All 12 entries tagged Labour

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January 15, 2009

Is Labour too scared of business to say 'No'?

Finding a good reason to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport isn’t hard. The trouble is, there’s only one.

It’ll apparently be good for business.

Some airlines argue that it’s good for passenger equality too because more ‘slots’ means more cheap flights for the lower-middle class. The only trouble is that it’s not true. George Monbiot estimates more than half of Ryanair’s adverts are placed in the Daily Telegraph.

Put simply, a bigger Heathrow means more flights for people with second homes in the Med.

The strangest thing about the whole Heathrow argument is who is opposing it.

Heathrow AirportThe Mayor of London, the Conservative Party (their leadership, at least) and the Liberal Democrats. All in unison.

For Labour to be left on the other side with the CBI suggests the government’s reasons are skewed somehow.

I think they’re scared.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling know that in the current economic climate, the economy is their soft spot. Any decision they make that could be seen as damaging to business is, right now, potentially fatal.

What’s strange is that the government hasn’t – until now, at least – taken high-speed rail more seriously. Spain is throwing 220mph lines across their country like confetti. France has had the TGV for years. We’ve got… er… the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Eventually.

If you’re flying from London to Scotland, the plane is a) cheaper b) quicker and c) more convenient.

Perhaps allowing a third runway is just politically easier. If flights are delayed, airlines get the blame. If a high-speed rail link is delayed, the government is blamed by association.

But by the time a new rail line is built, or a new runway is constructed, Gordon Brown will be gone and forgotten.

This is a long-term decision being taken for a short-term reason: Fear.


December 17, 2008

Britain's broken back

As President-elect Obama promises to invest in the United States’ infrastructure during the recession, here there’s little sign of progress.

A depressing Friday-night journey from Nottingham to Southampton last week gave me plenty of time to ponder the uselessness of Britain’s transport network. In fact I only had to go about ten miles down the M1 before it became a car park.

We’re a long, relatively thin country with a large proportion of the population spread along a spine running from London to Liverpool/Manchester.

But the spine’s broken.

As of last weekend we’ve now got one medium-speed rail line running from North to South. It’s not bad, but it’s nowhere near enough. It’s also ludicrously expensive, hence why I was sat on the M1.

We’ve got two North-to-South motorways, the M1 and the M6. They are renowned, probably across most of Europe, for being over-stretched.

And then we’ve got internal flights, the use of which ought to be a national embarrassment.

No-one really knows how to solve the problem, and there certainly isn’t a consensus. We’re building Crossrail at the same time as considering putting the brakes on Heathrow’s expansion. We’re widening motorways at the same time as encouraging people to use public transport. It must be the least well-planned area of public policy in Britain. Nothing adds up.

One decision ought to be a no-brainer. We need new railways, stretching from the North to the South. They don’t necessarily need to be TGV-fast – in some ways making them as cheap as possible might be the most important priority.

And it actually makes more sense for them to be freight lines than passenger ones. Anyone who’s tried overtaking a lorry which is itself overtaking another lorry will tell you what causes most of the congestion on the roads.

But we’ve not built the country for rail freight. I spent much of the summer listening to people fight for or against a Tesco Megashed in Hampshire. It was to be bigger than T5 at Heathrow, and would have served most of their supermarkets in the South-East of England. It was right next to a railway line, but they had no intention of ever using it.

Personally I’m not a fan of expanding Heathrow, as it seems obvious to everyone that it was built in the wrong place. The more we expand it, the more we compound the problem. The Thames Estuary idea apparently favoured by Boris Johnson seems a good idea to me, and is worthy of investigation by the government.

Unfortunately it’s all a bit too late. A recession is the ideal time to do some of these things (it’s cheaper and employs people). But it’ll take decades for anything to be done.

We’re in real danger of becoming a country of motorway-bound I-Spy players.


July 22, 2007

Brown’s Bounce

Worn down by the British weather, bored of the bloody Beckhams and fed up with the falling dollar (okay, maybe not that last one), Britain seems to have become fond of the quiet life.

Lewis Hamilton isn’t the only quiet yet determined person to be enjoying a summer of popularity. Gordon Brown, too, is feeling groovy.

Today’s Sunday Times/YouGov poll puts the government on 40%, Labour’s best in nearly two years. David Cameron, meanwhile, is off to Rwanda, hoping things can’t get much worse while he’s gone. He’s staring at a seven-point abyss between him and the dour one.

I was one of many who thought the popularity chasm created by Blair’s departure would cause a headache for Brown. But if anything, the workmanlike approach from the new Prime Minister is winning people over. The closest the government has had to a scandal has been the cannabis revelations this week. But this will be a non-issue for Labour while the opposition is led by a man with a (what’s the word…) colourful past.

As Rod Liddle hints in the Sunday Times this morning:

When I was at university – around the same time as Ruth Kelly, as it happens – habitual drug use was divided strictly on party lines. The lefties smoked dope… Coke was seen, back then, as an upwardly mobile, aspirational, Thatcherite drug. I think we need to hear a few more specific confessions from Conservative Central Office, don’t you?

This is not an issue on which the Tories can make much hay, and they were predictably quiet this week.

But if silence is a virtue, it is one Labour have grasped more effectively. While David Cameron practically carpet-bombed Ealing Southall with his presence, Gordon Brown left the by-election to local lieutenants. The result – third for the Tories, a modestly reduced majority for Labour – says it all.

He might be boring, but so far he’s been effective (to use one of his buzzwords, ‘resolute’).

The test will come in the Autumn, when election fever reaches a crescendo. How well can he do rabble-rousing?


May 04, 2007

A "Mauling" for Labour?

Some of the first newspaper reports suggested it was a nightmare night for Tony Blair, Rhodri Morgan and Jack McConnell. The light of the next day leaves things a bit unclear.

In England, Labour have taken heavy losses. They’ve lost a few councils that should be their natural heartland – such as Blackburn. In total, the Tories have taken control of 15 councils, and the Lib Dems 1.

In Scotland, it’s neck and neck. Both Labour and the SNP have 32 seats in the Parliament. Most of the remaining constituency votes should be Labour ones. But in turn, most of the regional votes will probably go to the SNP. It’s going to be incredibly tight, but it will be a poor show for Alex Salmond if he doesn’t get the most seats.

In Wales, Labour are clearly on top – “contrary to others’ claims that people have ‘voted for change’”. The Lib Dems say the voters have demanded more than one party is in charge, which suggests the people have an incredible knowledge of the complicated electoral system. They’re also not the people’s second favourites, so they have to be careful.

At one point last night, it almost seemed Tony Blair might go out on a high. It didn’t work out like that, but he’s also not going out in a blaze of shame either. The doommongers got it wrong, and while Scotland might prove to be a disappointment for Labour, elsewhere the picture could have been much, much worse.

-

I got to bed at 7am after a very long, but adrenaline-filled night at ITV Wales. ITV were typically getting the results faster than the BBC were in Wales, but then took longer to get the relevant graphic on screen. All told, it was probably a victory for the Beeb, but that shouldn’t be a surprise – they had a much bigger kitchen sink to throw at it.


February 28, 2007

Labour's scared of hearing 'I Told You So'

Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke will today launch a bid for the Labour Leadership. They’re not standing. But they are bidding to make it an open, transparent and useful process with debate about the direction of the party.

Thinly veiled, it is a challenge to Gordon Brown’s “hide behind the curtains” strategy.

Blair and Brown I’ve always thought Brown would need a kick up the rear in order for him to be honest about what his government would provide, other than more of the same. And so I’m pleased to see Milburn and Clarke push for this so publically. I think their intentions are honest and neither would want to be PM themselves. But the behind-the-scenes briefing seems to be saying this isn’t enough. They want a heavyweight to run against him. And their preferred heavyweight is David Miliband.

None of this is actually likely to make Brown open up and deliver a lecture on anything more useful than ‘Britishness’, his favourite vacuous subject.

But something else might: Polls.

Brown is thirteen points behind David Cameron according to the Independent – which is even worse than Tony Blair at the moment. Mr Brown isn’t stupid, and knows he’ll have to do something about this.

The trouble for him is that the Labour Party members might ‘do something’ before he gets the chance. But something is likely to stop them. Echoing in the back of their minds is the thought that in 2009, under someone else, they’ll hear four eery words from Gordon Brown…

I told you so.


September 13, 2006

About bleeding time

It’s more than a little bit late, but Lord Falconer is due to call Guantanamo Bay ‘a shocking affront to the principles of democracy’ in a speech tomorrow.

Perhaps it’s important to note the speech is being made in Sydney – well away from pesky British journalists – and comes at a time when the U.S. is starting to give a little ground on the detention of suspected terrorists.

But it’s a sad indictment of New Labour that it’s taken four years for someone in the British cabinet to express their disgust for Guantanamo so openly. Previously the Attorney General has called the site “unacceptable” while Tony Blair has only called it “an anomaly” – which is perhaps the greatest indication that he may be a poodle to Bush.


September 06, 2006

What the political journalists aren't telling you…

It’s clear that things are shifting pretty quickly in Westminster. Today seven members of the government have resigned because – essentially – Tony Blair won’t resign.

But we’re not quite getting the whole story, because we never do. The way these things work in Westminster are a bit complicated and full of as much conspiracy as you can probably imagine. I’m afraid I am speculating, but here’s what’s probably going on at the moment:

  1. The Labour backbenchers are furious that Tony Blair has announced a date for his departure, without actually saying so himself. Instead you had David Miliband explain the “conventional wisdom”, Hilary Armstrong tell us of the “perceived wisdom” and poor Hilary Benn speak of the “growing consensus”. It was pretty clear they were all singing from the same hymn-sheet, written by No 10. What’s more, the Sun were more specific in naming a date, which anyone who knows Westminster knows it will have come from No 10 too. Interestingly the leaked memo saying how Blair would enjoy a ‘farewell tour’ of the country is rumoured to have come from Gordon Brown’s allies. It may even have been written by them to embarrass Blair.
  2. The seven Labour backbenchers who have resigned their positions will have been getting a) a lot of stick from the Labour whips, who work for Blair and b) a lot of love from Gordon Brown’s allies, who have probably promised them jobs in his government. Expect more to sign-up for the Brown revolution as soon as his henchmen can convince them of their future opportunities for employment.
  3. While 17 Labour MPs signed a letter yesterday, calling for him to go, another 49 signed one declaring their undying love for the leader (practically). What’s interesting isn’t that the Blair-lovers trumped the Blair-haters, but that they could only drum up support from 13% of the party. The rest are conspicuous by their absence.
  4. May 31st is an interesting date for Blair to choose to leave. Notably because it’s after the local, Scottish and Welsh elections next year. Blair is pretty unliked in Scotland and Wales, as he is seen (not surprisingly) as a stupid Englishman. So staying in power during their elections will piss them off no-end.
  5. News organisations like the BBC and Sky are having real difficulties in finding ministers who will stand up and support Blair. Hilary Benn did so last night because he was told to, but few others are coming out of the woodwork voluntarily. Note that the 1 o’clock news on BBC One could only drum up a Welsh Lord, whose praise for Blair was extremely conditional on him going before May 31st. High praise indeed.
  6. While Labour backbench MPs want Blair out, they’re not entirely sure how to do it. There’s no formal mechanism for removing the leader (for some reason Blair decided not to create one!!!), and their best bet seems to be for the Cabinet to turn on him. As soon as you see a single member of the Cabinet say that they think it would be best for Blair to step down, he’s finished. They wouldn’t say so openly unless they thought they had support from others.
  7. Some of the Labour MPs who have resigned were slavishly Blairite before today. It suggests that their political career was built upon brown-nosing (no pun intended) whoever appears to be in charge. Now that Brown is in the driving seat, people are switching vehicles.

Personally it’s very frustrating I can’t sit in on the Lobby briefings that take place at Number 10. The tension must be incredible. Maybe they’d like to invite me? Ha ha! You can get some idea of what’s been said here, but you really have to read between the lines to figure out what sort of body language the PM’s official spokesman would have been using! I rather suspect he was trying hard to hide his dejection.

P.S. I notice from the PMOS briefing this morning: “As he had already said… David Miliband had decided to go on the Today Programme himself.” The question is whether he decided what to say himself…

P.P.S. The seven members of the government who’ve resigned all have one thing in common: their seats are in danger at the next election. They’re all from the Birmingham area (where Labour reckons it’s going to get wiped out) or Wales (see above for explanation). So it’s not about Tony going – they’re worried that if he doesn’t go soon, they’ll be following him shortly!


April 16, 2006

Imbecile of the Week #2: Arrogant Americans

Writing about web page http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/15/AR2006041500902.html

From today's Washington Post:

Verra Budimlija was once a classic fan of Prime Minister Tony Blair — she's 40, a well-educated advertising executive, the kind of voter who propelled Blair and the Labor Party to power in 1997. Not only does she live in Islington, a Labor stronghold where people took to the streets to celebrate Blair's generation-shifting election, she lives in the very brick house that was Blair's at the time.

Just because you're too lazy to use vowels, doesn't mean we are too! Imagine the interested reader who searches on Google for the 'Labor Party'. Idiots.


April 08, 2006

When was the ground lost?

Listening to David Cameron give his Spring Conference speech in Manchester, the thing that strikes me is that he is walking all over traditional Labour territory without anyone fighting back.

On the environment especially, Cameron isn't promising policies, but an approach which Labour should have been advancing for the past nine years, but have failed to do so.

For the Conservatives to be so far ahead of the government on this issue suggests that something has gone hurrendously wrong in the Labour Party. Is it a conflict between the DTI and DEFRA? Is it the Chancellor putting his foot down? Have they simply taken their eye off the ball? Who knows.

But listening to Cameron (who so far has been impressive), I don't see how Labour will fight back against the Tories come the next election now that it is Cameron, not Blair/Brown, who rhetorically appears to be a policy innovator, even if that means stealing Labour's traditional clothing.


March 29, 2006

Why Blair Should Go

his record after nine years in office is one of extensive failure, with the NHS in crisis, the schools in crisis, the police in crisis, and even the Downing Street cat (retired) dead.

Simon Heffer appears to be living in cuckoo-land, as my labrador-like nose doesn't detect crisis anywhere, although there is mild concern over the state of the NHS.

And I don't agree with the article from which that excerpt comes from. In it, he argues that Tony Blair should be kept for as long as possible, because the alternative can (not in the words of D:Ream) "only get worse".

He says that the Soviet-like Ed Balls and David Miliband (I think he means Ed Miliband) have no understanding for the real world and have only a thirst for power. Regardless of the confusion over David/Ed, David Miliband is well respected in a number of circles, including the teachers who he impressed with his level of interest and knowledge when he was a junior minister at Education. So his understanding for the real world seems just fine for me. And Ed Balls is a former Treasury hack. And since when were economists expected to have a grasp of the real world!?!

But his basic premise is wrong. In fact I suspect he only wants Blair to stay because it would benefit the Tories.

Events in the past week suggest to me that Blair should go because he has lost one of the only two qualities he has ever possessed: leadership. (The other being charisma).

On his World Tour (i.e. Asia + Australasia), Blair has tried to carry people with him on climate change and terrorism. But on both issues, there is a huge lack of trust, respect and belief. Notably on climate change, Blair has lost the credibility he had by following Bush down the line of 'technology' this and 'technology' that. The technology is there – from domestic wind turbines to solar power to biomass. What is lacking is the political leadership and bravery to bring these potential sources of energy to the masses.

When Prescott drew up his guidelines for housing planning over the next decade, environmentalists were appalled at the lack of commitment to domestic-based energy generation.

Why, oh why isn't the government pushing (and by pushing I mean implementing, not sounding off about) small-scale, community-based energy generation? Why isn't there legislation on the agenda to use rainwater to flush toilets? And why isn't government investing money in new methods of powering our cars?

I think it's because Blair thinks the market will provide everything. But he has overestimated the demand amongst the public. For our energy needs to be sorted out once and for all, our leaders need to shove the reality in our faces and enable the early-adopters to move forward.

Instead, there is practically no government support for initiatives that would make a big difference when it comes to community energy generation.

On this issue as with many others, Blair is providing rhetoric, but doesn't have the leadership to carry people with him. Contrary to what Simon Heffer is saying, the only people who are in touch with what the people need are those such as Miliband and Balls, whose focus on the community should be applauded and pushed towards Number 10 faster than is currently happening.

Blair should step down not because of Iraq, loans or any other single issue, but because he doesn't have the creativity of a leader, and nor does he have the influence.


If not loans, then what?

Predictably, the loans for lordships scandal rumbles on… The Electoral Commission says party activities may have been illegal and the police are investigating the matter.

This messy affair highlights the need for a new system of party funding, almost certainly funded by the state. Many argue that the taxpayer won't be willing to fund this sort of thing, but I'd ask two questions:

1) why?
2) couldn't elections become cheaper as a result?

The first one is pretty simple. The exchequer spends small (i.e. less than £20m) on loads of things that we never hear about. I'm sure grasshoppers and genital warts have both received more than that in government funding over the years. And surely a healthy democracy, freed from the over-representation of 'rich people' is worth paying for?

Secondly, if expenditure on elections (and most likely, party's running costs too) comes from the public purse, isn't it far easier to put a cap on spending? For instance, do political parties really require thousands of billboards up and down the country, which serve only to make Mr Saatchi richer? They may not be perfect, but at least Party Political Broadcasts are cheap. Couldn't they be increased and expanded into other media?

Similarly, if public service broadcasters are given more explicit roles in promoting the agendas of the main parties, wouldn't that have a far greater effect? By telling the BBC and ITV that they have to host x amount of debate/analysis on the election issues (i.e. not the personalities), wouldn't the public gain more?

It's possible to see this loans for lordships fiasco as an opportunity, not just for reforming the House of Lords, but also as a way of reforming democracy in this country. It's a shame that we can't adopt a laissez-faire approach to participation, but isn't a bit of activism on this front a good thing?


March 07, 2006

Fetch Gordon Brown some aspirin. He'll need it.

When a news story happens so slowly that it's practically impossible to see, it often gets ignored in favour of the fast-paced action-packed news story.

It's often left to social commentators such as Polly Toynbee in the Guardian to recognise slow-burning problems and suggest remedies. Not they'll ever do any good.

One such problem which is almost certain to cause Gordon Brown to reach for the paracetamol is, ironically, the NHS.

Sir Nigel Crisp, the chief bureaucrat in the National Health Service resigned today, admitting that the service's financial crisis was his greatest failure.

I think he's being hard on himself. The financial crisis in the NHS isn't his fault – it's the fault of government policy which is determined to use rising debt as an excuse to cut uneconomical services. Cottage hospitals will have to go not because of government targets but because of the market – or that's what they want you to think, anyway.

Because the rising debt in the NHS is a completely predictable by-product of introducing marketisation into the Health Service. Certain procedures need to be carried out, but if the government is only willing to pay 99% of that operation's cost, then the hospital performing the operation will go into debt. Add up all the deficits and you have the £620m debt that the NHS predicted in December for this financial year (the unofficial figure is considerably closer to £1bn).

It's all well and good to try and force hospitals and NHS trusts to be more efficient by getting them to cut costs. But certain things have a fixed price, and you can't just stop performing heart bypasses because doctors cost more per hour than you've been budgeted for that operation.

Inefficiency in the NHS needs to be tackled in new ways – and ways that don't rely on market principles. Because yes cottage hospitals are relatively inefficient, but don't the positive effects of a self-sufficient local community deflect the added costs of providing health care at a local, accessible level?

Perhaps the government needs to undergo a transplant so that it realises that efficiency isn't the be-all-and-end-all of running the country.


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