Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Election Special

A coloured voting box

Did you vote yesterday ? You’re not alone !

I’ve decided I’m going to try and blog more often. Here’s my starter for 10 …

I’ve wrestled with my conscience about whether to vote in yesterday’s elections for Police Commissioners. It struck me right from the start that these elections would be marked by a mixture of total apathy, and by outright opposition. If I’d been keeping up to my blog I’d have been able to link to a previous post so that I could say “I told you so !”.

Well I didn’t keep up to my blog so I can’t, and I didn’t, but I could have.

It all seemed so obvious to me …

In the first instance,  the public simply don’t have the appetite for more ranks of elected officaldom. (As demonstrated by the widespread rejection of the option of having elected Mayors ). Democracy for the British people it would seem is about electing people with sufficient seniority to appoint other people that they choose on our behalf to do the donkey work for them.

And really, what’s wrong with that ?

I’m actually fine with that state of affairs.

Secondly – if you’re going to politicise any thing, then please do not make it the Police Force – it’s the last thing in the world that most people would want dominated by an elected official.

It feels very wrong in my own opinion – and also feels decidedly un-British. A bit like having a Sheriff in the Wild West.

I’m not actually sure where the idea came from – was it an issue in the general election ? If it was then I missed it. It seems we’ve had this wonderful idea dropped on us from on high – and unlike the idea of AV voting, and elected mayors, this time we weren’t given a choice of whether to accept this innovation to our democratic process – we were merely given the choice of who we wanted to do the job that had been invented.

Well I didn’t want anybody to do the job. OK – I’d prefer a Labour candidate. And I’d prefer any candidate that’s not part of a far right racist group. Really though – I’d prefer it if our time wasn’t wasted on this rubbish.

So what happened at the Ballot Boxes ?

Record low turnouts; very high numbers of spoiled ballots; and a high number of independents elected (it remains to be seen how many of them are well qualified ex-policemen, and how many are dangerous authoritarian nut cases – I’m hoping the former is the case).

We’ve also had the Electoral Commission announcing that it will launch an inquiry into the low turnouts, which they describe as “a concern for everyone who cares about democracy”.

So what does David “I’m in touch” Cameron have to say ?

David Cameron speaking after the election : “It takes time to explain a new post”

Well according to the BBC David Cameron said low turnout in a first-time election was expected. (which begs the question of why he didn’t address that before polling day). When told that ‘Numerous areas have confirmed turnouts ranging from 13-20%.’ – he said

“It takes time to explain a new post,” and he predicted voting numbers would be “much higher next time round”

What was that Prime Minister ? Next time ? Next time ? – are you having us on ?

I’m sorry Mr Cameron but you’ll have to do better than that.

Cast your minds back about a year – when various unions took ballots regarding strike action to protest against Government plans for public sector pensions.

A well reported one was this : Unison members vote for pension strike  which Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude responded to by calling on Unison members not to go ahead with a strike.

“Today’s Unison ballot received a very low turnout – with less than a third of their members even voting – which shows there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action their union leaders want,”

So what he was saying was that despite the technical legitimacy of the mandate for strike action by Unison, they should not take the action because there was no ‘popular’ mandate – no ‘moral’ mandate if you prefer.

This on a vote of members who’d chosen to join the union, members who would not be bound by the result of the ballot; and who voted 78% to 22% in favour on a 29% turnout.

This equates to around 22.5% of the total eligible to vote. Admittedly it’s hardly overwhelming.

It stacks up well though compared to the Conservatives’ share of total possible votes in the 2010 general election – 26% – slightly more than 1 in 4 of the electorate.

And it looks very much like a landslide in comparison with the victory for new Conservative PCC  Matthew Ellis in Staffordshire. Mr Ellis described his share of the vote as “a decent mandate” – yet on the meagre 11.63% turnout his share of the vote amounted to just 6% of the electorate.

Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, Conservative Party l...

“You’ve all done very, very well !”

Mr Cameron when 6% is a decent mandate, then we have a problem. The process of appointing these commissioners needs, at the very least, to be suspended pending further parliamentary debate. While no one seriously questions the technical legitimacy of these elections, it’s clear that there is very little support for the new proposed Police Commissioners- how ill any one gain by imposing this measure on the public ?

Elsewhere all the elections went pretty much as expected. Two Labour holds in Manchester Central and Cardiff South & Penarth; from which precious little can be learned especially on the very low turnouts.

The turnout was more respectable in Corby where Labour’s Andy Sawford won with a large swing to Labour following semi-celeb Louise Mensch’s resignation recently.

It’s difficult to really divine what this means in national terms – it’s by no means an absolute death sentence for the Government – but it’s also still a pretty positive and healthy result for Labour.

What really struck me about the Corby by-election though was Louise Mensch staying

Louise Mensch MP, Corby and East Northamptonshire

Louise Mensch – It’s all about me ! (Photo credit: Stop Climate Chaos Coalition)

true to her media image by singularly failing to keep her gob shut.

Having ousted a Labour MP incumbent since 1997 at the 2010 general election, Louise handed a hard earned Conservative seat straight back to the opposition half way through the parliament. Perhaps she’d have thought today was a day to merely congratulate the victor, and offer some apology to the defeated Tory candidate.

Here’s what she said  :

Election result will not be a verdict on either Christine, or the Conservatives, but only on the decision I took to step down mid-term

Well get you Menschy !

Who the hell does she think she is ? Obviously she thinks she’s so important that the people of Corby will vote on no other issue other than her resignation – they won’t be bothered by the omnishambles of a Government, they won’t bother looking at what any of the candidates have to say – for any of the parties. No they’ll just be so furious at the loss of their darling Louise that they’ll take it out on her old party.

And with these words Louise once again illustrates that character trait running right through the Tory Party – the characteristically self-centred sense of superiority and elevated status which they feel is their entitlement. Perhaps if Louise had campaigned with Christine in Corby and told the pleb electorate to know their place and vote for who she told them to, then they might have won.

Finally we had the news of John Prescott failing in his bid to be elected as a Police Commissioner in Humberside. Conservative MP Robert Halfon exhorted to Twitter :

At least John Prescott didn’t get elected as Police Commissioner -#notalltoday’sTorynewsisbad

And yet even in this hashtag he is at least partially mistaken.

John Prescott’s defeat, was not achieved through the First Past the Post system. It was achieved through the AV system – that system that the country voted so overwhelmingly to reject, and which most of the Tory Party (including Robert Halfon) campaigned vigorously against – rejecting it as undemocratic.

English: John Prescott, British Labour politic...

A not so recent picture of John Prescott looking grumpy. The ones today were pretty much the same

On a first past the post vote, John Prescott would have been elected.

On a count of first preferences, winning candidate Matthew Grove’s 29,440 votes account for just 4% of the total electorate

Yet the Tories seem to be dancing in the street.

Do they even know what democracy means ?

Omnishambles !

Omnishambles !

Omnishambles

November 16, 2012 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pantomime, Pasties and Election failures, some observations and a moan

Ed Miliband, British politician

Come on Ed Miliband - Surely you know what to do - don't you ?

This has been one of the weirdest 10 days or so in politics for some time, and pretty much all of the bad stuff has happened to the Tory led coalition government.

Pretty much.

The Budget was always going to be a toughie for George Osborne – but because everyone knew that, to an extent the disharmony arising from it was likely to have been discounted by the spin doctors in advance. So the Tory press were at the ready, ready to tell us  what a good job he’d done, protecting the most vulnerable in a time when nothing he did was going to please many people, but he’d done his best – blah blah …

It didn’t happen though.

He made a public relations catastrophe out of cutting the 50p tax rate (even though it’s deferred a year, even though it’s almost an article of faith for Tory rank & file, and even though it’s quite obviously been a hand grenade with a long fuse lobbed by Gordon Brown in the dying days of the Labour Government, designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Tories).

Catastrophe number two – the Granny tax – minor adjustment leaving old people worse off – Most people didn’t really understand it – but the perception that the Tories value millionaires over poor pensioners (some pensioners are millionaires too by the way) did not go down well.

And of course Pasty-gate.  A relatively minor alignment of an anomaly in VAT – should have been able to have been broken in gently, should have gained fairly little attention, but no – it again emphasises the crass prioritisation of the needs of people who lunch at the Savoy Grill, over those who grab a snack from Greggs in their 30 minute lunch break, and then goes viral – helped in no small part by the laughably pathetic attempts to justify all their moves by the Tory spokespeople who were wheeled out. The arguments about who ate which pasty where, only serving to make the whole thing – and the whole government look more and more ridiculous, and by inference totally incompetent and unable to manage their own public image. The fact that probably the biggest losers as well will not be pasty-munchers, but the entrepreneurial owners of fast food sellers such as Greggs, was again not lost on the Tory press.

Then there’s the Dosh for Dinner with Dave debacle. There we are with the Tory treasurer caught in the act, pretty much with his metaphorical pants down. He knows the jig is up, and he walks, but it doesn’t stop the rest of the senior Tories (minus the PM of course who’s too scared to show his face) frantically trying to defend an undefendable position by doing what  ? Well by blaming Labour of course !

Oh yeah, this isn’t about selling your policies to the highest bidder, it’s about Labour getting all that money from the unions. Those big bad unions ruled by unaccountable despots who pay the Labour party to do what they want.

Well actually no it’s not, and the public for once aren’t falling for it, and to their credit neither are the normally sycophantic Tory press – Labour was formed by the Unions, donations to Labour are effectively the aggregation of the many thousands of large donations from working people which are passed to the party  - and they still add up to only a fraction of the sums handed to the Tories by their wide boy spiv friends.

Then comes the biggest own goal – Francis Maude,  who uses a strike ballot and an up-coming bank holiday as an excuse to panic the whole country into hoarding petrol. Despite the fact that there’s been no strike called, nothing to suggest an imminent strike, and it being very unlikely that one can be called before the holiday weekend.

Throw into that the fact that Unite are quietly and methodically inviting the employers to get in touch with Acas in order to mediate a settlement, and have published their ballot details – which are absolutely overwhelming and on a huge turn out, and the Government starts to look very foolish in deed.

So when in a hole, what do they do ?

Naturally they do what they’ve been trained to do : Blame the mess that Labour left.

Except this time it’s not being swallowed by anyone – even The Mail and The Telegraph are now openly criticising David Cameron and his chaotic management of what isn’t really any kind of crisis, but has turned into something that looks very much like one. The pantomime that’s ensued is reminiscent of the sleazy comic chaos of the worst parts of John Major’s government. A state of affairs that led in no small part to Labour’s landslide 1997 General Election victory under Tony Blair.

So a by-election in a safe North of England seat should be signed sealed and delivered at the end of all this stuff shouldn’t it ?

Well no.

It was George Galloway that won it – the same creepy egotist that sucked up to Saddam Hussein and Rula Lenska’s outstretched hand.

So how did that happen then ?

A shift in the Muslim vote? a misunderstanding of the depth of feeling over Afghanistan ? George’s brilliant oratory skills (please – it’s just not true)

Well I don’t really know – but what I do know is that it could only happen if Labour hadn’t royally messed up.

Respect ? Not from me !

When the Tories are in disarray & fools like George Galloway can still make a monkey out of Labour - it's time for some real leadership

What we have is a Government that is as unpopular as Thatcher’s  ever was,  as chaotic and sleazy as John Major’s government ever were. More than that though – where Margaret Thatcher’s unpopularity in some quarters was unbounded. It was matched by hero worhip in others. There’s no such mandate for David Cameron – he didn’t even manage an overall majority. Even the Tories don’t like him.

In contrast to Thatcher, The Cameron government sneaks in right wing ideological change in the guise of sorting out a fictitious “mess” left behind by Labour, or on a pretext of austerity. Margaret Thatcher didn’t do that – she said what she was going to do, and she went ahead and did it – to applause and boos in roughly equal measure.

In Dave Cameron’s pantomime though there are only boos – even his loyal Tory Press are now rounding on the Government incompetence.

Which makes it all the more worrying that Labour can’t hold on to a safe seat.

So at the end of this almost unprecedented period of British politics, I have unfortunately got to conclude that our leadership in the Labour Party is not delivering.

Ed Miliband – I will always be loyal to the party leader, and wish that the rest of the party would be too; but the Bradford West by election is one which Labour should and could have won. The conditions for victory could scarcely have been more favourable for the party.

So Ed, I think you really need to do something very dramatic now to inject momentum into the party’s fortunes. I don’t know what form that should take – but if we approach the General Election with the same kind of leadership that we approached the Bradford West by election , then we will probably lose it.

There are probably lots of lessons from the Bradford by-election – but one that is clear is this : However badly the Tories and Lib Dems mess up, and however un popular they are, it’s still no guarantee that Labour will benefit.

Please Ed. Get it sorted.

April 1, 2012 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

David Lammy doesn’t know the law on smacking children

MP David Lammy posing with an early medieval s...

Don't know what he's holding - hope he doesn't smack any kids with it.

UPDATE : Since clicking the ‘Publish’ button I spotted the article on Liberal Conspiracy which covers pretty much the same ground as this article – Give it a read, there’s a link at the bottom.

The Daily Mail in this article on David Lammy MP’s recent comments regarding the smacking of children, Labour MP: Smacking ban led to riots because parents fear children will be taken away if they discipline them perhaps goes overboard a little. I can’t help but feel though that David intended his words to precipitate just this kind of reaction – and I’m unsurprised by the Mail’s interpretation of his words. They may have got it a little wrong, but this gist of it is probably bang on.

I’m not going to argue about whether it’s right or wrong to smack children, or whether those of us who have been smacked as children are more or less likely to riot than those of us who were not.

I would like to set the record straight on what the Mail calls “The ban on smacking children” though

The Mail article states :

The Children Act of 2004, introduced by Tony Blair’s Government, removed the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’, meaning injuries as slight as a bruise can result in an assault charge. Guilty parents can be jailed for up to five years.

While Mr Lammy, (in his on-line web-chat for Mumsnet, says)

Parents in Tottenham continually raise with me the real pressures of raising children for example on the 15th floor of a tower block with knives, gangs and the dangers of violent crime just outside the window they say they no longer feel sovereign in their own homes and the ability to exercise their own judgement in relation to discipline and reasonable chastisement has been taken away from them. Its too easy for middle class legislators to be far removed from the realities of the typical single mum struggling with these issues and so in that context in the book I do say that we should return to the law as it existed for 150 years before it was changed in 2004.

The legislation currently talks about “a reddening of the skin” not completely sure how this applies to my own children! Previously the courts determined whether parents had used “reasonable chastisement” or “excessive force”.

So what’s the truth of the matter ?

Well the Children Act 2004 is apparently the relevant piece of legislation (to a point) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/31/section/58 . It does remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” in cases where a parent or guardian is accused of wounding, causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm or cruelty to persons less than 16 years of age.

The defence is retained though where a charge of common assault is made. This would be an assault which resulted only in bodily harm – not “actual bodily harm”. This is a lesser charge.

The statement in the Mail is misleading – an assault which caused a bruise, would have caused actual bodily harm – it would not therefore be merely an assault.

The key expression here though is “actual bodily harm”. What does it mean ?

The Children Act 2004 does not redefine this. It simply states the existing law. That’s right David, the one from over 100 years ago. The Offences Against the Person Act 1861 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/24-25/100 –  specifically section 47 of the Act which has been interpreted by lawyers for a long time as meaning that :

Common Assault is one which causes only actual bodily harm – for example it might be a smack which leaves a mark, but which quickly fades, and is only transient.

Other assaults are more serious – as they involve ‘actual bodily harm’ – which although perhaps not permanent, has more than a merely transient duration such as a bruise, or a scratch.

The reference to “reddening of the skin” is used in the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance on applying this law. http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/research/chastisement.html

The Charging Standard states that for minor assaults committed by an adult upon a child that result in injuries such as grazes, scratches, abrasions, minor bruising, swelling, superficial cuts or a black eye, the appropriate charge will normally be ABH for which the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ is no longer available.

However, if the injury amounts to no more than reddening of the skin, and the injury is transient and trifling, a charge of common assault may be laid against the defendant for whom the reasonable chastisement defence remains available to parents or adults acting in loco parentis.

Although this guidance is very influential it is not a definitive statement of the law. It is not as Mr Lammy says “legislation”  and in any case is used to clarify a law drafted in 1861 – the one which David Lammy wishes to return to – a time when relatively few people with black skin lived in the United Kingdom, and it was perhaps unsurprising that generalising statements were made. (I have unfortunately seen quite a few black children with reddened skin as well, but let’s not get sidetracked).

So to clarify if you have been accused of hitting a child in such a way that you’ve cut them or bruised them, then the defence that “I was only disciplining my own child as I believe any good parent should”  just will not wash – it’s no defence.

If however you’re accused of hitting a child in such a way that you’ve not left any mark that lasts longer than a few minutes (which presumably includes the red hand mark I remember vividly from my own childhood) – then you can say exactly that “I smacked my child because he was being naughty” – it is still legally a valid defence. It would be up to a jury, or magistrates to decide whether you were guilty. If indeed you were ever prosecuted.

The fact is that the Children’s Act, Section 58 is quite clearly NOT a ban on smacking. What it is though is a clear statement that smacking is also NOT something which would cause “actual bodily harm” to a child. Quite right too – Although the Mail talks of “injuries as slight as a bruise” – just ask yourself (especially if you’ve been smacked by your parents, or smacked a child yourself) – just how hard do you have to smack a child in order to leave a bruise ? I promise you, the hand print I mentioned earlier, left quite a mark on my memory – but it sure as hell left nothing to show for it on my leg.

The Children’s Act doesn’t take away any other defences either – so if you find yourself on the 15th floor of a block of flats and your 15 year old is coming at you with a knife, your defence is not going to be “I slapped him because he was being a tad rebellious” – it is going to be “I acted in self defence because I thought he was going to stab me”

So there is no smacking ban.

This stuff is easy to look up.

It’s even easier for David Lammy MP. That’s because he is a barrister. A man with a first class honours degree in Law.

Well you could have fooled me David.

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Family, politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Base, common & popular

Tony Blair & Margaret Thatcher - Royal London ...

Blair & Thatcher visit the wax works - Image by Alanna@VanIsle via Flickr

There have been a flurry of rumours on Twitter and on the internet more generally that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died, or is about to.

All so far have proved to be false, but have already shown that there are many – particularly within the Labour fold, that will almost literally dance for joy when she finally does pop her clogs.

I’ve despised her for many years. I won’t be dancing on her grave though – displays of joy at the demise of other human beings only serve to upset people further, and such displays will only weaken the public opinion of Labour.

Many on the left see Margaret Thatcher as possibly the most despised figure in politics in recent memory. She’s certainly the one I despise the most.

We should beware of deluding ourselves though. The real reason why so many people dislike her, is actually because so many more people thought that she was the best thing since sliced bread.

It’s also common place amongst certain Labour supporters to decry Tony Blair as some kind of demon as well.

Perhaps some people think he is. Most do not.

You’ll often hear people say that “Everybody hates Manchester United”

Why ? It’s because they’ve been the most consistently well supported, and most successful club of recent years. It’s because they’re so popular with so many, that they are so unpopular with a few. (And I’m certainly no Manchester United supporter)

The most popular, and the most significant post-war  Prime Ministers have without a doubt been Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Whether you like them or not, it is an inescapable truth that there are many millions who did – and probably still do.

So I’m just saying !

May 9, 2011 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, politics, twitter | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sayeeda Warsi does have a point about AV

Vote for me

Does AV give more say to minority parties ?

I read today two related articles published earlier last week. One in The Sun by Baroness Sayeeda WarsiWhy a vote for AV is a vote for BNP and a response to that on Left Foot ForwardWarsi makes hypocritical claim on BNP pandering

The first featuring said Sayeeda Warsi having her statements misrepresented by The Sun – she doesn’t say that a vote for AV is a vote for the BNP at all – no, she says that under AV, there is a side effect that minority parties, such as the BNP, are more likely to have their lower preferences recounted if no outright winner is elected, and this situation is likely to lead to candidates ‘pandering’ to the BNP vote in order to pick up second preference votes. Warsi concludes from this that it’s better to stick with the tried and tested approach of ‘first past the post’

I disagree with the reasoning which she uses to reach her conclusions – flaws in AV do not excuse the flaws in FPTP – which are many.

She does make an important point though – one which Will Straw’s article on Left Forward doesn’t seem to have grasped. Will appears to assume that Sayeeda is repeating the oft quoted myth which says that minority parties are more likely to win under AV than FPTP – Will’s right to challenge this – it’s spurious at best, and probably inaccurate – but it’s not what she’s saying.

Dewsbury Market

I also feel that highlighting her courting of the potential BNP vote in her previous campaign in Dewsbury, using what he tags  as “dog whistle”  literature, further misses the point. It also fails to contextualise her tactic – I know Dewsbury very well, and my feeling is that a female Asian candidate in Dewsbury, speaking directly to people planning to vote BNP, and telling them not to, is a brave strategy indeed – I don’t support her, but I do respect her for that.

To explain Sayeeda Warsi’s point, which I feel illustrates a fundamental failing of the Alternative Vote system, consider this :-

Suppose there was an election under AV which had 4 candidates – Labour,  Conservative, Liberal Democrat and BNP.

Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, that the first choice results were : Lab 21,000; Con 16,000, Lib Dem 7,000, and BNP, 4,000

After the first round of voting the BNP are eliminated – no change for them : under  First Past the Post – they wouldn’t win, and they certainly don’t win now.

So on to second preferences – but whose second preferences count ?

Most of the Labour and Conservative second preferences would be likely to be for the Lib-Dems – and most Lib Dems’ second preferences would presumably be for Conservative or Labour.

Only their second preferences don’t count – they haven’t been eliminated – so don’t get redistributed !

No !  The only second preferences cast at this point would be the BNP votes – and they have it within their power to either see Labour home and dry, or to force a third count, and the uncertainty of a redistribution of Lib-Dem votes.

So the party that comes last – the party that fewer people want to win than any other – is effectively the party whose voters get to decide the outcome of the election – which in the run up to the election, means that politicians will feel under pressure to appease minority parties to pick up second preferences.

Surely this is unfair ?

How can the least popular party be given the first opportunity to select their second choice ?

Please explain it to me – have I made a mistake with my interpretation of AV ?

I really hope I have – let me know.

So far in this campaign issues like this seem to be left un-addressed by either side. I’ve no fondness for FPTP – but from where I stand AV appears to be just as deeply flawed – I really don’t know how to vote. It’s like heads you lose, tails you don’t win.

Point me to the persuasive arguments please – not the four legs good-two legs bad bickering.

PS : Interesting how WordPress applied automatic links to Lib Dems, but not Labour, Conservative or BNP – You know where to look for them !

April 3, 2011 Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Quick thoughts on Ed Miliband at PMQ’s

Ed Miliband, British politician and Secretary ...

Ed Miliband

David Cameron

I had the rare pleasure today of seeing Prime Minister’s Questions live on BBC Parliament, and more by luck than judgement I chanced on Ed Miliband’s first outing as Leader of the Opposition at PMQ’s.

People (as ever) will argue about who had the upper hand in this clash – I felt it was game set and match to Ed, but  I heard others on the radio later saying exactly the opposite. Well that’s politics I guess – a matter of opinion,

What really hit me though is Ed’s style of delivery.

David Cameron bellows his answers, and makes  theatrical wails and exclamations of mock hilarity, backed up with hearty guffaws and “hear hears” from his own benches. In recent history it would have been pretty much the same on the Labour side as well – in fact the pantomime nature of PMQs has been like this for as long as I can remember.

Ed’s different though. He delivers calmly, quietly, assuredly and without hesitation. You get the feeling that he’s not got any particular dislike for his opponents – just that he disagrees with them. You feel that he’s not so much interested in a theatrical show stopper, as showing up the Government’s theatrics; that he’s not worried about sound bites, but about making sure that his bites are soundly delivered at the ankles of the premier.

I found it very refreshing and enjoyable – see what you think :

YouTube – Cameron v Miliband: First PMQs 13th Oct 2010

October 13, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Child Benefit – What are the Tories up to ?

George Osborne MP, pictured speaking in 2009

Chancellor George Osborne

I woke yesterday morning to see Chancellor George Osborne on Breakfast TV announcing his plans to scrap child benefit for Higher Rate tax payers from 2013 – as detailed here BBC News – Child benefit cuts ‘tough but necessary’ say ministers

There’s been a lot of talk already about this (as one would imagine) – much of it focused on the anomaly of married couples earning just below the higher rate tax threshold being able to earn a combined income of over 80,000 without losing the benefit.

Personally I think that this is one anomaly that will be smoothed out – and not really worth getting uptight over. However there are a number of things that really puzzle me about this announcement.

What hits me straight-away is that although Mr Osborne repeatedly said that this move has got to be done urgently because things are so desperately bad, and if they had any choice they wouldn’t do it, but what with the state that Labour have left things in, we can’t afford to waste time, and we’re all on this together and I’m sorry but tough times call for tough solutions, and we’re all in this together, and it’s all Labour’s fault, but it’s really urgent, and we’re all in this together, yada yada yada …   Despite all this it’s not going to be introduced for three years. Three years ? If it was really urgent they could do this next week.

So it’s not really urgent then – it’s something that can wait three years.

But what intrigues me more is exactly why the Tories are trailing a cut which will primarily hit families with a single wage earner in the lower reaches of the higher rate tax bracket. Just the kind of people by the way, who would be likely Conservative voters.

Now there are those towards the left of the political spectrum who’d rationalise this quite easily – don’t give money to relatively wealthy people – give it to the genuinely poor who need it more

There are those on the right wing who’d defend it as well – don’t nanny us, make the state smaller and allow people to make their own way in life, without contributing to the welfare of others unless they choose to, and without resorting to ‘big state’ support.

In Britain though my feeling is that we have rather more people who don’t go with either of those views. We have rather a lot of people who are somewhere in the middle. People who don’t think there’s anything wrong with turning a profit, doing well in their chosen profession or business and becoming relatively well off, but who equally don’t have a problem with the state being structured in such a way as to help ordinary people – whatever their earnings – during the times when they need it the most – not just when they’re in desperate need, but also at strategic points in their life where they are relatively more in need of a little help.

When we think of “National Insurance” – we tend to think of it as insurance against the disaster of unemployment or disability. Insurance can provide for other less drastic eventualities though – and can be a way of providing for the future benefit of our families – and the nation’s families.

This is put fairly well (by a Conservative mind) in this article on Conservative Home : George Osborne’s child benefit cut shouldn’t be permanent – thetorydiary by Paul Goodman (who I confess I have not come across before – I believe he’s the former Tory MP for Wycombe).

I don’t think this measure naturally appeals to many in any political party right now – though perhaps some of the more extreme libertarians in the Tory party like it. It could conceivably drive a lot of middle income voters towards Labour.

It could of course be justified as an “emergency measure” – except as I said at the beginning – it’s not ! – We’ll wait three years for this.

So I really don’t what the Conservatives are up to with this – I am suspicious of the Conservative tactics. I don’t think they’ll ever implement this cut in its current form, and I worry about what they will actually do instead. I usually go for ‘cock up’ over ‘conspiracy’ every time – but this time I’m not so sure.

Just a thought !

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Disability, economy, Family, politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

David Miliband’s “Thank you” email to supporters

David Miliband

David Milliband

This was David Miliband’s “thank you” email to supporters tonight – not sure if it went to all Labour members or just to those who voted for him – but here it is anyway for anyone who missed it : -

”   I wanted to write to you this evening to thank you for the phenomenal support you have given me, and the Party over the last few months.

I am so proud of the campaign we ran together, it is a testament to each of you that as we campaigned for Labour, we also campaigned to make a difference in our local communities.

I was proud also to see my brother take the stage today, the new leader of the Labour Party, and know you will join me in uniting with Ed to take on this divided coalition.

As Ed said today, we must now secure the opportunity for Labour to serve the country again; to make it a more prosperous, more equal, more fair society.

Yours ever

David    “

September 25, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Our union makes us strong

Time to decide...the future!

Image by Scootzsx via Flickr

Within seconds of the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader being announced this afternoon, media outlets and the twittersphere began to complain that Ed had been elected not by grassroots Labour supporters but by the “Unions” – hinting at some terribly un-democratic process which somehow these terrible militant organisations had managed to wield over the Labour Party. (  David Cameron punches air as unions hand Labour leadership to Ed Miliband (guardian.co.uk) )

Well let’s get a bit of perspective on that …

First of all the only Unions that get to have a say in the Labour leadership election are those formally affiliated to the party – and there aren’t that many of them. My own union – the National Union of Teachers is not one of them.

Next – members of affiliated organisations know about their union’s affiliation before they join it – there’s no such thing as a closed shop any more – and can opt out of paying the ‘political fund’ part of the membership fee (although that would also lose them their vote in the leadership election).

There’s also no such thing as a block vote – every vote in an affiliated organisation is worth the same – whether you’re one of the 83 members eligible to vote in the Labour Party Irish Society or one of the 1,055,074 eligible members of Unite the Union – the largest affiliated organisation. Every individual vote counts the same – and goes to make up 1/3 of the electoral college.

1/3 of the college is made up of Labour MP’s

1/3 is made up of Labour Party Members.

This means that different votes have different values in each section. Effectively an MP’s vote is worth 0.12 per cent of the total electorate, a party member’s vote is worth 0.0002 per cent and an affiliated member’s vote is worth 0.00000943 per cent. ( see this Next Left blog for details Next Left: What Labour leadership votes are worth when they are counted) (This assumes 100% turnout btw – which is far from the case)

It’s all very clear – a little involved, but does manage to capture every aspect not just of the Labour Party, but of the wider Labour movement – which allows Labour supporters in affiliated groups to have a say even if they are not formally party members.

Note also that the party, and many affiliated organisations have been very open about giving new members a vote – in this way opening up the election to the general public should they take the plunge and join even up to a few days before voting closed.

The full results Votes by round | The Labour Party show that indeed sections 1 and 2 of the ballot, the MPs and the Party Members, placed David Miliband first, whilst section 3 – the affiliated organisations – of which the unions are the biggest part, plumped for Ed Miliband.

Just have a look at the numbers though – 211,234 returned votes from affiliated members, as opposed to just 126,874 from full members of the party.

Undemocratic ? Not in my book it’s not.

Compare it with the way that the Conservatives choose their leader Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 2005 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – in the Tory system, the rank and file party members don’t even get to vote until the MP’s have selected the last two candidates for them.  Even then they have to have been a fully paid up member for at least 3 months to get a vote. A distinctly less democratic approach in my own humble opinion.

Democracy is always flawed to some extent, but is an attempt to reach a difficult consensus, in the fairest way possible. I think the approach used in the Labour leadership election is probably the fairest that could have been achieved. I say that having voted David Miliband as first choice – yes I’d have preferred him to win – but Ed Miliband has been elected fair and square by hundreds of thousands of Labour members and members of affiliated trades unions and organisations. I have no complaints – and will support him as best I can.

If Labour were to look at difficulties in the electoral college by the way, they might want to consider the anomaly that a low turnout in any of the 3 sections means that individual votes in that section are given relatively more weight as part of the whole college as a result. Just a thought – maybe next time ?

In the meantime congratulations to Ed Miliband – please leave a comment if you happen to read this !

Ed Milliband MP speaking at the Labour Party c...

Image via Wikipedia

September 25, 2010 Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Why I’ve voted David Miliband for Labour Leader

David Miliband for Labour Leader

David Miliband giving the Keir Hardie Lecture

There are many factors that influence voters in any election. A party leadership election is a particularly interesting one in that respect.

Why ? Well I feel it’s because a party leader really has two very different jobs – one is to “lead” the party, to steer it in a particular direction, to get the various different forces within the party to pull together so that the resultant force is in the direction which the leader, and the party as a whole want to go.

The second job however is to get the party into government. This means appealing not just to members, or regular voters of a party, but also to those who may not support the party. For an opposition party this is particularly important – without the support of a few more people who voted otherwise at the last election, the party will stay in opposition.

So in considering who to vote for I’ve tried to ask myself : Can I see this person as a leader of the Labour Party, and secondly : Can I see this person as Prime Minister ?

This is what I came up with :

First of all I think the field of candidates is a remarkably strong one – if I have a disappointment it is that there are no more female candidates – I think it’s high time Labour had a woman as leader. If they don’t choose to run though, then that’s their choice. I think Harriet Harman has done remarkably well standing in, in the interim however. I’d have been pleased to have seen Yvette Cooper running as well.

Which leads me nicely to Diane Abbott – I like Diane – she has personality to spare, a strongly evident sense of humour, and is not afraid to be outspoken. I could just about see her as Labour leader – I couldn’t see her as Prime Minister though – the massed ranks of the Tory media would have her for Breakfast, Dinner & Tea (or should that be Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner)  – and I think she’s be a very vulnerable target for those wishing to make the Labour Party look foolish. Which is a shame – I still think she has a great deal to offer as a politician.

With Andy Burnham the trouble I’ve had is that I’ve almost had to look him up on Wikipedia to find out much about him. I’ve received less information about him during the campaign than any of the others, and it’s been frankly very low-key – I’d find it difficult to identify a picture of him. An invisible leader will not win any elections, so although I’ve no reason to doubt his ability as a politician, neither do I have much positive evidence either, My guess is that the wider non-Labour electorate would say “Andy who ?” – so sorry Andy, you don’t get my vote either.

Which leaves my top three – the two Miliband brothers and Ed Balls.

I could certainly see any of these three as a Labour leader. I could certainly see any one of them ultimately as a Prime Minister. Whatever the eventual result of the leadership election, I won’t have any worries about belonging to a party led by any of these three – they are able politicians, conducting strong campaigns, and I feel that they all have the potential to bring the public around to supporting the Labour party.

So how do I choose my 1, 2, 3 ?

Well my first instinct was to go for Ed Balls. Ed is someone who has responded to letters from a local MP regarding concerns I’d raised regarding my school, on two separate occasions, with sensible and timely advice. He has read my blog on a number of occasions, and has exchanged e-mails and twitter messages. I’ve met him at the House of Commons, and found him to be very impressive. On a personal level then, this makes him a good choice for me – I’ve not met either of the Milibands, and had no interaction with them up to now.

So it was looking like Ed Balls for 1st choice to me – but how did I choose between the other two ?

It quickly became apparent that the Miliband brothers were the two front-runners in this race. Obvious too, that commentators and some supporters were trying to cast David in the role of the “New Labour” candidate, carrying the torch of the Tony Blair legacy, while Ed supposedly represented a return to “core” Labour values – to win back the votes of disillusioned left-wing voters, who had deserted the party after the commencement of the Iraq war.

For myself, I can’t really believe that any of the candidates will be definable primarily along those lines – I really don’t think that there are massive differences in approach, between these three – but that this Right side / Left side argument which is flying through the online community, is trying to stir this up in order to tribalise the leadership contest.

I blogged on this here some days ago Can we stop fighting amongst ourselves please ? « Northernheckler’s Blog

At the time it was tempting me away from the Miliband brothers who seemed to be the axis of the sudden burst of in-fighting – which led me more towards Ed Balls.

The next day I had a campaign e-mail from the David Miliband campaign : David Miliband Campaign e-mail

I liked what I read. It was almost as if he’d read my blog. Or at least was expressing exactly the same sentiments as I was.

Over the next couple of days, Tony Blair appeared increasingly on the news in relation to his new book. I lost count of the number of negative comments about him – these from supposed Labour supporters – comparing him with Margaret Thatcher, calling him a war criminal, saying he was the worst leader Labour had ever had. Many of them as well linking him directly to David Miliband.

Well actually I rather liked Tony Blair. Rather respected him too – he took principled, if controversial decisions about Iraq, which had huge popular support, as well as a substantial parliamentary majority. He achieved a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, and led Labour to an unprecedented three terms in office.

But I’m not a Blairite. Or a Brownite – I’m a left of centre Labour member and voter. Blair and Brown are gone. New Labour isn’t new anymore. Old Labour is similarly in the past.

I re-read David Miliband’s email. It seemed to sum up everything I was thinking.

And so I voted :

1. David Miliband

2. Ed Balls

3. Ed Miliband

I didn’t indicate a 4th and 5th choice – as I don’t think the other two candidates are Prime Ministerial material,

So a close run thing which has in the end been decided by my negative interpretation of Labour supporters slagging off other candidates and tribalising different factions within the party, and ultimately I’ve been tipped over the edge by a single e-mail. So I’d like to say “Sorry Ed !” to my 2 and 3 selections.

If you find my reasoning quirky or illogical, you could well be right – but that’s how I came to my decision.

I look forward to reading other bloggers’ accounts of how they made up their minds

September 7, 2010 Posted by | blogs, Election 2010, politics | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,410 other followers

%d bloggers like this: