Thursday, September 30, 2010

The dawn of a new kind of politics?

So I had a bit of fun the other day with Ed Milliband's speech, but there is much in there to be welcomed. In particular, rather than attacking the Liberal Democrats - Labour's favourite pasttime for the last few months - he almost sounded like one of us at times.
Let’s be honest, politics isn’t working.

People have lost faith in politicians and politics.

And trust is gone.

Politics is broken.

Its practice, its reputation and its institutions.

I’m in it and even I sometimes find it depressing.

This generation has a chance - and a huge responsibility - to change our politics. We must seize it and meet the challenge.

So we need to reform our House of Commons and I support changing our voting system and will vote Yes in the referendum on AV.

Yes we need to finally elect the House of Lords after talking about it for a hundred years.

Yes we need more decisions to be made locally, with local democracy free of some of the constraints we have placed on it in the past and frankly free of an attitude which has looked down its nose at the work local government does.

This could easily be from one of Nick Clegg's speeches.
Let’s be honest, changing our institutions won’t be enough to restore trust on its own.

Look in the end, it’s politicians who have to change.

We've got to reject the old ways of doing politics.


Some of the political figures in history who I admire most are Keynes, Lloyd George, Beveridge, who were not members of the Labour Party.

Frankly, the political establishment too often conducts debate in a way that insults the intelligence of the public.

We must change this for the good of the country.

I will be a responsible Leader of the Opposition.

What does that mean?

When I disagree with the government, as on the deficit, I will say so loud

and clear and I will take the argument to them.

But when Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison

because of high re-offending rates, I’m not going to say he’s soft on crime.

When Theresa May says we should review stop and search powers, I’m not going to say she is soft on terrorism.

I tell you this conference, this new generation must find a new way of conducting politics.

If the rest of the party listens, this represents the most radical change of direction since the New Labour project. New Labour was defined as much by its posturing - and outdoing the Conservatives - on crime, on terror, on throwing away our hard-won civil liberties, as by anything else. New Labour since the election has done nothing but opposition for its own sake - if only because it was easy and they lacked a leader who might have the authority to do anything more difficult.

Of course there are dangers to our party if Labour were suddenly to agree with us too much, but it is still something to welcome. That we have comprehensively won the arguments on civil liberties, crime, Iraq, political reform and the culture of political debate, is a huge cause for celebration.

I hope Ed can take his party with him. It will be very difficult to engage in constructive opposition, particularly on the deficit. As John Maynard Keynes famously said:
"A public sector deficit of 10% of GDP should be halved in 4 years not in 3."
...or something like that. This means the honest opposition to every cut is either: a) we would do this same cut 6 months or a year later, or b) we would cut somthing else or raise a tax instead, with specifics.

But I am optmistic. I think there is a demand for a better kind of politics. Politicians are so much more beholden to the media these days. We're not even allowed to be old - Ming Campbell was destroyed for that crime - lest the pecking order between journalists and politicians might become less clear. We live or die by their praises or damnation, and they are untouchable. But judging by the way we conduct politics, we deserve no better.

Of course the media's desire for a good scrap has often shut down serious debate of the issues, and this is not going away. I am talking about how politics now responds to the situation we have. Playing the infantile games - spin, smear, and opposition for its own sake - has given some quick wins and will continue to do so. But being more grown up will better serve us, will be truer to the passions that brought us into politics - to make the world a better place - freedom and fairness.

It is not easy to leap first into a more grown-up kind of politics, but with the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives already co-operating, Labour need only leap last. Good luck.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

That Ed Milliband speech in full

In a big scoop for the Extra Bold Blog, I have obtained an early draft of Ed Milliband's speech.

For copyright reasons, I won't release this until after the actual speech has been delivered.

[check against delivery]

Friends, comrades, it is 72 hours since I became leader of this party. I want to say how incredibly honoured I am that you have chosen me over my brother to lead our party. David that'll teach you to nationalise my train set.

And let me pay tribute to two colleagues who are standing down. Alasdair Darling: you kept cool while Mandelson and Brown were overriding you. And Jack Straw you were always good as the butt of my unfunny jokes. Like this one.

The gift my parents gave to me and David is what I want for every child in this country: an indoctrination into the revolutionary road to socialism.

We have a responsibility to leave this world in a better state than we found it, except when it comes to public debt.

Freedom and opportunity are precious gifts. This is something I learned not to be true from my dad's books.

But lets face facts we had a bad result. Every day out of power is one where we can blame the coalition for the consequences of our deficit. So lets resolve to be back in power when the deficit has been removed, er, hopefully just 5 years.

Remember the spirit of 1997. But by the end of our time in office we had lost our way. Tony and Gordon took on conventional wisdom and lost. Let's do that again.

The old way of thinking said that public services would always be second class. And they still are. I'm proud of, er, something. But we saved the National Health Service, apparently.

The old thinking was that the world was too big and this country too small to make a difference. But look at our wars!

So Tony and Gordon took on established institutions until they became them.

But we also have to understand where we went wrong. How did we lose 5 million votes? A party taking on old thinking became trapped by its own dogmas. We became friends of the city, insufficiently racist on immigration, corrupted in the expenses scandal, and piling the debt on students.

But this week we embark on the journey back to thinking. We don't know all the answers yet. Dis generation wants to rule the nation with version. This generation wants to change our foreign policy so that we don't always start wars when we have the chance.

As we emerge from the global economic crisis we need to reduce the deficit. We are in no position to oppose what the coalition does because we would have had to do much the same. The fiscal credibility we earned in 1997 was hard won, and Ed Balls has being doing his best to throw away the last shreds of it.

But I'm now going to pretend I didn't say any of that, and have a go at all the cuts we would have had to have done anyway.

This government has no 5 year plan for growth, and no 5 year economic plan is no way to a planned economy of any kind.

I have a much bigger vision - to emerge from the financial crisis learning to listen to Vince Cable next time.

I want our businesses to benefit from the globalised economy. But not if it means hiring foreigners. Except people like my dad. We didn't listen on the doorstep to complaints about immigration. [camera cuts to some black people in the audience]

We want to win an argument about the danger the coalition government poses to our party. So let's have no truck with overblown rhetoric about waves of strike action. Labour would have had to do the same. In case that sounds evil, I'll talk a bit about caring for children.

This is one of the hardest issues for our party - but those who can work should do so. Reforming our benefits system must not be about stereotyping everyone out of work, like it was under Labour, but a genuine plan to make sure those in need are protected, and those who can work do so, like under the coalition.

We are a generation that yearns for things business cannot provide - green spaces and family. We were right to introduce markets, but naive about them. We shouldn't have closed all the post offices. We shouldn't have put all those pubs out of business with the smoking ban.

We stand for these things not because we are social conservatives, but because we are just conservatives.

Family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family.

So as we rebuild our economy, family, family, family, family, family, family, family, family.

But government can itself become a vested interest. I know the value of a good school, and I know that many parents are frustrated that they don't have them. But we wouldn't let them set up their own schools.

I believe individual freedom and liberty matter and should never be given away lightly. [Do I need to duck for cover at this point? Ed] Locking up innocent people undermined the good things we did like the database state.

We, me and my brother are the new generation. And we need new thinking in foreign policy.

Troops, troops, troops, troops, troops, troops, troops, troops, troops, troops, troops.

I've got to be honest with you about Iraq. Iraq divided our country. I'll say it divided our party, although we didn't show it at the time. But we were wrong.

Politics is basically broken. We have a huge responsibility to reform it. I support changing the voting system and will vote yes on AV. And we need to elect the house of lords. And we need more decisions to be made locally. I am so happy we have a government that understands all this unlike the last lot.

Hooray for Red Ken being our candidate for London Mayor. We can be the Red brothers. Sorry David.

Wisdom is not the preserve of any one party. Keynes, Lloyd-George and Beveridge are among my heroes. When Ken Clarke wants to review short sentences, I won't call him soft on crime, sorry Jack. Let's have a more grown up kind of politics. [Do make sure this early draft of the speech isn't leaked.]

We are the optimists, the new generation, the optimists and the new generation. Hooray for us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

What's wrong with the electoral college?

So Ed Milliband has been elected Labour leader, winning the unions big, and losing the members and MPs. Are the system and result wrong in some way? Does it matter that not all votes are equal? I don't think so.

There's nothing inherently unreasonable about having a ballot just of MPs or just of members, or just of some wider constituency, like an open primary. So what can be wrong with a heterogenous compromise between these homogenous ballots?

And yes, there is something wrong with representing the interests of unionised workers over and above everybody else - lower paid non-unionised workers, the unemployed, the self-employed, etc - but it is a wrong that is at the core of the Labour party identity. If the Conservatives had an electoral college with such a wider constituency, it would include all the already privileged and powerful people. Well perhaps not all of them - they might make a point of leaving out Trades Union bosses.

And if the Liberal Democrats had an electoral college including non-members, it would include everybody, or at least all self-identified supporters, reflecting our belief in not dividing people up arbitrarily by class or some other aspect of identity.

And we're not so far off an electoral college. Nick Clegg had the support of many more MPs than Chris Huhne, and this fact alone doubtless influenced some members to support him. And a leader should enjoy the support of MPs, so perhaps this could be recognised in the ballot rather than relying on the power of endorsement. On the other hand MPs are perhaps more likely to back the winner, so a ban on endorsements would be a good complement to an MPs section in an electoral college. And for deputy leader MPs vote and we don't. And it's not an outrage.

The Conservatives also have something like an electoral college, but cleverly have the MPs reducing the contenders to 2, and then the members making the final choice. I say cleverly, because this process is designed to enjoy all the benefits of AV while looking as little as possible like it.

Ah yes, AV. Did I mention that Ed Milliband only won on transfers, and that David was leading not only on first preferences but in every round but the last one. But of course supporters of Diane Abbot and Andy Burnham deserve to have some say in the final outcome. It's not a gerrymander to let them transfer their votes to one of the Millibands. Ed had more support than David in the electoral college as specified, and the FPTP result would have been a travesty.

So it is good to see the importance of transfers in proving the winner is better supported than the runner-up, is not just supported, but taken for granted by the Labour Party. Amen to that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mediocrity in the shadow of a tyrant

Mike Smithson has called it for Mr Ed (Milliblair). Charlotte Gore is relieved because he is a clear loser.Much like the other 4.

But why haven't Labour got somebody with a bit more about them? It reminded me of the post-Thatcher years in the Conservative party. John Major rose without trace. William Hague was known only for being a pompous schoolboy. IDS - well I can't think of anything to say about him. And each time they rejected better-known party heavyweights.

Strong leaders like Thatcher and Blair it seems instinctively create the wrong environment for the nurturing of their successors. The same goes for their contemperaneous rivals, the Browns and Heseltines.

So, again, hooray for coalition. With genuine debate happening for once behind the mask of collective responsibility, more than one politician is at last thinking more about how best to govern, rather than just about how best to get to the top. Cameron's position is much weaker, and the Conservatives will be better off for it. Ditto Clegg and the Lib Dems.

As for Labour, I will reserve judgement a little longer. Will their new leader have a vision beyond "more borrowing"- which is all the party seems to stand for at the moment. I doubt it.