Saturday, 9 October 2010

ath Up Serie

Or rather Catch Up Service. The bottom line of buttons on my keyboard (excluding the b and n keys, including the space bar) have packed it in and resolutely decided to stop working this week after my threats to savagely cut spending on keyboard maintenance. This kind of strike action is intolerable and I have taken steps to minimise the inconvenience by employing alternate labour in the form of the ease-of-use, on-screen keyboard. I also intend to introduce legislation preventing strike action unless at least 50% of union members on my keyboard are balloted, with a minimum of 40% in favour. I will not be held to ransom by small groups of rebellious keys and wildcat strike action (though I am strongly considering purchasing a new keyboard).

The Tory Party Conference. Well that was interesting. Any talk of defence cuts, coalitions or the Big Society was roundly overshadowed by a mushrooming- pardon the language- clusterf*** surrounding the decision to withdraw child benefit from families with at least one parent paying the higher rate of income tax. At the start of the week George Osborne announced on breakfast television a fairly reasonable policy to help save £1bn a year whilst only affecting roughly 15% of families. Yet it quickly became clear that the policy was both uncooked, in it's collateral effect on stay-at-home mums and others in similar positions, and unknown, in its sudden announcement that seemed as new to your standard hack as it did to members of the Cabinet (illustrated by May's tete-a-tete with Paxman on Tuesday's Newsnight).

And so the fun began. The policy was savaged not only from the left, but was also attacked from the right as being an attack on the core of the Conservative's support and for perpetuating the image that Cameron and Osborne are smarmy faced, knee-deep in money, posh boys, 'unable to relate to the day-to-day concerns of the voters'- which, incidentally, is what they are. With his back against the wall Cameron reached for one of his true-blue policies, a tax-break for married couples, but not only would this negate a lot of the savings accrued through the child benefit purge, it is also an archaic, puzzlingly large-state, interfering, hash of a policy, with little place in modern Britain. The Tories had let the storyline get way out of hand. On October 20th the Comprehensive Spending Review will be announced, and the child benefit cut was something of a dry run. The Conservative's have had a sniff of their chosen medicine for deficit reduction and it doesn't smell good. Problem is, they're committed to it.

A face that kept popping up throughout the Tory conference was that of their party chairman, Baroness Warsi. She had a poor week to say the least. It all started rather badly when on the Sunday preceding the conference she yapped her way through a grilling by John Sopel about her accusations of electoral fraud and, in doing so, managed the remarkable feat of not making Kelvin Makenzie look like the biggest tool in an interview. Then on Thursday she suffered the ignominy of being jeered by the baying-for-blood, savages that make up the Question Time audience these days whilst trying to defend the child benefit cut. To be fair it seemed a poor choice on the part of the Tories, like sending out your number 11 batsman to face the oppositions best bowler, but Warsi did herself no favours. When in a corner she attacks in an unpleasant manner reminiscent of Ed Balls, yet she lacks any of the upside that Balls, despite his drawbacks, brings to the Labour party. If Liam Fox isn't the next Cabinet minister to depart then the smart money's on Warsi.

Speaking of Ed Balls, one must wonder what would feel worse. After waiting patiently for your dream job of shadow chancellor for several years, being passed over for that job for your wife, or being overlooked for that job for someone with no economic experience. Clearly Alan Johnson's appointment is a victory of pragmatism over politics, with Ed Miliband not wishing to invite further speculation on family feuds within the Labour Party, but you can't help but feel slightly sorry for Balls who has been pining after the job since the first shudders in the Brown administration. As Shadow Home Secretary, however, he can be an asset as he brings his combative style up against one of the weaker Ministers in Theresa May. Whilst both Milibands, Balls, and Yvette Cooper are all obviously talented politicians, one can only hope that Ed Miliband's 'new generation' can move beyond the kind of internal politics that are more reminiscent of a bickering family than of a democratic party.

Friday, 1 October 2010

What Ed Said

Ed Miliband's certainly not going to win any prizes for his public speaking delivery. On Tuesday a technical error with the auto-cue caused an awkward delay at the start of his speech, and his body language was much more subdued than that of the over-eager gesticulations of his brother and the more flamboyant presentations of other political leaders. Throughout the first twenty minutes he would occasionally stumble through his words like a predictive text service, pronouncing one word before quickly correcting to his desired choice (for an example see 'deprived/defied' at 15.11). But let us cast such stylistic aspersions aside and examine the substance of this cornerstone address for the Labour Party.

The first ten minutes were well-pitched and set a firm basis from which to embark. Call me sad but I thought the jokes were pretty decent, and his willingness to talk about his Jewish background stands in stark contrast to the last Jewish leader of one of the main parties, Michael Howard. But the heart of the speech was a mixed bag, part cocky, know-it-all, A-level politics student, part responsible new leader of progressive politics. Ed argued that New Labour had 'defied the conventional wisdom' but too often 'bought old, established ways of thinking', and after stating that he would not oppose every coalition cut, followed it up with a lengthy passage on the reasons to oppose the coalition's spending plans. The Times piercingly described it as (paywall) 'at times redolent of Vicky Pollard, the unintelligible schoolgirl from Little Britain, saying 'yeah, but no, but yeah, but no'. This was Ed's bad side.

But then things changed. He staked Labour's starting point for deficit reduction fairly near the centre ground, he talked frankly about immigration, and he issued a clear warning to the Unions about irresponsible strike action. I'm not convinced that his rhetoric on Iraq is genuine, and isn't just playing up to public opinion, but it was a refreshing viewpoint to hear from someone so high up in the Labour Party, as were his criticisms of Labour's record on civil liberties.

As the end came into view, his speech crescendoed with his talk of a new generation and optimism heading into the future. For people of my generation the future can appear like a stick in the hands of the baby-boom generation, comprised of student debts, a poor economic climate and a rapidly ageing population, ready to crush future hopes and dreams. Ed Miliband may not view the need for a new, empowered generation in quite the same way as I do, but to hear a politician talking of optimism going into the future and not simply writing off the young as over-indulged, lazy and work-shy, is a very positive signal to be sending out to young voters.