Saturday, 29 September 2007

Chuffed

I suppose my most salient motivation for writing this blog is to vent my spleen to the interweb in general, allowing me to enjoy boat and friends without carrying this particular baggage with me.

However, I'm really chuffed to have made it to number 201 in Iain Dale's top 500 UK political blogs. Many thanks to all you unknown readers who voted for Raedwald.
Incapable of Honesty

News that Culture Minister James Purnell was complicit in posing for a photograph that he had every reason to know would not be used wholly honestly is hardy surprising; no more surprising than Brown's conference speech having been written by Bob Shrum using bits and pieces from other speeches he'd already sold. And no more surprising than a Minister of State nicking a student's thesis from the internet and passing it off as intelligence research, or a score of other dishonesties, distortions, omissions and misrepresentations that Labour politicians either believe are OK if you don't get found out, or the public will be too stupid to notice.

That they're incapable of honesty won't come as a great shock to most people, I suspect.
Cameron must grasp the nettle of Welfare Reform

The carefully planted pre-release of Cameron's family-friendly tax proposals in today's Mail is a welcome fillip to those who wondered if this policy area was on his agenda at all. Despite Labour's oh-so-weaselly-worded claims last week, the reality is as explained by Frank Field:

"The economy has continued to deliver a record number of new jobs and has, in fact, been growing strongly since late 1992. Britain’s longest ever economic boom added an additional million jobs up to the 1997 election, and a further two million since. On top of an annual benefit bill of £70bn and the cost of running the Department of Work and Pensions, which comes in at £2bn a year, the Chancellor has spent an historic additional £60bn to make work the gateway to freedom. And yet, ten years on, the numbers of working age claimants has fallen by a mere quarter of a million, from 5.65 to 5.4 million. The most dramatic of policy shake-ups is required."

Brown's welfare shambles is costing the nation some £80bn a year in total - £80bn of wasted investment. The New Deal is a failure. 1.2m young people aged 16 - 24 are languishing at home. The numbers of Britain's disabled people has soared under Labour to 2.7m people, claiming over £12bn in incapacity benefit. (And creating 1m additional disabled persons was not a claim Labour was proud enough to make last week).

The welfare system, by which I mean the welfare system supported in this nation, is a safety net. Clinton's reforms that time-limited benefits to 5 years in the US should be adopted here. A safety net. Not a DFS recliner and a 42" plasma TV.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Why I think Gordon will go now

Bob Worcester's work on 'triangulation' suggests that voting decisions have three dimensions, not equally weighted. About 40% - 45% of the decision is made on policies, 30% - 35% on leader image and 20% - 25% on party image. Knowing this helps to understand why Brown is 11% ahead in the polls despite recent Yougov results (polled on 19-21st Sept) including:
  • 51% disapprove of Labour's record to date, only 29% approve
  • 51% think public services have got worse since Labour came to power, only 20% think they're better
  • 51% think it's hard to know what the government and Labour party stand for
But
  • 58% think Brown is a strong leader, only 25% disagree
  • 57% think Brown is clearly in charge of the government, only 19% disagree.
Brown is scoring consistently better than Cameron on a 'leader image' index that rates leaders on factors including:
• A capable leader
• Good in a crisis
• Understands world problems
• Tends to talk down to people
• Rather narrow minded
• Too inflexible
• Has sound judgment
• More honest than most politicians
• Down-to-earth
• Understands the problems facing Britain
• Patriotic
• Has got a lot of personality
• Rather inexperienced
• Out of touch with ordinary people
So, while both Labour and the Tories have a fairly poor / weak Party image, in policy terms they've both moved into the same centre ground - so the key factor will be leader image.

Another poll result, this time from June, suggested that Brown's reputation would seriously damaged by his failure to hold a referendum on the EU treaty - 70% agreeing and only 6% disagreeing. Whilst Europe is less of an issue to voters than the Health Service, education and the economy, this is a vulnerable Achilles heel. A Spring election may well see Hague back in charge of the Tories - a leader who would now score highly on the 'leader factors' above. At the same time, Brown's inability to tackle key areas of policy concern would have become more apparent, and his Party Image will have slipped even further.

But Europe is the one that could damage Brown the most if he hesitates. I think he will go now.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

It's broken and it needs fixing


Our democracy is grievously sick. Polls suggest that only one in ten of us trust politicians any more. Only slightly over one in a hundred electors are members of one of the three main parties. Politics is held in national contempt. We've lost the strong party allegiances we had in the 50s and 60s , when the Tories had over 2m members and Labour nearly 1m. Our nation and society have changed immeasurably since those days - yet the same old saurian parties continue in the same old saurian way.

A democracy needs faith in its elected leaders. For the past thirty years, and especially in the past ten years, those leaders have failed the British people. When the Chancellor urged confidence in the banking system recently, I doubt there was one person in the country who believed him. So used have we become to casual mendacity, distortion, omission and misrepresentation from our nation's elected leaders that in the event of a genuine national crisis it is almost certain that they would be unable to rely on the trust of the British people.

In place of trust we have the naked exercise of power.

A ruling political elite, unsupported by mass democratic parties, without the trust or the allegiance of the nation, who are building the powers of the State over its citizens. This is our nation in the twenty-first century.

This is not the rhetoric of paranoia. I am no deluded extremist. These findings are common to our most experienced political commentators and academics.

Our democracy is broken and it needs fixing. Our people are not apathetic. They are not disengaged from politics. They are however very much disengaged from the old two-party system. Neither Brown nor Cameron cares more for the nation's democracy than they care for their own place and position, and the nation knows it.

Project the falling party memberships forward a few years; when will the day come when Labour and Tory parties have fewer than 100,000 members each? At which general election to choose between them will turnout fall below 50%? They have surely asked and answered this question themselves - and I suspect that the answer is within a decade.

We can no more expect the desperately needed reforms from Brown and Cameron than we can expect turkeys to vote for Christmas. The time has come for the people of Britain to speak.

Monday, 24 September 2007

October election? Mobility scooters on charge, Comrades!

The last audited accounts of the Labour Party, from 2005, showed a membership of just over 198,000. Labour membership has consistently been dropping at around 20,000 a year, and discounting those included who are more than six months in arrears with their subscription, I would be astonished if the party's voting membership exceeded 150,000 at present. And they're likely to be old.

So hardly a mass popular political party, then. The National Trust has over 3.5 million members. Even the Womens' Institute has 215,000 members.

So Brown is faced with asking his tiny party organisation to go on the knock at a time of year when most of them would be happier in their slippers, curled up in front of Emmerdale with a glass of Barley Wine.

As we know, most don't even have to bother. Political power in the UK is decided in a score or so of key marginal constituencies, so the wisdom goes.

So if a party doesn't need mass membership any more, what does it need? Cash, of course. In fact, the political elite would probably be happier if all those inconvenient, awkward party members weren't around at all. How much easier if the taxpayer just bunged them all millions of cash to buy up the poster sites and newspaper pages and TV ads? The few elderly relicts of a great political movement could remain in front of the telly.

Of course, they'd have to fix the rules to ensure that they and only they received this State funding - for in a political oligarchy that doesn't require any mass party membership, power would otherwise be open to all comers. A cosy deal, then, that would establish Labour as the permanent party of government with a rump Tory party (suitably enervated) established as the permanent party of opposition. And high personal rewards for all the political elite who're members of this anti-democratic cabal.

This is the deal that Cameron is about to sign up to.

Sunday, 23 September 2007



REFORM!
Today I'm starting a series of posts under the 'Reform' banner.


I'm writing for the millions of ordinary people in this country who have found themselves alienated by the relentless striving for power of the main political parties. A striving that increasingly leaves ordinary people without a voice, without a role and without any influence over a Leviathan State that is crushing our people, our families and our institutions beneath a relentless and brutal centralism.

I am writing for the 1.1 million Tory local activists who have left the Conservative party since 1979 - more than double the number that remain as members.

I am writing for the 16m voters from across the political spectrum who have deserted the polls.

I am writing for those just starting out as adult citizens, for whom the distant and self-interested squabbling for power between the main parties offers no prospect of sharing in the rewards of citizenship.

And I am writing for all those who are heartily sick of the cynical opportunism, the naked avarice and the cloying mendacity of our new political elite, and those who hunger and thirst for a nation of true democratic control, of control over our own lives, our neighbourhoods, our communities and institutions.

The time is right for all of us to join our voices together in a cry of 'Reform!' that will shake the rafters in Whitehall and Westminster and reverberate across our nation.

Next: It's broken and it needs fixing.
Zimbabwe - Remember the lessons of Biafra

To anyone under 50 or so, Biafra will mean very little. This minor secessionist war in western Africa from 1967 - 1970 claimed the lives of several hundred thousands of Igbo, mainly from starvation. The war was prolonged, and the final death toll hugely increased, because of the west's donation of food aid to Biafra. The images of stick-thin children with bellies distended by starvation sparked massive sympathy and food-aid assistance. However, the final death toll would have been far lower had the Biafran rebellion not been assisted by the well-meaning interventions of charitable and aid organisations.

Before the seizure of white farms from 2000, Zimbabwe was the bread-basket of Africa. The country is now short of around 1,000 million tonnes of grain a year and Zimbabweans are starving. The reasons for the collapse of cereal production are manifold; world fuel prices that have increased fertiliser costs, an AIDS epidemic that has ravaged agricultural labour, the inability of new farm owners to maintain, renew and operate agricultural machinery, the tendency of Africans to split large economic farms into small family subsidence units with few or no reserves, the degradation of yields from poor seed management and ignorance about the reuse of seed from high-yield hybrids rather than open-pollinated varieties. Even US domestic subsidies for biofuels that have helped push world grain prices through the ceiling impact directly on Zimbabwe's agricultural outputs. Not all of these factors are Mugabe's fault, but his utter inability to manage them are.

The harsh reality is that as images of starving Zimbabweans appear on our TV screens with increasing frequency, pressure will mount on western governments for food-aid. We must harden our hearts and resist them. Zanu-PF must be exposed as the killers of the people of Zimbabwe, and until the people of Zimbabwe rise up to remove them from power, they will always starve.