Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Workers of the world unite- ok yah!

The Conservative Party is to ‘rebrand’ itself as the ‘Workers’ Party’ in an attempt to shed its posh image.

The party will keep its official name but MPs will be encouraged to refer to themselves by the new moniker in public statements.

In a speech delivered yesterday party Chairman Grant Shappps said ‘Sir John Major campaigned for what he called a ‘classless society’, and I would argue that is the society we are fighting for in government today, a Britain where it doesn’t matter who your parents are, where you can go as far as your talents and hard work will take you and where work rather than benefits is what pays.’

The rebranding follows a series of polls showing that the Tories are, surprised expressions please, are struggling to win support amongst low earners; well fancy that with an old Etonian leader and a cabinet of chinless wonders.

Tory MPs in marginal seats are less than impressed by the narrowness of the party leadership, several have complained that David Cameron will never win over working class voters because he has surrounded himself with fellow public schoolboys. As one told the Financial Times recently, ‘there are six people writing the manifesto and five of them went to Eton; the other went to St Paul’s.’

Influential back bencher Robert Halfon, who has pushed for the rebranding so the party can ‘never again be allowed to be called the party of the rich’ also wants to reduce membership fees to £1 to attract new members and replace its current green tree logo with a ladder to symbolise the party’s ‘moral mission’ to workers.

Responding to the plan Labour shadow Cabinet Office Minister said the Tories would be ‘better off renaming themselves the Millionaires Party.’ He added that he thought it wrong of them to ‘pose as the workers’ party when you’ve made working people worse off while cutting taxes for the wealthy’ and that under the Cameron government ‘for the first time more than half of households in poverty are in work.’

He concluded that ‘Labour has always been the workers’ party- the clue is in the name.’

When this story broke I felt obliged to check the calendar, nope it wasn’t the first of April; it wasn’t an outtake from a lost episode of The Thick of it either, a sharp pinch proved I was still awake and so the only logical conclusion was that it was for real.

If so it is certainly evidence that the Cameron government has lost its way; and possibly its reason too.

There is something rather distasteful about a party that has presided over rising levels of inequality, snatched benefits away from disabled people and sat back smugly as the lines grow outside food banks seeking to portray itself as the Workers’ Party.

In fact if you look at it in the context of some of the other things they’ve done since taking office in 2010 the whole thing starts to look distinctly Victorian.

Robert Halfon’s suggestion that the party replace its current logo of a green tree with a ladder to symbolise its ‘moral mission’ looks more than a little offensive when viewed alongside the rhetoric about ‘strivers’ and ‘scroungers’ so beloved of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Combine this with the wholesale assault on public services and you get a picture of a Britain very different from the utopia described by Grant Shapps.

A place where the rich live in comfortable isolation and the poor know their place, which is out in the cold with only hymn singing and glum stoicism for comfort. This isn’t an inspiring vision of the future, it’s a return to ideas of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor that should have been banished to the history books long ago.

Incidentally Labour have no cause to be smug either, they are the party of working people only by default. They survive largely through the political inertia of former industrial towns where they used to weight rather than count votes for the Labour candidate, even when that person made a donkey in a hat look like Ghandi.

In fact it is hard to see the three dead brands under which our complacent and disconnected political class operate representing anyone other than themselves.

Maybe it is time for the silent support that has kept them going into their current curious afterlife should switch to smaller parties; maybe even to a new party entirely.

Wherever it goes what we need is a ground up political movement rooted in the concerns of those struggling hardest to get by behind which the workers and everyone else can unite.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Gove plan to punish unruly kids with sport backfires.

More than eight thousand people have signed an online petition against plans by Education Secretary Michael Gove to give teachers ‘guidance’ about using ‘extra physical activity’, running around a playing field for example, as a means of disciplining unruly students.

The petition was set up by former head of Conservative Future Gavin Megaw, leading athletes, including former Olympian Paula Radcliffe, who described the proposal as ‘totally ridiculous,’ and teaching leaders have all joined in condemning the new guidance.

Introducing his petition Mr Megaw writes ‘as a father, school governor and keen runner, I was shocked to find out about this guidance suggesting an outdated form of punishment.’

He goes on to say using physical exercise as a punishment sends ‘the wrong message that physical activity is a negative action and not something to enjoy.’

Peter Franklin, a former advisor to the Conservative Party urged Michael Gove to think again and scrap the recommendations saying to, ‘resolution in the face of entrenched opposition to reform is something to be admired in ministers’, adding that ‘when mistakes are made admitting to and putting them right is a sign of strength not weakness.’

Forced physical activity is one of ten new punishments recommended by the Department of Education as part of a drive, as Mr Gove puts it, to ‘get tough’ with unruly students.

It is not unusual for civil servants to describe foolish and potentially ideas dreamed up by the ministers in their care as ‘brave’; with his track record and bull in a china shop approach after almost four years in place Michael Gove must think he’s Hercules by now.

Even by his standards this latest ‘wheeze’ reeks of the desperation of a politician who knows he has risen as far as he ever will. His career has no second act, all he can do is get as much exposure as possible out of his dwindling time in the spotlight.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Michael Gove has given up on making a serious attempt to reform the education system, instead he seems intent on picking fights with the teaching unions and playing to the sillier sections of the tabloid press.

The trouble is by this stage of his career, rather like a heavyweight who could have been a contender back in the day, most of his fights end in inconclusive draws. When it comes to playing the populist card he more often than not ends up looking out of touch and increasingly odd.

As a means of dealing with unruly students extra physical exercise is a non-starter, any teacher worthy of the name will tell you the worst behaved students are often the ones most in need of help. It is hard to see how they will be able to build the bond of trust necessary to get it from a teacher, often the only adult who offers them a semblance of stability and positive values, if he or she is under official instructions to behave like the games teacher from Kes.

Yet again Michael Gove has turned an attempt to play to the gallery into a pratfall. It is starting to look increasingly like to only way to bring about real education reform is for someone to give the current Education Secretary a note excusing him from playing political games indefinitely.

Politics Forum, Monday 24th February 2014.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Just as They’re Starting to Make An Impact Labour Get Side-tracked by Navel Gazing.

The influence of trades unions over the election of a future leader of the Labour Party is to be reduced under plans announced by Ed Milliband.

The move is part of an attempt to ‘shake up’ the relationship between the party and its long term backers in the union movement in response to the embarrassment caused last year when UNITE were implicated in an attempt to ‘fix’ the selection of a candidate to fight the Falkirk by-election.

Mr Milliband described the move to a ‘one member one vote’ system in an interview given to the Guardian as ‘the right principle for the twenty first century.’ The reforms were, he said, about giving ‘people from all walks of life a bigger say in the Labour Party’ and that he wanted to ‘hear the voices of ordinary people’ in the party’s debate on policies.

There would, he recognised, be ‘financial consequences’ for the cash strapped party, but Mr Milliband said ‘when it is the right thing to do- you should do it.’

Under the plans from the end of 2014 new union members will have to opt in by paying a £3 fee to affiliate to the Labour Party, existing members will be moved over onto the same terms in a phased process over the next five years. MPs will retain the sole right to nominate leadership candidates with the margin of support needed to get onto the ballot paper rising to 20%, registered supporters who are not full members of the party will also be allowed to vote in leadership elections in return for a small fee; the unions will retain 50% of the votes at the party conference.

Labour veteran Alan Johnson told the BBC the changes were ‘absolutely the right way to go’. Glasgow West MP Ian Davidson was not so supportive saying ‘there’s been nobody in my constituency coming along and saying to me at this time of economic crisis what we need is a reorganisation of the Labour Party.’

Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party Grant Shapps told the BBC that under the plan trades union affiliated members would outnumber ordinary party members after the changes, making it ‘even easier for the union barons to buy Labour’s policies and even easier to pick the leader.’ He accused Ed Milliband of promising to stand up to the unions and then being too weak to deliver.

Sometimes you really do have to wonder about Ed Milliband, his intellect is obvious; but his common sense seems to be non-existent.

Just when he was starting to land some serious blows on David Cameron over the cost of living crisis, taxation and the fact that despite the, alleged, recovery being in full swing many people are still splashing like mad just to stay afloat; he goes and delivers a sucker punch to his own jaw. It is hard to imagine anyone outside the Hampstead dinner party circuit being all that excited about an obscure plan to reform how the Labour Party is organised, especially one that will take five years and probably lead to financial disaster.

Even if that doesn’t happen the plan still won’t work, the power of the unions has declined massively since its heyday in the seventies, you can debate forever whether or not that is a good or bad thing; it is still a demonstrable fact. Politics abhors a vacuum and the space vacated by the union barons has been filled by those on the staff of the party’s regional offices.

It is over mighty regional officials not union barons who have exerted a virtual strangle hold over the selection of candidates, foisting a slate of prospective MPs on reluctant constituency parties who are so robotically similar they make automated checkouts look like free spirits. At the same time they have allowed the grassroots organisation of the party to atrophy through a mix of impotence and inertia because they fear any perceived challenge to their power.

Ed Milliband is to be praised for wanting to give grassroots party members a real voice in how Labour makes its policies; unfortunately he will probably never get to hear it because a lot of backroom functionaries who have never had to stand for election don’t like what they’ve got to say.