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

Monday, 25 May 2015

What is Aspiration?

Aspiration is what people like me have towards becoming more than we currently are. Aspiration is to aspire to do better in life either financially or in terms of well-being and I believe the majority of people out there have ambitions, goals and targets in life. As they should.

I look at people like John Prescott, who aspired to become an MP and did it, who became a Lord when offered and raised to the top of government and question whether he would have the gall to sit there and say this was by accident and that it is somehow wrong for the ordinary working man or woman to want to be like them and enjoy similar success they have? Labour must offer hope to the ambitious or we cannot possibly relate to how the majority of people live their lives. I hope for more money, I hope for more status and more success, because I am yet to get it and there is nothing wrong with wanting it.

We can deliver fairness without hammering those who have the wherewithal to get out there and do something with their lives. This can be done alongside providing a fair safety net for those who really need it and a fair tax system so the very wealthy pay for the safety provision offered to the less fortunate. It's not rocket science.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Out of Proportion

Shock, horror! A leaked email from the Bank of England reveals they are working on contingency schemes for such a time when Britain leaves the EU. Bare with me one moment whilst I pick myself up from the floor! Sarcasm aside, it is entirely appropriate that institutions should be planning for all scenarios, however likely or unlikely they are to actually happen. That is good strategic management and this is a non-story as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately this is the type of scaremongering that will be adopted by the press and instead of focusing on balanced, factual arguments easy rhetoric and extreme anecdotes will sway public opinion.

Whichever way we vote it is now clear that the government will be asking our opinion in the not-too-distant future. Cameron is now negotiating with European leaders for a new deal and he has admitted they will be difficult negotiations. Out of respect to Britain and our government's electoral mandate, European countries are willing to have these discussions, but their comments in the media suggest suspicion and thinly-veiled irritation that Britain are attempting to secure a preferential deal for ourselves. I note the similarity with Greece, ironically a comparison the government may now dislike having for many years used that as a stick with which to beat Labour, where Europe were happy to discuss Greece's election of the anti-austerity party, but unfortunately for Greece, the fiscal restraints and high repayments continue.

The political posturing from Cameron on these negotiations from a domestic standpoint is irrelevant. I doubt there are many floating voters who are eagerly scrutinising the deal Cameron does or doesn't obtain before deciding how to vote in the referendum, most of us know how we will vote already. I will be voting to stay in. There are lots of reasons to do so, but my prevailing argument is that we cannot expect a greater role from the outside of the EU than on the inside. I don't think I can be persuaded we are better off out than in, but I will take my vote seriously enough to think about it carefully.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

What Next For The Labour Party?

Labour have a unique challenge in appealing to middle England, the rather odd term for those who are not on welfare or filthy rich, i.e. me and most of us!

I have not yet decided who to back for the leadership. I feel that Liz Kendall will enjoy a surge of support because she is not tainted by association in the (unfortunate) way Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper are. With Tristram Hunt declared his support for her and deciding not to stand, this will only help her gain momentum. I regret Dan Jarvis and Chuka Umanna withdrew, I think both would have been great. Liz Kendall is another Oxbridge candidate so I remain to be convinced they can bridge the left and right (across the centre would you credit it) in the way Labour needs to in order to get back into power.

I recorded a video discussing some of these things which I hope you enjoy.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

17th May Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

Liam is back to discuss his campaign and we also cover the runners and riders for both Scottish Labour and the Labour Party leaders as well as our thoughts on moving forward for Labour. Click play to have a listen. We are not going to do weekly podcasts any more but will return every couple of weeks to do a podcast and discuss the latest news so please subscribe so you always know when a new show is available.