Friday, May 28, 2010

Labour's Forever Blowing Bubbles

Following The Independent's front page that so effectively illustrated the scale of the task facing the new Government in tackling Labour's debt mountain, The Guardian has now come up with an interesting analysis of where our hard earned tax money gets spent.

After years of profligate Labour spending the Coalition has to decide where the axe must fall. The initial £6bn of savings this year is a very small step on the journey to balance the nations books.

Which bubbles would you burst..?

Click on the image to enlarge or follow this link for the online article.

We now have to put up with Labourites, like Alastair Campbell and Piers Morgan on BBC Question Time last night, acting as if there wasn't a problem and the evil Tory/LibDems are just hell bent on making cuts for cuts sake. Some say they are "debt deniers" in the same deluded mould as the holocaust kind. But they aren't. They know full well their party would have been forced to make similar cuts to save the economy from drowning in debt repayments and Greece style crisis (only they'd have done it later for party political expediency).

They are not deniers, they are liars. I hope voters for many years to come remember what Labour did to our economy and how they attempted to cover it up with dissembling spin, continuing even today to be utterly disingenuous in their response to the governments attempts to fix their mess.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Best Result, Considering...

So, it's been over two full weeks since the general election and 13 days since the formation of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, and they're still happily working together forging "the new politics" with all their joint might and their shiny new liberal loveliness.

Nick Clegg finally made his mind up. After double dealing right up to the end, he plumped for a coalition deal with the Tories. More details are emerging as to the extent of the doubling dealing and it seems Vince Cable was the most resistant senior LibDem according to The Times. Still, he's been rewarded (possibly to keep him happy for a while) with the role of Business Secretary. I'm not sure if Cameron wasn't having a little laugh here at old Vince's expense. I just hope he can get over the nausea that businessmen seem to produce in him, otherwise he's going to struggle!

I hope that Clegg's behaviour was a genuine attempt to leverage his negotiating position and that now he is fully committed to governing with the party that did, when all is said and done, win* the election. I'm not convinced his tactics actually forced much extra from the Tories, they would have known that any deal between the LibDems and Labour would have been terminally poisonous for Clegg and his party. Had they chosen that option, the final result would have been a massive victory for the Conservatives in a (not too distant) 2nd general election when the precarious "rainbow alliance" fell apart and the people got their chance to punish the LibDems and the other parties that propped up a failed and rejected Labour government.

David Cameron has taken the result of the election and shown genuinely impressive leadership by reaching out to the LibDems and offering them a fully fledged coalition. It was the best option for the country and for both parties, in my opinion. There are many in each party that wouldn't agree, but they are blind to the political reality that a hung parliament election result placed their leaders in. Going it alone as a minority government would have led to more, not less, compromise as the Tories would have had to strike deals ad hoc on every piece of legislation to get it through the House of Commons. Anything less than a coalition would have lasted months not years and in the mean time the country would have lacked a government with a clear direction and purpose, instead it would have had one that survived day to day, during a time of financial crisis.

So, those on the right of the Conservative party and the left of the LibDems are very uncomfortable about the arrangement, and they should be. The LibDem left because their delusion that there is a natural left of centre political consensus in Britain that would forever defeat the "evil Tories" is likely to be exposed as the myth it is by this liberally minded right of centre government. And the Tory right because their hopes that Cameron was going to transpose into an illiberal hang 'em and flog 'em socially conservative Conservative is now clearly not going to happen (as, indeed, it was never going to happen).

The truth is that, had Cameron won the election but with a slim majority, his government would have been at the mercy of those same right wing MPs in any tight parliamentary votes and, on some issues, could have been forced more to the right than Cameron would have wanted. You only have to look at John Major's last months in office (when his majority was reduced by several by-election losses until he was finally running a minority government) to see what slim majorities and minority government does to the strength of a government. Again, such a situation was likely to end in tears and after a few years of battling with his own backbenchers, Cameron, like Major, would be have been perceived as "weak and ineffectual", purely because of the weak and ineffectual position the electorate (or electoral system?) put him in.

So, if there wasn't to be a strong parliamentary majority for any one party, this was probably the best outcome that we could have hope for. It's now up to the two main leaders to keep their parties in line and cooperating. Some think Cameron has been cack handed in his party management this last week. Perhaps, but one thing is clear, he needs to ensure he can command his party when things get tight. Hopefully, the massive new Tory intake of MPs will be more open minded to change than some of the old guard seem to be.

Clegg has had more serious problems with his left wing leadership predecessors mouthing off about their discomfort with the Tory pact. He should slap them down as the failed yesterday's men that they are. It was Clegg's redirection of his party away from the left when he became leader that has enabled him to take his party into government and they should be thanking him for it, not carping on about their pathetic anti-Tory prejudices. These malcontents sound more like sixth form politics students than serious politicians. But then, their Party has, up to now, been little more than a glorified debating society. Many in his party will struggle to move out of their current mind-set and focus on the serious matters at hand, but Clegg has to take them with him if he's to maintain the stability of the coalition. His leadership skills will be tested many time in the course of the life of this coalition.
Monday sees the announcement of the first tranche of spending cuts. This will only be the start of many difficult and unpopular measures the government will have to take to deal with Labour's financial vandalism. I hope the LibDems have the stomach for it. Time will tell whether or not they can stick to the task in hand and follow through, or whether they will cut and run when the going gets tough. Cameron is, at the end of the day, at Clegg's mercy. He can pull the plug as any time. But if he does so for party political expediency, voters will punish him for it. The only problem is that they could also punish the Tories for the taste of the medicine they are being force fed and that could let Labour in again. The very last thing that the country needs.

Let's hope this coalition really does last 5 years. I think they'll need that time to demonstrate that the medicine will work and that it was worth taking it.

* - Yes, I don't buy this spin from Labour that no one actually won the election and that all options were equally valid and credible. The Tories won as they were the most popular party. They failed to win an outright majority in parliament however, even if they were by far the biggest party. This failure (possibly) may not have occurred if the constituencies were all of a similar size (as the system requires them to be).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Richard Cheese Sings...

There have been some great songs written in the last 20 years. However, you do wonder, if the same songs had been written in a different era, how much better would they have sounded?

Richard Cheese provides us with the answer. He recreates modern pop but in his own inimitable, catchy and highly entertaining Lounge style. Just listen to his version of Radiohead's "Creep",  to hear what I'm talking about...

Richard Cheese - Creep (Radiohead Cover) by kwargs

He also covers many other great modern pop songs such as The Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" and my personal favourite, U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" - A highly sensitive remake of that thought provoking and poignant song, I think you'll agree...

Richard Cheese - Sunday Bloody Sunday (U2) by iorish

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

We Live In Interesting Times

The Chinese can be blamed for a lot of things, Tiananmen Square, over population, wrecking the Copenhagen deal, inventing fireworks that keep me awake in the run up, throughout, and for some time after, November every year, but mostly for delicious take away food that has contributed to my being over weight contributing, possibly, to my early death (hopefully still in the future whenever it is that you're reading this). However, this week the Chinese proverb "May you live in interesting times"  seems to have cursed this great nation of ours in relation to our recent General Election.

Things got even more interesting today following Gordon Brown's resignation. This should be a moment to celebrate for everyone but the blindest Labour apologist, but look deeper and you will see it isn't. As with all Gordon Brown's utterances, you have to read between the lines to work out what he really means. This resignation is really about extending his premiership, for up to an incredible 4 months, beyond the General Election in which he and his party were soundly beaten.

Gordon's resignation is designed to entice Nick Clegg into negotiations and a deal with Labour while his party descends into civil war between the various potential leadership camps such as the Milibandians/Ballistas and the Harridans. He is determined to cling on as Prime Minister as long as (barley) constitutionally possible, and almost as important is the chance to scupper a deal that would see the election's winning party, The Conservatives, take over the reigns.

The Tories have today offered the LibDems electoral reform in the shape of the Alternative Vote system. This was a system favoured by Labour, and for good reason as it favours them even more than the current FPTP system with it's bias for Labour due smaller constituency sizes and low turn out in Labour areas, amongst other things. However, it's clear that the Tories will allow a referendum (as any electoral reform should have) but will campaign against the change itself.

I can only think that the Tories believe that AV, of all the options for change, is the easiest to defeat in a referendum. As you can see from the table below, if the relationship between seats won and share of the vote is what's important to you (what some call "fair votes"), then AV is worse than FPTP.  

It's a big gamble for Cameron and if it doesn't pay off this system would further entrench the Labour party in power. But, it seems, the offer is necessary to keep the LibDems interested. Even though it has succeeded in that objective, Clegg is now sniffing around Labour to see what they can offer. This double dealing looks bad and must leave a nasty taste in the Tory negotiators mouths as they continue to maintain their respectful, reasonable and conciliatory stance with the LibDems (despite their poor showing in the General Election) while they attempt to play one side off against the other to get maximum pay back. Meanwhile the country continues to yearn for some decisiveness and a government we, and the markets, can have confidence in.

The final offer is now in the table, take it or leave it, Clegg. Take it, and you get the chance to give the Liberals something they've not had for decades, real power and the chance to implement real policies and effect real change.

Leave it, and show the nation how you put party before country, how afraid you are of real responsibility during what will be difficult times to govern, and be rightly condemned to another 100 years in the wilderness for your cowardice. That is, of course, unless your Labour friends in parliament manage to agree to vote for a referendum on PR (highly unlikely, despite what Gordon says). In which case (assuming you win the referendum) we can look forward to you whoring your support around the other parties like some kind of surrogate electorate choosing who should govern, while the real electorate looks on, bemused and wondering what their "fair votes" are really worth.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Manchester United Unhappy With Premiership's First Past The Post League System

As Chelsea lift The Premiership title, some of the losers are complaining that the league system in this country isn't fair to teams that lose games. They point out that goals scored in matches that they lose are effectively "wasted" as they don't count towards their points tally. They are calling for reform of the system to provide "Fair Goals".

Two teams are currently in talks about forming a coalition for change. They are Manchester United and Manchester City. Alex Ferguson was asked what this new football combo would be called.

"We took one word from their name, 'Manchester' and one word from our name, 'United", he replied and went on to explain,

"We feel that Chelsea's claim to have won the Premiership is illegitimate. I mean, our new combined points total is 152 compared to Chelsea's 86. We are clearly the winners on this basis".

He went on to demand Chelsea give in to his demand for "Fair Goals" immediately and admit that Manchester United are the real league winners. If Chelsea refuse to give in to Ferguson's demands he says he will pull out of the league, effectively bankrupting it and many of the other teams that are involved. When asked if he was concerned about this he replied,

"Fuck 'em", before walking off for more discussions with league officials, behind closed doors.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Our Political System Is Broken - Is PR the Only Option?

So, despite the Conservatives making impressive gains, Labour suffering a Michael Foot-esque collapse and no sign of the much hyped Cleggmania promised by the polls before the election, we find ourselves with a hung parliament.

If the results for the two main parties on Thursday had been reversed, in terms of share of the vote, Labour would have been returned to power with a thumping majority. Brown would be hailed as a master tactician, the great Houdini with an unquestionable mandate to govern for five more long years. The Tories would have been pilloried as pathetic losers, which is what they would have been. There certainly wouldn't be any talk of adopting Proportional Representation (PR) as a electoral system and the Liberal Democrats would continue to have been ignored as the irrelevance they've been for the past 90 years.

But that wasn't the case. Our First Past The Post (FPTP) system produced a hung parliament for the first time since the mid 70's. Such is the in-built advantage to the Labour party, the Tories needed an enormous swing from their 2005 position to win power, even by the slimmest margin. It's clearly unfair that such a bias exists and electoral reform is required to fix it.

All three parties offer electoral reform of one kind or another. The Liberal Democrats are well known for their support for PR, unsurprising as it benefits them in that it would place them in position of king maker a lot more often than FPTP does at the moment, as every election will result in a hung parliament unless one party can get over 50% of the vote. Labour offered a referendum on changing to the Alternative Votes system. Again, cynical self interest prevails here. This system would have delivered an even more disproportionate number of Labour MPs and even fewer to the Tories. See this analysis from Patently. The Tories offer the least radical plan, they propose to get the Electoral Commission to do what they should already be doing and redraw the constituency boundaries so they all broadly contain a similar number of voters. They hope this will reduce the bias to Labour and make for a more level playing field (between Labour and Conservative anyway).

However, the Tories will find that their plan will not completely remove the bias as it has more to do with the difference in distribution of each parties vote as well as overall levels of turn out in different areas of the country, something they can do little about. Their belief in FPTP seems oddly misplaced therefore. PR would actually have benefited them more, especially in 2005 when they were just 3% behind Labour in the national share of the vote.

The truth is that many, on the left of politics, have convinced themselves that the majority of British people hold centre-left political opinions. They base this on combining the Labour and LibDem votes and conclude that it must be so. I don't necessarily believe this and think voting patterns would change in a PR system, but this is clearly the belief of many Guardian and Independent writers and their more politically sympathetic readers.

The motivation for many of the political activists advocating PR is not that it is fairer or would engage more people in the democratic process, although they'll say say this is so, but really they want a system that will lock out the "evil Tories" once and for all. This goes some way in explaining the sudden urgency and passion we are seeing for PR to be made the one non-negotiable position in Nick Clegg's talks with David Cameron. They want it implemented without delay so any future election will produce a centre-left coalition that will rule permanently.

The situation we are now in has brought the LibDems onto centre stage and, although the Conservatives could rule as a minority government without them, they would prefer to have their support to form a more stable coalition government. The failure of Nick Clegg's party to attract any additional support from their 2005 position weakens his position significantly in negotiations. He also needs to be wary of those on the left of his party who can't abide the Tories and want nothing to do with them. Clegg himself is on the right of his party, as Cameron is on the left of his. Both have a tightrope to walk between partisan backbench/activist opinion and pragmatism for the national interest. 

It is telling that, at a time of national economic crisis, when the country is fighting in Afghanistan and we face serious social problems at home, the only topic being discussed by LibDems and the media is electoral reform to the exclusion of everything else. It's an issue, granted, but not the only one and not even the most pressing. I've even heard LibDem politicians suggesting this hung parliament crisis is evidence that we need to move away from FPTP to PR, despite this situation being the norm in every country that has PR. Such bare faced disingenuity proves, if anyone still needed proof, that there's nothing new or different about LibDem politics.

Rather than holding the country's future to ransom over self serving demands for cursory electoral reform, the LibDems should rise to the challenge the people have set them (albeit inadvertently) and agree a programme for government that addresses the immediate crises we face. This is their chance to prove they can put the nations interest first and take part in a government that could make a real difference to this country on the economy, society and eduction, crime etc, all the areas any party serious about power has to address. In doing so, I would hope they'd show themselves to be more worthy of support than Labour and that they could advance in a way the polls suggested they might before the election, eventually replacing Labour as one of the two main parties.

Any agreement should address the genuine concern felt in the country about our political system. An official review of the system and a national debate should take place to fully inform the people and ensure the consequences of any recommended proposals are fully understood before people are asked to decide in a referendum.

I think the current focus on electoral reform is too narrow though. Any review shouldn't just be about FPTP vs PR. It should include a review of the relationship between the executive (government) and parliament including House of Lord reform.

It may be that FPTP could be the most effective way of choosing who governs if combined with a reform of the relationship between then government and MPs that allows more effective scrutiny and debate of policy and legislation. PR may still be desirable, but in itself, it doesn't really address the core faults with our parliamentary systems currently (other than denying the existence of single party majority governments). These faults allow majority governments to govern pretty much unopposed and unscrutinised if they get a big enough majority. This kind of reform plus beefing up review and amendment powers MPs have over government legislation would more precisely address the disrepute that parliament is held in currently. FPTP is good enough for the US (although there are critics there too, of course) but their system has stronger checks and balances on the executive by the legislature. If the bias to Labour can be resolved and the playing field levelled, FPTP could still be a goer with reform of the separation of powers between government and parliament.

But if, after a public review and debate, the people want a fully proportional system that reflects their votes for smaller parties more accurately and they accept the consequences in terms of more hung parliaments, weaker governments, political horse trading of policies etc, then so be it. At least they would do so on a basis of understanding. I know I'd be more confident I'd make the right decision given time and information.

So what should Cameron do if Clegg refused to join the Tories in government without PR being pushed through? I'm of the opinion that anything other than a Con/LD coalition would be too unstable to recommend to the Queen as a viable government in our current economic climate. An informal arrangement where the LDs provide support on certain issues just won't do. It allows the LDs to wimp out of taking responsibility at a time when some very difficult decisions need to be made. Inevitability, when the going gets tough the LibDems will get going, right out of any responsibility for policies that could be unpopular but necessary and the government will collapse. I can't imagine such a set up lasting more than 12 months, if that.

So, if Clegg refuses to cooperate on reasonable grounds, Cameron should explain to the people that Britain needs strong government and not some Heath Robinson affair that will be crippled in dealing with the crises we face as a country and that the LibDems are not allowing such a stable arrangement to occur. Labour will try to seize the initiative and form a government with the LibDems, but they don't have enough seats, even together. They would need an equally precarious agreement with all the rest of the parties to form a majority government. I don't think a Lib/Lab pact will come to pass, I don't think the people would accept a coalition of the defeated. Instead we would have another General Election and this time the people would have the chance to punish those that put their party before country and we'd see a decisive result.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why I'm Voting Conservative

The nation votes today... exciting! Well, it is for political anoraks like me anyway. I've even taken Friday off work to recover from the all nighter I'm likely to pull to watch the results coming in. What a sad-act!

I'll be voting Conservative today for the following reasons:
  • I trust them more to tackle the debt crisis effectively and with a view to long term economic growth that will benefit everyone.
  • I like their plans for education. I have 3 young children and I think these ideas could be the kind of radical reform that could boost education quality just in time for them to benefit.
  • Tax increases are inevitable regardless who wins, but the Tories are more likely to put the burden of the deficit reduction on spending cuts rather than tax increases. The state has grown exponentially in the last 13 years and this has unhealthily warped our economy, especially in some areas of the country. The Tories would focus on encouraging private sector growth rather than further expansion of the state.
  • Cameron as a leader. I don't think he's had the best campaign, Clegg has been the surprise package steeling the show early on. Cameron had a similar honeymoon period when he first came to peoples attention but that has long worn off and it was inevitable that Clegg was going to benefit from the exposure. Both men are charismatic, but leadership is not just about charisma. I look at how Cameron has led the Tories and I'm impressed. He's taken a broken party and dragged it (kicking and screaming in some sections) into the 21st century. He led impressively during the expenses scandal while Brown dithered and Clegg was being sanctimonious, showing a deft touch by managing to turn the crisis into an opportunity. He acted quickly to remove the old guard (with the duck houses and Balmoral style houses) who wanted to dampen his reforms of the party. This showed a degree of ruthlessness and steel that some say is missing in him.

    He's accused of lacking substance by his opponents. But no other opposition leader I can remember or that I know of has put as much effort into policy formulation and preparation for government as Cameron. I have to admit to wondering if the Conservative's "Big Society" idea was their version of Blair's empty "3rd way" mantra. But look beyond the headlines and I see an attempt to radically change Britain to encourage more personal responsibility and less state dependency. That will be a sea change for our society and pay dividends in the long term.
  • The Tories plans for health care do lack a radical approach but, to be fair, the NHS has suffered from constant government meddling and political objective setting so it will come as a blessed relief to them. However, I am pleased to see them proposing to measure health care providers' performance by overall outcomes rather than politically driven targets. I'd rather know I'm more likely to survive cancer with a good quality of life than be promised that I'd be seen in x number of weeks following diagnosis. There's no doubt being seen quickly is important in most cases. Indeed the Tories propose making such information more comprehensive and more easily accessible, but I'd rather my consultant made the best decisions for my case, not to fit a politicians target. His and the hospital's performance should then be judged on the overall outcome of the treatment they prescribe and supply.
  • Europe: This used to be a their Achilles heel. But Cameron has settled the issue and the new intake of MPs will more closely represent the euro-scepticism of the electorate. The Tories will not join the Euro and will hold a referendum on any future treaties that would take any more powers away from our elected government. Much has been made of the "nutters" (in Clegg's words) that the Tories are now allied with in the European parliament. When one of the "nutters", the President of Poland, was killed in a plane crash the truth about the heroism of the man's struggle for freedom in Eastern Europe came to light. However, little coverage has been put on the Fascist and Communist collaborators and homophobes that sit in the very mainstream groupings Cameron took the Tories out of and Labour and the LibDems still share seats with.
  • Avoid a hung parliament. Labour can't win an outright majority, that's clear from the polls. Nor can the LibDems due to their current low seat base. Only the Conservatives can form a stable majority government and any other vote (excluding anti-Labour tactical voting) threatens, what I've always thought would be, the worst case scenario: a hung parliament. The true nature of a hung parliament has not been properly explored in the campaign by the media. Romantic notions being spun by those who would benefit from such a situation describe politicians being made to work together in an utopian new world of political cooperation. This is not realistic or, I think, desirable. Should there be a hung parliament, the decision as to who governs is taken away from the electorate and given to the party leaders, who will cobble together deals to allow some kind of rickety coalition government to operate until a disagreement amongst its participants brings it down triggering another General Election. It's undesirable, particularly now, because we need clarity and stability to deal with the debt crisis and foster an economic recovery. Be wary of those offering a ride on the electoral reform bandwagon. Yes, things need to be reviewed and possibly changed. But now is not the time and much more debate and public understanding of the options is required before any changes should be contemplated.
  • We need to clearly and decisively reject 13 years of dishonest, bullying government and replace it with openness and honesty. Cameron promises this. But then, so did Blair! The electorate won't be so naive as to believe this promise on face value again. My point is that we need to reject such behaviour after 3 previous elections where we actually rewarded it.
I could go on but it's almost 3am and I have to be up in 4 hours for work!

Here's a link to the Conservative Manifesto if you want more detail.

Happy voting, whoever you decide to vote for.