Arguments that every Liberal Democrat would do well to hear


By Jim Grundy

Look, you and I are not going to agree; probably not even on the time of day. You think you’re noble…. I think that you’re facilitating the nastiest, most regressive administration in post-war history. And most people agree with me by the way …

Ah, but there was no choice, you claim. Think of the economic crisis, you say.

In 1945 the country was in a far, far, far worse economic state than it was in 2010 (when the national debt was lower than Labour inherited in 1997 – really, yes, really).  And yet, Labour created a universal welfare state, the National Health Service and built hundreds of thousands of much needed new homes. All this was done because it was needed and it also helped stimulate the economy. You are now doing the polar opposite and for no better reason than you either want to or don’t care to do anything different because it would upset your Tory chums.

You seem to think we’re engaged in a jolly little debate, one that is somehow concerned only about hurt feelings and politicians attacking each other. Many times I – and others – have tried to point out that your support for the Tories – or at least your wholly ineffective ‘opposition’ to them – is having appalling consequences to the lives of people across the country. You can’t deal with that and bring it back time after time to how noble you Lib Dems have been and how hurt you’ve been by attacks by those who think you’ve betrayed the country by supporting the Tories (‘cos that’s what you do when you vote for them all the time). I’m struggling to think of anything more pathetic.

You ask what was the alternative? Simple. You should have allowed the Tories to form a minority administration and support them or oppose them according to the issue. Yes, that might have led to an election before now – what’s wrong with that (oh, but you fixed that, didn’t you with your changes to confidence motions and five-year fixed term parliaments – odd, you haven’t addressed that)? That way you might have protected yourselves against the charge of being nothing more than opportunists; of abandoning any kind of principle in pursuit of power. You didn’t. And, you know, there’s been one or two indications from the electorate that they don’t share your perception of Lib Dem honour. Have you noticed that?

You bound yourselves to the Tories so tightly that they know you daren’t do anything other than support them or face anihilation at the polls. But you still might have the chance to ditch Clegg and co., pretend it was all a horrible mistake and go to the nation and seek the people’s verdict. You’re afraid of that, though, aren’t you? You know how much you are hated, ok, mistrusted – but that isn’t a badge of honour; it is not a symbol of suffering in a higher cause; and I think you know that, for all your protestations.

The Lib Dems are finished. Your party will fragment, its support drain away, as it has done every time you’ve got into bed with the Tories. I don’t need to tell you the history of your own party – or do I?

What has been done has been done. Don’t for the sake of any kind of credibility that you might seek to hold on to pretend it was done for a noble cause.

You have not the slightest idea of my background. I’ll give you a clue – I’m a socialist. Clegg and his ilk (and they are found in lots of different groups) are in it for themselves. Not for any party; they’re not hide-bound either, you see. They’re tribal in a different way – their own tribe comes first, even when it has only one member.

I don’t know you either. One thing I do know, however, and that it’s far easier to fool someone, than to persuade them that they have been fooled. I think you’ve been fooled. What you describe as pragmatism, I call the betrayal of the ordinary working people of this country on the basis of an appearance on TV and a lie that there is no choice.

You might describe as noble putting up with the abuse that has been poured upon Clegg and co. I call it wholly predictable and understandable – and, yes, deserved. There are precedents. What is happening now has happened before. You might wish to believe that you are not ‘pinned down’ by anything but you are indeed a prisoner, of events, of your Tory captors, of one of the biggest deceits every perpetrated upon the British people. So don’t feel wounded when things come back to bite you – and don’t be surprised if some of the biters are Tories either. You don’t think they’re grateful to you for your ‘self-sacrifice’, do you? No, they’re laughing at you. They hold you in nothing but contempt – and you know that, don’t you?

I am not appealing to you or anyone else to accept without qualification everything that any party stands for – or what you believe it stands for – but for principle. A good start is that the most vulnerable should not suffer at the same time as the wealthiest are benefiting from the policies implemented by any government. And I am sure you must accept that the rich are indeed getting richer and the poor are indeed getting very much poorer, not by accident but by design. How else can you explain a tax cut for the better off and a hike in taxes, accompanied by a cut in pay and benefits, for the worst off?

If you or anyone else doesn’t understand the very real suffering that many people are being subjected to is all too real – and to dismiss that as ‘collateral damage’ is just unacceptable – then you won’t understand why there is genuine anger at what is being done – and who to blame for it. And it is being done by those with no electoral mandate whatsoever to act in the manner they are doing.

“Fairness” & “Progressive” were two words repeated time and again in the early days of the Coalition and, even, “we’re all in it together”. No-one seems to be saying that now. Does anyone need to explain to you why that might be the case?

How about investing in growth, rather than paying to prop up failure for a start? Have you not seen the latest (record) borrowing figures? Who had heard of the national debt before 2008? (Despite Gordon Brown paying such a large slab of it off during his time as Chancellor. Odd that so few people seem to know about that, isn’t it?)

The idea that debt is, by definition bad, is a simply wrong. Do you own your own home? If you do or if you know others that do, how many of those people bought those properties with cash? Does that acquisition benefit them or beggar them? Most people believe owning property, having some equity, something to pass on to your children is a good thing. But, for the vast majority of people, that has only been possible by people getting into debt. Are they all in the proverbial? Thought not.

Keynesian economics are not a busted flush. We need a 21st Century New Deal, investment in public works, house-building programmes.  Programmes that will pay for themselves by creating employment, generating greater taxation revenues at the same time as reducing benefits. That has been proven to work. The ‘Future Jobs Fund’, one of the first to be scrapped by the Tories – with Lib Dem help (sorry if you think I’m rubbing it in but it is important to recognise the role of your party in all that has taken place) – has been shown (see links below) to have helped to do precisely that, even though on a scale far smaller than is required. But it was only one scheme. The investment in new housing, the ‘Housing Pledge’, and other schemes were delivering the same goal.

The country’s economic woes were not caused by excessive spending. They were caused by a collapse in receipts from taxation. To argue, as the Tories and Lib Dems have done, that the answer is to cut expenditure has served only to further reduce the government’s income, increasing the national debt, widening the deficit. It is economic insanity – but only if you think the sole agenda is to reduce the debt/deficit. What the Tories are about is to use this argument to justify the kind of cuts, the mass privatisation of everything from the police to the NHS, that you have been persuaded represent pragmatism. That is one huge lie and nothing more.

It’s a simple fact that the Tories hate public services. They believe that providing pensions, care for the elderly, etc., etc. are forms of evil, as is everything unless it provides an opportunity for private companies – those who pay for the Tory party – to make a profit. Have you noticed that no matter how poorly the utilities perform, how bad the trains are, they maintain the mantra that the public sector is inefficient, while the private sector is the ideal to be adopted everywhere?

Face the facts, the country is in a huge mess and those in the biggest mess are those least responsible for it. If people look at the Lib Dems and blame them ‘disproportionately’ for that, all I can say is that you can have no excuse for being surprised. Or for being disliked.

Our problem is that the very word ‘socialist’ has become a pejorative term put in the minds of many by a Tory-dominated media. And then we have the line that “it’s all very good in theory…”.

You seek pluralism but what does that mean? I think it misses the point about what society truly is. When affordable housing is slashed, that doesn’t just hurt those at the bottom. When benefits are cut, the pain isn’t just felt by a few. It damages society fundamentally to see the gap between the richest and the wealthiest grow ever wider.  That is not to speak of a fluffy Nirvana-style ideal, it is based on empirical evidence (see “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett).

Yes, there are gradations in society but this government represents only 1% of it. The rest are seeing a huge transfer of their wealth into the hands of the 1%. That is reality. The most vicious tribal class war might speak of the ‘Big Society’ but it is there solely to serve the aims of ‘big business’.

If I would say one last thing to you, it is this. What kind of society do you want to live in? Do you think it is right that people can’t afford to live in a decent home? Do you think that it is right for people to be unable to heat their own homes, leading to the deaths of thousands each year? Do you think that healthcare and education are rights, not privileges? Do you think that everyone should contribute to society – and pay their taxes? Put together a whole list of similar questions to yourself without reference to party or politicians. Consider your conclusions and then ask yourself if you can find that vision reflected in this administration.

Put aside the, “well, that would be nice, of course, but it’ll never happen,” kind of thinking. Pessimism is a disease and it blinds people to what can be done. If our ancestors had not dreamt of what they wanted and demanded it, we wouldn’t be having this argument. There would be nothing to fight for because, for example, we’d have no National Health Service to save in the first place.

What we have now – and are in the process of losing – is precious and it was not given to us by a noble elite acting in the public interest. All social progress has been made, not through the beneficence of the strong but won by the collective action of the ‘weak’. And that happened because people recognised that they were as valuable as anyone else, no matter what their background.

As was said in the Putney Debates (which should be required reading for everyone) in 1647:

“I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he”. That was true then. It’s true now and never let anyone stifle that belief by telling you, “well, of course, in an ideal world….”.

As Shelley wrote, “We are many. They are few!”

Softly, Softly, into Slums: New Law permits Councils to turn Homeless away

Who are these people?

Chronically ill lung patient told to ‘get a job’ after benefits axe – This is the face of the swingeing benefit cuts being enforced across Wales and the rest of the country by the UK Government.

Atos killed my dad, says boy 13 – The devastated youngster believes the benefits assessors’ decision to deem his dad…

Geriatric and mental health wards threatened by NHS cuts – Telegraph – –  – David Cameron faces a growing backlash against NHS cuts and the closure of A&E … 

The modern face of hardship – – More than six million working Britons are living in poverty, according to a repo…

Related post – “We Take Care of Our Own” or What Labour Needs to Remember if it Wants to Win.

“We Take Care of Our Own” or What Labour Needs to Remember if it Wants to Win.


By Jim Grundy

In a recent debate with a supporter of the Liberal Democrats I was shocked (which I suppose I shouldn’t have been) at the callous dismissal of the problems being experienced by millions of people in this, the seventh largest economy in the world. Cuts to pay, pensions, benefits, care services for the elderly, trebling of tuition fees, removal of disability benefits, the 20% rise in homelessness, the privatisation of the NHS and rationing of healthcare, cuts to the Police, none of it registered. The anger, frustration and despair that all of that and so much more has caused, were dismissed as “phoney” and served no other purpose than to provide a stick to beat Liberal Democrats with.

The attitude on display reminded me of an interview I saw with a violent offender once. He had been sent to prison after an unprovoked attack upon a complete stranger. When asked what he’d do if he ever met the victim again his response was not to offer an apology or show any remorse. Oh no. The man said, “I’d have him!”  When questioned why “’Cos he put me here!”  In his way of thinking, he was the victim. He had lost his freedom and that was the fault of the person, he’d beaten to unconsciousness, nothing to do with his own actions.

This kind of attitude is only possible because of the constant attacks upon ordinary people seen everyday coming from the Government and its increasingly rabid friends in the right-wing press.  Owen Jones performed an important service when he published his excellent book, “Chavs. The Demonisation of the Working Class.” His timely expose of how the attacks upon the livelihoods of millions of people have been justified by the oh so Victorian belief in the deserving and undeserving poor (although it’s hard to detect much belief in the former).

The ability to objectify, the all too genuine suffering, that is being inflicted upon the “the poor” (his expression) by our Liberal Democrat friend was topped off by a positively post-modernist outlook on life. To him, there was no such thing as truth, and all experiences and evidence of the effects of the policies being supported by them in coalition with the Nasty Party were merely texts, only one version of events with no greater validity than anything put out by Tory Central Office.

It was an astonishing display of how millions of people can be dehumanised and any protest about their fate treated as nothing other than a cynical, empty, politically-motivated lie. It could’ve been a case of an individual judging another by their own values (or absence thereof) but it was enlightening in its way.  It reminded me of the disconnection between the people and their leaders – and how some of the people come to embrace their own alienation.

There are some within the Labour Party who hold views about the average working class person as being little different to the racist, xenophobic, homophobic, bigoted white van man driver stereotype. Recent polling commissioned by Progress was used to support that view and its case, that the answer to the loss of the last election was not that the Party had for too long ignored its core vote but that there was no such thing as a core vote and a further lurch to the right is required if we stood any chance of forming the next administration.

I suppose it infrequently occurs to your average Progress supporter that it is a poor defence, against the excesses of the right-wing, to become right-wing yourselves.

They have written-off the working class in favour of a middle-income, middle class swing voter; they long abandoned any belief in socialist principles, so no surprise there. But if we wish to gain the support of those who, whilst certainly not Tories, are still to be persuaded that Labour has anything to offer them, we have to do more than taking on each and every, daft idea that comes out of the Daily Mail and its ilk everyday.

Anyone could be forgiven for believing that Progress – and the Lib Dem who started me thinking – view politics as akin to Premiership football. There is only one game – for football read capitalism – the only issue is who is the best manager of the team (and who’s got the most attractive kit)?  If we don’t like the current prime minister, offer them another but certainly don’t offer to change the game.

“You’re all the same, politicians,” is heard often, and sometimes it’s not an easy task to dismiss that claim. But if we in Labour have any serious ambition to win with an overall majority, we have to show the clear red water that does exist between us and this, the most rabidly right-wing government in post-war history.

It’s not good enough to spend all our energies chasing after the 100-200,000 voters in key marginal constituencies. We must, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “Take Care of our Own”.  In that song, a number of questions are asked and it’s worth repeating them here:

“Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see?

Where’re the hearts, that run over with mercy?

Where’s the love that has not forsaken me?

Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free?

We have to provide the answers.

But if the answer is to dismiss the pain being inflicted upon millions as regrettable but inevitable, then we have no right to expect them to come to Labour … just because the alternative is so appalling (and incompetent with it).  Even with a stick of the size, that is being handed to us, we cannot just bash the Tories and Lib Dems, we have to offer hope of a real alternative to austerity.

The answer is not a charismatic leader (we’ve had enough of those) but a solid commitment to listen to what we know to be true. We’re here, yes to represent the interests of all, in our ‘One Nation’, but, most of all, to protect those who are the most vulnerable in society. If we fail to do that, we won’t just have failed as a party, we will have failed the country as well.

It’s time to move away from the Tory lie of a bankrupt nation, to dealing with the reality inflicted by a morally bankrupt collection of Tory and Liberal millionaires. Our Liberal Democrat friend called this ‘tribalism’ (oh, the irony).  I call it justice and, in the truest sense, looking after our own.


The contradictions of Liberal Democrat opportunism


During a long drive on Thursday, I listened to Richard Bacon interviewing Paddy Ashdown about his new book and current LD politics.

There was the usual absurdity of comparing the UK with Greece.  That the UK had the same level of debt as the Greeks but by going into coalition with the Tories, the LDs had ‘put the national interest first’ and ‘succeeded’ in keeping our interest rates low.  The fact that the UK is not at all like Greece; that the UK is not part of the Eurozone, and has its own currency and central bank, was never mentioned or even questioned. The perpetuation of this mythology is economically illiterate and/or profoundly economical with the truth.

I was, however, astonished to hear that Nick Clegg is by far the most talented of our political leaders; that he is enjoying every moment of being in government, and that he was courageous in having apologised for pledging to abolish tuition fees.

Additionally, Nick Clegg just loves the spoof video clip of his ‘saying sorry’, just as Paddy had loved his ‘Spitting image’ puppet (!).  This was followed by a great deal of the usual nonsense about the LDs having shown that Coalitions ‘do work’, and even though the LDs loathe the Tories, they had put that to one side in order to rescue the UK in its hour of crisis.  A crisis entirely created by the irresponsible government of Gordon Brown … a risible contention on a par with the UK being like Greece, or Nick Clegg being by far the most talented of our political leaders.

The conversation then moved on to the new book but as a final question, Richard Bacon asked about the possibility that there might have been some sort of coalition with Tony Blair in 1997, and that Gordon Brown had offered Paddy Ashdown the chance to be Northern Ireland Secretary of State.

“Yes’ said Paddy Ashdown.  He’d had a lot of discussions with Tony Blair.  They had agreed on a great deal but when it came to it, Tony Blair had wanted to amalgamate the LDs into the LP and that was something that Paddy Ashdown would never do because British politics would be the poorer without the LDs.

Richard Bacon expressed great surprise that Paddy Ashdown had not taken the opportunity to be a Minister, a last chance to be in government.  “No” said Paddy Ashdown.  He would never have compromised his principles by being in a Gordon Brown government with which he fundamentally disagreed.  The problem for him was ‘collective responsibility’.  How could he have been put in the position of appearing to support policies that violated his political beliefs?

Which rather begged the question as to what Nick Clegg is up to?

Is Paddy Ashdown calling the ‘talented’ Mr Clegg, a hypocrite, who has compromised his principles by accepting ‘collective responsibility’ from the loathed Tory Cabinet.  A step, which would be going far too far for Paddy Ashdown to contemplate?

Or is Paddy Ashdown implying that Nick Clegg substantially agrees with Tory policies and economic strategy?  In which case why does he maintain that Nick Clegg loathes the Tories?

And why exactly does Paddy Ashdown favour coalition government and PR?

Given that the very essence of PR is that most governments would be coalitions, how does Paddy Ashdown reconcile that, with his strongly stated position about the impossibility of working with governments that do not reflect his own principles…?

And if that government does reflect his own views (as he said Tony Blair’s did), then why wouldn’t he join together with that political party?  Are we to understand that British politics would be the poorer without the LDs because it would diminish the opportunities for a third grouping of political careerists to enjoy ministerial power/cars?

As they say  ‘Give a Liberal Democrat grandee enough rope, and they may hang their whole party by disclosing its innate contradictions and opportunism’.

Related Post:

One little word so powerful it lost the Tories the last election (and probably the next)  (Tom Pride)

One little word so powerful it lost the Tories the last election (and probably the next)


The destruction of the NHS is not going to be Nick Clegg’s worse legacy. He’s done something even worse.

Language really, really matters.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about being snobby over misspelt words or wrongly placed apostrophes. I’m talking about language affecting us in real ways which can have real-life repercussions on massively important things like our health, our well-being, our happiness.

Words really can change things in concrete ways.

There are recent examples in politics where just one little word has destroyed a political party for a generation.

In Labour’s case, in the 80s, it was the word ‘loony‘. The ‘loony left‘ haunted every Labour politician until Blair and New Labour sunk it forever by being worse than loony. They became ‘careful‘.

In the Tory’s case it was the word ‘nasty‘ – a term coined in 2002 but which is still haunting them today and is the real reason they failed to win the last election.

But even more destructive is the ongoing misuse of everyday words which affects all of us negatively in concrete ways, and the effects of this linguistic abuse can sometimes be felt for generations.

This ‘dumbing down’ of everyday words is being used more and more in marketing. A good illustration is the word ‘pure‘ when applied to orange juice for example.

If I buy pure orange juice it isn’t actually ‘pure‘ at all. It’s concentrate mixed with water. Of course it’s possible to buy ‘pure‘ orange juice but it can’t be described as ‘pure‘ because that word no longer means pure – so they tell us it’s ‘freshly squeezed‘ or ‘fresh‘ or ‘natural‘ – all of which of course it’s not.

And what is the concrete result of this misuse of words by the orange juice industry? Well – we all end up drinking lower quality orange juice.

Don’t believe me? See here:

Squeezed: The Secrets of the Orange Juice Industry.

The misuse of words has actually resulted in a real world deterioration in quality for all of us.

And so we come to Nick Clegg. Some people say the worse legacy of his being in power will be the destruction of the NHS. For example, when he was famously offered a choice by Cameron between dropping ‘reform’ of the NHS and House of Lords – he chose the latter.

But as important as I think the NHS is, I disagree. As hard as it might be – there’s a good chance the reforms can be reversed in the future – even if it takes years.

But he’s already left us with one destructive legacy which will take even longer to repair – generations possibly – if ever.

I’m talking about his misuse of one little word.


But how can his playing fast and loose with a pledge over tuition fees be worse than the destruction of the NHS?

Well think about it.

It’s 2015. Election time:

Politician: We will reverse the changes to the NHS if we win power.

Voter: How do I know you’re not just saying that to win my vote?

Politician: Fair enough. I promise to reverse the changes.

Voter: (laughing) Promise? We all know politicians will promise anything to win an election.

Politician: No – this time we mean it. We really will reverse the changes.

Voter: Prove it.

Politician: OK. I’ll pledge it. In writing.

Voter: (smirking) What – like Clegg’s written pledge not to raise tuition fees?

Politician: Oh yes. OK. Well let me put it another way then. I’ll ….. erm ….. hang on. Shit. I can’t think of any word I can use which would persuade you I really will do it if I win the election.

Voter: There you are. You’re all the same, aren’t you? Just like Clegg.

Politician: Erm …. what if I write the pledge in my own blood? Will that do?

So there you have it. Clegg has stolen the last word we had which could guarantee that our elected representatives will keep their election promises. From now on – there’s no way they can prove to us they’ll keep their word – and the concrete effect on us all will be that they won’t have to.

Clegg’s legacy of his time in power is no less than the final and complete breakdown of trust between the electorate and politicians – something so damaging our children’s children will still be finding it hard to dispel many, many years from now.

Unless, or course, we quickly invent a new word our politicians will have to stick to.

How about ‘castripulation’ for example:

castripulation – (noun): an affirmation or promise resulting in castration if broken

to castripulate – (verb intransitive): to stipulate a promise or make a pledge on pain of castration

I doubt Clegg would have broken a castripulation not to raise tuition fees.

Do you?

Why do the Lib Dems stay in the coalition?


Why the LDs are not desperate (regardless of electoral prospects) to get out of the Coalition mystifies me … that is, it mystifies me for all those who are not Orange bookers and/or not the chosen few who enjoy a ministerial car. Apart from any other consideration, why do they want to stay and be tarred by association with George Osborne’s misguided destructive policies? Osborne’s economic strategy has even been criticized by the IMF!

Liberal Democrat Voice (1) does little to tell me ‘why’, although there are ‘voices’ there, which acknowledge, following the failures of AV and House of Lords reform, that being in government has not given them a ‘sufficient legacy’.  (That word ‘legacy’ has such a contemptuous ring…   reinforcing the conclusion that those activists and politicians are playing the ‘getting elected’ game rather than being passionate about improving the world.)

However, I was finally moved to write after reading John Kampfner’s extraordinary piece in the Guardian The Lib Dems are in a stronger position than the Tories – but hide it well – Cameron needs Clegg more than Clegg needs Cameron – so why won’t the Lib Dem leader show some muscle?’ (2)

John Kampfner writes:

Clegg trades on the fact that he is the first peacetime Liberal in a century to preside over government. That is no mean feat and, by the nature of coalition, requires compromise. The public appears to appreciate, better than the Westminster village, that give and take is a sign of a mature political system.

In what sense is it ‘no mean feat’ to happen to be the leader of a political party when another party fails to secure a majority, and to be prepared to accept the offer to form a coalition?

And given the LDs crashed-standing in the opinion polls, where does he observe the public appreciating that LD ‘give and take is a sign of a mature political system’.  Maturity?  Exactly what is immature about vehement opposition when faced with the disastrous policies that are being imposed on the UK populace?  Why is it ‘grown-up’ politics to stay ‘stumm’ as Kampfner suggests?

In fact, what ‘give and take’? On what, in particular, have the Tories compromised?  Yes, they organized (and sabotaged) a referendum on AV, and went through the motions of supporting (and sabotaged) House of Lords Reform.

The much vaunted Pupil premium was supposed to be ‘the reddest of the Liberal Democrats’ red lines’ with an additional £2.5 bn for the education of disadvantaged children.  But, in fact, the pupil premium was ‘robbing Peter, to pay Paul’… the majority being recycled from within the education department’s budget’ – largely from the abolishing of EMA

In June, ‘David Cameron promised to “take money from outside the education budget to ensure that the pupil premium is well funded”. ….  Cathy Newman’s verdict,
on Factcheck, was that ‘so far from bringing “real social justice and opportunity to Britain’s children”, as Nick Clegg claimed before the election, the pupil premium was just filling a hole in the budget’. (3)

Another LD ‘achievement’ was to raise the personal allowance, ‘taking the poorest out of taxation’, but Patrick Collinson in the Guardian dismissed it as an ’empty gesture’

As income goes up benefits will go down, and a million more basic-rate taxpayers are set to move into 40% tax band (4)

Shamik Das of Left Foot Forward made this clear (5):

As Chart B2 of the Budget 2012 Red book (pdf) shows, the cumulative effect of this budget and previous announcements is regressive for the bottom eight deciles. The ninth decile pay less proportionally than the poorest half of people. But the budget is progressive when looking at the richest 10 per cent versus the rest.

This process of the Tories ‘sort of supporting’ (and then sabotaging) is acknowledged by Kampfner, when he writes:

The Protection of Freedoms Act, which received royal assent in May, was a small but important step forward in limiting the authorities’ use of individual data. This is in danger of being more than offset by the hideous “snoopers’ charter” and plans to introduce secret courts for intelligence-related criminal cases, such as the use of torture. (2)


According to John Kampfner, Nick Clegg has a more coherent vision for social justice and social mobility, with which he advises Nick Clegg to stick….  However, I simply cannot see that Nick Clegg has ever advanced anything like a coherent vision.

A belief in social justice for the disabled, the unemployed, the low waged, is totally incompatible with voting through of the Welfare Reform bill and supporting the Legal Aid bill, let alone reducing the highest tax rate to 45% for the very wealthiest people.

And as for social mobility…  Has John Kampfner seen the fallen rate of applications to University after the introduction of £27K student tuition fees, and the impact of removal of EMA?

He must also know that there are over 1m unemployed 16 to 24y olds.  Does he realise that new official figures covering the academic year to April 2012 reveal the number of 16 to 18-year-olds starting on-the-job training schemes increased by just 1.4pc, to 104,500 (6)Whilst in the North East, North West and South West, apprenticeship starts have dropped.

Furthermore, the quality of those apprenticeships is highly questionable.

A BBC investigation has found that Morrisons supermarket employed more than 1 in 10 of all apprentices across England last year (7).

In addition, where is the social justice in the government rolling out workfare on a massive scale?

Tens of thousands of forced unpaid work placements have already taken place.

The government intends 250,000 workfare placements on the Work Experience scheme alone. If each placement is 8 weeks of 30 hours work, this is 60 million hours of forced unpaid work.

850,000 people are expected to be referred to the Work Programme by the end of this year. However, due to the “black box” approach the government uses with the private providers, it has so far refused to publish how many of those are being forced to work without pay.

The Mandatory Work Activity scheme has recently been expanded to a capacity of 70,000 places a year. (8)

This all sounds less like social justice or mobility, and more like increased profitability for businesses like Morrisons.

We were told that the LDs went into Coalition with the Tories because the UK was on the verge of becoming like Greece.  That the Labour government had irresponsibly overspent on public services, and it was effectively a national emergency.  It was said that Vince Cable u-turned his pre-election economic assessment on seeing the figures, and then agreed with Osborne’s plan for expansionary fiscal contraction (more like inherently contradictory  … expansionary and contraction).

Not only was the national debt inflated by the ‘socialisation’ of banking losses rather than by public spending (9), but there was absolutely no possibility of the UK being like Greece, a country without its own currency and no central bank (Will Hutton called the suggestion risible).

There was no national emergency, on the scale suggested, as the graph below shows (10).  The UK has had much worse national debt and was in a much better position than many other countries.

In any event, expansionary fiscal contraction was an improbable solution to a banking crisis and a global lack of demand. (I struggle to believe that Vince Cable does not know all this.  Just as I struggle to understand the legitimacy of his u-turn on economic strategy.)

Unfortunately for the UK population, but as predicted (11), it has not turned out well.  As Polly Toynbee notes:

Mervyn King has just delivered a more dire judgment than any before, of zero growth this year – far lower than expected over the next two years. Bank lending has seized up, exports are down, the balance of payments is the worst for 15 years. Meanwhile the Trussle Trust is opening four new food banks a week. (12)

Nevertheless, John Kampfner, faint but pursuing, concludes:

‘The Lib Dems have taken the blows, over tuition fees and more. They have lost the opportunity to modernise our moribund constitution. They have kept stumm for the sake of stability, and been accused by the left of treachery and by the right of petulance. Clegg has two and a half years to put a strongly liberal stamp on government as it seeks a path out of the economic mire.

That is a desperately tall order but, as the past two weeks have shown, success comes to those who show muscle and no little guile.’

Fine, fighting words (although I suspect NC is pretty comfortable with Cameron’s world view) but Polly Toynbee offers the opposite advice that the LDs should get out before its too late:

With David Cameron and George Osborne lashed to a failed Plan A and no sign of shifting, lashed to a failed Plan A, the one credible reason for the Lib Dems to break the coalition is to save the country from yet worse damage. Given what Clegg has led his party to vote for – benefit cuts for the poor, tax cuts for the rich – it is almost too late. But for each recession month that they stay on, tolerating all this, the Lib Dems lose credible reasons for ever making the break.

Personally, I have to admit to a fair degree of sympathy for the ordinary grassroots LD whose cognitive dissonance levels must currently be topping even those of grassroots Blair/New Labour believers.  They are having to justify the dismantling of the NHS, the dismantling of local democracy in education, replacement of Trident, dissing of the green agenda, nuclear power, a new runway at Heathrow, taking benefits away from disabled children and so on… for what?  To prove that coalition works?

I have always respected John Kampfner as a journalist, then Editor, at the New Statesman. For the man, who so comprehensively exposed Blair’s failings, to be turning himself inside out trying to justify the LD leadership’s current position seems so very sad.  The upper echelons of the LD leadership do not deserve it.

Related post:













Letter to David Cameron #saveournhs #spartacus


Dear David Cameron

People believed you when you said that the NHS was safe in your hands because you spoke so gratefully about the care that your son received.  For the same reason, people believed you when you said that you understood the extra costs and difficulties of disability and long-term sickness.

I have no reason to believe other than that you loved your son but it seems that your care and concern does not extend to other people’s children with illnesses or disabilities.

Why else could you have you forced through the Welfare Reform bill which halves the support given to most disabled children?

Family Action estimates that around 100,000 families with disabled children could lose support as a result of this change.  This will include many of the very poorest families, already struggling to make ends meet whilst caring for a disabled child.


Go on to any of the disability websites and read the agonizing stories of those who are affected by the cutting of £18 billion from the benefits bill.  It is horrifying.  For example go to:

The ‘disability’ benefits were already inadequate before you and George Osborne came out with your cynical self-justification that ‘we’re all in it together’ so everyone must share the burden including the very poorest!

But even more obscenely, you know that all of this is based on one big lie.

The big lie is that you inherited a country crippled by the previous government’s overspending on public services, and that we were in danger of a sovereign debt crisis.  Will Hutton calls the suggestion ‘risible’.  This ‘lie’ has been refuted by so many serious economists, including Nobel prize winners like Stiglitz and Krugman, that you should be squirming with embarrassment every time you say it.  And no matter how many times you or your LD fellow travellors, repeat the lie, it simply does not make it any more true!

Gordon Brown did not spend all the money-The Banks did (Dr Sue Davies)

In spite of all your fine words about the NHS, you know that your real plans for the NHS under the Health and Social Care bill is to create a US style of health care .. why do you ignore the advice of people who have both personal and professional experience of the US system? … people like the Harvard academics Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein who conclude that the appropriate response to the US experience with such policies is “quarantine, not replication”. (1)


 You are steadfastly ignoring all the protests and advice, whether public or professionals.  Why?

Do not tell us this is about making the NHS more affordable and efficient.

 According to the World Health Organisation, in 2008 the United States spent 15.2% of GDP on healthcare, the highest spend per head of any country, while the UK spent 8.7%, ranking it 19th. Studies ranking quality of care and efficiency across different national health systems always list the UK system as giving better outcomes at under half the cost of the US system; they routinely find that the NHS is top or near the top on outcomes and is near unbeatable for value for money. (1)

Do not tell us that this about improved care.

In 2011, medical negligence QC John Whitting has written that he expects negligence cases to soar as a result of the roll-out of competitive commissioning. He stated that in a competitive model: “fewer doctors and fewer nurses will have to work longer shifts: in other words, the very environment in which mistakes are most likely to happen……  These proposals are patently driven by commercial imperatives rather than by consideration of patient wellbeing.” (1)

Do not tell us that this is about patient choice or making the health service more accountable.

Under competition and trade law private sector market participants have legal rights to maintain that access on equal terms with all other providers, including the public sector. Such rights are enforceable in the UK and EU courts and through World Trade Organisation arbitration.  The Bill as it stands would introduce a system creating such rights for any “qualified” for-profit provider of healthcare services, in a market of providers offered to patients as options for their health provision. (1)

As Allyson Pollock writes of the legal implications of the Health and Social Care bill:

‘An analysis of its key legal reforms demonstrates that it provides a legal basis for charging and for providing fewer health services to fewer people in England. [Read more]

Essentially, the bill will transfer the decision-making powers from the secretary of state to new clinical commissioning groups, local authorities, and commercial companies.

Under the bill, public health functions, such as vaccination, screening services and promotion of healthy lifestyles, would also be delegated to local authorities and may be chargeable.

Furthermore, the government has indicated that a wide range of services may not be mandated in future.

The reform signals the basis for a shift from a mainly tax-financed health service to one in which patients may have to pay for services currently free at point of delivery. The government has been unable to show, as it has argued, that these changes are “vital”. It does not have a mandate for this radical alteration of health care financing and it has avoided informed debate of the principle.

Read article

The truth is that all of these changes are driven by US healthcare corporations. For over 30y they have plotted how to substantially profit from the tax stream from government that goes into the welfare state. Providing those commodities that people are always going to need, such as health, education, local government services, the utilities and so on, is both secure and easy pickings.  Furthermore, the intention is to lock in these changes under WTO arbitration so that future governments will be unable to reverse this privatisation.

You have colluded with corporations and finance to ensure that we will be living in a ‘Predator State’. The very last thing that you are interested in, is to keep the NHS safe for the benefit of the people.  You are happy to be the PM of a government which is the monopoly collector of taxes and distributor of the spoils to the private sector’.

The NHS – TINA – Mrs Thatcher’s ideology and political legacy (Dr Sue Davies)

Warren Buffet was right when he said this is class war – and that your class and his are winning.

‘The competition-based reform of the NHS constitutes a reckless and dangerous gamble with the NHS, and with the health of this nation. The Bill is a chaotic muddle, based on a model that the evidence shows to be more expensive than the current system while producing inferior outcomes. It should be dropped.’ (1)

Yours sincerely



Is the Prince of Darkness, Mandelson behind Ed Balls policy ‘gift’ to the Tories?


This article presents the evidence for a conspiracy theory.  We need to remember that even if you are paranoid, it is still possible that ‘someone’ really is ‘out to get you’.

To the palpable dismay of the left of the LP, the unions and the total astonishment of many Labour MPs … to the incredulous delight of the Conservatives, the ultra-left and the Purple-Black contingent of the LP… Ed Balls announced in his speech to the Fabians:

… however difficult this is for me, for some of my colleagues and
for our wider supporters, we cannot make any commitments now that the
next Labour government will reverse tax rises or spending cuts. And we
will not.

.. Pay restraint in the public sector in this parliament would have been
necessary whoever was in government. (1)

Ed Balls’ speech is ambiguous, open to a lot of interpretations, possible misinterpretations, and has been the focus of much spin from vested interests.

Richard Murphy offers a measured response with the caveat “I don’t have to defend Labour – I’m not a member of Labour or any other party”

… I don’t think Balls meant Labour has embraced all the cuts just because it has recognised that, like it or not, they’re happening; and that, like it or not, come 2015, we are still going to be in the economic doldrums as a direct result of Tory policy and will not therefore have the resources to immediately reverse all Tory policies, and the harm they’ve caused. It may even be realistic to say in some cases, that he would not wish to reverse cuts – 2010 after all was not a perfect example of what government should look like and any realist would recognise that.

For Michael Meacher, it crosses a red line

Why did Balls say this anyway?   He didn’t have to make any such statement at all.   The alleged reason – that it’s necessary to swallow the entire Tory scorched earth policy in order to gain credibility – is absurd.   In fact the exact opposite is true – the Labour Party will never gain credibility whilst it continues robotically to parrot the Tory line… The only plausible explanation is pressure from the Blairite majority behind him.

The Conservative responses have been completely predictable and will not be much rehearsed here.  The much, more interesting responses to the Balls/Miliband relaunch come from approving voices, such as Adam Lent, who is a co-author of ‘In The Black Labour’:

Those who welcomed the publication of In The Black Labour just over a month ago will be cautiously relieved to hear the speech Ed Miliband delivered this morning. At last, this is a leader who is placing a commitment to deficit reduction at the heart of Labour’s message.

…That doesn’t mean adopting [Government cuts] over precisely the same timescale or in the exactly the same form but it does mean, given the size of the UK’s structural deficit, acknowledging that Labour has a very similar mountain to climb on fiscal matters as the coalition.

… Further ideas about how a Labour Government would be held to those rules by an independent body such as a strengthened Office for Budget Responsibility should also be part of this policy shift.

… The reality is if Labour is serious about a major shift in spending priorities to promote jobs, growth and inherent fairness in the economy, then the party will almost certainly have to face up to the need to save money in the big spending areas of welfare, health, and pensions.

… In short, the voters need to know that if the government won’t get British business fighting fit and ultra-competitive for this new ‘Asian Century’ then Labour will have to do the job


In other words, Adam Lent, welcomes Ed Miliband’s speech as indicating a return to TINA, the tenets of neoclassical economics and the neoliberal capitalism of New Labour.  The priority is ultra-competitive British business, with the withdrawal of the state from public services, a real reduction in UK wages, and the handing over of control of budgets to an undemocratic, unelected body like the OBR.  The underlying assumption of the very name ‘In the Black’ is that the so-called structural deficit must be eliminated, budgets balanced and ‘fiscal constraint’.

MMT Bill Mitchell assesses the contradiction of the LP calling for ‘fiscal constraint’ :

The dominance of “fiscal constraint” is a fabricated neo-liberal agenda without any basis in an understanding of how the monetary system actually works. It is an agenda that is part of a theoretical framework that extolled the virtues of the so-called “self-regulating” market and put pressure on governments to deregulate and relax the official oversight. The very pressure that Gordon Brown admitted he caved in to.

It is the framework that created the dynamics that manifested as the crisis and is now causing the crisis to endure at great cost to various segments in the population.

It is the framework of financial market hegemony. It is hardly an appropriate framework for “the left” to be meekly accepting as the rules of the game.

Unsurprisingly, Len McClusky, general secretary of Unite the Union, would largely agree with such an analysis, and writes ‘Ed Miliband’s leadership is threatened by this Blairite policy coup’

Ed Balls’s sudden embrace of austerity and the public-sector pay squeeze represents a victory for discredited Blairism at the expense of the party’s core supporters. It also challenges the whole course Ed Miliband has set for the party, and perhaps his leadership itself. Unions in the public sector are bound to unite to oppose the real pay cuts for public-sector workers over the next year. When we do so, it seems we will now be fighting the Labour frontbench as well as the government.

Len McClusky concludes, ‘This confronts those of us who have supported Ed Miliband’s bold attempt to move on from Blairism with a challenge. His leadership has been undermined as he is being dragged back into the swamp of bond market orthodoxy. And this policy coup may not be the end of the matter. Having won on the measures, new Labour will likely come for the man sooner or later. And that way lies the destruction of the Labour party as constituted, as well as certain general election defeat in my view.’


So, it seems that any conspiracy theory would need to not only explain the apparently bizarre volte face of Ed Balls, at the very point when George Osborne’s policies are falling disastrously apart, but such a theory would also need to offer explanation as to the desirability of alienating the Unions, Public Service workers, core voters and Left-wing MPs.

So what is the basis for the conspiracy theory?

 To begin, we need to return to just before the 2010 GE, when Tribune magazine published a story which seemed to explain Labour’s lack lustre campaign organized by Peter Mandelson; a campaign almost designed to lose the re-election of Gordon Brown.  Mark Seddon wrote of this, following the LDs going into coalition with the Tories:

‘What of the New Labour project? The 2010 general election ended the first part of the dishonest construct. The second part is now stillborn. As Tribune and others reported, Peter Mandelson, Andrew Adonis and others were furtively busy behind the scenes during the election campaign, opening lines of communication with Nick Clegg. The proposed Lib-Lab coalition was supposed to bring realignment of what is loosely described as the centre left. The new construct, after electoral reform, would have been an amalgam of those who have spent the past quarter century disposing of Labour values and whose paltry vision was of a new party without the trade unions.’

In other words, the new New Labour project was to complete the separation from the TU’s and the left, with a view to forming a new Centrist party with the LDs; David Miliband being the leader-in-waiting.  This was scuppered by the betrayal of Nick Clegg and the Orange bookers when they went into a full coalition with the Tories; followed by the election of the wrong brother to lead the LP.

The latest incarnation of the conspiracy theory is that Mandelson undaunted, continues to lay the groundwork for the removal of Ed Miliband and a return to the New Labour project, followed by the formation of a new party with the LDs, capable  ‘of being in power in perpetuity‘. This might well be a very attractive option for the electorally decimated LDs.

The aim would be for the Left and the TUs to abandon the LP, so that the valuable real estate, data bases and infrastructure would remain with the ‘Centrist’ party thus hobbling the formation of a new party of the Left.  In this way, all the hard work and the Constituency buildings paid for by generations of Labour activists, Unions and LP supporters would be ‘stolen’ by  a party which bears little resemblance to the core values of the original worker’s party.

So what is the evidence for a conspiracy against Ed Miliband, mediated by Lord Mandelson and his think-tank, Policy network?

(1) The right wing commentator, Guido Fawkes, has no doubts of the links:

For the second time in a month Peter Mandelson’s think-tank, Policy Network, has launched a policy salvo against the direction the Labour Party is taking under Miliband. Mandelson privately is contemptuous of young Ed, these high-minded wonkish policy exhortations are the respectable manifestation of that contempt.

… They also urge Miliband to abandon his “predators and producers” rhetoric and ”put forward a more convincing strategy for private sector growth than the Conservatives”.

(2) Owen Jones reported that:

This latest surrender to the Tory cuts agenda comes after a protracted struggle at the top of the leadership. One faction argued that, once you started specifying cuts, there would be a loss of focus on their deflationary impact, and that the Tories would come back for more and more detail on Labour’s spending plans. We now know this argument has been decisively defeated.

Arch-Blairite Jim Murphy – who harbours ambitions to stand for leadership should Ed Miliband fail – began rolling out the new strategy earlier in the month by calling for Labour to avoid ‘shallow and temporary’ populism over spending cuts, setting out his own proposed cuts as an example to his colleagues. The equally devout Blairite shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has partly endorsed Michael Gove’s attacks on the scrapped Building Schools for Future programme, and has outlined £2bn of his own cuts. And Liam Byrne has committed Labour to a renewed attack on the welfare state, currently being hacked to pieces by the Government. I bet the word ‘vindicated’ will be used liberally around the corridors of Conservative Campaign Headquarters next week.

(3) The sustained media attacks on Ed Miliband’s leadership qualities, lack of energy and even his looks.  The Guardian in particular were notable for their undermining articles.

(4) There are briefings from various unattributed sources that David Miliband is now backing his brother against the media attacks, and might consider returning to the shadow cabinet. This may be so, but it would also put the ‘Runner-up’ in poll position were Ed Miliband to ‘decide’ to stand aside.

(5) Peter Mandelson surprised Andrew Marr, in a recent television interview, by indicating that he still hoped to play a part in national politics.

(6) LD blogger, Richard Morris noted in the Staggers

… It’s been Balls over the last few months who’s been leading the doe-eyed flirting with us Lib Dems. What better way to lay the groundwork for a future potential pact, than to accept that all that has gone before cannot be undone? It’s like the shadow chancellor is gearing himself up to come over, give us a big hug and say ‘what’s past is past’.

It is unclear, how many ‘games’ are being played out in this battle for the survival of the Labour Party… but make no doubt this is about survival of the Labour Party.

Is Ed Balls, playing the 96/97 game of promising to match Tory cuts ‘to restore economic credibility for the LP’?  Certainly, his current take is very different from his Bloomberg speech of 2010.  Is Ed Balls, wanting to further Yvette’s prospects, or is he actually playing ‘triangulating’ the Blairite rump, in concert with Ed Miliband.

Is Ed Miliband really so naïve as to believe that a compromise can be achieved with the Blairite PLP.. or has he been keeping his ‘enemies close’ by appointing so many ultra-Blairites as Shadow Cabinet ministers? Could this be intended to be Ed Miliband’s Clause IV moment?

The only specific thing that seems completely certain for the LP, is the vulnerability of Ed Miliband’s new policy direction, the grassroots and the TU link. For the UK as a whole, Michael Meacher makes the consequences clear:

What makes all this so unconscionable is the elephant in the room.   The top 1% (300,000 persons) currently have an income of £150,200 a year (£2,888 a week), but no cap is being put on either their pay, incentive schemes, stock options, dividends, or bonuses.   The top 0.1% (still as many as 30,000 people) currently get on average £1,179,900 a year (£22,690 a week), but are still laughing all the way to the bank.   The richest 1,000 Britons, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, in the last two years alone got richer by £137bn (yes, billion), enough to pay off the entire budget deficit themselves alone, yet are making virtually no payback at all for the financial crash and economic recession many of them caused.   Justice, Ed Balls, is what the Labour Party is about, not sucking up to the Tory party or their Blairite friends.

On a personal level, I am sick to death of all the double-speak and machinations that seem to have reached new levels in the past 20y of New Labour.  We need a ‘Clement Attlee’ to repeat the trick of putting Herbert Morrison’s grandson and all his ‘fellow travellers’ back in  their Box.  Its still not too late for Ed Miliband to do exactly that.

We have a Tory/LD government, that is more vicious and devastating than Margaret Thatcher’s; there is a global banking crisis, there is unaddressed climate change and the consequences of running out of oil. These are the real battles for real people, and adherence to a neoliberal ‘ framework that created the dynamics that manifested as the crisis and is now causing the crisis to endure at great cost to various segments in the population.’ is not the answerThe ongoing struggle for power by the Blairites ( and possibly others) should be firmly squashed by the democratically elected leader of the LP.