An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

Archive for November 2011

Clever people saying clever things part two

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Tony Clements:

Process aside, the most remarkable thing about the interview was his breezy reaction to the figures. Imagine if he was a health minister announcing a 97% fall in cancer survival rates, or an education minister admitting to a 97% drop in GCSE passes, or a Home Secretary announcing that 97% of all passports were not being checked at our borders? He’d at the very least get a harder time from John Humphrys.

The point of a housing minister is to build houses for people. What is the point of one whose ‘reforms’ cause a collapse in house building within a year of taking over?

Dan Hodges:

Nor, despite efforts by ministers to hang next Wednesday’s action around Ed Miliband’s neck, is this essentially a political dispute. It’s a good old fashioned dust up about pay and conditions. Or specifically what the TUC is calling the “Triple Squeeze” on public sector pensions; namely the shift in calculating uprating from RPI to CPI, the increase in individual contributions and the proposed increase in the retirement ceiling.

Some may see these as perfectly sensible changes, which reflect modern economic and social realities. That’s a matter for debate. But what’s not debatable is they mean an erosion of the existing pension entitlements of public sector workers. And however moderate or far sighted, trade union general secretaries get paid to improve their members conditions, not sit idly by as they decline. Again, some may question why trade unionists should expect better pension provision than the rest of the population. But that’s the whole point of collective bargaining; to obtain better terms collectively than you can individually.

Written by samelliot

November 28, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Posted in Employment, Housing, Labour

What’s the big deal with Bruce Springsteen anyway?

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I first heard Bruce Springsteen’s music (and I mean really heard it, not caught a snatch of Dancing In The Dark on Magic FM) when I bought Born To Run when I was at college. If a more perfectly formed, complete album has ever been released I’ve never heard it. But the thing that really captured was the visceral, driving piano at the start of Backstreets, a sound described by Rolling Stone at the time as “so stately, so heartbreaking, that it might be the prelude to a rock & roll version of The Iliad”. The power, the sheer epic-ness of it just carries you away.

And as you explore his catalogue further, listen to and understand the songs you realise that it’s not just about the grandeur of the music, but it’s also about the stories he tells, of youth, dreams, hope and faith. The River is practically a novel in itself, the story of teenagers torn out of their care-free lives by pregnancy, marriage, and the need to provide for a family. Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse? In that context Springsteen’s most grandiose moments avoid glibness or cheesiness. The endless dreams of Born To Run are brought low by the darkness and despair of Darkness On the Edge Of Town.

And that’s the final piece of the Springsteen puzzle for me. In a sense, Springsteen sings about solidarity. His songs aren’t overtly political, but they paint a picture of lower middle class working life, the dreams and aspirations that we all have, the difficulties we face, the mistakes we make, and the hope and faith that things get better. The song in the video above, Racing In The Street, is superficially about drag racing in Asbury Park, NJ. But set against the unbearably sad piano of Roy Bittan, it becomes a hymn to escapism, the reality of home life, and of youthful dreams disappearing.

There’s a story that after 9/11 someone pulled up to Springsteen in the street in New Jersey, wound down the window and simply said “We need you now.” In the midst of an economic crisis build on the backs of the working poor, I say we still need him.

Written by samelliot

November 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Music

Speaking of Lib Dems, here’s a bar chart for you

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Written by samelliot

November 23, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Housing

Lib Dems: not dead yet

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In the light of the previous post, I thought these poll findings in the Times yesterday might be illustrative of something (full story behind the Hugh Grant-stalking paywall here). The five point bump for the Lib Dems is just as likely to be statistical noise as anything else, especially when their poll ratings are comparable to the number of people who believe the Loch Ness Monster exists.

But let’s use it as a jumping off point for a mindless bit of speculation. What if, with the initial shock of the early cuts dissipating, the Lib Dems are actually starting to benefit electorally from being in Government (or at least beginning to claw their way back to where they started)? Not because what they are doing is wildly popular or even because they have forged a particularly attractive identity in government, but because the very fact of being in Government gives them a degree of credibility.

I would not be surprised if with a bit of laying low and a not-exactly-fair-but-not-actively-destructive wind, absent  them being hoodwinked into taking the rap for another Coalition wet job like student fees, the Lib Dems came out of the coalition looking to the general punter for all the world like a party who can cut it with the big boys. And once you have a bit of credibility, the sins of the past can easily be forgotten. Every party has been there.

Written by samelliot

November 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Posted in Credibility, Lib Dems

Trust Italy to give technocrats a bad name

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Regular readers of this blog might think that the only thing that gets me wound up is minor Cabinet Members making vaguely disparaging remarks about local government. But nothing could be further from the truth. Occasionally I find myself getting steamed up by southern Mediterranean politics. The march of Mario Monti is not only an affront to democracy, but by seeming to suggest that democracy doesn’t have the capacity to solve problems, it may well lead to a reaction against the idea of a pragmatic, problem-solving focused politics.

Why is that a bad thing? Take the Government’s welfare reforms. The ideological, even the moral case, is all about aspiration, about fairness, about the old saw that people should not live in areas they cannot afford or that families on benefits should not have a higher income than families in work. These are all, in their way, understandable, even admirable sentiments – indeed a Labour welfare policy would probably have very similar aims. But with every bit of analysis we are discovering more and more that the pace and scale of the reforms are likely to have consequences that, whether intended or not, are likely to place enormous strain on public services, infrastructure and social cohesion. In that situation, you don’t need a wild-eyed radical planning and implementing the policy, you need, frankly, a technocrat – someone who identifies a problem, and sets out to fix it, balancing their principled aims with pragmatic means.

At the moment, with a fragile global economy and a stagnant domestic economy, the uncertainty in the political sphere demands a practical, pragmatic spirit. It also demands leaders with the tools to do the job – not only the expertise and skills, but the capacity to inspire trust. Not only do the Tories and Lib Dems struggle to meet this bench-mark, but they also frequently distracted by the urge to remake the nation as they, see fit. Yet here is a warning to my own party. The economy is a problem, and only Labour has really shown any sign that they have a plan to solve it. But while we have a plan, a practical sense of what we would do next, I suspect we do not have the credibility to be entrusted with that task – we are felt to either be clapped out revolutionaries , detached policy wonks lacking real world experience, or the fools who got us in this mess in the first place.

A friend with experience of the inner workings of the Labour Party both in power and in opposition asked me last week whether a serious but dull problem solver could get elected in Britain. I’m still not sure about that, but right now for the Labour Party I’m pretty sure that’s the only kind of person who could.

Written by samelliot

November 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Cynicism, Democracy, Labour

Clever people saying clever things

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Chris Dillow:

So much for “big think” principles. But there might be a different way of coming at this, by using the Dave Brailsford principle of the aggregation of marginal gains. Maybe policies to improve the “art of living” don’t consist merely of top-down grand ideas, but also of many small things. Richard Layard has proposed putting a higher priority upon mental health on the grounds that lifting the minority of people with acute depression out of their misery makes a good difference to aggregate well-being. I’d add that more should be done to encourage the growth of allotments, on the grounds that this would give people the chance of getting the “flow” happiness that comes from self-directed productive work.

Hopefully, more imaginative folk than I can think of other apparently tiny things that, together, add up to something big. And maybe these initiatives don’t require central government at all, but can be undertaken by local authorities, voluntary groups or just groups of individuals. In which case we should wonder what use national politicians are.

Anthony Painter:

Labour is divided between romantics and pragmatists. It’s not about new versus old Labour. It’s not about trade unions versus the party or socialists versus social democrats. There are romantics, who emphasise the ideal, the human, the ethical, the relational and the communitarian. Pragmatists emphasise power, policy, practicality and process.

Written by samelliot

November 21, 2011 at 10:07 am

Posted in Labour, Localism

It’s taken for granted that Labour will win local elections – so let’s make the most of it

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Some time in October 2012, Sion Simon or Gisela Stuart or someone else who holds the title of elected Mayor of Birmingham is going to walk into Local Government House to meet their peers as probably the most powerful elected Labour politician in Britain. The Government, through their plans for city mayors, is creating a new cadre of high status local leaders. And the way the Labour Party deals with those new leaders will say a lot about how it sees the possibilities and limits of local democracy.

So here’s a suggestion for Ed and his team – make this against-the-grain boosting of local leadership a central part of your political strategy for the next three years. First, build a cohort of outstanding local leaders. In the first instance this is about identifying and cultivating the hugely talented people who are already committed to local politics, but it also means persuading the best talent the Labour Party has elsewhere to stand as Mayoral candidates, wooing them with the elevated powers and status that being a Mayor brings.

Then you need to show that it is going to take the fight to the Tories and Lib Dems at local level like never before, and that this time it is not simply about piling up the numbers of council seats and basking in the reflected glory. It is about saying that when ten elected Labour Mayors and fifty Labour council leaders are returned to office, they will not only be your campaigning leads across the country, they will not only be your eyes and ears on the ground, but that you will regard them as as legitimate a representative of their community as their MPs, if not more so.

Localists like me want to see all this happen in the Labour Party because we believe in redistributing power, localising decision making and bringing as many public services as possible as close to the community as possible. But don’t worry too much about that right now, that’s a happy by-product that will come later. The thing you’re most interested in is the politics.

So, with another couple of local election rounds down, how about this for a political message? Labour running every major city in this country. Countless communities already being served by the credible and connected leadership a Labour council brings with it. Mr Cameron representing no-one but his fossilised, riven, out of touch, Europe obsessed party and their sandal-wearing helpmeets. And a Labour Party going into an election knowing that they’ve already won most of it, ready to finish the job.

The Conservative Party are seeking to shift the balance of political power in this country and they think it will benefit them electorally. Time to prove them wrong.

Written by samelliot

November 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Democracy, Labour, Localism