All entries for Wednesday 29 March 2006

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?


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