Tuesday, 28 July 2015

In Corb We Trust?

It might be a little controversial but I am not one to not say what I think. Here is a video with me discussing my thoughts on the Labour Leadership contest.

Monday, 20 July 2015

19th July Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

The hot topic in the Labour Party is can Jeremy do it? We discuss many issues arising from the Leadership battle that is becoming more interesting by the day. Click play using the button below to have a listen.

Whilst we are not going to do weekly podcasts any more it is still worth subscribing via iTunes. Click the big button on the right to subscribe so you always know when a new show is available to download.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Don't Celebrate Just Yet

For the avoidance of doubt, I support the Fox Hunting Act as it is and there should be no diluting or repeal of the bill. However, please take a moment before rejoicing over the Tories deciding to suspend the vote.

The suspension followed an announcement from the SNP that they would forgo previous parliamentary conventions whereby SNP MPs abstain or do not vote for legislation not directly related to Scotland. Facing an embarrassing defeat, the Tories scrapped the vote. As I say a huge victory for public activism, or is it? Unfortunately not, as I will explain below.

In the current political makeup of the chamber, English Votes for English Laws means an increased Tory majority in of over 50 MPs. In what I view as an incredible admission, Downing Street have confirmed they will re-run the hunting vote once the SNP cannot vote on the amendments. In other words, they will vote again once they have arbitrarily increased their notional majority to guarantee their amendments will go through.

In one respect this is devastatingly sensible. Any good politician will tell you that if you go to a vote wondering if you are going to win you have probably already lost. It is, however, crushing for the many people who have written to their MP very concerned about the changes and urging the MPs support, even if they are giddy with their apparent success this afternoon. In a constituency such as North West Durham, where Pat Glass has never wavered from voting against such proposals, her support is welcome but ultimately the parliamentary majority of the Tories will tell in the end, particularly once the (now assured) constitutional change takes place.

It could have all been very different. The SNP have predictably played to the gallery and missed a trick with superficial and ill thought out tactics. Sitting on slim and very fickle majorities, they will have seen for the first time a true deluge of correspondence from their constituents. There is no greater engagement in campaigning than animal welfare so when you hear an MP say "the postbag has been full" trust me they really mean it on this issue.

Instead of announcing their intent to vote with Labour against the amendments, would it not have been far better for the SNP to say nothing and then crash into the "No" lobbies in a surprise move? Could they not have resisted goading the Tories for one day? It seems not. Their need to appease their voters amid their own insecurity won through allowing Cameron to retreat and live to fight another day. Even if Cameron had re-run a vote in the future once English votes for English Law had been introduced, it would have been far easier to criticise him for doing so if he had lost tomorrow.

As it happened, with the knowledge of a likely defeat Cameron could not risk being hit with the stick he so effectively hit Ed Miliband with during the 2015 General Election campaign where he said the SNP would be calling all of the shots. They certainly have this time, but the Tories have a more long term plan. Where Nicola Sturgeon is right, however, is when she says this shows how slim the Tory majority really is. I said that right from polling day, it won't ever be plain sailing for Cameron and Osborne in this parliament, but it will certainly be a lot easier in certain issues without the SNP vote siding with the opposition.

So whilst 38 degrees will sell this as a government climbdown due to public activism, the truth is it was nothing but pure politics at work here. The vote will be re-run, Labour MPs will promise to vote against, then the Tories will win. It is disappointing for the activists who care greatly about this issue, but it has wider implications for how the politics of this parliament will play out.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Osborne Sharpens His Axe

It was a Conservative pledge prior to the General Election that a majority Tory government would cut £12 billion from the welfare bill if they were elected. Plans are now being made by Chancellor Osborne to go ahead with the most severe cuts to welfare spending in living memory. Surprisingly few people seem to understand the scale of these cuts and I have had to bite my tongue when a friend posted a YouTube video saying do not cut £12 billion, simply cut MP wages and expenses instead.

Many people who were anti-Tory voted Green and no doubt went to bed feeling good about themselves and many made a stand against foreign folk having the audacity to wish to live here and voted UKIP. Both woke up to a Tory government. These voters are now reverting to type, filling the inboxes of Labour MPs via lobbying mediums such as 38 degrees asking "Will you vote against these cuts?" and participating in other campaigns handed to them by the unelected lobbyists. That's another story. For the record, the Labour MPs certain will vote against thee cuts, but there is not enough of them so it's pretty meaningless.

£12 billion cut from the welfare budget is 12,000 million pounds so you can expect very unpalatable announcements. You don't think George Osborne has held back these cuts because he thinks you are going to like it do you? There is also a presumption that this is the extent of the cuts to welfare, however, there is certainly the prospect and I believe the likelihood that there will be more cuts in the future on top of the impending cuts we know about.

So what do I expect to be cut? I will give my predictions here and we will see how close I am. I hope I am wrong by the way, but here they are.

  • Housing benefit cut for everyone under 25. 
  • Disability benefit cut to the levels of Jobseekers Allowance.
  • Fitness to work tests receiving tightened criteria.  
  • The welfare cap going down to £23,000 and then very soon to £20,000. 
  • Child Tax Credits limited to 2, possibly 3 children. 
  • A tightening of working tax credits criteria.

On this point the government have gotten away with an absolute scandal of a policy sales pitch. They are suggesting that by reducing working tax credits employers will cover the difference with increased wages. The very suggestion that companies will turn around after the budget and say to an employee "I note you are down (say) £20 per week in working tax credits, so here is a pay rise" is complete fallacy. I expect Tories will say that making working pay is one part making benefit not pay and to this end they are making real progress. Anyone struggling to make ends meet now faces real problems in the very near future.

I almost feel for the Lib Dems. They always said they acted as a brake against pure Conservative policy. After the emergency budget we will probably have to concede that they were in fact a brake on Tory plans and that with Osborne at the wheel and the pedal firmly to the ideological metal, the Conservatives will be using their surprise election win to justify a their continued dogmatic surge towards smaller government both centrally and locally, a vastly reduced welfare state and an increasingly free market in terms of both business and labour.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Mistakes of Politics and Being Political

There is an inbuilt ambition in all of us, whether we admit it or not. The public dislike the welfare system because it is seen to offer an alternative to work which is adequate. In order to satisfy low income working families, a huge part of the voting electorate by the way, there must be a correlation between efforts to succeed and rewards for doing so. The welfare system must provide a safety net but not affluence. I believe the role of Politics is to provide pathways where effort can be rewarded. If that makes me Tory then so be it, I believe I stand with the majority of the country where I say that welfare system is a support mechanism but shouldn't be a lifestyle.

We live in a society where social mobility is far more inflexible than it was 10 years ago. I used to quit my jobs when the going got tough, if they treat me badly I just left because I knew I'd find another job. I am far more mature than I was, maybe it's the mortgage! Young people these days leave University and enter the labour market into a huge pool of equal talent with very little to differentiate each person. I would have been completely and totally lost in today's labour market as a young man. I would have succumbed to a terrible job and felt underutilised, frustrated and probably depressed. Unless you stand out from the crowd with a brash exterior and heaps of self-belief you could drown in the competition. It's tough to remain confident following setbacks and in an age where to even receive a rejection letter is rare, it's easy for confidence to erode over time when even such a simple life aspiration like finding work and having independent income seems beyond a person.

Think about the realities for young people these days. They must work longer to receive a state pension which will only be payable for young people today at the age of around 70 - 75. Careers lasting longer for most means less vacancies and slower career progression. It means more frustration as workers await opportunities and more competition when that opportunity does arise. This leads to lateral job movement so you are fighting for positions that have applicants who have already done the exact job somewhere else. Is it little wonder there is more new businesses launching with people taking massive risks? Pursuing a normal career is not as attractive as it was even just 5 years ago. It is fine for people at the top.

The choice for young people these days is spending 30 years slowly going up the career ladder with no guarantees or taking a shot at running their own business with even a small hope of hitting it big and having everything they ever dreamed of. I believe owning my own business in some form is my only chance of making a large income over £50,000 a year. I will not be able do this in the public sector.

I reject any assertion by the Conservative government that the entrepreneurial spirit we see in the country today, with the number of new businesses starting around the country increasing month on month is an achievement they can take credit for. I believe the unequal country they have created and the great difficulty in progressing within conventional employment routes means that desperation and not aspiration fuels the increase in self-employment. That is testimony to those seeking to do well by the limited means available to them as the jobs market has let them down. Labour needs to catch up. People are trying to build their own future and we need to support them.

There are people like me all over the place who are trying hard but struggling to break through, who do all the recommended actions but watch others succeeding instead of them. It is frustrating to watch people using sharp networking and personal favours rather than effort and attainment to progress in their lives. This can easily result in a protest vote because they feel they have plenty of protest about. But I am not giving up and neither should you. For those that do quit, they are sealing their own future and that is their choice.

The Political party that accepts people want to be successful, run businesses, earn money and feel fulfilled and offers a package that shows they understand this will win support. I do not want any handouts or help, I just want to know that there is social justice in terms of fairness of opportunity and that there will be a reflection of our efforts and that if I am good enough, nothing will prevent me getting fair equity from life. A party that inspires the electorate wins. For many people, once they have crossed the ballot box, they hope not for an easy ride, but a level playing field where being good actually matters.

The rest is down to us, but there must be a path to walk down in order to succeed. It is that path that politics must provide.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Labour Leadership Video

Nominations closed yesterday for the Labour Leadership.

The candidates are as follows, with links to their websites;

Here is a short video I recorded yesterday giving my thoughts on the Leadership, including my view that we need to focus on getting back into power in 2020, rather than a debate on identity, as I do not feel our ideology is in question. It is simply a case of presenting an attractive package to the electorate that they are prepared to vote for.

Durham County Council Chief to Retire

Durham County Council's Chief Executive, George Garlick, has announced he is to retire in January 2016. Mr Garlick has been Chief Executive of Durham County Council since 2008 and oversaw the massive restructuring when the council became the single unitary authority in County Durham. He has announced his intention to retire to allow the process of appointing his successor ample time to take place.

Rachel Wearmouth of The Chronicle reports that Mr Garlick always intended to retire at his 60th birthday. According to his biography on the County Durham Community Foundation website Mr Garlick started his career as a teacher before teaching in the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency’s college in Riyadh for two years before returning to England. He then worked as a solicitor with various councils in England before becoming Assistant Chief Executive with Cumbria County Council in 1993. In 1995 George was appointed as the first Chief Executive for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council and in 2007 he was awarded an OBE for services to local government.

The post of Chief Executive, with a generous pay package of £200,000 per annum plus the opportunity to earn large bonuses, will attract interest many of the top civil servants in the North East, including potential internal candidates like the current Assistant Chief Executive, Lorraine O'Donnell and portfolio Directors Terry Collins, Don McLure, Ian Thompson and Rachael Shimmin.

The new Chief Executive is likely to have a baptism of fire, however, with councillors already holding discussions to consider how to allocate ever decreasing funds following the latest round of central government spending reductions, which are expected to be confirmed in the next budget delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Labour Leaders Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

We return to discuss the Labour Leadership election in a 25 minute podcast. We discuss Jeremy Corbyn's nomination and how we feel the debate will be shaped moving forward as well as our own views.

Please subscribe via iTunes using the link at the right hand side of this page so you always know when a new show is available and thank you for listening!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Why I'm Worried about Labour

I am worried. We heard repeated concerns on the doorstep that suggested Labour did not have enough answers to the questions the public cared about. As activists we tried our best, but the national policy and leadership seemed distant from the people. When the likely SNP gains in Scotland were turned into a reason to fear Labour rather support us, we failed to either defeat that argument or predict and diffuse it. At the close of poll we were given the news we feared, learning immediately that we had suffered a crushing defeat.

Let's start with what we did right. Ed Miliband is a man of principle and he was right to stand up and fight against the bankers. He was right to challenge Rupert Murdoch and promise action against the energy companies. He was right to say Britain is an unequal country. Labour stood up for those affected by the Bedroom Tax but the democratic system meant we were offering a key policy to our core vote and to a demographic that fails to vote. Democracy can be a blunt instrument of fairness sometimes.

I am not jumping on the bandwagon of "having known what would happen all along". I supported the package we offered as I felt it would improve the country. Unfortunately the result forces us to look in the mirror and review the other side of the coin. We did a number of things wrong. Our main strategy was a very safe one of "not being the Tories". We relied on a view that the Tories are "the nasty party" but being only better than the opposition does not necessarily gain support in an era where protest voting is common. Labour aimed for 35% of the vote rather than reach for a result to be proud of. We failed to realise the Lib Dem vote had hemorrhaged so badly it was nonsense to factor into our strategy a Lib Dem survival or that there would be tactical voting to help Labour. The Tories always stood to do well if the Lib Dems flopped. And they did.

We never bounced ahead in the polls which was a sign that the public were not inspired. We became increasingly panicked and the doomed 'Ed Stone' was an embarrassment that we were rightly ridiculed for. With a choice of laughing or crying I laughed along with it. In hindsight we made a grave mistake early on when we elected the wrong leader. I grew to like Ed Miliband but I voted for his brother David. I believed in David's ability to resonate with the parts of the electorate we had to win as we already had the votes from those voters we would not lose. I pragmatically accepted that a left wing party (unfortunately) does not win. Towards the end I really believed Ed was statesmanlike, however, this should have been evident from the start and unfortunately it wasn't. This may sound blunt and I must clarify that I say this with respect for someone who took everything the press, the public and Jeremy Paxman had to throw at him and emerged principled and with dignity.

I remain worried. In 2010, whilst Labour happily sat on the sidelines looking for a new leader and engaged in the comfortable and protracted naval gazing that we have always enjoyed, the coalition government united in framing the argument that rewrote history stating that Labour on our own caused the global economic crash. We did not cause the crash, but we never retaliated. We were too busy discussing things between ourselves and the public felt if we didn't fight the allegation we were happy to be laden with it and accepted the point. Labour was so afraid of 'Blairism' and 'Brownism' we forgot to defend socialism. To suddenly come out fighting now seems odd and deliberate, rather than an ongoing position we should have taken based on principle. I recall my local party branch urging our MP to tell the shadow front bench and Ed Miliband to fight Cameron more aggressively and more often. As the parliament progressed things did improve, but first impressions count for a lot and we can see from the result the damage had been done.

Once again Labour is waiting until later into the summer to announce our new leader which gives the Conservatives ample time to paint us in any way they see fit. They will attempt to solidify their argument that the country has given them a mandate based on trust and competency. We are giving away vital time and I am concerned the party may not be organised enough to fight that point. Early indications of the debates suggest we are as preoccupied with fighting the SNP as we are fighting the Tories. We need an organised strategy from our new Leader rather than the current lashing out in all directions.

The One Member One Vote election system will lead to a fairer result. I initially supported Chuka Umunna but he has shown vulnerability. Umunna was damaged by walking out of a Sky Interview leading up to the election and coupled with him pulling out of the leadership race early on suggests he can struggle when the going gets tough. The lack of an exciting candidate meant Dan Jarvis appeared refreshing and different but was completely unproven and would have been a risky choice. This is despite his back story and the surprisingly positive media profile. He has left the door open for a run in the future. Liz Kendall would mean a lurch to the right which the party faithful will view with suspicion and she must consider whether her rhetoric is going too far in rejecting our previous ideas. Pandering to perceived populist views only gets you son far. Yvette Cooper is a strong candidate but I think she will fall short to Andy Burnham and finish behind Liz Kendall. I do not believe Mary Creagh will get onto the ballot and Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy is an uneasy throwback to times we need to move on from. Andy Burnham is presentable and offers an interesting combination of the change candidate and old guard. He is my choice at the moment as we need someone with a foot in both camps but I am open to the other candidates who may inspire me to change my mind.

When I choose who to support, my vote will go to the candidate most likely to lead Labour to victory in 2020 as it is all about winning the next General Election. Otherwise why bother?

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Please Register to Vote

Click Here To Register To Vote

You may be disillusioned, I feel that way sometimes. But being one of the (unfortunate) majority who sits and home and gets radically effected by government policy means you probably regret not getting involved when you realise that to have your say at the ballot box is the only thing that really ensures you exercise your opinion. Even contacting an MP or councillor via email, participating in a 38 degrees campaign or sending a letter, as good as this may appear to many people and as useful as they are as means of contact, does not actually change anything.

Democracy is not perfect. The 'First Past the Post' system renders the majority of seats and therefore the majority of votes pointless in the wider reality of deciding which party wins power. It is known that a handful of votes can change a government either way, perhaps as little as 1000 votes. Crucially, however, these votes have to be in the right seat in order to be the votes that really count. This is unfair on the voter and makes some votes more important than others. It also makes making the case for non-voters to become voters all the more difficult, particularly in non-critical seats.

Activists that I deal with are stoically committed to the power of knocking on doors. I remain unsure and I had a discussion with an "activist's activist" this week who agreed with me that the vote on the day had no real bearing to the many thousands of doors they knocked on during the election and they questioned the ongoing relevance of this means of canvassing. In case you are wondering, this anonymous person is not someone that has appeared on my politics podcast! I accept that breathe a sigh of relief if we are leafleting rather than door knocking, but I do think that people either say they vote for you honestly or pretend to support you just to get rid of you, they say something nasty because it's the only opportunity they have to exercise some bile against politicians or they just don't answer the door. I do believe that being seen out and about does have its benefits, but there is no evidence that the vote collapses in areas where we don't knock, which is many.

I believe that the election result in the May 2015 General Election will increase voter engagement. People will begin to realise that to protest vote, however well-intended, maintains the status quo. As politically opportunistic as this will appear and I make no apologies for it, you will only ever get a Tory or Labour government. Neither are perfect but you choose the overall direction. Do you choose the free market, survival of the fittest of the Conservatives or the enterprising yet socially just focus of Labour. Governments change and Labour will get back in. You decide whether it is 2020 or 2025 when we return. Yes, Labour must offer a presentable and coherent set of ideas, but upon doing so it is you that must vote for it.

Click Here To Register To Vote