Friday, November 03, 2006

Nice but Dim?

The Leader of Her Majesties Loyal Opposition visits a housing estate.

Today, Cameron is making another platitudinous speech filled with meaningless soundbites that annoy the sun.

Cameron's not all that, people.

I read the speech this morning, thinking it would be fun to take apart. Trouble is there's nothing to take apart. Sure, he has an interesting analysis of where Labour has gone wrong, and he says about twenty times that society is good and horrible institutions are bad, but you search in vain for any idea about what he's going to do about it.

Actually, there's one. He'll let private companies run young offenders centres. How revolutionary.

All he says, repeatedly, is the inanely obvious, that society is good, that charities are nice, that the deprived have it pretty tough. Well, yeah, We know this already.

It's like listening to Tim Nice but Dim after a visit to a housing estate.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006


Starting today, my in depth 13 part look at the race for Leader of the Labour party....

OK, not really.

However, since this topic might occassionally pop up over the next few months, I think I should say where I'm coming from, so that anyone unlucky or stupid enough to read regularly will be able to calibrate their bias detectors.

I'm a New Labour loyalist who wishes things were a bit different in a few policy areas, but is happy to live with the occassional compromise because I think the party is generally in the right direction.

I'll be supporting Gordon Brown (if the support is even needed) for the leadership not because of any Brownite/Blairite stuff (that has always bored and annoyed me in roughly equal measure) but because Gordon Brown is the towering figure in the Cabinet, has the clearest radical centre/social democratic agenda for the party and will have the best chance of ensuring a Labour government after the next election.

End of.

On the Deputy Leadership, I really haven't made my mind up.

At the moment I expect the battle will be between Hain, Benn and Johnson with Straw, Harman and Cruddas finding it difficult to get the 44 needed to win, and if getting them not able to break through (Straw might well get the 44, but I don't think he is as popular in the wider party).

Of those, I'd be torn between Benn and Johnson, though Hilary Benn doesn't seem to have much partisan bite to him (perhaps that's a factor of being at DFID). If Hazel Blears did run, I think she'd be a serious candidate but would mean all the "centrist candidates" would be scrapping for the same votes, making it more likely that the final two would be Hain and one other.

So that's where I'm coming from.

I promise not to talk about it too much as it's all very dull at the moment and there's serious business to talk about.

Speaking of which, later on I'm going to try and finish off the series on the politics of climate change by looking at the challenges facing my beloved Labour Party. So you know, stay tuned. Cos it'll be bockbuster stuff. ZZZZZZzzzzzz.

Bias? Heaven Forfend.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

PMQs Erupts

Ooooohhhh. Handbags at dawn between Dangerous Dave Cameron and Mighty Mick Martin.

Everyone should be annoyed by Speakers. I know Labour MPs have been outraged pretty frequently with Speaker Martin. An opinion I've heard a few times is that they think he's been "captured" by the pomposity and grandeur of the Speaker's chair into an attempt to take politics out of the Commons. It's not that they think he's trying to be "too neutral" but that he's tried to stop a good old fashioned political scrap too often (This view is not unrelated to the fact the the Labour MPs I know love a good political scrap).

I see Martin's intervention today as part of this drive. Just as he stopped Blair talking about the Conservative party campaign on the NHS, he stops Cameron talking about the Labour party.

Personally, I think the idea of taking the politics out of parliament is ludicrous, but it's not inconsistent with prevous interventions. It's part of a philosophy ofthe Commons that sees it as essentially non-partisan, and that views party politics as getting in the way of the real job of passing legislation and debating the great issues of the day. I don't like it, but it's Martin's position.

What is new is Cameron's reaction. It's kind of an unwritten rule that you don't attack the Speaker. It's a mark of Cameron's dislike of anything that gets in his way that he virtually had a temper tantrum at the Speaker and afterwards allowed his spokeman to call what Martin did ""bizarre and extraordinary".

He'll win the media war tommorrow, but picking a fight with the speaker is rarely a good idea for any opposition Leader.

It's an little observed facet of Cameron's political persona that he does tend to get rattled when challenged or diverted from making his case. He's very smooth in asking questions, but when he gets rattled, he has a tendency to snap. (See here for another example)

It's a tendency he'd have done better to restrain this time. I'm sure Labour advisers will be wondering how to put Cameron under that kind of stress again and again and again, to see if he'll snap at someone less august than Mr Speaker.

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Small rebellion, nobody killed.

A quick note on the vote last night.

A message for the politically sophisticated. Lbaour MPs don’t like voting for opposition day motions. The question that worries whips isn't so much whether they'll vote against Alex Salmond (especially if he puts his foot convieniently in mouth*), but if they're around at all for a minor parties day.

Secondly, Philip Cowley is wise. Heed his words.

If he says something is so, it is so. Pay no attention to anyone else, myself included, on the mood of the PLP. Also, buy his book. It’s a must for anyone interested in the Labour Party.

The man should be a special adviser in the Whips office.

Inter alia, Hamer Shawcross is about a trillion times more interesting, perceptive and amusing than all the other Labour researcher bloggers put together, with the possible exception of Barry Beef. If you’re interested in the backwash of life in the Commons, he’s the man.

*Jim Devine's parliamentary intervention is not the firstime youtube has caused questions to be asked in parliament. Labour's Iain Wright got there first, warning Jack Straw of the dangers of provocative and inflammatory videos posted on the sight.

I wonder if he raised the issue with his good friend Tom Watson?

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Labour's newest adviser...

The news that Al Gore is to be the governments climate change adviser give me an excuse to post this video by Spike Jonze. It's the greatest campaign bio ever, and is porabably why Gore agreed to do inconvienet truth. it was barely shown in 2000, but on watching it today, you can't help be filled by a terrible sense that we're all worse off because of that election. next time let's make sure a "compassionate" conservative with vague policies but warm words doesn't get to beat a policy wonk who gets portrayed as awkward by the sillier people in the media.

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The Tories on Climate Change...


My last post achieved the recognition of being *drumroll* the fifth best thing on the web today according to the Guardian’s Comment is Free website. (thanks for the twelve readers chaps. This blogging thing is huuuuuuge). I’m so proud.

Since the post met with such distinction, I think I ought to carry on examining the challenges climate change poses to the political parties. Today, the Tories.

The Conservative debate and positioning on climate change is emblematic of the Tory party under David Cameron. It’s his signature issue and biggest political passion (well, apart from the NHS, which has been his signature issue and lifelong passion since party Conference.).

I warn you now. This post will be long. Long, and unless you’re interested in the inner workings of Tory policy, and where their pledges actually take you, rather dull.

I beg you to stay with it though, because the idea that people, even people interested in politics, won’t understand the detailed implications of positive sounding policy commitments, is the very cornerstone of Cameron’s conservatism.

I believe Cameron is relying on people not to care about the detail and only to remember the soundbite. He might be right, but even so it’s worth understanding what that would mean in Government. My analysis of what the Tories will do could be wrong, but the correct answer is important.

Cameron has radically repositioned the Conservatives. They’re now perceived to be greener than Labour, he’s recruited environmentalists like Zac Goldsmith to support him, George Monbiot to speak at Tory Conference (Did he stay in the same hotel as

Let’s assume Cameron over-rules Ainsworth and makes the Targets bite. Would they be a good idea?

Sadly, No. If we have a cold winter, emissions will go up. If the global oil price falls, they might also go up. Neither short term factor is within the hands of government. Yet if these are binding targets, presumably the Government would have to act to prevent this carbon consumption? What tools are available to them- higher taxes and rationing. Of course.

So where this takes us is a situation where the Government is changing taxation levels on fuel in response to the most short term of inputs. That’s bad for business, bad for the economy and not really effective in preserving the Environment.

This isn’t about not making carbon expensive, but about how you do it- It would be far better to give businesses certainty to plan with in knowing their costs were going to rise steadily so they can plan their carbon switch, and also to improve and extend the emissions trading scheme. Annual targets do nothing for this. Which is why Ainsworth tries to back away from them.

But perhaps I’m being harsh. I mean, annual or five year targets are fairly small beer.

Let's look at the bigger picture. If we’re to move away from being a high carbon economy we need extra sources of energy. So why is Cameron refusing to support Nuclear power? We don’t have a chance of hitting our carbon targets without it.

I know a lot of Labour people oppose nuclear power too, so let’s be clear about this. We can’t reduce carbon emissions without either massively reduced energy consumption or low to no carbon emitting energy.

Nobody can definitively promise to deliver renewables on the scale we need or energy efficiency at the level we’d need, so we have to go for Nuclear. We might get lucky and make a renewables or efficiency breakthrough, but that’s a prayer, not a policy.

Yet Cameron refers to Nuclear as a last option. Yet what are the other options? Either they exist and they should be used in preference, or they’re not definitive and can’t be relied on.

Oddly, some conservatives think Cameron doesn’t mean what he says about Nuclear. Yesterday for example,

Peter Luff MP said in the Commons

“I have no wish to cause my hon. Friend any embarrassment, but ironically, Conservative party policy for an improved carbon trading mechanism and for a capacity market are more likely to bring forward nuclear power more quickly than the Government's proposals on carbon emissions trading.”

OK, though. Let’s assume that
a) Cameron is serious about binding targets for Carbon emission
b) He will change short term tax policy to hit annual carbon targets and hand over management of this to an independent board
c) He is serious about not embracing Nuclear
d) He won’t commission new Nuclear- or at least there will be no expansion of nuclear.

If he’s serious about using the above policy tools to manage down climate
change. he only has one option, a massive increase in renewables in the very
near term to meet energy demand.

Yet what is he doing about it?

Cameron says he wants a “level playing field” for nuclear and
renewable energy. Sounds good, right? But there isn’t a level playing field
right now, there’s a massively tilted playing field- tilted in favour of
renewables. In 2003 the government put an obligation on energy producers to
produce 3% of their energy from renewables. That rose to 5.5% this year and will
reach 15% by 2015.

Without the renewables obligation- Increasing renewables wouldn’t happen at all.

The Tory policy position, as far as one can make out, is simply to “reform” the renewables obligation. Reform is code for tear apart.

After all, a level playing field is incompatible with forcing energy producers to build renewable wind turbines, and the Tories are trying to reduce the number of wind turbines being built in the countryside. Oh, and Tories say the renewable obligation is “slanted to wind”.

It’s not difficult to join the dots.

So we have- an unworkable or meaningless annual carbon target. A ridiculous nuclear position and a backing away from forcing up the commitment o renewables.

That leaves us with one final policy option.

Just force up the price of energy, with spikes when it’s cold to reduce carbon emissions then.

That would force down emissions.

It might also lead to poor people not heating their homes properly, and a few manufacturing industries finally giving up the ghost, but that’s a price worth paying for being able to sound green without building Nuclear, pushing forward with the renewables obligation or managing carbon emissions over the long term.

Now that’s being Conservative tothe core of your being.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

The politics of climate change..

Today the publication of the Stern report means that the economic case for dealing with climate change is being made to British business and to the British people. With all three political parties committed to delivering on the Green agenda, you might be forgiven that there will be no partisan politics on the issue in the run up to the next general election.


Each of the main parties will be looking to see how they can do well by doing good for the planet.

Each also face difficult decisions. So here's my take on the problem...

First the Lib-Dems.

Having put a lot of work into a green tax package, they must wonder if they will be squeezed by the Tories and Labour.

After all, if you're the third party you need to be distinctive. They're likely to try and protect their turf by calling for higher and heavier green taxes than either of the two big parties.

Will this be enough to keep them distinct? I don't think so. It's one thing to be calling for heavy green taxes, but quite another to be calling for really heavy taxes when everyone else is calling for pretty damn heavy taxes.

I suspect the populist move for the Lib-Dems would be to shift the stress over to the other side of the equation: the tax cuts that could be afforded by high green taxes.

As taxes on consumption have a tendency to be regressive, there's quite a nice opportunity to reduce regressive taxes at the lower end of the income scale.

Only problem is, that the strategy might work if the Lib Dems were'nt comitted to some big ticket spending costs. If you're committed to free NHS personal care, Free university tuition and subidising property owning pensioners by removing them from all local taxation (via introducing Local Income Tax) then that doesn't give you enormous room for maneuver on tax cuts.

Finally, take a look at Lib Dem seats. If you're the MP for ooooh, let's say Truro. Or Falmouth. Or Inverness, Skye and the rest of it, or Yeovil, how enthusiastic do you think that you constituents are going to be about increasing taxation on motoring by a massive degree?
Not very, right? Which is why it's so impressive the Lib Dems, with admirable principle and grit have decided to take the fight to their rural constiuents to ... errr... demand that Vehicle Excise Duty should be cut for rural car owners- and maybe fuel tax too.
Eh? I thought car taxes had to go up. Ah. Only if you live in a city apparently.
If you live in the countryside, your vehicle emissions smell of roses and make baby Jesus smile.
At least now we know that electoral expediency crosses partisan lines.
Even if you can theoretically make the argument for the Lib Dems tax position, it's not particularly simple. Why, I can almost hear the phone canvassing.....

"Hello Mr Mondeo, I'm Ming Campbell. I'm calling for an increase in green taxes to
save the planet. If you're a car driver it might cost you an extra £1000 a year
or so.

"That money won't be wasted. We'll use it to fund free
personal care, free university tuition and to make sure pensioners don't pay
council tax.

"you're kids didn't go to university? Well, that's a bit of bad luck.

"I tell you what, We'll also cut your personal taxes so you
don't have to pay as much tax. Got to sound good, right?

"How is that affordable? Because of my magic money making

"Oh, OK, we're going to cut your pensions tax relief and increase capital gains tax. I'm sure that won't affect your familiy in the slightest.".

"Oh and if you live in the country, don't worry about what I said about
the fuel taxes. That doesn't apply to the country. Only to people in the city.

"Suburbs? Well, I'm not sure. Look out of your window. Can you see a
cow? Well, you're not in the country then, are you?

"Hello? Hello?"

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