Downing Street cat seeks to distance itself from Coalition Government

 

freyathecat1

The Independent reports today that George Osborne’s cat Freya, presumably dismayed at her owner’s treatment of society’s most vulnerable, decided to make a break for freedom. She managed to get an impressive 1.5 miles south of the river before being found and returned to Downing Street. Kate Jones, who found the cat, and works helping the homeless, posted a picture with a note saying:

“Found – on the streets of Vauxhall. Not everyone is as lucky as Freya. George please stop cutting homeless services.”

George Osborne’s cat Freya ‘chauffeur-driven’ home after being found by homelessness worker

 

 

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Why aren’t Labour doing better?

I blogged yesterday about Labour complaints of media bias. While it seems clear that Britain’s media is pretty conservative in nature and in favour of neo-liberal capitalism, I don’t really buy that as the reason why Labour are struggling to get their message across. After all, the modern Labour Party is pretty conservative and full of neo-liberals itself. It seems to many of us that there’s little to distinguish between Labour and the Tories. Could this be a more plausible reason for their closeness in the polls?

UKIP’s success has come on the back of hammering two simple messages – i) the UK should get out of the EU, largely because ii) membership means open borders to 500m people. To bolster the effect of their message, they have appealed to people’s innate fear of the unknown and the different to fuel concern about the number of new arrivals who are ‘not like you’ or are ‘after your job’. This tactic is as old as the hills, but should be relatively easy to counteract.

While there will always be racists who will vote for far-right parties, most people are not racist, but many do have concerns that are quite easy to link to immigration (if you had an incentive to do so). So what are these?

  • Rising rents
  • Lack of social housing
  • High long-term unemployment
  • Long waits at A&E of for a GP’s appointment
  • Lack of school places

If you are struggling to get a council house but hear stories of a Roma family jumping the queue, or a young person unable to find work and being labelled a scrounger while the person who serves you in the pub has a ‘foreign’ accent, if you don’t get your first choice of school or can’t get an appointment with your GP for a week, it is quite easy for politicians to take those frustrations and blame it on ‘uncontrolled immigration’. A lot of people swallow this and vote for the party promising to do something about it. Whether any of these issues are actually due to immigration or not doesn’t matter at the moment because no party other than UKIP is offering any solutions. UKIP are right that there is an open-door policy to EU citizens regardless of quality, and no one else seems to want to argue directly why they think this is a good thing. This is nevertheless the position of Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems.

So back to Labour then, what should they do? They are in favour of free movement of labour within the EU, so it seems to me they need to address the issues that people are currently blaming on immigration. Ed Miliband has actually tried to raise each of the five issues on my list above, and has grabbed a bit of attention each time. The problem has been, his proposed ‘solutions’ are so inconsequential, people sort of shrug on hearing them. So what? is the refrain. Miliband has proposed very timid proposals on job creation, energy prices and private sector rents, and has been likened to Mugabe, Stalin and Hugo Chavez by the Tory party and certain people in the media. If this is the reaction to very modest proposals, why not go the whole hog and actually come up with something that will really stir things up?

How about proposing something like:

1. Building 100,000 social houses a year for the next 5 years

2. Guarantee work for all who need a job, working in the third or public sectors (limited to those who’ve been in the UK for at least 5 years)

3. Large programme of school building

4. Moratorium on all tenders for provision of NHS services

5. Renationalise something – polls consistently show majorities in favour of nationalised water, energy, postal services and rail.

We should also not forget that while UKIP did well, 66% of people didn’t bother to vote! Why not? A large number obviously don’t see any value in voting. If we had a well-funded opposition party (and money is important) selling a genuine alternative, maybe more people would turn out on polling day. If it’s a choice between the blue Tories, the red Tories, the yellow Tories, or the Purple Tories, why would anyone bother? It seems pretty clear that socialism isn’t coming back. The name alone strikes fear into many, but ISTM there would be support for anyone proposing to ‘tame’ capitalism, keeping the good bits, but intervening strongly to eliminate the bad.

 

Are the media biased against Labour?

Since the results of last week’s elections were announced, I’ve seen numerous examples of Labour MPs and supporters complaining about the coverage they’ve received. The claim seems to be that despite performing well in the elections, Labour’s results have been painted as bad news, while UKIP have got favourable coverage of their results. Do they have a point though? I don’t see how.

UKIP have come from nowhere over the last 18 months to win hundreds of councillors and actually winning the popular vote in the EU elections. While Nigel Farage has rarely been off our screens lately, the coverage I’ve seen of UKIP has been overwhelmingly negative. The print media in particular have been out to get UKIP, with almost daily revelations about some idiot candidate or another. Despite this, they managed a great result (relatively speaking), doing so by campaigning on two – linked – issues, immigration and Europe. They made some inroads into solid Labour areas, most notably in Rotherham, but also here in Bradford, where, while they only won one seat (off Labour), they came second in a number of others, often coming within a couple of hundred votes of victory.

So that’s UKIP then. But what about Labour? They won the local elections, picking up over 300 seats on a projected national share of 31%, and their vote was up 10% over 2009 in the EU poll. Pretty good? Despite this, the media have been asking why Labour aren’t doing better. Biased against Labour then?

Not really. They’re up against a wretched Coalition government who deserve to lose for numerous reasons (cutting public spending in a slump, disgraceful treatment of the unemployed and disabled, restricting access to justice, speeding up private sector involvement in the NHS and on and on), and yet they can only beat them by about 2 percentage points a year out from the general election. Of course people are going to ask what’s going on.

Labour party people need to stop whining about media bias and start thinking about why they’re not doing better, and why UKIP, who are supposed to be ex-Tory voters, are gaining so many votes in Labour areas.

Nigel Farage meets his match

Nigel Farage was interviewed by James O’Brien on LBC today, and definitely came off second best. In the end, the interview was called to a halt by Farage’s press secretary after O’Brien questioned Farage about his expenses. It was a good interview in a lot of ways although it didn’t really cover UKIP policy on either the EU or domestic issues which is a shame.

Farage looked uncomfortable on numerous occassions, particularly when questioned about UKIP’s awful poster which tells us 27 million potential immigrants are after our jobs, on Farage’s habit of equating Romanians with criminality and on misleading statements about the language skills of the capital’s primary school children. I quite like O’Brien as an interviewer. He does a bit of research and asks good follow-up questions, something that can’t be said of most TV political interviews. He is also responsible for the best attempt at holding Iain Duncan Smith to account that I’ve heard from a mainstream source. Watch/listen to both interviews below:

Euro Elections Yorkshire & Humber – The Runners and Riders

My postal vote turned up yesterday and I still have no idea who to vote for. Here in Yorkshire & Humber region, there are 10(!) parties bidding to win one or more of the 6 seats up for grabs. All but one of the 10 have 6 candidates each (despite the odds of winning more than 2/3 seats being vanishingly small. Here are party political broadcasts for the runners and riders in the order they appear on the ballot paper.

An Independence From Europe (The poor man’s UKIP who have stuck ‘an’ on the front of their name so they are top of the ballot paper)

British National Party (For knuckle-draggers in England, Scotland and Wales)

Conservative Party (For hardworking people who want to work hard and get on)

English Democrats (For knuckle-draggers in England only)

Green Party (Who Jesus would vote for)

Labour Party (“Let’s hope people will vote for us because we’re not the Tories”)

Liberal Democrats (“Did we mention we’re the Party of In? What’s that? You’re not listening? But we’re the Party of In”)

NO2EU (Eurosceptic trade unionists)

Can’t find a PPB for them, here is their website: http://www.no2eu.com/

UKIP (The People’s Army *snigger*)

Yorkshire First (Int Yorkshire Great?) Not sure if this is an official vid, it’s not really a PPB. Here’s their website.

Money as a tool for human progress

I’m about halfway through reading “Just Money” by Ann Pettifor at the moment. It’s only a short book, but it covers a lot of ground in terms of what money is, where it comes from, how it is being used now, and how it could be used to better achieve some of the progressive human goals we all want to see. Early on in the book, Ann explains the potential implications of the monetary system that has been developed over the centuries. She provides a pretty good description of what our monetary system could or should be used for (building a ‘just and productive economy’) rather than what it is currently being used for (largely financing speculative asset bubbles):

“Monetary systems are one of human society’s greatest achievements. The creation of money by a well-developed monetary and banking system was a great civilizational advance. As a result there need never be a shortage of finance for private enterprise or the public good. There need never be a shortage of money to invest in and create economic activity and full employment. There need never be insufficient money to tackle energy insecurity and climate change. There need never be a shortage of money to solve the great scourges of humanity: poverty, disease and inequality, to ensure humanity’s prosperity and wellbeing; and the ecosystem’s stability.

The real shortages we face are first, humanity’s capacity: the limits of our individual, social and collective corruptibility, integrity, imagination, intelligence, organisation and muscle. Second, the physical limits of the ecosystem. These are real limitations. However, the social relationships which create money, and sustain trust, need not be in short supply in a well regulated and managed monetary system.

Within a sound monetary system we can afford what we can do. Money enables us to do what we can do within our limited natural and human resources.”

The last point there is a key one – we can afford to do what we can do (within the limits of natural and human resources). Money is not a resource that is scarce like oil or coal. You or I can run out of money, but the economy as a whole cannot. This is why the infamous Liam Byrne note saying “there’s no money left” was so imbecilic. In a properly-managed system, there would always be enough money to ensure what we can do is done.

 

Options for Britain in Europe

I’ve written a series of posts on the EU in recent weeks, where I’ve tried to show the confidence of the pro-Europe argument is not backed by good evidence. There are downsides to Britain’s membership of the EU, free movement of labour is not necessarily a good thing, and the EU is not very democratic. Many people struggle to see an alternative to EU membership, but there are actually a number of alternatives to the current status quo that Britain could adopt. In their book “Moored to the Continent“, Baimbridge et al, discuss some of the following options that could be considered:

1. Renegotiation of EU membership obligations. This is the Conservative Party’s stated position, although it is not currently known what they want to renegotiate. Baimbridge et al suggest possible areas could be the reconstitution of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, Britain’s contribution to the EU budget and it’s involvement in EU foreign and defence policy. There is some skepticism as to what could be achieved through renegotiation, as each nation would probably desire to change different aspects of the rules, but such is the importance of Britain’s market for EU exports, the could be some scope for renegotiation if the alternative was full withdrawal.

2. Creation of an Associated European Area (AEA). This arrangement would create a kind of two-tier Europe, with one group of countries continuing the path towards further integration, and a second group continuing to cooperate on areas like trade and the environment, while keeping control of other areas like economic policy, currency and social and labour market policies. This option could be facilitated by an amendment to the Amsterdam Treaty, and would allow those countries who wish to integrate further to do so, while  allowing others favourable terms while maintaining a looser association. Win win?

3. Membership of the single market through EFTA and the EEA. This option would mean the UK would formally leave the EU and rejoin the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), that it was a founding member of over 40 years ago. That would make the UK eligible to join the European Economic Area (EEA). This would give the UK some of the benefits of full EU membership (but also some of the downsides), while allowing it autonomy over areas like agriculture and fisheries, and allowing it to trade frrely with nations outside the EU. As an EEA member, they could also veto EU law if they think it goes against their national interest. This is a similar situation to that of Norway.

4. Bilateral free-trade agreement between the UK and EU. This one means full UK withdrawal followed by a negotiation of a bilateral trade deal. The UK would retain greater freedom than under option 3 and create a relationship similar to that between the EU and Switzerland. The UK is such an important market for other EU states, it is highly likely that such an agreement could be negotiated without the EU engaging in discriminatory practises – they would have more to lose.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all these options, but all involve the UK maintaining some kind of relationship with the EU, while regaining certain powers it has given away. I favour option 4, but can see some advantages of option 2. There is scope for cooperation on areas like environmental protection and scientific research that could cross national boundaries. Most people agree the EU will need to change, but while some feel this change should be closer integration, others are less enthused. We already have something of a two-tier Europe with those within the Eurozone and those without. Something more formal could be an option worthy of consideration.

Self employment, money and post-crash economics

My weekly list of links returns. This week, blogs on economics, food banks housing and self-employment. First up, here’s Flipchart Rick with a blog on the remarkable increase in self-employment over the last 12 months:

Self-employed – the nouveau pauvre

On food banks now, and following the Mail on Sunday’s ‘expose’ of food banks, a couple of weeks ago, here, the manager of a food bank responds:

“We will always err on the side of compassion”

There’s been a real trend over the past year of TV docs focusing on poverty and aspects of the social security system. The latest is called “How to Get a Council House” as Jules Birch explains here:

Adjust your set

Here’s a couple of blogs on the DWP. The first details problems surrounding the new Help to Work scheme which aims to bully people into work, and the second is an interview with a Jobcentre Plus advisor:

Chaos at the DWP as bungled Help to Work scheme attempts to launch

Jobcentre Plus advisor: “The reforms have been designed to hide the numbers of unemployed”

Economics now, and there’s a couple of interesting (to me) debates going on in economics at the moment that are getting a bit of attention in the blogosphere. The first is over the nature of money and the role of banks in our society. This blog at Positive Money is quite a good summary of the debate (although I take the other side to them):

The debate on money reform goes mainstream

Another debate in economics has been kicked off following the publishing of a book called Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Picketty. Larry Elliot in the Guardian explains the hype here, and this book does seem to have single handedly put the issue of inequality back on the table. This could potentially be quite significant as it gives academic respectability to any politician wishing to do something about inequality.

Finally, a third significant event in economics was the publishing of a report by some students at Manchester University into the state of economics teaching at their university. A lot of it chimes with my experience of studying economics (although reading the report, I think my course was probably a lot better). The response from academics has been interesting, mostly denying there is a problem, or playing down the issue. Here’s a good blog suggesting an alternative approach and discusses the response from mainstream economists:

Post-crash economics clashes with ‘econ tribe’