Saturday, July 31, 2010

I'm sorry - I'll read that again

Smash the H-Blocks!

Er... sorry, that should read 'Don't Smash the H-Blocks'

(Nicked from the comments there)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Photo Opportunity

NI Unionist blogger Lee with a gentle warning to the DUP's Nigel Dodds.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Big Society: An opportunity for Labour?

This post by Anthony Painter on Labour List is easily the best commentary I've seen on how Labour should respond to the Tories' Big Society programme, insofar as it is a programme at all at the moment:
"[Labour] ...needs to be listened to again. That means a bit more honesty about where the party went wrong both in the context of the nodding dog leadership debate and the party more widely. It wasn’t just incumbency taking its toll or the unpopularity of the leader. It was also the fact that Labour was seen to have spent too much, too wastefully and had become a meddling, interfering government and a not particularly successful one at that. Acknowledging shortcomings is the first step to being heard."
and
"Labour needs to develop a way of talking about politics that is metaphorical, empathetic and tangible. The Tories play on simple themes such as the household budget as metaphor for the national budget. Well, most people would take out a loan for a car that enabled them to get to their job and enjoy their leisure time more or a mortgage to buy a home. That’s an investment and governments must invest also for a return. The left must do metaphor better.....

....Labour should not be afraid of articulating the importance of responsibility - for us all. Where it critiques the coalition, it must be on the basis of impact on people not policy detail.... Labour will only be listened to if its solutions are credible. It must articulate why the services and investments are important for all of us as individuals, for our communities and the nation. It must be clear how it would cut expenditure - or increase taxes - over what time and by what amount to make the bigger arguments. This is part of being heard again.

Labour must not look gift horses the mouth. Where the coalition is playing to an empathetic framing as it has on criminal justice and the Big Society - in thematics at any rate - don’t blindly oppose. Civic involvement is good for nurturing an empathetic mindset so encourage the Big Society and pledge to expand it and improve it. The easy option is to mock it. But what could be more compatible with an empathetic mindset than people becoming active in their local communities? Don’t forget, we are talking fundamental ways of thinking here: weaken the empathy then leave space for a conservative ideology to tighten its grip and that will have an impact across the whole of range of issues." (My emphasis)
Labour has a number of problems and opportunities arising out of the current situation. The Big Society programme highlights one further serious failing of the last Labour government: That it was captured by a managerial bureaucratic caste that was rigid and wasteful - one that refused to foster or acknowledge the existence of a public service ethos preferring outsourcing, inspection, bean-counting and permanent managerial upheaval. One that had only one measurer of value: Auditors.

There are no end of problems that the Tories will have with the implementation of this concept, not least it's near-addiction to Walter Mitty-type schemes promoted by mythical entrepreneurs and it's faith-based conviction that private sector investment will step in to replace the state spending that they are withdrawing (it really won't, and it's totally baffling to hear anyone claim otherwise).

There is a more sustainable Christian Socialist approach (one that you don't need to be a Christian to value, I'd add) that has prior claims to a lot of the Big Society ideas - but we (and presumably, the Lib Dems) can see where these ideas are simply a shill for privatisation and a Thatcherite buying-off of taxpayer lobbies.

We can also take some inspiration from this coalition government. We spent thirteen years governing as though we had a one-seat majority. It was ludicrously defensive and cautious. This lot haven't even won an election and they're already acting as though they have a 200 seat majority. There is an élan to this government that we never had - and I suspect that this is because they've resolved to take the FDA on and defeat them in a way that Labour never dared to (and should have done).

The Big Society idea - as it is articulated - is one that Labour needs to embrace. It has the potential to wean us off some of our more unattractive associations and help us to address the problems created by a politics that confuses individualism with liberty and democracy.

So, you might say, 'be nice to the Lib-Dems and embrace the whole Big Society idea - hardly the work of a defiant leftie?'

Maybe I'm getting old?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Attacking the Lib-Dems: Dos and don'ts

Don't....

Attack them for signing up for .... (insert regressive Tory-led policy here)

Do ....

Challenge them as to why they couldn't at least have got an agreement to ..... (insert cherished Lib-Dem progressive measure here)

The former will lead them to seek justification for their actions and elicit a defensive response. The latter will create problems between the leadership and the membership.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On being beastly to the Lib-Dems (continued)

Shuggy, in the comments, points approvingly to Blood & Treasure's take on how the Lib-Dems should be treated.

I'm not sure that they've accomplished their mission and should be treated as though they no longer exist - for a number of reasons, and rather than offering you a long post now, I'm going to let these observations out a bit at a time over the next few days.

My point for today is about how we understand what a political party is these days.

I don't buy the argument that the Lib-Dems (like their predecessors with the word 'Liberal' in their title) is simply a project "designed to get a share of power for their senior managers" - or rather, I do buy the argument to a certain extent (I'm sure it applies to Nick Clegg) but think that it applies to elements of all of the main parties.

It seems to me that a political party today is a coalition of different minority political interests that dislike the combined coaliton that makes up other parties more than they dislike the moderated coalition that makes up their own.

If the electoral system changes, I suspect that those coalitions will simply reconfigure slightly as different groupings become more prepared to hold their noses and get into bed with old adversaries in return for a crack at achieving a cherished goal / a sniff of power / getting their pictures in the paper.

The corollary of this is that each political party has been captured - however temporarily - by an unrepresentative social caste usually on the basis that it has persuaded the wider membership that their leadership will result in more electoral success.

This in turn effects our thinking on the question of being beastly to the Lib-Dems. If we keep shrieking at them, telling them that they're a bunch of Birkenstock Traitors, and so on, we run the risk of pushing the wider party into the ballast of Clegg's boat.

Surely, a more productive step would be to highlight the policy-areas where Labour has more in common with the Lib-Dem rank-and-file, while at the same time pointing out what a poor deal they've had from the Tories and how, if the electoral maths were to stack up in future, they would find that they'd have to make fewer compromises and achieve a good deal more by dealing with Labour?

All of that raises the question for next time: What do the Lib-Dems want?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Have a look at The Samosa?

I keep running into Anwar in London - he's a Manc of Pakistani extraction who blogs at The Samosa largely about the relationship between the Pakistani diaspora and Pakistan. This post for example:
One does not need to study Pakistan long or know it in any depth to realise that there is a huge need for reconciliation with India and a lot of unfinished business for both sides. Both sides must acknowledge the mutual hurt that still exists from the bloodshed of partition, and accept the shared culture, soil, peoples and history of the huge land mass and civilisations that make up India and Pakistan.

I spoke to a retired minister of defence who acknowledged that the majority in both establishments want this; it is how they get there that is fraught, given the above and of course the issue of Kashmir. This region needs as much attention as Israel and Palestine. The solution to Afghanistan is in large part also to be found here.

Being beastly to the Lib-Dems

I was on the House of Comments Podcast a few nights ago discussing Labour's approach to the Lib-Dems here. The shorter version of my own position is that, while it may be fun to bang on about Birkenstock Traitors, and it's a good bit of tonic for Labour's troops, that Labour's fire should all be concentrated on the Tories for reasons that seem, to me, to be obvious.

The reason I was on the podcast in the first place was to introduce a project called 'Political Innovation' (no link yet).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A question for people who work in financial services

My understanding of the details of how a lot of funds work is fairly basic, so I'd like to know if the following makes sense - would it be possible?

A lot of people have pensions, savings and endowment funds that are described as 'with profits' funds.

Am I right in understanding that the provider takes the monthly contribution and invests them across a basket of quoted companies that the provider believes will do well - striking the right balance between profitability and risk-aversion?

If so, would it be possible / easy for such a provider to launch a new fund - or offer an option to existing customers to switch to a modified fund - in which they could take a small degree of control over the fund. For instance, I could accept that Legal & General will make decisions on how 95% of my money is invested, but I could then direct them on the remaining 5% - and, say, ask them to invest it in a Football club of my choice (for example - I'm sure you could come up with an ethical alternative or one where the investor could chose to take a bit of a longshot).

Would it be possible / practical / affordable to do this? And could government do anything that would make it easier for the financial services industry to do this?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Football and Capitalist Realism

Via Will in the comments here, go and read this.
"Fans dream now not of their club being revivified by some Brian Clough-like managerial genius, but of it being saved by the largesse of a bored plutocrat. Barcelona famously have no shirt sponsor, and display the logo of UNICEF on their jerseys. United’s shirt sponsor is AIG, the insurance company at the heart of the financial crisis (according to The Economist, AIG’s “tentacles reach into every part of the economy.”) The neoliberal anti-utopia disintegrated with the bank bail-outs, even though it survives in an undead form as a set of defaults which continue to dominate social reality."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

F U N E X?

Busy. Here are two tweets to be going on with:
  1. People say 'footie' if they don't like football but want to ingratiate themselves with people who think they should like it. This is a rule.
  2. To chose your voting system based on the result of a referendum is like using trial by combat to decide who wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
And I'm amazed that I got to be so old without ever seeing this guide to speaking Swedish: