Saturday, 22 December 2012

A manifesto, of sorts.

I am delighted to have been elected unopposed as the Youth Rep to the London Labour regional board. I am really excited to take on the role at what is such an exciting and important moment for young Labour members and Labour as a whole, and work to make Labour more friendly, accessible and welcoming to young members (something that has improved considerably during the time I have been active within the party; but there is still more to be done).

I just wanted to just post my manifesto here, cause although I was lucky enough to be unopposed, I still wanted to put it out there, so there would be something by which I can be held accountable.

Also please check out all the other people standing for various positions if you haven’t already; there are some amazing candidates up for various positions:

I first joined the Labour party in 2010, and was a very active campaigner within my CLP, but was almost completely unaware of how to go about getting involved in other aspects of the party or how to connect to other young members. I am standing for Youth Rep on the London Labour regional board because I want to work to ensure that all young members in London are able to get involved; because come 2015 young people need to be at the forefront of the fight against a government which is putting the future of our whole generation at risk.

I will work with CLP Youth Reps to help them recruit more active young members to their CLPs, and ensure they keep their young members up to date with what is going on in their CLPs, as well as letting them know about other ways they can get involved with the party (such as through Young Labour, Labour Students, Young Fabians etc). I will work with CLPs who don’t currently have youth officers to recruit more active young members who can fulfil the role.

In order to ensure young members are a fighting force in London, we need to offer them more than just occasional requests to campaign. I will help to facilitate regular campaigning days in key seats in London, and help young people get involved in campaigning with their CLPs; as well as liaising with members in safe seats to help them get involved in campaigns in more marginal seats. But I will ensure that this is combined with other social and policy focused events to make young people feel a part of the party they are campaigning for.

Looking at the success of Tower Hamlets Young Labour, I’ll examine the merits of having smaller Young Labour groups in different parts of London to work alongside London Young Labour, and help to set up such groups.

I want to work with sixth forms and other political organisations (including those I may not personally agree with) to get Young Labour in schools talking to young people about how to get involved in politics, as London Young Labour did in the run up to the mayoral campaigns; this was a brilliant scheme that needs reinvigorating.

Trade unionism is, of course, a central part of the Labour party; but it is, worryingly, declining in our society. As well as working and campaigning alongside young trade unionists, we need to be encouraging far more young people to be joining trade unions. I will organise events for young members who are not currently in trade unions with trade union officials and young trade unionists to facilitate and encourage this.

And, crucially; I will work to make sure every young member knows about what is happening and what they can get involved with. You shouldn’t have to already know the right people, or follow the right twitter accounts to know how to get involved; and too often young people, especially those not at university, don’t get involved just because they don’t know how. I will ensure that London Young Labour has an up to date social media presence and website, that CLP Youth officers send out regular emails (or that CLPs send out regular young member specific emails in cases where there is currently no youth officer), encourage people to set up facebook events for events and campaign days, and make sure these are linked to in emails and work to ensure young members are always welcomed and not simply overlooked when they first try and get involved. Getting involved in the Labour Party shouldn’t have to be a series of ever more complicated challenges, and I will work to make Labour in London an open and accessible community for all. 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Talking about UKIP on the doorstep...

Out campaigning during the recent Rotherham by-election I, and many other Labour activists, encountered first-hand the rise in support for UKIP; I’ve met the occasional UKIP supporter here and there on the doorstep, but nothing like the number I was meeting here. According to a recent ComRes poll, most of UKIP support is not coming from those who voted Labour in 2010, and anecdotally I’d be inclined to agree.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that there are former Labour voters who are turning to UKIP; enough that Labour activists need to know what to say to them on the doorstep. And, I think, there’s still a lack of understanding about UKIP policies and what UKIP really stands for; and there is so much there for us to attack.

Because these voters might support UKIPs policies on the EU and immigration – and of course there are serious issues there we need to address – but I doubt that Labour/UKIP swing voters support grammar schools (or a voucher system for schools, for that matter), or increased privatisation of the NHS, or a 20% flat tax and the resulting cuts to public services. UKIP’s far right economic policies are quite, well, right wing, and if the person you’re talking to is a libertarian then fine; not much you’re going to be able to do about that.

But to those who are supporting UKIP because of their immigration/EU stance, or as a protest vote, Labour activists need to start talking about what else UKIP stands for; the libertarian-leaning, free market party is far from on the side of the working class (or, you know, most people).

Additionally, there’s the interesting (and admittedly, impressive) issue of UKIP getting former none-voters to vote; these voters most likely part of Labour’s target demographic, but where Labour has failed to get them out to the ballot box. And although I may not be thrilled at their party preference, it is good that these people are engaging with the political process. And we should be talking to them. Because now they are engaged, hopefully, they’ll be more inclined to talk us, both about what UKIP really stands for (because, like the former Labour voter, I’d hazard a guess that they wouldn’t be a fan of large chunks of UKIP’s policy program) and about what Labour stands for, and what Labour can offer them in government.

None of this is to dismiss the reasons people are turning to UKIP; as well as the issues of the EU and immigrations there’s, of course, a general disenchantment with mainstream politics and politicians, and we should take seriously how we address these issues.

But we must also start properly attacking UKIP’s dangerous economic policies; and get our activists talking about them to voters who are unlikely to support such policies if they are made aware of them.  

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A new sense of optimism, and musing on Labour Party Conference.

A while ago I wrote a blog post asking why so many of my fellow Labourites did not feel optimistic about our party, our electoral chances and the direction we were moving in. More recently, I discussed the need for Labour to show greater courage of their convictions. After this year’s Labour Party conference, both blog posts no longer seem relevant. I left conference unsure of my opinion on party conferences, but so sure of my opinion of my party, its leader and its vision; so filled with optimism that was now shared by far more people than when I wrote a blog post calling for the party to cheer up.

This was my first year attending conference, and beforehand I read the occasional conference tips blog post, as well as following the little labourlist debate over whether conference is even worth having…but mostly I was excited to go but didn’t do much to really plan or structure what I was doing to do, and I didn’t really know what to expect. So what do I think of conference, post having actually done it myself? I’m not sure. I guess the one thing I’d say is it’s kind of what you make of it. I had a really great time at conference, but when I go again I’ll be sure to plan more, to structure more; to really fill my time, try and meet more new people (however lovely it is to keep bumping into old friends), attend more training sessions (two of the highlights of conference, for me, were Young Labour’s speech writing training and a workshop on using contact creator for community organising)…or maybe I’ll just apply to be a steward and ensure I’ll be productive during conference that way. Because, yes, I did have a lot of fun, but the length of conference is a long time to kind of just be milling around for a lot of it.

That being said, there were some excellent fringes; Andy Burnham talking about the living wage was seriously inspiring, and I’m really excited to work on Young Labour’s priority campaign on youth homelessness, having attended its launch. There were a lot of really interesting stalls (although there were also some really random ones; including what was, as far as I can tell, a completely none-political jewellery stall. Also the Countryside Alliance seemed to have got confused and wandered in by mistake). And there were also a lot of really awesome people collected together in one space, and I wish I’d had more time to see more of them.

And, really, it was worth going to conference just for Ed Miliband’s speech; I’m not going to go into depth about how amazing it was…that’s been done enough, but if the only purpose of conference was to give this speech the media attention it deserved (which I don’t think is the only purpose of conference, by the way) then that would be more than enough of a reason for it. It was phenomenal (I may have been teary eyed throughout; in fact I may have been teary eyed before it even began, having welled up when I realised David Tennant was narrating the montage of Labour’s achievements shown before Ed took the stage).  

And the optimism after this amazing speech was just wonderful. A party maybe still a little dubious about its leader before was now no longer. The Fabian’s Spin Alley fringe after the speech was required to do very little spinning (the whole panel went something along the lines of: “how good was it?!” “I know; it was SO good!”. It was very enjoyable). Cheers of “Ed, Ed, Ed!” as Ed walked into the Young Labour reception illustrated a mood felt throughout conference; our leader is amazing, his vision is there and it’s a vision we believe in and want to fight for and we can win in 2015. One Nation Labour, reused and echoed throughout other conference speeches, and also just in everyone’s conversations, is a really rather brilliant framework for the Labour Party to move forward within.
“One Nation: a country where prosperity is fairly shared. One Nation: a country where we all feel part of a shared endeavour. One Nation: a country that we rebuild together” 
Reading my free copy of Total Politics on the train home from conference, I was happy to be getting back to politics. But wow, was I excited about the politics I was going back to.

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Labour Party vs The Democratic Party; the courage of our convictions and what we stand for.

If [the party] can’t articulate what Labour stands for, voters will lose interest.”, says Jenni Russell in a recent article; and the sentiment here seems to be one that is shared by much of the electorate. Why is it such a struggle for Labour, and Ed, to say what we stand for? I spent the past month-and-a-bit working on a Congressional and Senate campaign in the US. Of course my experience was of one campaign in one state, but during that experience something that struck me was that the Democrats knew what they stood for, and the voters I spoke to knew what they stood for. This is a party with far less party unity, where candidates do not all communicate the same “message” and quite openly have differing views on certain issue; but there was a far clearer sense of what made them Democrats, and what they stood for and were fighting for, than, I think, there currently is in the Labour Party.

Of course, it is easier when you’re in government; it is far easier to have a concrete policy agenda when it consists is what you’ve done, from which point it is easier to say what you will do. And it helps that there is a massive divide on social issues; to be socially liberal becomes a far more defining feature than it ever would be in the UK. But these factors don’t go the whole way towards explaining why the Democrats seem so much more successful at communicating, as well as fully understanding themselves, what they stand for, than the Labour Party.

Firstly, they have a coherent economic plan. Now, on one hand, so do we; the fundamental divide between Labour and the Tories; stimulus vs austerity; is clear. But the Democrats have a far clearer vision on what money will be spent where, which taxes will be cut and where that moneys going to come from. Of course, this is easier when you’re in government; and it’s easier when the election is in site, and the economic circumstances in which you will take power are (relatively) clear. Of course Labour can only say, “this is the plan; but that may change as the circumstances change”. But we can still form more of a plan; VAT cut, house building, jobs for young people…what else? What other, concrete things will Labour do? And in forming our economic plan, it may take the courage of our convictions, when it comes to where the money will come from, to say, “some will be raised through taxes, but some will come later; when the economy is growing and we are generating more income. And we can afford to wait for that to really tackle the deficit”.

The courage of their convictions is something the Democrats are displaying in spades, right now. And that is something that has alot of weight, politically. Trying to be all things to all people, or seeming to be apologising for yourselves, makes you look weak. The Democrats were guilty of this in 2010; Obamacare being treated as this shameful issue of which they must not speak. By contrast, the at the Democratic National Convention, Obamacare was celebrated; even if you did not like the policy, you could not doubt that Bill Clinton, or Michelle Obama, or Stacey Lihn, the mother of a child she feared would die without Obamacare, or Barack Obama himself, liked the policy. Labour has its moments of conviction and self-belief, but all too often it can seem to be trying to appeal to everyone. We need to courage to say “this is our policy; this is why it’s right”.

And the Democrats, without a doubt, have values. As does the Labour Party. But the power in the values the Democrats communicate, and in the rhetoric they use, is that they relate it back to people. Very specific examples of how this college grant helped his person succeed, or this healthcare expansion saved this person’s life; be they hypothetical or real people. And if I were to summarise the values that the Democrats stand for; it would be enabling people to be able. Empowering people to be as limitless as they can be; not letting circumstances get in the way of their potential. And beyond this, the Democratic Party has been broadly pragmatic; to achieve this goal, they approach individual issues not as ideologues but as problem solvers. This puts them in stark contrast with a Republican Party that is, currently, fiercely and stubbornly ideological.

The Labour Party could so easily paint ourselves in the same way; the Tory’s economic policies are horribly, stubbornly and idiotically ideological. But it is tempting to try and counter this with a grand vision of our own. But no one knows what will happen while you’re in government. And portraying a Labour government that tackles each knew problem, with values, but also with pragmatism; and looking at, fundamentally, how decisions will really affect individuals and communities, is a strong message.

A lot of this is about conviction and coherence. There are times when we have alternative policies, but we attack the Tories rather than express them; times when we could develop more policies but shy away because we do not know what’s coming; times when we could paint a picture of ourselves as the competent problem solvers of British Politics, and instead we attack the Tories. In an ideal world, the Labour Party would get Bill Clinton to explain to the electorate who we are, what we stand for, what we will do in government and the attitudes with which we would do it. But, since that is unlikely to be a realistic option any time soon, we should probably work out how to do it ourselves. 

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Political Play-goer.

London right now’s a pretty good place for political theatre; and over the past few months I got to see three of the plays that fit that bill.

A Walk On Part
Soho Theatre
Now on at the Arts Theatre from 19 June - 14 July 

The tale of Chris Mullin’s, an MP from 1997-2010, experience of the New Labour era, based on his autobiography, is both very much one guy’s perspective on that time, as well as a truly fascinating insight. John Hodgkinson’s portrayal of Mullin acts both as an endearing figure and an effective audience surrogate. The play is fast moving and the dialogue strong; very easy to follow if you have a general awareness of the events that happened during Labour’s time in power, although it would perhaps get a little confusing if someone came to it with next to no knowledge of the events that took place. The portrayals of Blair and Cherie, as well as figures like John Prescott are not exact copies of them, nor are they caricatures, but rather they are effectively invocative of and recognisable as them, and it’s very affective. Howard Ward’s portrayal of Gordon Brown does, perhaps, descend a little into caricature.

It’s a really great watch for anyone wanting to gain an inside view on the New Labour period; one that seems honest and neither dramatically negative or over zealously positive. It’s also a personal story of a man who just really wants to make a difference, and his personal struggle to do this, and to believe he is doing this. The portrayal of his relationship with Blair is interesting, and you get a sense of the charisma and draw of Blair; although this could have perhaps been deeper explored.

The staging was effective and the actors good at juggling multiple characters without letting it get confusing. Probably enjoyable for anyone with a general interest in the politics of the period, but especially for Labourite political geeks (might annoy real Blair-loathers for its balanced view if the man but all those from Blair lovers to “he-wasn’t-great”-ers would probably be able to appreciate the perspective this play provides).

Yes, Prime Minister
Trafalgar Studios, from June 6 2012

I’ve never seen the TV series, so I was going into this with no real expectations. It’s certainly witty; with a lot of humour that felt somewhat specifically aimed at political activist types. Although the humour feels routed in political reality, the play itself does not; it’s very spoof-y in a way that doesn’t, for the most part, feel attached to reality. It’s main “real” political message is its perspective on the civil service; certainly relevant right now with the recent talk of reform. This is well done, and Michael Simkins’ portrayal of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the conniving and all too powerful civil servant is excellent.

Mostly, though, this play is just light entertainment for political geeks; and if that’s what you’re looking for then it’s pretty much the perfect evening.

And Michael Heseltine was in the audience the night I went….although I don’t think he’s a permanent feature!

Old Vic Theatre
20 June 2012 - 26 July 2012

The divided period of Germany’s history that forms the context of this play is one that’s permeated public consciousness; it’s hard to imagine anyone walking in without a generalised understanding of the time when Communist east Germany was cut off from Capitalist west Germany. However, I personally had less of an awareness of the specifics of the historical basis for the play; with the story  of West German chancellor Willy Brandy relationship with Communist spy Gunter Guillaume, who worked as his secretary and hears some of the state's most important secrets.

The play does not require any great deal of background knowledge, however; it guides you through the narrative clearly with incredibly good acting and very strong dialogue. It’s a fascinating and gripping insight into the events and the personalities who shaped them.

There’s something incredibly…political about the play; compared to A Walk On Part where one would think it’s immediacy would make it more political than historical, it’s almost the opposite; it acts mostly as a narrative account of the events that took place, whereas Democracy, although clearly historical, has such strong political dialogue it feels routed in ideology and politics; in a way I found incredibly compelling but might block out some who feel less attachment to the political process.

The ending was somewhat abrupt, but the play certainly left me both more knowledgeable about the period and eager to research more; defiantly one to check out.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

On military schools.

Written for the Young Fabian's Anticipations magazine.

Stephen Twigg’s recent show of support for military schools has provoked some very strong reactions, both positive and negative. Although this policy has yet to be fully fleshed out, so the full conception of the schools yet to be seen, it is unlikely that this idea will solve all the problems of inequality of opportunity, nor will it create a country of child soldiers. Potentially, military schools could have real, practical advantages in their ability to deal with poor discipline and equipped pupils with skills that academic education alone often does not, but that does not mean there are not potential pitfalls and problems with this policy.

Many schools – across the spectrum in terms of academic achievement – are not very good at teaching team work, leadership, public speaking or other inter-personal skills; with the solitary task of exam passing dominating the syllabus. Incorporating these skills into every day education could be incredibly beneficial in terms of individuals’ confidence and self-esteem, as well as provide them with skills which are vital in so many careers, but often neglected in education.

Physical education, meanwhile, is in many, if not most schools is seen as something additional to the body of your learning; you have your time to run around and do sport, and then you have your time in the classroom; and never the twain shall meet. But our health and our level of physical activity affect the rest of our lives; our concentration and our productivity as well as our mental health. Really good physical education as a cornerstone of the curriculum has so much potential to improve pupils’ awareness of and relationship with their bodies and their health for the rest of their lives.

And of course, discipline. The idea of “military style” discipline in schools may make many recoil; but the stereotypical image of the barking army general is unlikely to enter our classrooms. Panorama’s episode on soldiers turned teachers (Classroom Warriors; you can watch it here and it’s defiantly worth checking out when thinking about this issue) highlighted the impact having ex-army officers in the classroom has had on discipline both in this country and in the US; transforming discipline at schools which have had problems with bad behaviour through techniques that ensure a sense of mutual respect between student and teacher.

Linking the schools with the cadets could help the power of schooling and education extend beyond the classroom. A problem that even the best schools in deprived areas often face is that at the end of the day a child goes back to their parents, and if those parents aren’t properly supporting their child, a lot of the work done at school can be instantly undone. Extending the reach a school can have in educating, encouraging and supporting a child beyond the normal school day could greatly enhance the potential for education to break cycles of deprivation.

This strategy has its risks; by mandating certain types of extracurricular activities, the time a child has to explore their own individual interests and passions would be limited. However, if this project was effectively targeted (Twigg highlighted deprived areas as the focus of the scheme), its pupils would be most likely be children who lack any kind of extracurricular education or real encouragement and stimulation outside the classroom; whether or not they end up pursuing a military career, being part of the cadets would be more beneficial than simply having no outside interests at all. None the less, perhaps the mandate for participation in the cadets could be relaxed for pupils showing other ways that they are continuing their development and education outside of school.

And there are other reasons to tread cautiously with this idea. Although skills honed in the military are potentially transferable to the teaching profession, former soldiers are not all going to be, without a doubt, great teachers; encouraging soldiers into the teacher profession must not mean they receive insufficient training.

Additionally, the schools must not be too specialised; children must come out with the same broad education that will equip them to have a variety of opportunities in life (of course this is compatible with some specialisation; many schools now already specialise in one field or another while still providing a comprehensive education).

One of the strongest reactions against this idea has stemmed from the worry that these schools would be de facto recruitment grounds for the army and the reserves. Reading the original ResPublica report on military schools, you can understand this worry; the report advocates increasing recruitment to the reserves as one of the key potential benefits of military schools; and this is something to steer well clear of, simply because no school where entrants are as young as eleven should be pushing those children towards any specific career path. These schools, if they are to work, must be about creating good people, not creating good soldiers.  

But, in the best possible scenario, military schools have the potential to create a more holistic education, where academic learning is linked to physical within an ethos of hard work, self-worth, team work and discipline. It might be argued that improved discipline, mandatory extra curricular activities, an increased emphasis on physical education and inter-personal skills; all these things can be delivered without the need for a link with the military. On the other hand, the military already provides a structure, an overarching concept, and people with the skills necessary to create this educational structure; a structure that might not be for everyone, but placed within the wider pool of educational choice, has the potential to benefit a lot of children. Of course, like any policy; it would have to be done right; there are a lot of potential pitfalls. But let’s explore this and really think about it; not dismiss it out of hand, nor embrace it without question.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Leveson: The Musical

I can't be the only one thinking that the grand finale of the Leveson Inquiry would have been better if it had featured jazz hands?

A little number for the witnesses (well, some of them), to the tune of the list of colours in Joseph's Coat from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. 

It was Brooks and Murdoch and Grant and Hunt 
And Coulson and Blair and Cameron and Piers 
And Riddell and Johnson and Watson and Marr 
And Mohan and Yates and Rowling and Gove 
And Clarke and Campbell and Osborne and Ed 
And Harman and Salmond and Prescott and Clarke 
And Coogan and Black and Hughes and Gordon 
And Snow and Hardgreaves and Crone and Straw
And Barber and Clegg and Boulton and Leigh
And Thomas and Hislop and Harding and Cave
And Major and Bowe and Mandelson and Crown 
And Wright and Blackhurt and Turner and Fox 
And Paxman and Diamond and Morgan and Grade
And Brady and Wright and Quick and James 
And Jay!

And of course a number for Leveson and Jay, to the tune of the Muppet theme song:

It’s time to fine the papers,
It’s time to jail some hacks,
It’s time to tell the journos they’re not getting any slack.

It’s time for us to publish;
It’s time for our report;
It’s time to raise the curtain on the answers we have sought.

Why did we need to do this?
Our press was being bad;
Corruption and phone hacking 
Which made the public mad.

So we ran an inquiry 
Witnesses from far and wide
To testify before us

On the most sensational
This is what we call The Leveson Show!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

On young people in the Labour Party...

Recently I went to two back to back events; the first put on by the Fabian Society, the second by the Young Fabians. The first, the Fabian Society’s Annual House of Commons Tea, was a discussion about how to better engage people in politics, while the Young Fabian event was a discussion about how to get young people more engaged in politics.

I assumed I wouldn’t be the only person attending both these event back to back; as it turns out I was only one of two. And in the House of Commons Tea there was quite a notable lack of young people (which is a bit of a blurry term, so broadly speaking I’m talking about typically student age, or younger). Of course, it should be noted that the Young Fabian event was free while the Commons Tea cost £15, and the Young Fabian event being held in the evening may also have made it more accessible, but this does reflect a trend I am  increasingly aware of in the events I attend; that with the exceptions of big, national events (National Conference, Progress Conference, Fabian Conference; although even the Fabian’s summer conference had very few young attendees) young people tend to attend “young people” events; Young Labour, Labour Students, Young Fabians etc, but seem less inclined to attend events not specifically aimed at young people.

I often get asked at such events “how do we get young people into politics?” and it always confuses me because I know so many incredibly politically active young people…but then I’ll look around the room and realise that I am one of very few young people there.

This is not to say that there aren’t problems of political apathy in my generation (both in terms of a general disinterest and a dissatisfaction with mainstream politics; two rather different issues that are often clumsily grouped together), but that I can understand why some people would be forgiven for thinking there are hardly any young politicos at all; which is just not true.

As I said, this isn’t the case with big, national events; but it’s also untrue on the campaign trail. When activists are out on the doorstep, there is a clear mix of age groups, and young activists are almost without a doubt out in force.

So why, when it comes to events, might young people be so much less inclined to attend events not specifically aimed at them? Perhaps there is a worry that, as someone younger, you’ll be patronised/ignored/etc. Personally I’ve never experienced this, but I can understand why it might be a worry for some people.

Young Labour, Young Fabian and Labour Student’s event are also, I’ve often found, more discursive than events not aimed at young people; with a far more open format than the “panel that talks after which people ask the panel questions” format; where the audience is really able to engage in discussion and debate. This explanation does become rather circular, though; are young people drawn to more discussion based events, or are they better at putting on more discussion based events?

Do young people just need…some sort of hook; something to tell them “you! This event is for you!”. The other exception I’ve seen to the young-people-not-attending-not-young-people-aimed-events was the recent Fabian Women’s network summer reception, at which there were plenty of people my age; these were all women (as, of course, were most of the attendees; but not all); so not drawn in by the fact that this event was aimed at them as young people, but that it was still specifically aimed at them as women. Perhaps. This is just speculation.

And this whole post is really just speculation and personal reflection; I’d be interested to hear how far it reflects other people’s experiences; young people who feel they only really attend young people events, or that they attend a range of events, older people who feel they do or don’t see young people at the events they go to etc.

Because if this sense I’ve got of this generational divide between activists is accurate; I don’t think that’s that great a thing. I love the younger wings of the party; I think they hold amazing events and are full of amazing people, and I think having these events and groups aimed specifically at young people is without a doubt a good thing. But when these become the only parts of the party young people really interactive they can become somewhat inward looking; and I don’t think that helps young people understand or feel part of the wider movement.

That’s, of course, just the problem; I have a few thoughts on why this might happen and I want to start exploring potential solutions. But it’s only something I’ve recently come to really register; and it’s not something I ever really hear discussed when we talk about young people in the Labour movement; so I thought that it was at least worth pointing out.

Monday, 25 June 2012

One sentence responses to some of Cameron's welfare reform proposals.

Post may contain sarcasm...

Reduce the amount of benefit paid to people over time
…and if over time people still can’t find a job – quite possible, right now – they’re benefits will decrease until they do not have enough to live on?

Expecting people on benefits to be able to read, write and count
And I’m sure provision will be provided to educate any who can’t, rather than letting those who for whatever reason have failed to attain these standards simply being denied benefits?

Out-of-work benefits linked to wages rather than inflation, if wages are lower
Because wages increasing more slowly than inflation is defiantly something that should be encouraged, and thus should be mirrored by the benefit system.

Set all benefits on a regional basis
Taking more money out of poor areas…

No housing benefit for under 25s
Completely ridiculous; so a 24 year old unable to afford shelter with nowhere to go just…sleeps on the street?

A cap on the amount people can earn and still live in a council house
Because with the massive surplus of affordable housing we have right now they’ll defiantly be able to find another house.

Reduce the current £20,000 housing benefit limit
Which will push those on benefits out of some more expensive areas…

Stopping the out of work being better off by having children
Because children don’t cost any more money so those out of work won’t need more money to give their children a half way decent quality of life.

Expecting parents on income support to prepare for work while children have free nursery care
OK; so perhaps there’s something to this idea; however it worries me, slightly, that it is assumed that parents are not prepared for work and simply waiting till their children begin school; furthermore parents spending time with their newly born children is hardly something to criticise.

Getting the physically able to do full-time community work after a period out of work
Community work…maybe…but full time community work will rob people of all time to get a job.

Sickness benefit claimants should take steps to improve their health
It’s not even that I disagree with this so much as the completely patronising attitude that assumes that those who are ill would not try and be less ill.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Greece: a vote, but with what options?

If I’d been in Greece today, with the elections taking place…I don’t know what I’d have done.

I’d have probably tried to leave.

Harsh austerity measures are crippling the Greek economy. But without a bailout, it is hard to see where Greece will find the money to be able to implement an alternative. So the Greeks are faced with a choice between New Democracy – and austerity measures which everyone and their mother has acknowledged are not working – and Syriza, and with it the risk of an end to bailout money. Pasok, clearly, is no longer seen as an option by most.

Of course; Syriza does not want an end to the bailout; it wants to renogociate terms. But calling Germany’s bluff is dangerous politics which, understandably, many Greeks are scared of.

Furthermore, although I support much of Syriza’s policy program; from raising the minimum wage and decreasing VAT to an agreement with Switzerland to tax Greek citizens who put their savings there (seriously…why don’t we ALL do this?!); the party still lacks a coherent program for increasing the productivity of the Greek economy.

And if their attempt to call the German’s bluff fails, and they lose the bailout, they will have a major problem. Or alternatively; assuming they do not manage to renogociate terms, they will have to cave to Germany. Which will put Greece back where it started; with crippling austerity measures.

So if I were Greek and my whole running away plan failed, I would have voted for Syriza; but with very little real hope or optimism.

Greece needs reforms, not austerity. It needs a bailout. At the moment, as least, it needs to stay in the Euro; the immediate results of leaving are pretty unthinkable. Furthermore, this all would still only be the beginning; we all know the need for wider reform – probably involving greater integration – of the single currency; but there is still no agreed upon plan for this.

This is what Greece needs but not what they had a chance to vote for. Partly because of both the risks of voting for Syriza, alongside their lack of deeper reforms to grow the economy. And partly because the Greeks don’t get to vote for the German government; still advocating austerity, still trying to impose it.

Today a nation that is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis was given a vote; but they weren’t given any really good options to vote for.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

A few thoughts on the Queen's Speech...

So council seat losses left, right and centre (including in Cameron’s own constituency), senior Lib Dems thinking of pulling out of the coalition agreement early and a situation where the two parties appeared to be agreeing that each would drop their policies in exchange for...well, the other also dropping their policies (the imagine of this manner of coalition government continuing, with continued policy shedding until all that is left of the coalition is Osborne and Alexander sharing a copy of the Financial Times is highly amusing) ; that whole Tory-Lib Dem coalition thing is going excellently, isn’t it?

But the timing was excellent; the Queen’s Speech; a perfect opportunity for the government to redeem itself by laying out its key proposals for how it would improve the lives of currently dissatisfied British electorate.

And there was a promise to establish a Green Investment Bank, measures to “ensure supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers”, promises of banking regulation and increasing the flexibility of parental leave (and if we’re looking at general positives of the speech, might as well mention the foreign policy promises; although “we don’t like nuclear proliferation and like the spread of democracy” is not really a stance that anyone’s likely to disagree with).

There was also the symbolic but still meaningful promise of modernising the governing succession to the Crown (although, and I may just be being really ignorant about constitutional law here, but the need to “take it forward”, implying a gradual change, rather than, well, just do it, seems slightly odd to me), which is...well, quiet nice. Not all that helpful for most people’s lives, but it should be done, and it’s good that they’re planning to.

A bill to “reduce burdens on charities” is no bad thing; although a funny proposal from a government that has recently decided to tax charitable donations. Promises to ensure energy prices are “fair”, again, are clearly good in theory; but what fair means to the Tories in comparison to most people’s understanding of the word, and how exactly they intend to ensure prices are fair, has yet to be seen.

Beyond that, however, this speech was at worst bad and at best bland.

Of course suggestions we should help children with disabilities and special needs are positive suggestions, but given the government’s current record on disability benefits and funding to education for kids with special needs them implying that they want to help these children...unless it’s followed by a real policy U-turn are nothing short of disgusting.

That “legislation will be introduced to reduce burdens on business by repealing unnecessary legislation and to limit state inspection of businesses” is genuinely worrying in terms of workers’ rights. Of course, the exact legislation will need to be seen; it may prove fine but the implications of this statement are a serious cause for concern.

Legislation will be introduced to reform public service pensions in line with the recommendations of the independent commission on public service pensions.” ...because, clearly, the coalition, thus far, has been so excellent and fair in their attitude to public sector pensions, I’m sure this legalisation will continue to be so!

Above all, however, it is not what the bill says, but what it does not; where is the plan for jobs and growth? How does this speech show any kind of departure from what the government is doing at the moment? It doesn’t. The economy re-enters the recession and the coalition ploughs on with their economic strategy. Surely by doing the exact same thing, they’ll produce a different result this time! Because that is in accordance with all logic!

House of Lords reform is, apparently, after much dithering, still going ahead. I’m...not going to talk about my opinions of House of Lords reform here, because they’re somewhat against the general left-wing grain and I think might require a full blog post...but my own opinions aside, it’s just so...we have massive unemployment and an economy that’s going no where. And the government has no real plans to fix this. But they have plans to introduce House of Lords reform! Making a real difference to people’s lives in hard times, right there!

Individual voter registration seems like nothing but a cheap political move; when turn out as low as it is why on earth should we make it harder for people to vote? Labour will need to respond with a massive drive to ensure our voters are registered; those who require postal votes especially.

Ed Miliband was probably the best I’ve ever seen him in the Commons today. He was really funny (from yougov to penguins) but also really strongly on message; really clear about the problems with this speech and with this government. Cameron’s attempts at rebuttal were poor (and his attempts at humour even worse...); increasingly he has shown himself to be an over-schooled and under-skilled Etonian in his ability to hold this government together (and his claim that Labour did “nothing” during the financial crisis deserves a brief mention for its sheer historical inaccuracy...).

Aside from settling the will they won’t they question regarding House of Lords reform, this speech, then, this speech was mostly just...rather a time when the coalition needed to deliver something spectacular.

So well done, Cameron.
Well done, Clegg.
Clearly this whole thing’s proved to be a match made in heaven.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Metal Theft: an issue that deserves just a little more attention.

A few weeks ago, pupils at the school I work at were late visiting a Japanese school, where they were going to meet the penpals they’d been writing to that term. They were late because the mini vans weren’t working. The mini vans weren’t working because the catalytic converter had been stolen. They got there eventually, once spare mini vans had been called, but had a much shortened trip, and it was lucky that they were able to go at all.

Metal theft is a serious problem – from causes train delays to disrupting telephone networks - that would require simple legalisation to combat. Selling metal is currently a “no questions asked” affair; introducing a proper licensing scheme for dealers would be a major step to tackling this problem. Experienced criminals could get round such requirements, sure. But so much of metal theft is opportunistic; not people who would know how to circumvent regulations. So just a little tightening of regulation could make such a difference.

There is currently a private members bill dealing with this issue working its way slowly through Parliament:

But this issue deserves a bigger deal of public awareness and support; because it’s a big problem, with obvious steps towards solution. But of course, it’s so much more fun for the government to reorganise the NHS.

You can sign the petition in support of the bill here:

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Ken: some criticisms require a respectful response.

I wrote this before reading Emma Burnell's post saying pretty much exactly the same thing. So for a more eloquent version of this post, read that here:

As someone who is going to be boarding Ken’s battle bus (too) early tomorrow morning, I currently feel…more hesitant than I would like about talking to people about why they should vote for Ken for Mayor for London. I really, really want Ken to win. Every time I take the tube or get on a bus it annoys me that I know I could be paying less. We currently have a housing crisis that I trust Ken to tackle; that I sure as hell don’t trust Boris to tackle. I want EMA back. Ken was a good mayor, and he will be a good mayor again if he wins.

But recent controversies over tax, and over Ken’s attitude towards the Jewish community, risk jeopardising the campaign.

The attitude of many, often including Ken himself, over the recent Ken controversies has been quite dismissive; “of course Ken pays his taxes!”, “of course Ken’s not anti-Semitic!”. But these concerns are legitimate concerns. It’s not like the telegraph’s claims that Ken is trying to convert Londoners to Islam; of course that’s ridiculous and a collective eye roll is a pretty valid response.

I’m not saying that the accusations levelled at Ken are true; but I’m saying there are reasons for them and there needs to be a respectful response that acknowledges them as valid worries – in many cases coming from groups, such as the Jewish community, who want to support Ken, but feel like, at this point, they can’t. These are not slanders by a right wing press or nasty Boris supporters. These are people with real concerns that they want addressed, not dismissed.

And leaving accusations without a real response can make it look like you don’t have a good response; making it seem like they’re true, in the worst case. But even if this is not the perception of most people, not providing apology and explanation to people with real's dismissive and it's wrong.

Knowing when to eye roll and knowing when to provide a real response is going to be crucial for the campaign. And it, and Ken, need to get their head round this. Now.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

UK Uncut, Occupy & the role of idealism in public discourse.

Yesterday I went to the UK Uncut protest against the budget, forming a “dole queue” to recreate Thatcher’s “Labour isn’t working” poster with the slogan “austerity isn’t working”. It was a good protest, with lots of really lovely people, and it remained peaceful and well organised throughout. Being able to stand with a bunch of other people outside Westminster to collectively make the point that this government’s actions are unfair and wrong…that’s a powerful feeling.

There are times, however, as someone whose main form of activism is within partisan politics, that movements like UK Uncut and Occupy can seem quite distant from my way of looking at society and political change. They can seem quite extreme to someone who wants a Keynesian style stimulus, not to completely do away with capitalism. That’s not to say that everyone in movements like these is that radical, but they are defiantly idealistic, and often anti-establishment in a way that pulls them away from partisan politics; the vehicle through which, really, the greatest change can be made. They also often lack in specific alternatives; it is very clear what they are against, but less so what they are for.

But movements such as these can and do do a great deal of good; by helping to move and set the debate. Yes, they might often be idealistic, but that idealism can be of great benefit when thrown into the mix of all the other ideas and views in our public discourse. It was Occupy that gave us the rhetoric of the 99% and the 1%; though their aims might not be entirely realistic, they have done a great job and shaping this narrative and our society’s perspective on and understanding of social injustices. UK Uncut might not provide a fully thought out economic strategy, but they create a way for people to stand up and say that the government’s actions are wrong, lending strength to a movement against them by the left.

I want to see Labour in power, both nationally and locally; I think securing this is the best way to create change, which is why campaigning for the Labour Party will always, for me, be a priority over engaging in protests like the one I went to on Wednesday. But I’m glad I had a free Wednesday morning to go and support UK Uncut. Because these movements can provide a voice for an idealism that cannot come from a political party. This idealism as it stands could not manifest into social change. But when it becomes part of the wider dialogue, it moves it, improves it, and strengthens the voice of progressive politics within it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The problem with regional public sector pay cuts...

Living between London and Leeds, it is clear to me that one area requires me to, on a day to day basis, spend more money than the other. Which is why the idea of regional public sector pay is not without basis; if it costs less to live, why shouldn’t you get paid less?

Except areas that cost less to live in are, often, going to be poorer areas, with less money flowing, less investment, less demand…cutting public sector pay will see decreased personal spending when the economy needs people to spend more. Geographical poverty and inequality affects people’s lives, as well as personal poverty. Living in an area with less jobs, less commerce, poorer infrastructure, less opportunity…this makes life harder.

And cutting the pay of people in these areas will hurt those economies, and make those problems worse.

Even in richer, but still cheaper to live in areas, like Leeds, the nationwide problems of unemployment and a lack of growth will be made worse by cuts in pay that will hurt demand in an economy where people already won’t, or often can’t, spend enough to help create growth.

It would, perhaps, make more sense to raise the pay of public sector workers in richer areas; the cost of living does provide a valid argument for greater flexibility of public sector pay. But flexibility should mean real attention to the varied needs of regional economies; not an attitude of “it costs less to live, you get less money”. And it certainly shouldn’t mean a cut in pay when people, already, aren’t spending; this will hurt both regional, and the national, economy.