Labour didn’t lose the election in 2015….

…it lost it a lot earlier than that. It lost it in 2010 – not by its conduct in what was always likely to be a disastrous election, but in its reaction to that election. It lost it through cowardice, through short-termism, and through  what must have felt like political expediency at the time. It lost it by failing to challenge the Tory (and to an extent Lib Dem and UKIP) attempts to rewrite history, and to set a new agenda. It lost it by failing to stand up for itself, by failing to stand up for exactly those people that Labour was created to support and protect. It lost it by failing to stand up for the truth – and by failing to challenge a whole range of myths.

The first of those myths is the most obvious – the cause and nature of the economic crisis. Labour didn’t cause the crisis. Labour’s spending – whether you think it ‘overspending’ or not – was neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things – and yet almost the first we’ve heard of this from Labour has been in the 2015 campaign, and then almost apologetically. Labour should have been shouting this from the rooftops continuously from 2010, and should be shouting it still. And yet even now it’s a bit half-hearted, and every time a Labour MP says ‘no, we didn’t overspend’ it is greeted with shock! ‘Of course they overspent, everyone knows that’ seems to be the reaction – and that’s mostly because for five long years they’ve hardly dared mention it.

The next of the myths is the myth of the scrounger – fed and supported by poverty porn like Benefits Street, nurtured daily by the Daily Mail, but also seemingly accepted and agreed with by Labour spokespeople from Liam Byrne to Rachel Reeves. A myth, nonetheless – in scale, particularly. Yes, of course there are ‘scroungers’, but the numbers are relatively minuscule and the significance of benefit fraud and ‘living on benefits’ is overstated in almost every way. And yet Labour do not dare challenge it – for fear of being seen as ‘soft’. It’s not ‘soft’ to tell the truth. Indeed, it would be much braver to tell the truth. Too brave for Labour. And yet every time this fake ‘toughness’ is shown by Labour, the myth grows, and Labour’s future chances diminish. If poor people are really scroungers, then we should place our trust in those who can properly deal with them – the Tories. Each time Labour feeds this myth, it puts another nail in its own coffin. Every word of Liam Byrne, every article in the Guardian by Rachel Reeves hammers those nails in.

The third myth is about immigration – a two-fold myth, first of all that immigration is bad, and secondly that Labour got it ‘wrong’ by letting in too many people. By having an ‘open doors’ immigration policy. And yet all of these are myths. All the evidence suggests that immigration is beneficial in a wide variety of ways. It doesn’t cause unemployment or even depress wages. Benefits tourism and health tourism are particularly pernicious myths: immigrants are net contributors financially and the NHS relies on immigrant labour at every level, from surgeons to cleaners. And yet we get apologetic statements from people at the top in Labour, we get ‘Controls on Immigration’ on mugs and the Ed-Stone. And, just as for social security, every bit of ‘toughness’ is another nail in Labour’s coffin – feeding the execrable UKIP as well as the Tories. And still Labour keeps on hammering those nails home.

And the side effects of accepting these myths are hideous. The first makes austerity look ‘sensible’ and ‘necessary’ rather than ideological brutality. It means that the real causes of the problems are largely ignored – and that just makes further disasters more likely. The second creates division, ferments hatred of people on benefits and in particular of disabled people – and indeed fuels violence against them – as well as building shame in those who find themselves needing help, shame that can be deeply, deeply damaging. The third fosters racism and xenophobia – it has pumped up the rabid nastiness of UKIP and others, allowed hideous laws like the Immigration Act 2014 that entrenches racism in the law by making landlords and employers suspicious of anyone they suspect might be an immigrant: anyone who looks or sounds ‘foreign’. All this could and should have been opposed – not just because it’s based on lies and innuendo but because it is deeply and dangerously damaging. And yet, rather than opposing it, Labour has largely fed the myths themselves. Out of fear, it would seem, more than anything else.

So no, Labour didn’t lose the election in 2015. They had already lost it long before. And unless they take a genuinely difficult decision and start to tell the truth, and start to stand up for what they believe is right rather than what they think the electorate will find attractive, they’ll keep on losing. They’ll keep on doing their very best to destroy their own party – and letting down the people who their party was formed to support.

It may well be too late already. All these myths have taken hold very strongly indeed – and it would be very, very hard to fight them. I doubt very much Labour is up for that fight, even if it wants to be.

That British Bill of Rights…

The much discussed ‘British Bill of Rights’ is already being drafted. I can exclusively bring you some extracts* of the current draft.


Article 1 – Right to Life

Everyone shall have the right to life, unless their death is deemed necessary in the interests of national security, or if they cannot afford the relevant insurance to pay for hospital bills.

—-

Article 6 – Right to a Fair Trial

Everyone shall have the right to a fair trial unless they cannot afford it or the Home Secretary should decide that such a trial is not necessary in the interests of national security

—-

Article 8 – Right to a Private Life

Everyone shall have the right to respect for their private and family life, except if any intrusion in that private or family life is performed by the police, the security services, tabloid newspapers, Google, Facebook or any other commercial enterprise as agreed with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

—-

Article 10 – Right to Freedom of Expression

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers, except if such information is deemed unsuitable, extreme, or otherwise inappropriate by the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre or the Taxpayers Alliance

—-

Article 11 – Freedom of assembly and association

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, excluding the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests, and excluding any form of assembly or association that the Home Secretary should deem disorderly, embarrassing, annoying or otherwise objectionable.

—-

Article 12 – Right to Marriage

Everyone has the right to marry and found a family, but the choice of partner shall be considered subject to approval by the Home Secretary, the Minister for Inequality and the media.

—-

Scope of these rights

These rights shall be accorded to all British Citizens, except Scots, Welsh people, Irish people, those who the Home Secretary determines are undeserving of rights, or decides to strip citizenship from, or are determined by the media to be scroungers, immigrants or children of immigrants, internet trolls or persons otherwise objectionable in what the Prime Minister deems to be a democratic society.”


This is understood to be the current draft, but it is believed that certain members of the cabinet believe these rights are too extensive and too generous.

*This may not actually be the real thing.

Denial isn’t a river in Africa – it’s an election in the UK

Just a few words after a depressing but somehow familiar-feeling election. My overwhelming sense is that many of us – and I certainly include myself in this – have been in denial, before, during and now after the election.

The Lib Dems have been in denial about the reality of their coalition for pretty much the whole of the five years, right up until the end. They were in denial about what the coalition did. They were in denial about how it looked to the electorate. They were in denial about the extent of the carnage that lay ahead – and even now they’re in denial about the reason for their catastrophe. I’ve had Lib Dems blame people like me for ‘talking them down’ and for pushing the ‘myth’ of their betrayal…

The number of things the Labour Party have been in denial about is probably too huge to even guess – but the denial about what happened to them in Scotland is the biggest. Even a few weeks ago they were still denying the extent of the likely disaster, and even now they seem to have very little idea of why it happened. They are still, to an extent at least, blaming the electorate – suggesting that people have deluded themselves about what the SNP really is, and that they’ll soon come to their senses. They’re in denial about the details – about the vote where Ed Balls (sigh…) voted in favour of austerity, suggesting that he didn’t, and that he avoided Osborne’s trap. He didn’t avoid a trap – he blundered right into it like a blindfolded elephant.

UKIP are (and have always been) in denial about the whole nature of their party – even this morning I had one of their supporters taking me to task for suggesting they were racists, since they had some Sikh and Polish candidates. Yes, some of their best candidates are black… but… And they were no less in denial about their own electoral prospects – a few weeks ago, they were talking about five or six seats. One was always the most likely, and that was more about personal loyalty to Carswell.

And the Tories? Or rather their supporters? They’re in denial about the harm that their policies will bring to vulnerable people, to the legal system, and much, much more. They really believe there is no ‘real’ poverty in this country – just relative poverty, where people watch big screen TVs and play with their Wiis… They really believe that disabled people aren’t going to suffer – and those that do are mostly faking.

It’s that denial that’s the worst of all. And people are already suffering as a result….

Why I’m voting Labour in Cambridge

I’ve finally decided how to vote – as I’ve blogged before, in Princess Bride style, it’s been very hard to decide how to vote in Cambridge. Cambridge is a strange seat – over the last few decades we’ve had Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MPs – and at present it is a Lib Dem/Labour marginal. The sitting MP, Julian Huppert, is a good man, a local man, and one of very few MPs who understands the internet, something that really matters to me. And yet, after today, I can’t either support him, or vote Green (I’m a Green party member) which might effectively support him. Instead, I feel that I have to vote Labour. Why? For one simple reason: it looks very much as though the Lib Dems would prop up a Tory government.

Nick Clegg has been the persuasive factor. Today, he’s been saying things that confirm that, to all intents and purposes, he would prefer to go into coalition with the Tories. There are many reasons for him to prefer that – but even the suggestion means that I have to vote against the Lib Dems.

The ‘logic’ that Nick Clegg has used is that he would do a deal with the ‘largest party’, and he has suggested that this would be the ‘legitimate’ thing to do – though constitutionally this is entirely unconvincing. Rather, it looks like an entirely self-serving suggestion. And it’s worse than that. Choosing which party to form an alliance with based solely on the number of seats they win is a morally bankrupt position: it’s like choosing who to have a relationship with based on the amount in their bank balance. Would anyone with any morals do that at all? Don’t you choose your partners on whether you like them or not? Whether you get on well together? Whether you’re compatible? The same, surely, has to be true of political alliances – unless your party has no morals, no objectives, no policies, surely you would choose which party to ally with on the basis of their policies, first and foremost, or their politicians themselves – their trustworthiness, and so forth? Clegg isn’t saying that. He’s saying that his party is open to offers from whoever has the most seats. If he really doesn’t care about their policies, then what kind of morality does that suggest?

If, on the other hand, the Lib Dems choose to cozy up to the Tories because they prefer their policies, then I’m even more worried. Which of the Tories’ policies do they like? The brutality of their policies towards vulnerable people? The illiberalism of Grayling’s legal policies? The xenophobia of the immigration policies? The divisiveness of their tax policies? The Govean attempts to bring education back to the ‘golden age’ of division and discarding those deemed unworthy?

None of that sounds very convincing as a reason for the Lib Dems to cozy up to the Tories. It’s easy, on the other hand, to see why Clegg himself should like to cozy up to the Tories: it looks very much as though his survival as an MP will depend on Tory defectors. The polls suggest that the Tory voters like Clegg – and one of the main reasons for that is how compliant Clegg has been in coalition.

That, then, brings the biggest and most worrying thing of all – and the ultimate reason why it would seem wrong not to oppose the Lib Dems in every way. The Independent, in their leader, suggested that the best result would be another Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, but one that is more liberal and less conservative. The problem is, exactly the opposite would be inevitable should the Lib Dems ally with the Tories. How could the Lib Dems exert more leverage this time around, if they had half the number of MPs that they had before? And how likely is it that the Tories would be anything but more conservative? The few ‘liberals’ amongst their ranks have been sidelined or discarded – Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke for example – whilst the hardliners have been kept or promoted. Iain Duncan Smith. Chris Grayling.

No, any new Tory/Lib Dem coalition would be almost certain to be much more conservative, more extreme than this one – and that is too hideous not to oppose in every way possible. That, in Cambridge, means voting Labour, even if that means voting against one of the best MPs in the house. If he was really as independent as he sometimes claims, I would vote for him – but he isn’t. He’s too decent, and too loyal to a leader and a party that does not deserve his loyalty – and for that reason I have to vote against him.

So, though I have huge misgivings about Labour, from their immigration and civil liberties policies onwards, I have to vote for them. There is no real choice, now that the Lib Dems have shown their hand.

The Cambridge Election: Princess Bride Style


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“So, Paul,” the man said. “There are five cups before you. One labelled Julian Huppert (LD), one labelled Daniel Zeichner (LAB), one labelled Rupert Read (GREEN), one labelled Chamali Fernando (Conservative), one labelled Patrick O’Flynn (UKIP). Four of the cups contain deadly poison. One contains wine. Which one will you drink?”

“Come, you’re a clever man, you know about politics, you care about things, surely you know which one you should drink?”

I stared at the cups, eyes widening. The man smiled, wickedly.

“Come on, Paul. You were at school with Patrick. Surely you’ll vote for your old school friend?”

I reached out, and took the cup labelled UKIP – and immediately threw it into the grass. “That’s a trap,” I said to the man. “No-one with a brain or a heart would ever vote UKIP. And I have a brain and a heart. At least I think so.”

The man smiled again. “So what about Chamali? She’s a lawyer. You teach law. Surely you’ll vote for her.”

I reached out again, and took the cup labelled Conservative – and threw it just as far as I threw the UKIP one. “Any lawyer worth his salt wouldn’t touch the Conservatives. I know what Grayling has done to our legal system. And anyway, I told you, I have a heart. No-one with a heart would vote Conservative. Another trap.”

The man’s smile became even broader. He waved his hand at the remaining three cups. Now, both he and I knew, it was a lot harder. I swallowed, looking at the three cups: Julian, Daniel or Rupert.

“Tell me,” the man said. “Which will you drink? You don’t have long. You have to choose, or the choice will be made for you.”

“I know, I know,” I said, looking once more from cup to cup.

“So what are you thinking?”

I looked at Julian’s cup. “I could vote for Julian,” I said. “He’s been a good constituency MP. He’s probably the best MP in the house in terms of the internet. He even understands surveillance. He, like me, is on the Advisory Committee of the Open Rights Group. He even opposed the rise in tuition fees. I like him. He’s a good man.”

“So drink!”

“But if I vote for Julian, and he wins, but the Tories are the largest party, then his boss Nick Clegg says they’ll work with the Tories. So we’ll have another coalition, more austerity, more division, more and nastier cuts, horrible things for education, for vulnerable people. More deaths. More demonisation. More general nastiness. So I can’t possibly vote for Julian.”

I hesitated, and didn’t pick up Julian’s cup and discard it as I had the Tory and UKIP cups.

“So drink from Daniel’s cup?”

“I could,” I said with a slight smile. “And a Labour government would be notably more protective of the vulnerable and of public services – neutral analysis of the figures make that very clear, even if Labour are still much more in favour of austerity than I’d like.”

“So drink!”

“But if I vote for Daniel, and Labour win a majority, then Yvette Cooper will be Home Secretary. We’ll have a crack down on civil liberties in the name of counter terrorism. And we’ll have full scale internet surveillance as soon as she can make it happen. So, I can’t possibly vote for Daniel.”

I smiled, but this time it wasn’t a happy smile. But I didn’t throw away Daniel’s cup either. The man grinned again.

“Rupert’s cup then? Go on, take a drink.”

“I’d like to vote for Rupert. I’m a member of the Green Party. I think their heart is very much in the right place. Their policies on austerity, on Trident, on civil liberties, on surveillance and so on are great. Even their copyright policy which people have been laughing at isn’t actually as bad as people think. And at least they’re thinking about the subject, which the others are mostly ignoring. Rupert’s even a colleague of mine at UEA.”

I hesitated again.

“But if I vote for Rupert, he won’t win. If by voting for him I let Julian win, then the Tories might be in government again and we have more smashing of the vulnerable, destruction of the NHS, the legal system and so on. And if by voting for Rupert I let Daniel win, and we could have more surveillance and more of a crack down on civil liberties again. So I can’t possibly vote for Rupert.”

The man opened his hands wide. I held up mine, to stop him speaking.

“So I’m back to Julian. Should I drink from his cup? But he hasn’t even ruled out an alliance with UKIP, or with the DUP, so if I vote for him I might help those two who are worse extremists even than the Tories, so I can’t possibly vote for Julian.”

I pushed Julian’s cup aside, and it teetered and tottered, but didn’t quite fall.

“So perhaps I should drink from Daniel after all. But that means Rachel Reeves in charge of the DWP, and more ‘toughness’ and more ‘hardworking people’. And what’s more, he wrote disparagingly about Tony Benn immediately after Benn’s death. So I can’t possibly vote for Daniel.”

“But..”

“I haven’t finished! So perhaps I should drink from Rupert’s cup. I don’t know which is worse, Julian or Daniel, so perhaps I shouldn’t care and I should vote with my conscience, for the policies. But I know Rupert was very rude to some people I know at a hustings. So I can’t possibly vote for Rupert.”

I sat back, closed my eyes, stuck my finger in the air, then reached out for a cup at random and drained it.

The man laughed.

“Did I chose the wrong cup?” I asked him, feeling myself gasping for breath.

“It didn’t matter,” the man said quietly. “I lied to you. There was poison in all five cups. Whichever you drank you were doomed.”

Messages on mugs: deaths in the Med

Immigration remains a key topic in this election – and not just on the lips of UKIP.  All the main parties are part of what is effectively a consensus on immigration: that immigration is essentially ‘bad’. It’s that consensus that leads to the hideous inhumanity that makes it somehow politically acceptable to let people drown in their hundreds. It shouldn’t be like that, if we have any humanity left.

The Tories and Lib Dems, who passed the Immigration Act 2014, have both been fuelling this message. Amongst other things that act – in many ways the most xenophobic piece of law in recent times – brings into action an increasing need to ‘check’ people to see if they’re illegal immigrants or not. Doctors, landlords, bankers etc etc are expected to check people’s papers to see if they’re what might loosely be called ‘the right kind of people’. That in itself fuels a process that suggests that some people are better than others. It’s not just immigration that is essentially ‘bad': it’s the immigrants themselves.

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Labour are far from innocent. They abstained on the Immigration Act 2014, and have taken on the whole ‘immigration is bad’ agenda in a big way. The infamous ‘controls on immigration’ mug isn’t an accident: it’s part of an overall agenda, accepting the ‘immigration is bad’ view, despite the strong moral, economic and cultural evidence to the contrary. Anti-immigrant feeling is strongest where there are fewest immigrants, migrants claim less in benefits than natives and make net contributions and so on and so forth, but somehow that is not worth arguing for. Instead we have three parties all pandering to the prejudices fuelled by UKIP and certain elements in the press. We have what ultimately amounts to a dehumanisation of immigrants. They’re not people, they’re migrants. They’re not men, women and children, they’re migrants, and a drain and a strain on resources.

Slap that message on a mug, make a pledge here and a statement there. We need to keep ‘them’ out. They’re ‘flooding here’ (humans don’t ‘flood’ anywhere, only migrants). Better cut their benefits (even though they don’t actually claim many). Better to stop them coming (over) here.

That kind of an approach leads in only one direction – to a place where Katie Hopkins can call migrants cockroaches. A place where letting men, women and children drown in their hundreds is acceptable.

We need to rethink this from top to bottom. And yes, that means everyone involved in fuelling the myths. Whatever Labour strategist came up with the ‘five pledges’, let alone that hideous mug’, is part of the same story. They’re part of the spectrum that leads to calling people cockroaches and setting the gunboats on them. All the pious statements in the last couple of days by politicians – notably Lib Dem and Labour politicians – should be viewed in that context. You’re part of what brings this inhumanity to bear. Part of the problem.

Storm in a tea-cup?

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 07.34.32I have to admit, I was one of the ‘lefties’ upset by the ‘controls on immigration tea cup’ over the weekend. Maybe I got too upset – some Labour stalwarts said it was a ‘storm in a tea cup’, others that I was missing the point in a number of ways. Maybe the fact that I’m married to an immigrant makes me extra-sensitive to this kind of issue – or perhaps it makes me more aware of the impact of the UKIP agenda really is.

Others told me ‘it’s just one of the pledges, we do mugs for all the pledges’ – to which I say that’s the bigger, and even worse point. Why is controlling immigration one of Labour’s five pledges at all? To start with all the evidence suggests that immigration isn’t really a ‘problem’, except in the false agenda driven by the likes of UKIP and the Daily Mail. ‘Health tourism’ and ‘benefits tourism’ are scare stories with no basis in fact – migrants use the health service and benefits system less than average, and indeed are critical for the success of the NHS. Migrants contribute more to the economy than they take out of it. They don’t even have an effect on local wages and jobs – the evidence as it is gathered and analysed is increasingly clear. No surprise, then, that anti-immigrant feeling is stronger in places with fewer immigrants, who haven’t experienced the reality of immigration to see that the scare stories are just that: scare stories.

I was even told yesterday that the five pledges aren’t actually Labour’s priorities, just pledges – but be serious, it’s all about the message. These are five simple message to be put on post cards and billboards as well as mugs. Of course they’re intended to show Labour’s priorities – which is why having ‘controls on immigration’ on one is so disappointing. Labour could have chosen any number of alternatives. Here are the original five:

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Now I’m not wildly happy with any of them except the third – the first one smacks a little bit of austerity, the second uses that overused and exclusionary phrase ‘working families’, and the last is ultimately pretty meaningless – but it’s the fourth that’s the real problem – so here are seven alternative suggestions for pledge number four, some of which are based on actual Labour policies.

1: Build more homes

Build 200,000 genuinely affordable homes every year – we have a real and growing housing crisis, and it’s not caused by immigration but by a dysfunctional housing market and not enough building. Labour knows this – why not talk about this rather than dog-whistling for education

2: Make education work for everyone

Michael Gove (and now Nicky Morgan) have done huge amounts to damage the education system, to lower teachers’ morale, to shift scarce resources from where they’re needed to where there are already enough schools – Labour will repair that damage, support teachers and help rebuild the education system after five years of destruction

3: Make tax fair!

For too long have tax avoiders and tax evaders – whether they be individuals or companies – been able to make ‘little people’ pay more than they can afford while they, the tax avoiders and evaders, find ways out. Labour will tighten the rules, make sure those that who can afford it do pay their share, and make the whole tax system fairer.

4: Control energy prices

Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze was a very popular policy – and Labour have promised a complete review of the energy market. Let’s do it, and make sure that the energy companies no longer have the scope to take advantage of consumers.

5: Nationalise the railways

Labour has been making tentative steps towards this seemingly popular and effective policy – why not go the whole hog, and shout about it too!

6: Restore access to justice

The damage to our legal system – and particularly to our legal aid system – by Chris Grayling has been one of the most devastating of any area of government. On the anniversary of Magna Carta (and all the myths around it) surely access to justice can be made into a message that hits home?

7: Protect the vulnerable

Yes, I realise this isn’t popular in the days of acceptance by Rachel Reeves of the scrounger/striver agenda, but shouldn’t Labour be the party that does protect vulnerable people? Isn’t that part of the point? From the Bedroom tax to the WCA, from the leaked £12 billion planned cuts, vulnerable people and their carers have been hit hideously hard by this government – surely Labour can take a stand and protect them!

 

Better messages?

Wouldn’t any of these seven look far, far better on a mug than ‘controls on immigration’? Aren’t the underlying issues – housing, education, tax, energy (and cost of living), transport, justice and social security – more important than immigration, particularly when immigration is actually beneficial not harmful? I haven’t dared suggest ‘Civil Liberties’ on a mug, as that would clearly be pushing Labour too far, but why not one of these?

Sadly, I think we know why not. This really is dog whistle politics, and pandering to racism and xenophobia – which is why I was upset in the first place. A storm in a tea cup? Perhaps. But tea cups matter, as do the messages on them.