Friday, 9 June 2017

First thoughts on the election result

This is a good outcome for those of us (like myself) who are opposed to a 'hard brexit'. A weakened Theresa May will be presiding over a Tory parliamentary party many of whom are surely opposed to the headlong rush to leave the single market that has been May's policy up until now, and facing a strengthened Labour/SNP/Libdem opposition. At this point I think there is hope for the possibility of the UK remaining within the European Economic Area. Indeed, that would surely be the only sensible thing to do, when the alternative is to be recklessly led out of the single market by a demonstrably weak and wobbly Tory administration in charge of negotiating an acceptable 'divorce' settlement in a limited time frame, beginning in 11 days time. Also, in terms of things like the future of the NHS, social care, workers' rights etc, it's obviously less scary to have a Tory minority government than one with an unassailable five year mandate to wreak as much havoc as it likes.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Council tenants contribute to social care too

I don't agree with the Tory policy of making home owners pay for social care by having to pay all but £100 thousand pounds of the value of their homes to the local authority after they die. However, I have heard several people, both on the radio and on the doorstep while canvassing (for Labour), complain about the policy in something like the following words:
"Why should I, when I've worked hard all my life to be able to own my own home and have something to pass on to my children, have to sell my house and give most of the money to the government in order to pay for my care, while someone who lives in a council house will get the same care completely free of charge?"
As someone who lives in a council house, I find this view very annoying, because it is based on a complete misunderstanding of the situation. Let me demonstrate with some simple calculations. I realise rents and house prices have been lower in the past than they are today, and they may be higher in the future, but for the sake of simplicity I'll do the calculations in today's money.
My rent is currently £620 per month. I first moved in to a council house when I was 22, but I spent some time unemployed and some in private rented accommodation, so I'll write off three years and start my calculations from the age of 25. So someone, such as myself, who moves into council accommodation at a cost of £620 per month and pays full rent from the age of 25 until the age of 67 (the retirement age for people, such as myself, who are reliant on a state pension and who will not retire before 2028) will, by the time they retire, have paid a total of £312,480 in rent - all of which goes back to the local authority (the very body which is responsible for social care). This is the equivalent of what someone who owns a home worth £412,480 would have to pay. Like the home owner, the council house tenant will have no home of their own left to pass on to their children, in spite of all that money they have paid throughout their lives. But unlike the home owner, they won't have £100 thousand pounds of assets left over. Furthermore, this will be the case whether or not they require social care.
I don't agree with the Tory policy, because I believe health and social care should be integrated and free at the point of delivery for everyone, but I hope I have demonstrated that just because someone lives in a council house does not mean that they are somehow free-riding at the expense of homeowners when it comes to paying towards the care that we may all, some day, come to rely on.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Update

Obviously, everything I wrote in my previous post about how I intended to respond to the outcome of the County Council elections is now completely null and void, since we are now in a General Election campaign. I intend to campaign as fully as possible for a Labour victory in that General Election. Issues of party leadership will, no doubt, take care of themselves after 8th June.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Leaving Labour? My plans regarding party membership

For some weeks now, I have been on the verge of leaving the Labour party. I became a registered Labour supporter through Unison in 2015, before the general election and rejoined the party (I had previously been a member in the late 80s/early 90s) as a full member at the beginning of 2016. I got involved with the party again because I felt that they were the only party that had a chance of defeating the Conservatives – who, in my opinion, were guilty of unfair and unnecessary systematic and ideologically based underfunding of essential public services - and until fairly recently I still believed Labour were the only party that could stop the Tories in the next general election, whether it comes in 2020 or sooner. However, it is now pretty clear that Labour have no chance of winning the next general election under Jeremy Corbyn who, while very good at Labour leadership campaigns, seems to be quite inept at being leader of the opposition. Labour have consistently been a long way behind the Tories in the polls (the two most recent ones, here and here, put them 18 percentage points behind, with the one on 29th March putting Corbyn’s personal popularity 40 points behind that of Theresa May).
Rather than leave now, however, I have decided to remain in the party and to take part in the campaigning for the County Council elections which are due to take place on 4th May. If Labour defy expectations and do well in these elections then I shall take it as a sign that the tide is turning and that Labour still stand a chance of clawing their way back to a position of being able to mount a serious challenge to the Tories by the time the next general election comes around. If, however, as seems much more likely, Labour suffer serious losses then, unless Mr Corbyn resigns his position as leader, I shall resign from the party. Corbyn failing to stand aside after a disastrous performance in these elections will be, to my mind, a clear sign that he puts his loyalty to that large majority of Labour members and registered supporters who twice elected him as leader of the party, before his loyalty to that far larger number of people who rely on the Labour Party to be in a position to effectively oppose the Conservative government and to be able to take power themselves at the soonest available opportunity.
If Jeremy Corbyn does stand down in the wake of a drubbing on 4th May then I shall, for the time being, remain a member of the Labour Party. His most likely replacement, according to most commentators, will be either Clive Lewis or Keir Starmer. I would prefer Starmer, but even if Clive Lewis takes over I will stick around and see how things go under his leadership. It’s hard to imagine that the situation for the party can get much worse than it is now. Should Labour’s share of the vote tank in the elections next month and Mr Corbyn do the decent thing and resign then hopefully, whoever succeeds him, to quote a song once popular with a previous Labour leader, "things can only get better!"

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Has Brexit brought a united Ireland closer?

According to Wikipedia the population of Northern Ireland is 45.6% protestant and 40.2% Roman Catholic. I realise that not all protestants are unionists and not all Catholics are nationalists, but the history of each of those two communities is deeply intertwined with those respective political traditions. An Ipsos MORI poll in 2013 found that 38% of Catholics wanted Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, compared to 35% who supported a united Ireland.
In the EU referendum, the electorate in Northern Ireland voted by 56% to 44% to remain in the European Union.
In Thurday's Northern Ireland assembly elections, the results of which were announced last night and in which the turnout was 65% compared to only 54% last year, the Democratic Unionist Party's majority over Sinn Fein was reduced from ten seats to only one seat, with Sinn Fein's over all vote increased by 4%.
I don't live in Northern Ireland and neither am I particularly informed about Northern Ireland politics but, taking the above facts into account, I can't help but wonder whether the looming 'hard Brexit' has made the prospect of a United Ireland (and hence the six counties that currently comprise Northern Ireland being able to stay in the EU) more palatable to voters, particularly those from among that 38% of Roman Catholics who, in 2013, supported remaining a part of the United Kingdom. In other words, could it be that the UK vote to leave the European Union has brought the prospect of a United Ireland a lot closer than it was before June 23rd 2016.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

My reluctant conclusion: Jeremy must go

It's now been five months since Jeremy Corbyn won his second Labour leadership contest. The dissenters within the PLP have been pretty quiet, but still Labour's dire opinion poll rankings refuse to shift (at least not upwards) and Corbyn's personal ratings are even worse than the party's. I voted for him twice (pretty reluctantly the second time) and have tried to stay positive about his leadership (my post of 31st December was written more to try and convince myself than anyone else) but I have finally come to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn has to go, or Labour will have absolutely no chance of winning the next general election and we will be condemned to five more years of the Conservatives, this time with a vastly increased majority.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

It's time to get behind the leader

In 2015 after Ed Miliband resigned following Labour's defeat in the general election, I had been planning on voting for Andy Burnham as the new leader. However, after watching Burnham's slickly produced campaign video, with cheesy music and liberal sprinklings of the latest focus group inspired buzzword, "aspiration" (Yvette Cooper was equally guilty of this) and comparing that to Corbyn's straightforward and guileless performances at the hustings, I was quickly won over to the Corbyn cause (I admit there was an element of Old Labour nostalgia involved as well) even though his views are further to the left than mine and I don't share his unilateralism or his republicanism.
By the time of the 2016 Labour leadership contest I was far less sure about whether to cast my vote for Corbyn again. Labour were tanking in the opinion polls but it was difficult to say how much of that was due to lack of support for the leadership among the parliamentary party. I dithered for a while and I actually voted for the pro-Owen Smith slate in the National Executive Committee elections. In the end, two things made me decide to give Jeremy another chance. Firstly, I disagreed with Owen Smith's policy of wanting to hold a second EU referendum, and believed this could potentially alienate a large number of voters in a forthcoming general election. Secondly, I felt that the outcome of the EU referendum and the inexorable rise of Donald Trump in America showed that we were in a period of 'anti-establishment' politics whereby large sections of the public - often those who hadn't previously taken much of an interest in politics - were intent on confounding the media and bucking the opinion polls by supporting positions that went against the perceived 'script'. I felt that, in this kind of political environment, Corbyn's unpolished style and consistent track record of conviction politics might just be what was needed to strike a chord with voters and, like Brexit and Trump, defy the expectations of the bookies and the pollsters.
Since the leadership election I have tried to remain positive about Mr Corbyn's leadership despite the fact that Labour have not made much headway in terms of opinion polls. He occasionally does a good interview and seems (sometimes, at least) to be getting better at Prime Minister's Questions. As for those reasons why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the last leadership election, well, neither of them seems to be quite so applicable any more. Firstly, I now believe we should have a second referendum - not on whether to leave the European Union but on whether or not to remain within the European Economic Area. I believe the result would show that there is no mandate for a so-called 'hard Brexit'. This is not really that different from Owen Smith's position that we should hold a second referendum on whether or not to accept whatever deal is on offer at the end of the government's Brexit negotiations.
Secondly, what I now realise is that the current anti-establishment mood among large sections of the public is a very specific form of anti-establishment politics; it has an anti-globalisation, anti-'elite' element which might chime in with some of what Corbyn stands for but it is also essentially very much a reaction against political correctness and mass immigration and it regards the left and those who, like Corbyn and those around him, call themselves socialists, as brainwashed stooges of the hated liberal 'political class'. This may be an era of anti-establishment politics but, unfortunately, in some ways at least, Jeremy Corbyn is simply the wrong kind of anti-establishment. (I'm not suggesting Labour should pander to this populist mood, it's just that I no longer think it's something that Jeremy Corbyn can necessarily benefit from significantly.)
With an unelected, authoritarian Prime Minister apparently intent on taking the UK out of the single market without a proper mandate, and NHS and social care services struggling simply to stay afloat, I can't help feeling that the Tories are getting far too easy a ride at the moment. It's essential for those of us who value the NHS, good quality state funded education and the welfare state in general that the Labour Party functions as a strong parliamemtary opposition to the current Tory regime. It's even more essential that, when the next general election is called, Labour is in a position to take votes from all sections of the public including a significant number of those who have previously voted Conservative or Liberal Democrat.
My intention, however, is not merely to be negative and I'm certainly not arguing that there should be another leadership challenge. Jeremy Corbyn may not be the finished article yet, and a leadership team made up of the likes of Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott etc. is probably not best calculated to appeal to floating voters, but the blame for Labour's current predicament cannot be laid entirely at the feet of Corbyn and his supporters. Tony Benn once likened the Labour Party to a bird, pointing out that it relied on both its wings to be able to fly. If those on the centre left and the 'right' of the party would have another crack at working with Corbyn - however difficult he may be to work with - for the good of the party and, more importantly, the good of the country, then I believe the situation can be salvaged and the Labour Party could once again become both a formidable opponent to the current government and a viable, credible government in waiting.