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The Labour Party in parliament have let the country down. It’s now for the membership to save it.




The problem with the strategy of 172 (odd) Labour MPs in parliament slagging off their leader minute-in and minute-out in open warfare conducted in the court of BBC News is that certain chickens would come eventually to roost.


It was vile. And utter madness.


At a time when the Labour Party could have united behind their once democratically elected leader, the MPs decided to rubbish entirely their brand. Labour MPs, barely out of their Price Waterhouse Coopers nappies, were heard to throw loudly their toys out of their parliamentary offices, as we all said: “Don’t bother shutting the door on your way out.”


And are the membership of the Labour Party all meant to be euphoric at the 20th year anniversary of Tony Blair? We’ve done our best in wheeling out Owen Jones (who interestingly shares a GQ triangle of himself, Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell) to mount the TV screens, and tell us all for the millionth time how many amazing achievements Blair had.


But whisper it softly. A new dawn had not in fact broken it, had it not, and could only be best as a false mirage. You can easily understand why the Blair legacy has ultimately failed, aside from the cataclysmic desire of Blair to own the failed mission that is the Iraq War.


It was, that, at best that New Labour itself had no vision, to extent that all Governments since Thatcher have been effectively the same government run by different parties.


There is barely anything to distinguish the Blair, Brown, Cameron and May governments in approaches to the hybrid market ideology and outsourcing/privatisation of the public sector – what the late Lord Macmillan of Stockton had called ‘selling off the nation’s assets”.


Scottish Labour, in their hearts, deep down, know this.


Corbyn had to be elected not once but twice to get some standing as leader of the Labour Party, and this is still in massive public opposition to him in the highly influential media who continue to troll innocent people in the social media without shame.


In a way, Peter Mandelson’s plan worked in toiling every day such that Labour would appear unelectable and to get Jeremy Corbyn out. Labour has tanked in the opinion polls, with no supposed hope of immediate recovery.


What Mandelson is, however, in denial is this.


For all of Tony Blair’s withering reputation as a ‘strong leader’, who took parliament into a war under false pretenses (some argue), despite his opinion poll ratings, not many people want him back – or at least want him back as much as a sewer infested with rats.


Already the hugely unpleasant media is talking about Corbyn ‘taking ownership’ of what will ‘inevitably’ be a disastrous general election result – and not a single vote has been caste yet. Kezia Dugdale and Carwyn Jones haven’t even stopped slagging off Jeremy Corbyn yet.


But there is an even more gruesome possibility strategy guru Mandelson has not thought of.


Mandelson like May is not ‘first class material’, but he has failed to grasp that the media have toxified the Corbyn brand that not even the people who wish to vote for Labour will now wish to reveal themselves to the opinion polls.


As far as “strong and stable” Theresa May is concerned, there is actually no strong mandate as far as getting the best for Britain is concerned.


The whole world and his cat knows that Britain is about to be tarred and feathered in a ritualistically humiliating exit from the European Union by the 27 member states led by Tusk and Juncker.


The whole world and his cat know that despite Nigel Farage’s imagery of not paying your subs to your golf class the UK will be sued to high heaven if it doesn’t come up with the billions held to be its liabilities.


And all of this is at a time when the NHS and social care are on its knees, not due to the ‘aged population’ as you might be led to believe from dilapidated chumocratic Tory peers –  nor from the skeleton staff levels – but from the astronomic PFI debts amassed triumphantly under the Blair governments principally.


We know that schools funding is on its knees.


Furthermore, the economy is about to tank big time – due to creeping important inflation, faltering growth and wages being far outstripped by prices. Andrew Marr’s questioning of nurses having to attend food banks is only the tip of the iceberg.


Thankfully, if there are riots on the streets, the privatised justice systems will be able to make a tidy profit.


The only ‘strong mandate’ May can realistically hope for is that the Government, in whatever shape or form, has in its first Queen Speech the aspirations for a hard Brexit, thus meaning due to the Salisbury convention the House of Lords has to accept the wishes of an election manifesto.


After all, “strong and stable” Theresya May had only been elected by her party in parliament – a pathetically small number.


All of this carnage cannot be simply resolved by Guardian hacks telling their ever dwindling loyal readership to vote tactically for any party other than Corbyn’s – whatever their views of gay sex.


Get braced for Jeremy Corbyn to have to fight a third leadership election, but the advantage is that the country will have imploded by then. Even Scotland might be fully independent of the United Kingdom.



Which Tony will win on the NHS? ‘Social democracy’, please meet ‘democratic socialism’.



At the heart of the ‘perfect storm’ about the NHS is a mediocrity of some managers, lack of ability from some NHS ” leaders “, and some inexperienced or unknowledgeable junior politicians and the civil service, who are crippling the best efforts of the frontline clinicians. Not helping is the split personality of the UK Labour Party which has seen an unbearable tension between socialism and neoliberalism. A good short-cut to understanding this difference in opinions is to examine how Tony Benn and Tony Blair have considered the NHS.

Benn hates the idea that ‘the left’ destroyed the Labour Party, and this chicken is yet to return to roost. Baroness Thatcher’s biggest achievement might have been New Labour, but it might be sensible now to conceptualise ‘New Labour’ as a political experiment. It can be to all extent and purposes it can be considered now to be a separate party to Labour proper. As we enter Conference season, it would be helpful if Ed Miliband could begin to form a vision of what he wants the NHS to be like. Without this vision, Miliband will be floundering, firefighting, and be lost in an ideological abyss. Benn is genuinely intrigued ‘why the Labour Party ignores people’, and thinks that capitalism prefers to see their policies ‘advocated from the left’. That is why Sean Worth may be so keen to write blogposts for the Socialist Health Association. This could be conceptually similar to Rupert Murdoch liking New Labour. “People don’t believe what they’re told, and people don’t listen to them”, complains Benn, and this is especially true in how NHS managers and politicians have approached the running of the nHS.

Tony Benn has not substantially changed his views on socialism for a number of decades, and while Ed Miliband is a card-carrying ‘social democrat’, Tony Benn’s view of ‘democrat socialism’ made famous in 1978, now published as “Why America needs democratic socialism”, does now perhaps merit further scrutiny. Benn’s argument that many in the general public advocate a form of “the left”, further left than Labour, is not ill thought out either. Privatisation, which has brought excessive profits for a few, has not turned out to be a democratising process at all due to the dynamics of neoliberal oligopolies. Privatisation is not popular. Benn has never seen socialism as a destination on a railway line, but sees socialism as an “ongoing struggle”. Benn, conversely, thinks the Thatcherite “revolution” was to ‘wind up the welfare state’, in much the same way as Reagan wished to unwind ‘The New Deal’, and undermined by the failure of monetarism. He cites that he senses that ‘people realise that they don’t have any power’, and is strongly critical of the unelected nature of corporatism, meaning that the power invested in the undemocrat Central Bank, World Trade Organisation, IMF and multinational corporates has effectively led to a ‘one party state’. One can imagine what Benn thinks of the creeping corporatisation of the NHS. Benn argues instead that people feel that they are not being represented any more, and nothing could be further from the truth than the inability of Labour and the Conservatives to discuss the McKinsey Efficiency savings or the private finance initiative strategy.

The media “rejected socialism”, according to Benn, so did Mandelson, Blair and Kinnock. However, Benn weirdly enough has not given up the faith. As for private ownership, Benn argues that we are using taxpayers’ money to subsidise the railways which would otherwise run at a loss.

Benn thinks that clinicians and nurses should be involved in the management of the NHS, which is somewhat reminiscent of the ‘co-determination‘ strategy in Germany of corporate management. Ed Miliband is in fact known to be very keen on this model of corporate governance, as it is consistent with his view of ‘responsible capitalism’. Benn opines at 26 mins in:

“Absolutely. They’ve got all these management consultants. I don’t wish to insult management consultants. There’s a lovely story I heard years ago. It’s about a boat race between a Japanese crew and NHS. Both sides practice long and hard. The Japanese won by a mile. So the NHS faced with this problem set up a working party. The working party report that the Japanese crew had 8 people rowing and 1 steering, and the NHS crew had 8 people steering and 1 rowing. So they brought in management consultants who confirmed the diagnosis. They suggested that the NHS crew should be completely restructured with 3 Assistant Steering Managers, 3 Deputy Steering Managers, a Director of Steering Services, and a rower incentivised to row. They had another race. They lost by 2 miles. They laid off the rower for poor performance. They sold off the boat. There are too many management consultants and not enough managers in the hospital. When I went to Havana years ago, they took me to their hospital, I didn’t wish to see the equipment. I asked how the hospital is run. We discuss everything. The first meeting is one chaired by the management, the second meeting is one chaired by the Unions, and the third meeting is. So I really am not in favour of this top down view at all, and I feel industrial democracy has an appeal and people feel that they’re kicked about…”

At about 11 mins in of this second film, there is a clear contrast in tone with Tony Blair interviewed by Will Hutton in the film “The Last Days of Tony Blair”:

Tony Blair:“Actually in the NHS it is the reforms around putting the patient at the centre of the system, choice, competition, incentives for the system to treat better, and more … those are the structural changes.”

Will Hutton: Those are the things you were criticising the Conservatives for in 1995, 1996, 1997, the markets, incentives, and the “wrecking ethos”, and here you are talking about ”

Tony Blair: Again it’s a fair point. Although it’s true there were elements in the 1990s which we brought back, on the other hand – it’s done in a more fundamental way. It’s done in a far more equitable way.”

Blair thinks of ‘communities’ as the dividing line between him and Thatcherism – as expressing solidarity and standing by the weak, more important than the “rights” of individuals. This ‘confirmed Christian’ ‘Good Samaritan’ ethos has somehow got lost in translation in Blair’s legacy, and will be savaged by the Health and Social Care Act (2012) which has acccelerated a fragmented NHS which is not comprehensive. These ‘community values’ are not to be seen in A&E departments being sporadically shut nationally. Miliband is likely to be supposed to be interested in this sense of justice in his view of social democracy, but this is indeed a common interface with democratic socialism. The problem is that these attempts at triangulation, bridging ‘left and right’ before, have been publicly strained, for example in Tony Giddens’ ‘Third Way’ which Giddens himself moots might have been a failure.

Blair thinks his approach is more “equitable”, but this can be fiercely debated. Blair talks of his love for his independent schooling system, and wishes that the best elements of this should be brought into the state system. The problem of these “academies” is that this is a repudiation of a ‘comprehensive’ system. While Blair is criticise a uniformity in low standards, reducing barriers to entry for private health providers driven by the bottom line, even that means compromising patient safety for profit, could make the final stage of NHS outsourcing and privatisation explode. Many members of the General Public do in fact the NHS to be properly funded, and do wish for a comprehensive system free-at-the-point-of-use. For all of Blair’s talk about asking the communities what they want, nobody has yet asked the general public whether they want to outsource services to India to make the bill cheaper. They are however wary of political decisions being made behind their back. In an article in the Health Services Journal, many will read with interest Patricia Hewitt’s view that, “Former health secretary Patricia Hewitt said trusts were either trying to access the fast growing sub-continental market ? estimated to be worth £110bn by 2017 ? or to harness Indian expertise”, but they will also be mindful of Hewitt’s own professional interest in opening up new private (perhaps emerging) markets in healthcare (see for example this article).

For this political issue, triangulation between ‘democratic socialism’ and ‘social democracy’ is not necessary. The neoliberal market is a boon for increasing profits in a crowded market for some. All the evidence suggests that this market will drive up health and social inequalities, and indeed increase the cost of running the NHS massively through waste and inefficiency. The final denouement of course comes from the destination of the transition we are now embarked upon; this unelected move will take us up to an estimated 31% of the budget going on admin. and wastage (as beautifully articulated by the Himmelstein and Woolhandler papers). Tony Blair may believe that ‘it doesn’t matter who supplies services in the NHS’, but for nurses about to be made redundant it does matter. Outsourcing these services to India will bring resentment, as well the exploding budget spent on management consultants; it is estimated that the NHS reorganisation, whilst creating massive turmoil, has cost billions so far. Nobody has ever bothered to criticise the impact of the inefficiency savings in delivering unsafe and uncompassionate care, and not thought to link it to the general state of the economy which has been a disgrace under the present Coalition of Conservatives and Neoliberal Democrats.

Miliband should repeal the Health and Social Care Act (2012), which does not even contain a single clause on patient safety. Miliband should also scale back massively the extent to which the NHS services are outsourced to the private sector, marketed fraudulently under the NHS label. He should most of all restore a properly funded comprehensive NHS free-at-the-point-of-use with a safe level of minimum clinical staffing. He needs to restore the Secretary of State’s duty for the NHS in this regard.

If we are so desperate about £20bn McKinsey efficiency savings, why are we spending £80bn on #HS2?

My personal response to Tony Blair's "advice"




This is a response to “Labour must search for answers and not merely aspire to be a repository for people’s anger”, by Tony Blair, published in the New Statesman on 11 April 2013.


Fundamentally, Blair is right in that Labour cannot merely be a conduit for ‘the protest vote’, but the issues raised by heir to Thatcher are much more than that to me. Blair argues that, “the paradox of the financial crisis is that, despite being widely held to have been caused by under-regulated markets, it has not brought a decisive shift to the left.” I am not so sure about that. Whilst I have always felt the taxonomy of ‘left’ versus ‘right’ largely unhelpful in British politics, I think most people in the country today share views about bankers and the financial services ‘holding the country to ransom’ (like the Union Barons used to be accused of), the failures of privatisation, the failures in financial regulation (PPIs), for example, which might have been seen as ‘on the left’. Tony Blair had a good chance of coming to power in 1997, and ‘the pig with a Labour rosette might have won at the 1997 General Election’ is not an insubstantial one. To ignore that there has been no shift in public opinion is to deny that the political and social landscape has changed to some degree. Whilst ‘South Shields man’ is still living with the remants of the ‘socially divisive’ Thatcherite government, what Michael Meacher MP politely called yesterday “a scorched earth approach”, voters are indeed challenging flagship Thatcherite policies even now.


Some Labour councillors and MPs did indeed embrace the ‘right to buy’ policy, but likewise many MPs of diverse political aetiology warn about the currentcrisis in social housing. Blair is right to argue, “But what might happen is that the left believes such a shift has occurred and behaves accordingly”, in the sense that Ed Miliband does not wish to disenfranchise those voters who did happen to embrace New Labour pursuant to a long stretch of the Conservative sentence, but we have a very strong danger now of disenfranchise the core voters of Labour. They are rightly concerned about workers’ and employees’ rights, a minimum wage (a Blair achievement), and a living wage (possibly a 2015 manifesto pledge by Ed Miliband.)  Nobody wants to re-fight the battle of ‘left’ and ‘right’ of those terms, but merely ‘building on’ the purported achievements of Margaret Thatcher has to be handled with care.


Blair further remarks: “The Conser­vative Party is back clothing itself in the mantle of fiscal responsibility, buttressed by moves against “benefit scroungers”, immigrants squeezing out British workers and – of course – Labour profligacy.” Of course, Blair does not address the growth of the welfare dependency culture under Margaret Thatcher, but this is essential. Blair has also airbrushed the core of the actual welfare debate, about ensuring that disabled citizens have a ‘fair deal’ about their benefits, but to his credit addresses the issue of pensions in his fourth question. However, Blair falls into the trap also of not joining up thinking in various arms of policy, in other words how immigrants have in fact contributed to the economy of the UK, or contributed essential skills to public services such as the National Health Service. This is indeed a disproportionate approach to immigration that was permeating through the language of Labour ministers in immigration towards the end of their period of government. Blair fundamentally wishes to fight this war – indeed battle – on his terms and Thatcher’s terms. This is not on – this debate is fundamentally about the divisive and destructive nature of policy, of pitting the unemployed against the employed, the disabled against the non-disabled, the immigrant versus the non-immigrant, and so on. Part of the reason that Thatcher’s entire hagiography cannot be a bed of roses is that there exists physical evidence today of this ‘divide-and-rule’ approach to leadership.


Blair, rather provocatively at this stage, refers to the ‘getting the house in order’, which is accepting the highly toxic meme of ‘A Conservative government always has to come in to repair the mess of a Labour government spending public money it doesn’t have.’ However, the economy is in a worse state than bequeathed by Labour in 2010, and therein lies the problem that the house that the Tories ‘is getting in order’ is in fact getting worse. Acknowledgement of this simple economic fact by Blair at this juncture would be helpful. Blair’s most potent comment in the whole passage is: “The ease with which it can settle back into its old territory of defending the status quo, allying itself, even anchoring itself, to the interests that will passionately and often justly oppose what the government is doing, is so apparently rewarding, that the exercise of political will lies not in going there, but in resisting the temptation to go there.” Like all good undergraduates, even at Oxford, this depends on what exactly Blair means by the “status quo” – the “status quo” is in Thatcherism, and the “greatest achievement” of Conservatism, “New Labour”, so a return to listening to the views of Union members, ahead of say the handful of wealth creators in the City, is in fact a radical shift back to where we were. In other words, a U-turn after a U-turn gets you back to the same spot.


Blair then has a rather sudden, but important, shift in gear. He writes, “The guiding principle should be that we are the seekers after answers, not the repository for people’s anger.” This is to some extent true from the law, as we know from the views from LJ Laws who has described the challenges of making dispassionate legal decisions even if the issues are of enormous significance in social justice. Blair, consistent with an approach from a senior lawyer remarks, “In the first case, we have to be dispassionate even when the issues arouse great passion.” But then he follows, “In the second case, we are simple fellow-travellers in sympathy; we are not leaders. And in these times, above all, people want leadership.” Bingo. This is what. Whatever Ed Miliband’s ultimate ideology, which appears to be an inclusive form of social democracy encouraging corporate as well as personal citizenship, people ultimately want a very clear roadmap of where he is heading. The infamous articulation of policy under Cruddas will help here, but, as Ed Miliband finds his feet, Miliband will be judged on how he responds to challenges, like Thatcher had to respond to the Falklands’ dispute or the Miners’ Strike.


Blair fundamentally is right to set out the challenges. In as much as the financial crisis has not created the need for change per se, to say that it has not created a need for a financial response is ludicrous. The ultimate failure in Keynesian policy from Blair and Brown is that the UK did not invest adequately in a period of growth, put tritely by the Conservatives as “not mending the roof while the sun was shining”. Mending the roof, to accept this awful image, is best done when the sun is shining. Therefore, Labour producing a policy now is to some extent not the best time to do it. Blair had a great opportunity to formulate a culture in the UK which reflected Labour’s roots in protecting the rights and welfare of workers, but it decided not to do so. Tarred with the ‘unions holding the country to ransom’ tag, it decided to Brown-nose the City quite literally, leading to an exacerbation of the inequality commenced under Thatcher. Blair skirts round the issue of globalisation and technology in a rather trite manner, one assumes for brevity, but the wider debate necessarily includes the effects of globalisation and technology on actual communities in the UK, and the effect of multi-national corporates on life in the UK. Even Thatcher might have balked at the power of the corporates in 2013 in the same way she was critical of the power of the Unions throughout all of her time in government.


Whilst “Labour should be very robust in knocking down the notion that it “created” the crisis”, there is no doubt that Labour has a ‘debate to be had’ about how the Conservatives did not oppose the legislation of the City at the time by New Labour (and even advanced further under-regulation), why George Osborne wished to meet the comprehensive spending review demands of the last Labour government, and how the Conservatives would not have reacted any differently in injecting £1 TN into bank recapitalisation at the time of the crisis. The idea of spending money at the time of a recession has been compared to supporters of FA Hayek as ‘hair of the dog after a big binge’, but unfortunately is directly relevant to Blair’s first question: “What is driving the rise in housing benefit spending, and if it is the absence of housing, how do we build more?” Kickstarting the economy and solving the housing crisis would indeed be a populist measure, but the arguments against such a policy remain thoroughly unconvincing. The second question, “How do we improve the skillset of those who are unemployed when the shortage of skills is the clearest barrier to employment?”, is helpful to some extent, but Blair again shows that he is stuck in a mysterious time-warp; two of the biggest challenges in employment, aside from the onslaught in unfair dismissal, are the excessive salaries of CEOs (necessitating a debate about redistribution, given Labour’s phobia of the ‘tax and spend’ criticism), and how to help the underemployed. The third question is, course, hugely potent: “How do we take the health and education reforms of the last Labour government to a new level, given the huge improvement in results they brought about?” Fair enough, but the immediate problem now is how to slow down this latest advance in the privatisation of the NHS through the Health and Social Care Act (2012), and for Labour to tackle real issues about whether it really wishes to pit hospital versus hospital, school versus school, CCG against CCG, etc. (and to allow certain entities, such as NHS Foundation Trusts, “fail” in what is supposed to be a “comprehensive service”).  The other questions which Blair raises are excellent, and indeed I am extremely happy to see that Blair calls for a prioritisation of certain planks of policy, such as how to produce an industrial strategy or a ‘strategy for growth’, and how to deal with a crisis in social justice? There is no doubt that the funding of access-to-justice on the high street, for example in immigration, housing or welfare benefits, has hit a crisis, but Blair is right if he is arguing that operational tactics are not good enough. Sadiq Khan obviously cannot ‘underachieve and overpromise’ about reversing legal aid cuts, but Labour in due course will have to set out an architecture of what it wishes to do about this issue.


Ed Miliband knows that this is a marathon, not a sprint. He has the problem of shooting at a goal, which some days looks like an open goal, other days where the size of the goal appears to have changed, and, on other days, where he looks as if he runs a real risk of scoring an ‘own goal’. It is of course very good to have advice from somebody so senior as Tony Blair, who will be a Lord in the upper chamber in due course, and Miliband does not know yet if he will ‘squeak through’ in the hung parliament, win with a massive landslide, or lose. Labour will clearly not wish to say anything dangerous at the risk of losing, through perhaps offending Basildon Man, and, whilst it is very likely that South Shields Man will remain loyal, nothing can be taken for granted for Ed Miliband unfortunately. Like Baroness Thatcher’s death, Tony Blair’s advice at this stage was likely to rouse huge emotions, and, whilst the dangers of ignoring the advice might not be as costly as Thatcher’s funeral, it would be unwise to ignore his views which, many will argue, has some support within Labour. However, it is clearly the case that some of the faultlines in the Thatcher society and economy have not been healed by the New Labour approach, and Ed Miliband, many hope, will ultimately forge his own successful destiny.


Is it right for Labour "not to do God", nor even social justice?








Perhaps religion and politics don’t mix, but there is a certainly an appetite for moral and religious matters amongst some of the wider electorate at large. For ages, right wing critics have emphasised that the right wing “does” religion too, and the left does not have a monopoly on moral or religious issues. A fewer number on the left likewise feel that the right does not have a monopoly on business or enterprise, as they pursue, despite all the odds, the movement of “responsible capitalism”. In amidst all the turmoil of the implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson report, or furore about whether there was an ‘excess number of deaths’ at Mid Staffs (and if so, what to do about it), the Catholic Church elected a new Pope. Pope Francis has said that he wants “a poor Church, for the poor” following his election as head of the world’s 1.2bn Catholics on Wednesday. He said he chose the name Francis after 12-13th Century St Francis of Assisi, who represented “poverty and peace”. Spectators of UK politics will be mindful of the speech made by Margaret Thatcher on her election, for the first time, as Prime Minister outside Downing Street in 1979. Pope Francis urged journalists to get to know the Church with its “virtues and sins” and to share its focus on “truth, goodness and beauty”. He takes over from Benedict XVI, who abdicated last month. The former Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, was the surprise choice of cardinals meeting in Rome to choose a new head of the Church.

Changing the subject from religious figureheads to Mr Blair is interesting from the perspective of how the English political parties have latterly approached the issue of religion. There is a doctrine that religion does not play a part in politics, and particularly not when going to war with a non-Christian country. Tony Blair is reported to have said he had intended to echo the traditional closing remark of Presidents in the United States, in one of his speeches. These presidents typically sign-off television broadcasts by saying, “God Bless America”. For much of his time in office, Mr Blair was accused of adopting a “presidential” style of leadership, and became close to former American presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush. His former director of communications, Alastair Campbell, once famously declared “we don’t do God”, when the then Prime Minister was asked about his beliefs.

Wind on a few years and you find the  new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warning that changes to the benefit system could drive children and families into poverty. He said society had a duty to support the “vulnerable and in need”. His comments backed an open letter from bishops criticising plans to limit rises in working-age benefits and some tax credits to 1% for three years. The Department for Work and Pensions said meanwhile stuck to their tried-and-tested line that changing the system will help get people “into work and out of poverty”. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that Archbishop Welby was “absolutely right” to speak out and described the proposals as “immoral”. So is this the beginning of a divide between the Church and parliament? Probably not a big enough divide who wish to see the disestablishment of the Church altogether.

Many recently would have been alerted by a tweet that used the hashtag ‘blacknoseday’. The sentiment behind it is in fact interesting. David Cameron, alleged to be the man responsible for cutting welfare benefits for the most needy in society, played a cameo role in a Comic Relief video. Nonetheless, Comic Relief made a record amount of money, it is reported. There is a further accusation that Cameron is encouraging us to donate to the charity by waiving VAT from sales of the song and covering this loss to the exchequer with money from the Overseas Budget. So now those people overseas who would have won direct government funding are relying on the UK population downloading a One Direction track.

And are Labour much better? Today, Dr Eoin Clarke’s peaceful rallies against the Bedroom Tax went very successfully, but against a background of discontent within Labour amongst activists. Shadow Cabinet member Helen Goodman MP, who served in the Department of Work and Pensions in the last Labour administration, said in a TV interview that that “We’ve said that the bedroom tax should only apply if people have been offered a smaller place to live and turned it down”. It appears that, time and time again, Labour have made half-hearted criticisms of welfare cuts, but Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne has already said that Labour will make further cuts to the welfare budget if Labour wins in 2015.

Furthermore, Labour will not yet commit to reversing specific changes contained in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, the shadow justice minister said this week. However, Andrew Slaughter MP promised a future Labour government would ‘rebalance the justice system’ in favour of those seeking civil redress. It would also make more savings from criminal legal aid. The challenge for a future Labour government will be to ‘rebalance the justice system so that it can be seen to give access to justice to all… irrespective of their means’. And in the near future Labour wishes to back Iain Duncan-Smith on some retroactive changes to the law over workfare also.  The DWP has introduced emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of a court of appeal decision and “protect the national economy” from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished. The retroactive legislation, published on Thursday evening and expected to be rushed through parliament on Tuesday, will effectively strike down a decision by three senior judges and deny benefit claimants an average payout of between £530 and £570 each. Apparently, Labour will support the fast-tracked bill with some further safeguards and that negotiations with the coalition are ongoing.

So is it right for Labour “not to do God”, nor even social justice? All of this appears to be screaming out for Labour to say to its membership, ‘Go back to your constituencies, and prepare once again for a hung parliament.’ Laurence Janta-Lipinski, a pollster from YouGov, has recently revealed his survey which has Labour on 43 percent, the Conservatives on 34 percent and the Lib Dems and Ukip both on 8 per cent – suggested a Labour majority. However, he said that unlike in 1995 and 1996, “Labour are not so far ahead in mid-term to be assured of victory”, and “anyone predicting an election at this time is on to a loser. This far out before an election, I wouldn’t feel comfortable predicting a Labour or Conservative government or a hung parliament because all three of them are still possible. There is a good chance of a hung parliament at the next election. Realistically, it is the best the Liberal Democrats can hope for. Vince Cable is probably right to prepare for a hung parliament.”

There is a real sense now of Labour making its own destiny, where bad luck meets lack of preparation.  Having laid the groundwork for the privatisation of the NHS, it might be time for Labour to cut its losses, and to concentrate on its ‘core vote’, or even its ‘founding values’. And it can look this time for Margaret Thatcher ironically for inspiration.

We need to talk about Tony Blair

“Gordon did the economics”.

That’s precisely the problem. Tony Blair did not understand economics – excellent junior barrister, and outstanding communication skills and politician. There is indeed a plethora of substantial achievements for which all of us in Labour can be very proud indeed: the Northern Ireland peace process (the Belfast Agreement) and the formation of the Northern Ireland assembly, genuine advancement of LBGT rights, the Millennium Dome project, Scottish and Welsh devolution, the minimum wage. It’s critical also to note that public satisfaction with the National Health Service was at an all-time high, entirely due to the effort Blair put into this. This has always been the bête-noire of Labour, for example the public have been traditionally been somewhat reluctant to ‘thank’ Labour and Blair for this. (There have been theories proposed by Peter Kellner to explain why this might be so, such as voters believing that ‘they were the lucky ones’ and ‘they were bucking the national trend’). And indeed two of the very first things – and massive achievements – were the introduction of the Department for International Development and the Human Rights Act.

I don’t particularly care about what Alastair Campbell and numerous others say about Blair winning three elections – I feel that this is a red herring, and on principle what matters is what political ideologies he put into action. If you’re talking actual facts anyway, Blair’s support started to erode long before the Iraq War, at around 2002. Alastair Campbell’s latest diary reports an extremely dysfunctional Cabinet. Blair and Brown blatantly hated but respected each other, and with each trying to undermine each other but pretending their best to form a sense of unity. What Alastair describes is a pitiful state of affairs. Sure Campbell is a master-strategist in the way that Osborne will never be capable of being. However, what he reports is an organisational culture with two separate Blair and Brown styles, culture and ways of doing things. They fundamentally disagree, but it’s no good saying that Brown “did the economics”. Brown is a Keynesian, and he had the UK on a path to recovery before he was booted out in 2010.

Blair’s economic policy, or business model for UK plc if you prefer, is completely incorrect in my view. It takes no account of behavioural economics. He led members of his government completely down a blind alley of overcommoditisation of everything. His greatest sin was to embark on a strategy of overcommoditisation of the public services, completing spitting in the face of acknowledging value of people. People lie at the heart of the Labour – that’s why we have the Unions. In my personal view only, Blair’s effect on Labour, despite winning three elections, was to set the UK back decades. A donkey could have won the General Election against Major, and Blair failed to capitalise on producing a UK fit-for-purpose. The economy is still unbalanced, the Unions do not feel valued, and we are left with a sick Britain which is extending Blair’s plans albeit in a more extreme way. The Beechcroft Report and NHS Act are exactly what happens if you do not value hard-working people in the public sector.

Gillian Duffy represented an approach to immigration which was pathological. The Fabians’ response has to formulate this in terms of insecurity of voters, elegantly described in ‘Southern Discomfort’. However, I find the whole concept of ‘aspiration’ entirely phoney, and summarises well Blair’s government – a chic marketing exercise in making Labour palatable to the general public. It was extremely cynical, and the public saw through it, forcing Mandelson to declare New Labour clinically dead in 2010.

Ed Miliband needs to embrace behavioural economics and corporate social responsibility – in real terms, this means valuing all people who contribute to the society and economy of the UK. We need to talk about Tony, in that he is not some Messiah that walked the earth. He may have been an election-winning machine, but the fact that he could not integrate an understanding of economics to the heart of government speaks volumes. A generation of people currently at University are keeping up the intellectually-bereft idol worship of Blair, but they are doing Labour a massive disservice. Labour has to be inclusive of everyone, wherever they come from, to move forward. I believe, personally, that the whole of Labour Left and the Fabians have been extremely helpful in this regard.

The Left chooses sometimes the wrong battles to fight viscerally


John Maynard Keynes, an outstanding mathematician and economist from King’s College Cambridge, died on 21 April 1946. In the same year, William Beveridge, Master of University College Oxford, became a life peer. On On 1 December 1942, the government, also a coalition but this time in war-time, published a report entitled ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’. It had been written by Sir William Beveridge, a highly regarded economist and expert on unemployment problems, and a rightly-celebrated Liberal. The Beveridge Report quickly became the blueprint for the modern British welfare state. Dr Jose Harris, fellow of St Catherine’s College and widow of the great Prof Jim Harris, Chair of Jurisprudence at Oxford, has written a brilliant biography of Beveridge if you wish to chart the development of Beveridge’s ideas.

The Labour Party eventually adopted the Beveridge proposals, and after their victory in the 1945 general election, proceeded to implement many social policies, which became known as the welfare state. These included: the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act [1946], National Insurance Act [1946], National Health Service Act [1946] and the National Insurance Act [1949].

To answer the question whether these are “good” laws, perhaps one has to consider what is the purpose of law or jurisprudence. Today, Richard Dworkin is the Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University and Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence at UCL. Notably, Dworkin appears to argue that moral principles that people hold dear are often wrong, even to the extent that certain crimes are acceptable if one’s principles are skewed enough, being a vocal critic of Hart’s legal positivism.

Patrick O’Flynn (@oflynnexpress) in the Daily Express gives this account this morning:

The next day the Daily Express told the story of Stephanie Fennessy-Sharp and Ian Sharp and their combined brood of 10 children. Neither adult was in employment and yet the benefits system gave their household an income of more than £49,000 – the equivalent to a pre-tax salary of £72,000. “We’re taking advantage of the system but that’s the system’s fault,” said Mrs Fennessy-Sharp. Mr Sharp claimed: “If I work more than an hour I feel ill and get stressed.” Scanning the list of the family’s benefits to see how the £49,000 was arrived at, all the usual suspects were there: £20,400 in housing benefit for their five-bedroom home, £8,320 in incapacity benefit, £4,524 in child benefit, £1,200 in council tax benefit. But one item stopped me in my tracks: £14,456 child tax credits.

Later in the article, Patrick explains the following:

A spokesman confirmed that there is no rule stipulating that you have to work in order to get child tax credits. In fact the more children you have and the less work you do, the higher the amount you are entitled to tends to be. The Revenue simply pays regular large sums into your bank account.

The Working Tax Credit (WTC) is a state benefit to people who work on a low income. It is a part of the current system of refundable (or non-wastable) tax credits introduced in April 2003 and is a means-tested social security benefit. In addition, people may also be entitled to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) if they are responsible for any children. The idiotic thing is that despite their name, tax credits are not linked to a person’s tax bill. The WTC can be claimed by working individuals, childless couples and working families with dependent children. The WTC and CTC are assessed jointly and families remain eligible for CTC even if where no adult is working or they have too much income to receive the WTC.

The Left might validly ask where did this ludicrous system come from?  And yes indeed they might. Dawn Primarolo was responsible for implementation for the tax credits, under Tony Blair’s tenure as PM with Gordon Brown as Chancellor. The Left do themselves a massive disservice by not upholding the principles of the Beveridge report which they enacted. This should be one of the things that the Left does apologise for; given that Ed Miliband has been apologising for virtually everything else, it seems ludicrous that he should not admit that this was a major failing of the Blair/Brown regime. Furthermore, at a time when there are genuine debates to be had about the chaos in welfare funding (for example for disabled citizens), rather than James Purnell and Liam Byrne pandering to a media agenda about how Labour supports ‘tough welfare’ whilst perhaps concentrating somewhat on their own careers, this is a tragedy. And yes it is a tragic legacy of a Blair Labour government.

Now has never been a better time to implement ethical socialism in the UK


It may be sexy to be at each other’s throats, but the only people who benefit from a divided Labour are the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

I have often referred, latterly, to how Labour must find itself rejuvenated in 2012, but facing the challenges and opportunities of the modern UK.

I have indeed often criticised New Labour, in the fact that it is my personal academic belief that Tony Blair was incorrect not putting value at the heart of negotiating the commodfiication of public services (given that he desired to pursue this agenda at all). Blair, together with other Prime Ministers, have relied on the perfect competition model of the market, comparing cost and price.

We, in Labour, have much bigger fish to fry. This is not about which young political personality is an up-and-coming star of the future, nor which political journalist has the most Twitter followers. It’s simply an urgent need to recognise that market failure should provide the opportunity for Labour to re-establish core support; not cultivate an environment where people are scared to turn to ethical socialism.

That the utilities are a privatised oligopoly where it is far too easy for shareholders to cream off massive shareholder dividends without returning a vastly improved service possibly may be a driver for the renationalisation of certain strategic industries. That there are certain illnesses and diseases that will not flourish in a privatised NHS means that we should not put all of health and social welfare into the private sector; the same argument holds for certain (relatively) unprofitable legal services, like immigration or asylum.

The easy option has been for some in Labour to produce turf wars about Blair versus Brown, without negotiating the principles or values of Labour. People who know little about marketing have tried to launch campaigns for Labour, which has led to a stronger sense of incompetence. However, simply understanding that not all of society can be optimised through the maximisation of shareholder dividend should be a fundamental principle for Labour to move forward in the 21st century.

What has been known as ‘ethical socialism’ thus far is precisely what international business holds dear. Corporate social responsibility means that ENRON shook up the U.S., and Goldman Sachs have to be mindful of where they invest money, for example. Social enterprises are respected by the mainstream political parties, because they reconcile community investment with the need to be financially prudent; but not being profitable at the expense of the stakeholders. The business models are complicated, but indeed much studied in the world of management.

The ‘Occupy’ movement has seen a galvanisation of the public against greedy and cynical capitalism, and much of this has brushed off against their political masters. Would it be any wonder then that George Galloway offers such an attractive escape plan, save for the fact that his plan for government might not be that realistic?

Labour needs to learn fast why the public are rejecting all the major political parties at the moment. With the Liberal Democrats unelectable, if Labour does not produce ethical socialist policies, David Cameron will be handed his first real majority. Ironically, if Ed Miliband articulates a coherent vision of ethical socialism, he will have ideologically produced a political miracle of uniting his predecessors Tony Blair and Clement Attlee. It has previously been noted that Tony Blair believed that the Labour Party ran into problems in the 1960s and 1970s when it abandoned ethical socialism, and believes that the Labour Party’s recovery required a return to the ethical socialist values last promoted by the Attlee Labour government.

Now has never been a better time to implement ethical socialism in the UK. Labour Left are Labour’s largest think tank.  At its core are a group of thinkers who generate policy which they hope will be considered for inclusion in the 2015 Labour Party manifesto.  The group present themselves as a home of ethical socialism, set up in 2011 explicitly to help Ed Miliband become the next Prime Minister: I for one support them, and I hope you will too.

I respect Tony Blair, but New Labour was wrong on economics

I respect Tony Blair much. Indeed, he won three impressive election victories for my Party. Indeed, I like him as a person. I find his account of his family in ‘The Journey’ very moving.

However, as Frank Dobson MP points out in the video below, Labour started to lose support in the early 2000s, long before the Iraq War. I am in two minds about Tony Blair’s path to power. I believe it was important that the public were on his side, and you need to have the genuine support of followers to be successfully in power in government rather than to be simply in office. On the other hand, having vivid memories of Thatcherism in his heyday, prior to the Poll Tax, I believe that a donkey could have beaten John Major in 1997. I’m only surprised he won in the first place, which is indeed a tribute to him and the Conservative Party.

However, I firmly believe that New Labour was wrong on economics. The field of behavioural economics provides that there are irrational customers, and that’s all ‘rather complicated’. I am not interested in getting bogged down in an erudite discussion of ‘Nudge’ at this point – I disagree with Nudge too, as it happens.

Whilst it is comforting to think of things in terms of the supply-demand graph, real economics provides that price, cost and value have different definitions in modern economics. Furthermore, the Nobel Prizes for economics in 2001 and 2002 respectively, with Joe Stiglitz and Dan Kahneman, offer a convincing argument for information asymmetry in decision-making and loss aversion in decision-making.

This is particularly relevant now when it is erroneous to compare apples with bananas in the NHS. It’s difficult to compare the costs and value of chronic dementia care with the cost of a hip operation, and it may be dangerous to leave this entirely in the hands of a free market which operates under law to maximise shareholder dividend. If I had to pay for the medical care for my six week coma due to meningitis in 2007, I would owe the private health company millions probably. I think we do need some sort of shared risk/insurance system, but the NHS currently is not paid out of National Insurance to my knowledge. The sooner the Blairites appreciate this the better – otherwise their exercise is being run by shabby marketing people who don’t even understand economics like good marketeers do.

Despite some low points, I am still very proud to be supporting Ed Miliband. I voted for Ed, and indeed this video is of Frank Dobson at his last ever hustings when he was campaigning to be leader of my/our Party. And yes, and I came top in the MBA in economics and marketing last year in case you’re wondering..

Shibley Rahman dealing with death – a journey

Something I have discovered in the life is that there will always be people who like you whatever you do, those people who dislike or strongly dislike you whatever you do, and the remainder who are clearly indifferent. Encyclopaedias will have been written about Tony Blair before I die, and, whatever one’s views on his contributions to British politics, I would like to challenge any person with compassion not to find this personal extract from ‘The Journey’ inspiring. OK, fair enough, we’re all aware of the circular discussions about Blair’s Britain, but this is a very human, open, piece of writing, about the death of his mother, and the profound influence on him of his father, which I find deeply impressive on a human level.

In my case, my mother is alive-and-well, but my father passed away suddenly at the Royal Free NHS Hampstead on 10th November 2010 at 7 pm. My father has had a profound impact on my development as a person, and I particularly remorseful about the fact he would often allude to questioning himself about why I became an alcoholic. I am now in recovery for 40 months now, so I feel too that I have been successful in the first steps of ‘my journey‘. As it happens, I think my father was Tory for much of his life, with the same cognitive scheme as Tony Blair’s father, until the final few years of his life, when his thinking was very much like Tony Blair, particularly on the role of aspiration in society. My father was, after all, a very successful General Practitioner in Burgess Hill, from the late 1970s to when he retired in the mid 1990s. I can relate to Tony Blair’s description of his mother; my mother’s relationship to my father is virtually identical, except she has never hidden the fact that she is a Tory. I can also relate to the idea coming down from Oxford in their third term at the end of June, with his family having protected him from the details of his mother. For what it’s worth, I feel in retrospect that my father had been suffering for a very long time, without my knowledge. This is to my shame, for not inquiring enough.

Life is definitely a journey, but with I hope future happiness and opportunities, to match. However, at this current time, I am aware of the fact that we all have – finally – the same destiny.

But none of that defined the principal impact on my political development. What Dad taught me above all else, and did so utterly unconsciously, was why people him become Tories. He had been poor. He was working class. He aspired to be middle class. He worked hard. made it on his merits, and wanted his children to do even better than him. He did thought – as did many others of his generation – that the logical outcome of this striving, born of this attitude. was to be a Tory: to sides of the same coin. It became my political ambition to break that connection, and replace it with a different currency. You are compassionate; you care about those less fortunate than yourself; you believe in society as well as the individual. You can be Labour. You can be successful and care; ambitious and compassionate; a meritocrat and a progressive. Moreover, these are not alien sentiments in uneasy coexistence. They are entirely compatible ways of making sure progress happens; and they answer the realistic, not utopian,claims of human nature.

So he affected me deeply, as in another way did my mum. She was as different from my my dad as it is possible for two people living together to be. Dad was more like me: motivated, determined, and with a hard-focused ambition that, I fear, translates fairly easily into selfishness for both of us. Mum, by contrast, was a decent, lovely, almost saintly woman. She was shy, even a little withdrawn in company. She supported Dad politically, as his wife and companion, but, as she used to confide in me occasionally, she was not really a Tory. For some reason = maybe to do with her Irish background – she felt somehow excluded; and she thought that some of the more Tory friends hd fallen away when Dad went ill.

She died when I had just turned twenty-two. She had been ill with cancer of the thyroid. Looking back, it was clear she couldn’t survive, clear indeed it was a minor miracle that she survived for the five years after she was first diagnosed.

But the shock of it. There is nothing like losing a parent. I don’t mean it’s worse than losing a child. It isn’t. I don’t think anything can be. I mean it affects you in a unique way; at least if it happens when you’re young. Mum’s death was shocking because I couldn’t contemplate it. As she deteriorated, and I was in my last months at Oxford, working hard for my final exams, Dad my brother Bill kept from me the truth of her condition. I came home at the end of June and Dad picked me up from the station, “Your mother’s really very ill”, he said.

“I know, but she’s not dying, is she?” I said, stating the worst so that he would reassure me, as I stupid expected.

“Yes, I am afraid she is”, he replied. My world turned upside down. I could not imagine it. The eprson who had brought me up, looked after me, was always there to help and cherish me; he person who loved me without a consideration of my entitlement, without an assessment of my character, without wanting anything from me; the person who simply loved me; she would be gone.

Life was never the same after that.”

Extract from Tony Blair, “A Journey” Hutchinson, 2010

But – latterly – I have become aware of the fact that, whatever our journey in life, we do have the same destination; or junction, depending on your religious viewpoint.

Is Labour uniting behind a new leader for an autumn of discontent?

People who dislike Labour love reminding themselves of when Denis Healey had to ‘beg’ to the IMF for a loan to keep Britain afloat. Labour took a long time to shrug off the notion that unions were intrinsically evil, and served to destabilize the effective running of Britain. Britain in the late 1970s couldn’t even to bury the dead.

Unfortunately, in the 2010s, Britain may not be able to look after the living adequately. The over-zealous attitude by the spending review has been observed by many pundits as being rather macabre, and misfiring in a number of critical areas. For example, Iain Duncan-Smith has provided a programme of welfare reform, but has been unable to put a figure to it. In the meantime, many genuine disabled people who indeed aspire to go to work have been terrified by what it all means, by the continuous torrent of mistrust from the Coalition politicians towards the poor and/or the disabled.

We all know where intuitively the autumn of discontent would be likely to happen, but the Unions have now specified that the strikes are going to be due to spending cuts, pay and pensions in the public sector. The tables motioned for the Trades Union Congress have called for co-ordinated action by various unions.

The scale of this is not going to be a joke. The reason for this is many hard-working citizens, especially the low paid, feel embittered. They realize that the state owes them nothing, contrary to popular media, but the issue is that they do not feel responsible for the mess that Britain is in. They are simply not accepting the argument that “there’s no money left”, put forward by Liam Byrne of all people. Instead, they have fully accepted that spending in a recession was necessary to stop the economy going into a complete standstill, and the proof of the success of this policy has already been demonstrated by stable growth figures and a lack of inflation thus far. However, the cuts threaten to lessen investment in both the private and public sector, produce inflation, increase unemployment, and therefore increase substantially the benefit budget.

Unison, Britain’s biggest public sector trade union with 1.3 million members, has called on unions to join a Europe-wide day of action in September. Unite has been hard at work, or non-work, in Manchester. Workers at the Manchester office of one of Britain’s largest finance firms are being balloted for strike action in another outbreak of industrial unrest. Staff at Capita Life and Pensions have begun voting over proposed changes to their pensions, which Unite national officer Rob MacGregor said were a “clear attempt by the company to profit at the expense of our members”. Unite have provided that staff at Capita Life and Pensions will lose thousands of pounds in retirement income if the plans go ahead.

“Our defence must be built on generalised strike action and community resistance,” said the RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, predicting the biggest public mobilisation since the anti-poll tax riots of 1990.

That things have come to a head so early on has caught many by surprise. If Labour elects too supine a leader, who won’t support its major paymasters and adopts a “wait-and-see” approach, Labour will achieve nothing for the poor and/or vulnerable. Many are yearning for a true left-wing agenda with a leader with the courage of his convictions, who won’t come to this with any populist overly right-centrist baggage. Ed Miliband could therefore, as the only electable socialist candidate, be the right man at the right time.

David Cameron, who is likely to be on paternity leave during the TUC conference, has declined an invitation to address the congress. Quelle surprise?

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