Tag Archives: SDP

Suddenly, it seems like 1981 again

In 1981:

There were 2.5 million unemployed people in Britain.

The country was in the grip of a recession.

The Tories were in power.

There were riots in Britain’s cities.

Labour was in turmoil.  While the party was pre-occupied with its internal divisions, it failed to land a single blow on Thatcher.

Council houses were up for sale.

The Social Democratic Party (SDP) was formed by disgruntled Labour Party members led by the so-called Gang of Four. The SDP form an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party.  The two parties had something that looked like an American road sign as their logo.

1981 was 30 years ago.

In 2011:

There are 2.5 million unemployed people in Britain.

The country is in the grip of a recession.

The Tories are in power with the help of the Liberal Democrats, a party that was formed the result of a union between the SDP the Liberal Party in 1988. They have something that looks like a spliff as their logo.

In August, we witnessed the biggest riots in a generation.

Labour isn’t in turmoil but it isn’t landing any real blows on the government either. No one has split from the party.

The NHS is up for sale and so is education.

Suddenly, it seems like it’s 1981 again.

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Filed under 20th century, History, History & Memory

Cable: if you go on strike, we’ll make things worse for you

Business Secretary and former SDP member Vince Cable has told the unions that going on strike will risk Britain’s fragile economic recovery. He has also told them that the government will tighten its already draconian anti-union laws. Cable has got that so wrong: the recovery was threatened the moment The Hon. Gid decided to raise VAT and impose swingeing cuts on the public sector. Whether this government likes it or not, the private sector relies on the public sector for a lot of its work. Threatening the unions with further draconian legislation is pretty low. Britain already has the toughest anti-union legislation in Europe and its anti-union laws are on a par with those of the US and Chile.

A number of public sector unions are to go out on strike later this month. As a member of the UCU, I will be joining them.

This from today’s Independent

Union chiefs will be warned by a cabinet minister today that a concerted programme of industrial action against the Government’s austerity measures could result in anti-strike laws.

Up to one million workers are expected to walk out on 30 June in protest against the spending cuts, and further shows of union strength are planned for the autumn.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, will tell a union conference that such moves could backfire by playing into the hands of senior Tories pressing for fresh controls on industrial action.

You can read the rest here.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Public spending, Trade Unions

It’s as though Shirley Porter and the 1980s never went away

Shirley Porter: she still hasn’t paid up

It was 1986, the Tories had narrowly won Westminster City Council in the local elections. I know, it’s hard to believe it but that’s what happened. Labour did well by narrowly winning a three seats and the SDP (spits) were a major threat to the Tories in another couple of seats. To prevent this from ever happening again, Porter and her council colleagues devised a plan to gerrymander  marginal wards and those wards that had gone to Labour. The plan, euphemistically titled “Building Stable Communities”, was to sell off properties when tenants vacated them. The council also removed many homeless voters from the borough because they were less likely to vote Conservative.

Porter also sold off 3 cemeteries for 5p each. The Council bought them back in 2006.

Across the Thames in Wandsworth there was similar picture. Wandsworth under the leadership of Paul Beresford,was accused of  illegally selling off void properties in tower blocks that were located in marginal wards.

The district auditor’s inquiry found “a relatively high correlation” between housing expenditure and the five most marginal wards in Wandsworth between 1987-88 and 1990-91 – the period when the Conservatives turned a one-seat majority into one of 35 in the 1990 local authority elections.

Beresford escaped punishment but the District Auditor  found Porter guilty of wilful misconduct. Porter, her deputy David Weeks, one other councillor and a few council officials were made jointly liable for repaying £36m. However Porter was liable for the lion’s share of the sum and along with surcharges and interest, she owed around £37m. She filed a series of unsuccessful appeals but she fled the country and later resurfaced in Israel.

From the relative safety of Israel, she transferred the majority of her assets to her son.

She then claimed her wealth extended to just £300,000, though estimates put her fortune at £69m. The council failed to pursue her. But a subsequent investigation proved she moved millions of pounds to her son via a complex web of companies.

In 2004, she and the council agreed she would pay £12.3m, but Labour councillors at Westminster have pressed district auditor Les Kidner to reopen the case in a bid to force her to pay up the full fine. Councillors are aghast that investigators failed to spot the Porter family connection with Telos.

Porter lives in Westminster in a £1.5m property but is still at large.

Fast forward to the present day. Westminster City Council is still run by the Tories and council housing and homelessness are back in the headlines.  In March of this year, the council proposed to ban night-time soup kitchens for the homeless. They claimed, without any evidence to support their assertions, that soup kitchens and the like are responsible for perpetuating homelessness. Conservative Angela Harvey said,

“When you see 50 to 80 people waiting for a soup run, they are not homeless people by and large.

“The majority will not be rough sleepers… you see them going off with large carrier bags stuffed full of food which is for them and their house mates. We know they are in work and housed.”

But she and the Council has failed to provide evidence for his wild assertion that people who are not homeless simply “take advantage” of soup kitchens. It’s a tall tale.

Westminster also wants increased powers  to raise council rents. They propose to increase rent in line with any increase in a tenant’s income. Yesterday, Tory Philippa Roe told the BBC that, “we (the Council) think that it would be fair for those households to pay a little bit more so we can recycle that money, either to help the most vulnerable families or to keep rents down for vulnerable people on low, fixed incomes”.  Notice how the word “vulnerable” is being used here to suggest that council housing is a form of welfare. It is not. The Council claims that there are around 2000 people living in council housing that are earning more than £50,000 a year. Councils don’t know how much their tenants earn unless they’re claiming Housing Benefit, so it’s difficult to see where Westminster gets its figures from. I suspect that the figure is entirely made up. The Labour group leader, Paul Dimoldenberg told Inside Housing,

‘Putting up rents is just another way for the Conservatives to increase taxes for middle earners and will push many hard-working residents out of Westminster.

‘Why are they attacking hard-working residents, the backbone of the community?’

Travel through the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and you come to Hammersmith & Fulham, where the council has proposed to demolish hundreds of homes on the Gibbs Green and West Kensington Estates to make way for a new development that will include ‘affordable housing’. This ‘regeneration’ scheme forms part of the Earl’s Court redevelopment. They have also proposed to demolish the White City and Queen Caroline Estates. H&F council call their plan for council homes demolition “Decent Neighbourhoods”. The programme was detailed in the unresearched report titled “Principles for Social Housing Reform”.

It’s as though Shirley Porter and the 1980s never went away.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Hammersmith & Fulham, London, Westminster City Council

Vince Cable: Marxist? I think not

I have to laugh: the usual Tory talking heads are still foaming at the mouth over Vince Cable’s supposed ‘anti-capitalist’ rhetoric which all hinges on a single passage in his speech to conference. The section of the speech in which he proposes to “shine a harsh light into the murky world of corporate behaviour”  was joined to the line “capitalism kills competition [where it can]”. This was initially presented on the BBC as a sort of diatribe against capitalism. If only. Dream on…

The Economist has an article with the bizarre  headline “Karl Marx meets Adam Smith”.

Business leaders were duly outraged. Richard Lambert of the Confederation of British Industry, an employer’s body, called the extracts “emotional”, and questioned whether Mr Cable had an alternative to capitalism. Pat McFadden, Labour’s business spokesman, accused him of disparaging the private sector that the economic recovery depends on. Others speculated that Mr Cable was undermining Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems’ leader and deputy prime minister, or that he might be destined to quit.

Oh dear, the Director of the CBI was upset. That isn’t anything to lose sleep over. But Pat McFadden? It just goes to show how far the Labour Party has slid to the right. I fail to see how Cable was “disparaging the private sector” when it was pretty obvious he was talking about consumer choice.

Meanwhile the Torygraph goes loopy with this gem

Yesterday, the Adam Smith Institute dismissed Mr Cable as “wrong on capitalism and wrong on Adam Smith”, complaining that “we have a Business Secretary who doesn’t understand business and who misinterprets the founder of modern economics, too”

To tell truth, who cares what the Adam Smith Institute or any of the other creepy right wing think tanks says? Adam Smith would be spinning in his grave if he knew that the ASI had taken his name and distorted his ideas!

In his ‘attack’ on the banks he manages to get a pretty nasty, if ill-informed, dig in,

On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer. There is much public anger about banks and it is well deserved.

Bob Crow is a “Trotskyite”? That’s news to me, the last time I checked he was a Tanky.  That Vince Cable isn’t a very good Marxist if he doesn’t know the difference between a member of the SWP and the CPB (Marxist-Leninist)! But the worst thing about this swipe is that Crow is actively working on his members behalf. Why should he attract the ire of Cable who, after all, worked as an economist for Shell? My guess is that Cable needed a crowd-pleaser but the man hasn’t got a clue; it’s a cheap shot but this is what we have come to expect from the Lib Dems.  Crow has his critics and the only point his critics ever seem to make is in relation to his salary. But is Crow drawing down the same kind of salary as Fred Goodwin? No. To be perfectly frank, Bob Crow is worth every penny of his salary: he’s a hardworking union leader who gets the best deal for his members…unlike Dave Prentis of UNISON.

Cable is a signed up, fully-fledged and functioning member of the capitalist fraternity. He’s not a Marxist and he certainly isn’t a Trotskyite. He’s a slippery Lib Dem politician who was once a member of the Labour Party. He was on the right of that party; he was so far right that he joined the SDP. Remember them?

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Filed under Government & politics, Liberal Democrats

“I want to talk about our achievements…”

…so say most of Labour’s leadership candidates. From Miliband to Miliband and from Balls to Burnham it’s the same old scenery. “I admit we got a few things wrong” and “We needed to listen more” and “Look at what we did while were in office” are layered upon vapid platitudes like “We need to get in touch with our core support” and “We must reach out to traditional labour voters”.  Andy Burnham came out with a classic the other week. He said he believed in “aspirational socialism”. To me, that just sounds like another meaningless slogan. To him, it’s probably nonsense too…but it is good sounding nonsense: he managed to squeeze in the word ‘socialism’. What an achievement!

This Labour Party is a strange beast: full of Blair idolizers and wannabes; dull careerists and the sort of free-marketeers that would have made David Owen blush, there are only a handful of Labour MPs who can be regarded as sort of left-wing. I’ve talked about how the Lib Dems are in danger of losing their identity but Labour have the same problem too; it has lost its own identity by mimicking the behaviour of its oldest rival – it was a case of ‘Monkey see, monkey do. We can be good capitalists too’!

I have never managed to scrub clean the image of Thatcher walking into 10 Downing Street only days after Blair’s victory from my memory. Many people who voted for Labour thought they were getting real change and when Thatcher walked through that door, the game was up.  Prior to the election, Prescott had said that a  Labour government would take the railways back into public ownership. Instead we got higher fares, poor service, overcrowding and companies making profits at the expense of the taxpayer.We were told that public transport in rural areas would improve. I challenge anyone to find me a rural location where there is a good, reliable service that links to other forms of transport (like rail). Labour refused to allow local authorities to spend their capital receipts from the sale of council homes on building new housing stock.  Instead shared ownership schemes were rolled out across the country. So rather than build properties for social rent, housing associations were encouraged to build these types of ‘affordable housing’; everyone could be a homeowner.

On the face of it, the Decent Homes scheme sounded brilliant but, unlike local authorities, HA’s were told that they were not going to receive any funding to upgrade bathrooms and kitchens – which they were, by now, legally obliged to do. The Peabody Trust (now simply called Peabody in a rather subtle but telling renaming of the charity) now sells any property that becomes void at auction – ostensibly in order to fund the scheme. My sources tell me that they continue to sell properties regardless of the fact that the Decent Homes scheme has been all but completed on Peabody’s estates. Peabody also devotes a great deal of its energies to building and managing a large market rent and shared ownership portfolios….and there’s me thinking that the HA’s are there to rent properties to social tenants.  How silly of me! Is this what they mean by postmodernism?

Targets, benchmarks and pointless number crunching weren’t started by Labour but they subjected nearly every aspect of life to some form of measurement. So much in love were they with meeting targets and creating the right kind of figures, that Blair and co went around he country to hold their ‘Big Conversations’. It was a big flop; most people could see that this was an empty gesture and wanted nothing to do with it.

With the Blairites in the driving seat it is hard to see how Labour can make themselves appear different to the Tories or even the Lib Dems when most of the leadership candidates have been tainted by association. All of the candidates with the exception of Diane Abbott have been close to the heart of the Nu Labour project and now are trying to distance themselves from it while, ironically, sounding like the very thing they’re trying to escape.

Today, Andy Burnham attacked the Miliband brothers for being “elitist”, a phrase he no doubt picked up from US politics.  New Labour he says,

“At its worst, it was self indulgent, arrogant, elitist, London-centric and all of that has to change. It looked hollow and rootless at times.”

It took you all this time to recognize this, Andy?

How about this from Blair’s 2005 speech to the party conference.

This autumn, we will publish our Education White Paper. It will open up the system to new providers and new partners, allow greater parental choice, expand Foundation, Academy and extended schools. Again reform, again some of it difficult. But all with one purpose: to let nothing block the way to higher standards, and greater achievement for our children. The greatest injustice I know is when good education is the preserve of the privileged. We are changing that injustice.

This sounds little different to the coalition’s plans for education. The only real difference here is in the absence of ‘free schools’ from the speech.

I don’t normally indulge in conspiracy theories but there have been times when I thought that Blair was some kind of right wing entryist – a sort of Thatcherite agent –  who joined the party as  a sort of  Trojan horse to destroy the party from within by taking it to the right. This is what Thatcher said in a speech to the Carlton Club in 1979

Our aim is not just to remove our uniquely incompetent Government from office—it is to destroy the socialist fallacies—indeed the whole fallacy of socialism—that the Labour Party exists to spread

Thatcher claimed on more than one occasion that it was her desire to ‘destroy’ socialism. The rest of the speech follows a similar tone.

We have to fight Socialism wherever we find it: at Westminster in County Halls, in Borough and District Council Chambers.

In his blog, Iain McWhirter of the Sunday Herald says,

She wanted to “abolish socialism” at home and defeat communism abroad. Incredibly, she arguably did both, and at the same time gave her name to a new “ism”: Thatcherism – a political phiosophy founded on deregulated financial markets, privatisation of state assets, sales of council homes and dismantling of the welfare state. Thatcherism wasn’t just an economic policy, however, it was a social psychology based on possessive individualism. It was about getting as much as possible for yourself and your family and then letting the rest of the world go hang.

Socialism was destroyed within the Labour Party perhaps but it, like many other ideas, continues to exist and is no more dead than Nazism. Blair created a party in his own image. It was a party of bland shoe-salesmen and former local councillors who more than happy to improve their career prospects by signing up to the Blair Stitch Project. Even the new intake of women Labour MPs was subjected to old-style sexism: Blair’s Babes they were called.  Unlike Labour women of the past, this lot were happy to be labelled ‘babes’ and to pose and smile for the cameras.  None of them could be described as heavyweight intellectual talents. There were no Barbara Castles among their number and the party was worse off for it. I mean, Caroline Flint hardly compares to such a figure. If she wasn’t posing for the cameras, she was spouting nonsense in the media.

So what were Nu Labour’s achievements?  I can’t think of any to be perfectly honest. If they want to talk about figures, then anyone can churn out rafts of statistics to justify their argument. It cuts no ice with me. The simple truth is that the divide between rich and poor deepened; social mobility decreased while homelessness increased and wages for those on meagre incomes remained low in spite of the tax credit regime which, in actual fact, made many people poorer because of the way it was administered.

Whoever wins the leadership contest  will no doubt continue to plough the same furrow left to them by Blair and Brown. David Miliband is Blair Lite; his brother, Ed seems slightly more reasonable. Balls is finished and Burnham is a non-starter. As for Abbott, she stands no chance and once the election is over, she will return to the backbenches and possibly be reunited with Portillo.

The name of Keir Hardie is like kryptonite to the Blairites. Flint probably doesn’t know who he was or what he did! For people like Flint, history doesn’t matter and nor does substance. It’s the surface that counts.

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Filed under Labour leadership contest

A word about that Orange Book

In 2004, a group of Liberal Democrats published a book they titled The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism. The purpose behind the book was to try and take the Lib Dems towards the centre-right; to make them appear more Tory than the Tories. The book, edited by David Laws and Paul Marshall was distributed widely among the membership. It is worth mentioning that those Lib Dem faces who have been summoned to the cabinet table by Cameron are all members of the Orange Book Club. It is also worth remembering that the Lib Dems are formed from two parties: the old Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party who split from Labour in 1981.

The Orange Book stresses their desire to see the free market take more of a role in society. If any of this sounds familiar, it should.  These are roughly the same ideas that float around in the minds of free-market Tory types like Alan Duncan and William Hague. These ideas were current in Thatcher’s thinking and were often framed in terms  of  ‘freedom’. In other words, there can be no freedom unless it it through the Conservative Party. Now the Tories have able allies in the Lib Dem Orange Book Club, so we can expect more rubbish about notions of ‘freedom’.

The best that we can hope for is for the more SDP-minded members of the Lib Dems to defect to Labour. A few deaths should cause a few by-elections. This coalition cannot last.

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Filed under General Election 2010, Government & politics, Liberal Democrats