Friday, 10 May 2013

Hollowed out Labour, misfiring tweets and the perils of motherhood

Thirteen years in office left the Labour Party ‘hollowed out’ according to shadow cabinet member Sadiq Khan.

Speaking on the BBC he said ‘what you’ve got to realise is between 1997 and 2010 we did some remarkable things in government, but we lost five million voters, we lost tens of thousands of members, we lost thousands of activists and thousands of councillors.’

Gaining more than two hundred councillors in last week’s local elections has reversed the worst of the losses incurred under Gordon Brown, but Labour’s success was overshadowed by that of UKIP. The party has, according to Mr Khan, recruited fifty thousand new members since 2010 and is trying to persuade many of them to stand in areas where Labour currently has little representation.

The task now, he said, was to ‘make sure the public understand we’ve got new policies that can persuade them to give us their trust in 2015.’

Put like that it all sounds so simple, just a matter of recruiting shed loads of new members, tell them about your shiny new policies than sit back and watch the votes stack up.

In the real world things aren’t quite so simple, for a start many of those new members are actually ‘supporters’, they have little involvement in the life of the party beyond sending off a donation now and then. As for the new policies that are going to turn them all into activists overnight, they’re always coming; but never seem to actually arrive.

About the only thing Sadiq Khan said with which I can agree is that the Labour Party has indeed been ‘hollowed out.’ Only it wasn’t, as he suggests an accidental side-effect of being in office, it was done intentionally by the two dysfunctional men who led the party from 1994.

Alex Ferguson has announced his retirement as manager of Manchester United this week, cue much lamentation from the terraces and one mistimed tweet from Ed Milliband.

As is so often the way when politicians and popular culture meet he made a fool of himself, his message, which read ‘Proud man. Great manger. Staunch Labour Party supporter. Sir Alex Ferguson will never be forgotten,’ was interpreted as suggesting the great man had died, rather than just decided to spend more time with his racehorses.

Actually I doubt Red Ed and his aides even know who Alex Ferguson is, it is a miracle the leader of the opposition didn’t end up on the World at One babbling away about how he’d watched every wicket he took in the Grand National. Like Gordon Brown before him Milliband is a bookish man and he does neither himself nor his party any favours by blundering out of the library to comment on things he is only vaguely aware even exist like premiership football.

The UK has come twenty third in a list of one hundred and seventy six countries ranked by Save the Children by their quality as a place in which to be a mother.

Top of the league, unsurprisingly, were Sweden, Norway and Finland with Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo trailing in last. Stuck in stodgy mid-table the UK has fewer women in parliament and a higher infant death rate; more older and teenage mothers and a six times greater chance of a woman with an unemployed partner dying in childbirth.

These problems pre-date the coalition, but have been exacerbated by the obsessive commitment to austerity they have shown since 2010. Away from the leafy suburbs and rolling shires where David Cameron and his cabinet of the complacent make their home levels of inequality are approaching those last seen in the thirties; something has to be done and quickly too to avert a social disaster.

It is telling that Scandinavia, where creating equality is a realistic goal rather than political window dressing is the best place to bring a child into the world. For decades they have understood that you cannot have a strong economy, as opposed to an endless cycle of boom and bust without an equally strong society.

As we contemplate the increasingly troubled and unequal mess of our own society isn’t it time we took some lessons from our friends in the North?


Tory Euro-sceptics have tabled an amendment to the motion approving the Queen’s speech calling for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. This is, of course, a ‘wheeze’ calculated to cause the maximum amount of embarrassment for David Cameron as his authority with his party shrivels faster than its poll ratings.

What it isn’t is what the country wants to see its elected representatives doing as the economy trundles to hell in a handcart. Last week the public showed it had lost patience with the insular squabbling of the boys in the Westminster bubble; this week we’ve been served up more of the same anyway. And they wonder why people don’t bother to vote.

The Tories want to raise the number of children nursery workers can look after from four to six, the Liberal Democrats disagree, cue the sort of squabble that wouldn’t be out of place in a nursery.

Watching the toys fly out of the pram two things sprang to mind. First of all it is typical of the thinking inside the government that they have latched on to the idea that letting child minders look after more children, as they do in many other European countries, whilst ignoring the fact that in these countries people who deliver childcare are trained and paid better than they are here.

Second when the story broke journalists asked a number of cabinet stuffed shirts how they’d cope with looking after six boisterous toddlers, personally I’m inclined to think the inmates of a kindergarten could do a better job of running the country than a government that can’t even sell its policies to itself never mind the rest of us.

And finally Ray Harryhousen, the genius who created the special effects for films such as ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ and ‘Clash of the Titans has died at the age of ninety two.

A sad loss for his family and for the film world, particularly since he was about to start work on a new creature feature about the big beasts running the coalition, it was going to be called ‘Tantrum Amongst the Tiddlers.’

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