Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Child benefit cuts is not the story!

There were two big pieces of news in George Osborne's speech yesterday: 1) child benefit is going to be taken away from the top earners; 2) benefits are to be capped at £26,000. Whilst everyone is talking about child benefits, it's the benefit cap which is most concerning and disgusting. The difference, however, is child benefits are being taken away from nice hard working families(i.e., people like us), not from the workshy benefit scrounging scum (i.e., people like them).

The Daily Mail would have people believe that we live in an age where those on benefits are "living high on the hog at taxpayers' expense". Of course it's rubbish, unless 'high on the hog' means having no money 90% of the time - not 'no money' as in "I'm having to holiday in the UK this year because we have no money", but "I can't buy a pint of milk because I have no money". The sort of poverty that grinds you down and kills any ambition to get up in the morning, let alone get on in life. The sort of poverty that when you are born into, is very difficult to get out of. The sort of poverty that we should help people out of, not point and blame people for being in. If you're not in that situation remember it's got more to do with the family you were born into and the chances you've had along the way than anything you have done yourself.

Why should a family be allowed to claim more in benefits than the average working wage?
Because some families need more than the average working wage. If you have four kids and are living in private accommodation in central London, £26,000 isn't going to get you very far - whatever the 'average wage' is. And what do we do in situations where £26,000 is not enough? Where people can't get a job? Do we take children into care? Do we have compulsory sterilisation for poor people after they've had two kids? Do we put families in workhouses?

I don't doubt that there's a benefits trap, that some people find that they can get more on benefits than by working - generally because their earning potential is far below £26,000. The answer to the problem should be to increase people's earning potential, not reduce people's standard of living on benefits to the point that any wage is better. By Tory logic reducing benefits to £5 per head and a bottle of milk would stop anyone being in a benefits trap!

Breaking the link between need and benefit entitlement is wrong, and should be a far bigger story than the loss of child benefits to the better off. Unfortunately the poor are not particularly pretty and don't have much political muscle. Whilst I can imagine some back-peddling on child benefits, the £26,000 cap will probably stay.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Ed Miliband - Prime Minister in 19 months?

At last the Labour Party has a new leader and can start buildig an effective opposition. Despite the public having no idea the direction the Labour Party would take, Labour have already been catching the Tories in the polls, and one can't help but be excited about the potential for a significant Labour surge. Especially as the cuts start to bite and the coalition starts to fall apart.

When the Alternative Vote referendum gets a resounding NO, the Lib Dems will very quickly begin to wonder what they sold their soul for. AV was never first choice for the Lib Dems, but even that will fail to get through next May. Not only will the Tory Party and the Labour Party campaign against it, but there will be few who want to put the choice of Prime Minister in the hands of the third-party leader, especially a leader like Nick Clegg. As the dream of voting reform disappears so will the stomach for the coalition, a Lib Dem will cross the floor or challenge for leadership before next year's Lib Dem conference.

Right now I'd put my money on May, 2011, for the next election, a little over 19 months away, and I have no doubt that Ed Miliband can win it. He was always my choice as party leader: Left enough to make a difference, centre enough to actually have a chance of being voted in. Also, as it was his brother in second place, I doubt there will be much appetite for in-fighting. It'd be especially nice if Cameron loses in 2011 as it'd mean he was in office for less time than Gordon Brown, although I must admit part of me wants him to hold out for 2 years 221 days.

For the first time since the election I'm beginning to think there just might be signs of light at the end of a very bleak tunnel. So can we have no one raining on my parade in the comments please!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

'New Politics' in Number 10

So Nick Clegg has got into bed with the Tories, and we now have a new Prime Minister: Old Etonian and fifth cousin twice removed of Queen Elizabeth II, Dave "he's just like one of us" Cameron. The BBC notes that he's the first Old Etonian to hold the office since the early 1960s - well aren't we a progressive country! On the brightside the more despicable aspects of Tory policy will undoubtedly be restrained by the Liberal Democrat coalition; although I'd hate to be one of the millions of Liberal Democrat voters who have given such a disgusting Tory party a veneer of respectability.

Nick Clegg has been the first of the four Liberal Democrat leaders I have disliked - I've said it long before today. He encompasses so much of what is wrong with modern politics: the gloss, the bullshit, the desire to be seen as your friend. In this, the same as Cameron, he is undoubtedly an heir to Blair - although he is careful to talk of 'new politics' rather than something as trite as a 'third way'. Whereas I was pleasantly surprised with how much the Labour Party achieved under Blair (although I continue to dislike the man), I have less hope of being surprised at the end of the following parliament. Although the is one glimmer of hope: the Tory desperation to form a government.

The compromises that have already been made by the Tory party to form a coalition government reek of its desperation. The Tory party has backed 'modernising' Cameron over the past five years purely as a way to get into government, and the government had to be formed - whatever the price. Failure by Cameron would have consigned the party to the wilderness for another 13 years as it ripped itself apart searching for an electable face. It remains to be seen whether the price they are willing to pay today, will still seem such a bargain in six months time. With such a volatile period ahead it seems a bizarre time to propose 5-year fixed term parliaments; it'll be interesting to see whether its workable in 5-months.

Personally I would rather have had a passionate, bloody-minded, cantankerous PM who stood for what he believed in. Someone who listened to the experts, made a decision, and if necessary told the ignorant masses to f-off. Unfortunately democracy doesn't allow that, and we seem condemned to a future of Britain's Got Political Bullshit. Forget convictions, just say you're doing it for your gran.

I'm not generally a big fan of revolutions, preferring the gradual change that has been the primary characteristic of British politics, but I must admit that the envisioned mediocre politics of the future is almost enough to make me reach for the pitchfork.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Election Wordle: Like a sweary wordsearch

It's a tradition this days to put everything into a Wordle, so I thought I'd put my 320 election night tweets into one

What's most surprising is that despite all the swearing, and an excessive amount of tweeting, my number of followers didn't actually go down!

[nb. I took out the #ge2010 hashtag as it was on most tweets and as such overwhelmed the Wordle].

Election Reflection: Did Britain win?

As anyone who was unfortunate enough to be following my Twitter stream on Thursday and Friday will have realised, I have a love/hate relationship with British elections. I love politics, but I hate the right wing. Unfortunately in the UK a lot of people are ignorant enough to vote Conservative, and every time I see a smug over-privileged face winning a vote I get angry, drunk, and swear a lot [you should have seen the tweets I deleted before sending!]. I don't believe "politicians are all the same" or "there's no difference between the parties". There are the progressive parties such as Labour, Liberal Democrats, and Greens, and there are the reactionary parties of the right. We may not always agree with the progressive parties' policies, but we can identify with their ideologies. During my life I have always voted either Liberal or Labour, because whilst I recognise people do not have equal abilities (after all, there are those ignorant enough to vote Conservative), I passionately believe people should have equal opportunities. Despite a bad night for the Lib Dems and Labour, this election has provided the opportunity for the parties of the right to be locked out of politics (or at least a majority government) for the foreseeable future!

Whilst the Conservatives have the biggest number of seats, failing to get a majority can only be considered a massive failure. Three terms of a Labour government and an unpopular Prime Minister and they are still not voted in! As the results show, the British majority are progressive: 30% Labour, 24% Lib Dems despite the best efforts of a disgusting right-wing press. Maybe the daring copyright-busting Mirror front page did just enough to remind us that class politics are still there, however hard our friend Dave told us otherwise:

With the Liberals holding the balance of power there is at last a glimmer of hope for the Liberal dream of proportional representation. Whilst the Labour Party have always overly-benefited from the current first-past-the-post system, due to their strong heartlands in the North, it may be time for them to put the country before the party. Whilst the thought of a BNP or UKIP MP makes me feel physically ill, is it a price worth paying for a future of progressive governments?

The next 12 months in politics as I would like to see it:
- A Lib-Lab coalition with smaller parties for 1 year (Caroline Lucas for Environment secretary?)
- A referendum on PR
- An election on May 5th 2011 under PR

None of these stages will be easy. The coalition will probably require the loss of Gordon Brown. A shame not only because I believe he is a great and honest Prime Minister, but because he is an intellect any government would be poorer without. Ideally I would like to see him return to the Treasury, with Alan Johnson as PM, but I recognise that it'll never happen. There is a difference between Charles Kennedy and William Hague returning to the front benches of their parties, and a former PM doing it.

Then comes the referendum. The right-wing press will recognise the potential for the Conservatives to spend years in the wilderness, whilst the Murdoch empire will lose much of it's influence in government whichever party he supports. It'll be a very close run event, but I think ultimately fair-play and people's realisation that every vote will count will tip the balance in favour of PR.

Finally the election. Under a PR system we'll have even greater responsibility for engaging in the electoral process. For too many of us politics is something that happens only at election time. When the progressive population says nothing it allows the politics of hate, fear, and ignorance raise its head. More of us should be taking an active interest in the day-to-day politics of Westminster, and at a local level, and not just when a particular bill grabs our interest.

It'll be a while before we know the outcome of this election, but for now Gordon Brown is still Prime Minister, and the future is far from as bleak as it could have been.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Don't just vote tactically, tell people!

The polls are not looking good, in fact we could be waking up on Friday morning to the sight of David Cameron walking into Downing Street with a Conservative majority government. Like many progressive-minded people, who dream of a more equal society, I will be voting tactically on May 6th: I will be voting Labour.

Unlike many people I'm in a privileged situation. I like both Gordon Brown, and the current Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West - Rob Marris - and on Thursday Rob will be getting my vote. But even if I didn't, if I was a disillusioned Labour voter, or I had previously voted Liberal Democrat*, Rob would be getting my vote on Thursday. This will be the closest election for many years, and if you are in a marginal constituency you must vote with your head.

In my own constituency, Wolverhampton South West, it's a two horse race between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. That's not the message the Lib Dems are sending out in their ward leaflets that constantly tell me "Conservatives can't win here", but it's a fact.

In Wolverhampton South West a progressive vote for the Liberal Democrats may as well be a vote for the Tories. The Labour government has, not surprisingly, made mistakes during its thirteen years in power, but as @TheFagCasanova so eloquently stated:
Voting Conservative, because you're angry with Labour is like sawing your balls off because your trousers are too tight.
Without a doubt, if the Conservative Party win the election on Thursday, it will be partly attributable to the continuing power and fear-mongering of the right-wing newspaper industry in its death-throes; this election is a long way from being a social media election. Maybe it's something to do with British reserve, and the old mantra of "don't talk about politics and religion". Well politics is too bloody important to be quiet about. Change your avatar! Twitter your views! Let people know if they're in a marginal, let people know who you're voting for, and if you're voting Conservative, expect to be called a wanker.

And if you know people in Wolverhampton South West, let them know who they should be voting for: Rob Marris.

*In fact, I have voted Liberal Democrat at every previous general election.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Why I Will Never Vote Conservative

Unfortunately the General Election has coincided with a massive influx of work, so I haven't had the time to knock out any of the political blog posts that have been bursting to get out. However, with only a few days to go, I felt I should really at least say why I would never ever vote Conservative.

The Conservative Party is fundamentally a party for the justification of society's inequalities.

They regularly repeat the myth that people are a success through their own hard work, whilst those that are unsuccessful or unemployed have no one to blame but themselves. Such a myth is very appealing to voters. Not only to the rich who want to feel good about society's inequalities, but also to those who feel they deserve more. After all, "if it wasn't for the dole scroungers we'd all be better off". The truth, however, is that success has very little to do with some innate hard work ethic, and far more to do with sheer blind luck.

It's easy for David Cameron to stand at the Prime Ministerial Debate and tell us that unemployed people, if offered a job, should be forced to take it. Easy because at no point in David Cameron's life was he ever likely to be forced to take a minimum wage job working in a factory with no prospects. Easy because David Cameron was never brought up in an environment where there were no prospects and no opportunities, not only for the individual but for the whole family, street, area.

It is, of course, too easy to pick on David Cameron; his life has been one long list of privilege unknown to the average man in the street. Surely the rest of us got where we are today through our own hard work? Personally, I think you'd have to be pretty arrogant to think so; failing to recognise the role of the people who you've met along the way.

I always think that if anyone has the right to be arrogant, I do. Brought up on an estate in a single-parent family, kicked out of home at 17, before spending years on the dole and working in food processing factories. Then, 10 years ago, I decided to sort my life out: an evening class at the end of a 12-hour shift in chicken factory, a degree, a PhD, and at the end I get more for a day's work than my mother ever has ever earned in a week. On one level the story I've just told is complete: there was no hidden pot of cash or opportunities that aren't available to everyone in this country. On the other hand, the story misses a lot. It misses the the important details that are so often missed when we promote ourselves as deserving what we've gotten. It ignores the middle-class aspirational values I had drummed into me as a child, it forgets the person who persuaded me not to drop out of my undergraduate degree, and that part of the reason I ever got to do a PhD was my undergrad supervisor wrote my research up as a journal article. Whilst my life has been far less privileged than most, I've also had my share of luck on the way.

I don't deny we need to deal with problems such as unemployment, anti-social behaviour, and crime. But if you start the conversation from the point of view that you deserve what you have, and others don't, then you're a fool and you'll probably vote Conservative. Personally, I never will.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

'Jon Venables' on Twitter: The public disgust me

Jon Venables is back in prison after breaching his licence conditions, and a look at the Twitter comments would seem to suggest that the majority of the British public are thrilled. Without a doubt the murder of Jamie Bulger was a horrendous crime, but let us not forget the murderers were also children.

Some of the comments on Twitter are just disgusting:
Whatever the crime committed, do we really want to live in a world where 10 year olds are hung? Or even sent to prison for life?

Despite the public's desire for simplicity, people are not either 'good' or 'evil', they are products of their society. When even the most rational people can behave badly under certain circumstances (see:- Milgram experiment), can we really justify calls for hanging or life imprisonment, whatever the crime? Prison should be about rehabilitation and protection of the public, not making the public feel good about their relative 'goodness'. Creating a set of people we can label 'evil' means that we don't have to look so closely at our own behaviour, or our own contributions to society.

We don't yet know the reason why Jon Venables is back in prison, but like the general public I'm not surprised. Not because I think he necessarily has some innate 'evilness', but how could we expect anyone to integrate back into such an irrational society.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

SHOCK: Tories Want to Turn Back Time

It's not surprising that over the course of almost 13 years the Labour government have done a few things I have not been pleased about. I'm not talking about the war in Iraq or Afghanistan, both of which I believe to have been the right decision, but rather the ban on fox hunting.

My stand on fox hunting is not based on the irrelevant economic arguments that were bandied around by the Tories at the time, but rather the fact that foxes are vermin and need to be controlled. Fox hunting may be a very ineffective method of controlling foxes, but if people want to spend their time dressing up and chasing through fields on horses, then I'd have let them. The pleasure I get from duck, faggots and haggis means I am highly unlikely to be tempted by the cult of vegetarianism.

That does not mean however, that I want even more parliamentary time wasted on the topic. If the Conservatives get elected (and I still believe it is far from a certainty), do we really want them spending their time in office revisiting every earlier decision? Or would we prefer them to deal with the issues of the day?

Unfortunately the Conservative Party will always look to the past, because in their minds that's where the world was always better.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Property v. People

The polls seem to be suggesting that the gap in the polls between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party is narrowing. The Tory solution: appeal to their core voters with a return to the traditional policy of hang 'em and flog 'em.
Burglars "leave their human rights outside" the moment they break in to someone else's property
In a world of constant change it is nice to see that some things remain the same: Tories value property over people.

The prosecution of people defending their property has been a running topic in the press in recent weeks. Especially amongst those papers catering for the home-obsessed middle-classes, for whom Myleene Klass (and her idiotic knife waving antics) is some sort of pin-up girl.

With reasonable force already allowed under English law for the protection of property, we really don't need Cameron peddling his crap. Without a doubt I would be as shocked and scared as the next person on finding intruders in my home, but that doesn't negate the worth of the intruder as a human being.

We are all products of our environments, and it is more by luck than good judgement that people turn out as 'good' citizens. Cameron's own position in life owes much more to his background than any innate effort on his part, we can but wonder how he - who is so quick to dismiss other's human rights - would have turned out if he had been brought up on a rough council estate. It doesn't mean I condone theft or burglary, merely recognise that there but for the grace of God, go I.

Hopefully this is merely the bluster of a party leader in the run up to an election, and we can rely on the usual lack of a particular policy.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Where do the general public truly engage?

During the last week there has been a four-part In Our Time special on Radio 4, celebrating the 350th anniversary of The Royal Society. Towards the end of the final part one of the contributors emphasised the need for the general public to:
...learn to engage with the issues and make their own decisions such as they do in other areas of their life.
The need for public understanding of science to move beyond tabloid rhetoric is obvious, but I think the notion that there are great swathes of 'other areas' of public life where the general public are already making their own decisions is misguided.

The inability of the general public to "engage with the issues and make their own decisions" is reiterated on the web every minute of every day where it sometimes seems as though the amount of ignorance is only topped by the amount of hate - both reflecting the public's spoon-fed opinion from the country's right-wing press. Just a couple of minutes on the BBC's (moderated) Have Your Say will make the greatest optimist despair at the state of humanity. They are not engaging with the issues, but rather ranting like a drunk in a pub.

The solution for both would seem to be education, but whereas a little may help with a person's understanding of science, far more would be needed to help them look beyond their own vested-interests in the world of politics. Science should aspire to many things, but the fear and ignorance that people exhibit in the rest of their lives shouldn't be one of them.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

2010 - An annus horribilis?

From a political point of view I can't help but dread the coming general election, and the prospect of a Conservative government. Unfortunately the people, or rather 'the mob', want change. After twelve glorious years of a Labour government (which has far exceeded my expectations) we are on the brink of a return to the dark days of Conservatism.

After twelve years people have forgotten what a Conservative government really means. The masses find the oxymoronic 'caring conservatism' an appealing idea when it is fed to them by a right-wing press that looks to benefit from a Cameron government. That Cameron has the affront to campaign on the NHS shows how hard the Conservative machine has toiled to keep its army of BUPA members quiet whilst it says what is necessary to get into power.

But when the people want change, for little more than the sake of change, who else are they meant to turn to? The Liberal Democrats? They are losing credibility by the day. Rumours abound of a collaboration between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats if it would otherwise mean a hung parliament. For a party that has been gaining respect over the last 20 years, such a move would see it lose all credibility. Even the possibility of such a collaboration is likely to alienate the core Lib-Dem voters.

So, worse case scenario - and the most likely: 2010 could bring a Conservative government, the destruction of the Liberal Democrats, and the inevitable infighting that would follow a Labour defeat. Democracy really is bloody stupid.