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Friday, October 09, 2015

Is social media disconnecting politicians from voters?

There is interesting article in yesterday's Guardian in which they report on the views of Labour's Tristram Hunt. Hunt's views are informative because they are another dig at the Corbynistas from a disaffected former shadow cabinet member, but also because it makes a wider point that is worth further examination.

Hunt argues that the left’s use of social media is emboldening group mentalities and disconnecting activists from the views of the wider electorate:

Warning against “algorithm politics” where activists gravitate only to views that confirm their own, he will say: “If social media were politicising the many as well as radicalising the few; were it significantly growing the number of people engaged in politics in the first place, rather than confirming pre-held bias, then Ed Miliband might now be sitting in 10 Downing Street.”

“What people say to each other on the internet – and social media in particular – rewards strong, polarising opinions and primary coloured politics.

“Far from broadening the mind through access to the greatest library human beings have ever created, people’s experience of the internet is increasingly a narrow online world where anyone who puts their heads above the parapet can be the target of an anonymised digital mob.”

Although I spend a lot of time using social media, I would endorse these views. You need to keep perspective and as politicians we need to get out more and talk to ordinary people.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Canadian Tories put a dead cat on the table

Canadian general elections don't tend to feature that much in the British media but, with just 12 days to go the latest contest is starting to develop into an epic fight in which the left wing New Democrats Party has started to flounder leaving the Liberal Party to carry the opposition cudget.

The real news though is that Stephen Harper's Tories have dumped a metaphorical dead cat on the dining room table and have recovered their lead in the polls.The contest though remains within the margin of error and is neck and neck.

If any of that sounds familiar, then that is because there is a direct link between Stephen Harper's tactics and the UK Tory Party. It is Lynton Crosbie, one time advisor and guru to David Cameron.

As this article reports, the dead cat on the table is a speciality of Mr Crosbie has made his mark on the contest:

In 2013,[Boris] Johnson wrote a piece in the Telegraph about campaign tactics he learned from his “Australian friend”—Crosby. It’s worth reading the entire excerpt here: “Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and, the more people focus on the reality, the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as ‘throwing a dead cat on the table, mate.’

That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table—and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’; in other words, they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

So there it is. The dead cat.

In the case of Canada the dead cat is the niqab issue: It’s all anyone can talk about. It fits perfectly into his agenda of security and fear of change. The NDP, which was once riding high on polls that showed Quebecers were ready to turf Harper, have whiplash. It has lost control of the agenda. It’s all niqab, all the time.

If Harper holds onto power in a three cornered contest he will have Lynton Crosbie to thank. But it ain't over yet and from my reading of the polls still too close to call.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Taxpayers' Alliance director does not pay UK tax

The Guardian reports that the Taxpayers' Alliance, a campaign group that calls for tax and spending cuts and claims to represent the interests of taxpayers, has admitted one of its directors does not pay British tax.

They say that Alexander Heath, a director of the increasingly influential free market, rightwing lobby group, lives in a farmhouse in the Loire and has not paid British tax for years.

The Conservative party of course, has close links to this group, who claim to be "the guardian of taxpayers' money, the voice of taxpayers in the media and their representative at Westminster".

The paper highlights that at the Conservative party conference in Manchester this week, the Taxpayers' Alliance's influence was underlined when David Cameron and George Osborne followed its recommendations for freezing public sector pay and capping civil servants' salaries at the level of the prime minister, unless approved by the chancellor.

Being lectured on value for money by a non-UK taxpayer is bad enough, but to have that person and his organisation influencing the UK Government in this way is positively undemocratic.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Have Labour given up on the democratic process?

There is an interesting article by Dan Hodges in yesterday's Telegraph in which he questions the direction of travel of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party in light of the protests outside the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester.

He says that over the past 48 hours, delegates, MPs, journalists and exhibitors who are attending the annual gathering of the nation’s governing party have been punched, spat at, kicked, subjected to racist abuse, sexist abuse and other general threats of violence. He believes that fascist street-craft is being deployed in the name of the progressive majority.

And although Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, and Jeremy Corbyn have both condemned the violence and intimidation, Mr. Hodges believes that is not enough. He says: 'It is not the Conservative Party that is under assault here in Manchester – it is democracy.'

He continues: Five months ago we had a general election, and David Cameron won it. His party secured 11 million votes. That is an inconvenient fact for some. But it is a fact all the same. That is how we resolve our political differences in Britain. Not with fists or boots or saliva. But via the ballot box.

Last week, at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, I was worried that the Labour movement was in danger of drifting to the political margins.

But at the Tory conference, I realise the real danger is that it is on the brink of removing itself from the democratic process altogether. It is not only losing touch with the British people, but also absenting itself completely from the basic electoral and parliamentary and political protocols which ensure a mature democracy can function and flourish.

The Left seems to be busily locking itself into a death spiral. It is a dance of the macabre that goes something like this: the Labour Party – which if you recall was established solely for the purpose of securing the Labour movement parliamentary representation – is saddled by the Left with a series of leaders and policies that make it utterly unelectable. So an election is held, and the Labour Party duly loses it.

At this point, the Left says “See, we told you. The ballot box is not the answer. We must take to the streets”. So the Labour movement takes to the streets. Whereupon it effectively reinforces the view that that Labour movement and its representatives are not a government in waiting, they are simply an unelectable rabble. And so the dance continues.

Just look at Len McCluskey. This man is not the villainous industrial brigand of media caricature. Many of his criticisms of the Trade Union bill are valid. It is indeed a vindictive piece of legislation. But last week he compared the Conservative Party to the Nazis.

Then, on Sunday morning, he claimed that it was the “duty” of trade unionists to break the law in defiance of the bill.

Then he marched his members up to the gates of the Conservative Party conference.

It didn’t take a genius to guess what was going to happen next. Nor does it take a genius to predict what will happen while Labour leaders such as shadow chancellor John McDonnell continue to say things such as “There’s three ways in which we change society. One is through the ballot box, the democratic process and into Parliament. The second is trade union action, industrial action. The third is basically insurrection, but we now call it direct action.”

Nothing the Labour Party has done over the past five years – not the deficit denial nor the welfare denial nor the immigration denial nor the Ed Stone nor the bacon sandwiches nor the self-affirming walks on Hampstead Heath – has done it more damage than the embrace of the direct action movement.

If you call for insurrection, insurrection is what you will get. If you call for law breaking, law breaking is what you will get.

Like Dan Hodges I support the right of people to protest. It is a fundamental democratic right. But violence and intimidation should not form part of that act, and if it does then the perpetrators should be prosecuted.

It is not the role of democratic political parties to call for law-breaking and insurrection, nor that of elected politicians to effectively encourage the sort of activity that has been witnessed outside the Tory Party Conference this week.

We live in a democracy, under the rule of law and we need to ensure that we abide by the conventions expected of us by those two institutions in expressing our views, no matter how frustrated or angry we get.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Nigel Farage faces investigation over use of EU money

The Daily Mail reports that Nigel Farage faces a European Parliament investigation for using taxpayer funds to pay for a roadshow around Britain campaigning against the European Union.

They say that the Ukip leader has been reported to Brussels authorities for financing his ‘Say No To EU’ speaking tour using EU money allocated to his group of MEPs.

Mr Farage’s Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD), which is made up of Ukip MEPs and Eurosceptics from other countries, has received 6.4million euros (£4.7million) from the Parliament in the past three years to pay for its activities.

However, Labour MP Wes Streeting has written to the president, Martin Schulz, after he discovered some of the money is being used to sponsor Mr Farage’s anti-EU tour, which he is using to launch his anti-EU campaign:

Mr. Farage is currently visiting theatres and hotels across Britain trying to persuade people to vote to end Britain’s membership of the EU in the referendum.

Mr Streeting, who is a member of the Commons Treasury select committee, has asked Mr Schulz to investigate whether the spending is a breach of EU rules, which state groups must ‘carry out their duties as part of the activities of the Union’.

He has also accused Mr Farage of having double standards for using the money while vehemently arguing the government should not be able to use public money to campaign to stay in the EU.

Despite being anti-European UKIP have unashamedly been taking EU money for their campaigns for too long. Clearly this investigation will decide whether they are working within the rules, but morally their hypocrisy on this issue is shameless.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Now Tory cabinet revolts over Osborne coronation

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn who faces an on-going revolt from his front-benchers, the Tories are up in arms as well. According to the Times, there is fury that the Tory conference will be arranged to further Osborne’s interests, so much so that at least 18 ministers and former ministers are now actively discussing standing against the chancellor:

Senior Tories claimed last week that the prime minister would announce he is standing down in the spring of 2019, with the plan to install Osborne as leader at the party conference in October that year.

One cabinet minister, however, told The Sunday Times they would not stand for a “cosy stitch-up” and another condemned the briefing as an example of “George’s ambition getting the better of him”.

Cameron’s decision to pre-announce his departure has turned this week’s conference into a leadership beauty contest. Theresa May, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Chris Grayling, Graham Brady, Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom, Justine Greening, Dominic Raab, Stephen Crabb, Anna Soubry, Penny Mordaunt and Priti Patel have all discussed with friends the prospect of running.

Former cabinet ministers Owen Paterson and Liam Fox are also considering whether to anoint a new right-wing standard bearer — with Grayling expected to resign from the cabinet over Europe and lead the charge — or run themselves.

The Tories are so confident of re-election following Jeremy Corbyn became Leader of the Opposition that they can afford to indulge themselves in scrapping over who will be the next Prime Minister. Anybody would think that they didn't have a country to run.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

In defence of Charlotte Church

Now there is a headline I did not think I would be typing. However, in fairness to the singer and reborn political activist her appearance on Question Time on Thursday demonstrated just how unsuited television is to complex and unfashionable arguments.

First, a refresher: according to today's Western Mail Charlotte Church is sticking to her guns:

Church drew what a number of commentators described as “stunned silence” at All Nations Church in Cardiff after claiming that drought in Syria had contributed to social unrest in the war-torn country.

She told the audience: “There is evidence to suggest that climate change was a big factor in how the Syrian conflict came about.

“From 2006 to 2011, they experienced one of the worst droughts in its history which meant that there were water shortages and there was a mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres which put more strain on resources which apparently did contribute to the conflict there today.”

She concluded: “No issue is an island, so we also need to look at what we’re doing to the planet and how that might cause more conflict.”

Protests on Twitter by people like Sunday Telegraph Westminister commentator Will Heaven who wrote: “Turn over to Question Time. Hear Charlotte Church blaming the Syria war on climate change. Jump out of the window.” deliberately misrepresented what she said.

Clearly, the Syrian conflict was not started by climate change. There are a whole series of unsavoury and evil people there who have started this war for entirely selfish reasons. However, history does teach us that civil war and conflict flourishes where there is poverty and hardship, no matter what the cause. And it is often easier for insurgents to get a hold on the general population in such circumstances.

If we do not understand these lessons then we are doomed to repeat the mistakes that have led to suffering time after time all across the world. That is why overseas aid budgets are so important. Stepping into a crisis and alleviating suffering can stop conflict in its tracks and leave extremists isolated and friendless.

We should give Charlotte Church credit for reminding us of that lesson.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Threat to Swansea tidal lagoon by UK Government foot-dragging

The one year delay in building the Swansea tidal lagoon that was covered in today's South Wales Evening Post is worrying on a number of levels. Chiefly, it will raise doubts as to whether the lagoon will ever be built.

The fact that the company has announced that work will not now start on site until spring 2017, a year later than hoped, is worrying enough, but. the chief concern is that the UK Government are dragging their heels on making a decision over how much they will pay for the electricity.

I am a big supporter of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon but it is quite clear that the failure of the UK Government to agree the price for the electricity it will generate within the original timetable has led to this delay. The danger now is that the project will lose momentum and that investors will take their money elsewhere.

The question is whether this dragging of heels means that UK Government may not be prepared to pay the price the company needs to make the project viable. I am concerned that the government’s lack of commitment to the lagoon and to renewable energy generally could kill it off completely.

The Conservative Secretary of State for Energy needs to give some assurances that this will not be the case and accelerate the decision-making process so that Swansea, and those who want to invest in this project can have some certainty about the lagoon’s future.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

It isnt just Labour frontbenchers who disagree with Corbyn

Just in case we thought it was only the shadow cabinet who had fundamental policy differences with the Jeremy Corbyn, up pops newly elected MP Stephen Kinnock to register his own protest.

Kinnock is of course the son of the last Labour leader to be excoriated by the tabloid press and no stranger to controversy himself, having scraped through the selection process for Aberavon by one vote amid accusations of him parachuting in from Denmark or some other far-flung realm. Having said that he is a perfectly pleasant and likeable bloke.

According to the BBC, Stephen Kinnock does not agree with Corbyn's proposal for a maximum wage. He has said that although it sounds like a good idea it could be counterproductive: "I don't think we should be floating ideas like that unless we are clear about whether they would work in practice," he said.

He told a fringe meeting at the Labour Conference: "I have very little problem with outstanding executives receiving proportionate bonuses but when eye-watering bonuses are extended to people simply for doing their jobs, or worse in the case of RBS in the wake of the crash, doing their jobs badly."

He said the party had to be careful about the "mood music" it was playing towards the business community.

It is getting to the stage that we will only be commenting when a spokesperson agrees with Corbyn.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Labour row over Trident

The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn's announcement that he would not press the nuclear button has sent the brothers and sisters into a bit of a tizzy at their Brighton Conference:

In a sign of deep divisions over Trident in the shadow cabinet, Maria Eagle described the Labour leader’s comments as unhelpful – prompting a rebuke from Diane Abbott, the shadow development secretary. Sir Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB union, said he also disagreed with Corbyn.

They add that Eagle, who is the shadow defence secretary and a supporter of Trident, told the BBC: “I think it undermines to some degree our attempt to try and get a policy process going. As far as I am concerned, we start from the policy we have. I don’t think that a potential prime minister answering a question like that in the way he did is helpful.”

In response Diane Abbott tweeted: “Surprised that Maria Eagle criticised JC for making his position clear on Trident nuclear weapon system.”

The paper concludes that the open defiance by Eagle, who has been instructed by Corbyn to lead a review into Trident, shows that the shadow cabinet faces a bumpy ride after the Labour leader told the conference that he would use his mandate to change the party’s position.

Not only could the new Labour leader not get his conference to debate the issue, he is now being openly defied by key members of his front bench.

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