Sunday, 16 March 2014

Labour find a policy, Gove sees too many Etonians in the cabinet and two political legends leave the stage.

Spring must be hear at last, the birds are singing a few hardy daffodils are poking their heads up from the soil and the Labour Party’s manifesto promises for the 2015 election are emerging blinking into the sunlight.

On Monday Ed Milliband pledges that a future Labour government would put in place a ‘jobs guarantee’ scheme giving workless 18 to 24 year olds a taxpayer funded job lasting for six months. Anyone turning down such a job would lose their benefits, so there’s a hint of the IDS style stick to go with the progressive carrot.

The £5.5billion initiative would be paid for, drum roll please, through imposing a tax on banker’s bonuses.

Speaking at a building site in South London Red Ed told the press there were 56,000 young people out of work, double the figure out of work in 2010, the government were, he said, ‘not taking action to help our young people and a future Labour government will.’

In response the government have accused Labour of committing to spending the same money, that tax on banker’s bonuses redistribution fans, on more than one project. As an example they cited Labour plans to build 25,000 affordable homes and hinted darkly at extra borrowing to come.

Any hint of the policies under which they intend to fight the next election from a Labour Party that often seems so woolly on such matters it needs the attentions of a sheep shearer is more than welcome. It’s just a shame the plan itself seems to be a bit of a dud.

For a start even though saying it leaves a taste in my mouth rather like that of a castor oil favoured milkshake the Tories might be onto something when they accuse Labour of spending the same money twice. It might have been more convincing had they, for example, said they’d scrap Trident and use the money saved to get young people into work; but that would have scared middle England and so they’ve fallen back on the old New Labour trick of promising the same money to several different projects.

Even more worrying is the fact that a job lasting six months might be welcome to someone who is out of work, but there is no guarantee of it leading to something more permanent. There is also a real risk of unscrupulous employers using the scheme as a pool of cheap labour, rather as happened with YTS back in the eighties.

Yet again Red Ed’s Labour are making all the right noises, but they aren’t doing so with sufficient robustness or originality to make a difference.

Bob Crow the combative leader of the RMT union died suddenly this week at the age of 52.

Large, loud and redder than Red October Crow was the marmite union boss. To his enemies he was a throwback to the era of union militancy; to his supporters he was a tireless fighter for the cause of working people.

Whether they thought he was a big beast or just a dinosaur few people in politics underestimated Bob Crow, and with good reason too, for all his bombast he was a shrewd and effective political operator. Under his leadership membership of the RMT grew and he won a number of significant victories on pay and conditions.

At a time when unions leaders, with the honourable exceptions of Mark Serwotka and Len McCluskie, increasingly look and sound like the executives with whom they negotiate Bob Crow seemed to understand something very important, politics without passion is just management; he was unfailingly passionate about his cause.

Tragic though it is the curtailing of his career at this early point has at least saved Bob Crow from the fate visited on so many other left wind firebrands; that of being one day viewed with smiling indulgence by the establishment in the side of which they used to be such a thorn.

Ed Milliband says that if elected a Labour government won’t hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Not unless further transfer of national powers to Brussels is requested anyway, for once I think he’s made the right call.

Certain tabloid newspapers push relentlessly the line that the British public demands a referendum on our continued membership of the EU, were one to be held though most people wouldn’t bother to vote. Europe just isn’t a sexy issue for most voters, a fact that will be demonstrated at the forthcoming European elections which will see people staying away from the polling stations in droves.

Anyway a referendum on membership of the EU would be a pointless exercise, as with the one on AV it would rapidly descend into a shambles of squabbling and point scoring. Political obsessives might be thrilled by the prospect, the vast mass of ordinary Britons would be bored rigid by it.

Red Ed has made his fair share of missteps since becoming party leader, but this time round he’s made the right call. It is far more important to build a fair and secure society than to pick at the scab covering the argument over whether we should be in or out of Europe. Having the Tories rip themselves to bits over it might be handy though.

Labour legend Tony Benn died on Friday aged 88.

In a long career Tony Benn travelled from being touted as a potential future prime minister to being one of the elder statesmen of the Labour movement calling at all stations in between.

For a time in the seventies and early eighties he was alternately idolised and demonised as either a standard bearer for socialism or a dangerous radical determined to drag Britain behind the iron curtain. However extreme the responses to him may have been he remained faultlessly polite and charming, something that disarmed many of his critics leading them to respect the tenacity with which he stuck to his position even if they could never agree with him.

By the end of his life Tony Benn had become a sort of living history exhibit, a conviction politician in a cynical age trundled out to entertain the crowd at Glastonbury’s ‘Left Field’ amongst other unlikely places. That, maybe, diminished his stature a little, at his passing though it should be remembered that his was a long and productive life lived to the end in the firm belief that democracy is the most revolutionary idea of all.

Bless, sweet little Michael Gove has pattered up to a friendly journalist to say there is a ‘ridiculous number of old Etonians’ in the cabinet. See the penny spinning in the air, watch it drop; didn’t that take just forever.

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