Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cameron’s Tories ARE complacent; but can Labour be courageous?

This week the UK came a little closer to falling off the economic cliff into a double dip recession.

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that our gross domestic product slowed by 0.2% over the last quarter of 2011, over the same period manufacturing shrank by 1.2%, productivity in the construction sector by 0.5% and in utilities by 4.1%. The bad times are back and they’re getting ready to roll.

Chancellor George Osborne said the figures were ‘disappointing’ but not ‘entirely unexpected because of what’s happening in the world.’ Just one of those things then eh George?, nothing at all to do with, as TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber put it, the government’s economic strategy having gone ‘horribly wrong’ and as a result ‘failing to tackle the deficit, causing unemployment to spiral out of control’ and potentially ‘dragging the country back into recession.’

At Prime Ministers Question in the commons this week Labour leader Ed Milliband accused David Cameron of showing ‘total arrogance’ in his handling of the economy and asked just what would it take to shake government out of its ‘complacency’ over the situation we find ourselves in. In reply the prime minister recited his usual litany about Labour’s reckless spending being a recipe for wrecking the economy, driving up interest rates and making things ‘much worse.’

So is David Cameron complacent about the economic pain being experienced by individuals and families across the land? You bet he is; and so are the rest of his party.

The complacency can be seen in Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith blithely saying that families who have their housing benefit taken away ‘may have to move somewhere else’, as if social housing wasn’t just a little more rare than powdered unicorn’s horn. It can be seen in the fatuous (pun very much intended) Eric Pickles telling local authorities they have a ‘moral duty’ to keep council tax down even though vital public services are under threat due to savage cuts in government funding.

Most of all though the complacency of this government can be seen in the elegantly self satisfied person of David Cameron himself standing at the despatch box batting away any suggestion that it might be time to think again about how far and how fast the cuts are being made like the captain of the Eton first XI. Granted he has known his share of misfortune, but this Oxbridge educated scion of inherited wealth has no idea of what it feels like to lie awake wondering how to pay the bills and it shows in his every word and deed.

I’m not sure identifying this fact at PMQ’s means all that much though. Ed Milliband might have started turning better performances there of late but his weekly squabble with the PM is pretty much divorced from the experience of most Britons. Anyway denouncing the government’s cuts rings a little hollow when you have committed to following their spending plans if you win the next election; more cynical triangulation than principled opposition.

The uncomfortable truth is that on a straight fight over economics Labour has little chance of beating the Tories. What Labour need to do is to start talking seriously about an alternative to the dreary status quo of British politics.

They need to make common cause with the growing number of people who are looking for another and fairer way of organising society. The communities who are clubbing together to buy their village pub or using derelict land to grow organic vegetables; the young people who were so energised by the ‘occupy’ movement because for the first time in their lives it treated them like engaged partners rather than passive consumers.

Doing so won’t be easy; Ed Milliband or his successor will have to match the complacency of the government and the cynicism of the media with genuine political courage and an understanding that to bring about meaningful you have to be prepared to play the long game. If this doesn’t happen and instead Labour continues looking for a way of delivering kinder cuts that those on offer from the government then identifying the complacency of its leadership is meaningless.

A bulldog amongst butterflies

Andy Murray has gone back to being a ‘surly Scot’ as opposed to a ‘plucky Brit’ after his defeat in the semi-final of the Australian Open at the hands of Novak Jockovic.

For some reason the public have never warmed to Andy Murray, perhaps his aggression, ambition and the fact that he plays tennis like an Australian or an American; meaning to win, rubs us up the wrong way. We seem to prefer our tennis stars to be well spoken suburban social butterflies rather than snarling British bulldogs.

The things that seem to annoy us most about Andy Murray though probably give him the best chance of winning Wimbledon, better certainly than those of the other British player who all fluttered out to the competition on day one.

It’s never too late to learn Harry.

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp told the court trying him for tax evasion this week that he couldn’t spell and that he writes like a two year old. This isn’t, of course, in itself an excuse for committing what is a serious offence, but, perhaps, it should make us look upon him a little more kindly.

It must have taken courage to admit to his literacy problems in a court of law knowing every word he said would be reported by the media. If the verdict goes the way the evidence revealed so far suggests Mr Redknapp’s reputation and chances of managing England will be wrecked. He might though be able to go some way towards rebuilding the former by fronting a campaign to encourage other men of his age to get help with their literacy problems.

Isles of piffle

I made a new year’s resolution not to write a single word about the Olympics, January isn’t over and I’ve broken it already.

When it was announced this week that the theme for the opening ceremony it to be the ‘Isles of Wonder’ and will feature a parade of NHS nurses, the world’s largest bell and probably a London bus too my heart sank faster than an elevator with its cable cut. The whole farrago will doubtless be embarrassing, pretentious and utterly forgettable. Just like the opening ceremony of every other Olympic games in fact.

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