Friday, April 25, 2003

Save the planet.. go out with me...

I did the Global footprint survey to find out how much of an impact I have on the planet. apparently if everyone lived like me, we would need 2.2 planets to keep up with my reckless consumption of stuff.

However. I am a single man living alone. If I was sharing my flat with a girlfriend, It would only require 1.8 planets for everything to be absolutely fine and dandy earth-wise.

So I say to the single women of Britain. Come round to my place, not only can I offer you a comfortable bed, good wine and great coffee in the morning, but your very presence will save two-fifths of the planet. Now that's what I call a seduction technique.

(Link via Emily)

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The Tories dark days.

As an avowed Labour supporter, I wish the Tories no good will. I’m not one of those who talk about the importance of a healthy opposition. To me, a healthy Tory opposition means a potential Tory government, so I don’t like the idea, even if it does make debates in the Commons more interesting. I like mature, reasoned debate, but I like my side to win more. Don’t trust me, ask those Tories who wished that Labour was a more viable alternative to Thatcherism. When we got viable, they lost their seats.

Despite this personal perspective, to adapt Bill Clinton, I admire a good strategy. I respect as a matter of professional art adroit tactics. The Tories have displayed neither.

Now, from a leftie like me, that’s no revelation. Indeed, it’s not even new, Labour politicians from Peter Mandelson to John Reid have been dispensing helpful advice to the Tories for the past couple of years. However, presentation to C-Change by prominent Tory Columnist and former Portillo supporter Michael Gove and ex-Tory staffer Andrew Cooper, who now runs opinion polling company Populus lays bare the Tory problem from a Tory perspective. The presentation is 54 pages long, and forms the basis for Gove’s article in this week’s Spectator. Don’t just read the article though. Read the presentation. It’s more forceful, more direct and more detailed.

Basically it says what we all knew, that the Tories are stuck in a moment they can’t get out of, but it says it again and again, knocking down all the good news that Tories have clung to as irrelevant to the depth of the Tories plight.

The increasing unpopularity of Labour, the Euro and council Election gains, the Romford miracle- all are dismissed convincingly.

However, this analysis is all diagnosis and no cure. The first fifty pages of doom and gloom are erudite, well put together and sophisticated. The solutions (all two pages), are not overly detailed or convincing. In the article in the Spectator , Mr Gove suggests that “removing the leader without altering their behaviour” would be pointless for the Tories. Personally, I think that removing the leader without changing the policy political strategy, campaigning style, rhetoric and behaviour would be a useless endeavour.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. For the Tories to win, they need to match Labour’s spending commitments, promise tax cuts only after savings have been made, tie together social liberalism and laissez faire policy on regulation policy under the tag of “freedom” and bang on about crime at the local level. The fact that they show no sign of doing so is a matter of great comfort to me. Every other possible success (euro-elections, Mayoral elections, fuel protests, war boosts, increasing Labour unpopularity) will be ephemeral without these fundamental changes.

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Thursday, April 24, 2003

Euro madness…

Well, it’s politics season and no mistake. Elections in Scotland and Wales, local elections, Iain Duncan Smiths future being weighed in the balance of managed expectations and what is the biggest political story in Britain? The Euro.

I’m not going to bother linking in this piece, since any half literate monkey can read 10 different accounts of the Euro positioning in any newspaper you choose to name.

It seems bizarre that yet another British government is being stress tested by our involvement in Europe. Since entry, the only Government not torn apart by Europe is that of Jim Callaghan. In purely political terms, you have to wonder if the game is worth the candle, but still they persist. The arc is clear., You start off saying you want to be at the heart of Europe and then a combination of national self-interest, political reality at home and internal divisions comes up and tells you that the closest to your heart Europe is going to get is when someone slides a knife into your back over it.

First, let me make my position clear. I am, personally, the target voter for the Yes campaign. I am a soft no. Right now, I don’t particularly see any great advantage to going into the Euro, but I’m not that bothered. If it’s a good idea for the economy, fine. Of course, I might be a little more partisan on the topic if I were, for example, an MP representing a manufacturing based constituency in the midlands or the North (Hello Tom Watson and Fraser Kemp, how’s life?) but right now, I am Agneurstic (geddit?).

To be honest, I regard the Euro debate as a bit like the US debate over Bi-metallism at the turn of the Twentieth century. To the participants, it is the issue of the time. In the future, though, no-one except economic historians will really understand what all the fuss was about. As for me, I have no desire for politics to be crucified on a cross of sterling.

Our politicians see it differently. As I write, the best guess seems to be that Gordon Brown is going to tell the country (probably in May or June) that we have not yet met the Treasuries 5 tests for convergence. For the Pro-Euro campaign this is a devastating blow, and so in order to preserve momentum, they are lobbying furiously to leave the door open to Euro-entry in this parliament. This is partly out of principle, but also, they don’t want to be Whelaned (In the last parliament, the decision not to have a referendum was declared to the world by Gordon Brown’s press officer, Charlie Whelan making mobile calls outside the Red Lion pub in Whitehall). The Treasury, desperate to try and preserve the economic integrity of it’s tests wants to rule out the Euro for the parliament, arguing that if the economy hasn’t converged this week, it is rather ludicrous to suggest that it might well do so next week). Alternatively, the Treasury just wants to keep the decision to itself. You pays your money and takes your choice.

Now, these admirable economic debates also happen to run into politics. The Chancellor is a most formidable figure in government, but serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. Some reports have suggested that the PM might be prepared to look for a Chancellor more open to a pro- Euro assessment if the current occupant decides to shake his jowly head. In retaliation, some reports have also suggested that the Chancellor might campaign against the Euro if such a move were tried (a decision that would undoubtedly result in a NO vote, in my humble opinion). Yet more reports suggest that a pro-Euro grouping in cabinet are readying to push for a referendum as soon as possible.

Yet at the same time, we hear that if the door is left open, the PM would make way for the Chancellor after the next election.

What a pickle.

For me, the biggest complicating factor is whether a Euro vote could be won this parliament under the most benign circumstances. The only possible answer is maybe, just maybe. The polling has been remarkable consistent for about 4 years. A yes vote is just about possible, but only if all the planets are in alignment.

So one has to ask, why risk it? Well, the PM clearly believes that entering the Euro, will in the long run be the right move for the British economy. It will remove some currency instability, open up European trade further, and also persuade businesses that wish to trade in Europe that Britain is a good place to make stuff. It will also (and this is no small factor) allow Britain to exert more influence in the debate over Europes future. This is not an argument about who gets top jobs, but about whether the EU becomes a flexible, market oriented, let ‘er rip kind of place, with a minimum of rules and the maximum opportunity for diversity, or a more dirigiste place, with strict rules that all must live by. (rules set, for the most part, by France and Germany).

On the other hand, a no vote would destroy this government, a bad Euro would hurt the economy and the EMU disaster left an indelible impression about the dangers of fixed exchange rates (though I do wonder what the difference would have been if the pound had been fixed, and could not have been traded against- Who can doubt that if we were still in the EMU, the deutchmark would be facing a currency crisis right now?).

So the government is impaled on the horns of a dilemma. I therefore expect, with absolutely no confidence in my foretelling, that a formula will be found that leaves the door just about open to a referendum, but in reality making it quite difficult for such a referendum to happen (basically requiring a shift in economic fundamentals).

Why? Simply because all the other options are a disaster. If the door is shut, the pro-Euro folks will go ape and a huge part of the intellectual support for the PM will go off the reservation permanently (See some of the Guardian and Independent commentators for a foretaste of this). If the referendum could easily be held next year, it will be clear that the decision will be made on political, not economic grounds. Either way, the futures of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown look very uncomfortable. So they both have an interest in making sure neither option comes to pass.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Thinking about a revolution…

Well, nothing like a break to blow the cobwebs away. Walking, reading and not blogging. Well, even a fevered and compulsive commentator, such as your humble correspondent, needs to unwind sometimes.

And I return emboldened. I will return to normal service soon. Today though, I want to take my side in the great battle of the left to come.

Today, the repulsive George Galloway has been accused of taking money from the Iraqi regime. Galloway denies it of course, and I can’t but think that he is a savvy enough operator not to have left an incriminating paper trail. Payments via an unrelated third party- either a government or businessman, paid into a “charity” perhaps? How convenient. However, whatever the facts of the case I think the man should be expelled from the Labour party pronto. It’s not just that the man is a loathesome slime on the face of British politics, possibly corrupt, certainly politically wrongheaded, but that I cannot see any way in which he is in any meaningful sense a Labour MP. It is time to act. However, it is not just time to act over Galloway.

IN the 1980’s the reasonable wing of the Labour party fought a long and ultimately successful battle against Militant. Perhaps, it is now time for us to confront another insidious and wrongheaded movement. The global Anti-American movement. Wait, I hear you say, the two are totally different, the Trots were a sect determined to overthrow the British government, the Anti-Americans are misguided perhaps, but not in the same way.

Well, yes, but people forget how many soft left wingers associated and defended Trots. How reluctant they were to see them expelled, how their hard work and dedication was commended, how their rhetoric of social justice and radical action appealed.

The same is true of the radical Anti-Americans. The radical leaders of this band, people like the aforementioned Galloway, but also members of the Socialist Campaign Group, some of the anti-globalisation activists like Monbiot, the leaders of Left sects like Rees and Murray distort a reasonable position, that US policy in many areas is wrongheaded, corrupting, damaging, and divisive. This starting point, to which many on the left, myself included, would assent, is then used to oppose any US policy. If the US does not intervene, it is heartless. If it does, it is imperialist. Whatever it does, it is corrupt and inconsistent.

From this it seems to follow that any opponent of the US, from Castro to Chirac to Schroder to Putin to Hussein is to be lauded. (Where were all the protests about Chechnya, when Russia opposed the US, where were the demonstrations against that hypocrisy?)

Those of us on the left who regard it as repulsive that our friends and supporters find themselves protecting regimes like those of the Taliban, the Ba’ath party, and yes, the North Koreans, instead of searching for the right way to open up tose societies, need to fight an intellectual battle.

It will not be the same as the fight against militant. That was an organisational fight, fought in conferences and committees. This will be an intellectual fight, a battle of speeches, articles, books and pamphlets.

I know that there are those who will see any defence of America as a defence of imperialism, of Bush, of big oil. I willingly concede that America, as a political force is flawed, is imperfect, even alien to social democracy in total.

Yet alongside these grave errors, there is a brighter story to be told. There is the America of Woody Guthrie, the America of the Marshall programme, the America of the great society, the peace corps, the civil rights movement. There is the America of democracy, of the freedom of the individual, the freedom of speech, the America of ich bin ein Berliner. Yes, this is only a part of America, and there are darker threads alongside the bright (Cambodia, Chile, Central America) but in total, compared to all the other alternatives, it is the US that has fought the most often on the side of the angels with dirty faces.

For the left to fail to see what can be made of this America, what can be done in supporting the basic american desire to do the right thing, is foolish, is short-sighted and self destructive. It starts from opposing American foolishness and bad policy, and ends up with the spectacle of a Labour MP, a Labour MP, scuttling from dictator to torturer, handing out compliments and support to corrupt regimes and oppresive neo-fascists.

I want to see a day when no Left-winger is tempted to support a dictator as a counterweight to US hegemny, when we see that the bigger chance for us is to join that better America, restrain the worse, but never flinch from choosing to be on the side of imperfect democracy against brutal dictatorship.

For me, the first groundspings of freedom lie not only in healthcare, social justice and the environment, but in freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of choice. The left can make America our greatest ally in that noble fight. To do otherwise is to abondon that America to the tender mercies of those who wish to take America and turn it into a vehicle for their own enrichment. If we abandon America, they will be able to say to their population, “it is us alone who will fight the battles. Why should we not take the spoils?” If we join with our American friends, however, we can hope to help them choose the right ground to take stands on. We can help them live up to that dream of exporting a good revolution to the world.

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