Scottish Independence plenty of questions but few answers…

Image © The Laird of Oldham

James Withnail-Woolf

The progressive case for and against Scottish Independence was made on May 13 by Gordon Brown and Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Both speeches encapsulate the divisions on the left over the future of the Union.

According to Gordon Brown the British Isles are stronger when resources are combined; economic strength allows equitable distribution and social justice for all. Brown has explored these issues recently which explains why his ad lib lines are well rehearsed. He paid deference to the Scottish Parliament, and then placed his case against independence firmly within Labours hinterland. Although, Tony Blair could not have made such a speech, one doubts if he is aware of John Wheatley or James Maxton. Brown has been acknowledging the heroes of the Scottish left since the 1970s when he edited the Red Paper on Scotland. Read more of this post

Thatcher and Thatcherism – by Eric J. Evans

LeftCentral Book Review 

© Image rahuldlucca`s photostream

This is a bantamweight text, which packs a super-heavyweight punch. And Evans, whose first edition was published fifteen-years ago, has revised his view; granting Mrs Thatcher more significance than he initially credited her with. Thatcherism is not considered a coherent ideology; Evans along with others believes it was (is) an amalgam of neo-liberalism and authoritarian conservatism. He charts Thatcher`s rise and fall, while placing her leadership within a political and historical framework (Peel and Disraeli). He includes a more contemporary analysis of Major`s administration, as John Major suffered from her back seat driving, as the Tories ripped themselves apart over Europe. Margaret Thatcher, who in 1986 signed the Single European Act, paradoxically became the standard bearer of European sceptics, illustrating what a funny world British politics is. As Evans points out the “Single European Act accelerated the process towards wider European integration, ultimately leading to the Maastricht Treaty in 1991 and the establishment of a single European currency in 1991”.

The New Labour project was not immune from Thatcherism and comparisons between Blair/Brown and Thatcher are made. Evans gives credence to a quote from the Spectator that “Margaret Thatcher begat Tony Blair”. Ireland is ignored by Evans and an interesting policy contrast between Blair and Thatcher was lost. Thatcher was viewed by many as a strident Unionist but she did sign the Anglo-Irish Agreement (1985) and without this later initiatives by Major and Blair would have been impossible.  Read more of this post

Pensions for all and solidarity forever…

Legal Eagle

copyright Professor Megan`s photostream

I am aware that my recent comments concerning social democracy and the golden generation may have been slightly misconstrued. My intention was not to critique those now retired I was actually commending this generation for placing themselves on the right side of the poverty line, a position they and previous generations earned through struggle. I simply wished to highlight the obvious, that future generations who manage to reach the ever distant pensionable age, are going to find themselves in poverty. And we must reflect upon this as social democratic institutions wither on the vine both here and abroad. Quentin Crisp once said that in Britain the “people are cruel but the system kind; while in America the opposite was true”. If we accept this notion, then we need to ask, what happens to the poor in Britain when the system also becomes cruel? Because, I for one am tired of hearing privileged Tories bemoaning the fact that people are simply living too long in this country. We should be rejoicing in this and congratulating some of the social democratic institutions that have made this possible, such as the National Health Service, which is looking increasingly susceptible to privatisation in the future. One thing is for sure; once this privatisation kicks in we will undoubtedly see a drop in longevity levels in the UK, thus allowing the rich to make huge profits while resolving the tiresome problem of the demographic time-bomb. Read more of this post

Ed Miliband Leader of the Left?

Nora Connolly 

Ed Miliband on the mic

Copyright archived Department of Energy

Ed Miliband is the leader of the Left, a revelation made recently in a broadcast with BBC/Independent journalist Steve Richards. Although, Miliband appears more interested in identifying himself with Conservative politicians, concepts and with Mrs Thatcher`s legacy – obsequiously describing her as a conviction politician. In his early thirties we discover that Miliband`s summer reading was Iain Macleod’s biography, Ed Milibands`s `One Nation` agenda clearly has had a longer gestation period than cynics might have thought. The Disraeli citation highlighted in the broadcast was further evidence that the philosophical underpinning of Miliband`s big idea is a Conservative/reactionary one. The only left-winger mentioned during the programme was Ralph Miliband, the father of the Labour leader, a brilliant Marxist thinker who sadly died in 1994.

Miliband`s position was considered analogous to Mrs Thatcher`s period in opposition, a correlation that allowed for a comparison with Miliband by Charles Moore. Richards returned to Thatcher`s legacy indicating that she developed a strong populist message, a political outsider who produced a critique of the former government led by Ted Heath in which she served. A politician who overturned the Keynesian post-war consensus, whose populist message was based on the notion that the state needed to get off peoples backs.  Read more of this post

Hitting New Lows: Blair’s response to Archbishop Tutu

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © Skoll World Forum

In response to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call for him to stand trial in The Hague over the Iraq War, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of the “morality of removing him [Saddam]” and reminded us that: “we have just had the memorials both of the Halabja massacre, where thousands of people were murdered in one day by Saddam’s use of chemical weapons.” He contrasted the horror of that massacre with present-day Iraq’s improved economic situation and reduced child mortality rates. Make no mistake; Blair was once again trying to argue that the Iraq War was actually a humanitarian intervention.

Attempting to justify the Iraq War on humanitarian grounds is nothing new. The principal architects of the invasion – Bush, Cheney, Straw and of course Blair – have been playing that particular card ever since  the official rationale for war (you know, the security threat that Saddam’s possession of WMDs and terrorist links posed) were found to be completely lacking in foundation. The humanitarian argument swayed many critics of the war especially after they struggled to answer the questions typically posed by the pro-war camp: didn’t Saddam Hussein deserve everything he got? Wasn’t he wicked? Didn’t the Iraqi people deserve to be free from him?

No one can doubt that Saddam was a monster, a tyrant and a criminal who needed to be brought to justice, but the full scale invasion of Iraq was no police action to capture a criminal. No police action involves endless bombings, the targeting of residential areas, the tolerance of looting and the deaths of thousands of civilians. There is no moral code under which such bloodshed and destruction could be acceptable in the pursuit of bringing a single criminal to justice.  Read more of this post

Politicians should be wary of vested interests in the economic debate

Tom Bailey

Image © Alan Chan

On Monday the 2020 Tax Commission final report was published. Other websites have picked over the bizarre elements, the major problems and highlighted certain strengths better than I could. This blog will not discuss all of the report itself but instead use it to raise a broader point. These reports are productions by groups of self-interest and must be treated as such. Think tanks such as the Taxpayer’s Alliance often lack transparency about funding. I can’t find such information on their website and emailing to ask who funds them has not led to a reply (nor did it for George Monbiot). Polly Toynbee wrote a good piece a while back that articulated the problems of that think tank in particular. The TPA supports the self-interest of large business owners and leaders in lower taxes, regardless of the consequent costs for everyone else. What is more annoying is that they are sought whilst many intelligent economists without such evident self interest are ignored. Business leaders and their stooge think tanks seem to be given a preferential place in all economic debates.

This is a cross-party phenomenon that has been going on for far too long. Sure, business support is all well and good, but it should not be the be-all and end-all in economic debates. Tony Blair wrote in his memoirs that he knew Labour had lost the 2010 general election when business came out in support of the Conservatives. He wrote that once you lose chief executives, ‘you lose more than a few votes. You lose your economic credibility. And a sprinkling of academic economists, however distinguished, won’t make up the difference.’ (681) Given Blair’s obsession with courting business support, it seems it was more than just another cheap shot against Gordon Brown. The Conservatives have had a more established deference to business. Appeal to business authority was one tactic used in 2010 by Osborne trying to make the case for deeper austerity than Labour favoured. He said in his Mais Lecture in 2010 that his view was supported by ‘many leading business figures and crucially by international investors’. Both reveal an the misplaced confidence that credibility is primarily derived from business, a theme constantly repeated by journalists. For instance, in January the ever critical Dan Hodges welcomed Labour’s declaration that they could not reverse cuts as a demonstration that ‘Labour “flat-earthers”, who argued for no retreat in the face of the coalition’s austerity measures, or an electorate that views them as a necessary evil, have been routed.’ It has been a common critique of Labour despite the slowdown since the election of the Conservatives in 2010. Personally, I think credibility should be what works rather than by default with what business vested interests support. Business lined up behind Tory levels of austerity arguing that it would support recovery. As we have now gone into a double dip (or if the figures are off, are still flat lining at best), can we be a little more sceptical about their wisdom on all economic matters?

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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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Guest Blog: The Archbishop of Canterbury: Labour’s best politician

Nikhil Venkatesh

Image © Scott Gunn

Read this:

The most pressing question we now face, we might well say, is who and where we are as a society. Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost. Whether it is an urban rioter mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community, or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today’s financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark.

Now compare it with this:

Those at the top and the bottom, who were not showing responsibility and were shirking their duties. From bankers who caused the global financial crisis to some of those on benefits who were abusing the system because they could work – but didn’t.

Believe it or not, these two passages were created by two different people: one by Rt. Hon. Edward Miliband MP, the other by Most Revd. Rt. Hon. Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first is from the cleric’s recent Christmas sermon, whilst the second is taken from the Labour leader’s speech on ‘responsibility’ in June.

From the similarity of these two statements, it is obvious that Williams and Miliband share an analysis of the problems in Britain’s society – a lack of morality in both our upper- and under-class. They both make use of the powerful image of unscrupulous bankers being bailed out by the taxpayer, as the feckless poor scrounge the rest of our money for benefit payments, or the post-riots clear up.

You may think that that is where the similarities end. They both see the same problem, but surely the Ed would recommend its solution by social democracy and responsible capitalism, whereas the good Dr. Williams will prescribe a healthy dose of (preferably Anglican) God-fearing! Well, not quite. Williams does, naturally, talk about God in his sermon, but the words he uses to describe the need for an established religion could easily be interpreted in a more secular fashion:

If the question ‘where are you?’ or ‘who are you?’ were being asked, not only individual citizens of Britain but the whole social order could have [in the time of the King James bible] replied, ‘Here we are, speaking together – to recognize our failures and our ideals, to recognize that the story of the Bible is our story, to ask together for strength to live and act together in faithfulness, fairness, pity and generosity.

Now, if you remove the obvious biblical reference, the core idea – that all classes of  Britons need to be united behind shared values, and co-operate with each other – is not a million miles away from the ‘Blue Labour’ ideal of a Labour party promoting more nationalist, conservative values, and eschewing over-competitive capitalism in favour of corporatism and co-operatives. Whilst the Archbishop wants a united Britain ‘in faithfulness, fairness, pity and generosity,’ Maurice Glasman, in founding Blue Labour, called for ‘a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity.’

Ed Miliband (like me) is not a fully paid-up Blue Labour-ite. Glasman’s controversial views on immigration, trade unions and education are far too right-wing for most party activists. However, he has been described as Miliband’s ‘guru,’ and his appointment as a peer very deliberately showed Glasman’s growing importance within Labour.

So the bishops and the opposition are in general agreement. Furthermore, Rowan Williams has spoken out about his dislike of the Coalition Government; in June, he went further in criticising public spending cuts than Miliband has dared. In the short-term, this was bad for Labour – Miliband was shown up as being impotent, and cowardly, over-shadowed by a softly-spoken bearded vicar.
However, might Williams’ all but explicit support become an asset for Labour? In my view, it will, for two reasons. Firstly, Church leaders can say things that politicians cannot – they can talk about morals without being accused of hypocrisy or paternalism, for example. In Miliband’s case, he is even more restricted than most MPs; the nickname ‘Red Ed’ still seems to haunt him, and he dares not discuss leftist policies for fear of it coming back. Archbishops, precisely because they are by definition establishment figures, can propose more radical solutions without being labelled as revolutionary. Miliband could hope that Williams’s support for these policies will ‘detoxify’ them – if that quiet, greying priest believes in them, how can they be dangerous?

The second point is that Williams can reach people that Miliband (and every Labour leader save Blair) never could. The Anglican communion, in Britain at least, is filled by middle-class, elderly social conservatives; these are precisely the people that tune out (or worse) whenever Miliband appears, and just as importantly, they are people that can be counted upon to vote. A Daily Mail article suggested that atheistic Miliband’s ‘laissez-faire attitude to religion might play well with today’s faithless youth,’ but this hold vice versa: Rowan Williams’ piety is sure to help convert the old and old-fashioned to social democracy.

In short, Dr. Williams is a new Tony Blair – charismatic, devout, upper-middle class and trusted by ‘Middle England.’ He may be just what Ed Miliband needs.

Originally posted here on The Collected Thoughts of a Pretentious Teenager.

The Calculus of Intervention

Andrew Noakes

Image © Maggie Osama

With the NATO campaign in Libya now over and the reputation of humanitarian intervention restored, why has the West failed to use military force to challenge the Syrian regime as it brutalises its own people? It is clear that the responsibility to protect is universal so, if we intervened to stop a slaughter in the besieged towns of Benghazi and Misrata, then why not in Homs and Hama?

Of course, there are some on the left who will interpret any example of Western inconsistency as proof of the hollowness of our liberal ideals. But there is a calculus at play here. Libya was an easy intervention. The Gaddafi regime lacked reliable international and regional allies and the crisis was not complicated by regional, sectarian, or ethnic divisions within Libyan society (although post-Gaddafi Libya may prove to be a different story). Nor was the internal violence likely to develop into a wider, regional conflict. It was a war of national liberation, confined to Libya and fought with overwhelming international and regional support. Read more of this post