Monday, 20 December 2010

Labour Isn't Winning

A YouGov poll that showed -18% approval for the Government has sent many Labourites into rapture. Sure, it’s good that people are seemingly taking issue with the Government’s indiscriminate, ideology-inspired cuts. But we need to take this with a pinch of salt the size of which would ensure the whole of the M25 doesn’t freeze over ever again.

Read between the lines. In the same poll, YouGov showed that 40% still said they would vote Conservative, with 43% saying they’d vote Labour and 8%, apparently those living under rocks, still vouching for the LibDems. Does it really make sense that, despite a -18% Government approval rating, 40% would still vote for the main party in that Government?

Read a bit further. In an IPSOS poll this week, David Cameron received +4% approval to Nick Clegg’s -12%. Ed Miliband, Labour Party leader, received an approval of +4%; but a whopping 30% gave “Don’t Know” as an answer when asked if they were satisfied or dissatisfied with the way Ed was doing his job as leader of the party. To show how big that figure is, Cameron and Clegg received 8% and 11% "Don't Knows" respectively. ComRes showed a worse picture with Ed’s approval at a lowly -16%, very similar to aforementioned Government approval rating that Labourites have been gushing over. Even in that poll, a massive 50% said they “Don’t Know” if Ed is turning out to be a good leader of the Labour Party. Nick Clegg had a dire -23% approval rating in the ComRes poll, with the Prime Minister on just -2%.

We know that LibDem polling has plummeted. ComRes had them at 23% in the middle of June. Their drop to 8% in the latest YouGov poll shows, Keir thinks, that the Government approval rating of -18% is largely due to anti-LibDem sentiment; not anti-Tory sentiment.

Labour isn’t winning. The Tories are. Government approval may be sinking, but their polling is stable. And we also now have the reason why we do need to act fast, contrary to what many Labourites would argue. Though Keir doubts he would or could, if Uncle Vince pressed his big red nuclear button, we would not win a snap election. In all likelihood, the Tories would win a majority as Labour are yet to propose an alternative, and the leader’s ratings are not good enough to carry the party in that situation. Now Keir doesn't suddenly think Cable has developed some fortitude and would actually be able to do that, but the point here is that this Coalition is fragile and we need to be ready if they capitulate.

It's not all gloom though. The amount of “Don’t Knows” in the questions about Ed’s leadership shows there is a vacuum to exploit that would not only make that Government approval sink further, but would make Labour’s polling percentage grow at the expense of the Tories; the real enemy. Labour MPs have been doing a sterling job on certain issues. Stella Creasy's campaign against legal loan sharks is the Labour Party as it should be. Jim Murphy's excellent use of the internet and his sterling work with genuine new ideas on Defence is offering credible plans. Bob Ainsworth's call for a new way of looking at drugs policy is laudable if only for his suggestion that we have an intelligent debate. And Ed Balls and Andy Burnham continue to offer stern opposition to their two Cabinet rivals across the dispatch box. Both are expertly exposing two of the most ideologically-driven Tories in the business.

But, on the whole, people don't vote based on their impression of Shadow Cabinet members. They look to the Leader. So now, yes now, nearly 3 months after taking up the post of Leader, Ed Miliband must start converting the “Don’t Knows”.


Friday, 10 December 2010


Keir wouldn't have been able to stay controlled...

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Habits Die Hard As Left Continues To Lose Winnable Arguments

Keir's noticed something since the Coalition took control of the State. We on the Left cannot help sticking to habits, some older than others, and losing arguments that are entirely winnable.

I give you two very different cases:

Exhibit A: The recent protests against the increase in tuition fees.

Exhibit B: David Lammy's recent piece about Oxbridge elitism.

Keir has discussed Exhibit A before. The national day of demonstration, branded "DEMOlition" by the NUS, was a day of great potential. Here we had over 50,000 people on the streets of London protesting against one issue. And the argument was sound: by increasing tuition fees to £9,000 a year, the Government was ending aspiration for countless young people from poorer backgrounds up and down the country. It was also an argument which most people would sympathise with. Indeed, most people in parliament itself sympathised with it until May. Yet this day of demonstration turned into disorganised chaos as out-of-control protesters proceeded to storm and vandalise Conservative Party headquarters. From my point of view, the argument was lost that afternoon at Milbank. Effort has been made since then and peaceful occupations of University campuses combined with things like actions on NUS President Aaron Porter within those occupations have restored some order and reasonableness to the protest. But it was too late.

The fact that the vote was passed in parliament by just 21 votes shows that this was entirely winnable. Abstainers and a few backbench LibDem MPs could have beaten the fee increase. I don't buy the standard, "oh those politicians never listen" response. The fact is the protest, the movement, the lobbying... none of it was organised or powerful enough. The NUS, as Keir has argued, missed the opportunity to organise a truly meaningful and effective demonstration. There were methods it could have used but the Union was not organised adequately. This incoherent, disorganised, factional left-wing response is an old habit. It has lost this argument.

Exhibit B showed the how another, slightly more modern, habit can also lose us arguments. David Lammy's article, put simply, argued that Oxford is elitist. Very few people would dispute that. However, because of a sneaky piece of spin, Lammy's argument was forgotten within hours. It turns out Lammy had used what Keir would consider misleading language. The sub-heading of the article reads:

"One college has not let in a black student for five years"

On the day of the article's publication, Lammy tweeted a few stats relating to "black" students and teachers. Fine. But then within the article, Lammy says:

"The picture on race is no better. Just one British black Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford last year. That is not a misprint: one student."

Keir, like many others among the Twittosphere, was livid. One! But we had all been fooled. It was probably our own fault that we didn't think to question that "British black Caribbean" criteria and Keir certainly felt a fool when, just a few hours later, a fellow blog exposed the real stats about black entrants to Oxbridge. And it turns out Lammy had also misled when he said the Universities had been "obstructive" when responding to his inquiries about these stats: Oxford University had published the information on its website.

Here we see a newer, but still ingrained, habit: spin. And Lammy's point was lost as soon as it became clear he had spun and misled with his language. For the rest of the day, the debate among bloggers and Twitteratti was about the stat spinning and misleading language, not Oxbridge elitism.

Two completely winnable arguments, both lost.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Is T.I.N.A. Working?

More polling from the lovely people at IPSOS. And you know how Keir loves giving his view on what it all means.

It shows that 39% of people see the economy as the most important issue facing Britain today. And 54% gave the economy as an answer when asked to state which issues other than their chosen "most important" issue were important.

We could read this as being obvious given the times we live in.

However, Keir found the percentages of the other issues intriguing. Just 2% said the NHS was the most important issue. Also, 2% said education and 2% said housing. These are staggeringly low. Even in the second question, education only got 15%, the NHS 18% and housing 8% when people were asked to state other important issues.

What this tells Keir is that the Conservative narrative is working; T.I.N.A. is fooling the nation.

The Tory changes are going to hit education hard. The cuts and the barmy "free schools" policy are going to begin the ideological dismantling of the school system. The NHS is looking down a similar barrel.

And the cuts to housing benefit alongside changes to social housing tenure rules will, as the Tory Mayor of London put it, cause "Kosovo-style social cleansing."

So why don't these issues poll higher on the IPSOS Issues Index?

Keir thinks it's because the Tory line is working due to there being, in Political terms, no alternative. Labour is inactive. Whenever the Tories are challenged on a cut they are making, they respond with;

a) T.I.N.A.
b) "Difficult decisions to cut the deficit"
c) Big Society bullshit
d) "We inherited the biggest deficit since Alexander marched into Egypt"

Okay so the last one isn't quite accurate. But you get the point. They are smoke-screening all of their savage policies and cuts with these lines that are scaring people into going with the narrative. That is what is leaving issues like the NHS, education and housing so low down on the list of priorities.

Until Labour finds its alternative, that smoke will only get thicker.


Friday, 26 November 2010

Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau Is Not Dear To Cheryl

Says it all

Keir watched from the gallery yesterday as Welsh MPs Huw Irranca-Davies and Chris Bryant became noticeably agitated by the statement made to the House by Transport Secretary Phil Hammond.

Further to Keir's last post about the issue of rail electrification, it seems the Government is indeed intent on leaving Wales with a 20th century rail infrastructure as the rest of the UK moves into the 21st. Despite gleefully confirming a wad of investment for England's rail lines, Hammond stalled on committing to electrification from London through to Swansea, all but affirming rumours that the improvements will stop before the border.

Hammond tried to fob the issue off onto the Welsh Assembly Government but, as the First Minister pointed out, this is not a devolved issue.

Now, Hammond is just doing his job. But one person who isn't is Cheryl Gillan. The Welsh Secretary, surely the first Minister who will lose their job in some way or another, has evidently been putting no pressure on her Government on this issue. Gillan is facing increased pressure to resign from her constituents who, as if to highlight the difference between Wales and the place where she resides and represents, are outraged at plans to run the new HS2 rail line through the affluent English constituency. According to Irranca-Davies, Mrs. Gillan has now said she will resign should the HS2 development go ahead; surely she should be making such principled stands on behalf of Wales as well? She isn't. Instead she is making non-committal remarks about how she remains "fully supportive of electrification" and that she "hoped to work with WAG" on the issue.

And the Government's suggestion that there needed to be a stronger business case for electrification to extend to Wales was shown to be nonsense by Rhondda MP Bryant. South Wales and the Valleys needs this development to increase its ability to grow. But it seems the Government is playing stick and stick with Wales; forcing thousands of redundancies from the public sector whilst killing plans like this that would have stimulated private sector growth.

Keir's got a suggestion for a carrot the Government could use though: sack this useless Welsh Secretary and appoint someone to the role who can effectively represent the interests of Wales in this Cabinet of millionaires.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Wales ConDemned. Again.

"Just get on the Megabus, Katherine"

Was meant to post this about a week ago; forgive Keir's tardiness.

Keir, along with other alert Welsh folk, anticipated the Conservative Government leaving Wales behind as the axe was wielded across the UK.

And last week we were given further evidence to support that.

Friend of the blog Huw Irranca-Davies MP took yet another concern of the Welsh people to Westminster, asking for clarification from the Government to quash rumours that the planned rail electrification between London and South Wales was going to be halted before it even reached the toll booths of Pont Hafren. The electrification of the rail line would provide jobs and a faster, greener, more reliable service at no extra cost to fare-payers. A Labour initiative from last year, it would keep Wales in line with the rest of the country in terms of infrastructure development. Yet now, as ever, the Conservatives seem to want to leave Wales behind.

And this would not merely be a short delay; according to one expert, if it doesn't happen now, it won't happen for a very long time. But then, he is using big theories like "economies of scale" that we can't expect our novice Chancellor to understand. In the same article, we are warned that failure to expand the electrification to Swansea as planned would be an economic "disaster" for South Wales.

Keir can't help but wonder whether it may help to have a Welsh voice on the Cabinet Committee for, hmmm I dunno, Economic Affairs?

Anyway, Keir would like to echo the words of the Ogmore MP:

"I would urge the Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, to stand up for Wales and ensure that we are not left behind."

Maybe we can also call on the Government patsies to help the cause? LibDem Norman Baker wanted to take electrification even further than South Wales when he spoke on the issue last year, declaring, "The Liberal Democrats want virtually the entire network electrified by 2040."

A LibDem promise. Fear the worst.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Competition Winner Announcement

Congratulations to Duncan Bruce who Keir has selected as the winner of the competition.

Duncan's suggestion for the best Prime Minister or American President that we never had was Robert F. Kennedy. A fine choice indeed. And excellent reasoning given too.

Kennedy's platform for government would have truly revolutionised America at the time.

Despite a number of excellent entries, Keir thought RFK was the stand-out suggestion.

Well done Duncan!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

This Royal business

Keir is not a particular fan of the Royal Family, and will not be commenting on the issue, other than this post. If you ever needed any reminding how out of touch the Daily Mail is, and how completely out of time much of the upper classes are:
However, Kate has not escaped speculation as to her traditional suitability as an untouched royal bride.
The Spectator magazine once commented that she 'may still have her V-plates intact'.
From today's Daily Mail

Monday, 15 November 2010

Lib Dem Liars and the Lies they tell

A month before Clegg pledged in April to scrap the "dead weight of debt", a secret team of key Lib Dems made clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, the party would not waste political capital defending its manifesto pledge to abolish university tuition fees within six years. In a document marked "confidential" and dated 16 March, the head of the secret pre-election coalition negotiating team, Danny Alexander, wrote: "On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part-time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches."
From Saturday's Guardian.

This from a Jenny Willot leaflet delivered in the final few days of the election campaign from here
It's a simple equation. Jenny Willott won because of students. Students voted for her because her party said if elected they would get rid of tuition fees. Information now shows that was not the case.Cardiff North Liberal Democrat Assembly candidate Matt Smith (The Cardiff North perv) is already spinning away on Twitter, saying that abolition of fees wasn't one of their 'four key pledges' and that to implement policy you need a majority government. To Keir, it is simple. They campaigned on lies. They knew, even in their wildest dreams that they would not form a majority government and would be left to be junior partner in a coalition.
This is yet another reason that Keir will be saying #no2AV, as not only do the Lib Dems like to see themselves as "moderators" of the other parties, they also see themselves central in the practically permanent coalition that AV would result in; and Keir could do without their rancid smell. Alongside this, the Fib Dems jetissoning of their tuition fees policy is an example of what happens in coalitions. People vote for party A because of policy x, only for Party A to need Party B to get into government. Party B don't much like policy x, so don't support it. When policy x is as influential in garnering votes in certain places as the abolition of tuition fees has been; there is a problem.
Keir would rather be anyone than a Lib Dem activist out in student areas over the next few weeks.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Speaking in a Personal capacity

Remember this?
At prime minister's questions, Mr Clegg said Labour's Jack Straw would have to account for his role in the "disastrous" decision to invade.
Mr Clegg later stressed his opinion was a "long-held" personal one.
As he is wont to do when under pressure, while questioned on the Lib Dems involvement in the Coalition government the Cleggeron returned to his holier than thou default and said "Wah Wah Wah Wah Wah Iraq Wah Wah Wah Wah illegal." This was later clarified as being his "long held" personal opinion. At the time Keir thought that a bit odd, as when you speak at the Dispatch Box you speak for the government you represent, but still...

And it's happened again. Guess who this time?

Vince Cable has described his own department's plans to scrap regional development agencies in England as "a little Maoist and chaotic".
A spokeswoman said the business secretary was speaking in a private capacity when he made the comments.
Now Keir knows the Liberal Democrats have never been in government before, but come ON! You would have thought they'd have got used to it by now. Really begs the question, do we have to take every pronouncement by a Lib Dem Minister with a pinch of salt? Maybe they should hold their hand up while speaking for the government, just so we don't get confused.

Oh and while we're at it, how can a government minister think his own plans are "...Maoist and chaotic"? Sort them out then Vinny!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Irony of Ironies

From the Gruniad.
Pickles, who has declared war on waste in the public sector, also spent £256.64 of taxpayers money hanging a new print of a photo of the Queen in his office reception.

The Lib Dems and their barcharts

In the week after Phil Woolas was exposed as a liar, and his appointment as Shadow Minister probably Ed Miliband's biggest misjudgement since becoming leader, Keir thought he would cast some light on one of the Lib Dems best known and loved campaigning practices. In the shadow of what has happened in the past week, Keir feels he must state that of course this practice is all above board and not at all designed to be misleading...

Drawn to Jenny Willott's (Useless, Cardiff Central) website after having to apologise in the house after supporting changes to housing benefit she had previously criticised (note Keir flagging up the sloppy editing of her website)  Keir spotted a very odd looking barchart on the side of the page. It just didn't look right, and maths wasn't one of Keir's strongpoints:

So, geniuses, in the General Election if the Tories had doubled their vote to 42% they would have won, but according to Jenny, 42% would have STILL put them behind Labour, while +10% for Labour would have probably put them into the lead! Well well well, those nasty lying Lib Dems.

Keir clicked on the bar chart and was taken to this page, where the numbers and the proportions look more accurate. To help, Keir tidied them up for you and put them in a graph:

But, unsure even of trusting the Lib Dems this much, Keir made his own: (1 is Lib, 2 Lab, 3 Con: his Excel skills don't stretch that far!)

So, this is a question of proportion. Why, one wonders, have the Liberals been so loose with the truth. I am sure this could be repeated in umpteen different constituencies throughout the country. Of course, in Cardiff Central the reason is that many Liberal voters are anti-Labour voters rather than dyed-in-the-wool yellowbellys, and if those voters in their nice houses in Cyncoed realise that a Tory win is plausible, they may go back home, leaving the Labour vote to stand up and nick it. Also, they motivate not only these anti-Labour voters but also their base by overemphasising how near the Labour vote is.

So, what's the rationale behind this post? Well, its quite simple. The Liberal Democrats not only lie on a large scale: about things like tuition fees, they are amongst the most insidious campaigners on the ground and this is one of the main reasons why they are detested by so many of all political persuasions.

Keir has a question for Jenny Willott's staff:

"In the interest of openness, especially after the ruling in Oldham last week, can you tell me exactly why you produce such a misleading bar chart on your website?"

Can't imagine there will be a reply mind...

A Day At The Demo: Students Will Need A Resit

I presume he had a hammer because he was planning on doing some manual work in London yesterday afternoon?

Keir watched events in London yesterday closely. From Trafalgar Square right down to Millbank Tower, with a few stop-offs and diversions in between, he cast his beady eye over the protest which started with so much potential and ended in utter disorganised chaos.

The nation seems to have graded the protest as a fail. Keir agrees.

The NUS has tried to distance itself from the unlawful acts of some of the protesters. Indeed, the speeches by UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt and NUS President Aaron Porter were very good and had a clear, non-violent, non-partisan message. These were, however, rare instances when the message was clear.

Keir was at Trafalgar Square at 11:30am and the crowd that had amassed the length of Whitehall by 12:30pm was impressive. A feeling of the seemingly boundless potential of this demo suddenly descended over this observer. That feeling was very quickly extinguished. The futility of tens of thousands of people, when poorly organised, became very apparent.

The message of this demo was to fight increases in tuition fees. It was only 1pm when I began hearing "Nick's a prick" chants as well as some particularly vulgar chants about Tories. Now, I despise both Clegg and the Conservatives, but on a march intended to halt tuition fee increases this sort of nasty partisan chanting is totally ineffectual; even counter-productive. Party politics was not the issue here. Students should have been trying to make the people in power hear them and listen to their argument. Calling them a "prick" probably isn't going to do that.

"Surely these people have been briefed?" Keir wondered. Turns out they hadn't. Sources close to Keir confirmed that the NUS had given no sort of briefing to University Union branches as to what the focus of this protest should have been. The NUS should have clearly briefed all Students' Union heads from every participating University that this march was about tuition fee increases and nothing else. Each of these people should have then gone back to their campuses and relayed this message to all of their attendees. With energy focused on one explicit issue the message would have been much clearer to the onlooking nation and would have also presented the students in an organised, powerful light. As it happened, "Fuck Off Tories" chants and placards suggesting Nick Clegg and David Cameron have engaged in penetrative homosexual activities with each other made even me, a student, think, "bloody students".

Keir then took a short-cut around the back end of Parliament Square, behind Westminster Abbey and around onto Millbank; thus getting ahead of the bulk of the crowd. Whilst on this route, it became apparent that Keir's lovely winter coat that his Nan had bought him last year was yet to be adorned by a Remembrance Day poppy. A quiet, reflective walk through the poppy vigil in the front garden of Westminster Abbey was a nice retreat from the loud protest and the £2 donation to the British Legion was worth not only the poppy, but also the lovely conversation with the fellow Welshman who was manning the poppy stand at the time. Then, whilst on my way out of the Abbey, some students decided to walk through the poppy vigil, waving their placards and singing their songs. After being given a negative impression of the protest so far already, this did nothing to help. I've lived on campus, but it's not that far removed from reality that you begin to lose all perception of what is acceptable behaviour in the eyes of anyone with an ounce of sanity and sensitivity. About 15 solemn mourners had their moments of remembrance disturbed by a few half-cut students. Utter disgrace. Although one person thinks there's a perfectly good reason why those protesters were doing nothing wrong. This particular person appears to be a former Officer at a Students' Union. I should add that these students marching through the vigil were clad in NUS gear, with UCU placards.

So how distant was the NUS from some of the more distasteful scenes?

Anyway, back to the events of the day. Keir arrived at Conservative Party HQ just after a small crowd had gathered. The very united chant of "no ifs, no buts, no education cuts" started to restore my faith that this protest could achieve something. That was until a colleague pointed out that David Cameron was in China. "Who's the target at CPHQ then?"

Said colleague just shrugged his shoulders. Indeed.

As we turned the corner into the courtyard of the targetless building that the protesters had gathered at, it then became clear that something else odd was happening. Fire.

Fine. "Could be fun. What are they burning? Effigies? Some sort of metaphor for the broken dreams of ordinary kids?"

Nope. They were burning their own placards. I became confused. Did this mean they were burning their message? One placard said "Not in my name". It was now burning. Did that mean the previous owner of that placard now wanted it all to be in his name? "Stop Education Cuts" placards were also being burned. Had the protesters performed a dramatic u-turn and decided their message was worthy only of being thrown into a fire; reduced to ash?

Nope. They just wanted to see some fire.

The window smashing, fire-extinguisher throwing, building-storming and roof-mounting that followed just rounded things off really. The message and the purpose had begun to descend into fragmented chaos from 1pm when the chants turned nasty and personal. Still, some people have even said that all of this was justified. A mystery person called Emmeline took part in a BBC 5Live debate to say that she felt this was the only thing that could force the government to make a change.

One protester, on a video at the Telegraph website earlier in the day, said of the destructive acts, "It's probably not the best way but it's the only way." So students have exhausted every route to a peaceful resolution in the month since the Browne Report have they? The irony is indescribable: I wonder how many of those people think we should have given Saddam more chances for peaceful resolution before we invaded Iraq?

The videos, apart from showing how many identityless morons we have in this country who just think that acting like Cook from Skins will give them meaning in life, are a damning indictment of the epic failure that was this protest. They also have UCU and NUS placards and banners all over them. I think it's time to accept that this was badly organised.

Every Labour MP asked to comment on what could have been a powerful protest will now have to begin their answer by condemning the violence. That immediately softens the blow of the anti-fees message.

Keir is 100% in support of the fight to stop this ugly coalition ending aspiration for poorer families with these fee increases. But there was so much wrong with yesterday's protest.

Even more than the things mentioned above.

Why attack Tories? Lib Dems should surely have been the targets.

Why attack a building? Does a building have a vote in parliament?

And if you really, really have to attack a building, surely go for the building where the power to make the change you want is represented?

I could go on for a lot longer. But I shall save you; dear, patient reader.

Needless to say, if it turns out to have been successful and the Coalition ends the fee increase because of this protest, Keir will happily eat his words.


UPDATE: Fresh from Guido, it seems that elected NUS Officials are condoning and associating themselves with the actions of those who occupied Millbank. Keir will ask again: how distant was the NUS from some of the more distasteful scenes?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Monthly Competition!

Keir Hardie presents his first monthly competition; the winner of which will receive signed copies of the first two volumes of ex-MP and Foreign Office Minister Chris Mullin's diaries.
These critically acclaimed books are much sought after, Keir assures you. Of the first volume, David Dimbleby said they were, "The most enjoyable and stimulating of all the political diaries I have read." And Prime Minister David Cameron commented on the second volume, saying, "Every once in a while, political diaries emerge that are so irreverent and insightful that they are destined to be handed out as leaving presents in offices across Whitehall for years to come...this is one such book"

So how do you win this competition, we hear you cry? Well, its really very simple. Tell us one thing:

Who is the best Prime Minister (or, if you like, American President) we never had? We're not going to judge this on politics, we're going to judge this on how good the reasons you give in support of your chosen candidate are.

The closing date is midnight on November 18th, so get writing. Entries to! Good luck!

Prisoners Voting

Keir finds it odd the people he is agreeing with today...

Once you commit a crime, and take away someone else's human rights, why on Earth do you deserve to vote?

If Cameron was principled (as he claims he is with the deficit: doing it for the right reasons) then he would be principled here and let the prisoners sue, let the public finances take a hit, because letting, frankly, shitheads like John Hirst having the vote is absolutely disgusting. Wont be surprised however if the coalition somehow manage to blame Labour for a decision that is theirs to take.

Fib Demmery and Student Fees...

The phrase LOL was invented for pictures like this...

Keir got a response to his email to the lovely Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central, her of the new baby possibly conceived on the expensive bed that the taxpayer paid for. (It was so expensive, she claimed, to much derision at pre-election hustings, so it could be disassembled and got up the stairs of her terraced house. Anyone fancy getting onto Ikea and finding one cheaper for her?)

Keir was surprised actually, as until a frenetic few days of activity in the last week or so of October, she hadn't updated her website on any issues affecting her constituents; especially issues, such as the publication of the Browne Report affecting the ones that put her in place in 2005 and kept her their in 2010: students. (Something she still is yet to do)
2nd November 2010
Dear Mr. Hardie,
Thank you for your email about the Browne Review into tuition fees.
I absolutely understand your concern, I’ve campaigned against tuition fees throughout my time as an MP and long before I entered Parliament.  I believe that university education should be available to everyone, regardless of their financial circumstances and I was therefore very happy to sign the NUS pledge in the election.
Towards the end of the last Parliament, Labour’s Secretary of State for Business, Lord Mandelson, commissioned Lord Browne to look into increasing fees.  It is clear that Labour, who introduced Top-Up Fees in 2004 despite their manifesto promise not to, were seriously considering raising or even abolishing the cap on fees.
As you know, Lord Browne has now published his report and recommended abolishing the cap all together to allow universities to create a ‘market for education’.  His review assumes that those who go to the best universities will earn more when they graduate and therefore these universities should be able to charge higher fees.
I do not support this approach.  For a start many highly educated and intelligent people choose to become teachers, nurses or other public sector workers, or work in the charitable sector and will not make more money from going to a top university.  I want to encourage the best people to study at the best universities and take up these types of jobs, not force them to choose between being able to pay off their debts or accepting a job which is of great benefit to society.
As a result I disagree with much of the Browne Review and, if it were to be implemented in full would absolutely vote against it.  However, the Browne Review is an independent report and the Government has not yet announced what it plans to do.  I, along with my Lib Dem colleagues, am currently lobbying Ministers to try to ensure that the final proposals do not burden students with further debt or prevent people from less affluent backgrounds from attending university.
I will not support an increase in tuition fees, but would like to see what the Government proposes first before deciding exactly what I will do.
I hope that this helps to explain my position.  Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help further on this or any other issue.
Yours sincerely,
Jenny Willott MP, Cardiff Central
Keir has emboldened and underlined the most salient issues in her response. She starts off with a nice bit of blame Labour. Yes there is evidence that Labour wanted a review of HE funding. They launched the report process. This is where her attempts at equivalence fall down, because so what if Labour were considering it? (Whether they were or were not is immaterial really) Does that make it OK for the Coalition to do it?  Anyway, she is part of a government that IS raising the cap on tuition fees, not considering it.

She goes on to build a nice little get out clause, of course she would vote against the Browne report if implemented in full (which it almost certainly won't be). Leaves her a nice little grey area, and she ends on a cop out too, she 'will not support tuition fee increase, but...'. That isn't a flat out refusal to support it, that is deft footwork that Gareth Bale would be proud of.

If she does vote in support of raising tuition fees, then not only will the outgoing Lib Dem Jenny Randerson be replaced by the excellent Labour campaigner Jenny Rathbone in the Senedd elections next May, but come the first Thursday in May 2014/15 then Jenny Willott will be looking for another (well, her first *real*) job.

And in closing, this from a seasoned campaigner in Cardiff Central, where a mixture of faux outrage about student fees, Iraq, and their silly little focus campaigns helped them win in 2005 and just about hold on last time:
In[sic] student fees I love this quote from a Lib Dem in the local newspaper in 2004: "Cardiff's residents should see the recent rebellion by Labour MP Jon Owen Jones for what it is - a cynical attempt to win votes at the next general election" - forgive me for interpreting Jenny Willott's declared intention to vote against fees in exactly the same way. 

Friday, 29 October 2010

Cuts, Cabinet Committees and Carwyn

Okay, so 'Stiflegate' didn't really stick as a label for the issue. But whatever. In case you forgot, this was the name Keir gave to the situation facing Wales given that the new "Welsh" Secretary was only allowed a seat on one Cabinet Committee.

It was Huw Irranca-Davies MP who raised the issue in the Chamber with Mrs. Gillan after Keir sent his open letter to her. The response was typically guarded, defensive and unhelpful; typically Tory.

He didn't let it rest however, raising the issue again at the Welsh Grand Committee.

And the pressure is still on Mrs. Gillan from all over the constitutional framework. First Minister Carwyn Jones is now in on the act. Wales is suffering the consequences of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review because of a lack of "...clout around the Cabinet table," he said. Well, even more simply, it's because of a lack of presence around the Cabinet table.

She doesn't seem to be doing anything about this collective pressure though. Instead, Gillan, seemingly triumphant, declared this week that Wales would only be suffering from a 7.5% budget cut; 2% less than the UK average. Excellent. So Wales is the Koi-Takasu in this Hiroshima of spending cuts.

Every cloud, ay. (Pun intended)


Thursday, 28 October 2010

Labour Must Begin The Fightback In Wales

As we watch painfully whilst our MPs in Westminster sit on the wrong side of the chamber it is easy to think that our party is unable to act. As Osborne, Cameron and the patsies swing their axe through the public finances, our MPs watch in helpless disgust and it is hard to imagine how we can begin our fightback when we look at this scene.

But there is hope. Take a short trip from Westminster, through the West Country and toward the longest river in the country. It will cost you at least £5.50, but as the Severn Bridge becomes Pont Hafren you enter a land where Labour can be reinvigorated again. Travel from the dry, cold ash of Westminster into Wales and you will discover the warm, glowing embers of our party. Far from dead, in Wales we must begin to launch our fightback.

Carwyn Jones, the recently(ish) elected First Minister, is more than prepared to take up the fight to the Conservative government in Westminster. A new, fresh face after the incredible service of Rhodri Morgan, Jones is clearly not fearful of taking Westminster on as his recent reaction to the proposal to close the passport office in Newport shows.

And just this week Welsh Labour chose its new General Secretary. In David Hagendyk, the party in Wales has appointed a young, progressive General Secretary who cares deeply about Wales, her communities and the party's role within them.

And despite the party's dire failure to elect any Welsh MPs to the Shadow Cabinet in Westminster, the Labour benches are littered with Welsh MPs ready and able to take on the Conservative government for every penny they intend to divert from Wales.

Peter Hain will doubtless continue to be a strong voice at the front bench against the English Welsh Secretary.

Huw Irranca-Davies wasted absolutely no time getting stuck into the terrible decision to appoint an English MP as Welsh Secretary. And not only that, but a succinct attack on the lack of air time the said "Welsh" Secretary will get in the Cabinet Committee meetings of this government. He also holds quite an important position considering the potential areas of economic development in Wales. As a Shadow Energy and Climate Minister, it will be part of his job to ensure the government delivers new green industries into Wales. It's not like the Tories will necessarily know where exactly he means though; so Huw may need to provide the likes of Jeremy Hunt with directions. Irranca-Davies is also of a rare breed: a politician with a decent website.

Then there are committed community MPs such as new boy Nick Smith in Blaenau Gwent. Keir was in the area not so long ago to watch David Miliband give the annual speech in his name. Upon speaking to some of the locals, it was clear that Mr. Smith is highly respected in the area and his involvement in the community shows Labour is far from powerless on those streets where Bevan once walked. His participation in the successful "Turn On The Lights" campaign is one example of such action.

Newport East MP Jessica Morden is another seemingly intent on making sure the new government do not leave Wales in the wilderness.

The list goes on: from seasoned veterans like Alun Michael to the newly elected Susan Jones. We've even got the youngest councillor in Wales, with 19-year-old Luke Bouchard recently elected in Treherbert following a 10% swing from Plaid.

And, in true Welsh tradition, a poet! Chris Bryant's poem however, has a very serious point that should not be missed.

Far from navel-gazing, the party in Wales is looking outward and trying to find ways to bring our communities together and engage more people than just the same, committed members who turn out for us in whatever the volatile Welsh elements throw in front of them. Keir has wind of an event in Cardiff as soon as this weekend where members will be discussing how they engage with the people in our communities.

As Keir has commented countless times before, Wales is directly in the firing line of this government. We all know what they are doing is wrong, but we must be clear about one thing. As Mr. Miliband noted in the aforementioned speech, this government is "weak in principle, but sure of purpose."

"Weak in principle, but sure of purpose"

Combined with this, and another thing Keir has pointed out before, is the fact that the public, for now, are going along with these cuts. Some initial signs are good. Polling for next year's Assembly elections shows Labour up 10 percentage points from 2007 and hitting 40%, with Plaid next on 23%. UK polling is also showing Labour creeping up on the Conservatives and even taking the lead with some pollsters.

But we need more. To fight back, Labour cannot look inward, it must use what power it has and it must get back into the communities throughout this country to reignite the flames from the embers left over after May's election and build more of that power.

And that must start in Wales.


Monday, 25 October 2010

Ed's Getting Comfortable

One of the big catchphrases of the leadership campaign was "comfort zone".

David Miliband and his supporters made the veiled suggestion that brother Ed was retreating to the "comfort zone" that Labour always turned to when it lost an election. This was, generally, a "comfort zone" that pandered to the Left and the Unions. Whereas ultimate victor Ed said Labour had to avoid retreating to the New Labour "comfort zone"; something which was perceived as an attack on older brother David due to his big part in the New Labour project and his open pride at the achievements of the past 13 years.

Confused? You're forgiven.

Anyway, all this seems to have changed.

During the leadership campaign, new leader Ed said he would go on marches against the cuts whilst brother David said that whilst he supports marches, he wouldn't guarantee his presence at them. Ed's had a change of heart now. This is a good move. Any potential Prime Minister should not be lending such outward support to this sort of action; like it or not, it just doesn't fit the political climate we live in.

Ed also said New Labour was dead. However today he has told the CBI that he thinks New Labour got it right on wealth creation and business. "...we intend to carry forward all of these New Labour insights".

Keir, for one, is glad that Mr. Miliband has realised the strengths that the party had during the time when we won 3 straight General Elections. We needed to elect a strong leader, and part of good leadership, surely, is being able to change your mind, realise what is best and not be too proud and too stubborn to run with it.

His Shadow Cabinet is a broad church encompassing the New Labour breed as well as the much vaunted "new generation" and it seems as though he is listening and developing the philosophy which our party needs to take forward to win the next election.


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Ed's Week Defined

Granted, a week hasn't passed since Keir said this was Ed's Defining Week, but I can't help but worry that we, as a party, have failed.

Dan Hodges at Labour Uncut has started to sum it up.

And then YouGov, in their first poll after the Comprehensive Spending Review, showed that the Tories still had more approval than Labour and that, if you look issue-by-issue, there are very few areas where more people support than oppose Osborne is doing.

I have heard some people say this is just because people aren't feeling it yet (very unprofessionally, I can't reference where I've read this as I simply can't remember where it was), but this is totally besides the point. We can't just complacently wait until bad stuff happens and hope to capitalise on public anger.

I share Dan Hodges' gloom and anger at the lack of Labour response. Alan Johnson's jokes and put-downs were good, but people don't vote for put-downs. The Tories tried put-downs on us for 13 years but ultimately people knew we were the best party for government. The reason we held them in Opposition for 13 years was because we had plans and they didn't.

From Alan Johnson's response, I didn't get the sense we had any idea what our alternative was.

"Expose. Oppose. Propose." Johnson did the first two, but the third is the most important of all if we want to be returned to government. And frankly, I'm not sure the first two were done as well as they could have been anyway. Where was the exposing of the unfair impact that the cuts will have on women? The exposing of the ludicrous 12-month limit on contribution-based benefits for those out of work due to sickness? The exposing of the horrible insecurity that will result from the limit on social housing tenancies?

Every one of the leadership candidates agreed we need to learn from our mistakes of the last 13 years. But more importantly, we should be learning from the mistakes of the party that languished in on the wrong side of the Chamber for 13 years. They are what we don't want to emulate.

I don't think we've quite blown it, but we very nearly have.

We have time and we have talent at the top; there's no doubt about that.

We also have one other powerful tool: us. Tens of thousands of us. Over 40,000 more of us since May.

We can take on the cuts in our own communities even when it seems, on a national level, like the Tories have gained the upper hand. It's being done already. In Norwich, where the Tories were planning cuts to street lighting in an area already affected by poor security, people organised themselves and have delayed the cut for 6 months at least and a public consultation has been opened. Don't expect that cut to ever happen.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Ed's Defining Week

IPSOS released their political summary today. Frankly, it does not make for good reading.

The top-line of voter intention isn't terrible for Labour. Though 36% isn't amazing, we are only 3% behind the Conservatives.

However there is a lot to worry about. As Peter Kellner said recently, YouGov polling has shown that Ed Miliband's election to the leadership has produced little, if any, bounce in popularity for Labour. This is the worst bounce created by a new leader since 1955.

In addition to this, the IPSOS poll shows that Ed himself has 41% approval for the way he is doing his job compared to 45% approval for Nick Clegg. This is quite a stunning statistic. Clegg has been widely discredited for backtracking on LibDem promises on tuition fees as well as a whole host of other policies. Granted, Clegg has a +5% net satisfaction rate compared to Ed's +19%. But it is still worrying. David Cameron, on the other hand, is riding into the sunset with a +15% rate of net satisfaction and 52% approval for how he is doing his job.

More worrying statistics come later in the survey as people were asked about party competence over the economy. From March until October this year, Labour's rating has decreased 1%. Just 25% now see Labour as having the best policies on the economy. What makes this even more alarming is that 38% see the Conservatives as having the best policies on the economy now whereas only 29% said the same thing in March. As an article on ProgressOnline helped to point out earlier this month, economic competency is going to be absolutely critical for Labour over the next few years.

For this reason, tomorrow and the week ahead will make up Ed Miliband's defining week. If Labour does not provide a credible response and alternative to the Comprehensive Spending Review this week, the 25% of people thinking we have the best economic policies will plummet further. As the aforementioned ProgressOnline piece states, people believe the cuts will help us in the long-term. So what will our response be?

Without an alternative, we can forget about Government for a very long time.


Sunday, 17 October 2010

Trident: Is It Time?

In a move that will spark internal warfare here at Keir Hardie Blogs, I think I am becoming open to changing my opinion on Trident. While I have always agreed that we need a nuclear deterrent, and therefore need Trident, I am beginning to change my mind.

This is not some knee-jerk response to being in Opposition, but a reaction in many ways to the axe-wielding government. The more and more I hear of people's lives being affected by things like street lighting cuts, police cuts, Child Benefit cuts and University fee hikes, the more I think we need an alternative to Trident.

Because can we really justify the £34bn that Greenpeace say renewal will cost when people are going to be left homeless by the changes to Housing Benefit that the government is proposing? Some even say it will be more than that. Vince Cable said Trident would cost £70bn from..... Wait a minute; why should we care what he said? Naughty liar.

Anyway, the arguments for are still strong. I do agree that we need a proper defence system that will protect us from the nutjobs that the world throws up from time to time. But then, as a friend pointed out to me recently, where have the threats to the Western world come from over the last decade or more? 9/11, the IRA and it's successors, 7/7, Glasgow, the failed bombings of 21st July 2005, the car bombs found in June 2007; none of these security threats, the real threat to the UK in the modern world, were deterred or defeated by Trident. These are the real dangers we face today much more than any international threats from nations or "rogue states".

I do accept that these threats come along unexpectedly, but surely a cheaper alternative would be much more sensible given the economic, political and military circumstances all over the world? Especially as, with Presidents Obama and Medvedev's leadership, we are trying to move towards a nuclear free world. And the alternatives sound, well, okay. Cruise missiles, with a range of 1,000 miles, are one cheaper alternative. Sure, they wouldn't reach, say, Iran. But is Iran really going to attack Britain? Are we that important? And if we do face the threat of attack, do we really need a stockpile consisting of weapons that are "eight times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb"?

And then there's the possibility of a land-based defence system. I appreciate these can be more vulnerable to attack than Trident subs, but we can sort out the correct security for them at a cheaper cost than we pay to house the missiles underwater.

So whilst I'm still not totally converted, I am definitely beginning to wonder. Is Trident really a T.I.N.A. issue? Or can we find a cheaper, workable and effective alternative that could soften the burden of cuts in other areas?

Open to any thoughts. I think I know who will be first...


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ohhhh Dad!

David Cameron spoke up for embarrassing Dads everywhere today; making even Keir cringe when he said that Calif. Gov. Ahhhnuld Schwarzenegger was going to help him "terminate" the budget deficit...

Ironic really when you consider the fiscal situation California currently finds itself in, and Arnold's inability to solve it...

It's Over

Pitman and President.

Foreman Don Lucho arrives on the surface of the Earth to complete this most incredible of human triumphs; just 22 hours since the first miner surfaced.

"Los 33" are a representation of just how far the working man has come since Cilfynydd and Whitehaven. Let them also be a stimulus for further efforts the world over for greater protection and appreciation of the worker.

This will be a fad for the media. And that is fine. But Keir hopes you will all never forget this epic ordeal and achievement for the human spirit and endeavour.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A Moment of Joy

Workers of the world, unite in joy.

Our brothers have died in the pits for many a year, but today we have reason to celebrate.

Since the days of Whitehaven we have fought, but today we see the fruits of that fight.

A truly life-affirming moment as the first of "Los 33" is free.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Mining: Toil Without Tribute

On 14th May 1910, Marlborough House received the following telegram:

Deeply regret most respectfully to inform his Majesty that the rescuers at Wellington Pit have been driven out by smoke from the fire, and there is no possible chance of saving 136 men who are entombed, and almost certainly dead from suffocation.

And so, into history went the Whitehaven Colliery Disaster.

136 lives ended in employment. The Times of the day reported that one family, named McAlister, had been "practically wiped out" as the father, 3 sons, 3 nephews and a son-in-law were all left to rest in the cavity of one of man's great vices.

The coming weeks and months saw the expeditionary team find the bodies of some of the deceased. In maybe the most moving piece of historical documentation this writer, a writer with a History degree, has ever seen, The Times on 30th September 1910 reported that 25 of the bodies had been found. Forgive me for the extensive extracts, but I feel they should be used verbatim:

The bodies were uninjured, and were in a much better condition than were the two bodies found two days ago...The bodies were lying in attitudes which indicated that the men had died peacefully. Each man had his lamp between his knees, his water bottle full, and his food lying beside him.

The only messages observed were chalked on a door, and were :— "All well, 6,30. — A. McAllister." "All right, 7.30. — William Robinson." The date was not added. Mr. Atkinson, H.M. Inspector of Mines, is of opinion that it may be inferred that the messages were written in the early morning of May 12, the day after the explosion took place. Behind another door was chalked "William OprayJohn Lucas can get no further."

And, perhaps most moving of all:

They had left about 100 tubs filled with coal, representing about three hours' work, a circumstance which gives rise to the assumption that they had worked after the explosion took place at 8 o'clock until about 10 o'clock. They had only two sets of tubs standing empty.

Toil without tribute.

Lest we ever forget these men; men whose tragedy gave birth to our party. It was Keir who represented these men and their communities in the House of Commons at the time. Indeed, Keir ended up in a row with a young Liberal Home Secretary named Winston Churchill over the decision to stop the rescue mission whilst the men were still alive.

This was not to be the last mining accident to which Keir gave publicity and prominence at Westminster.
And these incidents still happen.

On 26th April 1942, there was the immense explosion in the Benxihu Colliery in China. That day, 1,549 men died. It is considered the worst mining accident in human history.

And last year, again in China, just over 100 men died at Heilongjiang in the Xinxing coal mine.

So over the next couple of days, as the men of the San Jose mine ascend to freedom, remember A. McAllister and William Robinson. Remember William Opray John Lucas. Remember what was left of the McAlister family, and the unnamed dead of Benxihu.

The rescue operation in Chile needs to be commended. Far from the days of Whitehaven, the scale of engineering, dedication and solidarity of the rescue team has been a reminder of how far we have come. However, this doesn't detract from the fact that we are still sending men into the depths of the earth, putting their lives and their families' futures at risk, to satisfy our insatiable lust for the minerals that mother earth has to provide. May this truly global story serve as an advert for the need for safer mines and an awakening so we realise that we must think harder, even harder, about how we power our world in the future.


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Labour Stupidity

Keir loves our party, but by Bevan is it stupid sometimes.

Fresh from the ridiculous scenario of a 9% union turnout swinging the leadership election, we have The Labour Party Shadow Cabinet Election.

Bloooody hell.

Keir is fully behind Ed Miliband despite voting for David. And it is for that reason that Keir fully expects Ed to be able to assemble a team of the correct, most able people to sit with him on the front bench. We spent 4 months enduring the slog of the leadership contest to pick the person we thought best equipped to lead our party and then don't even let them pick their Shadow Cabinet!

What we were left with was the embarrassing scenario of not having elected a Welsh MP to shadow the Welsh Secretary who we lambasted for being from an English constituency.

And then there's another layer of idiocy. Yvette Cooper was the clear winner of the election and wasn't even given one of the top two jobs!

Give me strength!!

We may as well have just used this method...

Sort this shambles out.


Saturday, 9 October 2010

Gillan Perks Up

It is at least slightly promising to hear Cheryl Gillan attempting to defend Wales' interests.

The closure of the passport office in Newport would mean hundreds of people going into unemployment as well as the inconvenience and unfairness caused by Wales not having an office.

Let's hope newly re-appointed Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain also puts his bit in. Keir can't help but think Huw Irranca-Davies would have been a much better candidate to oppose Mrs. Gillan over the dispatch box but such is life.

It was somewhat shocking that not one Welsh MP got voted into the Shadow Cabinet. Frankly, the system is bonkers. We all just spent 4 months deciding who we want to lead our party; I'm sure part of the new leader's job should be to appoint the best team he can. Seems as though the party is just using elections to make us seem more democratic. If it's ineffectual, then what's the point? I feel the same about House of Lords reform.

Anyway, Gillan has a huge amount of responsibility to stop these sorts of closures. 300 more unemployed in an area with 9.7% unemployment will not be great to say the least. This will continue. The Tories don't care about Wales, as we can tell from how they treated Welsh voices at party conference. Gillan needs to ensure that lack of care does not manifest itself to the tune of job cuts throughout the country.


Monday, 4 October 2010

Tough but Fair Child Benefit Cut?

(Of which Minstrel Dale thinks "idiotic" and "trusts" it will be sorted out)* Can't imagine his response if Brown/Darling in government, or Mili/AN Other in opposition had trotted out a policy of which it was so clear it was unfair (and of which Ministers backtracked and backtracked all evening). Oh, wait, yes I can.

Gideon Osborne made a speech today, from in front of a extremely hard on the eye green white collage that said something about being together in the national interest. Odd that he chose a setting such as that to say what he did today:
Child benefit is to be axed for higher-rate taxpayers from 2013, Chancellor George Osborne has announced.He told the Conservative conference the "tough but fair" move - affecting couples where one parent earns about £44,000 - would save £1bn a year.
Family One: Mr & Mrs Smith.

Mr Smith is an Auditor and earns £40,000
Mrs Smith is a teacher and earns £40,000

Household income of £80,000 pa.

The Smiths get child benefit.

Family Two: Ms Jones

Ms Jones is a Manager in an Office and earns £44,000

Household income of £44,000 pa.

Ms Jones does not get child benefit.

So, Gidders, "Tough but Fair?"

Keir understands that Osborne is trying to save money, Keir understands that Conservative policy is to deride government as useless and the bureaucratic, leviathan mastabatory fantasy of Daily Mail readers, and Keir understands that we live in a difficult economic climate.

What Keir doesn't understand is why Gideon is making a direct attack on the middle, aspiring classes he claims to represent as well as single parent families and single worker households. Means testing? Fine; an arbitrary limit like this that is patently unfair? All because, as he says, this is the most "straightforward" option. Oh Puhlease.

*Keir is glad that Iain Dale is describing his parties flagship welfare policy in such terms, because, it is. Lets see if he sticks to his word, or just like Cameron and Cleggeron, conveniently forgets his desire to protect child benefits. Its funny, too, because the super mega connected Iain Dale, scourge of Norfolk North, said a year ago after a Fabians meeting that
Ed Balls tried to create some more of his artificial dividing lines by asserting that the Tories would abolish universal child benefit. I responded that this was utter tripe.
HT to Sunder Katwala in the comments section of Daley's post on the policy.

**Oh and it was also a surprise to see Dizzy Think's reaction to this.