Wednesday, July 29, 2009 

How the Cameroons will govern.

It says something about just how low most assume Labour's chances of victory are at the next election that we're already moving on to wondering how Cameron's Conservatives will govern and whom they'll govern for, although even Peter Mandelson is now admitting that Labour are the "underdogs" as far as next year is concerned. Partially this has been sparked by Simon Heffer, why-oh-whying as he is wont to do, about how Cameron isn't up to snuff as far as he's concerned on his true blue convictions. Both Bob Piper and Dave Osler agree, the latter summing it up with his observation, based on Norwich North last weekend, that the party is submitting to "Chloeification", fairly bog standard Conservatism with a nicer, smoother face. Chris Paul on the other hand, is unsure whether Heffer is being used by Coulson or whether he doesn't mean it, doing the same thing as those who complained that Blair wasn't a socialist, hence nothing to be scared of: if the high priest of Thatcherism says that Cameron isn't a Tory, then there's nothing to be scared of, right? Unconnected but related was Geoffrey Wheatcroft on Monday who thought there something wrong with these Tories, which Jamie says means we're going to have more of a succession next year than an election.

The Blair comparison is apposite, because as Jamie also quotes, we know full well that many of the highest Cameroons, and the other architects of "change" within the Conservatives also deeply admired Blair. They admired him because he won elections, because he wasn't beholden to his party, and because for a time he meant all things to all people. He was Teflon Tony. They even adored his wars, and still do to an extent, especially the true believers like Michael Gove, who share what you can either call his neo-conservative leanings, or his "liberal interventionism", which in the case of both Afghanistan and Iraq was nothing of the sort. The Labour party became so desperate, so the orthodoxy goes, that it turned to someone who was never a natural Labour politician to lead them to victory. The Conservatives, also desperate for victory, have equally turned to someone, who although has an unimpeachable Tory background, doesn't have the natural Tory face, who can do the compassion which Thatcher never had, and who isn't (yet) a laughing stock as John Major became.

As Dave Osler points out though, the Toryism which Simon Heffer yearns for only came into existence in the late 70s, being constantly built upon during the 80s. Whether you call it Thatcherism, Reaganonomics, neo-liberalism, the belief in supply-side economics and the associated trickle down theory, this was what truly made the break from the One Nation Toryism which the post-war party had up till then espoused. The real success of Thatcherism etc is that everyone in the West has pretty much adopted it, or at least the economic side of it. Even now that the ultimate conclusion to Thatcherism has been reached, with the worst recession since the great depression, and when those bastions of neo-liberalism, the banks, have had to be bailed out and either nationalised or nationalised in all but name, all still worship it, as the feeble attempts at reforming regulation shows.

We should however be clear that there was an almost Faustian pact between New Labour and the City. The banks and the hyper-economy provided the tax revenues which overwhelmingly funded the surge in spending on the NHS and education, as well as the sly, feeble attempts at redistribution that made some headway, then failed. Business could do business with Labour, and in return they funded their spending, even if they complained and tried every trick in the book at avoiding the taxman as much as they could. At the last election this philosophy had triumphed so successfully that the Tories were quibbling about amounts of money that Boris Johnson would describe as "chicken-feed". It was on other things, such as immigration and crime on which they was something resembling a difference between the two parties, although doubtless if Michael Howard had won there may well have been a drift from the manifesto, written by someone called David Cameron.

Now we're faced with much the same situation but in reverse. Whoever wins, cuts will have to be made, it's just where and how deep that the argument is over, even if Gordon Brown and others try to deny it. The Tories' promise that both health and international aid will be protected, with possibly education and maybe defence also joining the party. The other promises made were that inheritance tax would be raised from its current threshold to £1 million, and that marriage would be recognised in the tax system, helping to fix our "broken society", but even those now look uncertain, with Cameron maintaining it might well be difficult to achieve. Both of those things are naturally Conservative policies which the left would and should oppose, especially the former when inheritance tax ought to be one of the weapons used in bringing down the deficit. Dave Osler notes that the "Chloe" generation of New Tories tend to defend the NHS in its current state, and there's little to suggest otherwise from a survey the Guardian conducted with 66 prospective candidates in September last year, although it's slightly out of date due to the economic crisis then not being fully developed. What is noticeable though is their social Conservatism: while it has always been Labour that has led social liberalisation, whether it be on abortion, the legalisation of homosexuality etc, the Conservatives have come to accept the changes over time.

What exactly are we facing then, come next June perhaps? To begin with, there probably won't be much difference. They might, as suggested, have an emergency budget with 40 days and bring in cuts quicker than Labour would. What does begin to chill the blood however though is the promise of "austerity", as used by George Osborne, which only brings echoes of the post-war years and the early 50s. Why it should chill is because you know full well that Osborne and Cameron will not be those experiencing their "austerity", just as they have never experienced it before. Secretly, it's difficult not to feel that the Tories are gleeful at getting the opportunity to take a sword to public spending. Like with New Labour, they're unlikely to really hammer away for the first couple of years, but after that it's anyone's guess as to what they'll do, let alone if they get a second term. On crime and law and order, Chris Grayling's recent "nick their sim card and bike" gimmickry reminded everyone of New Labour's similar ideas which were derided. With welfare, they've promised much the same as Labour's plans again, except with bells on. We shouldn't imagine that we're going to return to Victorian values or back to basics, but what we are going to experience is new Blairism, as argued before. The Labour party was there to try to contain Blair's worst excesses, even if it failed miserably most of the time. With Cameron, and with a media already licking its lips in anticipation at the Tories returning, there will be no constraints upon Cameron. With Blair, we had an "ethical" foreign policy, a sop to "wets" like Robin Cook. William Hague has already made clear that they intend to return to realpolitik, and relegate human rights somewhat in their dealings with the likes of the Saudis and China, and with Liam Fox and Michael Gove in tow, it's difficult not to imagine that neo-conservatism proper won't rear its ugly head. We've already seen that Cameron has joined up with homophobes from Poland and other assorted oddballs in the European parliament; if that doesn't embarrass him, what will?

Heffer then is wrong. Cameron and his party will be Conservatives, but then we've had much the same under Brown and Blair. Cameron and co will just turn everything up a notch. It probably won't please the hardline Tory faithful, but they'll get used to it, just as Labour supporters hoping for a turn left did. The challenge will be for the left to create a truly alternative vision, which does offer a difference, something which for now is nowhere in sight, even as the best opportunity ever to make the case for it has appeared and also now seemingly, disappeared just as quickly.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007 

About as new as Thatcherism.

Isn't it wonderful, after weeks of next to no political news, to finally get right back into the thick of things, the start of a new season, and all that goes with it?

Well, err, no. Mainly because this feels partially like a phony election war, and also because it all seems so familiar. Today's Times poll showing that Labour's lead has been pegged back to a single point almost certainly rules out any slight inclination Brown had of going to the polls this year, but it sure hasn't stopped both the parties from bringing out all their "new" policies and fighting like ferrets in a sack. Take Cameron's letter to Brown, asking him to reconsider the possibility of a debate between the three leaders, an empty piece of spin if ever there was one, an attempt of sorts to try to flush out his plans over an early election, when he knows full well that whatever Brown's response is that they'll use it against him.

Not that Brown himself exactly acquitted himself any better yesterday in his gambit on a "new politics" and gaining a political consensus. If the idea of citzens' juries gives you deja vu, it's probably because they've almost been around as long as Brown's designs on 10 Downing Street were. Call it a sexed up Big Conversation, the last laughable attempt at consulting the public, only this time it's under Comrade Brown's new spirit of togetherness and end to sniping. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that the first of these juries' is going to be on children and violent imagery, one of those emotive topics which for decades has been a battleground between the "moral majority" and those of us who don't like being told what we can and can't watch in order to protect the kids. Similar events on crime and how neighbourhoods respond to it, as well on the NHS will probably be better and more informed debates, but whether they'll actually achieve anything or lead to any direct policy changes is doubtful.

At least he can be glad he's having a much easier time of it still than Cameron. Quite why Michael Ancram chose today to launch his own personal vision of what it is to be a Conservative and what the Tories should be doing isn't clear, but it does little other than prompt comment on how the noisy right-wing of the party is still deeply uncomfortable with Cameron's leadership. Flicking through Ancram's 30 page mini-manifesto (PDF), a piece of self-aggrandisment infected with narcissism if there ever was one (says a blogger) it's actually surprising how much of it isn't really that bad; sure, there's plenty of blanket denunciations of "the Left" and how we've ruined everything that Conservatives hold dear, but his sections on freedom (apart from the regulation one) only empathise just how far New Labour has moved from the traditional Tory view of civil liberties, a move followed by Cameron. All of the rights he mentions, apart from privacy, are protected under the ECHR and the HRA, both of which Cameron wants to rip up. Ancram naturally doesn't mention the HRA, but perhaps he ought to have a word with Cameron about the idiocy of his proposal for a "British" bill of rights. He's inevitably wrong on immigration, the monarchy and he lets the cat out of the bag on a referendum on the EU treaty: the first step towards leaving the union altogether. Over time, I've moved onto agreeing with Keith Vaz's view: let's have a referendum, not just on the treaty, but on staying a member altogether, as that's what nearly all those who want a no vote actually want.

Out of all of Cameron's policy review groups, the latest to report, the Public Services Improvement Policy Group comes across as the most dunderheaded of the lot. Just as everyone has realised that we're facing a crisis in council housing stock, thanks directly to how they haven't been replaced after being sold off, the Tories are proposing to make it even easier to buy, giving state aid out to those who wouldn't otherwise afford it. It might earn a few more votes, but completely ignores the bigger picture; typically of the stupid party, some might say. On education, as well as holding back those who fail to reach the expected key stage level 4 at 11, which they clearly haven't thought through, as it would hugely increase class sizes just as they say they want smaller schools, not to mention stigmatise and embitter those who'll be labelled failures and be separated from their friends, they also want to abolish AS levels, which actually help lighten the exam burden at 18, as well as let those not sure what they want to study post-16 drop a subject they don't particularly like half-way through. The alternative to holding children back is obvious: more remedial classes, and additional help outside of school, not make them do it all over again. The group does at least suggest consulting on raising the age at which you can buy cigarettes from 16, a measure taken by Labour without even the slightest hint of any debate. If we're going to start raising age limits, we ought to at least have an equilibrium on them: you can consent to sex at 16, but not drink alcohol, vote, access pornography and shortly you won't be able to smoke. It all makes perfect sense.

The so-called "new politics" then. The more things seem to change, the more they stay the same.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007 

Tales made of Straw.

Lucrative contracts worth up to £500m each have been put out to tender today for the government's controversial identity card scheme.

Five firms will be chosen to supply computer equipment and manage the application and issuing of ID cards.

So much then for those highly optimistic planted stories about how Brown and Straw were going to at the very least implement a review of the hated scheme.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007 

It can't last, can it?

Is it really possible that it's only a week since Blair finally walked? After blighting the political scene of this country for over 10 years, it's remarkable how the mood does seem to have lifted somewhat, in spite of the laughable attacks at the weekend.

It's partly those very attempts at murder that underlined just how politics had worked in this country for so long. We expected an instant reaction; we didn't get one. The Scum has been howling; it's been ignored. Rather than briefings to the press, statements have been delivered to the Commons. We perhaps ought to be savouring it: it may well not last long.

Nothing could have more exemplified this than Brown's long expected and rumoured about, but not leaked, green paper on constitutional reform. It doesn't go far enough, it's true, and some of the measures announced are pure window dressing, as it's unlikely the public really cares that much about whether the prime minister personally appoints the poet laureate or not for instance, but after 10 years of increasing centralisation in which a prime minister felt little but contempt for parliament and acted more like a president than any leader this country has ever had in the democratic age, it's not just refreshing, it's invigorating.

A truly radical prime minister would have gone far further. There is for instance, no mention of electoral reform apart from setting up how we reached the current constitutional settlement we have. The House of Lords would be abolished, and full democratic elections to a new chamber would be enshrined. A fully independent figure would be appointed to decide on all prosecution cases, including on the dropping of investigations into companies such as BAE. The security services would have a watchdog similar to the IPCC set-up, rather than simply beefing up the parliamentary committees which monitor them. Scottish MPs would not be allowed to vote on matters purely affecting England and elsewhere where the policy decision has been devolved to the Scottish parliament, and vice versa. The ban on demonstrations outside parliament without permission would be lifted immediately, not after consultation. The monarchy should be abolished. Other suggestions are made by Stumbling and Mumbling and David Marquand in the New Statesman.

We should however enjoy the moment of a government doing something that it might greatly regret later on. Even for cynical bastards like me, this last week has been far more promising than I bet some of us could ever have thought.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007 

Cabinet resnore.

Around the only real surprise appointment in Brown's new cabinet was Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary, which resulted in both the nation and hacks asking "who she"?

In line with the last three home secretaries, Smith is both a bruiser and a Blairite, coming from her previous job as chief whip, itself previously occupied by that other aggravating Blairite, Hilary Armstrong. Her only real interaction with the public at large has been on Question Time, where she proved herself just as bad as her predecessor and fellow minister Hazel Blears at actually answering questions, instead of just spouting New Labour rhetoric. Her last appearance was noted for her egregious support of the Iraq war, using both the worthless if we hadn't acted Saddam would still be in power argument, followed up by the chestnut about everyone believing that Iraq had WMD, despite Robin Cook for one mentioning in his resignation speech that he didn't believe Iraq had WMD which was actually usable, as well as others such as Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector who said that Iraq had been effectively disarmed. Doubtless she'll be expected to follow the hard line set out by Blunkett, Clarke and Reid, appeasing the Sun first and thinking about the consequences second, although with the creation of the Ministry of Justice, handed over to Jack Straw, she'll have a lot less to do than they did.

Speaking of Jack Straw, a former Blair ally who saw the way the wind was blowing and swiftly ingratiated himself with Brown, his appointment is despite his blatant lies over what he and the government knew about extraordinary rendition, denying that the government had been involved in the programme whatsoever, something subsequently proven by the EU report into rendition as completely untrue.

Keeping with liars and links with extraordinary rendition, Geoff Hoon has been made chief whip, despite his execrable performance both at the Hutton inquiry, which proved that while he was defence minister the MoD left David Kelly out to dry, contributing to his subsequent taking of his own life, and when he gave evidence to the EU investigation into rendition, which subsequently described him as distinctly unhelpful and evasive. More recently he gave an interview to the Grauniad which was notable only for its ignorance and belated conclusion that he and the rest of the government ministers had no influence over US policy on Iraq whatsoever. It only took them 4 years to admit it.

The Tory turncoat Shaun Woodward has been made Northern Ireland secretary, which should be a nice reward for 6 years of complete loyalty to the Blair regime. Hazel Blears, quite possibly the worst politician to ever hold a government post of any sort, despite her well-deserved drubbing in the Labour deputy leadership election, moves from party chair to communities and local government secretary, which must have mayors and councillors across the country groaning/reaching for the cyanide pills. Everyone's favourite member of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly, moves from that job to transport secretary, where her religious beliefs shouldn't interfere too much, at least compared to when she was disgracefully given the equality brief.

For some reason known only to Brown, Tessa "I've never met my husband" Jowell, despite being removed from the culture secretary job, keeps her role in cocking up and increasing the cost of the Olympics, where she'll hopefully be more inquisitive about the figures involved than she was with the paying off and taking out of mortgages on her home.

About the only really welcome addition was John Denham's return from the wilderness after he resigned over Iraq, no doubt frozen out by Blair for daring to disagree with him in such a manner. He becomes secretary of state for the new department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, when he would have been much better suited to be either home secretary or justice minister, considering his well-respected chairing of the home affairs committee. As expected, Brown promoted the most obsequious hangers-on/friends of his, Ed Miliband the new Duchy of Lancaster, Nick Brown becoming deputy chief whip and minister for the north, Ed Balls to schools, Douglas Alexander taking over from Hilary Benn at international development, with Alastair Darling the new chancellor, while Des Browne stays defence secretary.

Despite the spin about Brown's government being one of all talents, so far only that wonderfully successful businessman "Sir" Alan Sugar has been appointed as "business adviser", which the Scum has already capitalised on with its quite brilliant witty take on the cabinet appointments, with Brown saying "you're hired!". I wonder how long it took them to think that one up?

Like yesterday, the whole thing was a predictable let down, which has left the BBC sexing it up by screaming "biggest cabinet change since second world war!" and "surprise changes!". Some of the Blairite deadwood might have been removed, but some has inexplicably escaped the chop, probably only not to cause immediate ructions between the warring factions.

As for that invisible member of the cabinet, the Sun has already told Brown what his immediate priority should be. Schools? The NHS? Pensions? Iraq? Immigration? Housing? Err, no.

In the first days of his Premiership, Gordon Brown must decide how to deal with the controversial treaty.

How so?

And if the new Prime Minister means what he says, he will trust the British people he so admires.

In a referendum on Britain’s future role in Europe.

Ah yes, with the people reliably informed by the nation's favourite and most truthful newspaper. Heel, Gordon!

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