Nice guy of the year

December 22, 2006

It’s been mentioned elsewhere, but The Daily feels obliged to make an early call on the first of our 2006 annual awards, with Richard Littlejohn’s absolutely extraordinary article on the Suffolk serial killer eviscerating all competition in the “nice guy” category.

For those who have not yet read it, Littlejohn declares that “the deaths of these five women are no great loss. They weren’t going discover a cure for cancer or embark on missionary work in Darfur.” The latter reference turns out to be his chance to make a joke about the missionary position. Tasteful. The last time The Daily checked, Littlejohn’s CV did not include advances in medical science or relief missions in Africa. Should he ever be brutally murdered, we conclude that it would be no great loss either.

Littlejohn dismisses blaming the pimps – apparently the women “were on the streets because they wanted to be.” Confusingly, he immediately declares that they were actually on the streets because “because even the filthiest, most disreputable back-alley “sauna” above a kebab shop wouldn’t give them house room” before finally deciding that they were on the streets because they were addicted to heroin.

All three reasons why the victims were on the streets nonetheless seem to add up in Littlejohn’s mind to a conclusive case that these “disgusting, drug-addled street whores” only had themselves to blame for being murdered, though he also pauses to apportion a slice of guilt to the victims’ families, and as is obligatory in a Mail article, to “gormless Guardianistas” for apparently deifying “celebrity druggies”.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, he doesn’t believe for a moment that people in Ipswich were genuinely upset at all. They only went along with a minute’s silence at a recent Ipswich Town game “for fear of getting their heads kicked in if they didn’t” presumably by the unusually violent Guardian-reading liberals who occupy the terraces of Portman Road on matchdays.

With such a typical display of seasonal cheer, goodwill and forgiveness, it’s no wonder that the Mail have been leading the charge to defend Christmas.


Rules for rebuilding the party

November 5, 2006

There are a very interesting series of blog posts on Jon Cruddas’s website as Nick Lowles, Jon’s campaign director travels around the US looking at campaigning methods used by the reinvigorated American left.

One that really jumps out is on community organising groups in Chicago. Many of the groups are founded on the community organising principles of Saul Alinsky, who’s book Rules for Radicals is like a text book for organising underprivileged communities.

There are plenty of descriptions of the campaigning “rules” in the book on the web. As Nick says:

His strategy was about engaging communities on the issues that really mattered to them. This involved a listening process and an acceptance that local people knew best about their local area and local communities often know the solutions to their problems. It involved leadership training and recognition that the key issue was power; who has power and how you obtain power.

I remember joining the excellent local Labour Party in Finchley in 1993. The party had a huge network of supportive community groups. The Young Socialists had helped to save the Phoenix Cinema in the 1980s, many party members had worked to set up the East Finchley Community Festival. These networks not only helped the community, they also helped Labour form the first ever Barnet Labour-led administration in 1994 and then take Thatcher’s old seat in the 1997 election. It remains a strong, committed Party, but local parties across the country seem to have lost many of those links.

Nick quotes David Ostendorf of the Centre of the New Community:

“We need to get back on the ground and build relationships with communities. You have to build a trust base and trust relationships with each other. That is where the fabric of society has been ripped apart. People have been customised to compete against each other, to blame each other when things go wrong. We need to help rebuild the bonds within communities, to get people to begin to work together around improving social justice for all”

That is really the key. My big hope for the deputy leadership election is that we will finally be able to debate how we renovate the party and rebuild the coalition of support within the very communities that we are here to work for.

Opinion: Don’t forget SureStart and healthcare

November 3, 2006

James Carville’s famous campaigning slogans for Bill Clinton should remind us that the centre-left must focus on the basic but important things that the Government has done to make people’s lives better. Equally, we must pull the Government’s energy and attention away from foreign policy and back onto promoting more programmes like SureStart.

The recent birth of my daughter has really opened my eyes to just what a great programme SureStart is. One centre in a relatively deprived area, like the one I live in, runs a whole host of services to make sure that children get the best start in life.

The services at my local centre go from antenatal classes and a centre-based midwife, to nurseries, breastfeeding programmes to advisers to make sure that people are getting all the benefits and services they are entitled to. In an area where English is a second language for many people that makes a real difference in the Government’s goal of reducing child poverty.

Equally, becoming a father can help a person see the NHS at its very best. My local hospital has a low-risk birth unit that is midwife-lead, is comfortable, has great equipment like birthing pools and promotes drug-free births for mothers who want that. The unit helped make my daughter’s birth a better experience for all three of us. The support we’ve had from NHS midwives before, during and after the birth has been exemplary.

The tragedy is that hospital is now in danger as one of the deficit-running trusts. There has clearly been poor management at the hospital, but it faces possible closure, leaving a whole community displaced into other boroughs for their healthcare.

This really encapsulates what’s going wrong in the last days of Blair and how we need to change to win. How about the Government just shelves the ideologically driven market schemes in health? How about they just leave the structure of the education system alone for a bit and concentrate on giving teachers the resources they need to teach?

How about we not only expand SureStart, but look for the 05-09 Government’s SureStart? Perhaps a new system of intensive youth centres modelled on SureStart to give support to urban and poor children. It could promise a better future and make an impact on anti-social behaviour by rebuilding the bonds of society among young people.

Whatever the Government and the Labour Party do, we will have to go into the next election able to show how we made a difference to millions of people’s lives. Every day we are not concentrating on basic social democratic goals, the Tories get stronger. We got the economy right, we got the basic welfare right, we started to take real steps against climate change, voting Labour means progress, voting Tory means a step backwards.

Here’s my contribution to the 09/10 campaign.

Progress, not taking us back
The Economy stupid
We’re working to save our planet
Don’t forget SureStart and the NHS

Tories go on anti-choice rampage

October 29, 2006

The new cuddly Tories are to let the mask slip a little on Tuesday with an attempt to make it significantly harder for woman to have an abortion.  Nadine Dorries, a 2005 intake Tory, is so determined to push the restrictive law through that she has apparently hired a PR firm to help sell the proposals.  Presumably, she hasn’t paid for the PR firm herself, which begs the question where the cash comes from.

Dorries’ Bill – which has no real chance of becoming law – would do two things.  First, it would reduce the term limit at which a foetus can be aborted from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.  Second, it would introduce a compulsory “10 day delay” period, meaning that women would be forced to wait until later in their pregnancy to act on a decision they have already made – a decision which has to be approved by two doctors.

First off – reducing the term limit at which abortions can be carried out.  Less than 1% of abortions happen after 21 weeks, and the argument of Davies (who appeared on the Heaven and Earth show this morning) that these late abortions are carried out for “social reasons”, beggars belief.  Davies has produced no evidence for this claim.  A ten minute rule bill is hardly the sort of place to bring together doctors (90% of whom are pro-choice) and scientists to debate the issues.

Secondly, the cooling off period.  This is a direct import from the anti-choice campaigners in the US.  It is intended to give vocal campaigners and extremists space to initimdate persuade women not to go through with their decision.  The irony of Dorries’ combining of these two initiatives is that the cooling off period will lead to more late abortions, not less.

The Bill is effectively an extension of the “dog whistle” tactics that right-wingers use on race in to the abortion issue.  They won’t openly say that they oppose all abortion, but it is a coded message for anti-abortion activists that the Tories are on their side.

The Bill will be voted on as a free vote, but it will be interesting to see which MPs vote which way, and in fact which MPs make the effort to attend this unwhipped vote.

Homes fit for heroes

October 22, 2006

After the First World War, many politicians started to talk about “homes fit for heroes”. There were some schemes, but nothing like enough was done to clear working class areas of overcrowded slums with poor sanitation, often crumbling around the families that were crammed into them.

Although Lloyd George’s government didn’t seriously follow through on its pledges, it underlines the importance of housing policy following a war. That is particularly true where a war has seen wide-scale destruction of housing stock. If a government wants the support of its citizens, then it should ensure that it takes quick steps to make sure their housing needs are taken care of.

With that in mind, today’s report on Lebanon tucked away on one column on page 27 of the Sunday Telegraph shows just how badly wrong the West is getting its Middle East policy. The report outlines how the internationally backed government rebuilding programme in Lebanon has stalled.

It appears that the Lebanese Government has been slow in setting up the rebuilding scheme and that the money has been slow in arriving. However, Hezbollah has a programme of compensation and rebuilding well underway.

It is surely uncontroversial to say that the Lebanese Government regaining control of its territory both from Israel and internal armed groups would be a good thing. However for this to happen, the government needs to be an effective and popular provider for its people’s needs.

With the scale of devastation in Lebanon, the West should fast-track the £2bn in aid to the Lebanese government and give the technical support needed to carry out the reconstruction. This is a fraction of the money that’s being spent in Iraq, but it would surely be more effectively spent in building support for a moderate government in the area and rebuilding the relative affluence that existed before Israel laid waste to the country, thereby building up a secular “good example” in the region.

Cruddas picking up early momentum

October 17, 2006

There’s a very interesting piece in the Times on the Labour Deputy Leadership contest. It seems that Cruddas is picking up the early momentum in a contest.

The Times reports that:

Jon Cruddas, the MP for Dagenham, will steal a march on his rivals tomorrow, opening his campaign at Dagenham and Redbridge football club. His first public parliamentary backers are Jon Trickett, chairman of the Compass group of MPs, and David Crausby, chairman of the Amicus group of trade union MPs.

He is opening campaign headquarters at Waterloo and has hired two workers, who are about to head off to Washington for a week to learn tips about internet and community campaigning from Democrats.

Having jumped from a 125/1 outsider (damn I wish I’d got those odds), to 8/1 (still a very generous price, we think) he seems to be the rising star in the contest. Especially important is the support of the Chair of the Compass Group, and more importantly the Amicus Group of MPs.

David Crausby’s backing would appear to show support from Amicus at a high level within the union.  Amicus are the UK’s most powerful political operator among the trade unions. In itself, this shows Cruddas to be a serious candidate.

The article also suggests that Cruddas has realised the potential of US netroots-style campaigning.  He has not done much of this so far, so the jury is out – but sending staff to the States to learn the lessons of 2004 and the midterms is a start.

Opinion:  The credible but grassroots-led campaign that Jon is promising is exactly what the Labour Party needs to renew itself in government. It is vital that we recognise the party needs a breath of fresh air to revive it. We at The Daily see Jon’s campaign as a huge opportunity, not just to have the real debate we need about where we go next, but to win for progressives within the party. That is why we are endorsing Jon Cruddas for the deputy leadership.

MPs demanding corporate crackdown

October 16, 2006

So far unreported in the mainstream media is the first serious backbench stirring over government legislation in the new parliamentary term.

Labour MPs have tabled a series of amendments to the seemingly obscure Company Law Reform Bill which goes through its final Commons stages next week.

If the media does notice this development they will no doubt write it up as being a backbench “rebellion” but it actually seems a slightly more subtle attempt to apply influence by MPs before they are put in the take-it-or-leave it position of voting Aye or Noe. The organisers have expressed the hope that the government is in “listening mode”.

Nor is this led by “the usual suspects”. The Daily has exclusively obtained the list of signatories due to appear tomorrow morning. The amendments’ sponsors include previously loyal MPs such as Patrick Hall and Sarah McCarthy-Fry, while others are tabled by the soft-left Compass MPs Jon Trickett and Colin Burgon.

Supporters include MPs from the new intake such as Helen Goodman, Jim McGovern and Emily Thornberry; former Ministers Tony Lloyd and Keith Vaz; Alan Keen, husband of Gordon Brown’s PPS Ann; Anne Snelgrove, a PPS herself; and perhaps most intriguingly of all, deputy leadership candidate Jon Cruddas.

Details of their case are available from Compass or War on Want. The government would be wise to engage with them. Better corporate accountability has public support and would present a dilemma to the Tories. We have written before on Cameron’s vulnerability on this issue, and it has become even more uncomfortable for them since.

If ministers gave their Bill some teeth it would enable Labour to unite around a sensible compromise – albeit that many want to go further; but Cameron would be forced to either back the government or stand up for (not to) his big business friends – the exact opposite of what he said he would do.  

It will be interesting to watch what happens this week and The Daily will keep you informed.

Opinion: There are those on the hard-line loyalist wing of the party who complain about MPs who have their own opinions. Ironically, we recall Sion Simon once saying that “rebels” was too positive a term and they should be known as “deserters”. No doubt Blair feels the same way about him.

But actually, Labour MPs are quite right to represent their constituents, scrutinise legislation and stand up for Labour values in the nation’s deliberative forum. They are doing their job.

The problem is in the way that they have often been frozen out of making policy, such that their only power is to vote against Bills in their final state. That happens when policy is handed down on tablets of stone, and if the front bench want the back bench to “behave” then it is they who need to change. We hope that new leadership will bring that change.