The NHS- Not Safe in Their Hands.

October 8, 2011

Last month, with the antics of the honourable member for Mid Bedfordshire providing a useful distraction, the House of Commons passed a bill that outlined several radical changes to the structure of the NHS.  Most dramatically it removed the duty of the Health Secretary to directly facilitate the provision of healthcare, which had been the backbone of all previous NHS legislation (compare section 1 of the current bill, here, with that of the 2006 NHS act, here).  This simple measure, at a stroke, removes what makes the NHS the NHS: the provision of healthcare nationally through one organisation accountable to the democratically elected Government.

Making the administration of the NHS more independent of the government, which has under successive administrations, used the NHS as a political football, compromising the stability of the service, and increasing local accountability, where the issue of healthcare provision can be considered independently of other political concerns, is not in and of itself a stupid idea, but the devil’s in the detail.  It is clear that privatisation, rather than democratisation and independence, is the main motivation behind the changes, with no democratic mechanisms included and ripe opportunities for extended private sector involvement.

This opening clause, sets the scene for the rest of the bill which outlines what it’s author, health secretary Andrew Lansley, envisages to replace the current system: healthcare commissioned, from a variety of providers, by a series of consortia, ostensibly controlled by local GPs.  This detail is a little bit of PR genius.  The public in general like and trust GPs, who currently work well as independent providers within the NHS.  The reality of course, is that most GPs will not have the time, skills or inclination to take on a whole new range of administrative functions and many, if not most, will outsource the commissioning functions to outside bodies, and plenty of private companies are waiting in the wings to take up this role.  The services “bought in” by consortia, will not be limited to those provided by the NHS.  In fact legal advice, obtained by the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, suggests that the new arrangement will be subject to EU competition law with multiple providers competing for contracts on the basis of commercial law.  Both commissioning and provision will thus be transferred, on a large scale, to the private sector.

Let’s be clear, this country will continue to have universal, free at the point of use healthcare, and it may be that most patients won’t really notice the difference, a slight degradation of services here, where providers are dictated by competition not by expertise, a loss of provision there, where private companies skim off profitable services leaving unprofitable ones like, mental health, and emergency care, with depleted funds.  Nevertheless, the bill represents a further encroachment of profiteering businesses into the NHS.  Health care policy, over the past 30 years, has been driven by the big lie that publicly provided healthcare services are intrinsically less efficient and less effective.  In fact the British NHS is one of the leanest systems in the world, doing more for less than anywhere else. This has lead to the internal market and various other “choice” and “competition” initiatives, each one adding a new layer of bureaucracy, diverting scarce funds away from patients and towards political vanity projects.  This latest bill provides allows Andrew Lansley’s associates in the healthcare industry to profit at the expense of patients and the taxpayer and that is the greatest tragedy.

All is not lost, however.  The bill may have passed through the Commons, but it still has to go through the House of Lords.  With that in mind, the TUC has created an initiative called “Adopt a Peer,” whereby you are assigned a member of the House of Lords to write to.  I was assigned Lord Collins, of Highbury, and wrote him the following letter:

Dear Lord Collins

I’m writing to you about the Health and Social Care Bill, which is currently being considered in the House of Lords. As you are probably already aware, it makes a number of substantial and possibly irreversible changes to the fabric of the NHS. In particular the bill makes changes in its very first section, removing the duty of the Secretary of State for Health to facilitate the provision of healthcare as codified in the 2006 NHS act and prior legislation. It also fragments commissioning roles amongst a number of bodies from where it will almost certainly end up in the private sector. This fundamentally compromises the principles of the NHS as well as being detrimental to service users, diverting scarce funds to profit making companies.

As a Labour Peer, I imagine that you will be opposing the bill. What measures can be taken by the Lords to oppose its passage? Neither of the Governing parties have a mandate to make changes this radical, with the Liberal Democrats having campaigned on a platform diametrically opposed and the Conservatives not having been upfront about these plans prior to the election, with their leader promising “no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS” and that the NHS was safe in their hands.

Yours,

Hannah Dadd.

To which he replied, with impressive promptness the very next day:

Dear Hannah,

Many thanks for your email regarding the Government’s Health and Social Care Bill which has now commenced its journey through the Lords stages of parliamentary procedure. I apologies for the delay in responding but I was heavily involved in the Labour Party Conference which took place in Liverpool last week.

Labour has always been clear that the proposed changes to the NHS envisaged by David Cameron, Andrew Lansley, and the coalition government are unnecessary, reckless, wasteful and bureaucratic. On top of this, the Bill goes against the coalition’s own promise, of only last year, for there to be “no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS”. They have no mandate for the changes they are planning.

Despite the pause and the Future Forum’s report, the Bill still contains the essential elements of the Tories’ long-term plan to set the NHS up as a full-scale market based on the model of the privatised utilities. That’s why so many experts still oppose the Bill.

I can assure you that Labour members of the House of Lords are committed to doing whatever we can to protect the NHS from the proposals in this Bill. Firstly we will try to stop the Bill in its tracks by voting against it at its Second Reading. Sadly, because the Lib Dems and Conservatives will vote together to keep the Bill, we are unlikely to succeed.

Over the next weeks and months, I and my colleagues will endeavour to make changes to the Bill in order to limit its damage to the NHS and improve the Bill. But we can’t do it on our own. We can only do this by building our own coalition. That means persuading independent crossbenchers, Lib Dems and Tories to vote with us on those key amendments. For that we need 80 peers from other benches to vote with us.

That’s where we need your help. Please contact crossbenchers and Lib Dems in particular to ask for their support. Without them Labour peers cannot limit the damage that this Government will do to the NHS. Please visit http://www.parliament.uk for full details of these Peers including email addresses.

Best wishes,

Ray Collins
Lord Collins of Highbury

What more encouragement could be needed?  Sign up to “Adopt a Peer” and pay particular attention to Lib Dem and crossbench peers.  Also, those who are enclined, can come along to the protest, on Westminster Bridge, on Sunday.


“The noises of destruction, flying all around…”

August 9, 2011

Over the past three days, two different types of rioting has been going on. The first, and far more serious, looting has been the smashing, looting and burning of scores of businesses across London. The second type is people pilfering these events and projecting onto them their own particular prejudices and causes. This has happened on both left and right, but particularly the left.

What these riots have done is show just how authoritarian the instincts of some of the British public can be. This is not just from the “usual suspects”: even supposedly bleeding-heart Liberal Democrats like Simon Hughes and Evan Harris have advocated the use of water cannon and sending in the army respectively. We’ve even had a contribution from Roger Helmer, everyone’s favourite Tory MEP. When he’s not arguing that homophobia doesn’t exist, or that women are responsible for their own rape, he’s tweeting this:

Because, of course, the only proper response to mindless violence is more mindless violence.

None of these options seems particularly wise. I’ve written before about why using water cannon would be a dangerous and bad move, whilst David Allen Green has a good post on why the army should not be called in: they do not have the relevant training, and it didn’t exactly work out in Northern Ireland (Bloody Sunday, anyone?). The solution now seems to be that we’ll arm police with plastic bullets. They are “non-fatal”, apparently, but using them just doesn’t seem sensible. One stray bullet and we’ll have riots for another week at least.

We also have a large section of the left which seems perfectly happy to drop any notion of personal responsibility and go instead for political points-scoring and anti-cuts rhetoric. Ken Livingstone has been one of the more egregious examples of this, especially on Newsnight yesterday.

Much of the response has blamed these riots on cuts or poverty. These explanations don’t quite stack up with the available evidence. The Guardian has reported that many of these rioters are organising on Blackberrys. Rioters who can afford Blackberrys doesn’t sound like the urban poor rising up to me. Not in a country where people are starting to turn of fridges because they cannot afford the electricity.

Also, the cuts haven’t happened yet, so it’s not as if these protests were about service provision specifically. There’s been a lot of looting but nothing about Sure Start, Youth Centres or Citizens Advice Bureaus.

From the reports that have been coming in, it seems that there are three kinds of people participating in the riots, so it’s slightly more complicated than is suggested at first sight.

The first, and by far the smallest, group are the only ones to whom you could ascribe any “political” motivation. It includes people like this:

[H]ere’s a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?

“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?”

The TV reporter from Britain’s ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. “Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard,  more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.

Concerns over police tactics, for instance, was an issue even before Mark Duggan was shot in what is becoming ever-muddier circumstances. It may perhaps have started over that, but what has followed has shown that, at root, most of these rioters aren’t “political”.

Others will argue otherwise. Adam Ramsay for instance wrote that these riots were political because “every act is a political act”.

I disagree. If everything is political, then nothing is political. The aims of the majority of rioters were not political.

Compare this violence to the rioting that started during the student fees protest in November. Then, the smashing up of Millbank and only contained to that one building. Which was at least relevant on a fees protest, as it was the  Conservative Party HQ, even if the violence itself was unjustified.

Contrast this to the rioting that has happened over the past few days. It’s not establishment buildings that have been targeted, but businesses. Even small family businesses, such as House of Reeves in Croydon. The shop was owned by the same family for five generations, survived two world wars, but did not survive a gang of out-of-control youngsters.

This brings us to the second group of rioters: violent thugs. I don’t know if “mindless” is the right word. How do you describe people who will help an injured, dazed teenager to his feet and then steal from his bag?

If “mindless” is not the word, perhaps “endemic” is. Evil maybe.

What seems to be happening is that violence that is generally confined to a few no-go areas around the city has spilled out across London and elsewhere. Probably because people can – the police are in many cases not able to stop them, and this only gives them motivation to continue.

The third, and final category, is people who want free stuff. I hope you’ve all seen by now the pictures of people who’ve been looting for, er, Tesco Value Basmati Rice, or tweeting about how they won’t get caught for stealing tracksuits, because they’re pathetically amusing. Some people seem to have used the opportunity to go and do a spot of opportunistic stealing. As was said yesterday by a friend, “Young people in the Arab Spring fought for freedom, democracy and the right to self determination. Our young people loot and destroy for Ipads and Blackberrys.”

So the roots of the riots were not political. Some of the responses are not political either. I have been greatly heartened by, and do not want to politicise, the amount of people who went out with brooms to reclaim their city:

or who served tea to police on riot shields:

This was not political; this was people just being nice and caring for others.

Part of the response, however, has to be political. Riots do not happen in a vacuum. There are obviously myriad social problems to address, and countless ways in which they can be tackled.

The best left-wing soundbite on crime remains Tony Blair’s “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime”. We can focus on the causes of crime soon enough in the months and years ahead. For now, let’s concentrate on ridding the cities of rioters and cleaning up the mess they’ve left. Only then can we focus on how to rebuild them.


Hackgate: When Life Imitates Yes, Minister

July 17, 2011

Events are unfolding too quickly for them to be written about. At the moment all I can think to do is to post this from Yes, Minister. It’s from The Whiskey Priest. If you don’t have it on DVD I’m sure you can find some dark corner of the internet where you can watch it:

Bernard Woolley: So what do we believe in?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: At this moment, Bernard, we believe in stopping the minister from informing the Prime Minister.
Bernard Woolley: But why?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Because once the Prime Minister knows, there will have to be an enquiry, like Watergate. The investigation of a trivial break-in led to one ghastly revelation after another and finally the downfall of a President. The golden rule is: Don’t lift lids off cans of worms. Everything is connected to everything else. Who said that?
Bernard Woolley: The Cabinet Secretary?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Nearly right. Actually, it was Lenin.


So let me get this straight…

July 11, 2011

The police are investigating both the police who were investigating the journalists and those journalists themselves. And those journalists were bribing police officers and hacking phones. The police, or the journalists, or neither, covered up the bribes and the phone hacking. And it now turns out that the journalists were hacking the phones of the police officers who were investigating them in the first place. As well as apparently hacking the phones of 9/11 victims, Gordon Brown and the Queen. And this somehow also involves David Cameron because he appointed one of the chief hackers his head of communications and is good friends with another one of them.

Hell, if that makes sense, I don’t want to BE sober. *brain melts, reaches for absinthe*


Better dead than Red Ed

June 30, 2011

John Lennon once infamously said of Ringo Starr that he wasn’t even the best drummer in the Beatles. In a similar vein, you could probably say of Ed Miliband that he wasn’t even the best Labour leader in his own family. His decision not to support the strike that is happening today is a reflection of that.

750,000 public sector workers are striking today. Their rationale is rather simple. It is claimed repeatedly by David Cameron that public sector pensions must be reformed because the present system is “unaffordable”. In actual fact the amount we will be paying less for public sector pensions, as a percentage of GDP, will decrease even without any reforms.

These pensions are not gold-plated. The recent Hutton Report on pensions (the above graph is from p. 23 of that report) had this to say:

The Commission firmly rejected the claim that current public service pensions are ‘gold plated.’ The average pension paid to pensioner members is around £7,800 per year, while the median payment is around £5,600.

In the civil service pension scheme, for instance, most workers receive a pension of less than £6000 per year.

(from False Economy)

It’s hard to disagree with Dave Prentis when he describes these pension pots as “a cushion against poverty in retirement”.

What the pension reforms effectively mean is that employees will contribute more for their pension and receive less out. That, as False Economy argues in the blog I linked to above, is essentially a pay cut. Or, as another blogger puts it, as a tax to pay off the deficit.

It’s true that these pensions are better than those received by the vast majority of private sector workers. Apart from, obviously the very rich. As the TUC briefing makes clear (p. 3):

In 2007/8 tax relief cost £37.6 billion – almost ten times the net cost of unfunded public sector pensions. This tax relief is heavily skewed towards the well off. 60 per cent goes to higher rate tax payers and a quarter of tax relief — nearly £10 billion a year – goes to the one per cent of the population who earn more than £150,000.

None of this seems like an argument to further hit public sector workers, who are already facing a pay freeze for two years in times of high inflation and what could amount for some to a 10% cut in pay.

So it’s easy to see why some public sector workers have decided to take the most extreme action possible to try and protect their already-eroding living standards.

And what was Ed Miliband’s response?

The Labour Party I lead will always be the party of the parent trying to get their children to school, the mother and father who know the value of a day’s education.

On behalf of those people I urge unions and ministers to get back around the negotiating table and sort this out…

The public deserve better. All sides need to get round the table and back to negotiations.

And he tweeted today:

For a start, it’s only a one-day strike. It’s not like the teachers have padlocked the school gates, starting singing The Internationale and taken to the streets until the government falls. If closing schools for one day affects children’s education so adversely, why was the decision taken to close schools for the royal wedding? Or close scores of them so that they could be used as polling stations on May 5th? To criticize a one-day strike because it’s hugely detrimental to children’s education seems disingenuous, to say the least.

I know that’s what many of the small socialist groups giving out leaflets on the march today, as well as people like Laurie Penny, want them to do.
But this strike isn’t about a revolution. It’s ordinary working people who have taken a democratic decision to strike in order to defend their pension. It certainly isn’t the start of an insurrection.

You can extend it to a march of people who wish to reverse the government’s economic policy. In which case, what about the parents who work at courtrooms that may be closed, who rely on Sure Start centres that may be cut, the parents that work at businesses like Thorntons and Habitat who are now feeling the pinch of the current economic climate? How is Labour going to stand up for them?

Ed Miliband’s decision not to support the strike doesn’t even make sense from a political point of view. I can only assume he’s done it because he doesn’t want to be seen as “Red Ed”, in thrall to the unions, but this seems to be mistaken. A majority of people have consistently said they are in favour of workers striking to protect terms and conditions. So Ed has ignored polls, alienated the unions who fund Labour, disappointed a lot of members and Labour’s core supporters, all for what? To stop a few bad headlines in the Daily Mail. There’s only one response for that:

And don’t even get me started on this God-awful performance.

I do think that Ed Miliband’s words say something about the existential crisis that Labour is in at the moment.

It’s becoming very difficult to answer the question of who exactly Labour is for, and what its core values are. There are those that Owen Jones calls the Blairite ultras, and Con Home calls the thoughtful leftwingers, who are essentially Blairites and believe Labour should support the cuts in their entirety. On the other extreme, there are some members of the no-cuts brigade, with every shade in between. All have different opinions on why Labour lost 4 million votes between 1997 and 2010, and all have different opinions on how Labour best wins them back.

At the moment it feels like he’s trying to please all sections of the party whilst appeasing the right-wing tabloids, and ending up pleasing nobody.

This blog will have much more to say about the direction of Labour. At the moment though, I get the feeling that this incident will have done Ed Miliband more harm than good.


Chris Huhne has got a terrible lion up his end

May 15, 2011

Chris Huhne briefing lobby journalists

Chris Huhne is right in it, if reports in the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday are to be believed. This is from the Staggers blog on the New Statesman:

Following last week’s story that Huhne asked an associate to accept penalty points he incurred for a speeding offence in 2003, the papers have followed up with the fresh claim that Huhne recently called the person involved to warn them not to talk to the media about it.

In what the MoS grandly dubs a “conspiracy of silence”, Huhne is said to have told the person: “The story they are trying to stand up is that ‘Cabinet Minister persuaded XXX to take points’. The only way they can stand that up is by getting you to talk to them. There is simply no other person who could possibly tell them whether it is true or not.”

The rest of the blog is rather interesting stuff. There’s also a section in which Chris Huhne gives advice to the other party on what to do if they are contacted by journalists:

If called by journalists, Huhne says, you should “Just say, oooh, terribly bad line, terribly sorry, bad reception, I’ll talk to you later — and hang up”.

An excellent idea, and a completely original one, too.

As luck would have it, Paperback Rioter has received a transcript of a secret phone call made from a Sunday Times journalist to Chris Huhne. I have posted the audio onto Youtube here, and below, for the first time, is the full transcript, exclusively on Paperback Rioter:

*Phone is ringing. Chris Huhne answers*

Chris Huhne: Chris Huhne speaking.

Sunday Times Journalist: Hello Chris. I’m just calling about the story that you asked an associate to accept penalty points which you incurred for a speeding offence…

Huhne: No I’m afraid the line’s very clllkkkkkk ppppprrrrrr…

Journalist: Chris Huhne? Chris Huhne, hello?

Huhne: *Scrunches bits of newspaper by the telephone. Then bashes phone on table four times* Schnell schnell kartoffelnkopf!

Journalist: I said there’s a terrible line at my end. Please call me back at once.

Chris Huhne: *blows raspberries down the phone* *Sings* A wandering minstrel wandering reeeeeleeelium. Gale Force Eight. 

*Chris Huhne puts the phone down*

Nick Clegg: Come on, Chris! What was the message? I’m on tenterhooks! Do tell!

Chris Huhne: Well, as far as I could tell, the message was: he’s got a terrible lion up his end, so there’s an advantage to an enema at once.

With such skillful evasion tactics, I remain confident that Chris Huhne will remain in his cabinet post.


The epic AV Referendum post-mortem blog: Evil triumphs when the good are led by incompetent halfwits

May 10, 2011

This is a lengthy and cathartic postmortem of the AV Referendum campaign. Parts of it (especially the bits about how the Yes campaign could have won) are based on the insights of staff and fellow volunteers in our marvellous Birmingham group. If you don’t fancy reading  all 3000 words of this, a couple of pithy quotes sum up nicely my attitudes to both campaigns:

First, the Yes campaign:

“It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, as the first balls are being bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain” – Geoffrey Howe in his resignation speech.

Next, the No campaign:

“There’s a bright future for all you professional liars” – Elvis Costello, How to be Dumb.

Now, on with the catharsis:

Oh dear.

A crushing defeat of 69% to 31% demands a lengthy post-mortem. It’s an absolute thumping, and surely puts electoral reform off the agenda for a generation at least.

A defeat like this has prompted a variety of reactions amongst Yes campaign activists. First, that this must mean the British people are stupid. Second, that it proves that our opponents had too much money, power and influence that there was nothing we could do. The Yes campaign was “doomed from the start” because powerful forces in the media and politics were opposed to a Yes vote. This seems to be the view of this chap/chappess:

Last night a senior source in the campaign for the alternative vote admitted they knew “very early on” that there was no chance of winning the referendum and that Clegg had become part of the problem: “Every time Clegg spoke about AV our polling numbers went into free-fall. We knew from very early on, before the new year, that we couldn’t win, our message wasn’t getting through and the Liberal Democrats in the whole were worse than useless. Clegg was toxic and everything [Chris] Huhne did in criticising the Tories just put the attention on the political spat – made it a Clegg versus Cameron affair. Utterly unwinnable.

To understand why this view is misguided, let’s have a look at the polling data and at the actual votes cast for Yes.

You can see a history of polling data for the AV Referendum here. Around the turn of the year, Yes were continually on early 40s/late 30s, and often enjoyed a narrow lead over No. Yes lost support slowly over April, then rapidly over the last couple of weeks of the campaign. For the last ten days or so of the campaign, the figures were something like Yes 32%, No 68% in most polls, which is remarkably similar to the referendum results.

The trend, then, is the No campaign winning over the Don’t Knows, and Yes losing support. Part of this can be attributed to the hardening of the Tory vote once Cameron started campaigning, but not all of it. What the overall polling suggests, from way back in 2010, is that the Yes campaign had a base of around 30% of voters, but failed to convince any Don’t Knows whatsoever. Indeed, the total Yes vote was lower than the total Lib Dem vote in May 2010.

That’s a remarkable figure, and one that cannot simply be explained by Nick Clegg, or the EVUL NO CAMPAIGN!?, as some would have us believe.

Let’s put things straight first. This referendum was winnable. It goes without saying that the Yes campaign was dealt a difficult hand. People wanted to kick Nick Clegg. The pro-reform vote was split three ways. Elderly voters and Tory voters were likely to vote No, and more likely to vote than Yes voters (often the younger voters). These factors could explain a small Yes defeat, but not one on this scale.

To say that a No vote was inevitable is wrong for a few reasons, and I want to try and outline why below. First I shall explain the main reason why a No vote happened. It’s because the Yes campaign was shockingly appalling:

1) The Yes campaign was run by people who had never run a national election campaign.

It was led by two kinds of people. The first was the Electoral Reform Society/Take Back Parliament people, who were members of a pressure group and had never run a political national campaign of any sort. The other kind of people were Liberal Democrats. As a rule, Lib Dems don’t run national campaigns: they run a series of targeted, local campaigns and do not operate anything on this scale.

The mass incompetency of the Yes campaign ran through it like a stick of rock. For instance:

2) Its central message was very poor.

The Yes campaign’s main message was “Make your MP work harder”. To which MPs could, and did, plausibly claim that they worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. The yes campaign were trying to get the anti-politics vote, but they weren’t turned on by this message. I spent a lot of time giving out the “Make Your MP Work Harder” leaflets in town. I had many replies to the effect that “We don’t want MPs to work harder, we want them shot”. One said “they should work harder making their own gallows”. Our main message, then, was rubbish. It fell between two stools, and didn’t capture either the anti-politics vote, or the pro-politics vote.

The Yes campaign’s other message – about axing jobs for life and ending safe seats – also didn’t work because AV doesn’t help end these problems.

In contrast, not enough time was spent explaining why our current electoral system was not fit for purpose. The two main unquestionable benefits that AV would have brought are that it eradicates the huge amount of tactical voting under FPTP, and MPs would need a majority of support from their constituents. These are the main messages that worked when talking to voters in the street or on the doorstep, and yet were almost totally ignored by the Yes campaign. The only mention of the latter was a slogan on some Yes leaflets called “Make it 50″ which was so awful and obscure it took our office and local activists a couple of minutes to work out what central office were going on about.

As one of our activists commented on Facebook, when I mentioned I was writing a postmortem blog:

The more I think about it, the more the disconnect between the message we found actually worked on the ground and what the national campaign concentrated on, drives me nuts.

This lack of a decent message was a symptom of the fact that our campaign was not led by political campaigners.

3) Too many rubbish gimmicks

See this source from the Yes campaign, quoted in the Guardian:

We even brought in an advertising man to save us. He came up with the idea of constructing a giant pin-striped bottom to take around the country for people to throw things at as a way of illustrating that AV makes MPs work harder. It was desperate stuff.

I’m assuming this is the same person who posted toilet seats, pond cleaner and rubber ducks to us in the Birmingham group (for a street stall linking AV to the expenses scandal) and inflatable axes (“axe jobs for life”). Part of me wants to dedicate the rest of my career in politics to ensuring that people like this advertising man, and a fair few of those high up in the Yes campaign, never work in politics again. Thankfully for them (and me) I’ve got better things to do.

4) Very little was made of our main strength – the breadth of cross-party support

Nigel Farage was our secret weapon, and yet was hardly ever used by the Yes campaign. He’s a good communicator, would have appealed to older voters (Yes’s weakest demographic) and would have been a great answer to the people who said “This should be a referendum on leaving the EU”. But he wasn’t, because the Yes campaign was run by incompetents. It was trying to be a lefty-love in, forgetting that we needed to appeal to all sections of political opinion, and that we couldn’t rely on the support of all left-wing voters.

5) Squandering what money it had

The Yes campaign had less money than the No campaign. Although published figures put the funding for both parties at about the same, that ignores the large amounts of money put into the No camp from Tory central office. However, the Yes campaign still had lots of money – millions of pounds. Therefore a lack of money was not the issue. The problem was that it misspent lots of money.

It spent too much on phonebank co-ordinators, when no political party now uses phonebanking as a way to engage with voters. The Electoral Commission would have paid for the postage of one targeted mailshot to every person on the electoral roll. The No campaign took advantage of this, we didn’t. There was only one mailshot, sent out to a few targeted voters, and even that was a bit rubbish. It was full of celebrity endorsements, didn’t explain why our system was broken and how AV would change that. What’s more, it managed to cause a race row, as well as as demonstration of how not to run your official twitter account.

The truth was that Zephaniah was added, not omitted, to the Yes leaflets after one member of staff commented that it’d be odd if a leaflet featuring no BME faces was delivered to houses in London. However, they were added to leaflets in London, but not to those letters sent to residents in Birmingham (including myself) which is also very ethnically diverse, and also Zephaniah’s home city! It was a bad leaflet, badly targeted, with an awful reaction to the media furore that surrounded it. Utter, utter incompetence.

The simple fact is that some people voted No because they received a No leaflet and not a Yes leaflet. When there was a chance to send out a targeted mailshot to every house in Britain, with the postage paid for. This was an epic clusterfuck of a campaign which will go down in the annals of political incompetence.

I don’t think Katie Ghose gets that though. In her speech she said the public had been “shut out” of the debate on AV. What nonsense. If anything, they were shut out by her campaign refusing to print proper mailshots, and by the last fortnight of the campaign taken up with Chris Huhne calling the No campaign Nazis.

If you really want to hear more about the naffness of the Yes campaign, please read this very entertaining piece on Socialist Unity.

So, how could the Yes campaign have won?

If I, and a few of the people in the Birmingham office, had run the campaign, this is what we’d have done differently:

a) Changed the name

“Yes to AV” is far catchier and to the point than “Yes to Fairer Votes”. “Fairer” is reminiscent of new-politics-coalition-newspeak-fluffy-bullshit.

b) Got a professional politician to run the campaign

Perhaps someone like Paddy Ashdown or Jack Straw. Someone who has plenty of experience of running lots of national campaigns.

c) Spent more time lobbying Labour MPs to vote Yes

This from Tim Montgomerie is an absolute must-read. It’s clear that the No campaign spent a lot of time lobbying Labour MPs:

The hard slog of ‘winning the Labour party’ first so that Labour voters could be won later was carried out by former Labour MPs Jane Kennedy (who took on Militant in the 1980s)  and Joan Ryan. For weeks on end they almost lived in the atrium of Portcullis House – the place in the parliamentary estate where MPs, journalists and researchers mingle. The campaign that resulted in a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party opposing AV was won over cappuccino and chocolate muffins. The campaign was also fought in the country. “Whilst Joan Ryan was setting up Labour No to AV and building the national campaign as the deputy campaign director – particularly working out the core vote/swing vote strategy – Jane Kennedy spoke at about two hundred meetings of constituency Labour parties.

It was obvious that Labour voters were going to be the swing voters. Why didn’t Yes do the same and lobby Labour MPs? If Labour “big beasts” such as Jack Straw, Ed Miliband, Ben Bradshaw etc etc had lobbied MPs more to vote Yes, especially the No2AV Yes2PR ones, perhaps the result would have been very different.

This is what I mean when I say that a defeat for Yes was not inevitable. People point to the split of the Labour party on the issue as a reason why a No vote was inevitable. What it actually shows is how effective the No vote were at lobbying Labour, which is something Yes should have been doing as well.

d) Ditch the anti-politics message

It was rubbish and didn’t work.

e) Use Nigel Farage more and take advantage of a mailshot with post paid for.

As I’ve said above.

f) Try and turn it into a referendum on David Cameron

It’s clear that Nick Clegg was a complete liability for the Yes campaign. I don’t have the exact statistics to hand, but I reckon that every time he spoke, Yes lost 5000 votes. What we had to do was turn the referendum on Cameron instead. To quote Eddie Izzard, “If No wins than Clegg gets a bloody nose, if Yes win than David Cameron gets a bloody head”. Tory blogs were making it quite clear what dire consequences Cameron would face if there was a Yes vote. Would Labour voters have needed much persuading to inflict these dire consequences on him?

Instead, our campaign said nothing. Because, you’ve guessed it, it was incompetent. Only Labour Yes did so, and we could easily have tailored adverts like these for “ordinary” voters as well.

g) Focus on bread-and-butter issues

We all know that the No campaign adverts were despicable. However, the creator of the “dead-baby” advert, Dan Hodges, is more right than wrong here in this post. He also argues that the Yes campaign lost this referendum rather than the No campaign winning it. This is his logic for the baby advert:

When I helped created the baby campaign, it was partially because I was trying to frame the issue in a way that people worrying about their jobs, their mortgages and cuts to their services could relate to. I was desperately trying to make relevant a subject that 99 per cent of the public find a complete, utter, total irrelevance.

Now I find the advert, as I’m sure many of you do, morally abhorrent. Yet there is surely a way for the Yes campaign to have framed the referendum in those terms too: “Do you care about the NHS? Do you want to have more say in how it’s run? You should have some more say in how you elect your MP then.” We are a Parliamentary democracy. We need electoral reform for better representation, so we can decide who cuts, and how much they cut, better. After all, much more than 50% of people in May 2010 voted for parties who promised slower cuts to those happening right now, but that is in no way reflected in the Parliamentary arithmetic.

Why on earth did the Yes campaign not attempt to do that? I’m sure you can guess by now…

h) Kicked the local Lib Dems’ arses into gear

The Conservatives put their mighty party machine behind a No vote. It would have been nice for the Lib Dems to do the same, as opposed to gently encourage a few activists to give out Yes leaflets and hope for the best. I’m sure it would have been less resourced than the one run by the Tory’s but the fact that not all those who voted Lib Dem last year voted Yes last Thursday shows that not enough was done to win over all the Lib Dem support.

What about the lies of the No campaign?

All this means that, although it would be nice to blame everything on the lies and misinformation put out by the No campaign, and the unpopularity of Nick Clegg, that doesn’t seem wash for me. We had money, but it was spent badly. Labour was split so badly because little effort was made to lobby them (and Labour MPs were put off voting Yes because of our central message). Our message wasn’t getting through, because it was rubbish. Nick Clegg is unpopular, but so is David Cameron. The No campaign was terrible, but as many people were put off by their tactics as voted No because of their lies. You can’t blame a defeat of this scale on one horrible poster, and ignore all the other stupidity that went on with our campaign, even if it is very frustrating that there’s no way of sanctioning the No campaign for putting a figure on posters all around the country that even they have admitted was made up.

The fact is that we cannot say there was a big conspiracy against us that stopped us winning. If you blame the press, or the No campaign’s money, or the “structures in society” for a No vote, you’re basically saying there’s nothing we could have done. You might as well blame the lizard people, or the Jews, for us losing. Whereas we have agency. That’s the crucial thing. We could have run a much better campaign and won. To say otherwise is foolhardy and risks not learning the lessons that I’ve spelled out in this blog post. Worst, it would be an abdication of responsibility.

The future of electoral reform

Even if we’d’ve had a much-improved Yes campaign, it may still have lost. As I wrote above, it was dealt a very difficult hand, and played it badly. Even if it still lost narrowly, A defeat of 55-45, could have been spun credibly as “Well, this motion only failed because more would prefer PR to AV”, since the pro-reform vote would have split three ways: Yes, No and Meh. A loss on this scale buries the prospect of reform of the House of Commons until about 2040 at least, surely?

I assume so. There are two main possible scenarios here that I can think of.

The first is that a No vote means the two-party system is entrenched. The Lib Dem vote shrinks, or the party splits, and its votes are redistributed between the Conservatives and Labour. First Past the Post is kept, and although electoral reformers won’t be happy, it won’t be another 30-35 years before anyone even dares to speak of reform again.

The second is that the trends we’ve seen since the mid-1970s continue. More people vote for parties other than Labour or Conservative. A sizable minority (say 10-15%) still vote for the Lib Dems, whilst UKIP and the Greens gather more and more votes. This means we see more coalitions, or parties winning parliamentary majorities on yet-smaller minorities of the vote. If that happens, the calls for some form of PR could come around quicker than you think. However, I’m not sure any government would actually change an electoral system that had served them so well (c.f. Labour 1997).

There are other short-term consequences that I’ll hopefully write about later this week. This post is long enough as it is.

If anyone still wants to read more on the AV referendum, as well as those pieces already linked to this, by No2AV’s press officer, is well worth reading.

Conclusion

I hope anyone reading this from Central Office (if they do read this) isn’t too offended by this post. I’ve tried to be as constructive as possible. What I want people to take away from this is the fact that the result wasn’t out of our hands. This referendum was winnable, if we’d done things slightly better. That, surely, should cheer us. Even if AV passed, it was going to be the first step of a long journey. Sadly, the journey for political reformers seems a lot longer now than it did on May 4th.

What’s most important is that we learn our lessons from this referendum and remember that we do have the power to change things. We do have agency, and there’s no big conspiracy stopping us from changing things. As FDR might have said, had he been involved with the Yes campaign, the only thing we have to fear is our incompetence.


Why people in favour of PR should vote for AV

May 3, 2011

Jim Jepps of The Daily (Maybe) generously allowed me to write a guest post for his blog explaining why people in favour of PR should still vote for AV. You can see the original, complete with an interesting discussion, here. I’ve cross-posted it below as well:

No2AV Yes2PR was launched by David Owen some months ago. Originally the Yes campaign decided not to challenge their arguments at all. This was decided, as I understand it, for two reasons.Firstly, it seemed like a small irrelevance at the time. Secondly, launching this group undermined all the arguments that the No camp were making: that AV would lead to more coalitions, that we need to keep FPTP etc.

Ultimately not challenging this argument has been a mistake (one of many) from the Yes campaign. It’s led to many people who want electoral reform either voting No or, like Jim, have been very ambivalent about AV because it’s not a proportional system.

Jim has very generously allowed me to write a piece explaining why people in favour of PR should vote Yes on Thursday.

The main argument I’ve heard against voting Yes on Thursday is that a Yes vote would be a roadblock to further reform. If anything, the opposite is the case.

For evidence that AV could lead to more electoral reform, people need look no further than the Political Studies Association briefing paper on the Alternative Vote. It was compiled by Dr Alan Renwick with the help of many leading political scientists, including Professors John Curtice, Simon Hix and Pippa Norris.

This is what the PSA has to say on the subject:

It is clear that changing the electoral system is easier where change has already recently happened: the idea of reform is no longer so radical; more people are familiar with the reform options; there are fewer interests vested in the status quo. Four established democracies – France, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand – have introduced major reforms to their national electoral systems in the last thirty years. Two of these – France and Italy have subsequently instituted further major reforms, while Japan passed a further smaller reform, and New Zealand will hold a referendum creating the possibility of another major reform later this year. (p21)

After changing the voting system in 1991, Italy changed it again two years later and again in 2005. New Zealand held a referendum to change from First Past the Post in 1992, and is holding another referendum asking voters whether they want to change the system later this year.

To say, then, that AV would be a roadblock for reform is completely missing the point. It would actually be a small but significant step towards reform in the future, and make future reform much more likely than a No vote.

Another argument I’ve heard on the blogosphere is that AV would hold up reform because it makes it harder to change to a proportional system:

Truly proportional systems such as that Mixed Member, Largest Remainder or D’hont system, simply ask people to express a party preference and then use centrally controlled party lists and / or second tear ‘top-up’ constituencies to allocate seats to parties on a proportional basis. By allowing voters to rank individual candidates AV is actually a step away from these kinds of system.

This isn’t quite right though. AV would be a small but logical step towards something like Single Transferable Vote. After all, AV is STV for single member constituencies. Another logical step would be to lead to something like AV+, as recommended by the Jenkins Commission. This would be a hybrid of a list top-up system and MPs elected by, you guessed it, the Alternative Vote. So AV would still be a step forward to getting any proportional system.

I’m of the view that people should vote Yes simply because AV is a better system. However, even if you would prefer a more radical change than AV, vote Yes on Thursday, because that’s the only way you’re going to get it.


The really sinister message behind “Winnergate”

April 27, 2011

Today was the first PMQs held after the Easter recess. Among the topics discussed were the NHS reforms and the economy. I assume that at some point MPs got close to discussing the issues, but to be honest I couldn’t tell what was being said because of all the shouting and jeering.

The most talked-about part of PMQs occurred when David Cameron told Angela Eagle to “calm down dear, just calm down”.

The wonderful Paul Waugh, as usual, has quickly gotten the inside take on what happened:

It seems that Angela Eagle was the Labour frontbencher who was targeted by Cameron because she was heckling him over his NHS answers.

In particular, Eagle was shouting that the PM had got his facts wrong over ex Labour MP and GP Howard Stoate, a rare left-of-centre supporter of the Coalition’s health reforms.

Cameron had claimed that Stoate had been defeated at the last election, but Eagle pointed out that in fact he had stood down at 2010 general election.

“He stood down! He stood down!” Eagle told the PM.

Clearly irritated, Cameron then issued his now infamous ‘calm down dear!’ edict. Cue uproar.

It was thought for a bit that it was Yvette Cooper, not Eagle, who was told to calm down. That’s demonstrably not the case, because otherwise Ed Balls would have leapt across the chamber, shouted “Don’t you talk to my missus like that”, and eviscerated the entire government front bench. You know that he could if he wanted to.

You can see a clip of the exchange here, on the BBC website. Keep an eye on Nick Clegg’s face after Cameron says “calm down dear” for the first time. Very stoney faced. He looks like he’s trying not to cry, bless him.

And while we’re on the subject of Nick Clegg, doesn’t he look so old now? It’s like his face has melted in a year. Also, all the colour has drained from his face and gone to David Cameron’s, who was looking very red in today’s session. He was redder than a red-breasted Communist robin reading from Das Kapital.

Inevitably, the storm in a teacup has begun. Labour have said that it was sexist, and that Cameron would not have said such a remark to Ed Balls. Too bloody right. Nobody patronises The Balls and gets away with it.

On the other hand, the Tories have been quick to say that it was just a humourous remark, nothing to see here, and that Labour left us with a massive budget deficit. So they have no right to complain about jokes:

I think you will find it is a popular advert. I think you are maybe over-analysing a humorous remark. Labour seem desperate to talk about anything other than the economy after the good news on growth figures and Miliband’s weak performance today.

To be honest, I don’t think this little exchange tells us anything we didn’t already know about Cameron. His default position at PMQs is always “cavalier and patronising”, he loses his temper far too easily and gets really irritated by Ed Balls. We’ll need a bit more than that to get an entry in the Bumper Book of Political Revelations.

What it does mean now is that Cameron will get associated with Michael Winner. That’s not a great feat of political posturing. Also, as David Aaronovitch pointed out, “The next time David Cameron looks flustered at PMQs the whole Opposition bench is going to chorus “calm down dear”. What an own goal.”

Meanwhile, there were no questions on Libya, and the debate on the economy and the health reforms will get ignored as we debate the really serious issues, such as “Who’s cleavage was that behind Ed Miliband?” And we wonder why the public aren’t interested in politics.

Yet all of this would still miss the main story behind Winnergate, which isn’t being covered anywhere. And that is the contracting out of political soundbites.

It seems that this government is so desperate to reduce the deficit that they are putting subliminal advertising messages in their speeches, just to raise a bit of money.

I wonder what will come next? Maybe George Osborne will say “We need these massive cuts to reduce the deficit. Simples.”

Or Michael Gove will say “My free schools programme will mean that Britain gets exceedingly good academies.”

Andrew Lansley’s next speech about NHS Reforms will go, “There are some who have said that my proposed reforms will lead to the privatisation of the NHS and mean that hospitals are subjected to EU Competition law. To them I say this: vorsprung durch technik”.

This is even more evidence that there is nowhere this government will stop the private sector from taking over. Not even in our language.

You heard it here first.


Nick Clegg’s Social Mobility Strategy: targeting the wrong thing in the wrong way for the wrong reasons.

April 8, 2011

“It’s the law of inverse relevance. The less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it.” – Sir Arnold Robinson, Yes Minister.

Nick Clegg has launched a social mobility strategy. A hefty report was published this week which says that “improving social mobility is the principal goal of the Coalition Government’s social policy” (p. 1). That’s because “no one should be prevented from fulfilling their potential by the circumstances of their birth” (p. 5).

Most of the coverage of this strategy has gone on the subject of unpaid internships. I’m glad this issue has come into prominence: the glut of unpaid internships is scandalous and I hope to tackle it in a later blog post.

For now, let’s just look at the government’s plans to increase social mobility.

I haven’t read the report cover-to-cover, but I’ve got the gist of it. It’s a very frustrating document for two reasons. First, because it ignores one of the chief causes of social immobility. Second, because ignores that cause, the report doesn’t have any decent policies to combat social immobility.

1) Income inequality

The available evidence is limited, and it certainly isn’t the only cause, but societies with a higher rate of income inequality tend to have a lower rate of social mobility. Via the Staggers, I’ve pinched this graph, which you can also find in The Spirit Level:

The issue is not quite as straightforward as this table suggests. For the counter argument, see pp. 72-75 of this Policy Exchange paper that critiques The Spirit Level. Much of the data on social mobility between countries is not really directly comparable, and as a result the OECD thinks that the academic literature on international social mobility rates should be treated “with a great deal of caution” (see p. 73 of the Policy Exchange paper).

This confusion is reflected in the Social Mobility Strategy paper itself. Take this paragraph on p. 22 of the report:

1.41 There is an active debate about the relationship between income inequality and social mobility. Academic studies comparing levels of social mobility in different countries have found a correlation between high levels of income inequality and low levels of social mobility, although some have criticised the validity of this finding. Of course, correlation isnot the same as causation. The drivers of social mobility are complex, and income alone does not determine future outcomes.

I wonder if you can tell which bits of that paragraph were drawn up by the Conservatives…?

However, it’s common sense that you can only have social mobility, and true equality of opportunity, if there is a certain level of income equality. The first reason, as Chris Dillow put it, is “simple maths; the closer the gap between high and low incomes, the easier it is to leap that gap.”

A second reason is because, as the authors of this study into intergenerational mobility found, there is a strong relationship between family income and educational attainment. The authors found that a child from a family who’s income was a third less than the mean was three or four percentage points more likely to get no A-C GCSEs. Their chance of getting a degree fell by a similar amount (p. 14). In Britain the relationship between family income and educational achievement has gotten stronger, mainly because the expansion of higher education has most benefited those from higher-income families.

It stands to reason, therefore, that if income inequalities rise, the disparity in educational achievement between the richest and poorest in society will increase, and the prospect of social mobility falls. (I feel I should point out, however, that the authors of the CEP study did not go as far as to state this explicitly. We’ll come to their solutions later).

There’s another reason why you cannot have equality of opportunity without some equality of income. For that, I’m going to turn to what is rapidly becoming my bible: Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. It’s Thing 20, if you’re interested.

(P)oor children are bound to perform poorly in school, whatever their innate ability might be. Some of them go hungry at home and also skip lunch at school. This makes it impossible for them to concentrate, with predictable results for their academic performance…If their parents are illiterate and/or have to work long hours, children will have no one to help them with their homework, whilst middle-class children will be helped by their parents and rich kids may have private tutors. Helped or not, they may not even have enough time for homework, if they have to take care of younger siblings. (pp. 217-8)

For social mobility to happen, we need equality of opportunity. For equality of opportunity, a degree of income equality is needed. This report skirts around that issue, and because of that misses the point on a number of issues.

2) Addressing social immobility

It seems most likely that the issue of inequality was ignored because, for most Tory governments, reducing income inequality is not going to be on their priority list. The question then arises is: if you ignore that, how are you going to combat social immobility? And do you even want to?

As was pointed out in this achingly wonderful piece on what left-wing social mobility would look like, “There are clear problems both of morality and logic – the fact that if one poor person goes up, one rich person must go down – with this model of social mobility [that Clegg is proposing].”

That doesn’t really fit well with a large part of the Tory voting demographic. You can tell that in the Daily Mail’s reaction to Nick Clegg’s plans:

It seems that quite a few people would rather we kept things the way they are, thank you very much.

Charlie Beckett summed up the problems with using terms like “social mobility” very succinctly:

Real social mobility – all other things being equal – must surely mean that some people will rise over their lives and others will fall. If we all rise then that is simply economic growth. If only a lower social group rise relative to a higher group, then that is egalitarianism, not social mobility. If just a few people rise, then that’s just tokenism.

All of which leaves us with a quandary.

3) What now?

So, if social mobility is not only unobtainable (since Nick Clegg is explicitly ignoring equality of income as a goal for his government) and even if the social mobility Clegg talks of is undesirable for the Conservative’s core vote, what does the coalition do instead?

The answer just seems to be to talk about social mobility. There are no proposals in the document that aim to address the causes of social mobility, or inequality, or any form of disadvantage at all.

Take the area of gender inequality, for instance. The report ignores David Willetts’s faintly ridiculous remarks and says that the government sees “gender equality as an important factor in improving social mobility” (p. 57). But you’ll find no policies whatsoever about how to tackle the issue of gender inequality, apart from a brief discussion on the unequal nature of maternity and paternity leave.

Granted, you’ll find discussion of lots of problems, be given some rather disturbing figures and generally get the impression that Something Ought To Be Done. But then you get to the recommendations section.

Bear in mind, when you read these recommendations, Sir Arnold’s Law of Inverse Relevance.

Here’s the list of recommendations, which I’ve put in block quotes with my interpretation in italics:

We have developed ‘leading indicators’ of success in improving social mobility for each lifestage. These will also be included in departmental Business Plans, ensuring that they are at the centre of the work of departments, increasing transparency over the impact of our policies and helping the public to hold us to account.

This is talking about social mobility.

We will provide funding for a successor to the Millennium Cohort Study, ensuring that thereis a rich source of information on the long-term influence of our policies on social mobility.

More talking about social mobility.

We are establishing, on a statutory basis, a Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission to monitor progress on social mobility, as well as towards the measures in the Child Poverty Act 2010.

Even more talking about social mobility.

The Deputy Prime Minister will continue to chair the Ministerial Group on Social Mobility to unite Whitehall departments in improving social mobility.

This is talking about talking about social mobility.

We are setting out the key milestones in implementing this strategy and identifying who in Government is responsible for them.

Talking about talking about talking about social mobility.

All departments will consider the impact of new policies on social mobility.

Talking about talking about talking about talking about social mobility.

You get the idea.

If you follow Sir Arnold’s law, then, the coalition appears to want to do the square root of bugger all about social mobility. All of these groups started, research commissioned, committees set up to do whatever it is committees do…and not one single policy recommendation that would improve the lives of the poorest in society.

It’s not as if policy recommendations don’t exist. They exist in the reports cited in the Social Mobility Strategy document itself. Take the report on intergenerational mobility that I quoted earlier. This is what they have to say on the subject of policies:

To improve this situation we need also to use more direct means such as early years’ education, improved schools for poor communities and financial support to pursue post-compulsory education. Indeed, this is the policy direction that the Government seems to be taking through programmes like Sure Start, Excellence in Cities and the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). (p. 14)

Oh.

So the way to improve chances for the poorest would be to through policies like Sure Start Centres, which are being cut, and EMA, which was axed, and then brought back in a woefully inadequate form.

I’m sure Nick Clegg will point to the Pupil Premium as being an example of Lib Dem policy designed to help the poorest children, but that money is not extra money to the Education budget, so it would be disingenuous of him to do that.

Obviously, the last thing Nick Clegg would want to be would be disingenuous.

All of which means that the government’s social mobility strategy is nonsense. It’s a strategy without a strategy. It’s targeting the wrong thing in the wrong way for the wrong reasons.

Which means the left needs to win this intellectual argument. Owen Jones started this with a good CIF article some weeks back, arguing that social mobility was a distraction that detracted from income inequality.

And I can’t think of a better way to end this piece than to quote Paul’s blog from Though Cowards Flinch that I linked to above:

Well, as I’ve said here, I think it looks like the cider advert, where identifiably working class males mass on the hill side, tooled up and ready to march on the sleepy town in the valley.

It’s a vision of pride in what we are, and a potent image of solidarity in what we can be.  It’s also a vision tinged, if you want to see it that way, with menace to the status quo – a sort of #manualworkeruncut, coming ready or not.

Or in other words, trade unions.

Which is certainly an improvement on the pathetic excuse of an initiative that is the government’s Social Mobility Strategy.


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