Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 8 October 2015

My Radio News Show on Music Mill FM - 07/10/2015

I had my radio hosting debut yesterday on Music Mill FM.

It went quite well I thought. I forgot to put my fader up for a few second at the start until my producer gesticulated at me and I turned it on. I also had a problem getting the first song started but after that it seemed to flow pretty well and I really enjoyed it. I'll be doing these every week now between 8:30pm and 9:30pm on Wednesday evenings. You can listen to the station live here.

This week I talked to Conservative commentator Rupert Myers about the Tory conference and author and cultural commentator Tim Worthington about famous TV defections of the past following Robert Peston's move from the BBC to become ITV's political editor.

You can also hear my attempt at an impression of Alan "Fluff" Freeman doing a chart countdown.

I have put an edited (sans music) version of the show on the House of Comments podcast feed so if you subscribe you should get it automatically.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboom for hosting the podcast.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

My radio broadcast hosting debut tonight at 8:30pm

Tonight at 8:30pm I am going to be hosting my first ever radio show for an hour, from a proper studio and everything!

I am very excited about this and am grateful to the good people of Music Mill FM for having asked me to do this. I have been a guest on radio shows lots of times but never the host so this a new departure for me. We did a pilot last week and it went quite well so fingers crossed this one does too.

The show is a light hearted look at a couple of the week's top stories. We will have guests and also music from Music Mill's own recording studio.

The topics for tonight will be Tory conference (naturally) in general and Cameron's speech in particular. We are also going to cover top TV defections in the light of Robert Peston's move to ITV.

If you want to listen live the best way is either to find "Music Mill FM" on the TuneIn Radio app if you have a mobile device or via this link from a browser.

I will also be uploading a recording of the show to the House of Comments podcast feed in the next day or two.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Cameron renages on his Lords proportionality promise to spite UKIP

I don't like Nigel Farage. I don't like his attitude or his approach to things. I don't care for many of his party's policies especially the twin planks of leaving the EU come what may and blaming everything on immigration.

However I am also a democrat. It is shocking that at the recent general election UKIP got 13% of the vote and 0.15% of the seats in the Commons. Absolutely shocking. That is the sort of disparity that the First Past the Post system can throw up as we all know.

But not to fear. We knew that Cameron would at least try to redress the balance in parliament somewhat through Lords appointments wouldn't he? Because during the last parliament he told us that until the Lords was properly reformed to be largely or wholly elected appointments would be made to create a chamber reflective of the votes cast at the most recent general election. Look, it was in his first programme for government in 2010:

In the interim, lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

So presumably Cameron will have appointed some UKIP peers today in his latest honours? For proper proportionality there would need to be about 100 of them but to be fair we couldn't have expected him to do it that quickly. He's appointed 45 today. So how many of them are UKIP? 15? 10? 5? Surely 3 or 4 of them?

None. Zero. Zip. Zilch.

This is a flagrant renaging on a political promise. And it was an important promise. Because everyone knows the Commons is not proportional. But Cameron assured us he would redress this in the second chamber. And he has gone back on his word.

It seems pretty obvious to me why he has done this. He hates Nigel Farage. And he hates UKIP. He is worried what they would do with a decent tranche of peers. So out of malice, spite and political cowardice he is not going to appoint any of them to the upper chamber.

With a slick turn of phrase Cameron recently made a statement on this subject that sounds very similar to his promise in 2010:

It is important the House of Lords in some way reflects the situation in the House of Commons. At the moment it is well away from that. I’m not proposing to get there in one go. [But] it is important to make sure the House of Lords more accurately reflects the situation in the House of Commons. That’s been the position with prime ministers for a very, very long time and for very good and fair reason.

He has subtly changed his wording to say the Lords should now reflect the "situation" in the Commons rather than the "votes" for the Commons. That almost seems like a semantic distinction at first glance but it makes all the difference in the world. Because the "situation" in the Commons is a result of the FPTP system which as we know gave UKIP 1 seat when they should have had 82 of them. And Cameron is now trying to use this as justification to give UKIP no extra peers. They already have 3 Lords, all of whom used to be Tories and defected.

It is also worth pointing out that Cameron is making up the rules on the fly here whilst trying to sound like he is just fitting in with what previous PMs have done. It's not true. There has never been a rule that the Lords should be reflective of the situation in the Commons as Meg Russell points out in this recent Constitution Unit post.

No it is quite clear what Cameron is doing. He is using the brute force power of patronage his position gives him to prevent UKIP from getting any more representation in the Lords. There is no justification for this so he's making up one based on a non-existent precedent.

Remember this next time he claims to be a democrat or that he is a fair man.

He is clearly neither.

Monday, 24 August 2015

House of Comments - Episode 129 - The Corgasm

The latest House of Comments podcast is now out.

This week the podcast is back for a(nother) one off special during the current podcast hiatus. I am joined by Editor of Ian Dunt to discuss the remarkable surge of Jeremy Corbyn and its current and likely future effects.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboom for hosting the podcast. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Labour doesn't have any values - so how can new members be required to support them?

I was amused this morning to see that Mark Steel, one of the most outspoken left-wing activists in the media has been banned from joining the Labour Party because he doesn't "support their values":

Now in Mr Steel's case there seems to be some question mark over whether he is still a member of the SWP which could be another reason why he has not been allowed to join and vote in the current leadership contest. But it is worth looking a little bit more closely at the given reason for his rejection, the charge that he does not support their values. Because Labour currently doesn't really have any values.

I don't mean this glibly. I mean it literally.

Labour have just (badly) lost an election that they and many of the rest of us thought they would win, or at least they would form the next government in the aftermath of it. That hasn't happened and they seem to be going through some sort of collective nervous breakdown as a result.

It certainly wasn't clear what the party stood for in the previous parliament. Indeed that is one of the reasons they lost. They spent the first 3 or 4 years of it opposing every single cut the coalition government made and then in the last year or so suddenly tried to turn on a sixpence and claim they were the party of fiscal responsibility (whilst still opposing many of the cuts and claiming they were ideological). They also campaigned hard on the NHS claiming that the coalition was "privatising it" despite having themselves extended private provision whilst in office (at one point under Andy Burnham). There are various other examples of where they either said or did one thing in office and another when in early opposition and then yet another in the run-up to the election. No wonder people were confused.

I saw a journalist remark the other day that when they approached the Labour Party to ask what its values were in order to clarify they were directed to read "Clause 4" of the Labour Party constitution. Here it is as modifed in 1995 under Blair's early leadership:

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect

That's fair enough as far as it goes but it's difficult to pin down how this would relate to specific policy positions. For example (apart from the special case of the banks in 2008 when there was a huge crisis and any government would have had to act) how many nationalisations did Labour undertake whilst in office? Because reading that clause you might presume they'd have taken the opportunity to renationalise all sorts of stuff to fit in with their "value" of power, wealth and opportunity remaining in the hands of the many, not the few. Of course they barely nationalised anything and social mobility went into reverse between 1997 and 2010. Or how about their values of "tolerance and respect" and living "freely". I'm not sure how that could be reconciled with their attempts in office to push through 90 days detention without trial or their steadfast backing of the hopelessly illiberal and broken drugs laws to pick two of many egregious examples.

So it is far from clear how the Labour Party of the last 20 years and its actions in office could be reconciled with its own Clause 4 that the party machine directs people to read to check they are not to be an unperson.

But it's worse than that. Because Labour are in the middle of a leadership campaign. A leadership campaign that could very well hugely change the party's stance and approach to all sorts of things. Which would surely mean its values had changed?

As an example, imagine a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour Party led by Liz Kendall. They would be so different from each other as to be almost unrecognisable as the same party, certainly after the leader had got their hands on the party levers and had had some time to reshape it in their own image. The idea that there is a specific set of values that irrespective of who wins the leadership the party will stick to come what may is laughable. Corbyn has already explicitly stated he'd like to change Clause 4 if he wins.

So it is a nonsense for Labour to cast people out for not sharing their values when they are at best highly flexible and more realistically something akin to Will-o'-the-wisp.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

On Corbyn: What if the rules have changed?

Like many seasoned Westminster watchers I have been somewhat amused by the recent travails of the Labour Party.

There were three candidates of the centre/centre left (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall) all of whom managed to get the requisite number of nominations from MPs (35) to stand in the contest. But there was also a figure that many people had never even heard of who wanted to enter the race. The very left-wing MP for Islington North, Jeremy Corbyn.

Enough MPs "lent" Corbyn their nominations in the interests of having a wide debate and hence he also entered the contest.

Since then to say he's been a disrupter to the contest would be a gross understatement. Polls have indicated that he could actually win and the other candidates have been scrabbling around desperately trying to work out how to respond to the rise of the red tide.

Also like many seasoned Westminster watchers I have been assuming that Corbyn has very little chance of winning (despite what the polls say - remember the general election?!) and that if he was to somehow manage to win he'd have absolutely no chance of becoming Prime Minister.

But what if we're all wrong?

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008 I have been wondering when things will change politically. I don't mean in terms of the Tories getting in and implementing austerity or even the coalition (that was bound to happen eventually when the dice fell that way). I mean something much more fundamental. The crisis demonstrated that the way we have our economy (and politics) structured is woefully wrong. The banks took reckless risks with everyone else's money and then when they were standing on the brink the taxpayer stepped in and bailed them out to the tune of hundreds of billions of pounds, making a mockery of the term "Moral Hazard".

So far there has been remarkably little actual change in response to this complete and utter failure of our structures, despite the fact that we have all paid the price both literally and figuratively. Growth has been much forestalled, the economy is much weaker than it was before 2008 and many millions of us have had to readjust our longer term plans. But the banks and the institutions that prop them up haven't really changed very much at all.

This is what I mean when I ask if all of us old hands are wrong.

The received wisdom which has seemed to be true ever since Thatcher came to power is that parties, whether of the left or right have to run on the centre ground and also tack towards the direction of the party in power when in opposition (cf Blair in the mid-90s and Cameron in the late 00s). But what if the rules have changed and we just haven't realised it yet? Given how devastating the financial crisis has been, a realignment of politics and a recasting of the rules is actually now overdue. Could it be coming in the form of a 66 year old socialist who can easily be mocked up to look like Obi Wan Kenobie?

However the 2015 general election would appear superficially to contradict this thesis. Didn't the result prove that Labour should have run a more centrist campaign? That's what most of the commentators (including me) have been saying since 7th May.

The truth is the result of the election is a very, very mixed bag and there is a lot of noise which makes it difficult to correctly read any signal that may be contained within it. Firstly there was the UKIP surge which led to them getting 13% of the vote and thus distorting what would have been the results in dozen of constituencies. This affected both Tories and Labour but seemingly more so Labour. There was also the (lesser but still very real) similar effect of the Greens again mostly affecting Labour. Then there was the collapse of the Lib Dem vote which allowed the Tories to capture many more seats than they would otherwise have done. Indeed the Tories increased their vote by 0.8% but managed to get 25 more seats than in 2010 due to these disparate effects. There was also the huge effect of the SNP in Scotland who actually ran on an anti-austerity ticket and almost swept the entire board there.

That still doesn't fully answer what happened with Labour though. They increased their vote by over 1% but actually lost a couple of dozen seats. But by wide consent Ed Miliband was a bad leader. He was uncharismatic, unfocused, chopped and changed during the parliament allowing his shadow ministers to oppose almost all the cuts and then latterly trying to claim Labour could be "trusted" on the economy when he had allowed the Tories to paint them as profligate and set the agenda. On all of these scores Corbyn would be more consistent than Miliband. He is charismatic, very focused and would clearly stick to his line of opposing austerity. He is also a breath of fresh air as Evan Davis pointed out last night on Newsnight after interviewing Andy Burnham (who was typically evasive on various questions as most modern politicians are) Corbyn simply answers the questions. He doesn't faff about trying to triangulate or refusing to accept the premise of the question. Sure, this could eventually trip him up but from what I have seen so far it merely makes him look like he believes what he says and his word can be trusted, unlike so many of his Labour colleagues.

It is also worth noting that in many of the policy positions Corbyn took in the 80s and 90s he has subsequently been vindicated. For example he was in favour of equal marriage and against section 28 when it was not fashionable to be so, he talked to Sinn Fein when the official government line was to claim they were beyond the pale (and dub their voices over with actors on TV) while at the very same time secretly talking to them which ultimately led to the peace process. He is also in favour of policies such as renationalisation of the railways and the energy companies which have high levels of public support. What the political classes try to paint as extreme are actually often fairly popular positions. It is very difficult to read how a leader and a party that fully backed these policies would now fare as it simply hasn't been tried for several decades.

I could be reading this all wrong. In many ways it would be more comforting for me if this analysis is wrong because if it is right then lots of what I think I know about politics and how to follow it is also wrong. Ever since I have been interested in it (and even before that) the rules have been set in stone and those deviating from them have paid a high price.

I just wonder though if we need to prepare ourselves for a shock. At the moment Corbyn is set to win the internal contest. And if he does, perhaps, just perhaps his chances of becoming PM are a fair bit higher than received wisdom would suggest.

Friday, 17 July 2015

House of Comments - Episode 128 - The Living Wage Budget

The latest House of Comments podcast is now out.

This week the podcast is back for a one off special during the current podcast hiatus. I am joined by the Guardian political columnist Rafael Behr to discuss George Osborne's "Living Wage" budget and its political consequences.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboom for hosting the podcast. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.