Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Saturday Slump

You can tell there's not much going on on the domestic political front at the moment, given that the top story is a Tory pledge to ensure children get two hours free sports lessons a week.

I don't think there's much to be said on this. It's hardly a vote winner, and it's not going to motivate people to pay more attention to the political process. A reasonable policy, but hardly ground breaking. Labour are still selling off those playing fields just like the Tories did, so I hardly have any sympathy with them on this matter. But sport does need to keep being emphasised in schools... so if it's being talked about, it's better than nothing.

While more problems emerge in the Middle East, it is probably best if politicans tone down the politicking for a few days. But it has been suspiciously quiet of new policies for the past few days, so I'm rather expecting it to be slightly busier next week. Of course, the simple problem is that Middle East woes in Israel cannot be exploited electorally, so the Tories will have little to say on things like this.

I have always wondered what events like this, where the only reaction the media is interested in is one from the "office" of the Prime Minister, rather than one from the person holding the office - i.e. the message will be broadly non-partisan and representative of the nation. The problem is that this kind of event, reinforced by the media, makes people get used to seeing, as in this case, Tony Blair being the man with the Only British Opinion on this issue, which is normally one people can find it very difficult to disagree with.

In such cases like this, it gives a tiny edge to an incumbent government... because it allows people who may not normally agree with him a chance to actually agree with him! Perhaps this has an impact on what people's opinions are of him... "he's a nice man really" sort of thing.

Or maybe not.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Dancing of Tony Blair

It's always a bore to watch any press conference with Tony Blair involved, and in particular, the monthly briefing of the press by the PM is nothing more than a quasi-presidential facade that largely goes against the principle of collective responsibility that Cabinet government was the architect of over the centuries.

In addition to that though, they are always a fruitless exercise. The PM deftly dodges, weaves and pirouettes much to the delight of the assembled media and to the chagrin of the public watching. Today was no exception, as Blair once more reiterated his favourite arguments on the same subjects. There is no point asking the same questions to which we are only going to get a politician-style answer to again and again. Yet, that does not stop the journalists, of which there are many tens there, asking the same question over and over but with a slight variation to try to catch him out.

We didn't hear anything new on "control orders" or the legality of the Iraq war. However, we did hear about the increase in the minimum wage, which is possibly the greatest achievement of the Labour government that gets my complete support, but this has not really been picked up by the media as it's caught in the latest "is the Pope dead yet?" media cycle.

Sure, those soldiers have been jailed, but it surely isn't right that they will be the only ones to pay for these crimes, when it was quite clear the orders came from above? The damage has already been done to the British army, and some justice has been issued, but there's going to be a lot more of this in the coming months, and if we weren't already hated in Iraq as much as the Americans are, we will be by the end of the process.

Normal service will doubtless resume shortly.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Latest poll trends

Labour's lead narrows to 2 percent according to latest MORI poll in the Financial Times.

I try not to get too excited over polls that give an indication the Tories are going to do reasonably well. Unfortunately, it also seems to imply that the Lib Dems will pretty much get a similar result to what they got in the 2001 Election, which could be a little risky given the wonders of our electoral system.

Another factor to consider is that MORI polls tend to overestimate support for Labour on a consistent basis. I don't have any factual evidence to back this up, but when I think back to previous elections I can recall MORI always seeming to give Labour 45% and above, when the election ended up nowhere near that.

Despite this closeness, the Labour majority will still be significant, not too far off the 100 mark.

There's an interesting part in the article where it talks about how bringing Tony Blair into the campaign seems to have had an impact on Labour voters. I think this is very true. Blair is something of a liability for Labour, particularly when it comes to the solid working class vote, and the fickle middle classes who stuck with Tony in 2001. Until very recently, you were very hard pressed to find an image of Blair on Labour's website, whereas the Tory and Lib Dem sites featured their leaders quite prominently. Says an awful lot, I thought.

If the Tories, and particularly the Lib Dems, can focus their entire campaigns on the untrustworthiness of Blair, and his "failure to deliver" in certain areas, and pursue it relentlessly, even if it requires some bending of the truth (and there will be plenty of that: we have already seen it over the immigration issue) ... then the mud will eventually stick.

It's already looking likely that turnout will be low. And if the polls start to show a considerable slide for Labour, then some things may not turn out as planned. Don't forget that a General Election is not guaranteed in May. If it starts to look like Labour will lose, then it could well be delayed until the autumn, or even next year. Probably unlikely, but worth bearing in mind.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


When it comes to any discussion of our exams system I can easily become infuriated by the loose language many politicians and commentators use that can cause great offence because they have refused to engage their brains.

The first and most important thing to bear in mind is that it is not usually a good idea to criticise the current system too harshly as there are currently kids and young adults working through their courses, working hard, revising, studying and sometimes making their social lives suffer by having to take additional jobs, who are going to be seriously impacted if you tell them that they are getting it "easier than ever."

It's never a good idea to devalue hard work. That is exactly what people who either a) don't know better, or b) don't understand the issues at all do when they question the educational system. As a very recent product of this system, I know from first hand experience how gutting it is to get your exam results, think you've done really well, and then discover when you get back home that in fact things are "easier" than ever, and how it's "impossible to fail". It's not a great feeling to think that your two years of hard work are being degraded by people who would struggle to answer a GCSE question to the A* standard that they think they hold, never mind an A-Level question.

Having said that, there is nothing wrong with wanting to find an even better way of assessment. Something has to be done about the exam culture we are living in, as well as the fact that a significant number of children do not achieve any GCSEs at all. We must make GCSEs, in particular, more relevant to the children studying them, so that the staying-on rate of children going on to study A-Levels is much higher. This, naturally, would include the equalisation of status of vocational courses. It is, surely, much better that children are in an education system for longer. We should be aiming for almost 100% staying on rate up to 18.

And to me, the best way of achieving all of this was with the four-tier diplomas as proposed by Mike Tomlinson. We have to end the snobbery of looking down on vocational courses, and this was an excellent way of solving the problem.

So naturally, I'm not at all happy that the government has missed this chance to level the playing field. Schools will continue to avoid offering vocational courses for fear of being labelled as a school that is "dumbing down" by prospective parents. Consequently, many children will be denied the opporunity to study areas that they would find more interesting and relevant to their lives. It will then be hardly surprising if they leave school earlier and suffer all the problems that that entails.

It's always been my belief, and it should be of everyone, that a society should be judged on the quality of its education to its children. It is the best, if not the only way, to ensure that everyone has a chance in life. We have suffered the problems of the class system for too long in this country. It is slowly on its way out, but we must keep pressing by pushing for thorough reforms such as this one.

There is nothing fundmentally wrong with either the GCSE or the A-Level. Standards are as high as ever, and the rise in passes at A-Level is down to a combination of the Education 2000 modular system, as well as the fact that A-Level students are more likely to pass anyway, since they have usually done pretty well at GCSE and are a more intelligent bunch. But they should all be integrated into a system that produces the same qualification for all by the end, obviously to varying grades depending on how high your percentage score is. And that qualification should incorporate a wider range of subjects, assessed consistently throughout the years with coursework and assignments, not just final exams, with relevant and practical applications to Real Life so kids understand why they're doing it.

It's the only way to solve the current problems. But go easy on the kids who are currently slaving their arses off in pursuit of the goals society has set them.

Suspicious timing...

The latest hoo-hah with regards to Charles and Camilla's wedding has once more cleared all newspapers and newsdesks of all real news and replaced it with this piece of trivia that is not relevant to anyone's real lives. This is normally annoying enough in itself, as there can be nothing more tedious than listening to the usual suspects coming out with their pompous and arrogant views on the monarchy which they impose on us as if we would be unpatriotic to not agree with them.

But this time, and strangely enough last time when the marriage announcement was being made, there is just a wee bit of bad news being "buried" by the government. Today, the government has dedicated the day to discussing the future of civil liberties in this country in their horrendously illiberal Prevention of Terrorism Bill, and it's slowly slipping under the radar. Sure, it will no doubt get some coverage tomorrow, but the agenda is moving on very quickly, and there will be more populist related material to digest before the night is out that may still get priority in the papers tomorrow.

Of course, last time, the government was slowly pushing through the introduction of ID cards when the first annoucements of the marriage came. There's no doubt that it affected the number of column inches the more important issues got the next day.

On this issue, I am remaining hopeful that the Lords will block the measures when it comes round to it. Rushed legislation is almost always bad legislation, and this one will be no exception. We do need to respond to the threat of terror, but we must always remember to keep a sense of perspective. We cannot throw away our traditional rights that people have fought for for centuries just because of a few bad apples. The ideas proposed during the toughest period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland were never this draconian, and that was arguably much more of a threat than Al'Qaeda or any of the other groups.

The other oddity about this whole charade is the position of the Conservatives. They've changed their minds a lot on this lately, and it wouldn't surprise me if they did another u-turn fairly soon in order to avoid the risk of being labelled "soft" on terrorism in the General Election. I'm quite sure it would not be beyond Labour to pull the tactics of George Bush in the US Presidential Elections. Yet, the Tories have said that they would happily support the renewal of the existing legislation... you know, that little thing that has been declared "incompatible with human rights" by the Law Lords.

So on the one hand you have the Tories wanting to renew the existing piece of bad legislation that has been condemned by many senior law figures and the highest court in the land; and on the other hand you have a Tory party worried about civil liberties that could be put in jeopardy by the present bill being proposed.

Which is the real Tory party?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hunting to the ends of the Earth...

... and then far beyond into monotony. Last week we suffered the relentless bombardment by the media and pressure groups over the issue of fox-hunting. You know, that thing that should have been solved many years ago when Labour had the chance?

It seems that New Labour, in its usual attempt to be all things to all people, carried this one on for so long that eventually the majority in favour was eroded away quite significantly. If it had been banned many years ago, when the opportunity was there, it wouldn't have wasted so much time in Parliament.

Better late than never. But this bill has so many holes in it that you can't help but feel that it isn't going to last very long. The police have better thing to do, naturally, and so it could likely end up as one of those laws that people simply ignore.

Last week though, we seemed to have been given a non stop commentary on the progress and reaction to the law as the implementation date approached. It was extremely boring and very predictable.

Fact is, this is yet another of those issues that will not be resonating electorally. The people may have shifted position, but it may be more due to fatigue than anything else. There are an awful lot of "don't know/don't care"s in that survey cited above. The people had already made up their minds, and its consistently high position on the media's agenda is grossly disproportianate to its importance.

No sensible political party would make this their centrepiece of a strategy. The Tories may pledge to repeal it, but they will not dwell on it for fear of stoking the flames even more. They won't open the issue to a question of townies vs countryfolk as that is extremely divisive and would likely backfire. Talks of class warfare would only play into Labour's hands.

This one is dead. The law is probably dead too. We have to move on.

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Journalist Scorned

The Mayor of London story trundles on today with Ken Livingstone refusing to apologise for his "Nazi jibe".

I have just watched the press conference given by Ken and thought he made some excellent points. I don't believe he should apologise. Ken is his own man and will fiercely defend his rights to criticise relentless newspaper journalists. Yet, it is remarkable, although not entirely surprising, to note the strength of the language used by journalists when they were questioning him. They all closed ranks to defend one of their own kind, and asked the most loaded questions possible to try to extract another slip up from Ken.

Needless to say, I have a feeling this story is yet another example of those that endlessly concern our media, which pursues it for its own sake, while calling it "in the public interest". There is really no such thing as a free media, as the media is controlled by the people from the top who impose an editorial line. Hardly a ground breaking revelation, but there are far more important things for Londoners to be considering at this time.

It's clear Ken doesn't like journalists. If he is chased to the ends of the earth by reporters sticking their tape recorders in his face then he is likely to abuse them. It's what makes him so popular - he is one of the few politicians remaining who speaks his mind. He has even resisted the demands for an apology when Tony Blair jumped on the bandwagon.

It's time to move on. No one has changed their mind through this issue. And frankly, it's becoming very boring.

Monday, February 21, 2005


The silence lately has been the result of a family matter. Normal service will resume tomorrow. Fortunately, it wasn't a particularly exciting week, politics wise. The half-term of Parliament led to a decline in the normal electoral brainwashing that we've become used to, so the same old issues got trudged out again and again (anyone for fox hunting?).

More soon.