Home » Dr Shibley Rahman viewpoint (Page 2)
It’s taken me a few days to think about the data which John Rentoul reported on a few days ago in the Independent. Aside from the headline figure that the Labour lead is only of the order of a few % points, the poll results make interesting reading even for those people like me who are normally totally uninterested in such rough population statistics.
As a disabled citizen, I am always quite touchy about the rhetoric of being ‘tough’ in the benefits system. This is because it took me approximately two years for my own disability living allowance to be restored, and this was only after I appeared in person at a benefits tribunal here in London. And yet the lead which the Conservatives have on benefits is massive: “Be tough on people abusing the benefits system: Conservative lead 39 points”. Here, I think usefully Labour can distinguish between people who deserve disability benefits for their living and mobility, whom they should be proud to champion, and people who are clearly free-loading the system. To try to get to the bottom of this, I tried to ask a 64-year-old friend of mine from Dagenham whether this notion of ‘benefits abuse’ is a real one. She explained ‘too right’, citing even that the council estates in Barking and Dagenham appeared to be stuffed full of immigrants who had somehow leapfrogged the social housing waiting list. I cannot of course say whether she’s right, but this is her perception. She went on to say that there were blatantly people around where she lived, who were making use of schools and hospitals, “to which they were not entitled.” The truth and legal arguments surrounding this feeling are of course longstanding issues, but the margin of the Conservatives’ lead on this is not to be sniffed at.
The finding that, “Keep the economy growing: Conservative lead 14 points”, is not of course particularly surprising. This is also a fairly robust finding. I suspect most people are still unaware of the enormity of the challenge which the last Government find itself confronting, such that Gordon Brown describes having to consult a few Nobel prize winners in economics at the last minute about his plans for bank recapitalisation (in his memoirs “Beyond the Crash”). How the £860 billion contributed to our famous deficit has been played out ad nauseam on Twitter, but such a discussion does not appear to have dented in the minutest sense the mainstream media. When Conservatives are faced with the question what they would have ‘done differently’, most do not even offer any answer, though true libertarians argue that they probably would have done nothing learning from the ‘Iceland experience’. But certainly one of the greatest successes of the political landscape has been converge all issues to do with the economy on the question, “Who do you trust on the economy?” The facts do actually speak for themselves, even though somewhat unclear. We may dispute we have had a double or triple recession since May 2010, but there is absolutely no doubt that the economy under this Coalition since May 2010 has done extremely badly (when the economy was indeed recovering in May 2010). That the economy may be dethawing a bit when the latest GDP ONS are released on Friday may not be a bad thing for Labour either. If voters are ‘grateful’ for an economy in recovery, and ‘trust’ Labour sufficiently, they may ‘hand over the keys’ to the Ed Miliband.
But would you like to give the keys back to the people who “crashed the car”? We, on the left, know that Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Gordon Brown, did not single-handledly (or indeed triple-handedly), “crash the car”. Only, at the beginning of this week, JP Morgan was handed an eye-watering fine by its regulator over securitised mortgages. Nonetheless, this IS the public perception, and there are no signs of it shifting yet, given the sheer volume and brilliance of the lies from professional Coalition MPs. When you turn to issues to do with economy, which face, “real people”, the poll results produce an altogether different narrative. Whilst the media and Westminster villages enjoy GDP figures and “the scale of the deficit”, most hardworking people in the UK don’t go to work thinking about the deficit. Car drivers may think about the cost of filling up a tank of petrol in their car, or worry about the monumental scale of their energy bills.
This is why in a sense it’s payback time which Labour intends to take full advantage of. The Conservatives are clearly hoping for ‘analysis through paralysis’, where voters will be bored to death over what is exactly causing such high bills, including ‘green taxes’. The fundamental problem is, arguably, reducing the competitive market from 14 to 6, in part, but the public appetite for blaming Labour for this appears to be surprisingly weak. The public appear to have gone somewhat into “I don’t care who caused it, but please do sort it out” mode. Therefore, the poll finding, “Keep gas and electricity prices down: Labour lead 20 points” is striking. The market is not anywhere near perfect competition. It is an ‘oligopoly’ as it has too few competitors, which means that they can arrange prices at a level suitable for themselves. This is called ‘collusive pricing’, and it’s notoriously hard to regulate. That’s why the ‘price switching’ approach is so banal. As soon as you switch from one energy provider, you can land with another energy provider who is teetering on the brink of putting up energy prices themselves. They can do that. The latest intervention by Sir John Major provides that Ed Miliband has identified the right problem but arrived at the wrong solution. The irony is that Major himself has probably himself arrived at the right problem, but many disagree with the idea that a ‘windfall tax’ will ultimately benefit the consumer because of the risk of taxes and levies being indirectly handed down to the end-user. Nonetheless, it will make for an interesting Prime Minister’s Questions at lunchtime today.
The poll finding, “Protect people’s jobs: Labour lead 16 points”, also represents another powerful opportunity. The finding that there is a ‘record number of people in employment’ has always had a hollow ring, but Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme managed to explain lucidly how millions were being duped into jobs with poor employment rights by multinational companies seeking to maximise shareholder dividend. The use of ‘zero use contracts’ has also raised eyebrows, as well as the drastic watering down of rights for employees under the unfair dismissal legal framework of England and Wales. And yet these are fundamentally important issues to do with the economy. Political analysts who do not comprehend this idea, in perseverating over their question “Who do you trust with the economy?”, are likely to be underestimating the problem which Cameron and colleagues face on May 7th 2015.
Whatever the public’s eventual ‘verdict’ on who runs the economy or issues to do with the economy better, the Conservative-led government is clearly running out of time. In a week when they should be fist-pumping the air over the GDP figures, three years down the line, they are bogged down in a debate over ‘the cost of living crisis’. That is, because all of his ‘faults’ in leadership, Ed Miliband has managed to choose which narrative he wishes to discuss. Whatever the precise understanding of voters over complicated issues of economics, this Conservative-led government are proving themselves to be excellent at one particular thing. They appear confidently self-obsessed and ‘out-of-touch’ with ordinary voters. Recent announcements, also relating to the economy, such as the decision to build a new nuclear power plant and the privatisation of the Royal Mail, have merely been interpreted as Cameron and ‘chums’ looking after his corporate mates rather than having the interests of consumers at heart. Whereas the Independent poll did not examine the issues to do with the NHS, it is clear that Jeremy Hunt’s relentless smear campaign has not even produced the slightest dent in Labour’s substantial consistent lead. With an imminent A&E crisis over Winter, actions will speak louder than words anyway.
But for Labour things appear to be ‘on the right track’. Even the figures suggest Labour is more trusted on issues to do with the economy, even if the answer to ‘who do you trust more on the economy?’ does not appear to be at first blush in Labour’s favour. What is, though, interesting is that Labour appears, at last, to have some ‘green shoots’ in a political recovery after one of its worst defeats ever in 2010.
The article by Rachel Reeves MP is a 'two fingers' at disabled citizens, and will lose Miliband the election
It is actually massively upsetting.
For many citizens, hardworking or not, Ed Miliband was finally beginning to show ‘green shoots’ in his leadership. His conference speech in Brighton was professionally executed, and it largely made sense given what we know about his general approach to the markets and State.
Amazing then it took fewer than a few weeks for his reshuffle to ruin all that.
Parking aside how Tristram Hunt MP had changed his mind about ‘free schools’ such that they were no longer for ‘yummy mummies’ in West London, Rachel Reeves MP decided to come out as a macho on welfare. She boasted on Twitter that she was both ‘tough and fair on social security’.
Rachel Reeves’ article was immediately received by a torrent of abuse, and virtually all of it was well reasoned and fair.
Yes, that’s right. In one foul swoop, we managed to conflate at one the ‘benefit scroungers’ rhetoric with an onslaught on ‘social security’.
Being ‘tough and fair’ on the “disability living allowance”, in the process of becoming the ‘personal independence payment’ is of course an abhorrent concept. I only managed to be awarded my DLA after a gap of one year, after it had been taken away by this Government without them telling me. At first, it was refused through a pen-and-paper exercise from the DWP. Then, it was successfully restored after I turned up in person at a tribunal in Gray’s Inn Road.
This living allowance meets my mobility needs. My walking is much impaired, following my two months in a coma. It also meets my living requirements, allowing me to lead an independent life.
I don’t want to hear Reeves talking like a banker but as if she doesn’t give a flying fig about real people in the real world.
For once, the outrage on Twitter, and the concomitant mobbing, was entirely justified. I had to look up again what her precise rôle was – yes it was the shadow secretary for work and pensions, not employment.
Many members of Labour were sickened. A spattering of people, would-be Councillors in the large part unfortunately, didn’t see what the fuss was about. They reconciled that ‘the sooner we face up to this problem, the better’.
The media played it as ‘the hard left of the Labour Party are upset’.
The “Conservative Home” website played it as a sign that the Labour Party were belatedly adopting the Conservatives’ narrative, but it was too little and too late.
Like Ed Miliband being booed at conference, a backlash against Reeves’ article can euphemistically be indicative of Labour’s success at ‘sounding tough’.
At yet, this is ‘short term’ politics from a national political party. The social value of this policy by Labour is not sustainable. In the quest for instant profit for headlines, it will actually find itself with no income stream in the long term.
For all the analysis with Labour marketing must have done through their ‘think tanks’ and ‘focus groups’, it is striking how Labour have missed one fundamental point. That disabled bashing in the media is not populism from the Left, actually.
Conversely, it could LOSE them votes from their core membership.
If they learn to love disabled people, they could WIN votes.
So what’s the fuss about? She didn’t mention disability. Well – precisely. Disabled citizens of working age are known to form a large part of the population, as Scope reminded us this week in their session on ‘whole person care’ with Liz Kendall MP, so why did Reeves ignore them altogether?
Is it because she has only been in a brief only a few days? Some of us in life have taken the bullet for incidents in life which have lasted barely a few minutes.
What will it take for Labour to ‘get it’ on disability and welfare? Possibly, the final denouement will be when Labour finally realises it can’t ‘out Tory’ the Tories.
The Twitter defenders of the indefensible cite that ATOS are being ‘sacked’ – well, yippedeeeday. ATOS, who were appointed by Labour, are finally being sacked. When negotiating a contract in English law, the usual procedure is to ensure that there are feedback mechanisms in place to ensure the contract is being performed adequately? You can bet your bottom dollar that Labour wishes to do a ‘Pontius Pilate’ on that, like it does on all its crippling PFI contracts it set up for the NHS.
This is a disastrous start by Reeves, but ‘things can only get better’. It’s not so much that Rachel Reeves is Liam Byrne in a frock that hurts. It’s the issue that shooting the messenger won’t be the final solution in changing Labour’s mindset on this.
It is all too easy to blame the ‘subeditor’, but the subeditor didn’t write the whole piece. Any positive meme from Reeves, in a ‘well crafted speech’ to “out-Tory the Tories” (such as scrapping the ‘Bedroom Tax’), has been instantaneously toxified by the idea of people ‘lingering on benefits’.
The most positive thing to do was to explain how people might not be so reliant on benefits, such as work credits, if we had a strong economy.
Reeves chose not even to mention pensions, which is a large part of her budget.
Because the article was hopeless from the outset, it could not even get as far as how to get the long-term unemployed (or the long-term sick) safely back to work.
It was an epic fail.
It is, in fact, an epic fail on all three planks of Ed Miliband’s personal mission of ‘One Nation': the economy, not recognising the value of disabled citizens of working age to the economy; society, not recognising disabled citizens as valued members of society; and the political process, totally disenfranchising disabled citizens from being included in society.
It is no small thing to wish the Labour Party to fail as well as a result. But this may now be necessary, and Reeves should take the bullet for that if she doesn’t improve.
It is alleged that a problem with socialists is that, at the end of the day, they all eventually run out of somebody else’s money. Perhaps more validly, it might be proposed that the problem with all politicians is that they all run of other people to blame?
It is almost as if politicians form in their minds a checklist of people they wish to nark off systematically when they get into government: candidates might include lawyers, Doctors, bankers, nurses, disabled citizens, to name but a few.
Politicians are able to use the law as a weapon. That’s because they write it. The law progressively has been reluctant to decide on moral or ethical issues, but altercations have occurred over potentially inflammable issues such as ‘the bedroom tax’. Normative ethics takes on a more practical task, which is to arrive at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct.
There has always been a tension between the law and ethics. As an example, to prove an offence in the English criminal law, you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt an intention rather than a motive, for example that a person intended to burn someone’s house down, rather than why he had intended so. Normative ethics involve articulating the good habits that we should acquire, the duties that we should follow, or the consequences of our behaviour on others. The ultimate ‘normative principle’ is that we should do to others what we would want others to do to us.
Parliament is about to get its knickers in a twist once again over the thorny issue of press regulation. However, there is a sense of history repeating itself. A few centuries ago, “Areopagitica” was published on 23 November 1644, at the height of the English Civil War. It is titled after Areopagitikos (Greek: ?????????????), a speech written by the Athenian orator Isocrates in the 5th century BC. (The Areopagus is a hill in Athens, the site of real and legendary tribunals, and was the name of a council whose power Isocrates hoped to restore).
“Areopagitica” was distributed via pamphlet, defying the same publication censorship it argued vehemently against. As a Protestant, Milton had supported the Presbyterians in Parliament, but in this work he argued forcefully against the Licensing Order of 1643, in which Parliament required authors to have a license approved by the government before their work could be published.
Milton then argued that Parliament’s licensing order will fail in its purpose to suppress scandalous, seditious, and libellous books: “This order of licensing conduces nothing to the end for which it was framed.” Milton objects, arguing that the licensing order is too sweeping, because even the Bible itself had been historically limited to readers for containing offensive descriptions of blasphemy and wicked men.
England has for a long time experienced problems with moving goalposts in the law, and indeed the judicial solutions sought have varied with the questions being asked. Lord Justice Leveson acknowledged that the “world wide web” was a medium subject to no central authority and that British websites were competing against foreign news organisations, particularly in America, which were part of no regulatory system.
Leveson once nevertheless proposed that newspapers should still face more regulation than the internet because parents can ‘to some extent’ control what their children see online, while they could not control what they see on a newsagent or supermarket shelf.
‘It is clear that the enforcement of law and regulation online is problematic,’ said Lord Justice Leveson at the end of his year-long inquiry into press ethics.
An attempt at ‘regulating culture’ was dismissed in the Leveson Report largely through arguing that the offences were substantially already ‘covered’, such as trespass of the person or phone hacking. And yet it is the case that there are ‘victims of phone hacking’ who feel that we are unlikely to be much further forward than we were before spending millions on an investigation into journalistic practices. In recent discussions this week, eyebrows have been raised at the suggestion that Ed Miliband could write to senior members in the Mail-on-Sunday empire to suggest that the culture in their newspapers is awry, and to ask them to do something about it. It could be argued it is none of Miliband’s business, except that Miliband would probably prefer the Mail to write favourably about him. Such flexibility in judgments might be on a par with Mehdi Hasan changing his writing style and target audience within a few years, as the recent Twitterstorm demonstrates.
The medical and nursing professions have latterly urged for an approach which is not overzealously punitive. There have been very few sanctions for regulatory offences in Mid Staffs or Morecambe Bay, for example.
Robert Francis QC still identified that an institutional culture which put the “business of the system ahead of patients” is to blame for the failings surrounding Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust. Announcing the publication of his three volume report into the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry, Mr Francis described what happened as a “total system failure”.
Francis argued the NHS culture during the 2005-2009 period considered by the inquiry as one that “too often didn’t consider properly the impact on patients of decisions”. However, he said the problems could not “be cured by finding scapegoats or [through] reorganisation” of the NHS but by a “real change in culture”. However, having identified the problem, solutions for cultural ‘failure’ in the NHS have not particularly been forthcoming.
There are promising reports of ‘cultural change’ in the NHS, for example at Mid Staffs and Salford, but some aggrieved relatives of patients still have a feeling that ‘justice has not been done’. There has been no magic bullet from the legislature over concerns about bad practice in the NHS, and it is unlikely that any are immediately forthcoming. There is little doubt, however, that parliament improving the law on safe staffing or how whistleblowers can raise issues in the public interest safely might be constructive steps forward. There therefore exists how the law might conceivably ‘improve’ the culture, and one suspects that this change in culture will have to permeate throughout the entire organisation to be effective. That is, fundamentally, people are not punished for speaking out safely, and, whilst legitimate employers’ interests will have to be protected, the protection for employees will have to be necessary and proportionate equally under such a framework.
Journalism and the NHS are not isolated examples, however, Newly released reports into the failures of management at several major banks – HBOS, Barclays, and JP Morgan among them – show that some of the worst losses had roots deeper than the 2008 credit crisis. It is said that a toxic internal culture and poor management, not the subprime mortgage collapse, caused billion-dollar losses at some of the world’s largest banks
In an argument akin to that used to argue that there is no need to regulate the journalism industry, the banking industry have long maintained that a strong feeling of internal competition can be healthy for profitability, but problems such as abject fraud and misselling of financial products are already illegal.
The situation is therefore a nonsense one. There is a failed culture, ranging across several diverse disciplines, of politicians wishing to use regulation to correct failed cultures. Cultures of an organisation, even with the best will in the world, can only be changed from within, even if the public, vicariously through politicians, wish to impose moral and ethical standards from outside.
Whichever way you wish to frame the argument, it might appear ‘we cannot go on like this.’ It is a pathology which straddles across all the major political parties, and yet all the parties wish to claim that they have identified a poor culture.
Their lack of perception about what to do with these problems is perhaps further evidence that the political class is not fit for the job.
For Ed Miliband, this particular conference speech was a ‘coming of age’. It’s somewhat bemusing that political journalists have described Ed Miliband as “disappointing”, or “singularly unimpressive”, but Miliband does not need to impress these people who’ve got it wrong before.
Most people will converge on the notion that David Cameron gave a horrifically dull speech, more akin to a newsreader reading out a corporate’s executive summary of an annual report. The pitch of Nick Clegg, that he could permanently be Deputy Prime Minister, was frankly risible. UKIP managed to propel Godfrey Bloom into the limelight for all the wrong reasons, in their pitch to make cleaning behind a fridge more relevant than the ‘cost of living crisis’.
Ed Miliband’s moral triumph is that he can genuinely say he is going into the election, to be held in the UK on May 7th 2015, having tried his best to piss off the key players in the print press. The BBC’s news coverage, whether it includes not reporting the National Hospital Sell-off following the Health and Social Care Act (2012), or not reporting the closure of law centres in England, or not reporting a march against NHS privatisation in Manchester involving approximately 60,000 people, has become astonishingly irrelevant.
The ‘coming of age’ of Ed Miliband politically is an intriguing one. Whilst Miliband has really struggled, initially, to convince others of the need of ‘responsible capitalism’ or indeed ‘predistribution’, he managed to produce a populist synthesis which was strikingly popular.
Phone lines are typically inundated in any radio phone-in with callers moaning about how their utility bills have shot up. The ‘free market’ has not offered choice or competition, but has become a gravy train for greedy companies.
There is not a single truly ‘free’ market. Virtually all free markets have needed some degree of regulation, to stop customers being abused.
It has become much easier to fire employees on the spot, and access-to-justice evaporated. Virtually all free markets have needed some degree of regulation, also to stop employees being abused.
Whilst then the ‘One Nation’ concept may seem a bit pie-in-the-sky, an economy and society which works for its citizens ‘for the public good’ is a worthy one. It is a bit of a stretch to make this sound like a return to 1970s socialism. It is entirely about making the State protect the interests of its citizens.
The media have long been gleeful at the personal ‘poll ratings’ of Ed Miliband being dire, but David Cameron impressed as a dodgy double-glazing salesman this week. Nick Clegg, having led his party to voting for NHS privatisation and the decimation of legal aid, has become a laughing stock with his argument that he is a ‘moderating force’.
Many people will therefore say begrudgingly that Ed Miliband had by far the best conference season. This was not because he had ‘rote learned’ a script rather than reading an autocue. This is because, whether it was synthetic or not, struck a chord with the concerns of ordinary voters not corporate directors.
The Westminster Class is clearly going to take a bit of time to readjust to the new mood music. Miliband has, whether they concede it or not, has been able to change the narrative from the deficit to the ‘cost of living crisis’.
The ‘cost of living crisis’ is a genuine one, with the cost of living outstripping real wages for the vast majority of the term of this government so far. It is shocking perhaps it is taken so long for the political class to realise that this is an issue.
This is not, of course, a rejection of the market in any Marxist sense. It is merely an acknowledgement that voters do not intellectually masturbate any more on the allegation of Labour singlehandedly bankrupting the global economy.
The bankers are the baddies, like the energy companies. They have failed to regulate themselves, and have been the beneficiaries of ineffective regulation from the State. The Unions are rapidly no longer becoming “public enemy number one”, not because there has been a sudden conversion of a mindset to valuing employees’ rights but because votes find disgusting the idea of faceless hardnosed hedgies and venture capitalists determining public policy behind the scenes.
And there’s finally the rub. Ed Miliband has managed to shove the volume up, when he was perhaps so quiet that people were wondering if he ever had anything useful to say. And he somehow has managed to make his ‘One Nation Economy’, ‘One Nation Society’ and ‘One Nation Politics’ seem relevant to many people who had previously given up on politics.
This is actually no mean feat.
Thanks to @labourmatters for correcting a factual misstatement in an earlier version of this blogpost.
It’s in his eyes. Not even David Cameron expects to win the 2015 general election, to be held on May 7th, 2015 according to the fixed term legislation.
The contrast with Ed Miliband’s barnstorming speech last week could not have been greater. Miliband’s speech had a good attempt at intellectual gravitas and a coherent narrative on the abuse of markets in relation to the public good, but did admittedly suffer from a borderline use of clichés and standard rhetorical devices. Still, against the best efforts to discredit him through Damian McBride’s latest pissed-and-tell, Miliband delivered an output which both potential voters and the Unions could agree to agree on.
David Cameron delivered his package like a newsreader trying to make appropriate emotional gestures on reading a flat autocue script. The end result was lack-lustre, unimpressive and frankly unappealing.
It looked as if even he didn’t know what he was doing there. Whoever the script writer (sorry I meant speech writer) was, he or she should be sacked. David Cameron looked as if he was reading a boring an executive summary of an annual report of his organisation. He did not appear like a leader with a vision. He looked like a manager who had consulted with his Chief Finance Officer, George Osborne, that, even after staring the decimal points, he could give a confident projection to investors about future performance.
That bit I can’t blame Cameron for. He was reading out his Annual Report to his corporate investors, quite literally, the people who can make or break his party. Hard-nosed hedgies were there to check their investments would bear fruition. After all, many members of the audience were there to check that High Speed 2 would remain part of the business plan.
Cameron could not of course mention that Labour would definitely repeal the Health and Social Care Act (2012). Such a statement would, of course, send uncontrollable shockwaves to corporate investors, who wish to live long enough to witness their return-on-investment through a swathe of procurement contracts in due course.
The key ‘shared values’ were there like ‘aspiration’, ‘opportunity’, ‘wealth creation’, ‘low taxation’, and ‘strong communities’, in keeping with the Conservative Party corporate mission statement. However, they were delivered devoid of emotion, totally ignoring the plight of disabled citizens who had had their lives screwed up because of the benefits system, no reference to the closure of law centres, libraries or Sure Start, for example.
There wasn’t anything controversial there. No mention of ‘zero hour contracts’. No mention of the closure of law centres. No mention of the inequity of Workfare. No mention of the failures of the privatised utilities industries. It was a deadpan speech for an audience whose average age was close to retirement time.
There was no mention of the failure of how he had achieved ‘the Small State’. No mention of the outsourcing failures to the handful of companies, largely the same bunch who were bidding for the NHS procurement contracts, and many of whom have been involved in one fraud allegation or another.
The speech in a sense was quite representative of a totally uninspiring mob of Conservatives: overprivileged, inarticulate about basic macroeconomics, very pro-employer, and frankly delusional in places.
I would rather have had my testicles attached to the National Grid than to travel up to Manchester voluntarily to listen to that. No. I perhaps would have preferred to have all my teeth extracted without any anaesthetic. I am only glad that I have no interest in the performance of the Conservative Party, or I would have been distressed by today’s performance. It was less ‘Breaking Bad’, more like ‘Unbelievably Bad’. It was a performance that even a Carlton newsreader would have been embarrassed at.
It’s definitely in his eyes. He’s already making plans for his retirement.
It is beyond delusional that Nick Clegg is proposing to the voters of Britain that British voters are better off with a coalition government, with him as a permanent fixture as the Deputy Prime Minister. It may be spun that ‘behind the scenes’, he is known to favour David Cameron as he has worked with Cameron, but seriously? You must have surely worked with people that you’ve come to hate? It is, rather, well known that Nick Clegg is a Tory. He is utterly spineless, and has no liberal principles of his own. That is why many people serious about Liberal values have left in droves – or rather hundreds of thousands. Liberal does not mean snoopers’ charters. Liberal does not mean control orders. Liberal does not mean secret courts. Liberal does not mean propelling competition to be the overriding principle of a NHS which outsources as much as possible to the private sector, when the Liberal Democrat’s own constitution emphasises the principle of collaboration.
The question is: what will it take to get rid of Nick Clegg finally? Thanks to the legislation of the fixed term parliament, we already know that he will have to honour his promise to go the full distance. Vince Cable may offer sunny uplands in the form of the Coalition early, but it is merely a mirage. Many activists are worried about armageddon, which is widely predicted for the European elections. Oakeshott will be there to tell you he told you so, and Nigel Farage will yet again be the new messiah. However, none of this fundamentally changes anything. Nick Clegg is a Tory, and what he wishes to do after May 8th 2015 is utterly irrelevant.
Do people really care whether he wants to be in a Coalition with Ed Miliband? I strongly suspect Ed Miliband doesn’t wish to work with Clegg in a million years. The practical issue is inevitably how Nick Clegg is going to lead his party to vote with Labour to reverse a series of legislative steps from the present Coalition. It is inevitable that Labour will have to repeal the Health and Social Care Act (2012), and given the strength of feeling one cannot conceivably imagine LibDem MPs will now be whipped to vote against the legislation they originally delivered. Whilst it is common currency that most politicians are ‘professional’ and do what they are told, irrespective of what the country feels, Norman Lamb had no problems in implementing a £3bn top down reorganisation of the NHS when the political priority should have been to implement as soon as possible the Dilnot recommendations over the future of social care.
Say you’d submerged the Concordia, would you attempt to take credit for lifting it out of the waters? Say you’d driven a high speed train in Spain off the tracks, would you attempt to take credit for finding the ‘black box’ recorder? Nick Clegg incessantly criticised the economic policy under Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling in the dying days of the the final recent Labour government, and did his best totally to misinform the public. It could be the case that Labour did a dreadful job in explaining how the £860 billion was deemed ‘necessary’ in keeping the banks afloat, whilst maintaining a record level of satisfaction in the NHS. However, Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes and Danny Alexander did a splendid job in a coalition of lies with George Osborne and David Cameron in arguing that Labour had bankrupt the UK and we were close to the Greek situation. It is therefore not a great achievement that we have a feeble recovery. The argument that ‘Ed Balls does not even agree with Ed Balls’ has not reached lift off despite the best peddling from Tim Farron and Nick Clegg, and the BBC, because the facts speak for themselves. Whilst they proudly boast that the UK economy did not have a double dip or triple dip, it is incontrovertible that the UK economy had actually been recovering in May 2010.
So what Nick Clegg wants is irrelevant. In as much politics can be politicised, Clegg has become a figurehead for anger amongst a wide variety of issues important to Labour voters. While Clegg maintains his stuck record mantra of ‘lifting people out of poverty’, the list of cock ups from Clegg is truly lamentable. It is impossible to know where to start – but you could try the UK economy, the scrapping of the employment support allowance, the shutting of libraries, the scrapping of Sure Start, the scrapping of ‘Building Schools for the Future, and the destruction of the network of legal centres in England. Clegg’s horrific, even if he is a ‘great reformer’ of sorts. He represents all that is fundamentally sick with unprincipled, undemocratic politics. He is a sickening ‘career politician’ who built a brand of ‘no more broken promises’, while breaking a promise he publicly signed a pledge for regarding tuition fees.
Ed Miliband continues to be slagged off by the Liberal Democrat hierarchy, though less so by some on the left of the Liberal Democrat Party. Why should he particularly wish to embrace them as part of the progressive left? The reason he might is that Ed Miliband is a social democrat who doesn’t particularly mind standing up for principles he believes in, even if this means antagonising the Blairite press such as David Aaronovitch or John Rentoul. He called out ‘irresponsible capitalism’ in an universally panned conference speech in Manchester in 2011, much to the ire of the Blairite critics (surprise surprise), but nobody can dismiss how this important concept, passported from the seminal work of Prof Porter at Harvard, has taken root. The ‘transformation’ of ‘reforming’ the public sector in outsourced services has been incredibly unpopular with the general public, who are much better informed than the Coalition politicians would like to believe. You’d have to be on Mars not to be aware of the fraud allegations of A4e, Capita, Serco or G4s.
The public will not give credit to the Liberal Democrats for the economy. They might conceivably give some credit to the Conservatives. And yet the picture of the UK economy is not clear. The total number of people in employment has been rising consistently for many years now, irrespective of who is government. The Conservatives will have real problems in establishing living standards, as the cost of living has risen exponentially due to privatised utilised creaming off profits in the utilities industries. These utilities industries are typical ‘oligopolies’, where the product is virtually the same for the end-user whoever the provider is, prices are kept artificially high by all the providers (but proving collusion by the competition authorities remains virtually impossible), and shareholder profits are shamelessly high. Norman Tebbit have dug out a trench in no foreign ownership of Royal Mail, but there is no such legislation about foreign ownership of the utilities nor indeed the NHS.
Nick Clegg may have been the future once. But he’s now finished.
You can always depend on the NHS. It’s always there for you.
I’m not talking about how the NHS looks after you from the moment you are born to the moment you did. I am talking about the purely selfish way in which the NHS is regarded by some within Labour. They are not a majority, I feel, but a sizeable minority for me to get irritated about.
It’s the school of philosophy which says, ‘We invented the NHS’. If that is taken literally, it may not be true, in that while Labour implemented in the NHS the blueprint from it was from a Liberal, Sir William Beveridge, Master of University College Oxford. At the other extreme, few are advocating embalming the NHS for posterity, or cryogenically freezing it, or any other banal image you wish to think of. It is not a ‘natural religion’, but likewise people who believe in its values should not be criticised for being ‘crackpots’.
While Ed Miliband goes on his walkabout with the air of belle indifference to flying eggs, and while Chris Bryant is not completely sure of the location of his Tesco distribution centre at the centre of his immigration scandal, the NHS is always there for them. Never a topic of debate. Andy Burnham MP will proudly defend Labour’s record over Mid Staffs, and talk about his ‘big idea’, integrated whole-person care. However, as with much policy from Labour in general, no-one knows for certain Labour’s direction of travel on this.
Labour is obsessed about ‘proving itself on the economy’. You sense this is because Gordon Brown was adamant about presenting himself as a ‘serious politician for serious times’, ‘fiscally responsible’. And yet the public perception amongst some quarters is of a manic shopper going mad with his credit card. Labour’s problem is that it is not, as such, thanked for the record satisfaction over the NHS, and many voters think if the NHS is good in their area that they happen to be ‘one of the lucky ones’.
Ed Balls MP is desperate to prove he has something to say on the economy. The narrative had always been ‘you’re cutting too fast and too deep’, and yet he wanted to stick to the same spending plans. And, for his next trick, now that the economy may be on a path of sustained recovery, Balls & Co. wish to establish that the economic recovery is indeed fragile and there has been a precipitous drop in ‘real living standards’. This narrative would be perfectly plausible if there was nothing happening on the political scene, but this is far from true. Disabled campaigners feel that Labour on the whole does not speak for them, some blaming Labour for signing the fated contracts with ATOS in the first place. However, they loathe the current ministers for disability in the Cameron government, so soldier on regardless. Concerns about workfare appear to fall on deaf ears, and Labour are not shouting from the rooftops either about their plans to backpeddle on the ‘Bedroom Tax’.
Apparently. Ed Miliband, as a social democrat, feels a deep sense of justice as a social democrat. Actions speak louder than words. With the decimation of legal aid, and the introduction of private competitive tendering, there has been an armageddon in the legal landscape, to which both Miliband and Sadiq Khan look like ‘silent bystanders’. Miliband and colleagues were also unable to stop the juggernaut of private competitive tendering in the National Health Service, meaning that the private sector would end up taking control and management of lucrative contracts in the name of the NHS. They also do not have a settled position on the continuing financial obligations of NHS Trusts challenged by their PFI loan interest payments. They campaign on, but do not seem to make much headway, on stopping the cuts in nursing which seem to have ideologically resulted from the McKinsey efficiency savings. Any clinician in the NHS involved in frontline care from the last decade will know clinical wards and acute emergency rooms have been stripped to the bone leading to NHS CEOs being effectively rewarded for failure; in some places, dirty and unsafe hospitals, financially keeping afloat (or not as the case might be), in the name of ‘efficiency savings’, while Jeremy Hunt still describes the NHS as ‘scandalously inefficient’. Finally, integrated care could be the New Jerusalem of making healthcare ‘affordable’ while ‘thinking differently'; or it could be a way to fiddle the figures by offering substandard care in a totally unrecognisable form.
Such turmoil has led an umitigated amount of crap to be written and said about the NHS in the last few years. Recently, Keogh and Cummings have called for another set of reforms as the model of the NHS is ‘unsustainable’. Too late. The politicians decided unilaterally to impose a £2bn top-down reorganisation leaving the NHS totally buggered backwards, but allowing private health providers to come into the NHS like true ‘rent seeking’ vultures. The agenda of the ‘hospital standardised mortality ratio’ has been blown out of the water as a means not to look at clinically negligent care, which can only be done through meticulous expert analysis of the case notes. It has been exposed as a mechanism to induce moral panic for the public to become angry at ‘unsafe hospitals’, and their staff, with anger, for them to become foaming at the mouth with vitriol and hatred. The HSMR can be praised for being a ‘smoke detector’ for the worst performing Trusts, but a problem which the regulators themselves do not wish to tackle is why they seem to be so resistant to investigating even the most outrageous claims of unacceptable medical care. The healthcare regulators have only scored a pyrrhic victory by not investigating them, as the individual cases are very vocal indeed on Twitter and elsewhere.
All this feeds into the idea that Labour does not have any vision. It is more concerned about winning elections than having a clear roadmap of where it is going. For ages, inane critics have been saying that it is too early to flesh out any details in policy. These happen to be the same morons who deny any economic recovery at all, simply saying it is a debt-fuelled boom in the housing sector. Labour appears to have divided itself into two camps which are increasingly not communicating with one another. The one camp which feels that Ed Miliband is not providing inspirational leadership and the whole Party should return to its pre-Blair socialist roots. The other camp which feels it’s fine, no panic is warranted, and so long as Labour doesn’t say anything overtly, it’ll win the election. But, even if Labour get that far, it’s what happens next which matters.
Peter Hoskin in January 2012 famously in the Spectator published his version of the Richard Reeves’ famous “different strategy” of the Liberal Democrats as this parliament progressed.
When I tweeted briefly yesterday evening that David Cameron had acquired Obama’s advisor, Jim Messina, my followers who are UK Labour supporters were distinctly underwhelmed. They certainly did not share the naked excitement of Allegra Stratton, the BBC Newsnight’s political editor who was behaving as if she’d won the National Lottery. My followers instead loyally to took this to mean that more people were needed to clean up after the shambolic implementation of policies, such as #RacistVan. Many stuck to the reasonable line that the number of electoral advisers is not strongly correlated with coherence of political ideology, nor indeed electoral success. That of course will be good for Ed Miliband, who currently has no official electoral “campaign head”, although he has a strong policy steer from Lord Stewart Wood. The media are obsessed about the scalp of Lynton Crosby, and some extent they have already obtained the scalp of Tom Watson MP. However, Owen Jones on the BBC ‘Any Questions’ debate last night was quite correct to identify that, even if he personally does not agree with it, the main thrust of the Conservative Policy is in fact very clear: e.g. chucking out of the country illegal immigrants, or being tough on those people who don’t believe ‘it pays to work’. The implementation of both of the policies of course has been cack-handed, in that the Home Office continue to use the #immigrationoffenders hashtag completely ignoring the issue that suspects only become convicts if tried with due process in a legal court of war. In fact, the use of the hashtag not only offends the legal presumption of innocence, but it also potentially runs into problems with ‘contempt of court’. Nobody likewise fundamentally disagrees with the ‘it pays to work’ idea, but resent of course the scapegoating of unemployed citizens, deplore the attitude of ‘zero hours contracts’ as alleged for multi-national companies, with an abject failure to understand the ‘work credits’ policy. However, the Conservatives are ably assisted by a BBC which maintains that it maintains editorial standards upholding ‘accuracy, balance and lack of bias’, even in the face of high profile failures such as the John Humphrys decision. The Government can get away with a huge amount of misrepresentation, particularly ironic in their ambition for transparency and openness, as the debacles concerning the NHS funding and Iain Duncan Smith’s department demonstrate.
What Owen Jones has identified is that the Government appears to have a ‘vision’. Margaret Thatcher had a ‘vision’ too, which many people still profoundly disagree with. ‘Being Ed Miliband’ is pretty predictable though. For Ed, some things go well, some things go not so well. For example, his 2010 conference speech on ‘responsible capitalism’ in Liverpool was widely panned to be to a bit of a ‘turkey’, but many argued that he called it right in fact on the illegal phone hacking allegations of corporates. To give him credit, the wider ideological battle has been progressing well with him, in that policies such as workfare, where corporates abuse their power, curries favour with the public. The public also have taken to the outsourcing scandals like ducks to water, fully resentful against G4s, A4e, and Harmoni for their widely reported problems. The slight poll-lead of Labour one could argue could be greater, but it is easy to overestimate the amount of disunity in the Conservative Party. The Conservatives have had a good few months, having parked the issue about the EU referendum for now, and most importantly with the UK economy having appeared to have turned a corner at 0.6% growth. Ed Balls always had a substantial problem with the fact that he had signed up to the austerity agenda, which appears to be delivering (despite the fact that the UK economy is much more crippled than it otherwise should have been, had it followed the lead of Barack Obama). The Labour Party appears to have been voiceless over the attack on employees’ rights (in unfair dismissal claims). On the Bedroom Tax, it gives a muddled message where it appears to object to it, but does not quite commit convincingly to repealing it if it were to come into office and power on its own in May 2015. As for disability issues, many disabled citizens are left utterly confused on what Labour’s precise stance about ‘universal credit’, and how it does not seem to have any opinions on the steady stream of citizens who have committed suicide on the distress of their benefits decisions.
There are two things to form a strategy for. One is Ed Miliband, and one is Labour, though their relative fortunes are necessarily linked. You can have a reasonable ‘go’ at branding Ed Miliband as the ‘decisive leader’ on the left, despite the usual predictable reports that he can’t make up his mind what type of wine to drink (he has to drink rosé as he can’t make up his mind between red and white). This is all rather reminiscent of how Gordon Brown was also alleged not to be able to make up his mind over what type of coffee biscuit to eat, though ultimately the ‘dithering’ mistake which ultimately cost Brown his career was not this coffee biscuit problem but a problem concerning when to hold the 2010 general election. For me, the fundamental problem is that Labour does not have a clear “differentiation policy” of its own. One massive lack of differentiation remains the economy, where Ed Balls somehow has to concede ‘success’ for the Conservatives while saying that he would like to do something differently. However, Balls does not seem to wish to do anything markedly differently, as he has signed up to the same ‘austerity cuts’, not particularly winning him friends in the Unions with low pay conditions. Labour can of course remedy this by saying that it will fundamentally redesign the economy anyway such living standards are a top priority, such as with implementing a national living wage (either through law or not). However, Labour’s determination not to ‘tax and spend’, and not particularly to wish to do anything aggressive on the rich-power divide which has been bad in all governments since Thatcher to varying degrees, might fundamentally undermine this potential argument for ‘fairness’ many desire. Also, on the NHS, Ed Miliband is not actually signed up to anything fundamentally different for the NHS. Andy Burnham MP is the man who ‘is driving the Conservatives round the bend’, according to Isabel Hardman from the Spectator, because all attempts to smear him have gone belly up. However, Burnham also knows that he is not fundamentally signed up to anything vastly different when it comes to efficiency savings or PFI. The Government could of course potentially get the big four accountancy firms to advise on how it could creatively avoid tax to salvage £20bn in efficiency savings before 2020, or could decide to stop allegedly illegal wars abroad, to make up this ‘funding gap’ in the NHS. However, apart from repealing the Act which builds on the direction of the NHS competition boards set up under Labour and reducing the private income cap of s.164(1)(2A) of the Health and Social Care Act, Labour does not have a drastically different offering on the NHS apart from repeating the tired mantra that “Labour is the party of the NHS”.
Actually, as a Labour voter, I don’t actually really care whether the Liberal Democrats self-destruct or not. I am vaguely interested in whether they might wish to go into a Coalition with the Labour Party 2015, but I suspect this would not be a popular move amongst many members of the Labour Party I know. Anyway, I don’t think it’s going to happen with Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander in the higher echelons of the Liberal Democrat Party. Vince Cable for them can be easily ringfenced as a one-man protest party, so I do not expect him to have much influence and power in that party, unless his guru Lord Oakeshott can go into turbodrive with a campaign should Nick Clegg decide to fall on his sword. On the other hand, people do tend to have very short memories in politics, so ordinary voters might have somewhat forgotten about the closure of libraries, the NHS reforms, the education support allowance, welfare reforms, the economy, all decent policies where the Liberal Democrats have well and truly shafted members of Labour (and the more left-thinking members of their own party.) On the other hand, another factor governs the fate of Labour apart from the performance of Ed Miliband. That factor, whether the Liberal Democrats can rise like a phoenix from the ashes, could yet produce a problem for Labour, but while this Liberal Democrats seem totally signed up to crackpot policies such as #racistvan and lack of plain packaging cigarettes, there is no sign that the Liberal Democrats wish to leave their suicide pact yet. They know full well that if they do, David Cameron will be ecstatic, and their party meanwhile is fucked.
Jon Cruddas recently gave a progress report on how the evolution of ‘One Nation’ policy was going, In an article by Patrick Wintour published yesterday, Cruddas describes a ‘modern anomie’, a breakdown between an individual and his or her community, and alludes to the challenge of institutions mediating globalisation. Cruddas also describes something which I have heard elsewhere, from Lord Stewart Wood, of a more ‘even’ creation of wealth, whatever this means about the even ‘distribution’ of wealth. One of the lasting legacies of the first global financial crisis is how some people have done extremely well, possibly due to their resilience in economic terms. For example, it has not been unusual for large corporate law firms to maintain a high standard of revenues, while high street law has come close to total implosion in some parts of the country. In a way, this reflects a shift from pooling resources in the State to a neoliberal free market model.
The global financial crash did not see a widespread rejection of capitalism, although the Occupy movement did gather some momentum (especially locally here in St. Paul’s Cathedral). It produced glimpses of nostalgia for ‘the spirit of ’45”, but was used effectively by Conservative and libertarian political proponents are causing greater efficiencies. Indeed, Marks and Spencer laid off employees, in its bid to decrease the decrease in its profits, and this corporate restructuring was not unusual. A conservative and a libertarian have several things in common, the most important is the need for people to take care of themselves for the most part. Libertarians want to abolish as much government as they practically can. It is thought that the majority of libertarians are “minarchists” who favour stripping government of most of its accumulated power to meddle, leaving only the police and courts for law enforcement and a sharply reduced military for national defence. A minority are possibly card-carrying anarchists who believe that “limited government” is a delusion, and the free market can provide better law, order, and security than any goverment monopoly.
Essentially a libertarian would fund public services by privatising them. In this ‘brave new world’, insurance companies could use the free market to spread most of the risks we now “socialise” through government, and make a profit doing so. That of course would be the ideal for many in reducing the spend on the NHS, to produce a rock-bottom service with minimal cost for the masses. And to give them credit, the Health and Social Care Act was the biggest Act of parliament, that nobody voted for, to outsource the operations of the NHS to the private sector, which falls under the rubric of privatisation. Outsourcing is an arrangement in which one company provides services for another company that could also be or usually have been provided in-house. Outsourcing is a trend that is becoming more common in information technology and other industries for services that have usually been regarded as intrinsic to managing a business, or indeed the public sector.
Many expected the election of the present government to herald a more determined approach to outsourcing public services to the private sector. Initially came the idea of the “big society”, with its emphasis on creating and using more social enterprises to deliver public services, but the backers for this new era of venture philanthropism were not particularly forthcoming. The PR of it, through Steve Hilton and colleagues, was disastrous, and even Lord Wei, one of its chief architects, left. No one in the UK likes the idea of domestic jobs moving overseas. But in recent years, the U.K. has accepted the outsourcing of tens of thousands of jobs, and many prominent corporate executives, politicians, and academics have argued that we have no choice, that with globalisation it is critical to tap the lower costs and unique skills of labor abroad to remain competitive. They argue that Government should stay out of the way and let markets determine where companies hire their employees. But is this debate ever held in public? No, there was always a problem with reconciling the need for cuts with an ideological thirst for cutting the State. Unfortunately, cutting the State was cognitively dissonant with cutting the ‘safety net’ of welfare, which is why the rhetoric on scroungers had to be ‘upped’ in recent years by the UK media (please see original source in ‘Left Foot Forward’). And so it came to be, the Compassionate era of Conservatism came to pass.
Here in the UK, in 2010, the government indicated that it wanted to see new entrants into the outsourcing market, and the prime minister visited Bangalore, the heart of India’s IT and outsourcing industry, for high profile meetings with chief executives of companies such as TCS, Infosys, HCL and Wipro. Nobody ever bothers to ask the public what they think about outsourcing, but if Gillian Duffy’s interaction with Gordon Brown is anything to go by, or Nigel Farage’s baptism in the local elections has proved, the public is still resistant to a concept of ‘British jobs for foreign workers’. However, it is still possible that the general public are somewhat indifferent to screw-ups of outsourcing from corporates, in the same way they learn to cope with excessive salaries of CEOs in the FTSE100. The media have trained us to believe that unemployment rights do not matter, and this indeed has been a successful policy pursued by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. People do not appear to blame the Government for making outsourcing decisions, for example despite the fact that the ATOS delivery of welfare benefits claims processing has been regarded by many as poor, the previous Labour government does not seem to be blamed much for the current fiasco, and the current fiasco has not become a major electoral issue yet.
And the list of screw-ups is substantial. G4S – the firm behind the Olympic security fiasco – has nowbeen selected to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland at the G8 Summit next month. Despite the company’s botched handling of the Olympics Games contract last summer, G4S has been chosen to supply 450 security staff for the event at Lough Erne, County Fermanagh The leaders of the world’s eight wealthiest countries are expected in Fermanagh on June 17 and 18. Meanwhile, medical assessments of benefit applicants at Atos Healthcare were designed to incorrectly assess claimants as being fit for work, according to an allegation of one of the company’s former senior doctors has claimed. Greg Wood, a GP who worked at the company as a senior adviser on mental health issues, said claimants were not assessed in an “even-handed way”, that evidence for claims was never put forward by the company for doctors to use, and that medical staff were told to change reports if they were too favourable to claimants. Elsewhere, Scotland’s hospitals were banned from contracting out cleaning and catering services to private firms as part of a new drive towards cutting the spread of deadly superbugs in the NHS. There were 6,430 cases of C. difficile infections in Scotland in one year recently, of which 597 proved fatal. The problem was highlighted by an outbreak of the infection earlier this year at the Vale of Leven hospital in Dunbartonshire which affected 55 people. The infection was identified as either the cause of, or a contributory factor in, the death of 18 patients.
Whatever our perception of the public perception, the impact on transparency and strong democracy merit consideration. As we outsource any public service, we appear to risk removing it from the checks and balances of good governance that we expect to have in place. Expensive corporate lawyers can easily outmanoeuvre under-resourced government departments, who often appear to be unaware of the consequences, and this of course is the nightmare scenario of the implementation of the section 75 NHS regulations. Even talking domestically, Where contracts privilege commercial sensitivities over public rights, they can be used to exclude the provision of open data or to exempt the outsourcer from freedom of information requests. Talking globally, “competing in the global race” has become the buzzword for allowing UK companies to outsource to countries that do not have laws (or do not enforce laws) for environmental protection, worker safety, and/or child labour. However, all of this is to be expected from a society that we are told wants ‘less for more’, but then again we never have this debate. Are the major political parties afraid to talk to us about outsourcing? Yes, and it could be related to that other ‘elephant in the room’, about whether people would be willing to pay their taxes for a well-run National Health Service, where you would not be worried about your local A&E closing in the name of QUIPP (see this blogpost by Dr Éoin Clarke). Either way, Jon Cruddas is right, I feel; the ‘modern anomie’ is the schism between the individual and the community, and maybe what Margaret Thatcher in fact meant was ‘There is no such thing as community’. If this means that Tony Blair feels that ‘it doesn’t matter who supplies your NHS services’, and we then get invasion of the corporates into the NHS, you can see where thinking like this ultimately ends up.