The Deputy Squatter

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.35.14There’s a lot of feverish chat about Dave Cameron just staying on in Number 10 even if there’s an anti-Tory majority, especially if the Tories alone happen to outnumber Labour (like that matters). We are reminded of the way the Tory press hounded Brown as a squatter for (quite rightly) remaining as PM five years ago until it was clear he couldn’t command a majority.

But there’s one crucial difference between 2015 and 2010 that seems to have been completely forgotten about. Dave’s legitimacy as Prime Minister is based on the Tory coalition with the Lib Dems. If he decides to try to cling to office past any point when it’s clear the numbers don’t work for him, would Nick Clegg try to stay on with him as Deputy Prime Minister? It seems unlikely to say the least.

Clegg knows that if Tory and Lib Dem seats together don’t get them to 323 (or near enough with the DUP), it’s over: he’s a pragmatist in the way his boss isn’t. And either way it seems inevitable that the Lib Dems will have just taken a major kicking, delivered in part by the Tories in the south-west of England. This might make cooperation harder even if they could inch over the line, let alone if they’ve lost their collective majority.

If Cameron tries to cling on through some unconstitutional definition of “largest minority” as legitimate, it couldn’t be sustained  if Clegg resigned (and if the Lib Dems abandon the Coalition). If the Tories can’t assemble an absolute majority from somewhere, including with the Lib Dems, I’d say they wouldn’t even be able to cling on through a single news cycle without Clegg. And of course, there’s more than one way for Clegg not to stay as DPM to potentially help them. If I were Labour I’d have thrown absolutely everything at Sheffield Hallam with that in mind.

Party Of The North launches challenge in another Labour heartland

This struck me as an interesting story from March which literally everyone else seems to have missed. Could Labour’s heartlands be reduced still further?

Party Of The North launches challenge in another Labour heartland

TRA-SPAC-0011The Party Of The North, a party set up at short notice to boost the representation and economy of the North of England, was today launched at an enthusiastic if somewhat unpolished event in central Leeds today. Led by Samira Khan, the charismatic former Labour Mayor of Kirklees, and her deputy, Eric Jones, a former independent councillor and ex-miner from Durham, the party is aiming to stand in all 158 constituencies across the European regions of Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West, and the North East.

The new grouping explicitly draws their inspiration from the spectacular rise in SNP support north of the border, and pledged today that any Party Of The North MPs elected will sit as a group with SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs to “oppose austerity and help shift the balance of power away from London and the South-East”.

“We’re not nationalists,” said Samira Khan to the approximately 200 members present, “any more than many Yes voters in the Scottish referendum last year were. The problems Scotland faces are similar to our own, though. The UK economy is designed around the interests of London and the South-East, and the Westminster model of UK politics is failing us.”

“For generations the North of England has voted Labour in the hope that they would live up to their founding values, but instead now they are offering us just a slower and more gentle version of the failed Tory austerity model. Many in the North saw Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in the leaders’ debates and wondered why they couldn’t vote for something similar: now they can.”

“Like many in Scotland, we no longer believe Labour have the answers to the problems of the North. And like the SNP, our MPs will always vote against any Tory government. We’ll vote for a Labour PM, but we’ll vote to block any continuation of the cuts which have undermined our society and our economy. Like the SNP, we will also vote against Trident renewal and against illegal wars.”

“This region could again be as prosperous as it once was, if we only had the powers of devolution that Scotland already has, not the three weak assemblies Labour offered more than a decade ago. Almost fifteen million people live here, nearly three times the population of Scotland: the North was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and of so much of this country’s cultural heritage, and we are still hard-working, innovative, welcoming, and creative. But without a voice of our own at Westminster, determined to put the interests of the North first, we will continue to get left behind.”

“From Chester to Berwick-upon-Tweed, from Grimsby to Carlisle, we’re seeing new members joining every day. People determined to oppose UKIP’s racist ‘little Englander’ values, the Tories’ focus on the interests of the Home Counties, the Lib Dems’ betrayal of the young, as well as many many people disappointed that Labour won’t oppose them as they should. Across this extraordinary region let me say this to the old parties: winter is coming.”

There remains uncertainty about where the party’s proposed Parliament For The North would be based, with towns and cities across the north likely to push their own claims, although the location of the launch was cited by some activists as a signal. The party’s programme is still largely uncosted, although, as with the SNP, much is made of the savings associated with not renewing Trident.

Pressed on the party’s long-term aims after the launch, Jones refused to rule out the possibility of a referendum on independence, insisting “we have no plans for a referendum at this time”, and that pushing for devolution was the party’s constitutional aim. Others in the party are believed to support the idea of a federation with an independent Scotland, should a second referendum there overturn last September’s result.

The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon sent a video message to the launch, offering support to “our friends in the North”, and amidst enthusiastic cheers she welcomed the party’s arrival on the political scene as “the beginning of the end of the tired old politics in England”.

Labour sources, dismissing the new party as “doomed” and “a distraction”, pointed out that Labour’s offer of devolution to the English regions had been rejected, and claimed that only a Labour majority would deliver an end to Tory rule. Local Green party activists have expressed cautious sympathy for much of the Party Of The North’s agenda, but talks about how the two parties might not stand against each other have not so far proved successful. Meanwhile, Yorkshire First, founded last year, rejected the idea of working with the Party Of The North, and argued that the two parties would merely split the vote across Yorkshire.

Please note: this piece is fiction, and everyone in it apart from Nicola is fictional too – apologies to Nicola for putting words into her mouth!

SNP Tactical Voting … by Labour?


This election has become even more tiresome than most for tactical squeezes. SNP: “don’t vote Green and split the Yes vote“. Labour: “don’t vote Green or SNP and let the Tories back in“. Tories: “don’t vote UKIP or you’ll let Labour in“. Lib Dems: “Only we can stop both Labour and the Tories“. It’s predictable and it’s alienating. I admit that one reason Greens don’t do it is there’s no tactical way to support the Greens, apart from this kind of swap site that never really catches on. It’s vote Green or nothing if you want to support the party. One key reason for that is even if we keep Brighton Pavilion and add Bristol West, Norwich South, plus Holborn and St Pancras, holding the balance of power remains a long shot. I should say that I personally remain against it, for these reasons.

But if you’re a Tory Coalition fan in a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, your tactical vote is clear. If you’re a diehard Yoonyonisht Lib Dem in a Tory/SNP marginal, again, you know what to do. The same applies for junior parties, too. If you’re a residual Lib Dem in a Labour/Tory marginal, well, which party would you rather your MPs worked with?

Some of the maths is here on Political Betting. And it brings a tantalising thought. If you’re a Labour voter in a SNP/Lib Dem marginal (i.e. any of the Lib Dem-held seats, perhaps even including Orkney and Shetland), who do you back? You might think the Yoonyon, if you’re so inclined, comes first. And maybe it should. But if you really want Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister, you’re choosing between an SNP MP who will definitely vote for Ed to be PM and a Lib Dem MP who put Dave Cameron into office last time – and probably would again, given half a chance.

The naive assumption is that tactical voting in Scotland will be along partisan indyref lines, and therefore to the SNP’s detriment, given their far larger position within the Yes side. The ubiquitious John Curtice makes this mistake today. But if I lived in Argyll and Bute, or Gordon, or East Dunbartonshire, or the Northern Isles, or any other Scottish Lib Dem seat, and I wanted Ed Miliband for PM above all, I’d be voting SNP.

(apologies to Jeff for the title)salmiliband

TTIP and ISDS: the new frontier for deregulation and the free market

Today’s guest post is by April Cumming, who’s written for Better Nation a few times before. Thanks April!

cooperating-governements_usa_regulating_flagsLife in the Scottish Parliament of late has been, shall we say, a series of important and yet quite parochial discussions. My eyes, like the eyes of many others in my peer and colleague circle, have been firmly fixed on the changing dynamics of the general election, the constitution, a succession of spats and debates. These are all of course relevant and very important in terms of the shifting political landscape of Scotland.

So much so, that in following up a piece of research on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) I was horrified to find that in my distraction I’d missed some of the key points of a hugely important piece of legislation that, in my naivety, I thought would impact solely on our NHS.

On the contrary; TTIP is an all-out assault on what already feels to the public like the shattered remnants of our parliamentary democracy. If you have qualms with things like ‘cash for questions’ and the proximity of powerful lobbies to the legislative process, well, prepare yourself for a sharp shock to your democratic sensibilities. TTIP is coming, and we need our political leaders to take a principled stand to defend future governments’ ability to follow their policy agenda without let or hindrance from powerful multinationals, hell bent on profit at your cost.

Let’s be clear, this is a simple trade-off; those parties who are in support see this as a way to grow the economy and create a freer trade system with our allies across the pond (because of course the free market has worked so well for them, right?) at the expense of regulation and at the risk of being taken to court when policy agendas clash with commercial investment interests. The TTIP negotiations currently taking place include the use of Investor State Dispute Settlements which allow corporations to sue governments in the UK or the EU for any government action (at any level, including local government level) that limits their projected profits. If a piece of policy is designed for the wider benefit of citizens in this country, for example health legislation changing cigarette packaging to highlight smoking dangers, and it impinges on the ability of investors to generate future profit, then they can sue for the loss, or ‘expropriation’.

This means that the exchequer must then cough up the claim from our own pool of public funding. The government, and the citizen, lose out on two fronts: we develop a system of governance that takes into account the profit of big international investors as a deciding factor in whether policy to affect a greater good should be passed, and we also potentially lose chunks of our taxes in claims when a government does take a stand. This affects our ability to implement progressive energy policies, implement the living wage, and push for safer and more equal workplaces. This puts business in the US at the driving seat of our parliamentary process in a way that makes the current corrupt lobbying system look like children swapping top trump cards in a play park.

ISDS is in place in other trade agreements globally. Over the lifespan of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) outcomes have shown that ISDS frequently leads either to large claims being favoured or, as ‘Stop TTIP’ point out, “perhaps more seriously, a chilling of legislation, with regulators afraid to act for fear of being sued. The sorts of regulations most likely to negatively affect future corporate profits are those supporting health and safety, the environment, workers’ and other social rights”.

These are precisely the domestic policy areas that form the backbone of our parties’ ideologies and our manifestos; these are the things that we are supposed to protect and guard and shape for the good of the population. These are the policies that help us to create the better society that citizens of this country deserve. The questionable benefits that such a trade agreement might bring do not negate this assault on our legislative process, and the jobs that it may or may not create will be of a character dictated by organisations whose primary concern is expansion and profit. And this will in turn dictate the strength and resolve of our own policy agenda.

On the inclusion of ISDS in TTIP the UK Government is deliberately vague. They state:

The UK Government welcomes the European Commission’s forthcoming public consultation on the merits of ISDS in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The US has supported ISDS clauses in other trade agreements including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and already has BITs with nine EU Member States, but not the UK. At this early stage in negotiations it is not possible to provide more specific detail. If ISDS were to be included then we would press for provisions that strike the right balance between investment protection and the rights of government to regulate.

It is imperative that ISDS is not included as part of the already controversial TTIP package. The creeping agenda of privatisation and the prioritising of GDP and corporate interests over the common good is about to reach its culmination under a government who cares little for safeguarding our human rights. Now is the time for Labour and the SNP voice concerns loudly and take a principled stance to protect our parliamentary democracy.

Some previous examples of the effects of ISDS on trade agreements may be found in this George Monbiot article.

Why I am not a liberal

John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870The word “liberal” is a pretty complicated one. Living in this country it gets associated with the Liberal Democrats, and I hope it should be obvious why I’m not a Lib Dem. In a US context it means anyone to the left of the Republican Party mainstream.

More generally, if you’ll forgive being told how to suck eggs, it’s associated with freedom, the philosophy of John Stuart Mill (left), and the like. And in modern political analysis, it tends to be divided into two sections: social liberalism and economic liberalism. The combination of these two, in a slightly caveated way, is loosely the position of the Orange Book Lib Dems.

The latter is pretty straightforward: should companies and individuals be free to act economically largely without constraint, except where a direct harm can be demonstrated? This part has never had much appeal to me. It seemed clear to me that such an idealised system would essentially see those with money acquire more of it, and those without continue to be squeezed.

The Tory/Lib Dem/Labour consensus position on markets isn’t pure economic liberalism, but even the version I’ve lived under all my life clearly has those undesirable feedback characteristics.

The advantages under capitalism of starting with assets are so strong that a safe Piketty-ish bet is that inequalities will not just be protected but will grow. No thanks. I’m in favour of innovation, I’m in favour of a role for business – but within a clear framework that puts society’s needs first.

The former I find a bit more complicated, though. I have in the past described myself as economically socialist and socially liberal.

My use of “socially liberal” as a description of myself was a result of seeing social liberalism regularly in the same space as me on policy issues like equal marriage, drug legalisation, the New Zealand model for sex work laws, ID cards, etc. It seems like a tempting team to back, especially when you see it as a binary with intolerant “social conservatism”. And who on the left wants to be called illiberal?

However, it became increasingly clear to me that social liberalism has more in common with economic liberalism than I’d realised: that they have similar flaws, just as they have a similar theoretical underpinning.

Most obviously, neither social nor economic liberalism take account of power dynamics. In both cases, classically liberal positions risk favouring those with existing money or or social power. It leads to intellectual clusterfucks like today’s Tim Lott piece in the Guardian, a defence of privilege from someone who’s so liberal that he can’t even say whether or not the EDL is racist or right-wing.

To take another topical example, just look at the way “freedom of speech” is used and misused by social liberals. It’s a stopping point for too many people: an end to discussions. Social liberals seem determined not to analyse who has the power and who has the platform. It’s also off limits to consider what they’re saying or what impact it might have. It’s hard to persuade social liberals to look at whose voices are being systematically excluded, mocked, or ignored, especially when they have some technical freedoms of speech (i.e. where we don’t live under Stalinism or similar). Decisions not to invite discriminatory speakers becomes censorship (as argued against in this letter to the Observer, to which I was a signatory), neglecting the radical and worthwhile idea in human rights discourse, which is to protect individuals against oppressive restrictions at the hands of the state, not to restrict the organising of those individuals.

Some of this is simply naive on the part of liberals, but it’s hard not to read some of it as defiant protectionism for those who already get heard a lot, a close ideological parallel with the cartels or oligopolies which economic liberalism has consistently facilitated. Money accrues to those who have it: liberal platforms accrue to those who have them. The poor stay poor: the marginalised continue not to be heard. Liberal assessments do nothing to identify power inequalities, and liberal policy framings do nothing to redress them.

Now, clearly I still support policy positions where I happen share them with social liberals, but for me they are part of an anti-authoritarian value set, closer to anarchism than to liberalism. I’m done with liberalism: all of it.