Monday, 28 March 2011

St. Ed-o's Fire

I'd never seen a Brat Pack movie before. Not that I was brimming with enthusiasm when the other half expressed her desire to watch St. Elmo's Fire on Friday night.

While the credits were rolling I thought I'd have a quick look at what IMDB had to say about this undiscovered (in my case) gem. The summary at the top of the page is quite superb:

"A group of friends, just out of college, struggle with adulthood. Their main problem is that they're all self-centered and obnoxious."

Seemed a pretty fair summation, though it was hard to give the film my full attention due to the hypnotizing nature of Rob Lowe's dangly earring.

This was not going to be the last example of people finding the real world hard that would hit our screens that weekend.

The news had included coverage of the 'People's Policy Forum' which Labour had organised in Nottingham earlier that day.

Ed Miliband and the shadow cabinet were there to listen to members of the public and to take on board their opinions and fill some of those much publicised blank pages of Labour policy.

It's hard to know whether Mr Miliband considered this meeting a success or not. Although he must find it comforting to address a large crowd of supporters there does not seem to have been many policy ideas, just a lot of burying of heads in sand.

In an excellent blog the Economist's Bagehot's Notebook reported that the meeting consisted of people he (is Bagehot a he?) described as wanting Labour to wave a magic wand and make the cuts go away.

Bagehot claims that there was no balance in the meeting and that the overall attitude was that 'all public spending was good and that private companies exist to pay more taxes'.

Suggested new policies included 'Robin Hood' tax on financial transactions and clamping down of tax avoidance (seemingly confused with tax evasion) to remove the need for any cuts.

To give Mr Miliband his due he did not pretend to the audience that this was the case. He told them that there was no way to completely avoid cuts in public spending. The problem here is that he is not being entirely straight with his audience. If he does not give detailed proposals saying what would be cut he allows people to believe that under Labour their job/benefit would be safe.

Even Rob Lowe's character would be shocked by this sort of denial of reality.

Bagehot also points out that part of Mr Miliband's job at this gathering was to lay the groundwork for his speech to the TUC March for the Alternative the next day.

As we saw, the key part of his short speech was presenting the demonstrators as the mainstream majority of the UK. Not actually outlining any alternative.

Coincidently (!) the same day the Guardian published the results of a poll it had commissioned on how people felt about Government spending plans.

Unfortunately for Ed the results weren't on message. Fair play to the Guardian for still printing them even if they tried a bit too hard to force an angle on the story making the stats more UK Uncut friendly.

So off Ed went to the March for the Alternative without having outlined any serious alternative and with his confidence surely shaken by the results of the Guardian's survey.

So what do you do when you're feeling a bit down? Big yourself up of course! And boy did Ed big himself up. In a no holds barred delusion fest he likened the protesters cause to anti-apartheid, civil rights and universal suffrage. To save a bit of space please see my previous blog for views on this sort of self-aggrandisement.

As pointed out by Sam Bowman on Twitter the Labour Party has drifted from supporting the working class poor to focusing on public sector workers. Despite their claims this does not create a fairer society. An example of this is that many of the people on Saturday's march were upset about potential changes to their lucrative public pensions. These pension schemes are unfair. People in the private sector who can not afford adequate pension cover for themselves are subsidising those who often earn more than them.

To paraphrase George Bernhard Shaw: by supporting this Labour are merely robbing Peter to pay Paul because Paul votes Labour.

By attempting to galvanize this sector's support Labour are concentrating on the material loss caused by the cuts and ignoring economic arguments. This is similar to how the Tories are putting to one side the moral arguments for a smaller state in favour of economic ones.

Perhaps the comparison with the Brat Pack was unfair. People are being deprived of things they had come to take for granted. However, the indignation of protesters misses the point. "What have we done to deserve this?" Alison Foster, a 53 year-old teacher is quoted as asking the New York Times. This harks back to the People's Policy Forum where the attitude of those attending was that of entitlement. "We are all entitled" starts Bagehot's article.

Nevermind the possible objections to such entitlement or the fact that no one had done anything to deserve the good times either. The fact is that there is no money to pay for them. Wishing that there was does or that this is all ideological does not make it so. It is time that the Labour Party lived up to its title as 'Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition' and gave us some details of what would be so different if they were in charge instead of hiding behind people's fear.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

There's a Lot of Miles Between Tripoli and Islington

There has been little else but Libya on the news now for what seems like weeks. Part of the reason there has been so much coverage is that news hounds love it: big news, real news, hard news, good news. I mean bad news. You know what I mean.

Remind me how it all started, could you? Was it tuition fees? Or cuts to community groups? Has Gaddafi been laying off civil servants left, right and centre?

Oh no, hold on. I remember. It's the 40 years of brutal disenfranchisement, people being made to disappear, systematic use of torture to quell dissidents of a government that controls every aspect of their lives.

Those other things, the cuts and fees and that, they were why Islington town hall was 'stormed' in some 'direct action' last week.

As you can perhaps tell by the use of language such as 'storm' these protesters are taking themselves very seriously. They sense revolution is in the air and they are the vanguard.

Yet it is not really revolution that they're after. Laurie Penny's latest New Statesman article compares the struggle of anti-cuts protesters in the UK to those opposing Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. Part of her comparison focuses on how both groups are fighting for self-determination. That the causes are separated only by scale not substance.

Utter nonsense. There is no similarity in substance either. Protesters are using rights they have to demonstrate their unhappiness at their government's action. In Libya the government can not truly be called 'their' government as neither they nor any other resident had anything to do with its formation. I nearly said citizen instead of resident but that would imply they have rights which they do not.

In fact, if you were a bit of a wag there's a different comparison you could make. The protest groups in Britain are 100 per cent certain that their cause is just and that everyone agrees with and loves them. This means they are justified in taking whatever action is necessary to win. Who in the Middle East does that sort of self aggrandisement compare with?

In reality the protests in this country are about maintaining the status-quo. A status-quo that led to Britain having a massive budget deficit that could no longer be maintained once the world economy collapsed. Whether your vote for the Lib Dems was miscast or not (as of course it would have been under any electoral system) more people voted for them and the Tories than for Labour. Not that Labour wouldn't have been cutting away at expenditure either. They just decline to tell us where.

Being able to accept electoral defeat is part of living in a democracy. Campaign in the meantime and in a few years you'll be able to vote once again.

In Libya the people are braving terrible danger to try to gain the right to vote. That is the fight for self-determination.

But still, who cares? That's just my point of view, which I'm as free to write here as Penny was free to write her's in the New Statesman. And protest all you like. Go to council meetings, make your voice heard. You're allowed.

While doing so try to remember that this is the right that people in Libya are fighting for. Not a policy issue. If they lose the survivors won't be able to do anything about it. You will. You just have to wait till the next election. As there will always be another election in this country you could say that you can never be completely defeated.

How's that for solidarity?