Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Shiny Dave and the Lightweight's Cant.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Shiny Dave has made his bid for the big job. And I'm not so young nor so caught up in my own factional worldview that I didn't make the time to really listen to what he had to say. I tell you what, Mr Greasy has some decent speechwriters on board. He can say almost nothing and make it sound really quite exciting.

Almost nothing, but not quite nothing. Limiting parliamentary terms to four years and introducing open primaries for candidate selection: good ideas. Not new ideas, and not Tory ideas, as many Labour and Lib Dem bloggers have been quick to point out – but then, real opportunities for constitutional reform are like bloody buses. You wait for them for god knows how long until eventually the whole notion of a bus seems like a stupid idea anyway and you start wondering if it might have been quicker to walk. The stop is getting crowded. People are muttering that the whole notion of buses is idealistic and unworkable. You consider ordering a taxi for just you and your mates and putting it on expenses. But then the bus arrives, and it comes without warning, and all that matters is that you're at the front of the queue with your ticket ready.

Shiny Dave has his ticket ready.

He's not considering real, widespread reform, however. He won't touch the Lords; he won't introduce proportional representation; most worrying of all, I distinctly heard him mention reducing the number of MPs, which redistributes power to glossy nobody and which gives whichever party happens to be in government, ahem, the power to totally redraw the poitical map of Britain according to their tastes.

I have listened to Shiny Dave, and I don't trust him to run a hotdog stand, let alone my country. In fact, screw it, I don't trust him with that puppy. He's a middle manager in sales, is what he is. Just look at his hair. He should be running a regional branch of a stationary company in the Midlands. He's a hand-shaker. A lightweight. A smiler, and not even a clever smiler. But today I have accepted that this man is probably going to be Prime Minister, and there's nothing I can do about it.

The last time I got this feeling, during the 2008 mayoral elections, a strange thing happened. I'm a recovered anorexic, and I haven't skipped a meal since 2006. Think of it like a teetotaler sipping lemonade in the pub and you're in the right ballpark. But when I walked out of my lecture that day and saw that Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson was going to be running my city, I got the most terrific urge to run to the nearest loo and throw up my lunch. The world was spinning beyond my control; I was powerless; I wanted to exert my self-determination in the first and best way I learned how.

I didn't, of course. I took myself home and made tea, a sandwich and a cigarette and made myself eat, drink, smoke and chill the hell out in that order. I allowed myself one evening in which to be pissed off, scream at the television and get munted with my hippy friends whilst planning radical comic strips.

And then I got up the next day and decided to get on with things. Since then I've attended assembly meetings and protests, helped plan occupations of public buildings, been involved in organising women's networks and had the London Underground symbol of the tube station nearest my birthplace - Angel - tattoed into the nape of my neck. I love this city and I will not see it turned over to the right, or for that matter to apathetic media squallbabies with the BNP breathing down their necks.

There's hope. I look at the game unfolding in Westminster and I see the left being outmaneuvred at every turn. Liberal energies are mounting, have been mounting before and since the Convention on Modern Liberty – but we are disparate, bickering among ourselves, in retreat. I firmly believe that the last thing the British left needs at this point is a Labour victory.

I've spent all day interviewing very sick people who've been screwed out of the measly amount of benefits they were living on by Wee Jimmy Purnell, he of the twice-as-much-as-annual-incapacity-benefit-spent-on-TAXIS-ALONE-in 2008. I won't say that I can't imagine things being any worse under a Tory government, because I don't trust them and because I've got a great imagination, I used to win prizes in school and everything. But I just don't think the current Labour party is fit for purpose any more - it's serving neither the principles of its members nor the people of this country. We have been screwed in both directions, and it's time to slink off and lick our wounds.

I want to see a decent egalitarian socialist like John Cruddas in charge of the Labour party in opposition, I want to see them reconnecting with their roots whilst the Tories make the pig's ear of bringing us out of the recession that they're going to. And they're going to: Shiny Dave can be as right-on has he likes about 'the man and woman in the street' (whilst doing dodgy deals on abortion rights behind closed doors), but the fact is that those people are in the street because they've lost their homes, and winter's coming on. Whilst we're ladling up the soup ,I want people of the left and every Blairite in Whitehall to remember what the point of a Labour party used to be: to empower ordinary women and men to live decent, free and honourable lives.

The Labour party in government is not the British left; it never was, and this is not the end for liberal values and egalitarian ideals in this country. We'll take a little while to work off some justified disappointment, we'll have some catfights and drink some (much cheaper) booze, and then we'll pick up again and carry on as we have been since it all went down the porcelain man in 2003: challenging, holding them to account, organising underneath their shiny brogues and dreaming up big ideas for the just society we want to live in. With one difference. Now we won't have to waste our time apologising for the behaviour of ministers who do not represent our interests. Now we can get back not to first principles - those are by definition yesterday's politics - but to new principles. I believe that a Labour defeat can signal a new beginning for the British left, and one thing's for sure: we definitely won't run out of work to do anytime soon.


  1. Cameron has nothing but good PR people.

    The rest is all horrendously bad, including the 50%-Etonian Shadow Cabinet.

    And I rather worry about the country once we head back to a 1950s-style Tories Know Best government, in which it is not just 'the wealthy' that have a say, as it is now, but where 'only the wealthy who went to the right school' have any chance.

  2. Penny you are hilariously idealistic sometimes. It's going to take Labour a very long time to recover and try and convince people that they can run the economy again. Maybe a generation.

    But I wouldn't worry too much. Once the Lisbon Treaty is signed there will be plenty of pink champagne for everyone.

  3. The people at the top of the Labour Party rose there under the patronage of Blair and Brown. It might take fifteen or twenty years for the party to cleanse itself of such scoundrels if it survives at all. Perhaps, post general election, Labour will split into two factions; this happened to several left of centre parties on the continent. If the unions support the best side against whatever faction the dreadful Blears, Purnell, Hutton and all of the other Blairites ally themselves there may be some hope. But under Brown the music stopped. How could any of us have guessed he would have proved to be so inept, cowardly and awful?

  4. I love the idea of a London Underground tattoo. That's awesome.

  5. And what's wrong with the Midlands, missie? ;-)

    A 50% Etonian cabinet. Argh. Rage! That's just blatant, isn't it?

  6. The Midlands are not a place. The Midlands are a state of mind.

    (no Goggles dear, I have no clue what I'm talking about, and I'm sorry if I offended - I was going for the David Brent comparison:) )

  7. If I had a vote, I`d vote for the conservatives.

    I don`t trust them any more than labour, but at least they`re vaguely sane.

    Boris Johnson is the man who convinced me to stop vaguely supporting liberal democracts/ greens - i saw him in a debate on question time about smacking children where he said "you have to go with the grain of human nature."
    Damned right.
    Good guy.

  8. @Mark: The 'grain of human nature' says that we should all be killing and stealing from each other, given that we are, like anything else, just another species of animal. The grain of human nature, as we can see throughout human history, is exactly the opposite of what we SHOULD be doing, given that is has been causing wars, thievery, poverty, and so on.

    Besides, that's the opposite of what Boris believes anyway, in a sense. He certainly doesn't want anyone who didn't go to the right school to have any sort of say or power. All he's in it for is to return the country to the days when everything was about aristocracy. As opposed to the current times, where all the 'riff-raff' got in during Thatcher's years by allowing people from the wrong families to become rich.

    I'm not helping myself not worry, am I?

  9. "I firmly believe that the last thing the British left at this point is a Labour victory"

    Well, I suppose that depends on who the British left is. Those 'Hard-working families' who'll be at the sharp end of Mr Cameron's slashing of public sector budgets do need a Labour victory.

    They won't get one. You're either being unfair to Cameron or glossing over the more political relevant bits of what he's currently up to.

    Either way, he's doing a very good job as leader of the opposition. The last thing someone in his position should be doing is over-burdending himself with specific commitments and expectations.

    He's identifying with the public mood without becoming a complete hostage to it. I think if the Tories had run in 2005 on 'we're not as nasty as we used to be and we really need an inquiry into the Iraq war' we might have ended up with a hung parliament. Expenses anger and 'the parliamentary system' is the cross-cutting issue for the current time.

    Johnson's good at what he does, too. Presentation wise he's played a blinder in his first year in office. Play up the cuddly personality, make clear that he (like most people) isn't really interested in talking to committees full of politicians), chuck some crumbs to left on the Living wage etc. Despite having loads of people resigning, he hasn't got anything big wrong.

    Not sure what the left's response to either Cameron or Johnson is going to be. Cruddas won't be leader. He won't even run.

  10. Labour are dead in the water - not that you can tell after the stench left behind from all the troughers of whatever political flavour.
    What I do know is that if by some miracle Labour do get in - which will make the parting of the Red Sea look like a party trick - then you might as well kiss goodbye to this country's creditworthiness and any hint of widespread prosperity and hello to a European banana republic.
    The alternative?
    The Tories will ensure 10 years of real pain, but that may be slightly unfair as *anyone* who gets in will have to slash public spending ruthlessly.
    (Anyone who thinks a Labour victory will mean that we can go on spending vast sums on education, welfare, health, etc is living in clod cuckoo land, on some seriously nasty drugs or has only one brain cell to rub together)
    So, who?
    None of the existing parties will save this counbtry from at least 10 years of high taxes - on *everybody* who works, so don't whinge about the rich getting the tax breaks under Call Me Dave, and drastic cuts in public spnding.
    My best guess is that it will take at least 20 years for a radical alternative to emerge and I'm hoping it'll be something Libertarian.
    Socialism is D E A D.
    Capitalism as it exists doesn't work.
    Time for a radical change.
    But not quite yet...

  11. "Just look at his hair"

    You sound just like my parents when they first saw Mick Jagger.

    Really, what the blistering FUCK has anyone's appearance got to do with their thoughts, opinions, politics, etc, etc?

    I mean, Lenin was such a well-coiffured dude, wasn't he?

    Ooh... and Che's highlights were just so shiny!

    Grow up FFS.

  12. My Tory MP spent £1400 of taxpayers' money on his swimming pool.
    Won't meet the constituents to 'explain' why. Once upon a time the Toffs had guts if nothing else. Now they don't even have that simple quality.
    My own preference is BNP. Even if they are jackbooted paedophiles they've got to be an improvement...

  13. Laurie I commented on this on Labour List today. Much as I wasn't keen on your article I thought the rubbishing some of the gits who comment on there gave you was undeserved. Don't let them get to you - there's nothing wrong with being young and idealistic - beats the hell out of being old and bitter anyway.

    Your "R word" blog was excellent BTW. Must have been very hard to write.

  14. @Captain Fun
    There's nothing wrong with being young and idealistic - I sure was - as long as you put forward cogent and reasoned arguments.
    After all, if you're going to put yourself up on something as big as LL then you have to be prepared to get knocked down.
    Go in 'there' expecting allowances to be made and you're toast - I imagine Penny's feeling a tad crusty by now...
    I'm not a Tory, but I had to agree with many of the sentiments on LL from them regarding the lack of coherence in this post.
    If you can't stand the heat...

  15. Serenissima - Actually Dave is his own PR man (and soon to be PM); that was of course his background (and advertising at Grenada in the late eighties/early nineties...who'd have guessed.


    The was an excellent piece by Hari in the Indie on Dave and all things next government - including the misplaced notion that they are any closer to knowing what to do about the economy. Even Heffer in the Torygraph calls Dave and all imbeciles (or words to said effect) concerning such matters. Still, don't worry everyone, no matter how difficult or painful it will be they will manage, somehow ('bless them..') to make the rich richer, lay waste to health and ed. and leave public infrastructure in a dilapidated mess.

    However, the blame for the latter all becoming possible has to lie at the feet of a certain party in red. By accepting the Thatcherite dogma combined with an extremely small-minded notion of human behaviour connected to the incentivising of choice-preferences they managed not only to accelerate the process of privatisation but also managed (through things like the mis-management of pfi's and the outlandish benefits given to private enterprise, over-inflated public sector pay for management staff, and an ever-changing raft of policies particular in schools) to run up more debt in comparison to national income than in the 1970s.

    If I were to praddle a dime of a suggestion to the - capitalism's drowning socialism's dead line I'd suggest that people need to re-orientate their mindsets with respect to both. Capitalism is *not* corporatism; capitalism is by no means a bad idea - in fact anyone with a knowledge of pre-capitalist economies would realise the benefits it can bring (albeit with a raft of moral questions along the way of course). However, capitalism *needs* regulation and a state to allow it to work effectively. Anyone who thinks that Tesco, Walmart, Exxon and others are Smith's 'natural liberty' in economic affairs are utterly misguided. Hence - there should be a raft of regulatory policies in the private sector, such as limiting company sizes to ensure proper competition and other things; the further upshot being of course that capitalism can theoretically then produce certain codes - such as a good service, honesty etc. since you have alternatives competing with another. To misunderstand this - see Reagan on anti-trust leg - merely leads to the bloated corporate failures we've just seen.

    On the other hand surely soi-disant 'socialism' can work as a public sector organisation in a selected few areas: the principle 'each according to his ability to each according to his means' is the basic principle of the NHS. Likewise it can work in education, trains perhaps, and the post office - particularly if you scale back management pay systems and don't constantly implement ever-changing incentive driven schemes within certain structures.

  16. @SteveShark: Libertarianism would probably be one of the worst things, politically, to happen to this country or anywhere, quite frankly.

  17. Speak for yourself Serenissima.

    Some of us are quite looking forward to the conga lines of buggery and non-stop opium induced hazes.

  18. @directionlessbones: Maybe she has the complete set of Underground Stations tattood so she can be the board for a game of Mornington Crescent.

    Wonder where the Shepherd's Bush tattoo is...

  19. @SteveShark

    I'm certainly not suggesting Labour wouldn't cut spending if they got back in but the nature of a party's support base has a major impact on the kind of cuts they make and the taxes they raise in order to sort out the finances.

    The Tories are more likely to raise regressive taxes and they're more likely to cut public services that are vitally important to the least powerful people in society.

    The issue's not capitalism or socialism. We have capitalism, the question is which version of the limping liberal state we get for the next four or five years.

    The difference between Labour and the Tories won't be massive but it will be a massive enough for millions of people.

  20. @David Floyd.

    I don't see how either of the two parties could avoid cutting public spending in the areas of education, health care and welfare.

    Labour have ceased to listen to anyone daring to suggest cuts to its IT programs, Trident and so-called security measures, including ID cards, which is where I'd suggest that substantial cuts could be made without affecting public services.

    Unfortunately, with the excpetion of ID cards, it's hard to ascertain what the Tories might cut - apart from public services.

    But - make no mistake - public services will have to be cut.

    A good start - IMO - would be in child allowance. I see no valid argument for a non-means tested benefit that goes to Julie Kirkbride as well as the poorest mother you can find.

    Of course, setting a cut off point is the tricky bit, but unless we start to be a little 'creative' with public spending cuts then we're going to be reducing standards across the board.

    Another good place to cut would be admin costs and devolve power back to medical, education and welfare staff.

    I'd also suggest cutting government funding to 'fake charities' and virtually every quango out there.

    It would also be worth looking at various 'green' initiatives and asking ourselves a very simple question - is their cost worth any benefits they may bring - as such benefits aren't guaranteed.

    Unfortunately, whatever anyone comes up with, a cut in basic public services in inevitable - Labour has got us too badly into debt for it to be any other way.

    Tough decisions will have to be made and the so-called 'rich' can only be taxed so much - they don't have enough to pay our way out of debt.

    My advice would be to invest in banana futures as soon as possible.

  21. James Purnell currently enjoys a majority in his constituency of 8,348. In less than twelve months it'll be Telejamie go bye bye.


  22. "Just look at his hair. He should be running a regional branch of a stationary company in the Midlands."

    I think Cameron's a snake-oil salesman, Tony Blair Mk 2, but what's his hair got to do with it ? Snobbery is considered pretty bad form in the Tory party, but it's apparently alive and well on the "left".

  23. And shouldn't that be 'stationery' ? Or is his company standing still ?

  24. What if you'd been born near Sudbury Town tube?

  25. "I want to see a decent egalitarian socialist like John Cruddas in charge of the Labour party in opposition,"

    Voted in favour of six weeks for nothing. Try the other John.


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