Thursday, April 23, 2015

The lottery of education in Britain

The Education system in the United Kingdom is the most diverse and divisive in the free world. It almost defies belief the extent to which the haves can assure that their children go to good schools and the have-nots have to take pot luck. The richest haves can buy privilege at independent schools many of which are truly outstanding and all of which are very good. The next tier down in the haves heirarchy comprises the comfortably off with a decent family income who can convert a proportion of that income into the purchase of a family home in an area with good State schools. There is a precise correlation between income demographics and school performance. For most of the rest parents are subject to the serendipity of school standards which vary from the good to the appalling. 

I would never argue for levelling down. I support independent schools, academies, free schools ... indeed any school which educates our children well. But let us not delude ourselves that the existence of these good schools means that we have a good general system of education in Britain. We will only do that if we have education for all that gives genuine equality of opportunity. That is my objection to Labour's Academies and the Conservative's Free Schools. They both ( and they are very similar) took the eye of successive Education ministers off the ball of their primary task, which is to raise education standards across the board. 

Our education system needs a radical review. Boasting of the success of a Free School is one thing (and not all have been successful) but that is window dressing. This Government has added to the diversity of our system and frankly done little to raise overall standards. Many of the Free Scools are religious institutions adding to the already grotesque fact that all too many schools are religion-based and indoctrinate as well as teach. 

I want an education system that is fair. That has choice within it, but where choice is not a shibboleth to be pursued at the cost of ignoring the general but improving the particular. As with the Health Service education is a Public/Private partnership and you don't improve the quality of public provision by removing or inhibiting the private sector or by closing other good schools . But it is simply unacceptable in a civilised State (and a wealthy one) that the postcode determines the quality of our schools and that the average standard is so far behind the best. If Labour believes that it can raise the average standard by concentrating efforts on ways and means other than the establishment of more elitist schools for the lucky that's fine by me.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

On Love !

"Romantic Love" is the favourite subject of creative writers in every medium and every culture. Indeed such love is crucial to all or part of the vast majority of plays, novels, poems and the rest. It dominates popular song and Grand Opera alike. It inspires sculptors and artists even composers of orchestral music. It is all around, and it's wonderful.

So what is "Romantic Love" ? Is it a phenomenon that cannot be defined, but you know it when you see it or better still experience it? And how do we separate it from related ideas like, physical attraction, lust and friendship? How do we know when we're "in love"? Indeed is that very idea more than an abstract and a sentimental one? 

As human beings we are separated from the rest of the animal kingdom by many things, and love is one of them. It's perhaps marginal, some creatures other than man do establish monogamous lifetime bonds but that is comparatively rare. And evolution tends to favour those with practical benefits and who look to be good breeding material. This is the antithesis of love.

In Jane Austen there is a clear distinction made between those who will make good husbands (occasionally wives) because of their wealth and status and those who have romantic potential. When the two combine that is the perfect situation. How many young men and women in our times have fallen for what they are told are "unsuitable" men or women? The courageous ones ignore the advice of others and let "Amor vincit omnia" - but how many bow to convention and deny themselves and their prospective partner happiness? And how many drift into loveless marraiges with "suitable" partners who turn out to be someone else's choice rather than their own - often in more ways than one.

The thing about "true love" is that it's unpredictable. This worries me a bit about dating agencies. They seem to bring "compatible" people together but isn't it all a bit soulless? You can love somebody who is by any conventional measure not "suitable" and with whom the data suggests you will not be compatible. Indeed these are often the strongest love matches of all. I knew one senior executive in Shell who was, you would think, your archetypical pin suited bore. His wife was extrovert, noisy, gossipy and fun. Was she the classic Director's partner? Not really. Was it a successful marriage. Absolutely!

When you look at the extraordinary love match between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor who see that love is not always easy. In that extraordinary union with its on-off character and its uber-powerful sexual element you see a wonderful real life love story played out in the bright light of the public eye. This was as far removed from some phoney Hollywood romance as you could imagine. 

I have no doubt that the words "I love you" have been used and abused since the beginning of time. But when they are said with sincerity and when they are accompanied by that tightness across the chest and that shortness of breath that signifies "Love" - that moment of sublimation of everything else (including perhaps reason !) - well that's rather special isn't it?

Monday, April 06, 2015

The melting pot, and the Tebbit "cricket test" in modern Britain

"Take a pinch of white man
Wrap it up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of Red Indian boy

Curly Latin kinkies
Mixed with yellow Chinkees
If you lump it all together
Well, you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh, what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you know

What we need is a great big melting pot..."

Blue Mink's song "Melting Pot" dates back to 1969 a time when a solution to lack of racial harmony and tolerance was seen to be greater assimilation of non majority communities in society. The admirable starting point was the obvious, but not always believed or accepted, premise that under our skins we are all the same. Nearly 50 years on the melting pot idea has not vanished. Take this from David Cameron: 

"Our [British] values have a vital role to play in uniting us. They should help to ensure that Britain not only brings together people from different countries, cultures and ethnicities, but also ensures that, together, we build a common home...We are making sure new immigrants can speak English, because it will be more difficult for them to understand these values, and the history of our institutions, if they can’t speak our language...We are bringing proper narrative history back to the curriculum, so our children really learn our island’s story – and where our freedoms and things like our Parliament and constitutional monarchy came from...Britain has a lot to be proud of, and our values and institutions are right at the top of that list. It’s not just important to promote, understand and celebrate these things for their own sake; it is absolutely vital to our future. And that is why I’m absolutely committed to doing  in so."
Fair enough you might say. But what about the cultural heritage, language and traditions of the immigrant  communities? Are they not worth preserving as well? If I was of, say, Indian heritage and a Hindu I would, perhaps, want to maintain my religion and that heritage. Does it make me less British if I worship in a temple and speak Hindi at home ? Clearly no British citizen should act in a way that is contrary to the mores of the majority of British people. But that "common home" Cameron speaks of does not have to be uniform and monocultural. If a second or third generation immigrant wishes to assimilate and adopt a lifestyle indistinguishable from that of his white Anglo-Saxon neighbours that's his choice. But is that in some way more admirable than the individual who prefers to retain his heritage lifestyle, language, religion and dress? Providing in doing this he stays within the law I would say not.
There are elements of the "melting pot" in multicultural Britain, but there is also plenty of continuing cultural diversity as well. And if a young third generation Indian, born and bred in Bradford chooses Virat Kohli as his cricketing role model rather than Joe Root does it matter? Of course not. 

Friday, April 03, 2015

Political murmurings.....


Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, was impressive in the Leaders' televised debate. What she said made a lot of sense to anyone whose politics are progressive. My reaction is I suspect typical of English liberals unattached to any nationalist sentiments. She was smart enough to keep her "Independece for Scotland" agenda well buried (one brief mention). And her fellow leaders, amazingly, didn't try and expose Ms Sturgeon for her and her Party's raison d'être - the break up of the United Kingdom.

Ms Strurgeon is playing a long game. Her predecessor, in his cups after the emphatic win for the "No" campaign in the referendum, said that the matter was settled for a "generation". Then something remarkable happened. The "45" - as they christened themselves - instead of fading away got a new strength from somewhere. They focused not directly on Independence, per se, but on the Westminster elite who - as they saw it - conspired to deny them. Labour were the main casualties of this though the Liberal Democrats seem to have been mortally wounded in Scotland as well.

Electoral Reform

Scots in large numbers flooded to join the SNP. And the polls moved so emphatically in the Party's direction that a near wipe out for Labour and the LibDems seems likely at the General Election. With the First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system there is a breakthrough zone at which under-representation becomes over-representation. The SNP has passed this comfortably in the polls and they could have as many as 50 MPs (out of 59) for just under 50% of the vote. 

Meanwhile down South we have UKIP likely to get 10-15% of the English vote but no more than one or two MPs. The Greens will be similiarly grossly under-represented in Parliament. About the only issue on my I agree with Nigel Farage is electoral reform. FPTP is simply undemocratic. Which is why it is not used in Scotland, a Northern Ireland or Wales for their own legislatures. And why it's not used for the European Parliament elections either. 

One thing that might happen after the election is a demand for PR. A multi-party system, which we now have, requires a fair voting system. The SNP should not have 85% of the seats for 50% of the vote. And UKIP should not have perhaps less than 1% of the seats for maybe 15% of the vote. 

The Media

Ed Miliband did pretty well in the debate - no gaffes and an engagingly strong performance. Theost debate polls, though they varied a bit, confirmed this. So what about The Sun and the Daily Telegraph front pages ?

It's hard to be sanguine about this sort of thing. It brings the media into disrepute when to large circulation newspapers lie so outrageously. It won't, sadly, be a one off! 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

For me Tactical voting in Twickenham this time around won’t do!

In the first General Election of 1974 the Liberal Party gained 19.3% of the vote – their highest since Lloyd George in 1929. But they only won 14 seats – a hugely disproportionate number. Over the next five elections they ( and their successors) ranged from 13.8% (1979) to 25.4% (1983) but their seat total never exceeded the 23 they secured in 1983. Then, in 1997, a breakthrough occurred. Although in that Labour landslide year the (now) Liberal Democrats vote fell to 16.8% they more than doubled their seats to 46 – and this was to rise to 62 in 2005 against 22% of the vote that year. What was happening?

The answer to the question as to how the LibDems improved their seat numbers even though their percentage of the votes only went up a few percentage points is twofold. Firstly excellent organisation on the ground. Second tactical voting.


Percentage votes:
























In my Constituency of Twickenham (see above)  the breakthrough came in 1997 when, despite the Labour vote rising on Tony Blair’s coattails, Vince Cable won the seat for the LibDems for the first time (they had been in second place since 1974). At the next three elections the Labour vote fell with the Conservative vote shifting little. Significant numbers of Labour tactical voters almost certainly voted for Cable to block the possibility of the Conservatives regaining the seat. Between 1997 and 2010 the Labour vote fell from 9065 to 4583 (-4482) while the LibDem vote increased from 26237 to 32483 (+6246). Cause and effect.

The point here is that not all voters voted tactically – Labour had a residue of 4583 votes in 2010 – but that sufficient did to help Vince Cable turn Twickenham into a “safe” LibDem seat

The First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system makes some people do strange things! I am a natural Labour supporter, but I haven't voted Labour for more than fifteen years! It seemed to me that in Twickenham the best anti Conservative option was to vote for Cable, a good constituency member and as an ex Labour and SDP man - my sort of person. Or so I thought!

Vince Cable has been a Cabinet Minister throughout the Cameron years. He has been loyal (good, I suppose) but hardly a force for liberalism (except, perhaps, economic neo-liberalism). Cable contributed to the 2004 LibDem “Orange Book” and while to the Left of other contributors like David Laws and Nick Clegg he remains in that broad neo-liberal economic consensus that many if not all Conservatives share. In 2010 Cable said:

"The Lib Dems never were and aren't a receptacle for left-wing dissatisfaction with the Labour party. There is no future for that; there never was."

As I have hinted I voted tactically in 2010 and in previous General Elections. Labour was not going to win in Twickenham and frankly Vince was the next best thing. So what about the 2015 General Election next month?


I don't want the Conservatives to be in Government but with The national LibDem vote falling spectacularly (possibly to the lowest level since 1959 when the Liberals got 5.9%) they are under pressure - here in Twickenham as well. The Labour Candidate Nick Grant (in the picture with me above) seems a good man but the hill he has to climb from the 7.7% Labour got in 2010 is steep. But a recent poll (below) suggests that he is climbing it. It also suggests that the Tories have overtaken the LibDems. Cable has a fight on his hands!




So what to do? My tactical vote for Vince Cable in 2005 and 2010 wasn't really necessary but this time around he might need it. And yet I’ve decided he hasn't earned it (please excuse the personalisation of the argument!). I'm going to vote Labour. If Nick Grant over the rest of the campaign can prise a few more percentage points away from Cable it could be interesting. On the other hand in doing so he could let the Conservatives slip in!

When I met Grant recently he argued rather well that we should do what our consciences tell us, and see what happens. This resonates with me. Tactical voting is all very well but in truth voting tactically for Vince Cable in 2010 didn't really work did it? He was part of a Tory dominated Cabinet - so why should I vote for him potentially to do this again? And if others in sufficient numbers think like me well we may get a Conservative MP in Twickenham for the first time for nearly twenty years. Or we might, just, get a Labour MP – well that would be a turn-up for the book wouldn't it!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

General Election 2015–First thoughts on the likely outcome


Cameron's "Sneering socialists" was a big mistake. Those of us who won't be voting Conservative generally don't sneer (though some do!) and are not Socialists (though some may be). What we are is a mixed bag of people who see the Tories as the problem not the solution. That's a done deal. What for some is not yet done is the anti-Conservative choice we make.

I doubt that there will be many Labour ->Conservative switchers in this election and not many in the other direction either. The battle ground is for the Tories (and Labour to a lesser extent) to haul support back from UKIP. For Labour to persuade previous LibDem voters to support them this time. And for Labour somehow to make the likely disaster in Scotland not TOO disastrous.

I have a feeling that the LibDems will lose support across the board, but hang on in many seats in England where they have a sitting MP and/or a very good operation on the ground. Away from their incumbency seats I expect the LibDems to collapse and for most of their votes to go to Labour. This will give Labour many gains from Tories as the LibDem vote moves not to them.

I do not expect Labour ->UKIP switchers to damage Labour much. In seats where it happens the Tories are weak so despite some loss of votes Labour should hold on.

The Tory ->UKIP switch is potentially damaging to the Conservatives in seats where Labour was a good second last time. This is the second good source of Labour gains.

In the campaign these are the Party priorities:

  • LibDems: Hold on for dear life where they currently have an MP. Forget the rest.
  • Tories: Persuade UKIP defectors to return to the fold
  • Labour: Claw back in Scotland. Make sure ex LibDem voters turn to you not anyone else.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The model for British constitutional reform might be in Helsinki...

I was in Helsinki for a couple of days last week. The Finnish model is the classic Scandinavian social democratic one and it seems to work. A country with a distinct culture, language and patriotism seems confident and comfortable in its skin. A northern land of 5.5m people once subject to domination by much bigger neighbours is now successful as an independent entity. Bit of a parallel there?

I abhor the idea of a separate Scotland outside the UK. But Finland suggests it would work. If I, as a proud Briton not a Little Englander, can accept this then our political leaders need to wake up to the reality. Quite how we keep the UK together whilst keeping Scotland in it I'm not sure. A much greater degree of autonomy for Holyrood. A solution to the over-representation of Scottish MPs at Westminster. A permanent solution of the West Lothian question are part of it. It's taken a while to realise that a part of our nation is essentially Scandinavian! But that is true and it's the start point for what we do next. 

The Scots' antagonism to Westminster that could give the SNP almost a clean sweep in the General Election is a political earthquake. If we want Scotland to stay part of the UK then we need reform - major reform. I would make that an important part of a proper, comprehensive study into Electoral Reform across the UK. The principle of "subsidiarity" - the idea that you take decisions at the lowest level practicable - should drive this. I would delegate almost everything other than Foreign Affairs to Holyrood. Taxation will be a challenge - common rates of VAT and tax allowances across the UK would be essential of course - but there should be flexibility on local taxes.

If Westminister loosens its grip over Scotland there is no reason why it should not do the same for Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. The latter is difficult as we don't have Regional assemblies and the construct of a Region is much less coherent than that of nation. We don't want more Government, just better Government! And we must also have an elected upper chamber if we decide that we need an Upper House at all (not a foregone conclusion - neither the Scots nor the Finns have more than one House!). 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Socialism may, as Jamie Foster says, be "entirely wrong". But in Britain we've never really tried it !

The above Tweet, from one of Twitter's most active members of the political "Right" is rather nostalgic for me. It takes me back to me childhood when my Mum and Dad would express similar thoughts about the perils of Socialism. Neither of my parents was particularly politically aware and they were not activists. They voted Conservative as a matter of course, as did the rest of my family on both sides. My Uncle, however, was an activist and should have been a Tory MP. He was offered a (then) safe seat in Cornwall in the early 1950s but his father stood in his way to protect the family business - a hotel in which my Uncle was the hands on Manager. I think my Uncle would have done well in national politics but he had to restrict himself to Cornwall where he became the long-serving Chairman of the County Council. 

I mention my family because I think that their attitude to Socialism was very typical of much of the Middle Class at the time. They regarded the immediate post war years (the Attlee Government) not with pride but with anger. The problem was "Socialism" - essentially Labour's decisive moves towards "Common Ownership" - Nationalisation. With hindsight, however, this "Socialist" Government  is, rightly in my view, rather more highly regarded cross the political spectrum. Take this for example from a Conservative  writing in 1995:

"Clement Attlee...I was an admirer. He was a serious man and a patriot. Quite contrary to the general tendency of politicians in the 1990s, he was all substance and no show. His was a genuinely radical and reforming government."

This was Margaret Thatcher's view of Attlee as expressed in her own memoir! So was Attlee's Government as well as "radical and reforming" also "Socialist"? I would argue that it was, but not strongly so. And that further that it was the only truly, but mildly, socialist administration that Britain has ever had. The socialism of Attlee was not particularly extreme. Chips Channon - a Right Wing Conservative writing in his diary of a meeting with Attlee in 1940 said of him "...he seems more Liberal than actually Socialist: but he could never control the energies of his wilder followers." Hindsight teaches us that Channon was half right - Attlee was certainly no firebrand Red and was firmly in the Liberal tradition. But he did "control" the more extreme members of his Party. To such an extent that famously, In 1951, Aneurin Bevan resigned from the government in protest at the introduction of prescription charges for dental care and spectacles. 

The Bevanites never took over Labour except, perhaps, when Michael Foot was leader for three years in the early 1980s. Oddly the leadership of "Red Mike" (as the Tory press didn't call him, but would now!) was the death knell of hard core Socialism in Labour. This was formalised under Tony Blair when "Clause 4" of the  Party Constitution, which called for "...the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange", was abandoned for good. 

In his seminal book "The Future of Socialism" published in 1956 Tony Crosland argued as follows:

"In Britain, equality of opportunity and social mobility... are not enough. They need to be combined with measures... to equalise the distribution of rewards and privileges so as to diminish the degree of class stratification, the injustices of large inequalities and the collective discontents."

The means to do what the Social Democrat Crosland saw as Labour's goal were not traditionally socialist means - the extension of "Common Ownership" played little or no part in them. The way to the victory of the Social Democrats in Labour, of the inheritors of the Gaitskell and the Jenkins and the Crosland tradition, was paved by the Wilson and Callaghan Governments of the 1960s and 1970s. And the Foot period, on the face of it a setback, actually helped as it led to the creation of the "Social Democratic Party" (SDP) which was the precursor of Blair's   "New Labour" in almost every respect.

Margaret Thatcher was as "radical and reforming" as Attlee - which is no doubt why she admired him of course. And without Thatcher there would have been no SDP, no Blair and no "New Labour" . By privatising some publicly owned assets Thatcher did make a major shift in the public/private mix of the Economy. None of these privatisations were subsequently overturned by Blair and Brown. Indeed as David Marquand puts it in his 2013 book "Mammon's Kingdom":

"market principles would reign...supreme..The Thatcher and Major governments bequeathed that vision to their successors; despite differences of emphasis here and there, it has encapsulated the common sense of most of the political class, most of the commentariat and most of the business elite for the best part of a generation."
Another crucial change of the accepted status quo is in regard to social liberalism. When Bevan said in 1948:

"No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party... So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin."
he was referring to a Conservative Party that was not only deeply resistant to change, and in particular to the National Health Service, but socially illiberal. Intolerance took a long time to fade away - but it did. Some will still call the Conservatives the "Nasty party" - and there are certainly some very nasty people in, though quite a few have decamped to UKIP! But in the main Marquand is right. Labour has not been "socialist" for a long time, and nor have the Tories overthrown such key pillars of our mixed economy society as the NHS . The ideologists of both sides have given way to the pragmatists.

To return to Mr Foster's tweet which prompted these thoughts. He may be right that pure Socialism is "entirely wrong" , but in Britain we can't really say that because its never been tried! I'm not advocating that it should be - I am arguing only that the charge by the likes of Mr Foster and his fellow travellers that Ed Milliband ("Red Ed") is some sort of crypto-socialist is risible.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Guido and Harry's little Tank comes to defend their mate Jeremy.

We live in a country with a decent record of protest. The rights of citizens to march in the streets to oppose what they see as wrongs being done by those in power is part of our (unwritten) constitution. We may disagree with specific protests but most of us would buy the Voltairean maxim "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  So how should we react to the stunt perpetrated by the Right Wing bloggers Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) and his buddy Harry Cole? They used a military vehicle (rather like Gruber's "little Tank" in "Hello Hello") to present a petition with, apparently, one million signatures on it demanding that the BBC reinstate Jeremy Clarkson.

Fawkes is a curious character. He is a militant libertarian and though instinctively conservative he is as critical, sometimes, of the Conservative party as he is of Labour. It is the liberal establishment that is mostly in his sights. When push comes to shove, which it will very soon, he'll probably back the Tories - though he has implied approval of UKIP in the past. He despises the BBC and it is the combination of this, the libertarianism and the wish always to zig when the liberals are zagging that lies behind his armoured car mounted protest.

Jeremy Clarkson is Jack the Lad. The "card" who entertains us with skill, but also with outrage. The skill is undeniable. "Top Gear" is a hugely successful television programme which even those of us who avoid it like the plague must admit has high popular appeal. And it makes lots of money. The "outrage" element of the Clarkson persona is his obvious hatred of political correctness and his refusal to adhere to the behavioural norms that most in public life feel they have to follow. He's not alone in this, but he is perhaps the most visible. And the million people who signed Fawkes' petition no doubt like Clarkson as much for his outspokenness as for his broadcasting talents.

Clarkson' track record - summarised here by Sky - is abysmal. He is privileged and famous, rich and revered, friend of politicians and many in the public eye. Others who have these advantages manage also to be decent people. Clarkson has an arrogance and a contempt for others that is incompatible with his position of privilege. He is not some oddball on the fringes of fame. He is one of Britain's "celebs" and as such, whether he likes it or not, a role model. If he can get away with the things he does and says then why shouldn't I ?

The libertarian Guido Fawkes and his friends seem to believe that Clarkson has the right to transgress as much as he likes - freedom ahead of decency you might say. The Prime Minister, more cautiously, agrees - otherwise why would he publicly support him ? The liberal establishment just doesn't like Clarkson who is a serial offender against their (our) values. Politically we are in UKIP territory here. Indeed Nigel Farage shares many of the Clarkson personality traits and his railing against the "LibLabCon" establishment is similiar to the contempt that Clarkson holds for it. However Clarkson, ever the contrarian, has denied any leaning to UKIP - in an interview with Radio Times he said:

“I’m massively pro-European so it becomes rather difficult to support a party that wants primarily to get you out of Europe. Anyway there doesn’t seem to be a party for UKIP there’s just one man in a Barbour with a pint and a fag"

Jeremy Clarkson pro-Europeanism may seem a surprise (a welcome one !). But it does suggest a  perverse individuality and a refusal to be typecast. It is a shame that he could not combine these admirable qualities with compassion and a greater determination not to offend. He is never going to be a liberal and nobody should ask him to be one. But a bit of "Noblesse Oblige" would not go amiss - and would avert the need for the shadier figures on the Right of our politics  to appear in armoured vehicles to defend him.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The SNP didn't win Scotland. The ignorance and myopia and incompetence of Britain's non nationalist parties lost it.

SNP 42
Labour 11
LibDem 3
Conservative 3

The above is Iain Dale's prediction of the outcome of the General Election in Scotland. 

I have no reason to challenge Iain's conclusions that Scotland is lost to United Kingdom politics. Sadly. Suffice to say this earthquake is the most depressing event in my long life watching the British political scene.

Nationalism is the scourge that brought us unimaginable horrors in the first half of the 20th Century. As Britons, united, we triumphantly fought and won over nationalism. And now our three mainstream political Parties have so failed north of the border that they have conceded Scotland to the nationalists with their snake oil and their myopia and their lies.

 The Tories gave up when Margarat Thatcher decided the Scots were suitable guinea pigs for her ideological experiments. The LibDems gave up by going into coalition with the Consetvatives. And Labour gave up by arrogance. By assuming that their principled position in the #IndyRef didn't need a core underpinning on the ground. That Scotland was theirs and always would be. Remember Labour is in opposition at Holyrood. Labour has been losing Scotland for a decade or more. 

The United Kingdom was at risk at the Referendum. Ironically, despite the "No" vote it is at greater risk than ever now. Thank you Tony Blair. Thank you Gordon Brown. Thank you David Cameron. You've destroyed my Nation. May you rot in hell. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A lovely metaphor for how civilised societies are fairer to those in need.

This wandered on to my timeline on Twitter this morning. I hadn't seen it before. It's very good. Whether we think that the situation on the right is perhaps better described as "Fairness" than "Justice" is open to debate. The words in a civilised society are close synonyms anyway. Justice should always be blind and even-handed whereas "Fairness" does positively discriminate in favour of the disadvantaged. What I like about the metaphor is that there is a strong element of "To each according to need" about it. This presupposes that an external authority of some sort, seeing the tallest boy on a box he didn't need, made the tall boy gave it to the little chap. Or did the tall boy do it voluntarily? Was he being altruistic realising that the small advantage he got from the box wasn't justified if the smallest boy couldn't see at all?

What about ownership? The tall boy perhaps owned his box and he was perhaps being forced to surrender something he owned for the collective good. Three boys comfortably watching the cricket is better than two. The rearrangement for society as a whole is net positive. "Equality" is analogous in this illustration with equal benefits irrespective of need - the "Winter Fuel Allowance" for example which goes at the same rate to all elderly people irrespective of need. Similarly nearly all households must pay for a TV Licence at the same rate irrespective of their ability to pay. VAT and excise duties are the same. Regressive taxation is equal, but unfair. Progressive taxation is unequal, but fair. 

The picture on the left is a metaphor for a society where all are expected to stand on their own feet and have equal resources to do this. The picture on the right is a society where some forego benefits, for whatever reason, in order to help others. The tall boy can still see the cricket, albeit from not quite as high a vantage point. He gives up some utility for the "common good". 

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Great European Disaster Movie - the fightback for the hearts and minds has begun

The Great European Disaster Movie

Many of us who are strongly pro Britain in the European Union have been arguing for some time that the case for Europe needs to be made more strongly. The economic, political and business case is well made, but at a intellectual and  cerebral level. The case against is polemical and made by a direct appeal not to the intellect but to the emotions. And when reason faces emotion it is not always reason that wins. In “The Great European Disaster Movie” the ground has at last shifted. The rational case for Britain in Europe was made by Bill Emmott, Peter Mandelson and others and it was familiar. It was supported by strong arguments from politicians from across Europe. Notably a Dutchman who said “If you felt things were wrong in your Country would you propose the dissolution of your country?” (The answer to his question is, of course, that no rational man would -  but try persuading Alex Salmond or a Catalan nationalist of that!)

Nationalism was very much the elephant very visibly in the room in this “drama documentary”. The assertion that nationalism was the principal cause of the disasters of the years 1914-1945 should not be contentious, and it isn't. That forty years after the end of the Second World War it was still massacring people in the Balkans was a chilling reminder of its dangers. That it is still doing so in Ukraine was another. 

The German woman who showed the medals that her immediate ancestors had won in two World Wars, whilst remarking that there had been no medals necessary  for her or her children’s generation, was an articulate proponent of the peace dividend of European Unity. The Eurosceptics burst onto the social media at this saying that it was NATO or something else that should really be praised. They know that their scepticism has been revealed for the nationalism it really is. The programme was strong on the benefits to Europe of partnership leading to peace, and rightly so. As Churchill put it “Jaw Jaw” is always preferable to “War War”.

If the peace dividend was an appeal to the emotions the solid evidence of cross-Europe partnerships and commonality of culture and purpose was no less so. OK to use the example of the Austrian drag artist Conchita Wurst as being evidence of European unity was a bit over doing it, but only a bit!  The Croatian photographer enjoying the sunshine on a peaceful  island in his country, where once he had photographed dead children as the nationalists fought a terrible civil war, was powerful imagery as well. 

So what are we up against those of us who believe in the European project? The programme makers went to Margate for the answer and followed a UKIP councillor around. Mo, a Daily Mail reading woman of, I would guess about my age (68) was articulate in promoting the UKIP case. As always it was the case against  rather than any sort of case for. We were straight into scapegoating territory here;  the EU, immigrants, the political establishment. It was mind-blowingly ill-informed and dogmatic. And like her Party leader it was an appeal to the gut and to ignorance. There was a brief clip of an assertive Nigel Farage giving his stump speech as well, and very scary it was. He isn't the first British politician to try and scare us – let's hope that like his forebears he doesn't succeed.

“Nationalism brought hell to the people of this region” said the Croatian photographer and so it did. A hell like the hells of the Blitz, or of the Somme. The solution for Ukraine has to be a European solution – which is which that dangerous nationalist Vladamir Putin fears it. Hegel said that “we learn from history that we do not learn from history”. Well maybe so  if the likes of Nigel Farage on the one hand and the petty nationalists of Scotland and Catalonia on the other get their way. The opponents of division are intellectually strong and have the moral high ground, but that isn't enough. There are plenty of those on the right and the left in Europe who want to divide and rule. 

I felt that “The Great European Disaster Movie” was a welcome attempt to get to the  heart of the case for partnership and unity in Europe. The first of many I hope. For too long the appeal to the emotions has been from the antis. The fight back has begun.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Energy suppliers and the price comparison websites take us for fools.

There are two frauds going with Energy supply. The first is the basic premise that one supplier over time will be cheaper than another. There is no reason why this should be true, and it isn't. The fundamentals of Gas and Electricity supply are the same for all the suppliers. The raw materials cost of gas/electricity, the cost of distributing it  to the home and the costs of marketing do not vary much between suppliers. The need to invest and to pay shareholders dividends are much the same as well. No one supplier has a cost advantage that they can convert to a permanent price advantage. What they do is continuously run tactical price-led campaigns to try and encourage switching. In the very short term a consumer can save, but over time swings and roundabouts cut in and there is little point.

The second fraud is the price comparison websites. They serve the needs of the suppliers to induce switching and are rewarded with commission payments when they succeed. The implication that you can save (say) £210 a year by switching from one supplier to another is highly specious (read the small print if you doubt it!). What they do is gross up the tactical offer from Supplier A and compare it with your current price from supplier B. But in a few weeks time Supplier B could have a similar tactical offer...or Supplier C or Supplier D for that matter. 

So what should the consumer do, stick with one supplier and engage with them. Make sure that you let them know you are monitoring prices and that you expect them to be competing over time. And that you expect the best tariffs. There is little point in continually switching supplier. You only feather the nest of the price comparison websites as well as spending time "researching" when you've got better things to do ! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

No ifs and buts - to be elected to Parliament gives you a full time and well paid job!

The idea that you would have a job in public service for which you are paid a salary higher than the earnings of all but 3% of the population and not regard it as "full time" is offensive. And yet that is what the disgraced Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind is saying and so is his erstwhile colleague Lord Heseltine, among others. 

The competition to be selected to contest a Parliamentary seat is intense in all the major parties. For anyone interested in politics, ambitious and with a bias for service to be a Member of Parliament must be the dream job. And it is a big job as well. You serve the interests of an electorate of, on average, 70,000 people and their families. They come first because they have a right to demand your attention and your help. 

Constituency work is the core of an MPs job. In addition the MP has a duty to his electorate to represent their interests in Parliament. He or she is not a delegate and is expected to use their own judgment on issues, and it is accepted that they will be loyal to his Party. That is the next layer up in the job – in part the rather demeaning “lobby fodder” role but that aside the duty to be an active member of the legislature.

The hard graft work of Parliament is in the many Committees. Here the “humble” MP can come into his or her own. Studying and revising legislation, challenging witnesses and ministers and so on. 

Finally an MP may become a Minister or Shadow Minister. There are 120 of the former each of which brings with it a fully accountable portfolio of responsibilities. Not all MPs want to be a minister (and not all ministers are MPs of course, some sit in the House of Lord’s) but most do. Not, I suspect, because of the additional salary that being a minister brings with it but because to do a ministerial job is the pinnacle of a political career, especially if it is in Cabinet.

So what is an MPs job? It is, from the moment he or she is elected, to be part of the active fabric of our national politics – of our governance as a nation. How an MP’s time is spent depends on the nature of their parliamentary and, for some, ministerial work. I have been told in the last few days (not least by Sir Malcolm Rifkind) that to be an ordinary MP is not a full time job and further that there is a comparison between the case of the MP who has “another job” as a minister or shadow minister and the Rifkind example. That is that an MP’s active pursuit of income outside of Parliament and Party and Politics is analogous to the fact that another MP may have “another job” as a minister. This is bunkum. To be a minister is part of the public service role for which you were elected – as is, for example, to be a member of a Parliamentary committee. 

Malcolm Rifkind has made no friends with his claim that he had the right to supplement his MP’s salary of £67,060 because he wanted to “have the standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have”. Aside from the fact that with his MP’s salary alone  Rifkind is close to the top of the earners league in Britain there is the implication that to feather his own nest during the working week on non public service work is acceptable. It may be common, and MPs may always have done it but is it acceptable? I would suggest not. 

Can you imagine a High School teacher, average salary £30,000, saying that he or she would work the hours they choose for this salary turning up at their school when they feel like it because  they need to pursue  additional earnings outside to which their “professional background” entitles them?  Oh and they would use the insider knowledge accruing to them from their teaching job and experience to help them get this lucrative outside work!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Send in the Clowns time in South Thanet

"Meet the Ukippers"

The BBC was allowed what seems to have been total access to the UKIP Party workers on the ground in South Thanet – the Constituency for which Party leader Nigel Farage hopes to be elected as Member of Parliament in the upcoming General Election. The programme has become famous because of the views of Councillor  Roxanne Duncan, a dim-witted and openly racist woman in her mid sixties who is one of two UKIP members of the local Council. She revealed deep-seatedly prejudiced views directed at “negroes” or “people with negroid features”. Among other things she said:

 “A friend of mine said “what would you do if I invited you to dinner and put you next to one?” I said I wouldn’t be there. Simple as that.”

Ms Duncan’s honesty was curiously refreshing - repellent though her views are. Her fellow activists, a bit more media savvy, were much more circumspect. The Branch Chairman Martyn Heale, had a rather large skeleton in his cupboard – he was once a member of the neo-Nazi “National Front” and seemed irritated that people keep mentioning this. He was the sort of person familiar to grass roots activists – an energetic enthusiast and the type of person you might expect to see running a local bird-watching group. As was Liz Langton (pictured above with her husband) Ukip’s then press officer for South Thanet, who might be the lady Captain at a run of the mill small town  Golf Club. Sincere people with not much hinterland except dogs and, in Mrs Langton’s case, a passion for collecting clowns. Heale and Langton didn't really express strong views but it was clear that they fully bought into Ukip’s anti-establishment, anti-EU and anti immigration meme.

The party activists and local members were seen at various meetings one of which Nigel Farage spoke to. They were almost without exception in  late middle-age ( or older) and (it seemed) of modest education. None of them was articulate in a broader sense and one suspects that they know what they are against but not what they are for. Curiously the programme revealed little in the way of a coherent Right Wing ideology and few of the South Thanet UKIP team or its supporters could present a coherent and detailed case for any political position. The strongest moment was when a couple of building workers were interviewed about their complaint that they had lost casual work because Bulgarians were prepared to work longer hours for the same money. Langton was excited by the this and tried to get the local media interested in the story - but they weren't. 

It is important to remind ourselves that South Thanet is Nigel Farage’s chosen constituency and its demographics certainly suggest it has plenty of the archetypical Ukip supporters around. An ageing population. A deprived area. A long way from London emotionally if not actually (75 miles) and contemptuous of the Metropolitan elite. But if their local Ukip membership and activists are typical of other Constituencies then Ukip has a problem. These were political  rookies with no practical experience at all and few of the talents you expect of local party workers in the traditional parties. This naivety Ukip tries to present as a virtue but frankly on the evidence of this documentary you wouldn't expect them to have the nous to run any sort of decent election campaign. Too old. Too ignorant. Too narrow. Too biased. And, in the case of Councillor  Roxanne Duncan so gruesomely prejudiced that she should not be allowed any forum to present her staggeringly offensive views. 

Nigel Farage is no fool and surely he will realise that it will be a struggle to win in South Thanet with this lack of organisational talent on the ground. Will he ship in people of real competence to run his campaign? I wouldn't bet against it. In the meantime Duncan and the rest have had their brief moment in the spotlight – and a right pig’s ear they made of it. The metaphor of Liz Langton’s collection of clowns was apposite.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

It's a very bad idea indeed Mr Balls - think again

One should be wary of believing everything one reads in the newspapers - especially in the Murdoch press in the run up to a General Election! But if there is a scintilla of truth in today's report in "The Times" that Labour is considering reducing some of the tax benefits attached to pensions in order to pay for reducing University tuition fees then one can only conclude that the Party has taken leave of its senses.

The idea that you can fund one specific expenditure from one specific tax is rarely credible. Labour is already taking us for fools with its policy of introducing a "Mansion Tax" to pay for increased NHS spending. That's not how the public accounts work! Tax receipts go into one large pot. Government expenditure comes out of it. You cannot create some sort of bloated piggy bank where you isolate a specific tax revenue and from which you pay a specific set of bills. So the underlying logic of using savings on tax relief to pay for student costs is deeply flawed.

But aside from the flawed housekeeping logic the idea of penalising pension savers at this time is not just wrong but immoral. The changes in recent in recent times to pensions - especially in the private sector - have dramatically reduced the financial prospects for future retirees. Where final salary based pensions from Defined Benefit schemes were once very common these have now all but vanished for new employees. Schemes have closed and their replacements - so-called "Defined Contribution" schemes - offer much less by comparison, and especially much less certainty. Workplace savings, which is what these "DC" schemes really are, are important but for average earners they offer very modest post retirement income prospects. Better than nothing, but far from generous or enough. 

In ths changed world Government in its own interest should be reducing the tax liability on specific pension schemes not thinking about increasing it! In its own interest because if you take away pension income by (effectively) increasing tax then you are likely to find that you have to give it back again in welfare benefits. People have to live and the Pensioner community is already struggling with inflation which is way above the averages of the Consumer Price Index.

It's a bad idea Mr Balls. Think again. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

We cannot retreat behind walls in the modern world

In my lifetime (Post War era in its entirety) the most significant phenomenum by far has been the overt cooperation of nations. By "nations" I do not just mean inter-Government (though it includes that). I mean, especially, the business world. As a child I can't recall my family consuming any global brands. TV was 95% locally made (the odd Hollywood movie aside). Holidays were on Cornish not Costa beaches. And our society was mono-cultural. Over the years all of that has changed. My parents visited perhaps ten countries. I've been to nearly 100. They had three radio stations to choose from. I can listen to any station anywhere in the world on my iPad. They had to get visas to travel and wait in long queues at borders. My borders, once I've got to Calais (!) are open and crossed at 120 kms per hour. My Father only ever worked in London. I've lived and worked in seven countries.  

Whether we like words like "Globalisation" or not it is a fact and it's here to stay. The Multinational Corporation, the Global brand, the international media, the ubiquitousness of travel, the openness of modern societies to migrants, the economic cooperation, the bias for "Jaw Jaw" to resolve differences not "War War" ( in Europe at least). All of this, and much more, driven by technology. We can be anywhere in the world (almost) within 24 hours. We can tune in to any medium from almost anywhere. I can read The Times without even having to get out of bed. And the Washington Post for that matter. On Facebook I have friends in thirty countries and converse with them in real time. There are no food seasons any more. I can buy strawberries and raspberries all the year round at my supermarket. Containerisation has meant that my bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand costs no more to transport to me than a bottle of Sancerre.  

In this international world we cannot retreat to behind our borders. We cannot take unitary decisions over things in isolation. It's about much more than cooperation with other nations in fact. We are, like it or not, in partnership in everything we do with people, institutions, businesses and centres of power external to us. That is why to continue to play an active part in international bodies, to continue to build political and economic alliances, to continue to be an open, liberal pluralist society and to reach out and not retreat inwards is the only way forward.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Our politicians as Brands --- there's no "Apple" there !

Back in 1960 JFK was seen as the first to market himself as a "Brand". Not sure he was really, but he was certainly "made" by some slick brand marketing. Here in the UK we don't have a President (boo, we should !) but we have had some powerful personal brands (Wilson, Thatcher, Blair in modern times). So what about now? Here's a personal list of some of the best, and worst of today's lot.

1. Boris Johnson. Easily our strongest personal political brand. Wide appeal. Meets the criterion of the "Love Brand" - you forgive him his mistakes. "Boris" is "Coke" - instantly recognisable. Not the "Real Thing" - but then nor is Coca Cola. 

2. Nigel Farage. Brands need strong visual symbols. Farage has that. The pint and the fag. The grin. He is the quintessential "Marmite" brand and like that product if you like him, you like him and if not you hate him. His appeal is strong, but limited. Like "Boris" he is forgiven his mistakes. But once you've made up your mind one way or another you are unlikely to change. 

3. Ken Clarke. A bete noir of the Tory Right but Ken has the ability to appeal across the political spectrum which is unusual today (Thatcher and Blair had it). Ken is 74 and has missed any chance of Number 10 and knows it. But he keeps on trucking. He has a hinterland (Jazz, beer, cricket...) which makes him interesting where others are not. Fading a bit but still admired. Marks and Spencer.

4. Gordon Brown. Strong identity, Scottish, proud, achiever but deeply flawed. Gordon is the "Royal Bank of Scotland". Still around, but you wonder why. Once very powerful but now at best tolerated - at worst a symbol of failure. Unfair, of course. But that's it with brands. Once they're shot they're shot.

5. Tony Blair. Someone who once was. A brand once the runaway leader that has now fallen spectacularly from grace and is struggling to re-establish itself. Hubris led to pride before the fall and it won't be easy to recover, indeed it may be impossible. Blair is Tesco. The shelves are still stocked, but nobody wants to go there. 

6. Theresa May. May has a strong visual identity and is underpinned by self-confidence but is rather gaffe prone. Unlike Boris (some see him as a rival) she is not forgiven her mistakes, rare though they may be. Most of the time she delivers but when she has a bumpy landing or cancels a flight she is not forgiven. Theresa May is British Airways. 

7. David Cameron. "Call me Dave" has what all brands need - a solid technical product. The bits and pieces of politics, like public speaking, he does well. But it is hard to like him because beneath the solid surface you have no idea what he really stands for. Not because he doesn't tell you, but because you don't believe him. He is superficially the archetypical political professional but it's a veneer. Underneath that veneer you don't trust him. Cameron is BP - and riding for a fall like they did. 

8. Ed Milliband. Ed is nice, capable but hugely maligned. His most commonly used descriptor "Red Ed" is a negative jibe and his most familiar visual symbol, Wallace of "Wallace and Gromitt", was also given to him by his enemies. His own brand identity is taking a long time to emerge and his sponsors are struggling to do it. He is the opposite of Cameron - you do mostly know what he stands for (decent performance and a lack of Flashiness) - for but there is no overwhelmingly strong brand identity to sustain him. He is worthy, and decent but finds it hard to defend himself when under attack. Ed is a Skoda on "Top Gear".  

More to come ? Let me know...! Do we have an "Apple" manqué ? 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A Referendum on Britain's membership of the EU in 2016 is a farcical idea. But pragmatically it might be a good one!

I am not the most pragmatic of people. During my Shell career I once did a management course which included psychological profiling and I scored what was the lowest score ever on "Pragmatism".(I scored quite well on other things so the P45 was withheld!). I'm not sure that pragmatism is necessarily a virtue anyway. You see what I mean. This by way of an introduction to the thought that as a strong pro-European I should probably, and pragmatically, welcome the idea of an early EU Referendum.

I think the whole idea of a Referendum is bunkum. Other than a misguided attempt to unite the Conservative Party it has no logic to it. The reason for my view that there IS no reason to hold one. There is no new Treaty on the table. No changes to the EU, or Britain's relationship within it, are being proposed that require specific public endorsement. The EU is an organism within which change is a constant, but organic change. Of course it's different from the EC that Britons vote overwhelmingly to stay part of back in 1975. But every change that has taken place since then has happened democratically and Britain has been involved. Notably in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher successfully negotiated a lower contribution for Britain.

Back to pragmatism. Let's assume that a new Cameron Government of whatever construct wants finally to kill off the Eurosceptics. (It won't, of course, like death and taxes they'll always be with us). He knows that if it is in Britain's interests to stay in the EU and that one way to do this is to launch into apparently substantive discussions with our 27 fellow EU members and come out with a "deal". Our partners will probably and pragmatically agree to this. They want the whole nonsense out of the way as much as we do. This "deal" will have some "hot button" element in it that Cameron can hail and present as a "result". Perhaps over migration (two birds with one stone time). It won't mean a can of beans, but it can be presented as a "Good deal for Britain". You can hear the rhetoric now.

Parliament will endorse the "new deal" comfortably. The payroll vote + Labour + LIbDems+SNP... A comfortable majority defeating the Eurosceptics and the awkward squad. Farage, if he's there, will throw a fit. Carswell will burst his spleen. And a few Tory Right Wing grandees now out of office personally will cry betrayal. But Dave will win. Then the Referendum campaign will have the political Establishment solidly "For". Yes the antis will argue against and they will have plenty of support in the Media. But remember all this will be only a year or so into the new Parliament. Cameron will still be in the afterglow of having upset the odds and stayed in office. This should give him the confidence to marginalise the antis. And the payroll vote will be secure along with ambitious Tory MPs who won't want to damage their prospects of a job by joining the awkward squad.

Pragmatists always justify the means, however uncomfortable, if the ends are better achieved by doing so. If the ends of settling that the UK will stay in the EU for good can best be achieved by the farce of an EU Referendum in 2016, then perhaps I should also conclude its a good idea...

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Owen Jones, living in the distant past, has a startling resemblance to Nigel Farage

Twitter activists know that there is a tendency, forced on us by the 140 character limit, to to indulge in Reductio ad absurdum. Owen Johes has given us a classic of the type. He has managed to be contentious at least three times in the cramped space of one tweet.

Is Labour facing "wipeout" at the lands of the SNP? Well Lord Ashcroft's poll of 15 Scottish seats would certainly suggest so. But other polls and thoughtful analyses by Iain Dale and others point to Labour holding on to more seats than it loses. The anti-establishment movement seen elsewhere in the UK with the rise of UKIP and the Greens manifests itself in Scotland in the SNP. This was seen in the Independence referendum and the country is still in the afterglow of that near earthquake. Labour, honourably in the view of many, campaigned for a "No" vote and this has cost them dearly. There was certainly a strong Socialist element in the SNP's IndyRef campaign but the "Yes" vote comprised a broader coalition than that. Including, no doubt, a few "Tartan Tories" and others from the Right. The SNP's #GE2015 campaign may be overtly Socialist in character, but I doubt that it will be. The question the voters will address is not the binary Yes/No choice of the referendum but a much more complex one with issues spanning Trident to the economy to the role of MPs at Westminster. Yes there will be a fierce SNP/Labour fight. But to characterise it as a fight between the new standard-beamers of Socialsm (the SNP) and traitors of the Left ("Rightwing" Labour) is simplistic nonsense.

Jones, if he supports Labour (questionable), should surely be encouraging them in Scotland. They have three months under a new leader there to claw back ground lost to the SNP. It is far from the lost cause he suggests it is. The same applies more generally to Labour across Britain. Here Jones is suggesting that there are "political cranks" trying to make the Party more Rightwing. He wants Labour to be more overtly Socialist and eschew the centre ground. The problem with this is, of course, that were it to happen Labour could kiss goodbye to any chance of power. Perhaps Jones would prefer a party waving the Red Flag and returning to the days when they promoted "...the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange" - that's a perfectly respectable and intellectually sustainable message. If you want Labour to be a fringe party without a chance of winning an election.

The "political cranks" are, by the way, the Blairites and especially Alan Milburn and Lord Hutton. The former recently said "You [must] appeal to a broader constituency, other than your core vote. It’s very easy in politics, comfort blankets work in politics, because – guess what? It does what it says on the tin! – it’s dead comfortable. But it doesn't give you victory." The "comfort blanket" he is referring to is the old fashioned socialism that would, in theory anyway, shore up hard core support. It would also prevent anyone else voting for you. Milburn again: "How did Margaret Thatcher construct enormous majorities? By making a deep incursion into Labour territory. How did Blair construct enormous majorities? By making deep incursions into Tory territory."

The Tories would love it if Ed really was "Red". They could guarantee themselves another five years in power if he was. He isn't, and for two reasons. First conviction. Milliband was a supporter of and an effective Minister in the  "New Labour" government of Blair/Brown. Second pragmatism. He knows that  victory is only possible from the Centre/Left not from peddling old-fashioned Socialism. It is absolutely NOT "Rightwing" to be a supporter of a mixed economy and to acknowledge that successful modern States are public/private partnerships. And to argue that national economies should not run long-standing public deficits. Jones revealed his colours on this when he said that "Angela Merkel is the most monstrous western European leader of this generation". This was because she is the most powerful European politican and because she favours more balanced national economies - notably in Greece. To call her "monstrous" for this is as wrong as it is offensive.
There have always been Owen Jones's around across politics. Nigel Farage is another one. They resemble one another in their extremism, their convictions and their populist appeal - though Farage is well ahead of Jones in the latter. They are also alike because both want to return to the past - in Jones's case to 1945 and in Farage's 1955. Not many people make Farage look modern by comparison ! And they are alike in that there is not a cat in hell's chance that they will gain power or see their preferred policies implemented. I hope.