Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Now is the winter of our discontent approaching ...

Hard to avoid the conclusion that the issue of Tax Credits  is being used as a weapon for those with ambition to be Cameron's successor or to be a Warwick the Kingmaker. Indeed the whole affair reminds me of the "War of the Roses" which I saw recently at The Rose Theatre, Kingston. Cameron has damaged his status by saying, as Blair also did, that he will go before the next Election. So the Knights and Lords, the lickspittles and the sycophants, the useful fools and the conniving courtiers are playing complex games to position themselves either to succeed him or to profit by aligning themselves with the winner. Theresa's May's speech on immigration only makes sense if seen in this context. Osborne's gamble that he could get the Tax Credits reform through without a House of Commons vote likewise. Boris's manoeuvring is so Shakespearian as to be worthy of a place on a Drama or English Lit study programme. 

In this world of intrigue and back-stabbing the management of policy fades into the background and everything is about who's up, who's down and who's blown it. We on the sidelines watch with incomprehension at times. It's quite amusing and deserves a "House of Cards" treatment - though I suspect the truth is stranger than even that fiction. Identifying the various camps (as with York and Lancaster) is not always easy. Tim Montgomerie makes common cause with James Forsyth. My enemy's enemy...? Michael Ashcroft (whom God preserve) times a broadside to coincide with a jolly Pageant in Manchester. Toby Young moves from bring a quizzical commentator on the sideline to being a defender of all things Tory. Louise Mensch, the Queen over the water, trumps even Toby in her sycophancy. Meanwhile the official Opposition has opted out to set up a rival war on a different battlefield far away. And the foot soldiers? Running around in ever decreasing circles...

Friday, October 16, 2015

The "Fiscal charter" is about as meaningful as John Major's "Cones hotline"

Do you remember when John Major as Prime Minister introduced a "Cones hotline" for motorists to call when they thought that there were too many cones on the road? It was ridiculed because we could all see that it was a silly, political stunt. George Osborne's "Fiscal Chareter" is more of the same. And equally silly.

Party politics in our kind of democracy are important. We cannot hold our noses and say that in the national interest Governments should eschew the game of securing Party advantage. If they want to be re-elected they have to do some of this. But passing a Law to create fiscal rules that are intended not just to apply during this Parliament not in subsequent ones is both politically and fiscally illiterate. 

Politically it's nonsense because it refers to future events and politics is only played in the past and present tenses. To say that you are by doing this to ensure that a Government in ten years time will be prudent is poppycock. And won't win you one vote. As far as the realities that apply to national and (especially) international economics are concerned the unexpected always happens and you have to react. Ask Gordon Brown! When the Black Swan arrives you have to have all the levers available. No Chancellor would wish to have his freedom to act limited - let alone by a rule established by a Chancellor of another Party ten years ago! 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

If the IRA allegations are true Corbyn and McDonnell’s positions are untenable


The allegations in today’s Sunday Telegraph are the most serious made in modern times against a leading political figure. If Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were as close to the Irish Republican Army as Andrew Gilligan suggests then their current positions are untenable. With the important proviso that neither the Telegraph nor Gilligan can always be seen as balanced observers and that further independent verification is necessary. To understand the position we need to track back over 20th Century Irish history a bit and to place relations with Great Britain and the UK in focus.  

I have always been in favour of a united Ireland. The treatment of the Irish in the first half of the 19th Century by Great Britain was an affront and it was this that led to the failure of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" to survive. Ireland was technically not a Colony and, of course, there were Irish MPs and Peers at Westminster. But the rule of Ireland by the British was imperial in the extreme and Irish independence was a cause no less justified than the cause of (say) India. But as with India when it came (and equally bloodily) there was division. Northern Ireland, with its then Protestant majority, would not join the rest of Ireland as the Republic was formed. But the Irish of the North are no less Irish than the Irish of the South. The Union Flag waving is much more religious in its basis than it is political.

Come the dawn the island of Ireland will be, must be, one State. But how to get there? There is only one way and that is for the peoples of the South and the peoples of the North to want it. Separate referenda (obviously) will be held in the Republic and in the North and if both agree that Union should happen then it will. The time when this event occurs is anyone's guess but the changing demography of the North suggests it will be sooner rather than later.

I am not diminishing the struggle ahead nor the grievances that will be felt by the "Loyalist" community in the North. If they or (I would argue) any other Irish people would like to hold dual citizenship (Irish and British) that might be a way forward. We are very close, notwithstanding the past, and our cultures overlap. We all live in the British Isles after all! (For the avoidance of doubt I use "British" as a geographical and cultural descriptor, not a political one!).

The armed struggle against British (political this time) colonial rule in Ireland in the first decades of the twentieth century was (sadly) justified. The end result was a fudge but the Loyalists in the North had a right to protection in those uncertain times. Eighty years on and the Republic of Ireland is a successful European State and (in my view) the residents of Northern Ireland have nothing to fear, and much to gain, from being part of it. Great Britain does not have a case to hold on to Northern Ireland if the majority of its citizens want to become part of the Republic. Indeed I don't think many of us would try and make that case.

Which brings me to the IRA not in the time when it led the struggle in the early part of the 20th Century but in the post WW2 era when it sought to unite Ireland with violence. This was an obscenity and those years of the "troubles" shameful. The IRA spawned the paramilitary Protestant militia (equally vile) and a military response from the UK Government which at times was heavy-handed and excessive. Violence bred violence. My support for a united Ireland never for one second led me to sympathise with the IRA. I just despaired until the peace process under Tony Blair and Mo Mowlem finally moved things forward and an Agreement was reached.

It seems from the latest stories that the now Leader of the Labour Party and the Shadow Chancellor were if not IRA sympathisers as close to that as makes no difference. They gave comfort to the men of violence and openly identified with them. This is not about supporting the principle of a United Ireland (many of us did that). It was about the means by which it was achieved. Remember we are not talking about 1916 here; we are talking about the late 1960s. We are not talking about a time when the resort to armed struggle had some basis in natural justice. Yes in the 1960s there were institutionalised divisions in Northern Ireland and there was discrimination and injustices. But was that in any sense justification to start terrorist attacks. Of course not.

The post-war IRA was an evil construct and they did untold damage to the fabric of civilised society. Their violence spawned violence. That the Blair Government was to come to an accommodation with them (via their “legitimate” wing Sinn Fein) was Real Politick and uncomfortable though it must have been to sit down with terrorists or their apologists sometimes, pragmatically, that is what leaders have to do. But before the Peace Process to have identified with the IRA, as it is alleged Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell did, was an outrage. At the time it could have been shrugged off as the “Looney Left”. But no more. If the allegations are true there is no way that these two can continue their current roles. No way.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Theresa May plays the race card…

@PaddyBriggs: Theresa May speech on immigration. Message to British children of immigrants: "We don't want any more of your type here".

Obviously my tweet was a simplistic paraphrase and these were not the Home Secretary's actual words. But the point is clear. We have a mixed society amongst which are millions of children and grandchildren (etc.) of immigrants. They are British citizens of no less value than any other British citizen and as deserving of respect.

If you suggest that the cohesiveness of Society is damaged by immigration, which Ms May did say, then you implicitly say that those who are here and of immigrant descent are a threat to society's cohesion. What Ms May is unashamedly doing is blaming multiculturalism for some of society's ills.

A pluralist society is more complex and challenging than a unitary one. Culture clashes of various sorts can and do occur. Areas like education and healthcare can be more difficult at times because of the cultural variety of pupils and patients. But the benefits far outweigh these issues. A pluralist society is infinitely richer and more interesting than one in which we are all the same. Second and third generation British Asians (for example) vary in the extent to which they conform to white majority cultural norms. Many do and the only thing that distinguishes them is often their colour and their name. Ahmed, who's darker than Andrew and has a name that is not traditionally British, is otherwise indistinguishable from him as they share a desk in the city or the staff room at the school at which they both teach. Other children of immigrants stick more closely to their cultural heritage. This is both mostly a benign choice and nothing new. Visit, for example, Stamford Hill if you want to see children of generationally distant immigrant Hasidic Jews peacefully living a life very different from their White Anglo-Saxon Protestant neighbours!

I used the "mostly" in the above paragraph advisedly. Cultural variety, in my view, is a good thing and I like Chinatown and Southall and Stamford Hill. But everyone in society has to obey the law. I don't want a Muslim child of Pakistani descent to be "forced" to adopt traditional British culture and norms if they don't want to. But I do require them to obey British laws and to be respectful of the majority culture in doing so. They must attend British schools (preferably secular ones) and be taught in English - this is not forcing an alien culture on them but it is suggesting that they should adapt to recognise that they live in Kennington not Karachi.

Back to Theresa May. People move to Britain for a whole variety of reasons. Far from all of them are long-term immigrants. To call the Polish plumber who fixes your boiler an "Immigrant" is likely to be inaccurate. What he is much more likely to be is what the Germans (who have a word for it when we don't) call a "Gastarbeiter ". He is here to work because, frankly, the money is better and/or the jobs are more available than back home. Does he affect the "cohesion" of society whilst he is here? Hardly! Having been a Gastarbeiter myself a few times in different countries I think I understand the phenomenon. The freedom of the movement of Labour allowed by international Treaty (as in the EU) is something from which we all can benefit if we choose to. I know I did  – as will my Polish plumber I’m sure.  

Mrs May is playing the “Immigration card” and tapping in to the innate prejudice of those in society who dislike not immigration, per se, but multiculturalism. And that brings me back to my tweet. The children of migrants, a generation or more removed from the original migration, are symbols of a multicultural society – mostly, I would argue, its success. The society of which they are part has its tensions and, yes, it is arguably less “cohesive” than if it was monocultural. But Ms May’s assertions about Society’s lack of cohesion are open to another interpretation – that this is primarily caused by past immigration rather than by poverty, neglect, lack of opportunity and the rest. These ills are far from confined to the areas that were settled by migrants but migrants and their children are often unfairly the scapegoats for such problems. Ms May is unashamedly playing the race card  - she is wrong to do so.   

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Thoughts on the Party Conferences

They are quite different tribes, Labour and the Tories at their  Conferences. Whilst there are some observers who understand this this is rare. There is little general comprehension of the Labour Tribe by most Tories and certainly vice versa. Tony Blair quite brilliantly nabbed lots of previous Tory voters to win three General Elections, but he didn't persuade any of the Conservative Conference attendees. Look back to Conservative commentators' reports on Labour Conferences during the Blair years and you'll find vitriol not far short of that being hurled at Corbyn. Tory commentariat admiration of Blair was of his political skills never of his policies and rarely of his performance. And yet, and yet! 

The coining of the phrase "LibLabCon" by UKIP will be this gruesome bunch's only useful legacy. In office there is a continuum from Major, through Blair and Brown, to Cameron which is pretty much seamless. For Labour Corbyn breaks this continuum as IDS and Howard once did for the Tories. They were unelectable and Corbyn is the same. After flirting with the Right as the Conservatives did in Opposition Labour is now flirting with the Left in Opposition. The parallel is precise. But the gravitational forces always pull to the centre be it the pragmatism of the Fabian Society on the Left or of "The Good Right" in Tory ranks. 

In my lifetime only Attlee and Thatcher were radicals and even their conviction politics was tempered by the reality of power. The tribes at their annual rallies will huff and puff, but they won't blow the house down. We Brits are too sensible for that !
Part of this consensus is the acceptance of the fact that Britain today is not a world power – at least not in the 19th Century meaning of the phrase. The nostalgia for the days when we were is quite sad really. There is nothing wrong with being a major player in the world’s largest economy (the EU). There is nothing wrong with being an important partner in military alliances (like NATO).  As early as 1945 it was quite clear that only by partnership with others could Britain play a useful role in world affairs. The Commonwealth is an irrelevance. The “Special relationship” just nostalgic baloney.  The “Anglosphere” a figment of imaginations. It does take us a while to wake up to the new realities sometimes but we get there in the end!