Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Ye Gods, part 2

I'm not sure if the sound I'm hearing is the death rattle of the Labour Party, or the sound of the bottom of the barrel being scraped. Because that must have been where the Miliband brothers were dredged up from.

A newspaper asked the five candidates to identify a book they might recommend to a friend:
Yesterday, all five of the Labour candidates were asked, in a newspaper questionnaire, what book they would recommend to a friend “for pure pleasure”. Ed Balls, to his credit, said Middlemarch. Andy Burnham nominated Tony Harrison’s collected poems. Diane Abbott drew attention to Robert A Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. All solid, individual, believable choices.

On the other hand, Ed Miliband tied himself in knots trying not to sound superior. “Anything by Henning Mankell – and get it on DVD with Kenneth Branagh (but maybe not the one in Swedish, since this is about pleasure...)” You see, if books are too hard for you after 13 years of Labour-directed education, just get the DVD, it’s exactly the same – and don’t get one with subtitles, ’cos that’s too hard too. His brother David, however, managed the difficult feat of sounding even more patronising. He nominated The Gruffalo, a work of literature intended for readers between three and five-years-old. “All you need to know to get by in life,” Mr Miliband opined.

Has it really come to this? For some years now, adult readers have become less inhibited about including juvenile works in their reading matter. When adults first started to be seen on the Tube reading the Harry Potter novels, it seemed worthy of comment. Now, we are all used to it. All the same, there are limits. If you saw an adult reading The Gruffalo in a public place, the normal reaction would surely be to edge away nervously.

Not all politicians are as enthusiastic readers as Nick Clegg, with his admirably honest keenness for Beckett, or Macmillan with his passion for Jane Austen. Mrs Thatcher once let it be known that she would be “re-reading” Frederick Forsyth on holiday. But has anyone in David Miliband’s position ever been so terrified of intimidating the public that the first book they recommend as reading for pleasure is a book written for three to five-year-olds? (1)
The Gruffalo, of course, is a children's story in which a cunning mouse frightens off a variety of predators. And now we can look forward to being 'led' by an idiot who thinks nominating The Gruffalo as a serious reading choice is likely to make himself more appealing. If you distilled the essence of Tony Blair into its purest form, you couldn't get a worse answer than that. It's a wretched answer, a clumsy attempt to appear likable and down to earth.

Perhaps David Miliband has, unintentionally, given us the metaphor for this campaign, for the candidates all share a rodent quality. I have still seen nothing from the other candidates that challenges my growing - but reluctant - conviction that Ed Balls is the best on offer. Note, 'best,' not 'good.' Surrounded by mice, the rat is king.

But my disgust at the arrogance of the parliamentary Labour Party is even stronger. Their incompetence, scheming and unspeakable uselessness, supine Blairite tendencies and feeble egotistical careerism brought us to this mess - in opposition, looking like the nasty, authoritarian party that no-one in their right mind would vote for.

The Labour Party, traditionally, has been staffed by working men who took advantage of the opportunities available to them, worked and learned hard, often at their own volition, and rose through their effort. Men like Keir Hardie, Ernst Bevin and Nye Bevan - none of whom enjoyed a formal education - would have dismissed Miliband's pat, patronizing answer with the scathing contempt it deserves.
1 - "Miliband’s choice reads like a fairy-tale," by Philip Hencher. Published in the Guardian, 28th of June, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/philip-hensher/philip-hensher-milibandrsquos-choice-reads-like-a-fairytale-2012090.html)

Funny how ...

... quickly the painless cutting of flabby state spending that the Tories were promising turned into a frenzied assault on the poor and vulnerable with a chainsaw.

1.3 million jobs are expected to go over 5 years as a result of George Osborne's 'emergency' budget cuts, according to forecasts the Chancellor somehow forgot to include in his budget. Osborne HOPES that the private sector will expand at a faster rate, and more than compensate for the public sector losses - but business confidence seems to be on the way down. And if people are too scared to invest, where are these jobs going to come from?

Oh, and if you're still lucky enough to have a job, you'll find your wages don't rise as there is suddenly a reserve army of labour waiting to fill it for you ... and, meanwhile, VAT driven inflation increases diminish your wages in real terms:
Unpublished estimates of the impact of the biggest squeeze on public spending since the second world war show that the government is expecting between 500,000 and 600,000 jobs to go in the public sector and between 600,000 and 700,000 to disappear in the private sector by 2015.

The chancellor gave no hint last week about the likely effect of his emergency measures on the labour market, although he would have had access to the forecasts traditionally prepared for ministers and senior civil servants in the days leading up to a budget or pre-budget report.

A slide from the final version of a presentation for last week's budget, seen by the Guardian, says: "100-120,000 public sector jobs and 120-140,000 private sector jobs assumed to be lost per annum for five years through cuts."

The job losses in the public sector will result from the 25% inflation-adjusted reduction in Whitehall spending over the next five years, while the private sector will be affected both through the loss of government contracts and from the knock-on impact of lower public spending.

The Treasury is assuming that growth in the private sector will create 2.5m jobs in the next five years to compensate for the spending squeeze. Osborne said in last week's speech that tackling Britain's record peacetime budget deficit would help keep interest rates low and boost job creation. "Some have suggested that there is a choice between dealing with our debts and going for growth. That is a false choice." However, investors are increasingly nervous about the lack of growth in the world economy. The FTSE 100 fell more than 3% yesterday as fresh jitters hit confidence. (1)
It's much more likely that 1.3 million jobs will go than 2.5 million new jobs will be created. The 1.3 million will go regardless, because Osborne has cut the funding for them. The 2.5 million might appear if the economy starts to grow strongly and there is lots of investment. Which won't happen if the economy slips back into recession - which is still likely, and possibly more likely because of the punitive spending cuts, increase in the number of jobless and the reckless effort to reduce debt and deficit.

Welcome to Cameron's Collapsed eConomy. Not as snappy as Brown's Broken Britain, but that's what you get in this ConDemNation - second best and shoddy.
1 - "Budget will cost 1.3m jobs - Treasury," by Larry Elliot. Published in The Guardian, 29th of June, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jun/29/budget-job-losses-unemployment-austerity)

Friday, 25 June 2010

Out, but not down

Marc Paston is a hero for the ages.

Italy will henceforth be known as "Finished Behind New Zealand."

New Zealand will also be re-branded, and henceforth known as "Finished Ahead Of Italy."

In centuries to come, there will be intense cartographical confusion about where 'New Zealand' and 'Italy' actually were, as the new names refer to places that no longer exist ... leading to scholarly dispute, the citing of ancient maps and the occasional fist fight.

With the All Whites out of the cup, I'm backing Slovakia all the way. I like their entirely random style: initially, indifferent against us; then, useless against Paraguay; finally, lethal against Italy. Such inconsistency appeals to me as a Scot - though Scotland only range from indifferent and useless.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Tories: tough on wine

Almost £18,000 has been spent topping up the Government wine cellar since the General Election, it has emerged - leading to calls today that the entire collection should be sold off to raise money.

Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham revealed that Government Hospitality, which manages the cellar, had spent £17,698 on new stock since May 6 - bringing the total value to £864,000 - though he insisted the standard practice of buying wines young saved money for the taxpayer.

But with public sector pay and pensions set to be squeezed in Tuesday's Budget as ministers seek further cuts to deal with the £155 billion deficit, Labour former Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson called on the coalition to sell off its fine wines to prove "we're all in this together". (1)
Do they really need almost a million quids worth of plonk? Is Douglas Hogg planning on filling his moat with it, or does George Osborne want his own personal wine lake to go boating on?

Astonishing that these smug arses will spunk money on bloody grape juice while canceling free school meals and swimming lessons. Arrogant two-faced scum.

The Tories seem happy to impose austerity on the rest of us while quaffing all this fermented grape juice. If they weren't cutting free swimming lessons, free school meals, programs to get people off the dole, industry stimulus packages, hiking up VAT, then maybe it wouldn't stink so ripely.

But they're buying themselves enough wine to float HMS Victory in, cutting business taxes, limiting Capital Gains Tax because having it at the same rate as other income is taxed would be somehow unfair, and generally behaving like you'd expect Tories to behave.

For a Conservative administration that was elected on a lot of hysterical squealing about uncontrolled spending and debt crisis, it's just vomitous hypocrisy. We'll have the wine, at your expense, but you paupers can't get so much as a plate of cold chips in the school canteen.

I don't actually have a problem with them spending a bit of money on decent wine per se, but I do have a problem with the people that were howling about debt mountains and deficits, and how Britain was going the same way as Greece and public spending had to be cut NOW.

Still, at least there will be something nice in the trough for them to snout up.
1 - "Government spends £18,000 topping up wine cellar," by Craig Woodhouse. Originally published by the Press Association, reprosuced in The Independent, 19th of June, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/government-spends-pound18000-topping-up-wine-cellar-2005067.html)

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Ed is Dead

... Is the title of a great Pixies song, and pretty much sums up my feelings towards Ed Miliband's leadership campaign.

Miliband dodged my question on proportional representation - which was voiced by others as well. I wasn't surprised, but you live in hope.

It was a very bland performance (1). Ed Miliband believes in 'values' - which is nice - and even mentioned what some of these values are - "equality including narrowing the gap between rich and poor, fairness where everybody is looked after and people who make a contribution to our society are properly rewarded, the dignity of work where if you work, you don't find yourself in poverty and also values beyond work: love, time, compassion, a sustainable planet," but it all seems so bland. No-one would say they were against any of these things, they are so vanilla, and so vaguely defined. Narrowing the gap between rich and poor, for example - by raising taxes, increasing the minimum wage, credits or what?

And another thing, while avoiding questions on important stuff like Iraq and PR, and so on, he managed to answer the same question - basically, "You've never had a proper job, what qualifies you to be leader?" - several times over. Which either means he thinks he's got a lot to justify, or he's dodging hard questions in favour of personal stuff. Neither of which really inspires, or makes me 'aspire' (see? I was listening!) to vote for him ...

Asked about the qualities a good leader needed, he identified, "empathy, toughness, idealism, ability to listen, judgement."

Well, he showed his ability to selectively listen to the questions and exercised judgment in skipping the ones he didn't like ... I suppose he was tough enough to ignore people who were so rude as to keep asking them, though I'm struggling to fit 'empathy' into his performance, since he didn't seem to care much for what we, the people were asking him about.

The only reply I liked was the made in reply to a question about his father, a noted Marxist intellectual. the suggestion in the question was that he had betrayed his father's ideals. I detected genuine anger there, instead of the soporific rote responses to other questions. Let the rage out a bit more, Ed, and you might be in with a chance of distinguishing yourself from the Bland that has colonized the upper echelons of the party. You might make the odd mistake or say something silly if you do, but it will be better for you - and your campaign - over all.

Have to say, this whole exercise is a bit facile and pointless. Letting the candidates pick and choose the questions to answer is dopey. We're seeing nothing but blandspeak, though I suppose the medium might be the message in this case. Depressing to see how little was said, and how predictable it was. I'm becoming increasingly unhappy at the lacklustre candidates we've got on offer, to the point I'd consider voting Lib Dem next time round, in the hope of getting more Tory Lite, rather than risk voting labour and letting in the Tories with a majority ...

And that, Ed, is why First Past The Post is a bad thing and you should support proportional representation.

Sorry, Ed, but just an hour ago I quite liked you. Now I'm tearing my hair and thinking "What has the Labour party done to deserve this slate of monotonous, oleaginous smarm merchants contending for the top job?"

(That said, Ed Balls was much better the day before, actually addressing questions directly, gamely listing the five biggest failures of Labour's time in office, and showing a bit of humour, promising to renege on all promises and abandon his manifesto if elected ... just like Nick Clegg (2).)

And, because that's left me feeling thoroughly unhappy, here's the Pixies singing Ed Is Dead (3):



1 - "Labour leadership candidate Ed Miliband: live webchat," unattributed article. Published 17th of June, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/16/ed-miliband-webchat?showallcomments=true#start-of-comments)
2 - ""Labour leadership candidate Ed Balls: webchat," unattributed article. Published 16th of June, 2010. " (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/15/ed-balls-webchat-labour-leadership?showallcomments=true#start-of-comments)
3 - 'Ed is Dead,' performed by The Pixies. Posted on You Tube by KoolMix32, 30th of December, 2008. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvJ8u_zsOkU)

Why proportional representation sticks in Labour's craw

I've just put the following question to Ed Miliband, Labour leader wannabe, courtesy of the Guardian's live webchat, scheduled for later on today:
I imagine you, in common with every leader in a democracy, will tell us you are in favour of 'fairness' - I can't imagine many leaders would openly state they are in favour of 'unfainess,' though what they define as fairness, of course, varies.

Why are you in favour of an unfair electoral system that: entrenches the two major parties at the expense of others; forces people to vote for parties they don't really support out of fear of getting something even more unpleasant if they don't; makes MPs less accountable to their constituents; leads to elections where the result is decided by a few swing seats and the rest, by and large, can be taken for granted (and thus ignored); and leads to decades long blocs of entrenched party power, where the minority who got lucky electorally dictate to the majority? (1)
The refusal of any of the candidates support PR disgusts me. It's seems pretty obvious they're still 'hurting' over the Lib Dem 'betrayal' - conveniently forgetting how they dumped the Jenkins report on electoral reform in 1998. After that, what right did Labour think they had to command the Lib Dems to coalesce with them?

A further reason candidates oppose committing to proportional representation is because they want the current government to put AV through, and then pronounce that elecotral reform is finished, thank you very much, and not leave any hostages to fortune. Which makes them spineless, opportunistic tossers.

Labour thinks the Lib Dem worm has turned and won't to countenance any move towards PR, because they don't want to give any more power to the Lib Dem 'traitors.' They still think they are still playing in a two party political system, when they are actually competing against the Tories and the Tory-Lite coalition, and the voters can vote for one (by voting Tory) or the other (by voting Lib Dem).

On top oof that, for some there persists the old tribal instinct that Labour has to protect its 'homeland' in the big cities, the North East of England, Wales and Scotland - the regions it has traditionally been strong in, and has traditionally taken for granted. Electoral reform might allow the odd blue Tory to sneak in amongst the red hordes, and the idea is enough to quash any reformist urges that the more naive members of the party might entertain from time to time.

Which, bluntly, means the Labour Party is happy to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of its own supporterd in 'Tory' heartlands, for fear of allowing a few blue stains to appear in the red swathes across in the north. My sense of fairness is stronger than my loyalty to the Labour party - and I mean fairness towards the disenfranchised blues and the disfranchised reds.

Blair failing to deliver on 'The Project' will come to be seen as the biggest failing of the last (hopefully not last ever) Labour government. But as long as the Labour hierarchy behave like dim bullies who think they can just squash the Lib Dems, they'll continue in opposition.

I suspect some of the younger candidates know this. I suspect, also, they've been told that if they say anything positive about PR, they're leadership campaign will be scuttled. The quality of a real leader, of course, might be to stand up to the Reids and Blunketts and tell them where to go.
1 - "Labour leadership candidate Ed Miliband: webchat," unattributed article. Published 16th of June, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/16/ed-miliband-webchat)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

You know what I thought this morning?

"Ed Balls might be the best choice."

THAT'S HOW BAD THE OTHERS ARE.

It's like some form of Stockholm Syndrome. I'm starting to love my tormentors.

Italy 1 - Paraguay 1

Italy and Paraguay fight out a low scoring draw (1). Interesting.

This might increase the All Whites chance of a totally unexpected entry to the second round, as it suggests the pool will be really tight and a bit of luck might get them there.

Or it might mean they'll get hammered to a pulp as the other three teams go all out to qualify on the 'Who gets most goals past New Zealand' rule.
1 - "Italy-Paraguay match report," by Chris Bevan. Published by the BBC, 15th of June, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/world_cup_2010/matches/match_11/default.stm).

Thursday, 10 June 2010

They say every cloud has a silver lining

Surveying the dismal choice of candidates for the Labour leadership, I've managed to find at least one positive aspect - once again the superior efficiency of socialism is demonstrated.

Think about it - Labour has gone straight from its John Major to its Iain Duncan Smith, without wasting time with the William Hague interregnum. It took Tories years to find the bottom of their leadership barrel and scrape it clean. Labour have achieved the same in a month.

Ed Miliband should win comfortably. The other figures are all too divisive, and though they'll have strong support from different factions, Ed Miliband will pick up the second choice votes, even if he isn't anyone's first choice. Which will mean another decade of scheming, squabbling and disunity as the candidates who think they should have won try to undermine him.

Ye Gods ...

The candidates who will contest for the leadership of the Labour Party (1) are ...
Diane Abbott
Ed Balls
Andy Burnham
David Miliband
Ed Miliband
Seriously, WTF? What dreadful pass have we come to? This is the best Labour can muster?

The unions and the general membership should rise up and lynch the parliamentary party for nominating such an insipid bunch. the right of the party worked furiously to keep John McDonnell off the ballot, because they knew he might - just might win enough support in the unions and the party to force the self serving parliamentary members to acknowledge him. So Diane Abbott - DIANNE ABBOTT - is, in all seriousness, being put up as a credible candidate.

How did the party of Keir Hardie, Clem Attlee, Ernest Bevin and Aneurin Bevan come to this? A choice between four rightwing careerists, all tainted by their association with the last regime - the one rejected by Labour voters a month ago - and a fool who thinks homeopathic 'remedies' should be available on the NHS.

Who will win? David Cameron, of course.
1 - "Diane Abbott makes it on to Labour leadership ballot," by Helene Mulholland. Published in The Guardian, 9th of June, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jun/09/diane-abbott-makes-it-on-to-labour-leadership-ballot)

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Labour madness

It looks like neither Dianne Abbot, nor John McDonnell will get the backing they need to contend the Labour leadership (1). They need support from 33 MPs to get on the ballot paper, but Abbot has eight nominations, and McDonnell has ten.

I don't think Abbot is a serious contender, but McDonnell is. He's got a lot of support in the trade unions and his stanch on Iraq and social issues would appeal to the general membership, but there's little support for him in the parliamentary party.

While it is a valid point that a leader needs to be be supported by the people he leads, McDonnell's woes highlight the shift in the Labour party away from its roots as a union and people's party to a parliamentary affair - the parliamentary party obviously think that they know best who should be allowed to contest the leadership.

A contest between those candidates will be one that isn't viewed as legitimate, as the membership won't be allowed to vote for candidates it wants to, but choose between the candidates the parliamentary party thinks it should be offered. So the new leader will not enjoy the support of the party as a whole, and the decline in membership and support will not stop.

McDonnell's colleagues in the parliamentary party don't seem to recognize the reason they are currently sitting on the opposition benches is, partly, attributable to the likes of Ed Balls and the Miliband brothers, who have already secured enough nominations, and Andy Burnham, who will probably get there - though as he brings nothing different to the contest, it won't be any loss if he doesn't.

It's also worth noting that the parliamentary part were hardly a model of loyalty or support to for Gordon Brown while he was prime minister, and this continual politicking and knavery contributed to the defeat. The problem, it seems, isn't so much the leader but the parliamentary party itself. it's stuffed with opportunistic careerists. McDonnell, at least, can not be accused of putting his career ahead of principles.

Asking people to choose between candidates associated with the blunders of the last government will leave party members feeling bitter and disillusioned, and with good reason. These people showed themselves to be wrong, unprincipled and unelectable. Why the fuck do we have to choose one of them to be leader, rather than someone who was actually right on key issues, isn't tainted by the last administration, and who opposed all the bad and stupid policies of the last administration?

The parliamentary party needs to stop trying to fix the election in favour of one of the failures from the last administration, and allow the membership to choose.
1 - Nominations tracker on the Labour Party website. The figures for numbers of nominations received as as of 7th of June, 2010. (http://www2.labour.org.uk/leadership-2010)

Tory madness

David Cameron has just made a speech justifying swinging austerity measures to bring public spending under control:
The prime minister made his most gloomy remarks since taking office as he declared that Britain's public finances were in a worse state than expected and were forcing the coalition government to take "momentous decisions" in the "urgent task" of cutting the deficit.

Interest payments on the debt are currently £42bn a year.

Cameron said the looming cuts would affect Britain's entire population as he laid out the importance of taking "the whole country with us" in dealing with the debt crisis.

In a speech at the Open University in Milton Keynes, he said the figure of around £70bn was drawn from calculations by the last government.

"Let me explain what it means," Cameron said this morning. "Today we spend more on debt interest than we do on running schools in England. But £70bn means spending more on debt interest than we currently do on running schools in England plus climate change plus transport. Interest payments of £70bn mean that for every single pound you pay in tax, 10 pence would be spent on interest."

Cameron stressed that the deficit would not be cut "in a way that hurts those that we most need to help". (1)
Let's forget the glib lie that cuts wouldn't hurt the most needy and vulnerable. It isn't even worth wasting time addressing such an obvious untruth.

Cameron refers to "calculations by the last government," but as far as I can see these figures haven't been published, even though he is using them to justify a massive program of cuts. As British people are the ones who are going to have to endure these cuts, it is only fair that they are shown why they are so necessary. If the government won't publish them, it suggests strongly that it is scaremongering.

Second, even an economic numptie such as I can grasp that spending needs to be maintained until the economy is robust enough to sustain cuts. this basic truth seems to have been forgotten by the Tories in their desperate need to placate the market. Paul Krugman has just published some thoughts on this theme:
... cutting stimulus would weaken the economy, it would reduce revenues — that is, a substantial part of the debt growth the IMF attributes to stimulus would have happened even without stimulus, through lower revenue. Second, for the US at least the core reason for long-run budget concern is rising health care costs — in fact, health cost control is the sine qua non of long-run solvency — which has nothing whatever to do with how much we spend on job creation now.

So how much we spend on supporting the economy in 2010 and 2011 is almost irrelevant to the fundamental budget picture. Why, then, are Very Serious People demanding immediate fiscal austerity?

The answer is, to reassure the markets — because the markets supposedly won’t believe in the willingness of governments to engage in long-run fiscal reform unless they inflict pointless pain right now. To repeat: the whole argument rests on the presumption that markets will turn on us unless we demonstrate a willingness to suffer, even though that suffering serves no purpose.

And the basis for this belief that this is what markets demand is … well, actually there’s no sign that markets are demanding any such thing. There’s Greece — but the Greek situation is very different from that of the US or the UK. And at the moment everyone except the overvalued euro-periphery nations is able to borrow at very low interest rates.

So wise policy, as defined by the G20 and like-minded others, consists of destroying economic recovery in order to satisfy hypothetical irrational demands from the markets — demands that economies suffer pointless pain to show their determination, demands that markets aren’t actually making, but which serious people, in their wisdom, believe that the markets will make one of these days. (2)
And, unlike me, Paul Krugman knows a bit about this whole economics thing.

David Cameron bumbled his way to power by seeming nice and non-ideological, but in less than a month he's using the ongoing problems of the economy as an excuse to hack bloody great chunks out of public spending - the old Thatcherite obsession.

I always thought the neo-Thatcherites would show themselves in time, I just didn't expect it to be this soon, or this cynically, or in such a dangerous way.
1 - "UK debt interest bill will rise to £70bn without action, says David Cameron," by Hélène Mulholland, Nicholas Watt and Terry Macalister. Published in The Guardian, 7th of June, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jun/07/cuts-change-british-way-of-life-david-cameron)
2 - "Madmen In Authority," by Paul Krugman. Posted on the Conscience of a Liberal, 7th of June, 2010. (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/madmen-in-authority/)

British Labour appealing to xenophobia

I don't know why, but it is a British tradition for a defeated political party to reinvent itself by appealing to xenophobia.

The Tories did this after 1997, choosing first Hague, then Duncan Smith, and then Michael Howard as leaders. Each one was more shrilly Euro-sceptic than the last, and each one more suspicious of immigrants. Howard, in 2005, went so far as to propose withdrawing from the UN convention on Refugees, legislating for the immediate removal of refugees who had destroyed documents and only accepting refugees pre-screened at UN camps outside Britain (1).

Now Ed Balls, candidate for the Labour Party leadership, is looking to grub up support by making the appeal:
As Labour seeks to rebuild trust with the British people, it is important we are honest about what we got wrong. In retrospect, Britain should not have rejected transitional controls on migration from the first wave of new EU member states in 2004, which we were legally entitled to impose. As the GMB's Paul Kenny and others have pointed out, the failure of our government to get agreement to implement the agency workers directive made matters worse.

So what is to be done? First, Britain needs to do more to boost skills, apprenticeships, innovation and jobs in every region. The next Labour leader must fight tooth and nail against Tory cuts in this area. Second, while net migration has eased because of the recession and will ease further when Germany and France remove restrictions next year, the temporary restrictions on migration from Romania and Bulgaria should be maintained – for longer than currently planned.

Third, I support the political and economic case for EU enlargement to Turkey. But wise voices in Britain's existing Turkish communities accept that Turkey's accession can only be made to work with continuing restrictions on the ability of unskilled Turkish labour to move across the EU, certainly for an extended transition period. Fourth, Europe's leaders need to revisit the Free Movement Directive, not to undermine the union, but to make it economically and politically sustainable. That means re-examining the relationship between domestic laws and European rules which allow unaccompanied migrants to send child benefit and tax credits back to families at home.

And it means debating what labour protections and restrictions on unskilled labour mobility are needed in an enlarging Europe, for the benefit of all European peoples. (2)
Balls thinks there is something to be gained by Labour becoming xenophobic in lieu of any other ideas that might appeal to voters. The Tories did the same when they were in opposition.

It's pretty sad when a party loses power and the immediate response is appeal to perceived latent xenophobia in the voters. In this case, the sub-text is, "Vote for me, I was an arrogant authoritarian bastard, but now I'm a nationalistic arrogant authoritarian bastard."

But British voters have traditionally rejected this sort of shit. Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard all went down to defeat, even as the New Labour project fell apart and the popularity of 1997 evaporated post-Iraq. 2005 would have shown if immigrant bashing would be show the way back to power, but it just condemned the Tories to another five years in opposition. It wasn't until they selected David Cameron, who's views on immigration, like his views on most things, are to shrug, smile weakly, and say, "Well, um, what do you think? That's our policy."

It's worth noting that 2005 also marked the electoral high point of the staunchly pro-immigration, anti-authoritarian Lib-Dems. Just looking at it from a purely pragmatic point of view, I don't think there is much to be gained from appealing to (perceived) blue-collar racism. It didn't work for the Tories, it didn't seem to hurt the Lib Dems, and the BNP have failed miserably to take advantage of it

Putting aside the fact that most of the immigrants were filling vacancies that the British work force could not or would not fill, rather than simply displacing British workers, and the influx of European labour probably helped many communities survive by bringing in new money and new businesses, and boosting local services, there have been tensions over immigration which have to be addressed. Jon Cruddas, back in 2005, acknowledged the issue of immigration, but took the saner, non-xenophobic approach:
Jon Cruddas, a former Downing Street adviser and MP for Dagenham, where the BNP made its biggest breakthrough in last month's council elections, said: 'In one sense I agree with the need to raise these issues.

'They are off the radar politically at the moment. There are huge issues about the movement of people into and within our urban cities.

'The solutions don't lie with the BNP, of course. But they demand a policy response from the Government so as to help the poorer communities that take the strain navigate through it.' (3)
The difference being not on trying to close off the labour, but helping communities adapt to the changing world around them - neither the opportunistic nationalism of Balls, nor the laissez fair quasi Thatcherism of Blair and Brown. Actually listening to people, instead of telling them what they think.

Of course, the real problem is not Polish immigrants, but jobs moving overseas for cheaper labour in the far east. But as long as British people buy cheap goods from the orient, there's no reason for manufacturers to behave differently. But that's another story ...
1 - "Howard unveils Tory asylum plans," unattributed BC article. Published 24th of January, 2005. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4200761.stm)
2 - We were wrong to allow so many eastern Europeans into Britain," by Ed Balls. Published in The Observer, 6th of June, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jun/06/ed-balls-europe-immigration-labour)
3 - "Ignore mass immigration at your peril, Labour MP warns Blair," by James Chapman. Published in the Daily Mail, 28th of June, 2006. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-393029/Ignore-mass-immigration-peril-Labour-MP-warns-Blair.html#ixzz0q47ByUkB)

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Worst press conference ever?

It is hard to imagine just how you would go about justifying piracy on the high seas, but I don't think portraying hard-as-nails Israeli commandos as victims would cut much ice with anyone. Never-the-less, that's what the Israeli government have decided to do, to explain why their soldiers have just shot dead several people on the Gaza Aid Convoy:
According to a spokeswoman for Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Avital Leibovich, officers aboard its warships gave the activists several warnings before commandos were winched from helicopters on to the deck of the Mavi Marmara.

"We found ourselves in the middle of a lynching," she told reporters in the Israeli port of Ashdod. Around 10 activists attacked commandos, she said, relieving them of their pistols.

"We didn't look for confrontation but it was a massive attack," she said. "What happened was a last resort." (1)

It is surely the most unconvincing bit of PR since the heyday of Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf in Baghdad.

Just to re-cap - the Israeli navy sets out to intercept the ships. Though they aren't looking for confrontation, they deploy armed commandos from helicopters to board them against the will of their crew in an attempt to seize control of them, nothing confrontational about that.

And these commandos are presented as the equivalent of the hapless victims of a lynch mob - putting those on the convoy in the position of murderous, racist vigilantes?

Sorry, but really, do fuck off.
1 - "Israel accused of state terrorism after assault on flotilla carrying Gaza aid," by Harriet Sherwood. Published in The Guardian, 1st of June, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/31/israel-accused-state-terrorism-assault-flotilla-gaza)