Monday, November 01, 2004

fixing cross border issues

Over on his Shot by Both Sides blog, John B picks out a letter sent to The Times last week by a combination of British politicians (actually the Britain In Europe group) including Chris Patten, Menzies Campbell, Kenneth Clarke, Robin Cook, Geoffrey Howe and Neil Kinnock. "Start a proper liberal party, already", John shouts. The letter reads.

"Sir, On Friday the nations of the European Union come together to sign a “second Treaty of Rome”.

This treaty will create new and simpler constitutional arrangements, replacing almost five decades of complex and overlapping documents with a single text. It will protect the sovereignty of Europe’s nation states and set limits for the first time on what the EU can and cannot do.

The treaty makes it easier for us to work together to deal with the cross-border issues that define the 21st century, such as global warming and the threat of international terrorism. It will give a bigger role to the Parliament and people of this country. It commits Europe to work for the economic and social benefit of us all.

Across Europe this treaty is viewed as a landmark success for Britain. It will protect and enhance our vital national interests and enable us to work more effectively with our partners to change Europe for the better."

Why can't the Labour Party articulate with similar brevity and reason the broad aims and principles which they espouse? And why can't they make this much bloody sense?


BB said...

Anyone can write a letter but it's a different matter when you're in government and you have to balance arguments from all sides. I'm sure you won't find many people in the Labour Party who would disagree with that little extract.

jonathan said...

That's true. But it's salutory to note that the people who signed that letter represented a cross section of the three political parties, able to find some common ground. This almost suggests a workable kind of politics - do political allegiances even mean anything any more? With half the country deeply ashamed of the party it voted into government, the idea of clear, purposeful consensus is strangely liberating. But yes, point taken about it being a different matter when in govt.

Anonymous said...

It's relatively easy to find common ground across bits of political parties for any one single issue. So there are pro Europeans in all three main parties, similarly there are sceptics as well. I know in lots of ways people would like us politicians to do more of this sort of thing, find alliances across the spectrum, be less tribal, more open to different arguements. However, there are lots of fundamentals where that isn't possible and the alliances are within our own parties rather than with those outside. The big political parties are already under quite a lot of pressure staying together, look at the way that some of the pro Europeans in the Tory Party went off to create their own party (short lived, not that popular) or the fact that we in the Labour Party expelled the RMT when it began supporting candidates other than Labour Party ones, or the howls of rage that greeted the Little Yellow Book that some Lib Dems produced recently.

Nevertheless, without some rather large changes to the electoral system, I don't see the large parties breaking up just yet. To do so might make for a different type of politics, but don't kid yourself that it'd be any more edifying (look to Isreal or Italy). At the end of the day those of us who grub for votes have very different values even where we occasionally agree on what is in the best interests of our constituents - and frankly its at that point when we should start to really worry.

jonathan said...

Yes, good points. I don't see the parties splintering either, but I do think that the concept of traditional allegiances is going to come under more and more threat, and as it does the effects and ramifications will be hard to predict.

I know very few people who have successfully transferred allegiance from Labour elsewhere in the last few years, but I do know that (BB excepted) none of my friends will be able to vote Labour again.

But whereas once we'd have gone and joined the Liberals or the Greens or (god help us) UKIP or Respect, most people I know don't feel the need to belong to a party any more. I don't know when that changed, but it does seem to have.

Consequently, I still have no idea who I will vote for in the next election - unthinkable even two years ago. So the question is, if we all end up losing our ties to parties, will we still able to invest our time and effort in non-partisan activities? Or will our involvement in politics cease entirely? I find that a bit concerning.

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot to sign my last comment there - silly blogger demanding that I have an account - but maybe you guessed it was me.

I agree that the strains are there at the moment, after all we're going through a very intense political period and the strain is showing within parties as well as amongst the traditional loyalties of voters.

But this isn't new either. The breakdown in traditional voting patterns is now a couple of decades old and it isn't the first time that we in the Labour Party have strained the loyalty of our voting coallition with the predictable results. Lets take the early 1980s when large sections of our more moderate supporters found what the Labour Party stood for (anti-European, pro-unilateral disarmerment, Bennite economic reform, Trotskyite Labour Party members) didn't float their boat at all. It took us almost 20 years to get back to a point where we could win an election.

I realise that for lots of people the defining moment in their political lives was the decision to invade Iraq - I trust that's at the heart of your disillusionment - and so once again political trust is diminished. Do I think it's as serious as what we did to ourselves in the 80s? No, I don't, but that's not to say that there aren't wounds that'll take something pretty dramatic to heal.

All the best,


BB said...

Don't call me BB! In the past week I've been called the Bedsitter, and even - more disconcertingly - 'Bomber'. Andrew would be nicer, though possibly more confusing on this topic :-)

Without wanting to sound too hard, I see Iraq as an unpopular decision and a hole the leadership has dug itself into, but which may be all forgotten in a few years (sad to say). I don't think there's any sign of a general decline in the Labour party, which was pretty much on a downward spiral from the early 50s to the mid 80s. However hard he may be to stomach nowadays, Blair is largely responsible for encouraging the party to get its act together and decide on a unified program that it actually believed in and could achieve. For all the dumb things they have said and done, I console myself by thinking that - unless you're unlucky enough to be Iraqi - a lot of good and worthy things have been done. I'm also prepared to believe that a lot is not reported by the media because, let's face it, the disadvantaged are not powerful and do not have media-friendly pressure groups to make their case on the TV.

Spare a thought for the Democrats in the USA who are terrified at the thought of Bush getting back. Luckily for us in the UK, we currently don't have to worry about dangerous right-wingers getting in and cutting the ground from under the bottom 50%. Am I imagining it or did I hear there were four black Ministers in the government? Imagine that before 1997.

As for the parties staying together, it depends upon the voting system. With first-past-the-post, there's a clear incentive for parties to stay together to reach the mythical 42-odd % they need for a majority. That's something the Conservatives were the masters of, and they've clearly got the most to lose under PR. As much as anything, their factions are more obvious than the other parties. I'd like to see Labour move towards that - it would be a good legacy to leave behind when the end comes.

My own experience of local parties is that they're very much dominated by the middle-aged and elderly, and are actually surprised to find younger members turning up to meetings. Peckham was an exception to this rule, but Hove (though the people are very nice) is very elderly and somewhat cliquey. What this means is that local parties find it very difficult to reach out to younger members.

This is what I've been hoping to achieve with my 'semi-independent' Hove Labour blog idea, but it's met a wall of silence from the Hove CLP. Any ideas - such as marching into meetings, banging desks, and seizing microphones - most welcome. I was wondering, other Andrew - if you're still about - what you thought about this scheme...

What is true is that you don't have to agree with the party on everything to be a member. Nobody does, so there's nothing to stop people finding out about meetings and going along. Jonathan, why don't you find out about the local Labour or Lib Dem. meetings in Kemptown and ask if you can pop along to the next one?

Though I certainly wouldn't be described as a "traditional" Labour member (after all, being 'liberal' was very much an optional extra in the Labour party until the, well, 1970s), having been a member for, what, 12-13 years I'm prone to the "fuzzy feelings" and strange "feelings of belonging" that, I guess, a Tottenham supporter might feel :-) Which is fine as long as you continue to challenge everything, rather than be led by the nose.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, like you my experience is of local activists - ie the people who come to the meetings, go canvassing, delver leaflets etc. - who are middle aged and up, very lovely people but not representative. I know that whenever anyone in their twenties or thirties ever comes to a meeting it's both a shock and a short lived pleasure (as they rarely come back).

So anything that'll find ways of encouraging younger Labour supporters (lets take something from the States and try widening out from just members) to get involved, work out how they can contribute, have fun while they're doing it would, I'd have thought, be welcome. If there's anything I can do to give you support on it then get in touch and I'll do my best.

Prescot has this theory that we've stopped asking people to join the party, and there is a certain truth in this. For myself, where I live, what we really nead is to encourage more black and ethnic minority people to become active in the party, to want to be councillors and to have ambition for higher office; to join the 4 black ministers and make sure that for our part Parliament is representative of the public it serves. (We changed the face of representative democracy in 1997 with the number of women MPs, all be it illegaly, I'm sure we can find ways of ensuring there is a better ethnic mix as well.)

All the best,


jonathan said...


I guessed it was probably you (which was why I called you BB in that post, other Andrew). Yes, I suppose that Iraq is the defining issue, by which I mean it's the point when I stopped defending the government because of my tribal loyalty, and represented the final straw, I guess. I measure against my dissatisfaction with Iraq the fact that I believe the Blair government has made great strides in many respects (public services, advances in child poverty, sure start, remarkable school results etc). I'm not so obsessed with Iraq that I can't see the balance there. On these issues alone my loyalty to Labour would probably remain intact.

But the problem is my list of grievances just doesn't stop there. I'm really angry at Labour's failure to stand up against the US on Guantanamo, their eroding trial by jury, their hopeless, illiberal attitude to asylum, foundation hospitas, top up fees, their failure to get anything done on Lords reform (thankfully about to be addressed, I hope), their ongoing failure to tax obscene wealth appropriately, complete failure to address gender equality, Blair's constant undermining of the public ethos and overpraising of private alternatives, top-up fees, the overflowing prisons, the revealing of past convictions, their complete failure to articulate the benefits of Europe, the gambling bill... The list goes on...

I'm still Labour. But the Labour Party as it is, with the policies it supports, is not one I can vote for again, not at the moment. Hopefully that will change, and I can come home.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

i'd still been planning to vote labour 'til i saw that list - you're right, that's too many bad decisions to be excused.

jonathan said...

Hmm. Not sure whether I want to be actively discouraging people from voting Labour, even if I'm not going to do it. Where are you based? My suggestion is that you think about it. Is your local MP any good? If he is, he might deserve your vote, even if Blair doesn't. That said, if you decide to vote elsewhere, Labour have only got themselves to blame.

Anonymous said...

Just for balance, here's a list of the positive things that voting for a Labour government has given us:

- Britain is currently enjoying the lowest unemployment since 1975 and the longest period of sustained low inflation and interest rates since the 1960s. Lower mortgage rates are saving mortgage payers an average of approximately £2,600 a year - close to £220 a month - compared to under the Conservatives;

- The number of people in work is at a record level, up by over 1.9 million since 1997;

- 1.5 million working people are better off thanks to the National Minimum Wage;

- Every national waiting time and waiting list indicator - inpatient and outpatient - has improved since 1997. In the NHS. There are 77.500 more nurses, over 19,000 more doctors and 7,300 more consultant;

- Standards are up across the board including the best ever primary school results. More teachers are in our schools than at any point in last 20 years - 28,500 more than in 1997;

- Police numbers are at record levels - up over 12,500 since 1997, and are assisted by over 4,000 new Community Support Officers.

If that doesn't float your boat can I suggest this presentation from Michael Barber, which he gave to the press back in July:

All the best,


jonathan said...

Thanks Andrew, that's really interesting. I'll take a proper look at that at lunch. Here's the powerpoint presentation again as a clickable link, to save people having to copy and paste.