Left Out Liberal

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

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Same Old Same Old

It looks like old Charlie Clarke is going to "get tough" on cannabis in order to escape from Tory allegations of being "soft on drugs".

Who is it that makes up all these ridiculous labels? And why do they work? I am assuming they work, because we hear enough of "soft on this" "tough on that" to mean that it must be helpful for some of the electorate to classify parties as something.

It's total rubbish in my mind. When you start accepting these labels that the other party has made up for their opposition, or even labels they've made up for themselves, then you have stopped thinking for yourself.

We old enough know to engage our own brains. We can look at policies proposed by parties and decide for ourselves which one we prefer. We don't need other people pigeonholing alternatives before we even get a chance to consider them.

Somehow or other, we really need to stop the spinmeisters. They are completely destroying politics. The country is already on the slippery slope down to the entire personalisation of politics that we see in America. Does it make sense to want to give it an extra push into its grave?

And this is why I think this will be the worst General Election ever.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Tory "cuts"?

The question as to whether you can cut something that hasn't been spent yet is on everyone's lips at the moment. Yesterday, Tony Blair unveiled his latest posters (but they aren't for the election of course, oh no! No date has been decided yet, remember?) which talked about the Tories and their £35bn of cuts.

Of course, when the numbers are looked at closely, they are not quite cuts. They are still growths in spending, but just at a slower rate. So the Tories plans could more properly be termed "slightly less investment" than Labour. And in any case, Labour have not produced spending plans beyond 2008, making these projections somewhat hazy at best. It's difficult to predict the state of the economy that far ahead.

The simple solution to all of this is the one that most people apply on a daily basis: never trust politicians. It doesn't matter who they represent, this is just another example of why the British public have got so fed up with political spin. They've all been caught in a big lie once more, and so when they moan that they are "not given sufficient respect" while acting like butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, they would do well to reflect on their behaviour.

Perhaps then they'd understand why. They have lost our respect, and they aren't going to get it back until they show us they are worthy of it. If they think the negative campaigns they all have planned for the Election are going to change anything, then I guess they're a lot more naive than I thought they were...

Update: I wrote this post just hours before the story broke about how 8 out of 10 people don't trust politicians any more. Do I have my finger on the pulse or what! :)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Budget Reflection

As I listened to the Budget yesterday, I couldn't help but agree with everything that Gordon Brown said. I don't know whether this is because I was genuinely being fooled by his wizardry, or if the words were registering in my head as being something I could support.

It was a good Budget. I liked the sound of his redistributive efforts with tax credits, his big idea that we should be in education of some form until 18 at the least, and despite the shameless attempts at getting the grey vote on side, it was quite a restrained piece of economics. It has once more reconfirmed to me that Brown is a pretty good guy in most of this. I'm not sure if he's the most charismatic man around, but his policies seem to be in the right place. I'm pretty sure, as long as he doesn't have a copy of Blair's authoritarian rashness hidden somewhere, I would be happy to return to a muted-Labour party supporter if if Brown were in charge.

Of course, the Lib Dems came back with the points on local income tax that do need stressing. It would be a much fairer system, and I support this over official Labour policy. There are many liberal (both with a big L and a small l) policies that I support over and above some of the traditional socialist ones.

I am a little concerned about the numbers. I have a feeling some form of major tax is going to rise at the post-election budget. Will it be National Insurance? Probably. But Brown has managed to get through these eight years with a near perfect record of growth and stability. He might not be the Chancellor after the election, which will ensure his image remains strong for a future leadership battle. But if things start taking a turn for the worse, his credibility will be on the line. Brown is not the certain next leader of Labour any more.

The coming few years will be interesting in that respect.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Sign of Failure?

Rather than discuss the Budget today before it has happened, I will wait until tomorrow and look back at what vote-grabbing measures Gordon Brown has sent our way. He will always deny that it's an election Budget, but he would be a fool not to use it to his advantage in setting himself up as a better leader of Labour.

Instead, I will take a brief look at this interesting story that broke yesterday, on how universities plan to use more "access tests" in future.

Essentially, their argument is that it's very difficult to distinguish between A-grade candidates now. I have some sympathy: people are doing better, teaching is improving, the modular nature of the A-level means resits can be targeted, and sadly, children are now being taught with simply the exam in mind, as a result of our total exam culture.

But the problem here is that there was a solution on the cards, one which had the backing of everyone across the educational establishment. Yes, it was that good old report by Mike Tomlinson that was shelved last month by the government. But they decided that they couldn't possibly tinker with the "Gold Standard!" that is A-Levels, especially with an election just around the corner. Oh no.

Of course, they have selective memories, as they "tinkered" with A-Levels when they introduced Curriculum 2000, bringing in the AS-Level.

It is still remarkable that they never pushed ahead with this. The reforms for a diploma were a simple solution, embraced by all, and could easily have been implemented thanks to the strength of the Labour majority. Yet they decided, entirely voluntarily, that they couldn't upset the applecart. The excuses given at the time were pathetic and they mostly came back to the usual "Gold Standard!" rubbish.

But we all know why.

Nothing beats a good election to focus the minds of a government. It's just a shame that this time they were focused the wrong way.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Poll Summons

The other day I was moaning about there being a lack of polls, and so today the Independent published their latest figures, showing Labour's lead to be just 5%. I say "just" even though according to the article this gives Blair a majority still over 100. Which is unacceptable.

But even though I say that, I regret it, because I know that it means the Tories are going to take those seats that make up the difference between what we have now and what we will end up with. Of course, it's the usual travesty of our electoral system in operation; these kind of percentages would leave the country stuck fast in coalition governments if we had pure PR.

Of course, this poll puts the Conservatives further behind than the 2% gap predicted by MORI at the end of February. But at the very least, it gives further evidence to the claim that the Conservatives are indeed catching up, while the Lib Dems just cannot get past that 20% mark.

Things will hot up on this front once the election is finally called. Indeed, it cannot be many weeks away now. We've had so many false-starts already, I just wish we could finally get things underway. It's getting tedious seeing Blair engaging in electioneering and then denying that he knows when the date of the election is. In fact, it's just insulting.

One thing's for sure, abortion is not going to be an issue. People will try to make it so, but thankfully we realise that this should not be decided at elections. We have a tradition in this country that allows a free vote on such issues, therefore if a leader were to declare their stance, they risk polarising the issue and that does not assist there to be a sensible debate. Most people realise this. It's not often I defend Tony Blair, but in this case he is absolutely right to not comment.

In any case, it's not going to be what people bear in mind when they vote. All polls consistently show that public services and the economy are high on the agenda. Michael Howard isn't going to change that.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Howard's End ?

It was slightly strange to see Michael Howard suddenly come out with his plans to reduce the abortion term-limit from 24 weeks to 20, in the sense that it was wholly unexpected.

Michael Howard has been doing this a lot lately. Suddenly he will make a speech or put an article in a newspaper on an issue no one has been talking about. This is clever electioneering. Kick up a fuss on one issue. Send out the dogs of war to blast the government who are caught on the back foot. They rush out anyone they can find (normally John Reid or Hazel Blears) to defend it in the usual "you can't trust Tories" way. The Tories respond in kind with accusations that Labour is fighting the election on past issues, when they want to talk about the future. Labour don't take the bait, the trouble dies down, or Howard quickly moves on to a fresh issue to start the process all over again.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems get sidelined, even though Charles Kennedy made a speech today outlining how he would introduce more free prescriptions and dental and eye checks for all.

I must admit that Howard is doing a pretty good job of setting the agenda. He's creating positive headlines and making people think carefully about whether Labour really are going to ease to another landslide. Labour's strategy to defend against him has been poor, and Gordon Brown is once again making rumblings after giving some pretty major interviews on Newsnight, so there are clear signs of divisions in the Labour camp.

This election probably isn't so clear cut.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


The Tories and Labour have been sending out their attack dogs all weekend now... even Norman Tebbit has been dug out to leap to the defence of Michael Howard. Yeah - that's really going to help the nation learn to love him.

It's quite clear that despite the consensus that finally emerged, this is going to be an issue for many weeks, and there will be many attempts to keep coming back to it. Security is doubtless going to be an election issue, which is pretty ironic given that most people really would naturally assume the Tories are going to be the toughest on things like this. It just goes to show how much the political landscape of Britain has changed and is changing before our very eyes.

Yesterday I was referred to a very intriguing site - So Now Who Do We Vote For? It's a travesty that this electoral system we have requires people to strategically analyse the way they vote, but given that we have it, we have to work within it. So efforts by sites like this could come in very handy. It provides, or at least it will when it's complete, a breakdown of every constituency and where it would be tactically sound to place a vote, bearing in mind the voting record of the sitting MP. After all, not all Labour MPs supported the Iraq War. Plus, it allows you to contribute your own view on the constituency... well worth a look.

Once again this raises the issue, could tactical voting be a major player in this election? Sure it was around last time, in the form of tacticalvoter.net... but its impact must have been minimal. Now, four years later, there are millions more people on the internet. Millions more are also pretty pissed off with Blair, and a hell of a lot has gone down over this last Parliament.

If sites like this can achieve popularity, it really could make people think carefully about where to place their vote. This is exactly what I was encouraging, and if there are resources available to assist people in getting all the information they need, I fully support them.

It would be nice if there were a few upsets this time...