Left Out Liberal

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

Saturday, April 16, 2005


There's a very good article on the BBC website at the moment from their education correspondent, Mike Baker, discussing where education has gone from this campaign. It's well worth a read, especially as it goes beyond this point to discuss how the media makes politicians dance to its own tune.
"It is an odd spectacle when the party leader and education spokesperson spend half an hour setting out their thoughts on education only to be immediately asked about immigration or national insurance.

Yet this is exactly what happens. Of course, as a journalist, I would defend the right of the media to ask politicians about whatever issue they think is important to their readers, viewers and listeners."
I've been wondering this too, and it doesn't just happen during an election. If you examine the transcripts of any of the PM's press conferences, you'll notice how Tony Blair will talk on a subject for a few minutes and then almost none of the subsequent questions will be related to it. The first question is often completely at a tangent, and it doesn't seem to fit together very well.

The article moves on:
"One of the worst aspects of journalism is the pack mentality - it is safer to hunt together than to rove independently. If the big beasts of the journalistic jungle are going on one issue, others will follow.

So, while they might like to test out the details of... policy, they dare not miss their one chance to try to wrong-foot the politicians on an issue that has cropped up elsewhere.

I fear, and I speak as a television journalist, that this problem is largely the consequence of the daily news conferences being broadcast live on 24-hour news media. Journalists like to get their questions on the air almost as much as they want to hear the answers."
There's more, but I leave that to you to read. It is a fine summary of the mess that politics has gotten into in this country. Because the whole object of presentational style is now to take advantage of the media, it's hardly surprising that the media have responded by taking the ultra-critical line on as many things as possible. And even if it isn't critical, it will use the "if we're sceptical and cynical about everything then it will still be fair" line.

This then feeds in to how we view the politicians, and it only adds to our deep-seated suspicion of everything they do.

But then again, I do feel the media does also bear a lot of the blame. They don't need to be this harsh. I'd like it if every now and then they actually asked questions on the issue the presentation is about, just as long as it clearly isn't an attempt to divert news away from another story. As citizens, we depend almost entirely on the media to know where parties stand on the issues. They have a lot of power, and it worries me that a hell of a lot is slipping under the radar that will be important to millions of voters. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to see education as the top priority of all parties, but it's not getting the headlines.

The media is unaccountable. They should always remember that. They like to think they're doing an important job by scrutinising the elected politicians, but there are many tens of thousands of people out there who could do the job just as well and may even bring a different light to the story. But since we can't do that, they need to show a bit of humility. They've got to use their power wisely. It's OK for them... they can stir shit endlessly but if anyone ever pulls them up on it they have the retort, "I ask the questions!"

Makes you wonder. Just how much of this campaign is actually being dictated by the media? Who's to say the politicians are in control of anything?

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Youth Vote

To turn away from the issues is usually a brave move to make. Today, I have decided to construct an essay on my assessment of youth voting in this country. It couldn't be further from the devastating news of the demise of Rover at the moment, but I feel that this is an issue that has not been considered properly by the media. So because this is totally untopical, I am not bothered about lack of comments to it. I simply feel that most of this needs to be said. Before I begin, I will declare an interest: I am a student. I will come back to the particular issue of student voting at another time.

The common view is that the youth is completely disengaged from politics. If you ask someone between 18-24 in the street who they are going to vote for, they are likely to tell you that they are not voting at all. We don't like politicians - they are slimy and untrustworthy. They are not interested in our issues. They prefer to pander to the elderly. It's a different world.

All of this is broadly true. If you're a manifesto junkie, you'll have noticed the perhaps undue prominence given to the "grey vote". Everyone wants to give the pensioners a little sweetener. Down here in the youth vote, we see the grey vote as being full of people more concerned about what they get off the government rather than what a government can do for society.

A harsh line to take, and not one I fully agree with, but it is a reasonable stereotype of the youth view. Even if it is true, it's hardly surprising given that we don't vote, so therefore why should the politicians ever take any notice of us? It's a vicious circle that we have started, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

But if you press the issue further, you notice something else. When we say we're not interested in politics, we don't actually mean it. Because the word "politics" comes with so much baggage, we assume that by "politics" you mean "party politics". We are not disengaged; we are genuinely interested in what is going on. We might even have an opinion on it! We just don't approve of this adult sport of clubbing together to shove leaflets through doors. Remember, most of us have not long finished being children. It's hardly surprising that we're not taking to extremely "adult" things like politics intuitively. We'll get round to party politics eventually. For now, we are more engaged by issues...

Issues are the key. We hear stories on the news. We hear friends talking about them. Even within the family events may happen that can cause a political interest. We listen, we agree, disagree or maybe offer an alternative perspective. All the while we are beginning to appreciate the concept of politics. It's hardly surprising that so few of us vote because we're not used to this process of political socialisation. It's a new thing in our lives. As new adults, we're only just getting used to adulthood and the concept of self-determination. There could be nothing worse to our new and growing senses of individuality than to club together in so called "parties" which are anything but.

It takes time before appreciation of majority rule comes in. More often than not, we find ourselves in the minority, and so we hate it as we're told what to do. But then we come to appreciate that sometimes we hold a majority view, and our imposition of it on a minority goes against our opposition to majority rule, but somehow it is still right. And so, an understanding of pragmatism comes in; that sometimes we need to trade off points of view. Otherwise nothing would get done. That's not to say I approve of the party whip system 100%, but I accept that parties are a necessary evil of the system. However, I do not think that the three party system adequately reflects the balance of opinions in my age group.

We do care about what's going on. We just don't think the party system reflects or represents us. We have views on issues, but they aren't consistent. We have ideologies, but most of us haven't realised it yet. Only given some time will be appreciate that our own experiences can be drawn upon to produce a reasonably coherent line of thought across many issues. Then we suddenly realise - mostly to our horror - that in fact we're not quite so different to the rest of the world after all.

Youth apathy is excuseable. We're still learning. The solution of it is to ensure that we're engaged in this kind of thing before 18, but this is not ideal. After all, when you're under 18, politics is the furthest thing away from what you really want to be doing. You're still a kid. You should be allowed to enjoy whatever childhood innocence you have left without having to worry too much about bigger pictures just yet.

Amongst all this, politicians should not be allowed to ignore the youth because they don't vote. It seems obvious, but today's youth is tomorrow's mature and educated (hopefully) electorate. Politicians cannot be left to just appeal to the older voters; they must have clear and consistent policies on youth that they can talk about to start the process of electoral engagement. Youth apathy has always been here, but it is getting worse as politicians permanently focus on electoral arithmetic and decide that it's not worth their effort trying to capture a disparate group when they can talk about the state pension and capture the attention of another disparate group - pensioners - but who nevertheless have one or two uniting factors that have much broader appeal.

Politicians have a role to play. They've got to communicate with us youth voters. The Conservatives have known this for some time, and their youth organisation is legendary. But the other parties must join the bandwagon, including all the non-mainstream ones who the youth often turn to first, such as the Greens or the Lib Dems.

So next time you hear someone moaning about the lack of a "youth vote", don't just tut and complain about them not being interested. We are. We want to get involved. We just don't want to play your game on your terms. We want to come together to "play the game" on terms we can all agree on. This may require some thought and effort. It may require you to offer an initial compromise to set the example of what politics should be about.

But never just blanket dismiss us as apathetic. We're just waiting for you to lead the way.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


From the result of the totally unscientific but nevertheless interesting quiz on who I should vote for, what shocks me is the distance between me and Labour. This is due to a combination of their lurch to the centre-right, and the moving of the Lib Dems to the centre-left, but it is saddening that the party I would naturally have voted for in the past has changed beyond all recognition.

Yesterday's manifesto was an appalling mix of privatise this, subsidise that and "give people greater choice". Normally, I quite like choice. I believe people should be as free as possible. But when it comes to education and healthcare, choice should not come into it. Everyone should have the opportunity to get the best available without having to choose between arbitrary two star and one star hospitals. I don't know about you, but next time I keel over in the street I certainly won't be using my dying breaths to shout, "Take me to St. Thomas' hospital! Only they have a four star rating in heart surgery! They will save me!"

I just want the local hospital to do the job and do it well. This is the failure of New Labour. Even for an outpatient appointment, I don't care that the hospital 50 miles down the road does better vasectomies than any in the land. How am I supposed to get there to take advantage of it? Why can't my hospital 5 miles away do it just as well?

Naturally, the people who gain from choice are those who can afford to exercise it. If you're poor and have no car, then you have no choice but to go to the nearest hospital anyway. So once more, we see another Labour policy that will only benefit those who are better off. In any case, regardless of wealth, it's still a hassle to be moving round the country. Why do we need choice when it comes to healthcare? All we want is a uniform standard NHS hospital close enough to everyone. Meanwhile, those "failing" hospitals will get less patients, and there may even come pressure to close them.

Worse is the fact that, if I'm reading this correctly, by 2009 patients will be able to choose from any hospital in the land, as long as that hospital can provide the operation to NHS standards and equivalent or better financial cost. So taxpayers money could theoretically be going nicely into the back pocket of private hospitals. Kerching! In that case, why not do away with the NHS and simply institute a national system of healthcare insurance?

Labour are taking us closer and closer to the privatisation of the NHS via Peter Hain's famous back door. Do not be under any illusions that this is the party of socialism. They are not even social democrats.
"Healthcare is too precious to be left to chance... This means defeating those who would dismantle the NHS" - Labour 2005 Manifesto
Yes, Tony. It is too precious to be left to chance. It is also too precious to be left in your heads. You are dismantling the NHS. You must be defeated.

Not a surprise...

Since other bloggers are taking this test at the moment - and it's a useful guide to the simple components of each major party's principles - it's worth a go. My result was entirely expected:

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:

Liberal Democrat

Your actual outcome:

Labour -18
Conservative -85

Liberal Democrat 112
UK Independence Party -28

Green 35

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Of course, if this were a proportional representation system, then this would give a reasonably accurate guide as to how to vote. There are other issues of course, but the ones considered in this poll are those that are hitting the headlines. And it doesn't take into account the importance of tactical voting. Nevertheless, I do believe that a lot of ex-Labour voters who are considering tactically voting for the Lib Dems might find it worthwhile to take this test and see for themselves that the Lib Dems are more closely aligned to their views in the first place.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Tax and Bore

As the discussions on whose economic plans will "lock in macroeconomic stability" continue, I can hear the yawns of a tired nation.

The interesting thing about all this is the fact that, in reality, no one is paying any attention to what figures are being bandied about. To be honest, I'm not even sure of calls of "black holes" make much difference either. The numbers are flying over everyone's heads, but the threats from Tony to "watch out for your interest rates" may land home more than anything. When it comes down to it, people are going to make a snap judgement based on who they think they can trust, rather than who they think are the competent economists.

If they think the 8 years of Labour have fattened their wallets, and they like that kind of thing, then they will continue voting Labour. One of the perhaps slightly concerning things I've been hearing during the campaign so far is the number of arch-Conservatives who voted Tory in 1997 and 2001 now saying they will vote Labour because they have been "surprised at how well the economy has been run". Go figure.

But I still think the impact of tax is being overplayed. In a fascinating poll for the Independent yesterday, NOP produced some surprising, and reassuring, results.

Only 25% of people want to cut taxes by £4bn, as the Tories promise. Out of Tory voters, this figure only rises to 30%. From both Labour and Lib Dem voters, only 18% of each want to cut tax, while 76% of each would prefer such money to be invested in the public services. Even 58% of Tory voters agree with that sentiment.

Then, when asked on the Lib Dems policy of a 50% tax band for £100,000+ earners, the figures show that 73% of all voters agree. 80% and 88% of Labour and Lib Dem voters respectively agree with this policy. And so do 61% of Conservative voters.

Yet, we are constantly being told to think by the Conservatives that the nation is drowning under an enormous Labour-inflicted tax burden; that they would come along and "ease the pain" of the country. It would seem that most people are reasonably pleased with the current position of the tax system, and tax cuts do not interest them... particularly as it looks certain that the Tory cuts will only go to pensioners anyway.

So the Tories could very well be barking up the wrong tree here. This is encouraging news, especially since I watched the Conservative party election broadcast last night and felt sick. The Labour one the night before was just as bad, naturally, but it reminded me that the country cannot afford a Tory government. And it can't afford another Blair government. What a predicament...

As for the imminent launch of Labour's manifesto today, I have no doubt that it's going to talk about the economy in great depth, and how Gordon Brown has Saved The Country when in reality a lot of the economic success is unplanned and unintentional. Economics is a funny thing. Politicians like to think they have it under control, but the market works in mysterious ways.

It's time to move on and discuss the real issues. Economic success is more often by accident than by design.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Beware of The Sun

Trevor Kavanagh, the Sun's political editor, is no Labour supporter. There's no doubting in most people's minds that he's a keen Conservative voter, and you only need to read his articles to see this.

But of late, he's been getting more and more anti-Labour. There is a question in the works as to whether or not the Sun is on the verge of endorsing the Tories, and I think if it was left to Trevor there would be no doubt that they would. But Rupert Murdoch stands in the way, and he owes thanks for a lot of the media deregulation legislation to Tony Blair.

Today's editorial column in the Sun proclaims:
"The Tories have got to concentrate on tax CUTS. That isn’t rocket science, either, Mr Howard."
This is where I start to get suspicious...

A newspaper, claiming to represent the hard-working, oppressed and over-taxed working classes. The kind of people who don't pay that much tax in the first place. In fact, if they have families, it's likely they're also getting a lot of tax credits. Tax cuts are meaningless to them.

It's well documented that any tax cuts always benefit the richest. When Labour introduced the thin 10p tax band, the people who gained the most were those on higher incomes. It's why Gordon Brown refuses to move the tax allowances upwards, and instead uses targeted tax credits to bring the benefits to the lower earners. It may be confusing, and there might be less bureaucratic ways of doing it, but it is an attempt to redistribute via the back door. In other words, tax cuts should not really be the concern of those on incomes below £20-30,000.

So who is the Sun writing on behalf of when it demands tax cuts? It's certainly not its readership. They may get whipped up into a frenzy, pretending that they are being seriously strained by Labour's taxation policies, but in reality if they looked at their income it probably isn't much higher. People are easily influenced by the media.

Could it be, as before, that the Sun is demanding tax cuts on behalf of its hard-working, oppressed but high-earning journalists? The fat cats who feel the strain of any tax rise disproportionately? But what better way to get heard than to have all your naive readership eating out of the palm of your hand, chanting your editorial line, while you pocket the benefits.

It's the politics of the Back Pocket. And we've got to guard against it.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Right All The Time?

Immigration has been forgotten by this morning. I Wuz Right!

The Tories have unveiled their election manifesto, which is the main reason why immigration didn't last quite so long. Of course, the content of the manifesto is irrelevant, since no one reads them and the political correspondents who do the elbow-work on our behalf only report selected fragments filtered via a mesh of cynicism.

But the event is more important than what it contains. It's a sure fire way of getting the headline media focus just for a day, and more attention for the personality politics of this election.

Predictably, the calls have come that the "sums don't add up." There's not a day that goes by without this allegation being hurled. Yesterday the Lib Dems sums didn't add up. The Tories like to say they are predicting certain doom in the economy if Labour is re-elected because "their sums don't add up." Even the Scottish Nationalists have got in on the act, and Labour have told them... you guessed it... that their "sums don't add up".

It's hardly surprising that people get fed up with politics. It's a tedious mass of the same old claptrap being bandied about day-by-day. And yet, no one is actually lying. They're simply selectively using data, or only disclosing a less than complete picture. Being economical with the truth.

Thus, politicians are allowed to live in this fantasy world where everyone is right and everyone is wrong simultaneously. It's no small wonder that people think they're from another planet.

If only we had the election tomorrow...

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Sunday That Wasn't

The politicians have tried to stoke up the campaign today but with little success. The same old rubbish has been wheeled out about immigration, but it doesn't seem to have bitten. Labour have still not taken a decisive step to push the campaign in their direction, and they may pay the price for this. It looks like they'll wait until the manifesto launch at some time next week before beginning the big push, but they are spending too long the defensive.

However, maybe it doesn't matter. According to MORI, there has been a shocking turnaround in the polls, going from 5% Tory lead to 7% Labour. This is quite surprising, and it is possible that MORI have a rogue poll on their hands on both occasions. There's something not quite right here, since the electioneering of the last couple of weeks has not been particularly groundbreaking. However, the other figure showing that 61% are absolutely certain to vote (as well as a clutch of other data from these polls) makes for interesting reading.

Some of the more intriguing numbers in particular suggest that 56% of people would be happy to have tax rises if they went on health, education and welfare, and that 59% of people have either slight or strong support for the use of taxes being used to narrow the gap between rich and poor. It's these people that Labour are probably going to have to rely on to get through this election while staying silent on whether taxes are going to go up enough. Fortunately, this is more than enough to win an election, and it's strangely reassuring to learn that this nation has not yet descended into the Tory maelstrom of The Back Pocket is King.

But if there really are a lot of fickle people in this country, wavering between parties from one minute to the next, we can be sure that there will be a certain level of Labour supporters who just won't be able to vote for them again, no matter how much Peter Hain tries to scare us. Chicken Yoghurt, in a great post explaining just why we find it so difficult to support New Labour this time is well worthy of a read.

It makes you wonder... just what has happened to traditional Labour and liberal values? The government seems to have got lost in a lust for authoritarian measures. If there really is such support for these traditional "Old" Labour principles as the polls suggest, then why has the Labour party not made significant efforts to highlight their plans in these areas? Instead, they've been busy fighting wars, curtailing civil liberties and burning the ladders up which they climbed. It seems they're more interested in talking about the economy and appealing to that Old Back Pocket again. Isn't that the Tory way?

New Labour is not Labour, no matter what Peter Hain thinks.