Ed Miliband’s Conference Speech

politics 23 September 2014 Tell me what you think


I am so delighted to be here with you in Manchester, the constantly shifting capital of our changing Britain. I want to discuss an important issue today – change. Change for the better. Change for prosperity. Change for our country’s well off, change for our country’s national health service and change of the very nature of change itself.

Our economy must adapt to a new reality if we are to change the fortunes of our nation’s urban poor. Friends, we must turn around our national discourse, amending the very transitions through which change is achieved. We will improve our country through a modification of the very engine of evolution. We must convert the society we have now to an improved one, where change is harnessed to power future change.

Here in the North of England, as we, as friends, watch the seasons switch from summer to autumn, we bind ourselves together to revise our social contract and modify the terms we use to describe the changes we seek.

In so doing, we will recast our relationhip with a changing world; we must reform our relationship with the state – refashioning the country destroyed by people who fear change into a restyled, revamped nation full of people not afraid of progress. We must rework our schools and remould our universities. The national health service must be reorganised in order to reorder the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients. Quite frankly, friends, we must redo the reforms of the past to reconstruct the nation foreseen by Bevan and Wilson. As the planet turns, our world is constantly changing, and we must reorient our priorities, transfiguring our nation into a place where a real, profound metamorphosis can occur.

I set out today to change change – to transmute the lethargy of this government into one positively seething with desire for adjustment; Friends, I speak of bringing fresh blood and a tidal shift to our willingness to adapt the very adaptivity of adaption itself.

We need big adjustments. Seismic shifts. Enormous changes.

And when I am done in ten years time, friends, there will be fuck all but small change in your pocket.

Photo Attrib: Christian Guthier.  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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UK to EU – Can we still be friends?

Europe,politics 3 June 2014 Tell me what you think

A treaty being broken, yesterday

The European Commission has finally realised that the long-term sexless relationship between the UK and the federalist project is over.  We’re still meeting for coffee but not ordering cake anymore.  We’re returning each other’s messages but there are no more smileys or winks in the texts.  The endgame is in sight, and it may soon be time to put the bits and pieces we left in Brussels over the years into a cardboard box and prepare for the moment when the Prime Minister pops over to get his hoodie back and ask if we can still be friends.  Friends (well, Der Spiegel) have begun to notice the cracks in the relationship.

The Todd Rundgren song, “Can we still be friends?” whose lyrics are ridiculously apropos for this moment in the UK’s relationship with the European Union, asks in this context a relatively important question – can the UK still be friendly with the countries it seems likely to divorce?  And does the EU really care?

Today the European Commission told the UK that its council tax and housing system needs overhaul.  Not perhaps the best timing for a ‘you need to make some changes’ message from the Commission, who might reasonably have seen May’s election as a bit of a kicking.  The end of the affair is in sight, and it is beginning to look more mutual than ever.



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UKIP if you want to…

Conservatives,Europe,politics 2 June 2014 Tell me what you think

“What is one to make of the rise of UKIP?” – asked nobody with any commonsense, ever.

That having been said, there are plenty of people with no commonsense desperate to shrinkwrap a simple answer to the problem of the purple and yellow party (by remarkable coincidence the colour of a particularly nasty looking bruise). “The UKIP vote is a vote against the mainstream political parties who to varying degrees run the politics of the UK”, claim some.

“A resounding vote against Europe, or austerity, or immigration”, claim others. “A vote against the Lib Dems”, opine still others, In fact, there are a number of political and mechanical reasons for the outcomes in local and European elections,

The mechanics of the UKIP victory, to my mind, needs a reminder of why 2009 went so differently. Except in Tower Hamlets, political medium-term memory is foggy. People seem to be interpreting this year’s shift in European Parliament elections in line with the national share calculations from the 2010 general election – which makes no sense, psephologically or in context of history. 2009 was a weird election. It went like this:

Why did Labour get shafted in 2009?
During the expenses scandal, because there were many more Labour MPs than Tory MPs, Labour were disproportionately fingered. That, plus the incredible unpopularity of Gordon Brown, the Brown denial of the seriousness of the economic crash in the UK and the ‘Brown Bottle’ – the election there never was, led to Labour getting a serious shafting at the 2009 European Parliament elections.

Why did the Conservatives do so well in 2009?
Tories stood in 2009 on a ‘my goodness, Labour really are useless and we’re going to win next year anyway’ ticket. Cameron said there was a repatriation of powers debate ahead. Those resonated pretty well. Also, Gordon Brown said ‘don’t vote Conservative’, which helped.

Why didn’t UKIP do better in 2009?
UKIP was in disarray in 2009 after all sorts of crazy internal political crises, and they were seen as a bit too close in theory to the BNP. They were in no fit state to take on anyone, and as a result their election in 2009 was very nearly the end for the party.

Why did Lib Dems do well in 2009?
Actually, they did OK in 2009, but the campaign wasn’t particularly good, since they were in preparation for the general election. This was pre ‘I agree with Nick’ and the incredible growth of Lib Dems hadn’t occurred yet – we had to wait a year for that.

So what was the context of this election?

People seem a bit confused that they don’t like Ed Miliband a little bit more – but there is no doubt at all that this election shows a clear majority still eludes the red team. Yes – they came 2nd and beat the Conservatives into 3rd place for the first time in recent electoral history – but only in extraordinary circumstances where people first cast a vote in favour of a referendum on membership of the EU.

A referendum on membership is now a fixture on the political horizon, whether Ed loves it or not. He should now do his best to neutralise the issue by at least matching David Cameron’s commitment to a renegotiation and referendum, but he won’t – he isn’t convinced that anything needs renegotiated and isn’t convinced that a referendum is a good idea.

As a result, he’s now in an awful position – if he agrees to include a referendum in his manifesto the election becomes entirely a referendum on him vs Cameron – and he absolutely consistently loses on that metric in every poll.

So there.

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How do you solve a problem like gobshites?

Conservatives,politics 6 April 2014 Tell me what you think

That the newspapers have been keen to hoist Maria Miller, the minister responsible for the shepherding the press regulation legislation from a lamppost for continuing to claim a level of expenses on a mortgage after a favourable change in the lending interest rate is not surprising.

That the affair has been so badly managed by the professional party and the MPs so close to an election should probably raise some eyebrows.

That the PM still reckons he doesn’t have a woman in the party good enough to promote into her place is lamentable. I reckon he’s also wrong.

The Conservative Party’s elected women are a remarkable bunch with real substance – they should be presenting the PM with an embarrassment of promotable riches – but the bias in the party at the last election towards creating good constituency MPs at the expense of the executive has created a pool of talent with outspokenness and principle in abundance, loyalty and ambition in short supply.

That’s good for constituencies but fucking awful for the executive whose job must be appointing people of competence to positions of consequence.

Politics, red in tooth and claw is the reality for the PM today. He wanted to keep Maria Miller in position – she is obviously competent and capable, but her judgment in her dealing with IPSA was evidently flawed.

Truculence is the correct response to a stupid and incapable bureaucracy, but not if you’re in the cabinet.

The PM should take the opportunity to appoint at least two more women to the cabinet – this would disabuse backbenchers of the notion that they can be in Parliament without the risk of government and would send the message that there is no women problem in the Conservative Party.

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Sometimes a view is just a view

this blog 1 January 2014 Tell me what you think

Every so often I reboot this blog, and every so often someone comes along to give me a reason why I should constrain my blogging. I already do.

I work for an organisation which has Political views in many areas, and which is led by democratically elected people. Those people speak on behalf of the organisation and I do not.  Nothing I say purports to be the position of the organisation for which I work and I am very happy to establish that fact publicly.  I don’t (and won’t) speak at all for the organisation, though a million years ago, I was elected to lead it.  Those days are long gone.  Today I am retained and paid to do the work of managing the affairs of the place so that the political leadership doesn’t have to concern itself with stamps, plumbers and rent.

I have no ‘office’ and therefore I have no official view on the positions held by that organisation (except that I am often astounded by the frequency with which I privately agree with them) and I have no input whatsoever into the formulation of those positions. I’m a civil servant. People get paid, rooms get booked, trucks get sent to the right places.

I am well aware that some people, particularly on the left of politics, don’t like what they think are my views on the politics of the day.  I don’t particularly care – because we think what we think and we believe what we believe.  In particular I don’t care because I assiduously do not express any disagreement with the leadership of the organisation for which I work – because policies and their public expression are not my job – in any case I would not be capable of doing it as effectively as the leadership, because they reflect the position of the electors. 90% of the time any view I express publicly has no bearing at all on the positions or affairs of the country in which I live, let alone the organisation I work for.

Those of us who work in non-political jobs inside political organisations often experience similar problems.  We’re hired to do jobs, not determine or interpret the policies of the organisation we work for. We have lives outside the political organisations we work for – and how we live those lives are, frankly, none of the organisation’s business so long as confidentiality and the law of the land are respected.

My request is this -if you dislike my views, then challenge me on them.  They’re only views – and believe me, the chance to chat ‘outside’ politics with someone outside the policy debates which occur inside my workplace would be rather lovely.

I’d leave the rugby though.  I’m Wasps and England till I die.

A happy, healthy and fulfilling 2014 to you.

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We’ve failed humanity.

syria 29 August 2013 Tell me what you think

Tonight the UK Parliament voted in favour of dictators gassing their people. I’ve never ever felt ashamed to be British before, but this is a terrible decision. When soman, tabun and cyclosarin starts being dropped on innocents and protesters, the regimes will use tonight’s vote to give them comfort that one of the few nations which could make them answer for their crimes against humanity hasn’t the guts any more.

The only good thing to come out from tonight is the proof that our Parliament works, just as it failed to do in 2003, and we now have a PM who isn’t afraid to suffer political knocks and get on with the job. But if Assad uses these weapons again, let those who voted against action do the honourable thing and take the Hundreds.  After they’ve learned the names of each victim.

This vote was not about taking sides – it was about protecting those people powerless to even take a side.  This vote was about taking the action in principle to warn the world that rule-of-law nations will act to prevent lawless and murderous regimes from simply wiping out their oppositions.

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Late to the party

tweets 29 July 2013 Tell me what you think

That there are some men in social media who get their jollies from threatening strong, intelligent women online is not exactly surprising. Sick puppies abound.

That the response of some feminists is to decide on a day in the near future to not engage in Twitter is more surprising, partially because of how effectively it plays exactly into the hands of the men who want to silence the women in the first place.



Making a playlist for a killer

A Graveyard,Books 2 June 2013 Tell me what you think

An MP5 SD, disassembled yesterday.

An MP5 SD, disassembled yesterday, presumably in the opening few bars of Old Love. Pic stolen from griffinarmament.com because I do not have a silenced submachine gun.

I have been taking advice from writers on how to actually knuckle down and finish a project I’ve been working on.  Some of the best advice seemed to involve not drinking coffee, some involved sitting in cafes with just a cup of coffee until bored enough to knock out a chapter.  Most convincingly lately has been ‘think as the character’.

My primary protagonist, Chris,  has constant need for music.  He needs to be kept interested by the world, partially to exclude interest in the world.  Deep or bullshit, your mileage may vary.  But he has the latest smartphone.  He has Spotify – we know this – it’s part of his character.  So thinking as him, I decided, I need to make a playlist – a Desert Island Discs of music he’d like.  This is a strange thing to do – but it’s strangely instructive on his moods, his character and his values.  Or it can be.  He is terribly old fashioned, a bit of a wallowy deep thinker, a bit of a worrier and, as the story develops, deeply guilty about his work.  Here’s his playlist:

1.  Eye in the Sky – Alan Parsons Project

This track fits the actual thoughts and feelings parcelled up in Chris’ life.  It’s also lyrically quite apposite given his job and relationships in the book.  It’s also a cracking tune, with that classic Alan Parsons ‘produced until it hurts’ feel.

2. The way she was before – Black (AKA Colin Vearncombe)

Black suits Chris’ aesthetic.  Brooding, slightly melancholy but constantly optimistic.  This is a beautiful track, speaking wistfully of past love and fond remembrance.  This jars with Chris’ character a bit, but deep inside, we all want to feel a bit of a romantic.  In contrast with the next track…

3. Sugar on my tongue – Talking Heads

Chris’ sexual and somewhat detached side is hinted at here.  Talking Heads’ manic best from the album 77.

4. Because the night – Patti Smith Group

Dancing and singing into a shampoo bottle in the shower, this allows Chris to rock out with his Glock out.

5. Reveller – Diane Cluck

Uncertainty about the whole actually being alive and enjoying it thing permeates his whole being.  He’s constantly guilty about being happy, which is reassuring given his job.

6. Old Love – Unplugged – Eric Clapton

The crowning achievement of the MTV Unplugged projects, this is the best track on the album.  It’s an important song in the book.  Stripping and cleaning a well looked after MP5SD takes around 8 minutes.

7. Welcome Home – Dave Dobbyn

One of New Zealand national musical treasure Dave Dobbyn’s schmaltzier tracks, this track plays in a hotel reception in Belfast where he waits for both his lover and a phone call to confirm or quell his suspicions about one of his team.

8. Sway – Bic Runga

The day before their graduations, Chris has this song sung to him by his girlfriend at an open mic night in the Students’ Union.  Awkward.

9. TV Dinners – Robert Palmer

A job needs to be done – this track speaks to a certain hard headedness he develops as time progresses.

10. Sisters of the Moon – Fleetwood Mac

Realisation is a bitch.  Awe of the awful is even worse.  This is the musical expression of both.

11. Stay with me till dawn – Judie Tzuke

His romantic, petulant soul puts Chris and the whole plan in extreme danger – but they get to see the sunset.

12. Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five – Paul McCartney and Wings

Resolve and resolution

13. Bones and Born Again – Diane Cluck

The old love is gone – and though he has no right to expect a new one, he has the basic sense to do the only thing one is expected to do with love, and accept it.



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Thoughts after a funeral.

feminism,politics 17 April 2013 Tell me what you think

On the day Lady Thatcher died, people in Dublin spoke to me with worry on their faces, as if I might spontaneously combust or ascend back to my starship. “Here is a man”, they probably thought, “who is upset about the death of someone I thought was a bit of a bitch.”

They were right. I was upset, as any reasonable human would be at the death of an old lady who had played such a central role in our society for the first years of my life. But I was upset in a disconnected fashion – she was Baroness Thatcher, Lady Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher, Maggie. For people as far removed from her as I was (and that’s pretty far removed – she had never been a Constituency Secretary) she stood as an icon, a power – a symbol of pure conservatism, blue in tooth and claw.

I saw her and her politics as the unattainable, lost cardinal of conservatism – the rare, elemental form which tarnishes readily when exposed to the air. Those who painted themselves as ‘thatcherite’ seemed destined to forever seek its rare essence through alchemy – as if mixing a harsh disrespect for the other with something vaguely right-of-centre and heating in an atmosphere of fear for the future would deposit crystals of Thatcherite, more chemically and politically stable than the gold standard, and, when viewed under the microscope, emitting a blue cerenkov glow.

These alchemists tended to turn up to parties in expensive suits and appalling shirts, with ties chosen to reflect something or other from the second world war. They wanted to be Mark Thatcher with better map reading skills. Not one of them could hold their whiskey like Margaret Thatcher.

They didn’t get the fucking point.

Margaret Thatcher’s politics were the politics of loyalty to her country. She had a vision of a nation where people were independent of the state so they wouldn’t be subject to the predations of the state. She had a vision for a people who understood their responsibilities as superior to their entitlements. She saw in the people a desire to be set free from other people telling them what to do – the unions, the civil servants, the politicians. She knew that the power of the Prime Minister to change the tone and the course of the nation’s history is immense – and she sought to use the power to the best of her ability.

Margaret Thatcher’s loyalty to her country was breathtaking. The Falklands War – which arguably couldn’t have come at a better (political) time, was the last popular war in the UK primarily because people knew it was right to do – and that the Prime Minister’s resolve and determination to stand up for the people in the South Atlantic spoke to how she would stand up for the UK’s interests.

When I was asked in the past whether I was a Thatcherite, I usually replied that I had immense respect for her, but I was closer in thinking to John Major, William Hague and David Cameron. The last ten days have allowed me to contemplate that more carefully. Major, Hague and Cameron’s political instincts are not so different from the late Baroness Thatcher’s – although their methodologies and presentation enormously differ. David Cameron’s stewardship today, cleaning up the mess of the overspending Labour administrations and taking responsibility for the mistakes of successive UK governments, is the legwork of a PM aware of his duty to put the national house in order. Very Thatcherite indeed, in my view.

When I look back on the history of the big decisions Margaret Thatcher had to take in leading my country, which all took place in my lifetime, I believe she made the right call on almost every one of them. Hindsight and progress, which tarnish every historic decision, make me wish she’d put some women into cabinet (nobody can tell me Virginia Bottomley wasn’t good enough) and that she’d done more thinking about the Community Charge.

Margaret Thatcher made the UK great again. She led the revolution which again gave citizens, not Trade Unions, control of their country. She stood up to terrorism and aggression and she brought Gorbachev in from the cold. She understood what she had to do, and she won the support of the people three times to do it.

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Labour’s messaging and other catastrophic failures

Labour Leadership,politics 7 April 2013 Tell me what you think

Noting the continued push for the Labour Party to embrace the ‘One Nation’ absurdity in their branding, the party’s machine decided this weekend to launch a rather poorly thought through poster campaign ‘Who wants to bung a millionaire?  Dave Does’.

It’s not very good

Quite apart from the clear effort to divide the nation into two economic groups in the poster, which negates the ‘one nation’ motto, the development and deployment of the campaign, based as it is on a TV gameshow ident from 1998, appears to have been handled by a four-year old or a competition winner (for which approach we thank for the ‘Fire up the Quattro’ campaign just before the 2010 General Election).  The problem is that the advert just isn’t very good and deeply misses the current political narrative.

  • It’s too late.  The media messaging on the purported tax cuts to millionaires has already been used months ago.  The campaign feels warmed-over and stale
  • The design is derivative of an old TV show nobody watches anymore
  • The media narrative is about welfare, not millionaires
  • There is a widespread understanding that Ed Miliband himself is a millionaire, thereby creating a cognitive dissonance (the ‘ah, but’ moment) for the reader
  • It’s the politics of envy writ large
  • The figures don’t look convincing.

To expand on the last point, Labour claims that the average family will lose £891 per year from the new budget, but according to the Channel 4 Fact Checker Blog:

In attacking Mr Osborne this week, Labour went for a much higher figure: an average household loss of £891 this year, based on IFS research.

There’s nothing wrong with it mathematically but it’s based on what the government has done compared to doing nothing, an incredible scenario given that Labour would undoubtedly have had to introduce austerity measures too.

The verdict

Mr Osborne is probably right about the nine out of ten [better off under the new budget], although by choosing to frame the debate in terms of working households alone he has made it difficult for independent assessors to FactCheck him.

At the heart of the problem with Labour’s messaging is of course that they don’t have a message to put out.  Ed Miliband is dithering on welfare, on NHS Policy, on crime and punishment, on Trident and on the whole economic scene.  Without a message to put out, poster designers have ‘fuck all’ to work with.

Ed Open Goal

Ed Open Goal

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