Why Tories won’t mind losing 1 election & why all eyes should be on Labour’s PR stance

It’s the day after the next General Election here in the UK and progressives are seemingly in a majority, if you mistakenly assume that all Labour MPs are progressive which of course they’re not. There is a lot of celebrating as the Conservatives have finally lost their majority but it will take a ‘coalition* of willing progressives’ to create a workable left of centre government. Here are a few reasons why that ‘progressive alliance’, for want of another term, is likely to fail in short order leading to another populist government of the right.

Firstly, Labour, who have won some extra seats, really aren’t looking much like progressives at all, having run a campaign based on a centre-right platform. The SNP are more progressive but their independence or bust approach to working with other parties is a big stumbling block when you consider that both Labour and, sadly from my perspective, the Lib Dems are firmly unionist in their outlook.

The Lib Dems, who have won a significant number of seats from the Tories, are in reality two differing types of Liberals – Economic Liberals (Nick Clegg was one I guess) and Social Liberals. Whilst they share numerous Liberal values the Social Liberals tend to be very much of the left in UK political terms although many of them baulk at being seen as of the left. However, they’re the ones who realised early on that that Nick Clegg’s negotiated coalition with the Conservatives back in 2010 was going to be a disaster. Of course, they were right as Clegg backed out of the Lib Dem’s flagship policy of opposing Student Tuition Fee increases. It was pretty much all downhill for the Libs from there onwards for the next 10 years.

Would the SNP, having seen what Clegg did to the Lib Dems, even for a moment, contemplate watering down their independence for Scotland stance to make working with unionists in other parties easier or even possible. Frankly, they would be mad too, so how can a multi-party progressive government be formed in a way that brings an independent Scotland to the fore?

It’s proportional representation stupid

And then there’s proportional representation, which for generations Labour has opposed; a position that’s exposed it as being anti-progressive. Labour’s pretty much on its own amongst all left of centre parties across Europe and beyond over its heel-dragging with regard to PR. They got close to backing PR in 2021, of course, and now seem to be in a position where they no longer oppose PR but don’t really back it with any great enthusiasm either. The problem is they can’t be trusted to see through a PR agenda by progressive parties who probably look upon Starmer’s party as being akin to Justin Trudeau’s Canadian Liberals. They, having previously backed/promoted PR, pretty much ran away from delivering it. The SNP, Lib Dems and Greens think Starmer’s lot will pull a similar trick, and they’d probably be right to fear such an outcome.

Labour’s still a Brext party?

Too many of Labour’s MPs continue to be right of centre or they represent white, working-class, right-wing leaning constituencies even when they’re progressively inclined themselves. This was of course the very bind that drew Labour into at best sitting on its hands and at worst enabling a Brexit which has probably damaged poorer areas of the UK more than anywhere else. Of course the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens were utterly opposed to Brexit so here’s another big sticking point which creates barriers to progressives being able to work with Labour.

And look who Labour will probably want to be Chancellor, one Rachel Reeves who’s infamous, with this progressive anyway, for her 2013 utterance that Labour will be tougher than the Tories when it comes to slashing benefits, or words to that effect. She’s going to go down well with progressives in the Greens, SNP and Lib Dems NOT.

So can a Tory opposition so disparate and so very different from each other really carry the day? It could but only on a very limited agenda and proportional representation would very much have to lead that agenda. A further Scots Independent referendum would clearly need to be part of it together with an unbreakable commitment to devolve many more powers to Scotland, N Ireland, Wales and the regions of England, whether the Scots referendum delivers independence or not. This latter point should get the Lib Dems onside as they have long proposed powerful regional governance for the whole of the UK as opposed to the very limited and messy decentralisation which presently exists in differing ways in different parts of the UK. The only other potential issue for this limited agenda could be an emergency financial NHS rescue package. Surely, all progressives could get behind such an initiative? But that’s about it and of course, if Labour will not implement PR then all bets should be off. Certainly, Ed Davey would not survive any brokered deal that simply props up a Starmer Government; he won’t get away with what Clegg did!

And the alternative for anything like a progressive way forward? A minority Labour Government which progressive parties would back but only on matters/policies, they agreed with. On that basis, Starmer’ would be thrown to the wolves if he tried to pursue any right of centre agendas. I’m sure there will be other barriers to non-Conservative parties working together, I’ve just picked out the obvious ones here!

A UK version of Trumpism, that’ll probably be our future

No matter which way you cut it the Tories may only be out of power for one election (under our warped First Past the Post system that is) and they could live with that outcome. Without proportional representation being enacted we’ll be back to Tory Governments most of the time and they’ll probably not be of the benign John Major-type either. Right-wing populism has taken over the Tory Party of old and putting it back in its box will be the devil’s job. No PR Labour? Then settle back for a UK version of Trumpism because that’ll probably be our future.

* Oh and one last thing the Lib Dems have previously ruled themselves out (under Tim Farron’s leadership) of participating in any future coalition government and who on earth could blame them after they were Clegged!

Johnson should be facing down the DUP not pandering to them

As readers of this blog site will recall, I quite often check in on what Jim Hancock says via his ‘Hancock’s Half Page’ blog site as I share his views sometimes but respect them even when I don’t. The piece below on the complete and utter shambles surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol is Jim Hancock at his best:-

‘The Northern Ireland protocol is an international treaty. Tearing it up would further damage our international reputation, already harmed by Brexit. Johnson should be facing down the Democratic Unionists with a threat to change the Good Friday agreement to allow parties that are willing to form a government at Stormont to do so. Many businesses are reporting they are thriving as the province benefits from its unique status between the UK and the EU Single Market. The DUP voted for Brexit. They are responsible for the checks which, they say, distance themselves from Great Britain.’

I’m not at all sure what the end game will be but it seems to serve both the Tories and the failing DUP to keep the NIP on the boil as it’s more raw meat to feed to Brexiteers. But this is dangerous politics which puts peace in NI at great risk. The DUP may have nothing to lose now as they look to be in significant decline, with a united Ireland a real probability and just a matter of time.

Politicians who have nothing to lose will hit out and do pretty much anything and the bad consequences will always be someone else’s fault. For Johnson, who finds himself in his own self-made nothing to lose predicament, pandering to the DUP (or in reality continuing to manipulate them) risks everything.

RMT Union V Merseyrail – Still no resolution

Passing Merseyrail trains at Aughton Park Station on Merseyrail’s Northern LIne to Ormskirk

It’s a while since I’ve dropped into the long-running dispute between RMT trade union and Merseyrail, but there’s been some recent movement. Here’s a link back to a previous posting of mine on this subject:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/09/06/merseytravel-merseyrail-liverpool-city-region-v-rmt-train-guards-dispute-ended-but/

And the movement? The latest peace deal has been rejected by Merseyrail’s RMT members in a ballot. According to the RMT website, there were 217 eligible members in the ballot of which 182 voted i.e. 84%. I often wonder why in such trade union ballots some members choose not to vote. Yes, there’ll be illness etc. but can we assume those not voting were not bothered either way? The result was 83 accepted the deal and 99 voted to reject it.

So far I’ve not been able to track down much else about where this long-running dispute is now headed and as an outsider looking in, even one who is a retired trade union officer, the alternatives look rather bleak to me. I’m wondering whether those voting no to the deal had an eye to the ticket checking (revenue protection) part of it and a wish not to have to? Although ticket checking onboard trains by guards is still reasonably common, not so on Merseyrail who seem to have opted more for mobile teams to enforce those travelling ticketless over the past few years. However, with this new and now rejected deal the guards, renamed Train Managers, would be walking through the new Class 777 Stadler trains checking tickets and of course, dealing with the confrontations flowing from such interactions with folk deliberately trying to travel for free. My feeling is that the revenue protection part of the new Train Manager’s job is aimed, at least in part, at raising more money to assist in paying the wages of the Train Managers*.

It will be interesting to see if the rejected deal now becomes the marker for another fully-fledged industrial dispute between Merseyrail and the RMT.

A Merseyrail train just noth of Maghull Station heading for Liverpool on the Ormskirk LIne.

* I keep coming back to a point that I’ve made many times before. The fact is that the Liverpool City Region ordered new trains which were intended to run without guards being required at all. On that basis, a dispute with the unions representing the train operator’s staff was always going to be on the cards. You can’t help but wonder if the Labour-run City Region was looking for a fight with Merseyrail’s trade unions all along? The City Region came unstuck when the RMT and passenger groups said they wanted a 2nd person onboard each Merseyrail train to aid passenger safety. This argument gained traction and the politicians were forced to back down.

Why we need more Low traffic Neighbourhoods

As far as I can see we are still building new communities and housing estates so they’re car-dependent when clearly we should be doing just the opposite!

I’ve been trying to get my head around another green initiative called ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ and here’s a good explanation of what they are from Sustrans:-

www.sustrans.org.uk/our-blog/get-active/2020/in-your-community/what-is-a-low-traffic-neighbourhood

Car drivers often get very angry when there are suggestions/plans to reduce car use. Their often irrational response is because they’re addicted to their car which they use for virtually every journey. Indeed, their whole life has been built around them being car-dependent and they want it to stay that way as they know and care little about alternatives. Pedestrians are strange, why walk when you can drive, aren’t these people weird? Cyclists are a damn nuisance who need running off our roads. Horse riders should be in fields. Drivers who follow speed limits are forcing me to take on dangerous overtaking manoeuvres to get past them.

Does pollution not matter to these drivers? Well no, not unless someone in their family has been made ill by airborne pollution. And what about vehicle accidents?, oh they happen to others, not to me. Green issues generally?, oh that’s for politicians to sort out, nothing to do with my car. In reality, the vast majority of vehicle drivers will never volunteer to reduce their car use. They may well buy an electric car (if they are comfortably well off that is) as it may make them feel ‘green’ when actually the production of their ‘green’ car is anything but green!

I suppose it comes down to this. We all want the road we live on and the one our child goes to school on to be car-free and safe but we want every other road to be a vehicle free for all where we can drive however we want and not suffer any consequences.

The approach of the government is to build car-dependent communities as developers like, where they like. It’s for another generation to sort out the mess that poorly planned housing developments are creating. Oh and let’s build more new roads even though we know they just generate more traffic. And the climate change/green agenda?……………………

Editor’s Note – I Drive, Cycle and walk.

Should lefties participate in right-wing media

Here’s a challenge to all lefties from former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker (I picked it up from his Facebook Page) – I’ll admit it is a dilemma that I have personally struggled with:-

*****

‘Now here’s a puzzle. People who share my liberal/leftie views make two complaints to me about the plentiful right-wing media here in the UK, from the Mail to the Sun, from the Torygraph to GB News.

The first complaint is that these outlets are biased against those on the left and exclude voices to balance the diet of right-wing material they churn out.
The second complaint is that people like me who have liberal leftie views should boycott these outlets as they are the spawn of the devil.
Notice the contradiction here?

Actually what people want, in the famous exhortation of Gavin Williamson (sorry, Sir Gavin) is for these outlets to “go away”. But they aren’t going to go away, are they?

My strongly held view is that if I can have an opportunity to put my views across – and they are my unfettered uncensored liberal views – to an audience that wouldn’t normally hear them, that is an opportunity that I should not turn down. If I want to change minds, it is ultimately more useful to write for the Mail or the Sun, which I do intermittently, rather than for the Guardian (though I write for them too sometimes).

Someone recently drew a comparison between me being on GB News and the participation of the Lib Dems in the Coalition between 2010 and 2015. That is an entirely fair and apposite comparison. Many took the view that the Lib Dems should not have gone into coalition with the Tories. Yet the alternative would have been a Tory-only government and I think people can see how disastrous those have been since 2015 and begun to see the beneficial effect of the Lib Dems in the pre-2015 arrangement.

It is always an easy course, and a satisfying one, to shout from the sidelines rather than deal with people whose views are quite different to your own. Purity is retained, but at the price of impotence. Of course the Lib Dems suffered hugely from being in the Coalition (though recent elections suggest that we are on our way back) and no doubt I annoy some people by engaging with the right-wing media.

But back to my puzzle. If some want to argue that people with leftie views like me should boycott such outlets, that’s fine. I respect that view, even if I disagree with it. But don’t then complain to me that all liberal leftie voices have been excluded from those outlets.’

*****

Of course, as a leftie, I don’t watch GB News or Talk TV as their purpose, at least to me, is to present news in a right of centre way; why would I watch right-wing propaganda dressed up as news? But I’m sure there are many who think of themselves as left-wing who read the Express or the Mail and do watch these news outlets, I even know some of them! To me, the quality/independence of news is far more important than the political slant TV stations or newspapers put on their news streams, but let’s have a look at ‘leftie’ Norman’s position.

He clearly holds the view that his engaging with right-wing TV and newspaper outlets is a good thing as he uses such engagements to try to challenge the right-wing thrust of the journalists and presenters. I suppose the big question is though, does anyone who tunes into or reads right-wing news outlets seriously take on board the views of lefties who happen to be there making a progressive challenge? I’m guessing not very much.

However, Norman is clearly engaging with that section of the electorate that ‘lefties’ often ignore; the working-class, right-wingers who delivered Farage’s/Johnson’s Brexit. They will predominately be white, very much not progressive and often will have been Labour voters/supporters in the past. The very part of the electorate that Johnson and Starmer are fighting tooth and nail over and why Starmer’s Labour Party has to look right of centre.

Labour, as a class-based party, has always had supporters/members who no one would claim to be progressives/lefties in any way; they’ve always been drawn towards right-wing media outlets as they were towards the right-wing Brexit. But can lefties participating in such outlets really make them think again? My view is only at the margins and at very narrow margins at that. So I get what Norman Baker is trying to do but am not at all convinced he will save many who read the Mail, Express or who watch GB News/Talk TV from the clutches of the right. Hat’s off for his trying though.

Oh and on the Coalition, for me the Lib Dem failures were:-

* Being seen to be ‘lying’ over tuition fees by progressives. No amount of ‘explanation’ over this will ever change this view and neither, in my view, should it.
* Voting for illiberal things when the Tories were utterly unreliable political partners who should not have been trusted one inch.

By the way, Baker is a good writer. I’ve read two of his books – And what do you do? about the Royal family and The Strange Death of David Kelly about the very odd death of a government scientist.

Why Libertarians are NOT Liberals

Modern-day Libertarians have emerged from right-wing* politics although they’ll often disguise what is, in reality, their ‘self-first’ agenda by defining it as a seemingly less selfish ‘my right to choose.’

The further right you go the more the ‘self-first’ agenda exposes itself for what it really is – ‘I can do whatever I want and no one has the right to stop me/challenge me.’

A Liberal on the other hand will say ‘I am an individual and my views should not be constrained by the state, however, I also accept that I take both responsibility for my actions and I will always try not to pursue individual liberty when it has negative effects on others, the environment, the natural world etc.’

So what would a typical Libertarian think? How about these examples? –

* I won’t be vaccinated, it’s my right to decide what goes into my body and it’s not my responsibility to protect others.
* I don’t go with climate change, it’s not happening and I won’t do things to stop what is not happening.
* I park my vehicle where I want, if pedestrians can’t get past it then that’s their lookout; nothing to do with me.

A Liberal on these same issues will respond to them:-

* I will be vaccinated as it’s my duty to protect my own health and that of others.
* On climate change, I follow the science and will do my bit to address it.
* I don’t park my vehicle where it will impede pedestrians and those with disabilities.

And then whilst thinking about such issues and debating them with my very progressive and Liberal daughter she said this – It’s a Bill Bryson quote from the Road to Little Dribbling book:-

Now lots of people are governed not so much by whether something is right or wrong as by whether they think anyone’s watching. Conscience only operates when there are witnesses”

To me, that thoughtful contribution says that those who tend to be Libertarians, but who don’t want to get caught being selfish, will tend not to be self-first if they are likely to be caught at it. That means, for example, they won’t drop litter if they think someone may see them but if they can get away with it, it’s OK.

* Libertarians were originally of the ‘left’ but in modern times the ‘right’ has taken the term on as its own. They have in effect corrupted what was once based firmly in progressive and radical Liberalism.