Category Archives: Political matters

Open Letter to members of the PLP

A letter from the trenches.

Comrades of the Parliamentary Labour Party

I ask you to read this and think about your next steps.

I am a Councillor in a Local Authority, burdened with making the sums add up in the face of cuts from both a Conservative national government and a Nationalist devolved government. The choices which I, and my colleagues, make every day are about delivering on the labour values that our constituents voted for.

The recent EU referendum result will create a period of flux, uncertainty and turmoil in our society and economy and it is to you whom many of our residents will look for surety and comfort.

Sadly the chaotic recriminations, played out in lurid detail in the right wing press, are depriving people, who would look to us to serve them, of any hope. They feel that our party is interested not in them but only in ourselves and our careers. This is not good enough.

Jeremy Corbyn has an overwhelming mandate to lead our party. I didn’t vote for him but he won a majority of our members support. I am a democrat and accept the will of the party. I suggest you do too.

At no point is it acceptable for the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to attempt to overturn the mandate given by the members. Worse still at no point is it acceptable for the PLP to undermine the Leader by briefing against him. It is disloyal and damaging to the party and if my MP were one doing so I would be on the phone demanding that they cease to do so.

I urge you all to focus on fighting a Conservative party in meltdown and prepare to take them apart on issues that impact on the daily lives of our citizens. Prove to the electorate that we are there fighting for THEM not fighting each other. Prove to them that we are a party that could govern in a different politics. Prove to them that we still have a point.

If we do this then the leader is supported and on the front foot and in front of the electorate. In time if a change of leader is needed then that will become apparent and we will choose another but until then this crass, opportunist, in-fighting is condemning our citizens to years of Conservative government and lives blighted by their policies. We will have failed them.

So, while I am not in your shoes and have a different view of things, I urge you to resolve the issues in the PLP by supporting the Leader and fight the Conservatives. Fight them with every fibre of your being. The vote of no confidence in the leader is an act of panic or spite and needs to be defeated.

I no longer have my own Labour MP to lobby so I am lobbying you and, like many members, I need you to show solidarity with all of us in the party whatever role we serve in.

The Conservatives are rudderless and divided, now is not the time to join them.

I urge you to support the leader and support the membership by voting to retain Jeremy Corbyn as Leader.

Your friend from afar,

Altany

Sent tonight to Labour Central Office for circulation to members of the PLP.

Return of my grumpy!

I used to like to put my thoughts on my blog.

I would range across the range of topics political and sometimes vent into the blogosphere.

However, as an elected Councillor, the putting your thoughts down could lead to some interesting discussions and misuses of my words.  I stuck to my job and left my blog to gather dust.

After an election campaign that ended with results that are less than ideal, I felt my grumpy gene kick in and my fingers twitch across the keys of my keyboard.

Third!  yes THIRD!  That’s where Labour have ended up after this latest election.  My party suffering at the hands of the electorate.

Firstly, the electorate are never wrong, they make up their mind and if they don’t choose your party then it is down to your inability to convince them to give your their support.  Trite and I desperately want to blame something or caveat the statement.

There is no caveat.  It needs us to look in the mirror and work out what we need to do to regain that support.  The online news is full of pundits, ex-politicians, failed politicians, failing politicians, armchair political strategists, enemies and opponents – all saying where Labour got it wrong.  I have twice declined phone calls from a friend of mine who, no doubt, wants to pick over the bones.

As one Labour List Candidate said to the BBC ‘The manifesto was self immolation for dummies.’ unhelpful, mistimed and totally infuriating.  He was adopting the old adage of when things are going badly, fight with your own side.  It is the Labour way.

There are many strands that knit the rope that bound us to our result.  A result that, if we stand back and look at it, we could see unfolding before us.  There were a whole series of factors that left us behind the others.

Firstly, the Flag.

We have been unable to counter the Flag waving tag that presents us as anti-Scottish (or not Scottish enough / not REAL Scots) and a branch office of an oppressor party from Engerland.  Utterly idiotic and impossible to refute without buying in to the argument.  The wrapping in a flag approach worked effectively for the Westminster election but should have lessened in a Scottish parliament election.  It might have if Ruth Davidson hadn’t used the same tactic to pretend to be the defender of the union.  Polarised the issue once more.

If we are not careful this division will become a new sectarianism, a blight that we have been trying to rid ourselves of in Scotland for decades.

Nicola Sturgeon.

The profile, and generally high regard, that Nicola holds is an electoral asset.  Never mind the policies, never mind the record, ‘I’m with Nicola’ has bizarrely got traction in a way that Alex Salmond could never manage.

She has managed to avoid anything sticking to her for the moment but that won’t last forever.  The poor record on education, health, policing, environment to name but a few have been deflectable with a few blasts of dog whistle Indyref.  The manifesto, on which she has been elected, has no Indyref and only 1 mention of austerity.  Fracking may be the monster under the bed for her own supporters if it gets out.  Big boy did it and ran away won’t wash on this front.

The gloss is coming off the Nicola Apple but it certainly wasn’t going to be a problem this time.

Ruth Davidson.

A problem for Labour.  A Tory that has performed well in the chamber landing a series of caustic statements and hits.  However, being a Tory she was making little progress until she could paint Labour as weak on defending the Union.  Worked a dream, a new flag to wave and call Labour soft on opposing the SNP.  Bulldog and fierce she played her limited hand very well.  Always trying to make the electorate forget that she is still, and always was, a Tory.

The tagline ‘For a strong opposition.’ was astute, saying that she couldn’t win so it would be safe to vote Tory if you didn’t want the SNP.   No real statements on policy that a supporter of Ruth was ever able to tell me on the doorstep.

Jeremy Corbyn.

He gets the blame when it goes wrong, and no credit when it goes well. The constant negative press of Jeremy Corbyn is unbalanced but working for the right wing parties in Scotland.  Helped by our own side who cannot accept his mandate.  I didn’t vote for him but he has a huge mandate.  No Corbyn bounce in Scotland as the press here portray him as soft on the union (for tories), English westminster politician and puppeteer of branch office (for SNP) and some kind of dinosaur  (helps both).

Kezia Dugdale.

New leader taking over the mess after the GE massacre last year.  Leading an attempt to reorganise to fight again, taking on ‘the most difficult job in Scottish Politics’ with an empty purse and lacking in activists.  She is intelligent and articulate and wants to make things better for future generations.  Wanted to use the powers to raise taxes and invest in public services.

Sadly, the electorate never really thought Labour could win power (by defeating the SNP) and deliver the promises this time.  Making the job of articulating how we would use the powers more and more difficult.  Opinion polls told the electorate that SNP were going to win, and stubbornly refused to move much.

Putting up Taxes

Hard to believe that this would be a problem.  Being honest about the need to raise revenue to protect services apparently is a bad thing to say out loud.

The electorate (a bit like the SNP Government) talk left but vote right.  The notion that 1p on taxes would be a deal breaker is bizarre.  Somehow it was made in to one.  The Anti-austerity message of taxing to invest and protect against tory austerity was somehow unacceptable.

IF the media streams all sell the story that Government waste your money all the time, then the message that paying any more will be received with horror.  The idea of the 50p tax rate for the wealthiest was fine last year but this year Nicola didn’t fancy it.

Kezia tried to Talk and ACT left, was roundly criticised and ridiculed.  Hypocrisy in action, largely missed by the mass media (the Sun supported SNP, for example).

Trident.

The vanity motion forced on Scottish Conference was a missile fired early that just confirmed the pattern of the election to come.  Scrap Trident (majority of Scots voters poll to be in favour), lose jobs, no real plan to diversify the industry.

It doesn’t matter how this would be done, and the need to rid ourselves of the Nuke, the issue was used as a club to beat us with. Jackie Baillie opposed the motion and was reelected as her constituency holds Faslane (although her years of service and fighting on local issues would have been huge factors).

Indyref Hangover and Red tories.

This has cast a pall over the Labour vote in Scotland.  The message that the Labour party were the same as the tories has been hard to shift.  All evidence to the contrary.  The politics of smear have worked well in the identity politics of post referendum Scotland.  It has stuck and will only weaken as the Tories and SNP start to agree on all things tax and spend.  It will wear off but will take time.

No indyref2 message in the SNP manifesto but opposing a referendum makes Labour look afraid of asking the people to decide.  Ruth managed to deflect this from the Tories to a respect the decision argument.  Sadly, we are bearing the blame and the tories have benefitted.  In strategic terms we are stuck in the middle, unable to find a place to stand that isn’t taken.

We have had to refight the indyref and fight about the constitution where it suits our enemies and not on the grounds of health, education and Anti-austerity where we would have been much more solid.

Optimism.

The hostility that personified the Referendum and GE, has largely disappeared and door knocking conversations have improved massively.  The voters haven’t returned to the Labour party (and it might take a while) but if we keep on talking about issues they will give us a hearing.  How far that gets us I don’t know.

There were other issues that contributed to where we are (some of them years in the making) but we are third and that will take some getting over.

We need to rebuild, rethink our approach and fight for the right to be heard in a largely right wing landscape.  It won’t be easy.  Who likes easy anyway.

Grumpy.

 

 

I’m a traitor….apparently

Oh yeah and william Wallace died for you, ya bastard.

Today’s winner in the drive by insults.  although a close second on the doorstep was quisling and lying Bastard.

Now, I don’t need a lie down after these expressions of well-developed political opinion.  I am a politician after all.  Worse (in their view) I have the temerity to be promoting an argument for No in the referendum.  If these were one-off, events I would merely tweet about them and pour some sarcasm over them but sadly they aren’t.  They are a feature of the most divisive political campaign I have been involved in.

I wonder when it became acceptable to shout profanity from passing cars?  It must make them feel so manly? Virile perhaps?  Probably about the same time as the rhetoric of stupidity got ramped up in this neverendum campaign.  The people at the top are responsible for setting the tone of campaigns and this has been well and truly set.

Cybernats are now an accepted part of the online firmament and their equally unsavoury britnat descendants.  If perhaps a little thinking, about the beast being spawned, had been done then perhaps cybernattery would not have been tacitly supported.  It is now too late to put that genie back in the bottle.

Intimidation and worse are the legacy of this (it’s all a jolly good wheeze) laissez-faire approach to controlling (or advising) the supporters of the campaigns.  The mob shouting down Jim Murphy, the destruction of signs, posters and a rather suspicious fire at an office are all portents that the nutters have gotten loose and the leadership have been pretty slow (deliberately I expect) to do anything about it.

Foreign hate sites promoted and then disowned (by the Yes campaign) and we have a toxic brew of idiocy and a recipe for a disaster to follow.

Then finally ‘Day of Reckoning Sillars’ and his threats to anyone who is not fully on the SNP/Yes orthodoxy and we are heading for a doozy on polling day. ( There will be crowds standing at polling stations if the number of different organisations that have registered are anything to go by. ( farmers for yes FFS.))

Add in the pied piper of Niddrie who will be marching to and from the polling station with yes voters (in case they get lost?), with face painting and balloons (can’t decide what to laugh at first).

This is probably the biggest decision (politically) that we will make as a nation and the debate has been woeful, descending to anti-english rhetoric and utter denial of anyone who raises an alternative view.  However, the Better together campaign isn’t lily-white either.

It appears to me that both sides have forgotten Dr Martin Luther King’s ‘The means we use must be as pure as the aims we seek.’ Some of the tactics are deplorable.

Anyway the point of this post wasn’t the above….

I want to take everyone beyond polling day and ask a few questions.

Are you a democrat?

What if your side doesn’t win?  What if it is very close?

What will you do / feel then?

We are on the cusp of a very narrow margin for either side and a 97% registered to vote (almost double our usual turnout) and an expected turnout in the 80’s.

The division and bile stoked so hard in this campaign has nowhere to go on the 19th.  What do you expect the outcome to be?  Violence on the streets?  Windows smashed? riots? cars keyed?  Tyres slashed?  long-term grudge held? A them and us to develop?

IF Yes is the outcome?  Euphoria for the yessers and a day of reckoning and a stuffing of treacherous quislings like me? And capital flight and economic plagues the like of which will be hard to endure?

IF No win?  We can’t go back because there can be no celebration of the divided society we will have.  Grudge and grievance will be the norm for years.  Back to the poor wee downtrodden us crap that has festered for years.  Riots and wrecking perhaps?  we wuz robbed will become the national phrase.

Whatever the result we will all have to abide with the result but there will be no way anyone can claim it as a settled will of the Scottish people or any kind of mandate.  It is a divided society and a mess.

How do we put the ugly side of this debate back in its box?  While I agree that there has been increased engagement some of it has been very negative, anti politics engagement.

We are used to division in Scotland (sectarian) but not on this kind of scale.  It is how we heal this after the 19th (I know polling day is the 18th but the result will be on the 19th) that will be the hardest task we face.  Both sides will use the result to beat the other for years.

So what will you do?

Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?

I suggest you better know what you are going to do if you don’t get the result you want.  And I suggest you do it before the result is in.

We need to be able to look at each other after this.  Certain language needs to be stricken from political dialogue, because traitor, quisling, liar, paedophile, scaremonger are really not acceptable.  Something some people (who should know better) have decided to forget.

‘Democracy is the worst form of Government, save for all the others’  Winston Chuchill.  I think he was thinking of times just like this.

 

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.

 

 

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.