Blair – Progressive but authoritarian

Tony Blair is a man much disliked particularly within Labour Party circles but, without doubt, he has been the most progressive PM the UK has had in many generations. Yes, I know that’s not saying a great deal because all the other PM’s who have won General Elections, have been Conservatives.

The left and particularly those who are within Labour’s fold seem to hate Blair with about as much passion as they hate Thatcher. This has long intrigued me not least because all the other elected PM’s, as I said, in recent times have been Conservative and therefore regressive of political nature.

Why does the left despise Tony Blair so much?

Readers of this blog site will know that I’m no supporter of Blair or indeed Labour as both are generally too right-wing and authoritarian for me. As a Social Liberal, I certainly don’t see myself as a centrist or a moderate, more as someone who is of the left but not a socialist. Having said that, I am happy to acknowledge that Blair is the nearest thing we have had to a progressive winning elections and sitting in No.10 because for me it’s a statement of fact. Yes, he was too moderate, too centrist, too authoritarian and not progressive enough for my political taste and of course he fouled up hugely over Iraq but having said all that he is still the most progressive PM to win general elections in many a year.

Listening to Labour folk talk about Blair over the years I think the reason they dislike him is due to his perceived middle-classness. With Labour very much a class-based party being working class is very important to them. And how many times have I mentioned the Labour Group on Sefton Council launching into a chorus of ‘we are old Labour’ whenever Blair or New Labour came up in a council meeting whilst TB was PM; it must have meant a lot to them to need to be seen to distancing themselves from their own party in government. The odd part of all this is I’ve rarely if ever heard Labour members chuntering about Blair because of Iraq. You see to those of us lefties who are not within the Labour fold that was his greatest foul-up.

I’m also guessing that being anti-Blair is something those within the Labour Party have to be for them to have credibility, so there’s probably a fashion in Blair-slagging even from those Labour members who have a sneaking but unspoken liking for him and his governments.

Do I like Blair? No, not really, he often comes across to me as rather superior and irritating to listen to. Having said that he sometimes has well thought out progressive things to say and at times I’ll say Blair is right. Trouble is most Labour folks cover their eyes and put their figures in their ears whenever Blair appears on the TV.

Blair’s Government called it both right and wrong over Sefton’s Council Housing

One of his government’s unnecessarily authoritarian moves affected the Borough of Sefton and in particular its council housing stock and it shows how Blair could be good and bad at the same time. He was spot on when it came to realising that council/social housing across the UK was not up to standard so his government devised a policy called Decent Homes Standard. Sefton Council was in the frame for a big chunk of his government’s money to bring its council housing up to this new standard BUT, in a typically Labour move, they took the view that the council was not the appropriate body to get the work done. They demanded, as my friend and former Borough Councillor Geoff Howe recently pointed out, that the Council transfer its council housing stock over to a housing association or there’d be no money provided to bring Sefton’s council housing up to the new Decent Homes Standard. It sounded to me like blackmail then and it still does now. It led to Sefton having to ballot its council house tenants over such a transfer, which on the first ballot they refused but then agreed to via a 2nd ballot.

I never quite got why the council would not be an appropriate body to get the work done; did Blair’s government think Sefton would take the money and use it unwisely? It certainly showed a lack of trust in the council in my view yet there’d been no previous fall-outs with them before they took what I saw as an unnecessarily authoritarian position; a position which led directly to a new housing association having to be set up to deliver the Decent Homes Standard with both land and housing needing to be transferred to it. I still think the whole saga was a waste of time and resources because it also meant that Sefton Council no longer had control over its social housing stock. It was a ‘we in Westminster know what’s best for Sefton and if you don’t agree there’s no money to do up your council houses’ position and it was ridiculous authoritarian micro-management. I don’t have a problem with housing associations, I might add, it’s just that in Sefton’s case it was simply an unnecessary requirement to have to create one in my view.

So yes I have big issues with Blair both nationally and locally but whichever way you cut it he is still the most progressive politician to win the PM’s seat in General Elections for far too many years. On that basis can I suggest that hounding Blair for his failures whilst not being willing to acknowledge his generally progressive position on a number of important social issues is counter-productive as the alternative has always been a Tory one!

Brexit Deal – ‘celebrating’ abject political failure

Welcome to the UK at the end of a terrible 2020. Like everywhere else on earth we’re battling against Covid 19, but we’re also very troubled with our own self-destructive need to shoot ourselves in both feet. For years our politicians and our press have found ways to blame foreigners, the EU, the French indeed pretty much anyone outside of the UK for our own self-made troubles. The whole sorry mess has culminated in what looks to be a wretched Brexit Deal which is bound to be one of the greatest acts of self-harm this country has imposed on itself in living memory. Just look at the deal; it’s terrible:-

We often look to the right of politics to blame for our Brexit debacle but in reality the supposedly progressive parties have sadly had a big hand in this process as they’ve found themselves unable to effectively rise up and oppose it; an abject failure of leadership across the board.

The Tories found themselves being infiltrated by UKIP and latterly the Brexit Party in a far more successful way than Militant ever infiltrated Labour in the 1980’s. Many senior Tories acted like appeasers and they were rolled over and left politically dead. But not content with allowing narrow nationalism to take over their party they then elected as their leader the most unsuitable person just about ever to lead them and be Prime Minister. There can’t have been anyone within the Tory Party who was not aware of his flaws, indeed he’d changed his views over the EU from being a staunch backer of it to exactly the opposite and that can only have been for political power which could not have been gained otherwise. He’s proved to be the disaster that pretty much everyone thought he would be, but that’s of course no surprise at all.

But where has the official opposition been during this period of political turmoil? Labour under both Corbyn and Starmer have been fence sitting, hiding behind their Brexit sofa and trying not to be an opposition because too many Labour supporters on it’s right wing and even a few on its left wing are Brexiteers. Indeed, many of its white working class supporters helped to deliver Brexit by voting for Johnson’s Tories at the last election! Many of us progressives thought Starmer was having his wings clipped when he was Corbyn’s Brexit Spokesperson but sadly he’s hardly moved Labour from its ‘hide behind the Brexit sofa’ position at all as their new leader. He now even says Labour backs Johnson’s terrible deal!!!!!

And what of the pro-EU Lib Dems? Some false dawns prior to the last General Election came to nothing as they were unable to win the hearts and minds of voters even many who actually agreed with them! Suffering a lack of high profile leaders since the tragic loss of Charles Kennedy they’ve been unable to communicate with voters at all well of recent years. Like Labour they went for a safe pair of hands (Ed Davey*) after political trauma when their new leader desperately needed to be a Kennedy/Ashdown kind of communicator who voters would take notice of. Predictably, having gone for the safe pair of hands, the Libs have not been cutting through and frankly Starmer & Davey might as well be a firm of high street accountants for all the good they’ve done at Westminster. Both are worthy, both may well be steady Cabinet members but neither are leaders of women and men.

If you’ve got this far I’m guessing you’re not a Brexiteer and that you realise there’s nothing, literally nothing, to celebrate with our former ‘oven ready’ Brexit Deal. We’ve trashed our economy and our neighbour trading relationships because voters were convinced (in 2016) that most if not all of our ills were the fault of the EU which, despite its many faults, it rarely was/almost never had been. The power of our right wing press to get what it wants and implant its views in elector’s minds has indeed been proven.

And what next? I’m of the view that Scotland will probably leave the UK and re-join the EU at some point. I’m also of the view that what has gone on will have hastened a united Ireland. I’m supportive of both I might add. The thing which is bizarrely working in Brexiteers favour though is Covid 19 as the wrecking of our economy can at least be blamed on that with the Brexit effects being concealed. How bizarre is that? So be prepared for many more years of blame for our ills on ‘others’ as Brexiteers are not going to stop lying to you.

From my perspective as a Social Liberal of the left and a progressive politician by instinct we need credible leaders on the left who can communicate with voters. Blair was successful as he could communicate well. Yes I know, he went off the rails big style over Iraq etc. but I’m taking about a real communicator. Politicians like him and Ashdown and Kennedy and John Smith are few and far between these days but if Liberals, Social Democrats and the Socialists who aren’t Brexiteers want to rid UK politics of our nationalistic politicians they’ve got to find such leaders and when found they need to sitting on the sofa with electors not hiding behind it!

Click on the scans of the Brexit Deal graphics to enlarge them

* But I do give credit to him for saying he won’t support Johnson’s Brexit Deal

Cummings and Northern Goings On

It all sounded so easy when the Tories announced they were going to level up so that ‘The North’ would no longer be at a disadvantage to the south. So far not much levelling up has happened but then again we are living through a badly handled (by the Tories) health crisis/pandemic so they do have some excuse for the lack of anything tangible happening. However, that excuse won’t wash for long.

The other problem is that Johnson’s government seems incapable of handing just about anything well or even for that matter adequately. On that basis there can’t be much confidence that they’ll fix the north/south investment imbalance even when they do actually start doing as opposed to just talking about it.

Jim Hancock has an interesting take on all this. Please have a look what he has to say via this link:-

jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

Jim, as often is the case, gets what’s going on when many other commentators flounder. Not only that but he’s capable of putting it all down in understandable words; he’s part of a dying breed in journalism sadly.

I agree with Jim about Prescott and his wish to bring in regional governance which somewhat fell apart in English terms. I’m no fan of City Region Mayors, I never have been. What with the half-hearted devolution packages handed down when they were foisted upon us and the majority of them not really changing much at all I’d rather be shut of them in favour of proper regional governance via elected assemblies.

Prescott in government was a chap of typical old fashioned Labour hang-ups. On the one hand he had what all but amounted to an approach to this subject that Liberals had been articulating for generations. However, he was also one not to work across political boundaries because all he’d been taught in the insular Labour movement was against working with others who may hold similar views. I guess he was ‘our way or no way’ a view which has bedevilled Labour and stood it firmly against truly progressive politics for generations. Of course he lost his internal battle in the Labour Party over regionalism and having not built any bridges outside of that party his ideas sadly floundered.

I’ve never ceased to be amazed at how Labour can attack others who broadly agree with a policy they are trying to take forward because those others are not 100% backing of the Labour view. Labour has to build coalitions within the party but they won’t build them outside of it and Prescott lost regionalism because of that flawed attitude.

Political inspiration desperately needed for the left of UK politics

You might say ‘God help us we are desperately in need of dynamic political leadership on the left’, although in my case it would be your God as I don’t actually have one but you get my drift. And indeed drift is what has got the left of UK politics into the mess that it is.

But where did the rot start? For the Lib Dems after Charles Kennedy bowed out as their leader, for Labour probably when the wrong Miliband was elected their leader. Yes we can argue about when the rot started but when will it stop?

I don’t know about you but I’m desperately unimpressed with the direction progressive politics has been and may still be heading in. It could not organise itself to oppose a Brexit that virtually every progressive opposed whether they be members of PC, SNP, Lib Dems, Greens or Labour. There’s been no credible opposition to the Conservatives since 2010 at least. Yes there’s been a lot of shouting from the left but when push came to shove the left went in 5 or more directions all at once due to factional sects being unwilling to work with each other even on agendas where they shared common goals! The nearest we got was the Remain Alliance at the 2019 GE when the Greens, PC and Lib Dems tried to put out a nearly unified team, which then utterly failed.

Failure for the left is a comfortable old coat that gets passed down from one generation of left leaning party leaders to the next to give the Tories an assurance that the left is rarely going to get its act together and of course it usually tries not to!

Under our warped electoral system which virtually all other democracies ditched long ago we are left in almost every constituency with a binary choice. In most it’s left V right but it can be left V left but rarely if ever right V right. The right of UK politics is good at reorganising as the Conservative party morphs itself into UKIP when it was a threat to its ground and the Brexit Party when it reared its head. But the left stays in its own political silos pretty much come what may, no matter that it means year upon year of Conservative governance.

But the lack of serious opposition has meant the Tories have also become careless because they pretty much know they can get away with anything & everything. May’s minority Government was weak; Johnson’s is all over the place and both when the UK has needed strong governance and a clear direction. But even with a weak right the left can’t or won’t get its act together! It treads water, it shouts from the side-lines, it settles for keeping it’s own minority of backers on side. It all but takes out advertisements saying that it’s a waste of space and incapable of offering alternative leadership which folk can feel in any way enthusiastic about. Ask us in 2024 when we are near the next election and we may have woken up by then but don’t expect anything other than us going through the motions, at best, until then.

Blair understood that he needed to build an alternative movement and so did Ashdown indeed they did some of their planning in joint consultation because they knew that fighting each other would only be to the Tories advantage. Has the left learned anything from that? Clearly not and that’s because everything that Blair stood for is now policy of the devil amongst many on the left. They look upon him as being wrong about everything because he fouled up badly over Iraq and is perceived to have been too moderate and centrist. Of course he was not wrong about everything and the understanding he had with Ashdown was very far from being wrong – although it was sadly not followed through. As usual the left chucks the baby out with the bath water because well it enjoys cutting off its own nose to spite its face, it’s what the left does and in some left leaning minds it’s what it always should do.

I don’t know about you but I’m sick and tired of this carry on not least because it keeps delivering Tory Governments. But what can we do? Well the prospects aren’t good let’s be honest. To start with both the Lib Dems and Labour have middle aged white leaders who would do well to win a dull as dishwater contest even if they were the only contestants. Not sure where the Greens are going but the SNP at least has a credible leader. Ah but the Lib Dems and Labour fight like cats and dogs with the SNP because they’re unionist parties whereas the SNP is by definition a party of independence. Never mind that, putting that Scots Indy issue to one side, there may well be areas of social policy for example where there’s some common ground they still have to be seen to politically hate each other over everything. Oh what’s the point you may well say, indeed I’ve said it myself, but with the present Conservative Party having a free run to do anything they want the left simply has to stop kicking itself in the goolies and face up to providing an alternative vision. Doing nothing just puts the UK on the road to ruination, which is of course why many Scots want out!

So the two dull as dishwater leaders have to start talking and they have to find to try to some accommodation with the SNP. If they do nothing else they need to look back at the Blair/Ashdown talks of not that many years ago and as Ashdown is sadly no longer around even consult Blair.

You know there are good people in the Labour Party, in the SNP and even in the Lib Dems who can find ways of not declaring war on each other at the drop of a hat. If they don’t do this, if they can’t summon up some left leaning political inspiration to capture the hearts and minds of the electorate but particularly of young people then we all on the left deserve to go to the Tories version of hell in their rickety hand cart.

Labour’s dilemma – Class based V Progressive Politics

Labour is trying to pull back into its fold the right wing white working class voters who voted Tory at the last General Election. This despite the fact that these voters can often hold views which would embarrass a truly progressive party – This is summed up by Jim Hancock who says this in one of his recent blog pieces (Hancock’s Half Page):-

‘Sir Keir’s statement that “we love our country” was really important. For Labour to have any hope of regaining its northern strength, it must recognise the deep patriotism of the working class.’

To me that deep patriotism sadly often proclaims itself as racism, anti-Semitism, pro-Brexit, anti-gay, anti-Muslim etc. etc.

At the same time Labour’s also looking to bring on board real progressives who certainly reject the views outlined above but who, like the working class backers, became disillusioned with the party in recent years mainly due to the party’s fence sitting over Brexit and its anti-Semitism problems.

And thereby hangs Labour’s dilemma; trying to appeal to progressives and regressives at the same time. Under Tony Blair they achieved it although more I think by ignoring their white working class supporters (whom I’m sure must have been a huge embarrassment to Blair, whilst he still needed their votes) than by currying favour with them.

Starmer, who certainly does not have Blair’s charismatic qualities, therefore has a huge task on his hands. And if you add into that heady mix the fact that Labour has been almost wiped out in Scotland the task gets all the more difficult with Labour, like the Lib Dems, being a unionist party when the Scots are moving further towards independence.

My point in writing this posting is that Labour needs the Lib Dems to be successful just as much as Lib Dems need Labour to be successful. They’ve tried going toe to toe and it gave the Tories a free hand so they’ve got to do just the opposite and find a way not to fight each other in those seats where doing so simply hands seats to the Tories.

Yes I know that in many policy areas the Libs will continue be to the left of and more progressive then Labour. That’s just been highlighted by the Libs backing UBI & Labour rejecting it. And of course Labour traditionally has wanted to fight the Libs probably more than the Tories because they’re another left wing sect they want out of their way. However, unless the two parties want a re-run of the terrible campaigns which Corbyn and Swinson delivered in December 2019 then they’re going to have to find a way to live with each other as Blair and Ashdown did.

And yes I know it’s our appalling electoral system that creates this need to co-operate between two very different parties but without that co-operation then you know what the probable outcome could well be – yes that’s right another Tory Government!

But Labour’s USP has always been that they are not the Tories and maybe not being the Tories is all that’s needed now? If so it explains why Labour’s all but a policy vacuum; they stand for nothing much at all but they’re not Tories.

Please Sir, why are the leaders of the 3 largest UK-wide political parties all white middle aged grey suited men?

With the result, announced today, that members of the Liberal Democrat Party have selected Sir Ed Davey to be their new Leader it means the leaders of the 3 largest UK-wide political parties are back to being middle aged, white men in grey suits. Hardly an endorsement of multi-culturalism or a boost for women in politics.

What’s more the new leaders of the 2 supposedly progressive parties, Lib Dems & Labour, are both ‘Sirs’, a title that hardly makes either of them look like politicians of the people and probably more akin to establishment figures. Both are seemingly widely regarded as ‘a safe pair of hands’ following both parties going through periods of political trauma, but they’re also spoken of as ‘boring’. These sober but uninspiring traits will hardly inspire voters to move towards more progressive politics I fear.

As a radical progressive of the left and a member of the old Liberal Party and Lib Dems since 1980 I’ve seen uninspiring leaders (both of my own party and indeed other parties) before and it usually ends in tears. You may not have liked Blair, particularly after Iraq, but he was an inspiring figure that the electorate really took to in his early years, like they did Charles Kennedy, John Smith and Paddy Ashdown. What worries me is how Starmer and Davey can gain the hearts and minds of voters when neither seem to have the ability to do that. I very much hope I’m wrong about this I might add.

Yes, of course, I was backing Layla Moran MP to be the new Lib Dem Leader as she seems to me to have all the qualities that are seemingly missing in Starmer and Davey. It was always going to be an uphill battle for her though as the Lib Dem establishment were not keen on her radical progressive politics which I guess they thought could well frighten the horses. The big money went to Sir Ed and his campaign which clearly gave him a huge advantage – I think I had 4 mailshots from his campaign which generous donors clearly paid for. However, that around 50% of the 100,000 Lib Dem members did not vote at all tells its own story.

It will be interesting to see if Sir Ed can actually step up to become an inspiring vote winner, as it will of Starmer but let’s put if this way, my feeling is that the uphill struggle for progressive politics in England and Wales has sadly got a little steeper via the election of Starmer and Davey. Again though I would be very pleased to be proved wrong.