A barrage of Farage

‘It’s the fault of the Meedja.’  was the cry from our erudite and (apparently) miffed First Minister Alex Salmond.

Maybe, for once he has a point.  But then again trying to use UKIP threat to get support gave UKIP more coverage courtesy of the SNP.

I think that the coverage of UKIP on the Beeb has been excessive but how much this has led to votes isn’t really demonstrable.  Irritating?  Yes.  Unfair? we all (political parties) think that the Media are biassed against us at times.  However, they did get a fair old chunk of the vote and as such are deserving of some coverage.

For me the interviewing skills on most channels are pretty poor and the print media are generally not much better these days (everything was better in black and white….cue the hovis theme).

I saw a great tweet the other day Beeb : ‘Farage, farage, farage, farage, farage.’  Beeb : Shock lead in the polls for UKIP.

‘UKIP are the party of Racists, Xenophobes, sexists, Mysoginists and Homophobes.  And that’s their good points.’  This tack has been used to discredit the ‘swivel-eyed loons’ and to slay the UKIP beast.  Newsflash!  It doesn’t work.

The Electorate voted for UKIP in varying numbers across the country.  These are the same voters that when they vote for your party are respected and when they vote UKIP are nutters.  Anyone else uncomfortable with this line of thinking?  I am.

There is a simple three step plan to defeat the UKIP (or any of the other far right mob that pollute ballot papers – No2EU, BNP, Britain first)

Step 1

Engage the electorate (turnout and apathy are major issues)

Step 2

Demolish their (UKIP) argument

(not just sloganeering but solid analysis and facts.  You know those pesky things that trip people up)

Step 3

Offer electorate a solution to the issue.

Thats it.  Simple isn’t it?

So the mainstream parties have only themselves to blame on the UKIP success story.  No one else.  A self inflicted 20 year cock up.  If voters are not engaged and given facts and treated with respect they will invariably end up at the (political) door that feeds on their problem.

We have (all parties) refused to discuss immigration or Europe and have left a vacuum for the vacuous UKIP to fill.  That needs to change in a grown up way.  Not in a we can out UKIP,UKIP kind of way.  You can’t out UKIP them, so don’t try.  Their policies are toxic and need real solutions not easy slogans with nothing but blame behind them.

IF the solution is difficult say so.  But say so clearly.

Remember the old adage ‘Never argue with an idiot.  He will bring you down to his level and then beat you with experience.’  Nick Clegg found that out to his cost in the television debates.  Free publicity for the UKIP leader, free credibility too.  The party of IN got found out.

If ex-banker, Nigel Farage is the answer then god knows what the question was.

I would suggest that UKIP isn’t an answer ( to anything) but a symptom that has been too long ignored at our peril.

words are powerful things

A ‘funny’ thing happened to me today.

Sitting in my car (bedecked with a better together sticker) in a car park waiting for my (undoubtably) better half to get a missing ingredient for tomorrow’s tea (second time we had been at the shops tonight) , I was given the finger, backed up with a call of ‘independence ya bass!’

Hmmm, I thought, (Ok, I thought Eff off)  that will work to convert me to your argument.  Then I decided to break my long fast of blogging and comment tonight.

Now, before anyone has a apoplectic fit, I am not saying that these fine specimens are representative of the Yes campaign or the people involved in it.  I am a politician and, as such, used to the ocassional barb.  I don’t have thin skin (and need a wee lie down after such an event).

However, it got me thinking that things are not moving in the direction that most scots would accept as healthy.  Online, we are often guilty of being a little acerbic or unkind about those who don’t share our views.  The notorious Cybernats are often mentioned but there are lunatics on the No side too.

They say that culture flows from the top down (a bit like the brown smelly stuff) and we have become very much more unpleasant to each other on this very singular item.  It is not surprising that the impact has been a widening out of the language and behaviours that we are seeing.

At Scottish Labour Party conference, a placard wielding Yes supporter waggled his homespun, mis-spelled, message at me.  I was amused more than anything else but thought that on a sunny afternoon in March I would have been able to find many, many more interesting things to do had I been in his shoes.

Sadly, I expect that the idiocy will continue for the next nearly six months and then the tallying up will take place.

If you think it is getting hostile now, enjoy this period because it will get much worse (I expect).

Anyway, on September 19 (the morning after the night before) or whenever the decision is called, what then.  If the count is close then half of the country will be mightly aggrieved and the wailing and gnashing of teeth will commence.  Recriminations will abound and then the finger pointing will commence.

I expect No to win, and I am campaigning for that to be the case but there’s a long way to go.

Afterwards my main worry is that, as a society, we wont be able to look at each other (let alone talk sensibly to each other).  It is hard enough now.  Politically it will be carnage and at all levels theere will be spite and bile from those who have lost and smug, condescending triumphalism from the winners.

How we get over this will be a determining factor for years to come.  Politics will be irrevocably changed for this generation of politicians.

Which of these words would you accept being called and not react negatively to?

Collaborator, traitor, so-called-scot, quisling, scoundrel, coward, Britnat, feartie

Swivel-eyed Nat, Sep, separatist, fantasist, Cybernat, tartan tory,

I would expect, not one of them. ( I kept them clean, but there are much worse).  So why then are these flying around and hurled willy-nilly around the place (comment threads on news articles are a real eye-opener (or eye-waterer))?  It is because those at the top have given the lead and the trooops have followed.  The twitterspere and blogosphere are full of unpleasantness that is really unnecessary and unhealthy.  The responses to those who dare disagree with the Yes (or No) campaigns are vitriolic and poisonous.  Its time that the moderate voices spoke up and put these folks straight.

We are not debating with each other but sloganising each other.  Utterly specious and I am sooo glad I am not undecided, or I would end up not undecided but utterly disgusted.

I didn’t get into politics to spend my time on the constitutional settlement.  I did so to make things better in the town I represent and live in.  No one gets elected to make things worse.

However, I have to accept that this question needs addressed and once it is answered I hope not to have to do it again.

Calling for people to be aware of the impact of their words would be pointless (and a bit hypocritical as I have ocassionally been less than measured in my utterances) but someone needs to start winding back the insults and jeers.  Sadly, I think we are passed the point where much will change.

Playing the man (or woman) and not the ball is ingrained now.

174 days to go………

 

 

You can’t play politics with people’s lives.

Obviously, I am not the originator of this quote (and I’m not sure Neil Kinnock is either).

It is seldom that I am so utterly vexed by the political chicanery that goes on, that I am ashamed to be associated with other politicians.  Today was one such day.

Setting the scene.  A full council with a public gallery of demonstrators who want to ban the tax (the #bedroomtax, not the spare room subsidy or whatever nonsense the coalition call it).  A motion on the agenda, amendments and a long morning before we got to the main event, a debate on eviction policy of the minority Labour Council in light of the #bedroomtax.

All good so far.  The gallery got a bit excited (and hurled a few insults) mainly because they had to wait until after lunch and thought the motion wasn’t going to be debated.  However, all calmed down when it was apparent that after lunch the fireworks would start.

Seconds out, round 1

The motion (proposed by the SNP opposition) is not competent.  Shock!  well no, not exactly they already knew this (everyone notified in advance).  The final paragraph (and I wont bore you with the process) was different from the agreed policy of the council agreed at the executive just over a week ago (6 month rule in force).

72 of 78 (6 absent) councillors are geared up (and tooled up with pithy comments and speeches at the ready) stymied.  A collective defaltion.  Damp squib.

Ditch the last paragraph and we can get on with it.  It would have been all the way through the debate anyway.  No chance, the rules twonks (insert stronger if you feel the need) come out fighting.  standing orders and challenges to the provost’s ruling on the incompetent and an increasingly hostile set of exchanges fill the chamber.  Plenty of heat and next to no light as most of us new boys (and girls obviously) have no idea what standing order 60 is (or whatever number is being debated).

Suspend standing orders!  (because the proposer and seconder wont change the words of the last paragraph), Role call count so we have to answer agree or disagree to a call to suspend that is going nowhere.  Just so we can cast it up at you again in the future.

No suspension of standing orders as we collectively manage to make a total mess of getting the arguement (sorry debate) tee’d up.

Now the playground is really rowdy, with booing and name calling as councillors answer the role call.

The Gallery (not full of rules twonks) are incredulous and think the administration are trying to stop the debate.  One which we have prepared for, one which we want to have and one in which ( and here’s the rub) we basically agree.  definate political chicanery in action.

The Administration position is that we will not evict anyone who falls into arrears (because of the tax/subsidy thingy) who contacts the council and works with us to deal with the problem.  The incompetent motion – we will not evict anyone who has rent arrears from the bedroom tax.

Huge difference, obviously.

Angels on the head of a pin.

We wanted to have a debate that highlighted what we could do to protect our residents, we wanted a debate that showed Gidders/IDS and their gang were wrong, we wanted a debate that said we will protect you, the residents of Fife.  We wanted a debate so we could score some cheap points off each other (sorry sarcasm slipped in).

What did we get? Punch and Judy, rule this v Standing order that and a gallery of people who didn’t know what the hell was going on.  I might venture, that some on the floor of the chamber were in the same place (confused dot com).  In the end with no motion there was no debate.  Zip.  Nada. Eff all (to use the vernacular).  Rammy ensued.  Gavels banged and a few faces went red/puce or betroot.

Sorry it took longer than I meant to get to the point, and here it is.

You can’t play politics with people’s lives.

Fallout.

Now it will be a case of spin and counter spin, lies and mistruths played out in the press until we get to do it all again next time.

This bedroom tax is a disaster for many of the people we merry 78 are supposed to serve, after todays showing we have failed them terribly.  there will be over 5000 families across Fife (and 1300 more in housing associations) who will be worried about the impact of this change to housing benefit, who were looking to us to make clear what to expect, who wanted adults not children debating and deciding.

Their lives will be blighted (while most of the councillors will not be) and their purses constrained and all we offered them was finger-pointing and hot air and barely a whit of sense.

I have seen the spin tweets from fellow councillors and they just make us look like a bunch of twits (definitely insert stronger).

No wonder Politicians are reviled, distrusted and treated with contempt.  Sometimes we just help our poor public image along.

 

We are a crusade or we are nothing

Funny how the forgotten words of Harold Wilson fit so well in this modern era.

I think of all the terms used to describe the Labour Party, at the moment, a crusade is probably not one that would come up with too great a frequency.

The incipient panic (among policy twonks and politicians) that flows whenever strong terms invade the blandness of well spun political dialogue is probably a key to the problems we face.  We being a political society.  When all the parties play by the same triangulation and focus group code it is small wonder that the differences seem marginal at best.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for a ‘Red’ revolution or a ‘freedom for Tooting’ type of political dialogue.  I am, however, sure that blandness and spin to appeal to ‘mondeo man’ or ‘Joe the plumber’  is a self-defeating spiral that has left an electorate disillusioned in the extreme and one which is disengaging with the current parties.  The impact of this schism is a rise in the extremity parties and single issue parties.  Democratically reflective of what the electorate think? probably not.

So back to my crusade (in the week that the last of the Jarrow marchers passed away), when did the zeal for change get lost in the sea of management speak?  When did pragmatism become the master and principle become the expediently forgotten relative?  I can pinpoint it fairly closely.

The morning after John Major managed to beat Neil Kinnock in the General election.  It seemed to many on the left that it was impossible to shift the Tories from power without appealing to middle england voters.  A wooing as it were.  A ‘Don’t frighten the horses approach’ that tied Tony & Gordon to the Tory spending plans for a while.  A ‘trust us’ we’ll be better Tories approach.

Living standards for many have risen over the years of  selfish neoliberal economics and some have become fabulously wealthy.  I for one am not comfortable with the massive gap in distribution.  We have more ‘Stuff’ but that merely hides the long slow decline for many as worklessness bites.

So Crusade.  For what? Wilson had the big fights for better workers and civil rights, better living standards, workplace improvement and raising living conditions after the post war era.  funnily enough we have similar fights.  Although these seem to have been forgotten.

Workers rights are being eroded, benefits and welfare support under attack, disabled being vilified in the press as scroungers, pensioners choosing between heating and eating, unemployment structural and difficult to shift, hopelessness among the young, a crisis of confidence in the establishment.  A lack of social housing or care for the elderly, mistreatment of the mentally ill,foodbanks the only growth in the economy, flatline growth,  the list can go on and on.

Into all of this we are fed a diet of lowest common denominator populist drivel with a ‘what plays well in the press’ approach.  If a different approach is used, the vociferous criticism soon shuts it up.  Johann Lamont found this out quickly.  Asking hard questions on affordability but got punished by the spectre of means testing.

Why then is the radical party of the UK (ie the Labour party) so timid?  Because we have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before.  The Sun killed Kinnock after the Sheffield Rally and we have been carefully media friendly ever since.

Balls and Miliband (et al) are trying a ‘don’t spook the Souff’ approach which may work but will not yield a crusading Labour Government.  It will yield a slightly more left approach and a pragmatic core.  Not at all whats needed.  This same don’t scare the horses approach is the same one used in the Independence referendum campaign for Yes.  Don’t panic it’ll all be the same.  No it wouldn’t and hopefully the electorate won’t be taken in.

So I say to Ed, Ed, Andy, Douglas, Harriet and the rest, its time to put on our campaigning boots and drive an agenda that is radically different from the Coalition programme.  Be bold on principles and keep banging on about where we want to go.  Political triangulation is what has cost us over the longer term (membership and vote declined rapidly after 97) its a tool but not a roadmap.  Focus groups need to be replaced by doorknocking face to face interaction.  Activism is the key.

We made some reforms, now its time to fight to make reforms that matter.

Crusade or nothing.  It’s a simple choice.

 

 

opened my mouth to change my feet

It started with a flippant comment in response to a Scotsman piece about the oldest Derby in Scottish football (Rangers v Queens park).  I cheekily tweeted it couldn’t be as Rangers were only 1 year old.

The Rangers supporters trust did not find my tweet amusing in the slightest and told their 23000 odd followers so.

In hindsight, it wasn’t my finest tweet or moment of lucidity.  Imagine my surprise when I logged on today (around lunchtime) to find my twitter interactions full of rather hostile and angry tweets.

Being a bit taken aback I reread my original tweet and apologised for having a green goggles moment.  I then deleted the offending tweet.  I hoped that my humble apology would be taken as such and the matter would have some of the heat removed.  The barrage of responses continued.

I accept that some of the labels attached are fair enough and can live with them.  Dimwit, clown, A***hole, muppet, twat, knob etc and such like generally reflect the ‘getitupye’ response that old firm fans use towards each other.  I Winced a few times at my own stupidity but generally took my licks.  A great piece of advice was to stick a wee winky face on next time (won’t be a next time)

A few offered me some encouragement in future elections by suggesting I would get beat as Rangers fans have long memories.

Some fans accepted the apology and had a giggle at my expense.  I’d earned it.

However, sadly that wasn’t it.

The Labels that I found most offensive came from a few (obviously very upset) bears.  Narrow-minded Bigot, scum, filth, Bheast and paedo being the most colourful and an over reaction I thought.

Now I know there are some excitable chaps on both sides of the Old firm divide but when one thinks it’s okay to post my mobile number (twice) and another says after looking at my handsome photo that he wouldn’t want me teaching his kids and uses #paedo hashtag, I get a bit irked.  Gone Too Far.

As an elected councillor I should have steered well clear of the topic, and will certainly try to keep away in future but it doesn’t stop me speaking out on this kind of behaviour.  Yes I am flippant (lots of evidence of this) and I do take my role very seriously (sorry it offended a particular respondent).

I was obviously not commenting as a councillor but I will certainly be more circumspect in future.

I am not, however, a Roman Catholic, a dirty Tague (taig both spellings), corrupt or a bigot.  Nor was I stirring up hate (although I seem to have managed that, accidentally, with aplomb).  Just because I support a rival football club does not make me a bigot.

I love using twitter and the immediacy of the interaction.  It has many great people contributing and sadly a few who take it too far.

Now, finally, I say to Any Rangers fan who gets this far I am sorry that you were offended by my flippant remark.  No caveat, just an apology.  As UEFA, SPL et al consider you to be the same club, then henceforth I will do so too.

And to the most offensive tweeps maybe you should reflect on your comments.  I know I have.

 

 

But Baby it’s cold outside

Seasons greetings to you all.

After the turkey and trimmings and pressie giving splurge is over I want to draw your attention to a couple of issues.

Housing and Food.

First up housing.

At this time of year housing occupies my mind more than a little.  Not the state of houses, not the number of bedrooms but the lack of them.  More specifically how many of our fellow countrymen (and women) don’t actually have access to one to call their own.  Homelessness (and its mate Rooflessness) are terrible issues for anyone to face.  My surgeries are most often taken up with housing and homelessness cases.

We need to build more houses, I hear (and say) all too often.  We need suitable houses not just little enclaves of executive housing for the doing-quite-well-keep-us-away-from-the-poor types but real attempts to build houses to meet the needs of our people.  You know, not chicken coop sized rows and rows of battery houses but well designed and community building houses.

In Fife (Where I live and am a Cooncillor), we have more than 11000 on housing waiting lists.  Part of our manifesto (at the local elections) was to build 2700 new homes over the next 5 years.  A start but not a cure.  Add to this the need to bring 60% of our houses up to Scottish Housing Quality Standards and you get an idea of the scale of the problem.  Affordable housing (an awful term) has overtones of poorer quality (though this isn’t necessarily true) and isn’t viewed in a positive light.  Councils need to build up their stocks quickly and take some of the heat out of the private let market.  A market that has gotten huge benefits from the shortage in supply.

Fewer people are ‘roughing it’ but that doesn’t tell the whole story of those in Scatter flats and temporary accommodation.  With no home to call your own the displacement and disconnection from society increases.  Add to this those without homes often have many issues (no money and dependencies to name but two) that make fitting into and contributing to communities difficult.

Overarching these current problems lie the haphazard and poorly thought out (and implemented) welfare / housing benefit changes to follow soon.  The uncertainty of  a roof over their heads will be horrendous.

The march of the makers needs to be in the direction of council housing and bucket loads of it.

An announcement today to spend £4.5m bringing empty private houses back into use by the SNP Administration at Holyrood will, it is hoped, bring 400 private homes back into the affordable sector on the proviso that they are made available for 5 years to rent.  Okay as far as it goes but a gimmick of a policy when the housing budgets to local authorities were slashed.  something must be done media driven policy.

Anyway, I digress, housing and the homeless occupy my thoughts at this time of year particularly and hope they’ll intrude on yours too!

http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/home

(Shelter website with many, many things to share)

Food.

More specifically the lack of it.  I spent a very productive hour today with representatives from local churches and the YMCA discussing foodbanks and the setting up of one to cover Glenrothes.  The need is there and currently being met by volunteer groups who’ll need a big help if the requirements keep increasing (and the stats suggest they will).

Demand for food support (ie food parcels) has gone up by a third in the last year.

Far too many are being failed by DWP and a benefits system based not on need but on efficiency and cuts.  Telling people in need to appeal and the money will be back dated is really helpful especially when you are skint.  Crisis support to feed people is a growth area (if only the economy was eh?) and foodbanks are springing up all over the land.  A sure sign of a failing economic policy (and plan McB isn’t much better).

The Trussell Trust (http://www.trusselltrust.org/) are raising the profile of this need in the media and on TV.  I am pleased they are doing so much because I hope it will shame the DWP and IDS into thinking again about the impact of their reforms (cuts agenda with a new badge).  Savaging the weakest is neither fair nor acceptable.

By the way, many of the 200 000 or so who will be helped by foodbanks this coming year will be working.  Read that again.  Working and unable to buy enough food.  Not on benefits, working.  Makes you wonder about wage levels doesn’t it?

SO when the turkey sandwiches are served up today, and you groan not turkey again, spare a wee moment for those who’ve been visited by the foodbank fairy or those whose roof is borrowed, temporary or simply not there.

Merry Christmas to you all.

I wouldn’t want you to be too cheerful now, would I.

 

 

 

 

A raw nerve

For me it is very simple.

We have a welfare state that is supposed to be a safety net to catch those in need.  It isn’t an anti work thing.

My Mother was a divorcee (oh the shame) twice over with three kids and on the social.  Absent dad, free school meals and pretty much skimping from week to week.  All the hallmarks of the broken home that used to be bandied about as a badge of low expectation.  Sadly that broken home would be considered not too bad when compared to the chaos of some families today.

When we (I say we, but really when I was older – being the youngest) were older she went back to work in a factory working night-shift to provide.  All good so far.  There were jobs in the area.  She managed.  We got by and she sacrificed her wants to meet our needs.  And we never really knew we were poor (people had less then and the world was in black and white, cue hovis music)

Fast forward to today and the situation for many is now a life of benefits with no prospect of that changing any time soon.  It isn’t fecklessness or laziness but systematic economic policy failure over the last 40 years.  Jobs have moved and changed leaving some areas as vacuums offering very low skill and low paid jobs (if any at all).  Many can’t just get on their bike or pull their socks up or strive not shirk.  The environment they have to navigate isn’t like that.

There are many issues around employment and poverty but the one thing that gets right to me is the need for foodbanks.  I’ll say it again, foodbanks.

Alms for the poor is the medieval equivalent.  Bring out the poor to the soup kitchens.  Foodbanks show me that the inequality and dysfunction of our society is out of control.

In an economy with a safety net designed to support the vulnerable of our society we find it doesn’t and thousands of people are choosing between heating and eating.  Or choosing between feeding themselves or feeding the kids.  Intolerable just isn’t strong enough.

All the defecit-blaming, skiver bashing and its-for-your-own-good Austerity does not deflect from the central fact – thousands of people in our country cannot afford food.

CANNOT AFFORD FOOD.

It has now become cause celebre and a club to beat Dave-call-me-dave and his coterie of disconnected millionaires with, of course it might have more weight if the wielder of the club wasn’t a millionaire too.

People who use foodbanks are desperate and the attack on their self-esteem is relentless.  Their need is not imaginary or exaggerated.  Just imagine, for a moment,  that it has all gone wrong and like old mother Hubbard your cupboard is bare.  What then? you have a job but have no money and have to soldier on knowing it’s not enough.  How would you feel about approaching a foodbank or being referred to one?

So just keep that in mind the next time welfare recipients are cast as living the life of Riley.  Some might even be happy with it but most are closing their curtains at night desperate and distraught.  It’s both the squeezed middle and the working poor and you cannot tell just by looking.

So here we are, 21st Century, 7th largest economy in the world with a distorted distribution of wealth in our society and we have over 200 000 people being fed through foodbanks.  It’s hurting not working.  Of course those of us better off won’t need to use foodbanks or be impacted by the changes IDS makes to benefits and we would be forgiven for not realising the tidal wave of misery that will sweep over many of our countrymen (and women).

For me this isn’t political, it is societal.  Proof of a society that has ceased to work.  My generation was mobilised to feed the world in the 80’s, how sad that this winter we need foodbank networks to feed our own.  We have come such a long way, haven’t we.

In the society I want no one goes to bed hungry for want of food, cold for want of energy and scared for a lack of security.  Foodbanks ought to be unnecessary but they are not, its time we were all working to make the need for them extinct.

So while punch and Judy go toe-to-toe over the poor, foodbanks will be taking up the slack.

Realpolitik in action.

 

If political parties were people….

Funnily enough this sort of thinking is used all the time in business and to a lesser extent in political circles as core voters are analysed and deciphered.

It set me to thinking after reading a blog post on Labour hame, of which I am an intermittent visitor. http://www.labourhame.com/archives/3316#more-3316

Where a musing was made about the new tory logo and whether Scottish Labour needed a makeover of its symbol.  I’m not convinced it does but it did set me off on a musing of my own.  If we are asked to imagine the parties as people how would they look.  I am as always prepared to be wrong.

So here goes….

Scottish Labour – A middle years woman with a grown up (and growing up) family.  A bit frumpy at times.  Sensible and weighed down by responsibility to family.  Steady and at the centre of her family.  Good sense though not particularly over educated.

SNP – A sharp businessman, with a drive to get what he wants. Competent and professional.  Cold and wanting control.  Thinks he knows best.

Scottish conservatives – Older, well-to-do, sensible man who exudes calm and resists change, paternal and condescending.  Grey and a bit round the middle.

Scottish Liberal Democrats – A middle years teacher who’s involved with local fetes and the like, a bit grey and a bit well-meaning.  Very earnest and middle class.  Well thought off in general.  Not too dynamic.  Probably a bloke (not quite in a tank top).

Now if these are people as brands then we can see why the SNP have managed a good fit to theirs.  Emphasis on competence and drive, pugnacious and control focussed.  One issue and driving for it.

It seems to have worked when we consider that polling data suggests they do well among men of 25-45.  They are honed in on many of their frustrations about lack of control of their lives.  Their ‘take control’, ‘poor downtrodden us’ ‘all their fault’ mantra resonates with this group across all economic sections (or decile if you will).

Scottish Labour on the other hand are attractive to women with families and those of a sensible, more cautious vent.  Older people poll better for anti-independence, as do women with families.  Labour it seems has become like its supporters and has focussed much of its attacks on the SNP Government on uncertainty, dishonesty and trust.  Going further to ensure arrogance and sharp, smug FMQ responses allow Alex Salmond to keep turning off these groups.  It is working.

The Scottish Conservatives are struggling in the hangover of Toxic Thatcher brand.  They have found it difficult to move on from this as few will give them a fair hearing.  This has been ingrained as an Anti-English / Tory message from the SNP and to a lesser extent Labour.  The current Tory PM, stinks of privilege and is a reinforcer of this viewpoint.  Etonians telling us poor wee scots whats good for us.  Even with a new badge and a female leader, it’s a long, long road back to influence let alone power.

Scotland is conservative with a small ‘c’ and currently rejects the Conservatives with a large ‘C’.

As for the Libdems, the coalition with the Tories at westminster has blotted their copybook and exposed their compromising (over principle) as a weakness not a pragmatic virtue.  It has exposed them to ‘yellow Tories’ tags and ‘untrustworthy collaborators’ as labels.  Both are unfair but mud most certainly sticks leaving the Scottish Libdems in a mess.  Unsure of how to retain their core voters after own goals (VAT, tuition fees, coalition, cuts, welfare reform) and a relentless assault from the Scottish press.  Now viewed as worse than Tories by some.  As for fit with their brand person the teacher is falling out of popularity with his groups and while he can attempt to justify his positions, he’s less well-respected at the moment.

Do the leaders reflect their Brands?

Johann Lamont – fairly well reflects the brand person (she is an education professional however).

Alex Salmond – For the last 25 years the face of the SNP – the brand person and he are almost inseparable, but he is getting on a bit looking bloated and tiring (lots of younger MSP’s to fill the brand mould however).  Nicola Sturgeon is a good female fit for the brand too.

Ruth Davidson – doesn’t fit well at all (although Annabel Goldie did).  She is struggling to change the brand and will not make it fit better in the short to medium term.

Willie Rennie – Pretty much reflecting the brand person.  Sensible contributions but not dynamic nor able to shake off the ‘Coalition damage’.

Now I wholly appreciate that some of the language used above reflects my inner dislike of the SNP, the Tories and, to a lesser extent, the Libdems.  I am biassed, as are we all, but I think I have captured the essence of the brands.

Sadly, I think that Scottish Labour have a bigger problem in attracting other groups of voters (seen as a little old-fashioned) especially the young.

Whatever happened to the red flag singing socialists?  Well they grew up, had families and bills to pay.  Responsible adults can still be radicals, a message that has been lost in the (Scottish Labour) brand.  If Labour is a middle-aged woman then its time to tell the youngsters about the demonstrations, placard wielding, CND supporting, bra-burning protesting times of our youth and be a newly discovered cool, role model to emulate.

Brands are more than a symbol, they add value.  It’s time Scottish Labour started to use it.

 

 

Who I think will be in the whitehouse.

Finally, polling day in USA.

Polls by the gallon and mixed readings and analysis.

Personally I want Obama to win, Romney will be a disaster.

However, I am sitting here watching newsnight and I have the pre-match nerves.

My worry is this.

Obama won last time with a massive swing in states that were traditionally Republican, and a positive message of  ‘Yes we can’ and ‘Change’.

This time it has been much less positive and a republican ‘change’ type campaign has begun to work.

I will be up most of the night and I am not too convinced that the battle will be decided by Ohio.  Polls have been close on too many states to gain any certainty about where the chips will fall.

Ohio provisional ballots may hold up the whole thing for 10 days but I doubt that this will be needed.

Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and virginia are all ex-republican states and if these go to romney it will be very, very close.

Pollsters and commentators are talking about Obama ahead but don’t be surprised if disillusionment and Mitt’s polling day campaigning tip the final scales and Romney squeaks over the line.

Watching through my fingers.

Prediction

287-251 Romney.

God I’m scared.

How would you reform benefits then?

Today, on twitter, a local Conservative councillor asked me if I was against reform of the welfare state and if I wasn’t what would I do?

The context was my ranting about IDS and his reform agenda, as espoused on Andrew Marr’s love in this morning.

We had a debate in full council about welfare reform that was more heat than light and didn’t really add much to the debate on a larger scale.  It highlighted some areas where local council can offset central impacts.

However, the question was to me, given that I believe that welfare reform is necessary what would I do….here goes.

Caveat number 1 – this is my view not anyone else’s – neither Party nor guru and a statement of policy it most certainly is not.

Caveat number 2 – I am willing to accept that I might be wrong or that what I think may be unworkable.

So

Firstly, the benefits and welfare system does not work as we want it to.  It creates perverse outcomes on occasion and sometimes fails to support those who need while supporting those who don’t need the money.  What we need to remember is that our system (if we call it that – and systems theorists wouldn’t call it functional) has evolved to meet a changing situation and at best can be said to be failing to keep up.

When the welfare state was conceived and delivered the situation was not as  it is now.  Strong bodies could pretty much find work and most unemployment was frictional rather than structural.  Today (after decades of change) unemployment is more structural and this has shaped the way benefit calculation and transfers have been manipulated.

Unemployment is a function of changed work environment (death of manual and heavy industry, reduced need for labour as automation increased) and as such has meant that the ‘dole’ initially designed to support in the short-term has become a long-term situation for many.

This worklessness hasn’t led to generations of feckless, lazy worthless undeserving poor as IDS would have us believe.  Although some would argue for their existence.

Welfare is a safety net for our society that allows it to function in this era of reducing employment (full-time and skilled)  and movement to more flexible employment lives of low paid/ lower skill and transient nature.

Welfare is also there to support those who will need support (whether disabled physically or mentally or caring for those who are) and ensure their dignity and quality of life is protected.

Welfare is also there to support those who are being exploited in the race to the bottom in terms of wage rates.  Minimum wage is too low and the living wage is a poor attempt to address the feeble attempt of statute to ensure a fair pay for work.  This support can be in tax credits, housing benefit  or benefits for their families – whatever form that is needed to ensure work pays.

Key phrase work should pay.  However, the system is so perverse at times that a disincentive to employment can occur.  When work is seen to be not worthwhile economically we have a problem.  For me work is always worthwhile in terms of self-esteem but I can understand that self-esteem wont feed the kids.

So, where was I….

IDS wants to simplify the system – agree entirely (£5bn+ goes unclaimed every year purely down to complexity and ignorance).

IDS goal is to cut the size of the budget for welfare and benefits.  Disagree with starting point.  The size of the benefit budget is based on need.  Let me say that again, ON NEED.  If welfare is to maintain our poorest then the price is the price.  It cannot ethically be otherwise.  To do so is to punish the needy for the failure of our economic policy over the last 40 years.

Hair splitting time.  How do we define and agree need?  IDS says that those who don’t work should have a lower standard of living than those who do.  sounds fine doesn’t it? Really?  So if you live in a region blighted by unemployment because successive governments have skewed (and screwed the economy) you are somehow responsible and therefore should be punished economically.

We should define an acceptable standard of living and say that no one should be below this point.  whether you are disabled, old, unable to find work or working in a low paid job.

People should not be looking at those on benefits with envy.  If it was so great we’d all do it.  Fact is, that it isn’t and we don’t.  Daily Mail readers go and froth elsewhere.

So my start point is different.  I want to meet needs, IDS wants to shrink the bill.

Where then, is the most pressing area to focus?  Fraud?  Less than half of 1% is lost in terms of fraud and almost 3 times more is paid out in error by those who design and work the system.  So not fraud then (although not to be ignored – tax avoiders/evaders another day).

Johann Lamont tried to start a debate about universal benefits and their affordability (on which I can see where she’s coming from) but this again starts from a different viewpoint than I would (will do this another day too).

Some examples (which I am sure you want to know – but remember the starting point is entirely different)

  1. Housing benefit is a monster and is the result of failed housing policy (from flogging off council houses to not building sufficient replacements) causing a shortage of supply that is being met by inflated private sector profiteers (invisible hands stuffing pockets).  This needs addressed urgently but can only work if the structure of the rental market is altered (build capacity in public control and drive rents down hard – sadly a slow fix).  Housing benefit needs work but needs to reflect the situation on the ground not be a punishment for being overhoused or used as a tool to cleanse the cities of the poorest.
  2. Winter fuel allowance. small cost at the start and now rapidly out of hand.  Costs a fortune and many do not need it.  Paid to those living abroad in spain too.  Perverse isn’t it.  However, try cutting it and see the backlash.  Hobson’s choice if ever there was one.  It needs to be targeted not universal.  If anyone howls means testing costs a fortune! it shows the lack of thought that is common.  Perhaps linking Winter Fuel allowance to capping energy bills would be more effective.  It is not only the old who struggle to choose between heating and eating.  In Fife 1 in 4 suffer fuel poverty with 40% in poorer areas.  They aren’t all old you know.
  3. Child benefit.  Again this has changed in focus.  What is it for?  To pay for your holidays? (just for daily mail readers who are still frothing).  It is to ensure that children are provided for.  Hmm, High earners, do they need help in providing for their offspring?  Not usually.  However, the universality element is to let all of us tax payers feel we are getting something out for our contributions.  We should be able to think of a solution that effectively gets money to children that need.  I am prepared to accept that this is a very unpopular one to address.
  4. Working tax credits.  These are a response to low pay, a subsidy for firms who pay less and enjoy the low tax regime and readily available loopholes.  This needs to be driven back onto the employer.  Needs to stop being a government subsidy to business and reflected in wages properly.  Structural reform of Labour markets and business taxation.  But we’ll be less competitive and will have a jobs flight to low wage economies in the developing world (howl away), like I said at the start these may be unworkable.

Every current benefit needs to be examined to see if it actually does what it should do and tested to see that it helps those it is meant to.  We should not be afraid of removing benefits that are poorly targeted as long as the right support goes to the people who need, which might mean new benefits being introduced (is this the antithesis of simplification? if screwed up it could be).

As I write this I realise that there is no way to encapsulate my feelings effectively without going on and on.  Considering that the request was on twitter  with 140 characters at my disposal, it was obviously unanswerable.

So I’ll be brief then.  Welfare (benefits & pensions) are a means to ensure dignity and well-being in our society.  The complex mess we have doesn’t work but the wrong-headed reforms by IDS are about punishment of the poor to pay for the systematic failures in other areas.   The starting point is everything.

Better to review the way each benefit works and systematise the actual outcome you need than take a blunt instrument (like IDS’ Brain obviously).

Sadly we are looking for simplicity to meet the needs of the most complex set of needs and lives we have ever encountered.  Simple(tons) just don’t cut it.  They just cut.

(sorry Dave this isn’t the answer you are looking for).

 

 

 

 

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