Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Vote for Us, we hate the same people you hate"

Negative campaigning has always been part of politics. The "Vote for nurse for fear of something worse" syndrome. But only once before in British politics have we had a whole political party predicated on things they are against. Yes that is UKIP, and it's happened before.

What UKIP is "For" can be summarised by saying that they are broadly "For" whatever the opposite is to the establishment view. Mark Reckless described this as "Radical" , but it is of course the opposite of that. It is "Reactionary". 

So key to the UKIP proposition is the idea of LibLabCon - the conceit that the three established political parties are all the same. We, the party of the common man, agree with you that there should be a plague on all their houses. The nearest parallel to this in modern British history was Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Here is what Mosley said in 1938:

"The Blackshirt is a revolutionary dedicated to the service of our country. We must always possess the character of the true revolutionary. It is not the character that you observe in the little men of the old parties, blown hither and thither by every gust of convenience opinion, elated by a little success, downcast by a little failure, gossiping and chattering about the prospects of the next five minutes, jostling for place, but not so forward in service. Without loyalty, endurance, or staying power, such a character is the hallmark of financial democratic politics. It is the opposite of national socialism."

The parallel with Farage is strong. The faux-patriotism ("service of our country"). The claim to be "revolutionary" - very close to Reckless's "Radical". The contempt for the establishment ("the little men of the old parties") and the charge that they blow with every wind. UKIP's origins were firmly in the Conservative Party and their leadership is being reinforced by Tory defectors like them. In 1939 Oswald Mosley said this about the Conservatives:

"Now I ask any Conservative, apart altogether from their present performances, how can you, believing in the principles which they proclaim, remain in that Party with such a record? What reason have you got for remaining in that Party, except that it may be unpleasant to leave that Party? Some of your friends may not like it, and for the first time in your life you may have to do something rough and hard, fight for other people and fight for England."

 While Nigel Farage's rhetoric might be a bit different to Oswald Mosley's the message to the Conservatives is the same. If you have true conservative principles how can you stay in a party which has abandoned them? 

Oswald Mosley also appealed to the common man. In particular on the subject of immigration. These are his words, also in 1939:

"...they are coming in themselves, thousands of them; thousands of them coming in, not only undermining our standard of life, not only debauching our commercial practices, not only swelling the practices of criminal lawyers, not only changing the commercial outlook and morality of the British to’ the detriment of our simple and honest people; not on IT, that, my friends; this policy of the open door, this universal entry of alien standards and alien life if permitted to continue,  is going to change the whole character of English life and English people..."

Stronger than Farage, perhaps. But not by much! Mosley was grotesquely anti-Semitic but his arguments were not that far away from those of UKIP, although the target is different. Remember UKIP supporter Leo Mcainstry's recent explanation for UKIP's rise:

"An air of bewilderment and panic now grips the two main parties. But the explanation for Ukip's rise could hardly be simpler. It lies in the issue of immigration. Ukip has tapped into the growing despair of the public at the relentless transformation of our country."

The "relentless transformation" charge is broadly the same as Mosley's "change the whole character of English life". And who said this?

"Some may say, those who do not yet feel as we do, that the entry of 50,000, 100,000 or 200,000 more does not matter, that we can swallow them, we can assimilate them. I deny it."

It was Mosley actually but you see what I mean!

We know what Farage is against, as we knew what Mosley was against, and there are strong parallels. Essentially the pitch is inward looking. Mosley ranted against the "International Financial system" and wanted to rely on the Empire. Farage rails against the EU and wants to draw back behind British borders. Mosley wanted to erect barriers to immigration, so does Farage. Mosley wanted to put "Britain First" - Farage uses the same rhetoric. And both claimed to be the only true patriots. Above all Mosley challenged and condemned  the existing political parties . There is, however, one crucial difference between Mosely in the late 1930s and UKIP today. Here is what Mosley said in 1939:

"Now let me ask anyone here, who thinks that we have been unfair when we have attacked the ownership and conduct of the Press of this country, on what grounds do they behave as they have behaved? Do they tell us any longer that there is no news value in British Union, that the people of Britain have no interest in British Union?  If they say that, let them glance round this great hall to-night and say whether or not the British people are interested in British Union. And yet any little Labour politician who cannot fill a schoolroom, any little B.B.C. crooner who bores you on a Sunday evening, (Laughter) any of these little creatures who have been made by the Press of this country, when they fill their little schoolroom, they get a headline in the newspapers the next morning."

Mosley was complaining that the media was ignoring him. That he couldn't get coverage in the newspapers or on the radio for his "British Union" (of Fascists). Well this is hardly a complaint that Nigel Farage could make! Back in 1938/39 Mosley had crested a monster and it had, through word of mouth, gained support. He filled the "great hall" of Earls Court and could have done several times over. But there was little or no media coverage and as war approached the Fascists faded away. But had he had the oxygen of publicity for his nationalistic rhetoric, for his hate campaign against immigration and the international financial system and for his rants against the establishment and the main political parties who knows what might have happened?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Essentially the respectable parties have two options in response to Rochester and Strood.

(1) Say that the Rochester voters have responded to UKIP's policy positions and that to combat them they, the parties, should move in UKIP's policy direction. 

(2) Conclude that they,nthe parties, are failing to refute UKIP's policies and that they need to intensify their efforts to do this. 

Option (1) would be morally indefensible and wouldn't work. The more the Tories or Labour try to pretend they are UKIP Lite the only beneficiary would be UKIP. Why buy a bit more Euroscepticism or a bit tighter immigration controls when you can go the whole hog and get EU Withdrawal and a total ban from the Kippers? 

Option (2) is the only way. Decent people across the political spectrum know that UKIP is a shallow, bigoted, ignorant party with a gut appeal but with policies that could never be implemented and which would be disastrous for Britain if they were. Cameron and Miliband must come out fighting. Not by adopting (a bit) what Farage says (he'd just love that !). But by fighting him on the beaches of the seaside towns (especially) where his fraudulent and shameful message has appeal. And intelligent people of honour should stop flirting with UKIP - and certainly stop defecting to them. Attack them for what they are and start now.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What is patriotism ? Is it White Van Man ?

What is patriotism? I doubt that it's White Van Man hanging up the flag(s) of St George. He's quite entitled to do this, of course. And Emily Thornberry was wrong to sneer as, it appears, she was doing. But UKIP patriotism is indeed nationalism. As is that of the SNP. And Nationalism kills. You don't need to be any sort of historian to know that, 

The Triumph of the 21st Century (as compared with the 20th) has every chance of being pan-nationalism and unity. At least in Europe. Where the 20th Century had lots of "War War" the 21st will have lots of "Jaw Jaw" as we (at times) struggle to make European integration work. UKIP and their fellow travellers on the Tory Right want to withdraw from the European project. They are ignorant fools. As they wave their flags of St George they should reflect where such similiar national bravado got us in our parents and grandparents generations. 

You can be, as I am, happily English, proud to be British and privileged to be European. There is no paradox in this. If I had to fly a flag outside my house and could only choose one it would be the European flag. Because that is the flag which defines patriotism more widely and which is the future. That's my patriotism. Because it doesn't involve killing people. Or deporting them. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let's send Alex Salmond home to think again...

This is the man who sought to destroy my country. And came dangerously close to succeeding. Where Napoleon, the Kaiser and Hitler failed to break Britain this tinpot petty nationalist almost did. It was an utterly fraudulent campaign. Six months before the Indy Ref vote two-thirds of electors were saying "No" to independence. So what did Salmond do? He turned the vote into a referendum on Cameron (etc.) and his governance of Britain/Scotland. The SNP plumbed the deep natural support for socialism in Scotland and persuaded natural Labour voters that the SNP was the true bearer of the Red Flag. Many voted "Yes" because they thought this was the socialist thing to do. An independent Scotland would be a Socialist paradise broken free of the nasty capitalists of Westminster.
It took Gordon Brown to shake a few Labour waverers back into the "No" camp and his intervention may well have been crucial. In the end the 55/45 vote against independence was clear - at least for a generation (as Salmond, in his cups, admitted). But now the "45" arrogantly won't accept the result and the SNP is seeking to build on Labour's Scottish weakness by claiming again to be the true heirs of Keir Hardie. A recent poll suggests that another IndyRef poll today would produce broadly the same outcome as the actual one in September. But tell that to the SNP, they don't want to listen.
I too want to be rid of Cameron and his motley crew of elitist incompetents. I too want Britain to return to its social democratic tradition and core values. And I want the Scots who have so often been honourable agents of change across these islands, to play their full part in Britain's recovery from the Coalition years. I want them to move away from the insularity and faux-patriotism of the SNP and embrace British politics again. Like UKIP South of the Border the SNP is a malignant force. Away with them ! We sent Alex Salmond home to think again. And if we have to do it again we will...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sainsbury’s and the “Christmas truce”

There are plenty of ways people could object to the Sainsbury’s “1914 Christmas Truce” TV Commercial. You could accuse it of historical inaccuracy or sentimentality. You could object to the use of a tragic war to promote a supermarket brand. You might argue that this one event was utterly unrepresentative of the more than four years of hell that was the Great War. But all of these objections ignore one simple fact. At the lowest level war is about individuals. The poor bloody infantry. The lions led by donkeys. On both sides.

Max Hastings’s astonishing book about the first year of the War ”Catastrophe” is a work of genius not just for its thorough research and its determination to be as accurate as it could (both true) but for its frequent use of personal histories. Not (just) the memories of the Generals but of the ordinary soldiers. The poignant letter of  private soldier – the last he wrote before the sniper’s bullet got him. Of the German officer cut down by an attack by the residents of a village they had just subdued. The reprisal killings that followed. And on, and on for four ghastly years.

The Sainsbury’s ad combines brilliant filmmaking and casting with a quite legitimate message about “sharing”. They might have said – though it was inherent in the mini story – that at an individual level we have more in common with our “enemies” than we might be told or think. One perspective on the War was that it was a “Bosses” war and that the infantry (etc.) on both sides were simply cannon fodder. That may be a Marxist view (Karl Marx said : Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!, literally “Workers of all nations Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains”) but there is more than a scintilla of truth in it. The “truce” didn't happen again and fraternisation of any sort was forbidden. And there was no real mechanism for the lions of the two sides to turn on the donkeys and declare that enough was enough. Disobedience of orders was met swiftly by the firing squad.

At an individual level Tommy and Fritz had much in common. But by December 1914 the war was already dehumanised and casualties were in their hundreds of thousands. The war would be won by the smarter and the luckier Generals (if you read their memoirs) and by the side who deserved to win a “Just War” (if you read some historians). But it was the poets and the artists who told the true story. As Wilfred Owen put it “Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori” was an “old Lie”. There was nothing “sweet and right” at all about dying for your country. But if you seek honour and bravery and selflessness in the battle stories you will find countless examples. On both sides of the wire. There is a symbolism about the “Christmas truce”, about the carol singing and about the football. And, yes, about the “sharing” – however brief it might have been.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Forex is riddled with scams - especially for the consumer

Forex is a scam - even when it is legal. We've all seen the signs at the Airports "Free foreign exchange" - a lie, of course. All it means is that the Sharks charge their fee by fiddling the exchange rate rather than adding it as a separate item. As consumers we always pay over the odds for our travel money - often disgracefully so. Because most of us only travel once or twice a year we tend to shrug our shoulders if we notice it. But look at the exchange rates that are used for corporate transactions and you'll see they are far better for the companies than we as consumers can get. And look at the consumer "spread" - the difference between Buy and Sell rates. That will give you a clue as to the licence to print money that forex is.

The mostly ignorant propaganda against Britain joining the Euro largely ignored the consumer and focused nonsensically on faux-patriotism about the Pound. If we had joined the Euro whatever other problems we might have had to wrestle with at least as consumers travelling in Europe we'd have avoided Forex rip-offs on our hols! 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Let's make Sunday 11th December 2018 special, and move on.

In four years time, the 11th November 1918, will be especially memorable. It will, at 11am, be precisely one hundred years from the Armistice which ended the Great War. And it will be a Sunday so that Remembrance Day and Rembrance Sunday will coincide. The participants in the deadly conflict which was the Great War are all gone but the links remain in the lives of the descendants of the fallen, and those who served in other ways or survived. Both my Grandfathers were in that War and came home. They were not, as far as I know, "heroes" - they just did their duty, and were lucky. 

The last British combatant of the First World War died in 2011, and with his passing those actual personal memories of what it was like have gone as well. In 2018 there is an opportunity both to make the centenary of the end of the War special - and to consider whether remembrance on 11th November is something that we should maintain in perpetuity. If we do there is an implicit statement that the Great War was in some way exceptional. There is an argument to be made that it was, of course, but the very fact that the "War to end all wars" didn't is sadly notable as well. 

I believe that in 2018 we should commemorate the end of the Great War with a last Remembrance Day in its current form. We should give the Poppy (only really meaningful as a symbol of the First World War's killing fields) a decent burial at the same time. The permanent memorials will remain, the tomb of the unknown soldier and the Cenotaph and the hundreds of war memorials up and down the country. But let's use the Great War's Armistice centenary finally to say farewell, and thank you. The idea of "Remembrance" is a powerful and important one and over the decades we have honoured the Great War dead. One hundred years on, in 1918, let us do that for a last time and move on

How should we remember the fallen of the Second World War and of Korea and subsequent conflicts? Not, I would suggest, with Great War symbolism.  And why don't we find a new way to honour not just the fallen of the Second World War and conflicts since but all our war dead in history. The fallen of Trafalgar, and Agincourt and of the Crimea and of Mafeking. And of Bannockburn and Culloden and Edgehill and Marston Moor for that matter. Let's choose a date but make it a moving feast - the first Sunday in a chosen month for example (moving on from the current practice of having two days close together - Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday - which is both a duplication and a confusion six years out of seven). 

In the United States the last Monday in May is chosen as Memorial Day  - it is a federal holiday for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the country's armed forces. This seems to me to be an excllent model. It doesn't place the fallen of any one war on some sort of pedestal but overtly honours all who died in their Country's Service. Whenever and wherever it happened. Let's make our Remembrance Day do the same.   

Friday, November 07, 2014

In praise of being an expatriate

There is a curious piece in The Times today by Sathnam Sanghera rubbishing the world of the Ex-Pat.

I am reluctant to praise the benefits of living outside your home country too highly because I realise that it is a privilege not available to all. I was lucky, very lucky. In 1980 I was "posted" (as we used to call it) by my employer, Shell, to The Netherlands - not to The Hague but to the local company based in Rotterdam. I had to learn and work in Dutch. I had to learn about a culture quite different from my own. I lived in a city, Leiden, utterly different from anywhere I had lived before. For three years I rode the waves of that Dutch culture. It wasn't easy, I'm a fairly gregarious sort of chap and initially not speaking the language was quite stressful. But my colleagues, neighbours and business contacts were helpful and gradually I came not just to appreciate the country, but even to love it. But more importantly I changed. Shell was I think clever enough to see that I needed to be outside my comfort zone and my time in Holland was just that. Every year in The Netherlands counted at least double in my personal development.

My reward for a reasonably successful time in Holland was a posting to Scotland! Now you might not think that was an expatriate posting and technically it wasn't ! But in the same way that The Netherlands told me a bit about Europe, or one small part of it, Scotland told me about my own country. The three years I spent North of the border made me British, very different to the Englishness of my upbringing. They do things differently there. Not THAT differently perhaps, but differently. In that job, at the time of the miners' strike, I was close to events and people outwith my previous experience. And that's lies at the core of the expat benefit - you are challenged more and in different ways than if you stay at home. You will never be the same again.

Following Scotland I rode those cultural waves again for four years in Hong Kong. This amazing place invades all your senses in a unique way. Every day you smell it, hear it, feel it, touch it - there is no escape! As if, in my case, you would want to escape. I was there at a lucky time. I worked with expatriate colleagues but also, and crucially, with some brilliant local staff. Is managing a team of Hong Kong Chinese the same as managing a team of Brits? Of course not. Is it valuable experience - indeed, and not just that. You learn as much from the locals as (hopefully) they do from you. This is another big Expatriate gain. It's a two-way learning process.

At the end of my Shell career I spent seven years in the Middle East. Based in Dubai I worked across the region and visited every country. Take Yemen. I doubt that I should ever have gone to that extraordinary country had I not had a business reason to do so. Yemen was like time travel. But the business priorities and the opportunities were the same, though the solutions were very different. And that is yet another benefit. The cliche "Think Global, Act Local" may be over familiar, but it is true. And if sensitively applied it works.

To denigrate the benefits of being an expatriate is ignorant and trite. If you only measure them by the banalities of what you earn or whether the sun shines perhaps you should indeed have stayed at home. But if you see the challenge, the opportunity and the rewards as they can be then you will regard your expat years as the privilege they are. The more you ride the waves of culture the broader, and I think better, you will be as a person. I don't know any "Little Englanders" who were expatriates. Nor any petty nationalists nor faux patriots either.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Sarah Wollaston's "Vote Positive" message is the right one. Let's do it.

I think that this is an excellent Tweet from Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston. The call to us to "Vote positive" strikes a chord. UKIP is the most negative force in British politics in living memory. We all know what they are against - but what are they for? They are against Britain's membership of the European Union and want us to return to a world where economically and socially we stood alone. Anyone who has lived through the post war period in its entirety as I have (born 1946) knows that cooperation between the European Nations is the greatest achievement of these times. The idea of an armed conflict between countries within the EU is unthinkable. For my parents and grandparents that was not, of course, the case. With economic union comes peace and security.. Every Nation has retained its character and substantially its independence. But some pooling of sovereignty has been both practically advantageous and emotionally uniting. UKIP's vile and juvenile protest in the European Parliament when they turned their backs on the EU flag and anthem made me momentarily ashamed to be British, until I remembered that these bigots only represent a sad minority of us and most of us would not be so ignorant and offensive.
Sarah Wollaston
To be positive about Europe and to want to make its work can be seen in parallel to what most of us would wish about our diverse society. Contrary to what UKIP says multiculturalism was never a goal in Britain. We did not overtly decide to become a multi-racial society, it was a consequence of an open approach to migration over the years. I have written here about how I believe that UKIP and the people that support them use opposition to Immigration as a  surrogate for their opposition to multiculturalism. UKIP supporter Leo McKinstry's "Ukip has tapped into the growing despair of the public at the relentless transformation of our country." sums this up well. Current immigration does not "transform our country" at all - or very little. That transformation has already happened. The negative approach, UKIP's approach, is to scaremonger about current immigration with the hidden message that UKIP will do something about multiculturalism. This is one of UKIP's big lies (or "empty promises" as Ms Wollaston puts it). Short of ethnic cleaning and forced repatriation (even UKIP doesn't propose this) we are a multicultural society and we are going to stay that way. The positive response to this fact is to celebrate our diversity and where there are problems (which of course there are) to work hard to solve them. There is no turning back the clock. There may be a case for somewhat tighter immigration controls, but this is a largely technical matter and it is unlikely that if we introduced a tightened regime anyone would notice much. And it would certainly have no impact at all on the nature of our already transformed society.
UKIP's support among the young and the better-educated in Britain is negligible. These are the positive people Sarah Wollaston is reaching out to. But those that are voting UKIP should not be forgotten either. They are, perhaps, Chesterton's "...people of England, that never have spoken yet" and perhaps they have never spoken because our political class hasn't spoken to them. Well UKIP is - and they are listening. We need to engage with this group, up to 20% of the electorate, not by adopting UKIP's clothes but by making the positive case. For Europe, for multiculturalism, for controlled immigration. Let's counter UKIP's lies with our truths. Conservative, Labour, LibDem it doesn't matter. We'll differ on substance and detail. But we must all be positive to counter the doom and gloom.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Can socialism coexist with capitalism or are they oil and water?

I was asked to retweet the above if I agreed with it. I didn't, because I don't. I don't like the adversarial nature of it and the presumption that political choice is between two ideological extremes. For those of us of the Left the underlying presumption is that we are against capitalism and for socialism. It ain't necessarily so.

Modern economies are all mixed. They combine free enterprise with State intervention. Even that, on the face of it, most capitalist country, the United States, is a mixed economy as is every European state. The arguments surround the nature of the mixture - we are all to a greater or lesser extent Capitalists. Even the "People's Republic" of China is increasingly economically wedded to free enterprise.

Can socialism coexist with capitalism or are they oil and water? Successful social democracies, like Britain, show that you can operate well with private enterprise and public service working together. Sometimes there is overt cooperation, sometimes the two sectors work in parallel. Capitalism is part of the process of wealth creation. It allows for free enterprise, competition, innovation, market forces, investment, profit, dividends and so on. But for this to happen the State has to provide many things - a legal system, infrastructure, education, security and so on.

The State regulates capitalism. It creates standards within which private sector employers must work. Nobody would argue that the State shouldn't do this, it has that duty to its citizens. The State also does things that private enterprise could do but Government elects not to permit it to. Britain's roads could be privatised with tolls charged. The BBC could be sold off. And so on. Ideological capitalists would argue that the State should only be involved where a private sector solution is not possible. Ideological socialists argue for greater State ownership. The debate is not really "Either/Or" - it is where along the continuum from total Laisser-Faire, at one end, and total State control at the other a Nation sets itself.

Ed Miliband equates capitalism with injustice and argues that socialism is the response. This can happen and history teaches us that the State has frequently had to intervene to protect its citizens. But injustice can come from the State as well and sometimes it's free enterprise that has to intervene. It is over simplistic to chant the rather Orwellian "Socialism Good, Capitalism Bad"! Modern politicians tread the "Third Way" because they have to - although only Tony Blair claimed it as his own. Mr Miliband would do well to remember this unless he really does want to be seen as "Red Ed". 

Is it too much to hope for more clarity and less posturing on the issueof Britain in Europe?

One man one vote is a tenet of democracy. Only a totalitarian would want to change it. But the idea that while all votes are equal all opinions are also equally valid is simply wrong. That's why we have a Parliamentary democracy. Collectively we, the bright and the dim the informed and the ignorant, elect people to take decisions for us. Those we elect have a duty to inform - to tell the truth in clear language.

The problem with Europe is that as an issue it lends itself to superficial tub-thumping. UKIP, with their infantile behaviour in the European Parliament and their jingoistic posturing, has persuaded many that Britain's membership of the EU is damaging to us as a Nation. Of course the reverse is the case, and it's not just the Business community who knows it. But the case "For" is cerebral and complex - those persuaded by UKIP's faux patriotism won't or won't be able to listen to it.

If our Party leaders  believe in the value of Britain being at the centre of Europe - they all say they do - it's counter-productive to move one inch in UKIP's direction. That just helps them. What they must learn to do, as must we all, is find a way of making the case for Britain in Europe in a comprehensible way. That's why Cameron's posturing over the UK's requirement to make an extra EU budget contribution is so damaging. It feeds the fire stoked daily by UKIP. He knows that we'll have to pay it, and he's known this for months. And it will accrue him no political advantage - it just makes him look a prat.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Does UKIP reflect people's "real concerns" or more often try and create concerns in people who wouldn't otherwise have them?

If UKIP did reflect people's real concerns there would be merit in the argument that they perform a useful function. But of course it doesn't. What it does do is seed doubts in the minds of some of the electorate and imply that they should worry about things they mostly don't. This starts with the Europhobia. On the fringes of politics there are some otherwise sentient people who argue that Britain should be outside the EU. But the vast majority of politicians of all major parties, every business leader, every diplomat and most media commentators know that it is inconceivable. UKIP from the start has blamed the EU for every real and imagined ill of our society. It is gut stuff, intellectually bereft and would in normal times just be an irritant - the insect you flap away.

The same with their, linked, anti-immigration rants. Here we enter scapegoat territory with a vengeance. It isn't really about immigration at all. It's about multiculturalism. Our society is racially mixed, especially in some parts of our cities. UKIP doesn't like this. Some of our citizens don't like it either (though ironically it is often in the monocultural towns of the South that this feeling is strongest! The citizens of the Midlands and Northern cities affected have long since got on with making their multicultural areas work!). UKIP wants current immigration stopped or hugely reduced. But the extent of current immigration is very small compared with quantum of those already here and their descendants. There are 3m British South Asians (mainly originally from India and Pakistan) but only 50,000 immigrants of South Asian origins each year. "Doing something" about this level of immigration would have zero effect on the extent of our multicultural society. Only ethnic cleansing and forced repatriation would do this, and even UKIP isn't proposing this.

The objection to EU migrants is equally intellectually bereft. The two-way flow of people to and from Britain within the EU is, as every proper study shows, mutually beneficial. On the fringes there are those who come here to benefit from our Welfare State - but the numbers are insignificant. The vast majority of these immigrants add net value, just as the vast majority of working Britons add value when they move to another European country. UKIP can find stories of dysfunctional behaviour by Romanians or Poles if it digs enough. But as with their other positions they peddle prejudice not reason, lies not facts. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

UKIP plumbs the depths with lies, innuendo and deceit.

Politics is a dirty game at times but respectable political activists in Britain rarely sink this low. What the above shows is a large group of UKIP supporters posing in front of a campaign poster of such offensiveness and duplicity that it takes the breath away. Some of them may be stupid. OK, they could be in the right Party. But others, perhaps including the candidate Mr Clarkson (sic) know exactly what they are doing.

The reference in the slogan is to the 1400 victims of child abuse in Rotherham. It was a horrific story and the negligence of the (mostly) Labour council was culpable. But this is not a Council election. It is a vote for a Police Commissioner in South Yorkshire. Labour's candidate, the Reverend Dr Alan Billings, was a parish priest in Sheffield and is currently director of the Centre for Ethics and Religion at Lancaster University. He has nothing to do with Rotherham. He is entitled to ask for support and the issue of "trust" relates only to him. His track record is impressive.

There is code in play here. The Rotherham offences were commited by Pakistani heritage gangs. UKIP doesn't like the multi-ethnicity of places like Rotherham. The fact that the vast majority of British Asians are law-abiding gets UKIP no votes. So with barely disguised rhetoric they make a link between Labour and ethnic heritage criminals. "We know what you're thinking" as someone once said. 

Labour wasn't responsible for child abuse in Rotherham - although it's negligence was a contributory factor. The Labour candidate in this election had nothing at all to do with the events. Yet UKIP implicitLy slanders him and tries to make a link which isn't there. This is what this grubby apology for a political party does. Everyone knows what the bigots of UKIP are against. But what are they for? It certainly isn't truth or decency ... 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nigel Farage and me


A few years ago, before he became “famous”, I had dinner with Nigel Farage. A mutual friend, also called “Nigel”, invited me to join the two of them after we had all been at Lord’s cricket ground for the day. We met at a Malaysian restaurant in West Hampstead and as far as I can recall it was a pleasant evening. The two Nigels, like me, enjoyed the spicy food and Tiger Beer and that and a bit of cricket chat (mainly), was the purpose of the evening.

Farage is almost a generation younger than me – he was born in 1964, the year I left school and started work. But we have similar backgrounds. I grew up in the same part of West Kent as Farage and visited the same pubs in Downe Village (his home) and elsewhere. My father was a member of “West Kent Golf Club” (WKGC)  as is Farage. And I was at Farage’s school Dulwich College for three years in the 1950s. I know the world he comes from well.

The 19th hole at WKGC and the watering holes around the area were not known for their liberal debate. The house journal for the men was the “Daily Telegraph” and for the women the “Daily Mail”. My father, not a particularly political man, was at the heart of this for thirty years. They were, of course, all Conservatives in every way. Socially illiberal. Hangers and Floggers. Vehemently ant-Socialist. Their attitude to the working-class was generally either patronising (“Salt of the Earth”) or hostile (“Union trouble-makers”). They were against any social or what they saw as “intrusive” legislation. Especially if a car was involved. So Barbara Castle was a pariah for cracking down on drink driving and introducing the breathalyser and for making seat-belts compulsory. You get the picture. I don't recall my parents or their Golf Club friends as being particularly racist – black or Asian faces were rare in that part of Kent. But their world was a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant world and Catholics and Jews were certainly looked at with suspicion.

WKGC is a hilly course and you drive down a big hill and cross a small valley before climbing up to the Clubhouse. One day I was in my father’s car en route to the Club. I noticed at the bottom of the hill a wooden building with a corrugated roof. A few golfers were standing outside it. I asked my Dad what it was. “Oh that's the Artisans” he said. He explained that this group comprised working-class men who would not be able to “afford” proper membership of the Club. They had their own modest facilities, teed off from the 10th hole nearby. And were banned from the main clubhouse.

It does not follow that if you grew up in this world of privilege and narrowness then you developed political opinions like those of Farage. But it is fair to say that the majority did especially if, like Farage, you did not go to University but went straight into the City. Your mind certainly won’t be broadened by your friends in Downe’s “George and Dragon” ! The Conservative Party was the natural home for those politically active in West Kent. In the main they had political opinions not dissimilar to that of UKIP today – they were Right-Wing Conservatives who leaned far more towards Enoch Powell than they did to Edward Heath. Needless to say Margaret Thatcher was their heroine.

My dinner with the two Nigels was, as I have said, a pleasant evening. I don't recall Farage being particularly mad or outspoken. Although my politics are of the Left many of my friends and acquaintances are of the Right so there was nothing especially unusual about hearing a few traditionally rightist views from Nigel Farage . I’d been hearing similar for decades in my own family! I didn't take Farage seriously because he didn't seem to take himself seriously – it was well-lubricated pub banter and it seemed harmless.

The problem with Nigel Farage is not his unsavoury views about most things – you’ll hear similar all the time in the circles from which he comes. The problem, of course, is that Farage has had for some time platforms from which to spout his nonsense. My Dad and his friends didn't stand on soapboxes – they mumbled bigotry into their pint glasses and moved on to talk about rugby or cricket. Nobody would have elected them to anything more demanding than the Golf Club committee.

UKIP’s natural home is the members’ bar of West Kent Golf Club and its like across southern England. Sitting on their high stools the members would no doubt refer to “Good Old Nigel” as the “Sort of Chap who talks a lot of sense”. Dissenters (there would be some) would shrug their shoulders and smile – as I did over dinner. They might say that it was all “harmless” and that nobody was going to give Farage the keys to anything that really mattered. But now he has them, the keys to Britain's immediate political future. In Iain Dale’s Top 100 people of the Right he is at Number one – ahead of David Cameron. We may comfort ourselves that you can never fool all the people all of the time, but then you don’t need to. Dictators only get 100% of the votes when they gain power - not on their journey there.

There is no intellectual substance to UKIP’s policies – but there doesn't need to be. The support from the Golf Club bores is solid and secure. And now Farage is making serious inroads into the “Artisan” vote as well. To wander down the hill and knock on the door of the wooden building with the corrugated roof smiling your Cheshire Cat smile and pandering to the prejudices  of the people there is all in a days work for our Nigel.

You've been warned.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We didn't withdraw troops too soon from Iraq - we shouldn't have been there in the first place.

I wasn't alone to be uneasy about the rationale for the Iraq war and for the UK's involvement in it. But a chance encounter with a distinguished British journalist and political commentator back in the Autumn of 2002 was revealing. He was, and is, a man with his ear to the ground and with impeccable contacts and credentials. Politically he could be described of being of the sceptical Right. Not a Party man, but broadly a Conservative. He told me that he had it on good authority that Saddam was a real threat to Britain. I took this information on trust, as he had. I didn't suddenly become pro the War, but I wasn't going to call the British Prime Minister (who of course was propagating the "threat" allegation ) a liar. But, as we now know, Blair was lying.

We go to war on a lie. Our troops are killed without there being any honest justification for the adventure. We were part of an utterly botched exercise militarily, as we now so vividly see, and politically. We threw good troops in increasing numbers into a shambles. Some of them died too. The post war planning was non existent. We failed to understand even the first thing about the religio-political status of the region. We make a bad situation worse and kept on digging.

We didn't withdraw too soon. We shouldn't have been there in the first place. As someone said the one thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. The rhetoric recycles every few years. "Never let it be said that Britain stood idly by..," Eden? Thatcher? Major? Blair? Cameron? - all of them. Glory hunters trying to find Britain's post Imperial role and trying to be Churchill. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ken Clarke is right on immigration

@BBCMarkMardell: Ken Clarke,on Today warns against 'ignorance & bigotory' and says Conservatives shouldn't 'follow nonsense' about EU immigration

This issue gets caught in the Bermuda Triangle zone borderered by what is right, what is possible and what is electorally attractive. For the conscience-free polemicists of UKIP only the third thing matters.They can parrot the Anti-Immigration prejudices of the ignorant, the racists, the scapegoters and the rest without worrying too much about it. We are in Mosley/Powell/Griffin territory here. It stinks , but fortunately the vast majority of the British people will want no truck with it if we reach out to them and explain.

For respectable Parties the challenge is to do what is right, and what is possible. And then try and make THAT electorally attractive. It isn't easy to combat deep-seated prejudice but if you have a moral imperative backed by the rules of national and international law then you have a good chance. You don't need to persuade all the Kippers and their malignant leaders, and you won't. But people are concerned about the issue and you must reach out to them and explain. That is a duty. I hope the Tories accept it, it is important that they do. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Roderick Spodes will always be with us. On the margins of respectability. Let's keep them there.

Five years ago, after Nick Griffin's appearance on "Question Time", 22% of the British people said that they would consider voting BNP. Whilst one should be careful about reading too much into one poll this does ring true in the context of the rise of UKIP. That around a fifth of the British electorate are in, or lean towards, the Far Right is not particularly surprising. The message of extreme Nationalism, anti Europe, anti immigration has its gut appeal. And when there is confusion, often based on ignorance, then a seeking of scapegoats is understandable. Recently we have heard cringe-making interviews with UKIP supporters who parrot the scapegoating rhetoric of UKIP leaders without having any real understanding of the issues involved. Nigel Farage is not Nick Griffin - he is far more dangerous than the former BNP leader and a great deal cleverer. But deep down the UKIP appeal is not that different to that of the BNP.

It's worth repeating again the views of UKIP supporter and Daily Express columnist Leo McKinstry:

"An air of bewilderment and panic now grips the two main parties. But the explanation for Ukip's rise could hardly be simpler. It lies in the issue of immigration. Ukip has tapped into the growing despair of the public at the relentless transformation of our country."

The phrase "relentless transformation of our country" is of course code for "The presence of very large British Asian communities in our cities" - a consequence of past immigration in the post war decades. Although support for UKIP is more widespread than was the case for the BNP there is little doubt that the driving force, as McKinstry identifies, is the same - an objection to the ethnic diversity of modern Britain. 

Under Nick Griffin the BNP became, nominally anyway, less overtly racist. This was partly because the law required it to do this but also in an attempt for respectability. UKIP's rise since 2010 has been coincidental with the BNP's decline. But if you look at the BNP's manifesto in the 2010 General Election it is not that much different at its core to that of UKIP today. UKIP is appealing to that 20% or so of the electorate that survey back in 2009 identified. The Far Right supporters and sympathisers now have a "respectable" home for their votes and UKIP's credibility has been enhanced by the defectors from the Conservatives. David Cameron memorably called UKIP "... a bunch of ... fruit cakes and loonies and closet racists mostly". He may regret that now but as a description of the Far Right, from Mosley through Griffin to Farage, it's not bad shorthand. It is not a coincidence that the rise of UKIP has been at the same time as the decline of the BNP. The 80% of us who don't think like those of the Far Right must counter this latest manifestation of political extremism in the same way that decent British people did in the past. The Roderick Spodes will always be with us. On the margins of respectability. Let's keep them there. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Could more defections in the long run be advantageous to the Conservative Party?

The loyalty deficit in the Conservative Party is not a new phenomenon. Ask John Major. The Party that under Ted Heath had the vision to see that Britain's future was as an active member of a united Europe has for twenty years or more had a large lunatic fringe who want to undo all that has been achieved. 

In Government previous Tory Europhobes soon understand that it is overwhelmingly in Britain's interest to be part of the EU. But the antis - always outside the tent pissing in - won't go away. Until recently when the creation of UKIP has given some of them a home for their eccentric obsessions. There is a case for more defections releasing the pent up frustrations in the Tory ranks. Let the malcontents go if they want to. Regroup around a renewed One Nation, Internationalist and open Conservative Party. Indeed this may be the only way forward.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The bigotry and prejudice of Daily Express writer and UKIP supporter Leo McKinstry is disingenuous

"An air of bewilderment and panic now grips the two main parties. But the explanation for Ukip's rise could hardly be simpler. It lies in the issue of immigration. Ukip has tapped into the growing despair of the public at the relentless transformation of our country."
The above is from Right Wing commentator and UKIP sympathiser Leo McKinstry. It appeared in an article in the Daily Express which was linked in a Tweet by former Express journalist and now UKIP Communications Director (and MEP) Patrick O'Flynn. I think that what Mr McKinstry says is true. There is, as a result of UKIP's campaigning, disapproval in some quarters (maybe "despair" is a bit strong) about Britain's  "transformation" into a multicultural society. However this is a Fait Accompli and current immigration will have little effect on the quantum of this multiculturalism. So UKIP's Anti Immigration stance taps into this, as McKinstry is doing, but they can offer no "solution" because there is none. (Other than ethnic cleansing and forced repatriation - and I assume even Mr McKinstry isn't advocating that!)

Let me be clear. There are around 3 million Britons of Asian heritage. In the ten years between 2001 and 2011 only just over 500,000 (50,000 per year) came from India and Pakistan. I would suggest that these new arrivals were swiftly absorbed into the existing British Asian communities. I doubt that anyone will have noticed the difference. Membership of the EU means that we have had substantial immigration from EU countries over the same period - for example 531,000 Poles have arrived. Can anyone in UKIP tell us how this has "transformed" our country? Have parts of our cities turned into Little Warsaw? Of course not. And have these people from Poland caused any problems collectively and do they all intend to stay here, or are they mostly - as I suspect - working, saving money and will in due course return to Poland. 
The anti-immigration argument of McKinstry and of UKIP is not so deep down not about immigration at all. McKinstry has come out of the closet on this as did Nigel Farage when he complained about hearing foreign languages spoken on the train. These people simply don't like people of a different cultural background to theirs. "Relentless transformation of our country" is code for "parts of our cities having become Asian in appearance and culture". I don't want here to argue whether this change (which is undeniably true) is good or bad. I welcome it, but that is not my direct point here. That point is this. That stopping Immigration completely would have little or no affect on the "transformation of our country" - if this is how you want to describe it. It has happened. There is no rolling back. 50,000 more Asians arriving each year would only add 1% to the existing population, far less than is added by normal net demographics. And the 500,000 Poles are largely invisible and if more come (far from certain anyway) they would disappear as well.
Immigration, most studies show, is on balance economically advantageous to Britain. But immigrants do often look different, have different religions and a very different culture to the White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism of the Good Old Boys of UKIP. Leo McKinstry doesn't like immigrant cultures one bit - but his claim that there is currently "mass immigration" which is continuing to "transform" Britain is a lie. That transformation has happened and there is nothing that McKinstry or UKIP can do about it!
There are good people in Britain who focus on trying to make our multicultural society work better. Who try to break down barriers and build bridges across communities. And most Britons are tolerant of  differences. UKIP is different. I eschew generally throwing the "racist" epithet at anybody. But in Leo Mckinstry's case he condemns himself in his own words and in revealing his own bigotry and prejudice.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Troubled political times. The solution? I've no idea!

With the latest opinion poll having UKIP on 26% to Labour and the Tories at 31% each Britain is in danger of descending into ungovernable political chaos. UKIP's simple and single appeal - leave the EU to stop immigration - now strikes a chord with a quarter of the electorate. It is, of course, bolstered by a strong anti-establishment imperative. The LibDems, so "establishment" they are actually in Government, are vanquished as the (respectable) party of protest. Nobody agrees with Nick any more. Some thoughtful people are favouring the Greens who are doing well. But the Conservatives and Labour? Floundering.

The Tories lost Clacton and will lose Rochester. Labour came very close indeed to losing Heywood. Both have leaders who hold on to the real party faithful but don't retain the waverers nor attract previous non supporters. Labour is losing more support (to UKIP) than it is gaining from the LibDems. The Conservatives are just losing. The LibDems are a music hall joke. 

There is a void of leadership. Nigel Farage is a preposterous character straight out of an improbable SitCom. His nearest rival, in public esteem, Boris Johnson, has a little more gravitas but is equally, to many, inconceivable as Prime Minister. Neither has the "common touch" - but that doesn't seem to matter. The socially superior David Cameron and the distant and uncomfortable Ed Miliband don't relate to the public at large either.

Matthew Parris, the Tory commentator that the Tories love to hate, blames voter ignorance. It's an elitist position, but has more than a kernel of truth in it. A UKIP supporter who phoned into LBC yesterday hadn't a clue about what UKIP's policies were - although he knew that they were against immigration. That was, for him, enough. Ignorance doesn't matter if it doesn't affect outcomes. The repulsive BNP, whose supporters have all now run to UKIP, was an uncomfortable irrelevance. Their supporters were ignorant racists but electorally they didn't do much damage. UKIP is different.

So what should Labour and the Conservatives do. To be honest I've no idea! They could try and steal UKIP's anti immigration clothes but they won't be believed. The Tories EU referendum promise has gained them nothing. If you don't like immigration or the EU you'll vote UKIP whatever the main parties say. 

Troubled times. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The "Third Way" between the extremes of political ideologies is notjust desirable - it's the reality, and it's right!

The conventional way at looking at politics is that there are essentially two ideologies. On the Right there is a belief in the "Market" and on the Left there is reliance on the "State". So conservatives will naturally look to private enterprise to provide value while socialists will seek to have state ownership of assets to do the same thing. "Value" here means goods and services  which citizens need or want or must have. Individually, or collectively as a populace.

While the extremes of political differences can be sketched out as above this is almost entirely theoretical and academic. No country has ever been governed from either of these extremes. Arguably pre-industrial society was largely free market but in those times the economy was overwhelmingly rural with systems being developed locally in very small units. The Monarch did not "manage the economy" - it managed itself. He would impose taxes on the people to fund his court or foreign wars, but it was really only as a tax collector that he impinged on the lives of ordinary people. 

As societies got more complex and when industrialisation and urbanisation occurred governance could no longer be left to the vagaries and gross inequalities of free market systems. It took a while but during the latter part of the nineteenth century the State gradually intervened setting standards, regulations and providing services. And, of course, in the twentieth century this increased hugely as Governments provided free education, healthcare and a host of other essential services. And the private sector was increasingly circumscribed in what it was permitted to do. 

In the post-war period in Britain and most other "Western" economies we have created "mixed economies". In essence the model is that almost everywhere there is a mix between what private enterprise does and what the State does. Decision-making has not been ideology free. The post war Attlee Government was unashamedly socialist and pursued nationalisation as a goal. The Thatcher Government of the 1980s was strongly free market and privatised swathes of the British economy that had been publicly owned. Since then there have been a few more sales of public assets - most recently that of the Royal Mail. And there has been some movement in the other direction - notably when Railtrack so incompetently managed the fixed assets of our railway system that these assets had to be taken back into public ownership as Network Rail. And Government also had to rescue some banks after the banking failures at the time of the financial meltdown seven years ago.

Many of the decisions that Governments have to take are on the public/private margins. The National Health Service is one of the major battlegrounds. Labour claims that parts of the NHS are being "privatised" and that Tory free market ideology is the driver. Well it depends what you mean by "privatisation" I think. To me, others disagree, privatisation applies only when assets are sold. If you retain ownership of assets, but contract out their operation, I don't see that really as privatisation. The BBC is publicly owned and publicly accountable. But many television and radio programmes are made for the BBC by third parties. This happens across the public sector, including in the NHS. So where do you draw the line? Disposal of public assets is a serious matter and when it is NHS assets the more so. The sale of part of the Charing Cross Hospital estate has caused an uproar and on the face of it justifiably so. Even if public services will be maintained elsewhere as the Department of Health claims is it really a good thing to relinquish valued assets in this way? But putting out part of the Health Service's operations to private sector tender is different.

Part of the objection to the private sector providing public services is not so much ideological (though it may be that) but about power. This takes one back to the winter of 1973/74 and Prime Minister Heath's battle with the National Union of Mineworkers. He felt that the NUM had too much power and he held an election based on the question "Who runs Britain?" The premise was that the mining sector was publicly owned and therefore ultimately Government's responsibility. He felt that necessary changes - pit closures especially - were being hampered by the Union. The NUM saw a decline in the mining industry as reducing their (the Union's) power and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) saw it as reducing Union power more generally - potentially. They were both right. Although Heath lost in 1974 Margaret Thatcher's victory over the miners ten years later led to a rapid loss of power for the NUM which in turn led to the decimation (literally!) of the British mining industry as well as to its privatisation.  Deep-mined coal output fell from 93m tons in 1980 to 13m tons today. And Union power has declined generally over this period as well with today few Private Sector businesses having Unions strongly influencing their freedoms to act in any meaningful way. The same does not apply to the Public sector!

The workplace pensions story is a good illustration of the differences between the public and the private sector. In the latter final salary "Defined Benefit" (DB) pension schemes have virtually disappeared as an offer to new employees (they still exist, of course, in established schemes for existing employee and pensioner members - albeit with reduced benefits in some cases). In the public sector DB schemes remain the norm and although many now base benefits on "Career average" rather than "Final" salary they are still schemes giving a guaranteed, adequate and largely predictable retirement income. This is far from the case in the private sector's Defined Contribution schemes which in terms of value to the pensioner are pale imitations of what public sector employees can expect to enjoy. Why the disparity? The main reason has to be that public sector employee benefits are protected by the Unions of which they are members whereas the disappearance (or weakening of power) of Unions in the private sector means that these employees have no such protection. 

To return to the NHS. There are twin and often incompatible forces at work here. On the one hand we as citizens want good, "free" at point of use healthcare. And as taxpayers we want that healthcare to be efficient and good value. I would argue that it really doesn't matter whether the person providing the specific healthcare service we need is directly employed by the Health Service, or not. If a nurse is provided by a third party provider rather than being an NHS employee I personally as a patient don't mind - so long as that person is competent and caring. And if that provider costs less than an NHS "owned" alternative then I, as a taxpayer, should applaud. As I said earlier this is contentious and a battleground. Not least because every service that transfers from public to private provision is likely to reduce Union power. Remember the miners! I am a supporter of Trades Unionism and believe in collective bargaining. I regret the disappearance of such bargaining from much of the private sector. That said good employers should in their own interests be sensitive to their employees needs whether their employees have Unions to help them or not. And where this isn't the case it is the duty of Government to step in and legislate protections. The minimum wage is the classic example of this.

So is there a "Third Way" between the ideologically "Right" position often called "Thatcherite" which is pro free-enterprise, anti Union, libertarian and anti regulation (on the one hand). And the ideologically "Left" position which favours State ownership, supports Unions and which argues for tighter controls on the private sector and, to an extent, on individual freedoms (on the other)? The answer of course is "Yes" - indeed there is no alternative (to coin a phrase !) to this more central position. Tony Blair's "New Labour" may have adopted the "Third Way" as a slogan but there was nothing new in it being our political norm - the Thatcher years (partly) aside. We have, as we have had for 50 years or more,  a "mixed economy" but, I would argue, this must not be cast in stone. When around 15% of Government expenditure goes on the NHS it would be irresponsible not to seek efficiencies. And if in some areas that means contracting out following competitive tenders, then so be it so long as the NHS remains publicly owned and publicly accountable, and broadly "free". Ideology should not stand in the way of efficiencies - nor should the preservation, as a goal, of Union power. (The same, incidentally, applied to education which is another big ticket item costing around a half of what the NHS costs). But there are also areas where the private sector is failing us and a much more publicly accountable provision of services is desirable - especially Water, Energy and Transport.

Private enterprise, at its best, gives customer value through competition. If you are choosing, say, a mobile phone the competition between the providers of the hardware, the retailers and the phone networks gives you a wide range of choices. It's your call. However when the competition is artificial, as it is with domestic water, gas or electricity supply, then that "choice" is phoney. Over time energy suppliers sharing single distribution networks and with similar costs will not differentiate themselves much - at least in their core business of gas/electricity supply. These services should be much more publicly accountable - not least because of the subsidy element in their finances. As far as water supplies are concerned in England and Wales this is covered by the worst form of business model of all - a private sector monopoly - or "licence to print money" as it's also known. A return to public ownership is desirable for water, gas and electricity - albeit that the ideal operational model might include a substantial amount of public/private partnership and "contracting out". The same applies to the railways where all the evidence is that the privately owned (= profit driven) model has failed. Public services need to generate margins which can be reinvested. But they don't need to generate profits which go to investors. Water, Gas, Electricity and the Railways Need to be run in the public interest as efficient "Not For Profit" activities.

To summarise my firm conviction is that in a sophisticated modern State like Britain a quantum shift to Right or Left is not just undesirable but impossible. That there are those who argue for strong neo-liberalism on the one hand or for Socialism on the other is healthy to further the debate. But the idea that we could segue even as far as (say) the United States with its broadly free market system or as far the other way as, say, Scandinavia with their strong social market norms is unlikely. Not least because our membership of the European Union places us at the heart of what is broadly a social-democrat consensus. The debate about, say, taxation is healthy and there will be differences about (for example) the extent of the progressive nature of our tax raising systems. And the link between tax revenues and public expenditure will always be a live issue. But the mixed economy and the Welfare State (albeit one somewhat reduced) are broadly non-negotiable pillars of how we are as a nation. No party could gain power with a promise to privatise the NHS and it won't happen - though, as I argue above, further moves to contracting out and to public/private partnerships are likely if efficiencies can be made. 

The room for manoeuvre in Britain is limited. Big changes like the taking back into public ownership of Energy, Water and the Railways will not be uncontentious! But the case for such services being user-driven rather than profit/dividend driven is a powerful one. It will require some clever business constructs to be created and it is essential to avoid the inefficiencies of the past in these areas. Above all we should do this not for ideological but practical reasons. This is not in any way a return to Labour's old "Clause IV" moment! Similarly making the NHS more efficient and creating service standards to be met irrespective of who provides the services is not back door privatisation. If these changes and indeed all of the above are seen as a case for the "Third Way" then so be it. Forward together!