Sharing the Clement Attlee Love

One Lt Col R.L.T Jones wrote into The Telegraph (?!) today showing his appreciation of Clement Attlee:

“SIR – Clement Attlee showed great courage in honouring Britain’s “distant obligation” to protect the people of South Korea from invasion, in the first military campaign under the Charter of the United Nations in 1950.

At that time, Britain was on the edge of bankruptcy, the Armed Forces were overstretched after the Second World War, and there was need for social change at home. Still, Attlee did not flinch from taking the decision to respond. The Armed Forces addressed the new challenge, and the nation became proud that yet again we were doing the right thing for the free world. We did not argue over exit strategy; we got on with the job.

Now, 61 years later, as a result of legal intervention, the Republic of Korea has become a world-class economic and industrial power.

Today Britain has another courageous Prime Minister, and we have joined other responsible nations, again under the Charter of the United Nations, to ensure that the people of Libya may in the future have freedom to control their own affairs. Our Armed Forces have already responded to the initial challenge, Parliament has given massive support for action, and our nation can be proud that we have found our “moral compass” once again.

Lt Col R.L.T Jones
Odiham, Hampshire”

I don’t agree with him entirely (especially when it comes to the parts about exit strategies and David Cameron!) but it’s nice that there are people out there remembering Clement Attlee and all he achieved. Or at least I think it’s nice.

Jude xxx

Scottish Labour Conference 2011

Today I went to my first ever Labour conference.

It was a good day with a lot of familiar, friendly faces. I really enjoyed Ed Miliband and Iain Gray’s speeches and when Iain mentioned Keir Hardie, John Smith and Donald Dewar I felt a little teary – I love a bit of good ol’ fashioned Scottish socialism. Listening to them both talk has made me even more determined to do my bit to help Labour win the Scottish Parliament election on the 5th May.

I also attended the Labour Yes fringe event and it was great to listen to Ben Bradshaw and Stephen Curran talk passionately about why they’re campaigning for a yes vote on the AV referendum. I’m not going to campaign for it (I’d rather focus on getting Stephen Curran elected!) but I’m more enthusiastic about my yes vote now.

It was a great day and now I’m going to tuck into some Indian food because curry and the Labour Party are synonymous. Apparently.

Jude xxx

PS You can read Ed and Iain’s speeches here and here.

Reassessing Blair

I have had a negative view of Tony Blair for a few reasons:

  1. He carried on the Thatcherite consensus
  2. He didn’t carry out open and honest politics
  3. Let’s be honest, the Iraq war didn’t help

However, last week I decided to read Blair’s autobiography to get his side of the story and reconsider my opinions. It wasn’t a good read. The prose was awful, the sex scenes disturbing and some chapters were incredible messianic but it was the final chapter where he outlined his views on the direction of Labour (after urging the current government to invade Iran) that was the most chilling to read. According to Blair Labour lost the 2010 general election because:

  • They weren’t nice enough to bankers
  • They taxed the rich (with the 50p tax) rather than the poor (with a VAT increase)
  • They “scaled back” on ID cards

I don’t consider myself to be on the far left of the Labour Party and I want Labour to be electable but I don’t see what good can Labour do if it triangulates to the extent it becomes indistinguishable from the Conservatives. The Labour Party is supposed to be on the side of the poor and vulnerable, it’s why I’m a member, and I don’t see how carrying out the above policies make Labour any different than this right-wing coalition. It’s a total cliché to quote Orwell (a Blair I actually agree with) but the final paragraph of Animal Farm sums up my feelings perfectly:

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

I’ll always be slightly disappointed that Tony Blair (in my opinion) didn’t take advantage of the 1997 landslide victory and a suicidal opposition but I think I would be less disappointed if he had followed Clement Attlee’s example by carrying out clean politics.

In her memoirs Margaret Thatcher described Clement Attlee as:

“He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the Nineties, he was all substance and no show.”

I don’t think that the above sentence could be used to describe Tony Blair.

In his book Blair continually justifies keeping on cabinet ministers who had indiscretions while in government, he even regrets one of the few times he did make someone walk (Mandelson). I’m aware that people will make mistakes and mess up but I wish heads of institutions would realise that the individual isn’t necessarily a bad reflection on the institution but failing to act and justifying the individuals actions is (in my eyes) definitely a bad reflection of the institution. Attlee dealt with clean politics, this wasn’t because none of his ministers acted inappropriately while he was in office but because when one of his ministers did do the wrong thing Attlee would always have an inquiry (before Churchill demanded he should), the minister would resign and Attlee would actually accept the resignation. You can question Attlee’s politics but it’s hard to question his integrity, I don’t think the same thing can be said of Blair.

In “A Journey” Blair is shockingly honest about his dishonesty and brags about his skills as a manipulator. One part that really stood out for me was when he wrote about Clause IV:

“After the 1992 defeat, and without discussing it with anyone, not even Gordon, I had formed a clear view that if ever I was leader, the constitution should be rewritten and the old commitments to nationalisation and state control should be dumped.”

I think that jettisoning Clause IV was the right call by Blair but he later writes:

“Fortuitously, I had never been pressed on this during the leadership contest. The issue had been raised, but it was never pushed to the point where I lost ‘wiggle room’. I had closed down without closing it off.”

He knew that he was planning on rewriting the constitution of the Labour Party but deliberately kept it hidden until after he’d been elected. How incredibly dishonest and undemocratic.

I finished Blair’s book thinking even less of him. It wasn’t the butchering of the English language but Blair’s unflinching belief that he was always right (except for Freedom of Information and banning Fox Hunting, the only two things he regrets, because open government is BAD and ripping foxes to shreds for sport is GOOD) that depressed me the most.

I really hope if Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister he won’t triangulate to within a millimetre of the Conservatives, won’t metaphorically bitch-slap the UN by carrying out illegal wars, engages in clean politics and lets Cameron (and his vacuous rhetoric) be the “heir to Blair”.

Jude xxx

PS If you have the urge to read “A Journey” please don’t. Read this instead.

VOTE NO OR THE BABY GETS IT

Last year I attempted to write a dissertation on using shock tactics for social marketing campaigns; I read journals and I travelled down to London to interview several charities on the subject. Sadly I never completed my dissertation due to illness but shock tactics for social marketing campaigns is something I know a little about.

I was shocked though when I saw the latest advert from the No to AV campaign (you can see it here. I refuse to put such a horrible picture on my blog, I’m sticking with images of cupcakes and embroidery projects). I never reached a conclusion when researching my dissertation about whether or not shock tactics are acceptable but I was considering the use of shocking images to raise awareness of child prostitution, animal abuse or deadly diseases; serious problems which are innately shocking NOT the unexciting, non-shocking, mild version of electoral form that is AV.

If someone is upset by a picture of a baby with a cockroach in their mouth then it might be worth it if it raises awareness of the level of child poverty in this country (1 in 3 children in the UK live in poverty); if someone is upset by a picture of a distressed baby then it isn’t (in my opinion) worth it just because awareness of voting systems in this country might be increased.

I really hope that the No to AV campaign recognise their mistake and pull this advert because it just further desensitises us all to shocking images and might even prevent a worthwhile campaign justified in using shocking images from working.

I know some of you reading this will think “so what? It’s just a picture” but is there anyone out there who can really justify using a picture of a distressed, ill baby for a campaign on electoral reform? I doubt it.

This blogpost isn’t about the rights or wrongs of AV, I’ve already blogged on how I’m going to vote here, but about whether these tactics are justified for a campaign like this.

The Big Society: What Would Clement Do?

Figure 1: Big Society In Action*

I think that volunteering is A Good Thing™. I volunteer and through my volunteering I’ve made friends, given back to the community (I wish there was a less cheesy way to say that) and improved my CV. If anyone had some free time and wanted to simultaneously improve their own and other peoples’ lives I would definitely recommend they try volunteering. However, it isn’t a replacement for the state and that is why I am sceptical about David Cameron’s Big Society initiative.

Despite dying over 40 years ago Clement Attlee wrote the perfect response to David Cameron’s Big Society in his book The Social Worker (1920):

“Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim. In a civilised community, although it may be composed of self-reliant individuals, there will be some persons who will be unable at some period of their lives to look after themselves, and the question of what is to happen to them may be solved in three ways – they may be neglected, they may be cared for by the organised community as of right, or they may be left to the goodwill of individuals in the community. The first way is intolerable, and as for the third: Charity is only possible without loss of dignity between equals. A right established by law, such as that to an old age pension, is less galling than an allowance made by a rich man to a poor one, dependent on his view of the recipient’s character, and terminable at his caprice”**

As a bleeding heart lefty type person I completely agree with the Great Clem. As well as being the perfect antidote to the vacuous rhetoric of The Big Society, the above quote reminded me of something that David Cameron said during his 2010 conference speech which worried me at the time:

“Fairness means giving people what they deserve and what people deserve depends on how they behave.”

As Attlee pointed out, if people are dependent on volunteers/do-gooders to help them in their time of need what will happen if these volunteers (who are giving their time in exchange for no wage) decide that their services are “dependent on his view of the recipient’s character” and that the recipient isn’t deserving? I have plenty of other issues with The Big Society concept but they have already been articulated by other people (repeatedly), I have yet to see this issue be discussed on the interweb or in the papers.

Maybe this won’t be a problem but like most of this current government’s policies/initiatives The Big Society doesn’t seem to be very well thought through and I worry about what is going to happen to the needy and vulnerable in our society after David Cameron is finished with his Big Society experiment.

*Image credit: LEGO S&S Wildland Ultra XT (1) by Dunechaser
**Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of Attlee’s book The Social Worker. I got the above quote from Francis Beckett’s biography of Attlee, Clem Attlee.

AV . . . Again!

Figure 1: The Parthenon. Birthplace Of Democracy (And Where I Went On My Summer Holidays)

Last week I blogged about why I’m voting yes to AV, today @KilburnMat blogged about why he’s voting no.

I don’t agree with most of it (picking out Ken Barlow’s ties? THAT’S THE DREAM!) but it’s well written, shows the other side of the argument and engaging in civilised debate is a key part of democracy innit?

Jude xxx

Yes To AV or No To AV? That Is The Question*

AV is constantly being discussed on my twitter feed but I have yet to see any proper debate of the positives and negatives of AV or what each outcome could mean for the country. All the discussion I’ve seen has been focused on individual campaigns, as in “The Yes Campaign has done this” or “The No Campaign is supported by this person”, you know what? I DON’T CARE. These aren’t political parties we’re electing. If the no campaign “wins” then they aren’t getting an office in Whitehall, if the yes campaign “wins” they aren’t going to start setting government policy.

I would love for politics to be less dirty and to stop the ad hominem attacks but as far as I’m concerned the important issues about this referendum are:

  • Is AV a good move forward for our electoral system?
  • What is the possibility for further electoral reform in the future?
  • Is this really a referendum on how Nick Clegg is doing as Deputy Prime Minister?

I’m uncertain about the first question, AV is not proportional and I don’t think that it is much different from First Past The Post. In my opinion people living in swing seats will still decide elections (*cough* Daily Mail readers *cough*), this was why I was wary of voting yes to begin with. The reason I made up my mind and am now voting yes is because a certain person on twitter persuaded me a no vote will be seen as a validation of the status quo and would kill any chance of further electoral reform for decades (I am aware that there is a risk that a yes vote for AV could be seen in a similar way but it’s a risk I’m willing take).

A further reason I’m voting yes is Ed Miliband.

Because he is campaigning for a yes vote I am less worried that a yes vote on the referendum will be validating Nick Clegg’s decisions. I’m also glad that Ed is calling the government “Tory-led” rather than “The Coalition”. I have been bitterly disappointed by this coalition. I voted Labour so have no reason to feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats for joining forces with the Conservatives. The reason I’m disappointed with the Liberal Democrats is for ruining the opportunity to show Britain how a coalition can mean careful, considered governance by steam rolling ahead with radical plans which never received a mandate from the electorate. They are acting like this current government received a landslide win (like in 1945, 1979 or 1997) and I am constantly having to remind myself that not all coalitions have to be like this current one.

So those are the reasons I am voting yes on the referendum. If you’re voting no then that’s fine (I don’t think you’re a dinosaur or a Nazi) all I want is for there to be a calm grown up discussion about electoral reform, preferably over tea and cupcakes.

*Cheesy I know but it made me giggle