstrated any evidence of economic understanding ahead of the crash nor had any success since taking office. In 2006 he described Ireland ‘as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking’ before in 2007 pledging to match Labour’s spending plans. Given the coalition’s rhetoric against state spending and excessive debt, this seems extremely hypocritical. Since 2010, there has been an economic failure as result of the economic strategy that he put in place. His 2010 Mais Lecture provided the underpinning for the austerity strategy which has helped drive us into a double dip recession. It is hard to see how Cameron could ditch his failing policies without getting rid of the architect.

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Guest Blog: What the French election means for the Left

Jasper Cox

Image © The Prime Minister’s Office

If, as is expected, François Hollande wins La Présidentielle this weekend, it provides a boost for Ed Miliband and Labour party: a sign that perhaps the Left in Europe is, unlike the economy, on the road to recovery. In the United Kingdom, from the marginal Occupy movement to disgust over bankers’ bonuses, there is emerging subtle dislike of unregulated neoliberalism (even if most people don’t know what the term means). Meanwhile, Miliband leads in the polls, by perhaps 11%,  despite being unpopular personally with voters. However, there is a danger that the correlation between the French election and the state of British politics today is overstated.

Firstly, when faced with criticism over their handling of the economy, David Cameron and his government have been able use two simple excuses: our economy is heavily affected by the Eurozone crisis; and over-spending by Labour makes austerity necessary. Sarkozy cannot do this. Sarkozy came into power in 2007, before France’s GDP fell, before France lose its AAA rating and before public debt rose significantly. He has been a key figure in determining Eurozone policies. Going further back, he was an interior minister under the last government, and the Right has been in power since 1995. This means neither he nor the Right can be given ‘the benefit of the doubt’, and so he has a harder challenge defending his economic policy in the presidential election.

The gripes with Sarkozy are not (just) about austerity, whereas anger in the United Kingdom at the centre-right administration is directed at cuts and public sector reforms predominantly. Sarkozy has introduced some reforms to the state but has also indulged in antiimmigrant rhetoric (the link is but one example) and “Countless voters have told pollsters that Sarkozy’s personality and style turned them off”. As The Economist, which has generally been supportive of the UK coalition government, despairs:

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Why did the Labour Party indulge Ken?

Frederick Cowell

Image © Amplified2010

If you are a Labour party member and disappointed at Ken Livingstone’s second defeat, go to a mirror, look at yourself – you are looking at one of the people responsible for his defeat.  Now, this article comes out before the official result; the Sack Boris campaign and the get out the vote drives undertaken by many local Labour parties could have helped turn the tide. But it is unlikely. So go and look at yourself in a mirror. If you are Labour you should use this as an opportunity to learn how to find a credible winning candidate – but then if you were part of the delegation that booed the mere mention of Tony Blair’s name last year you are a lost cause.

 In the primary election to be mayor two thirds of all London Labour members voted for Livingston over Oona King. Deep structural reasons and problems that go to the heart of the Labour party explain why this happened. King started her primary campaign late in mid- May 2010 when all the political action was focusing on the novelty of coalition government, whereas Ken had been unofficially campaigning the day after he was ejected from office in 2008. The primary also fell in the middle of the most contested Labour leadership contest for 30 years. Blame acting Labour leader Harriet Harman for that one – it is difficult to accept that someone of her political experience could not have foreseen that this would effectively make it a one horse race. King also had voted for the Iraq war in 2003 although, like many other Labour MPs, it was a decision she thought was wrong in hindsight and may have been less pertinent had she not lost her seat to George Galloway in the 2005 General Election. This gave a sense of permanence to her pro-war vote back in March 2003 so much so that seven years later it stuck with her as she tried to reach party members in the mayoral primary. Blame Tony Blair for that one – Blairites who bemoan the current state of the Labour party often have an attack of amnesia about the toxicity of the Iraq war and don’t seem to understand how much harm it did to an entire generation of centrist Labour MP’s. For example it did David Miliband’s leadership campaign no favours when he penned an article effectively asking people to ‘get over the Iraq war’.

As even the Economist noted at the time King was a good choice; her background reflected London’s nature as modern dynamic city, her policies were centre leftish and she was unencumbered by Livingstone’s foot-in-mouth tendency. Yet canvassing in the primary some workers for King noticed that a large numbers of Labour party members seemed to have a rose-tinted view of the race; a Tory PM promising cuts was in Number 10, wasn’t it time to get Red Ken back in city hall so he could fight them just like he fought Thatcher? Except this wasn’t 1981 it was 2012, and Ken lost to Maggie the first time round and is set to lose to Boris second time around. This is the answer to Dan Hodges, a Labour journo who took pride at voting Boris, but did quite sensibly ask the question – why does the Labour party indulge Ken? The new leadership aren’t really to blame; Ed Miliband was lumbered with him and as consequence had to defend him.  Instead party members decided to ignore the fact that in spite of a very strong first term record as mayor there were several features about his last two years in office, in particular his proximity with extremists, and the 2008 campaign that made him basically unelectable. This was known in 2010 yet members backed him – if you did that in 2010 look in the mirror today; you are responsible for giving the Conservative party a boost nationally in what should have been their worst election in a decade.

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Beware: Anti-politics

Frederick Cowell

Image © John Kirriemuir

With two days to local elections and four days to the anniversary of an unloved event, anti-politics is everywhere. The surprise from-behind victory of George Galloway in Bradford west and UKIP’s sudden surge in the polls are both symptomatic of a rise in anti-politics. The local election result are likely to result in the expected drubbing for the governing parties but also a boost for anti-politics candidates and well placed sources have detailed Labour’s panic at the thought of by-elections later this year, in particular in Birmingham Snow Hill which they fear could be lost to another Respect insurgency.

Anti-politics is becoming a feature of UK politics – Matthew Flinders of the University of Sheffield has identified a complex tendency among the public to dislike all political parties and politicians. To an extent voters should be healthily sceptical of politics and for many years those who have cared about the environment have voted Green, those who have cared about the national identity of regions have voted SNP or Plaid Cymru and those who have cared about immigration and race have voted BNP. Both UKIP and Respect make a different appeal to voters in that they deliberately stoke and then feed off the anger of anti-politics.

The ascent of UKIP in the late 1990’s was triggered by rage at the Maastricht generation of Tories and their 2010 election slogan “sod the rest – vote UKIP”, whilst a little to naked for many voters taste’s, basically described their electoral strategy for the previous decade. On the Left, the Iraq war provided the catalyst for the Respect Party to absorb those alienated by New Labour. To be clear, UKIP and Respect are single issue parties but the issues that both parties run on, Euroscepticism and anti-imperialism< are defined by the inability of the mainstream Left and Right blocs in British politics to fully absorb these issues. Both parties also mercilessly attack government as the great diluter of principles to create a betrayal narrative out of every decision that governments make, whether they be foolhardy (invading Iraq) or pragmatic (not pulling out of the EU).  This can poison political debates during local and city elections as the supposed betrayal of the former supporters of Labour and the Tories drowns out other concerns and scrutiny of local issues. Previously the Lib Dems benefited from this but after entry into government they are no longer able to take advantage of this phenomenon. A key part of the upsurge in both UKIP’s and Respect’s support in the last year is that they, like many other anti-politics parties across Europe, offer a rhetorically appealing account of how to fix the economic woes currently facing western economies. As appealing as these messages may be many of them are ultimately unworkable, socially divisive or both, but the fury many voters feel as living standards fall generates a lucrative gig for the Nigel Farages and George Galloways of this world.

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Clowns to the Left of me, jokers to the Right

Craig Berry

Image © The Prime Minister's Office

In 2010 David Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to measuring levels of happiness. There’s more to life than money, he argued. Accordingly, the Office for National Statistics included four questions on ‘subjective well-being’ in the Annual Population survey for the first time in April 2011.

This is the sound of the Conservative Party moving away, albeit very tentatively, from neoliberalism. The economic downturn has not altered but reinforced Cameron’s point of view on this. His support for measuring happiness, alongside GDP, derives instead from his profound commitment to conservative ideology.

As New Labour’s ‘accommodation’ to neoliberalism and the Thatcher legacy became stronger rather than weaker – contrary to early promises – Cameron carved a space for himself in promoting traditional English values in contrast to Labour’s fanatical modernisation.

It would be easy, and not unjustifiable, for the left to be cynical about what the government is doing. But the left’s bêtes noires of recent decades, the neoliberals, are also cynical, and in some cases incensed – see for example Helen Johns and Paul Ormerod’s research for the free market think-tank Institute of Economic Affairs. And take another look at the speech on happiness Cameron gave in November 2010. He contrasts the pursuit of happiness in public policy with three shining examples of a neoliberal agenda in action: immigration, cheap booze, and consumerism.

This does not mean there is not a major flaw in the government’s thinking. In terms of measuring social progress, the effectiveness of happiness measures are undermined by the fact that, as Johns and Ormerod point out, people always say seven. The ONS asked people ‘how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?’, ‘to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?’, and ‘how happy did you feel yesterday?’; across all three questions, three-quarters of people said seven out of ten. (When the question was posed in more negative terms, that is ‘how anxious did you feel yesterday?’, the vast majority said three out of ten.)

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How to ruin the Party

Daniel Mann

Image © Don Shall

It’s another slightly grey Monday here, and things seem as they always are. The city wakes up to a new day and a new week. As ever, Labour has control over the City Council, and down in Westminster, the ConDems are as muddling and incompetent as ever. To a certain extent, I think we in the Labour Party still don’t entirely understand why we’re in opposition, at least not from an internal perspective. But I’ll get to that in just a minute. First, let me introduce myself. I’m Dan, 21, BA in International Relations and currently an MSc student in Social Change at a certain North West redbrick university that’s a part of the Russell Group. It all sounds straightforward, right?

No, it isn’t. You see, I’m American by birth, but British by choice. I grew up in New York, but this is the second occasion that I’ve lived here in the UK. I wasn’t here for the 2010 election but, when I was living in London soon afterwards, I witnessed the numbness that we as a Party found ourselves in, having joined in mid-June of that year. But I digress. When I moved back ‘across the pond’, several months ago, I did the natural thing and plunged headfirst into local Party activities here, and I haven’t looked back. One such activity has been my involvement with my local Constituency Labour Party (CLP).

Quite recently, the CLP had its Annual General Meeting (AGM), which was, as ever, held in our Town Hall, an appealing Gothic edifice overlooking the city. As was expected, a great deal of members showed up, including quite a few whom I’d never seen at CLP meetings previous, all but one of which I’ve attended.

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Why I’ve joined Liberal Left

Mathew Hulbert

Image © Brett Patterson

This week, I’ve joined Liberal Left.

I’ve done so, having first expressed considerable reservations about the group when it first formed a few weeks ago, even going so far as to set them out in a lengthy blog post for Lib Dem Voice.

So, why the volte face?

Well, for a number of reasons which I want to set out here.

Before I do that, however, let me address a couple of questions which were immediately posed to me when I announced my joining of Liberal Left on Twitter.

Do I still support the Coalition Government?

I’ll be honest with you, this is a tricky one.

I supported its formation and have defended it ever since, but there’s no denying that, as time has gone on, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with the direction of travel.

I guess the best way I can describe my current position is as follows: I support Liberal Democrats in Government making and taking decisions that are in accordance with our stated values and policies as a Party.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me, however, to hear that I hate us being in Coalition with the Conservatives and I also feel greatly saddened when it appears that our Ministers have capitulated to the Tory agenda, as – I’d argue – they’re doing by supporting the Health and Social Care Bill currently going through Parliament (though I still hold out a hope that it will, even at the eleventh hour, be stopped.)

Do I want to see the Coalition Government end before 2015?

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Liberal Left – Direction for the Liberal Democrats


Image © The Prime Minister's Office

Linda JackChair of Liberal Left

The outcome of the 2010 election was for many Lib Dems a huge shock. In retrospect maybe we should have been prepared for the potential of a coalition with the Tories – but we weren’t. Over that fateful weekend I was in constant touch with a pal on the Federal Exec, reassuring me that we would never jump into bed with them – to the extent that I relayed that assurance on to an angry constituent who said he hadn’t voted for me to “let the Tories in.” So, when the likes of John Reid and David Blunkett in the Labour Party were wheeled out to speak against the possibility of a Lib/Lab coalition and it became inevitable that we would end up with the Tories, I was personally devastated.  I also couldn’t understand why “confidence and supply” was ruled out and why as a party we didn’t force Labour to provide it.

Like many of my fellow activists I thought long and hard about what to do. For some it was all just too much and they resigned on the spot, for others it was the tuition fee debacle that pushed them over the edge. That camel’s back-breaking straw has been different things for different people – the Health and Social Care Bill being the latest in a long line. But my decision to stay and fight was influenced by a number of things.

Firstly a phone call I received from an old friend in the Stop the War Coalition. She had been chatting with mutual friends about what I might do. After all, I was the most vociferous critic of the likes of John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn – how could they stay in the Labour Party after it backed Bush in the war in Iraq? But I explained to her that, for the first time, I understood why they stayed. It was their party too: why should they conveniently butt out and allow the right to hijack everything they had ever stood for? By staying and fighting they could be a constant thorn in the side of the leadership as well as reminding loyal activists that they were not alone in their opposition to Blair et al. And of course it is always worth taking the long view – do we believe the post 2015 Liberal Democrats will have slid irredeemably to the right, or is it more likely that there will be a backlash and a return to the left of centre roots of the party? This can’t happen if those progressives in the party (still clearly in the majority) leave.

Secondly, there was the knowledge that I was not on my own in my opposition to the coalition and in particular that there were others in the party whom I highly respected, who felt the same. At the special conference when the party voted overwhelmingly in favour of the coalition agreement and as one of only 4 to speak against and 12 to vote against, it was easy to feel isolated.

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Guest Blog: Teach PPE in schools

Nikhil Venkatesh 

What do Danny Alexander, Ed Balls, David Cameron, Yvette Cooper, William Hauge, both Milibands, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bill Clinton, Toby Young, Stephen Hester and Rupert Murdoch have in common? Two things: they are all very important people, with more than their fair share of influence over the rest of us; and they all studied* for a degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE).
The subjects that make up the PPE course are vital for an understanding of the world (and of how to change it), and should be available to all. Our country’s ruling class, as this BBC article notes, is made up of PPE graduates. However, in Britain at least, these subjects are restricted to a select few who have the means, fortune and intelligence to get onto the famous course at Oxford*. My view is that Britain would have a far more open, informed and democratic society if PPE subjects were taught in state schools.

Philosophy (for a far better article on the teaching of philosophy click here)

Quoted by Julian Baggini in The Philosophers’ Magazine, senior fellow in the public understanding of philosophy, Angela Hobbs, made the case for teaching children philosophy. She says a knowledge of philosophy creates ‘a bright, inquisitive teenager’ – and surely having an ability to ask and understand questions such as ‘What is good?’ ‘What is happiness?’ and ‘What exists?’ makes for a more rounded person. The philosophical method, ‘the ability to construct and analyse an argument,’ Hobbs says, is something that ‘you’re going to need whatever you go on to do after you leave school.’
If philosophy teaches one thing, it’s to question accepted truths. A country of philosophy scholars would never let a politician get away with saying that he has all the answers; it would always ask ‘How do you know? What do you mean?’. A philosopher can see through a media image, can analyse and criticise any argument, and can understand the plight of others. A philosopher wouldn’t be surprised that our ruling class of PPE graduates has conspired to stop us learning these skills. Read more of this post