Confessions of a Political Animal

April 27, 2009

European Left Watch: Mini-states head left

Althing, Reykjavik

Althing, Reykjavik

April 27th 2009 represents a bright new dawn for the European Parliamentary left. With the global financial crisis throwing traditional right-leaning governments into disarray, over the weekend left-of-centre parties romped to victory in no fewer than two European nations. With a combined population a little more than that of the London Borough of Croydon.

Iceland has, since January of this year, has been governed by its first ever centre-left government, in the form of a caretaker administration of the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) and the Left-Green Movement(Vinstrihreyfingin – grænt framboð) led by the Social Democrat’s Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who as well as being her country’s first left-leaning Prime Minister, is also thought to be the world’s first openly gay head of government. Following Sunday’s elections, this pairing of parties is now in a position to form a fully-fledged four year administration, having taken 34 of the 63 seats in the Althing, and 51.5% of the vote. The caretaker administration, laking a parliamentary majority, had required the support of smaller Progressive and Liberal Parties, with which Sigurðardóttir can now dispense – indeed, the Liberal Party has now lost all parliamentary representation. (more…)


April 23, 2009

Brain drain or brain dead?

darlingSo now we know. You only have to wait twelve years into a Labour government before you get a sensible top rate of tax. Much celebration ensued yesterday at the Town Hall when we realised that our beloved Chief Executive would be…erm…required to contribute generously to the economic recovery.

And why these sour grapes from a certain Mr Boris Johnson Esq? According to the BBC’s budget calculator, a hard-working 44 year old married man with 4 children under 16, earning £137,759 a year, plus £250,000 of self-employment income, will be £455.32 better off, thanks to the Chancellor’s largesse.

But to be serious, whilst the introduction of the 50% tax band is welcome, it is as Polly Toynbee rightly says, too late. Whilst I thought Cameron’s budget response to be a rather empty exercise in rhetorical grandstanding, the likes of which I haven’t seen since the Animal last attended a university debating club, one of his attacks ought to stick, although not really as Cameron meant it. Criticising the level of the budget deficit and the PBR, he rehearsed the old line about Labour ‘not fixing the roof while the sun was shining’. (more…)

November 19, 2008

A problem of the second order

polling-stationAs we race inexorably towards Christmas and the new year, we are also moving towards the run-up to a new electoral cycle, with European elections and a round of local government polls due in May 2009 – what a political scientist would describe as a collection of second order elections. Such elections are those thought to be considered by voters to be of lesser importance, attracting lower turn-out and being used by many who do turn out as a mid-term referendum on national government (of course, if this turns out to be the date of an early general election, unlikely in my view, then we move firmly into first-order territory).

The problem with such elections is that the real issues that they are supposed to be driven by become more than a little obscured by the heat and noise of national politics – and local elections in particular are prone to this, at least in part because of the apparent managerialism and post-ideological nature of the massively decreased role of local government. It has been said that ‘there is no Labour or Conservative way to collect bins’. Up to a point, this is true, but this is a position based on a very limited perception of what a local authority should be up to.

Coming, as I do, from a left-wing perspective, I much prefer to look at local government in the light of Bevan’s quote that ‘socialism is the language of priorities’. And nowhere are decisions over the setting of (more…)

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of (more…)

October 1, 2008

Tories and LGBT rights: a duty to deceive?

Margot James, Tory Vice-Chair for Women

Margot James, Tory Vice-Chair for Women

I have come across Tory Margot James before when she was the Conservative candidate for the seat I lived in at the time of the 2005 general election. As the first openly lesbian Conservative candidate, her selection caused a certain amount of media comment.

Since then, Ms James has been on an upward trajectory, having been appointed as party vice-chair with responsibility for women’s issues by David Cameron and being selected as the Tory candidate for Stourbridge. Whilst in every respect apart from her gender and sexuality Ms James is the archetypal Conservative candidate (privately educated, self-made advertising millionaire), it is still commendable that the Conservative party has reached the position where an openly homosexual woman can move on from a candidacy in an unwinnable inner London seat to a highly competitive marginal (Labour majority 407). Splendid stuff, but my eye was caught this morning by an article on the BBC News website, illustrated with a picture of Ms James, headlined ‘Gays ‘have a duty to vote Tory”. A duty? Really? Surely you mean ‘opportunity’, or ‘right’? The only people I can think of who have a duty to vote for any party in a democracy are those who owe that party their living. This article deserved reading. (more…)

September 28, 2008

When Irish eyes stop smiling

Filed under: Conservatives,Economy,Ireland,Public spending,Tax — Political Animal @ 9:03 pm
Tags: , , , ,

British right-wingers have spent much of the past decade or so constantly turning their eyes enviously towards our neighbour across the UK’s only land border. Now that the Conservatives and their ideological fellow travelers are no longer required to see the Republic of Ireland as some kind of state sponsor of terrorists, they have noticed that this is a county which in many ways must appear as a kind of centre-right utopia.

Two right-wing parties, with significant historical differences but few contemporary ideological variations, alternate in constant government, with the ultra-free market Progressive Democrats often featuring in coalitions (albeit by all accounts the party will soon cease to exist). The three left-of-centre parties combined achieved less than 22% of first preference votes in 2007 elections. Ireland has the lowest levelof public spending as a proportion of GDP of any of the pre-expansion EU member states (35.2% compared to an EU-15 average of 48.5%) and saw phenomenal levels of wealth growth. The easily-made, albeit false, (more…)

September 16, 2008

‘These cows are near but those are far away. Near, far away.’

all the fault of Hoover's big government?

1929: all the fault of Hoover's Big Government?

With apologies to Father Ted Crilley for the post’s title. The ever-fascinating ConservativeHome* has introduced me to the delights of the blog of Douglas Carswell MP, the obscure Conservative MP for Harwich & Clacton, and in particular his latest post: ‘Big Government made the credit crunch‘. From reading the article, it strikes me that Mr Carswell, a member of the hard-right Tombstone Cornerstone Group, could do with some of Father Crilley’s advice on recognising the effects of perspective, particularly when it comes to recognising a ‘big’ government.

As the financial crisis deepens, it’s important to remember that the events unfolding are not a failure of the markets – it’s the market response to a problem created by Big Government.

 Note the capital letters. Apparently Big Government is a proper noun now. Mr Carswell continues:

For years, central banks – particularly the US Fed and the European Central Bank – have kept (more…)

September 13, 2008

Is it time to boom-proof the economy?

Time to raise public spending, Darling?

Time to raise public spending, Darling?

As the prospect of a recession looms in Britain, this may seem an odd time to talk about how the country should be preparing for the next global up-turn. However, the reality is that if the UK fails to make long-term considerations paramount in how it deals with this down-turn, the next up-turn could prove to be even more damaging than the effects of the credit crunch.

The simple truth is that there is no cast-iron reason why the next upward trend of the economic cycles has to include Britain. Nations have managed to sit-out boom times before – indeed, France and Germany seemed to manage it quite well last time round – and without the right choices being made, this could be Britain’ turn. Contrary to some expectations, there is no sign that the late 90s-early 00s boom will prove to be the last hurrah of globalisation. Rather it was the catalyst for the next stage of the globalising of the world economy: the breaking of US economic hegemony and the growth in the power of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Behind the dust cloud created by slowing or non-existent growth in the old economic powers of the US and Europe, these emerging powers appear to be largely weathering the storm – the IMF is, for example, continuing to predict 10% growth in the Chinese economy in 2008-09.

This means that when the older economies emerge from the slow-down, as they eventually will, they will have a lot of catch-up to play. This will be particularly hard to achieve given that some of the causes and symptoms of this recession, particularly high energy prices, are here to stay. But the countries that will find (more…)

September 4, 2008

Is this man the greatest threat to local democracy since Thatcher?

Last month Scotland’s First Minister took the, erm, courageous decision to announce on behalf of his nation that the Scottish people hadn’t minded the economic side of Thatcherism ‘so much’ and that it had been the lack of a social conscience to her policies that had so alienated people north of the border.

Apart from the basic political illiteracy of proclaiming such a clear seperation between economic and social policy, this statement amounted to a pretty impressive re-writing of history.

However, in the light of the Programme for Government set out by Salmond’s minority SNP administration this week, the reasoning behind the First Minister’s sudden apologia for the economics of Thatcherism has become a lot more clear. Unfortunately, he won’t be in a position to divorce the social costs of his economic policies quite as easily as he did in his glib statement.

The Abolition of Council Tax Bill that will be introduced during the coming session of the Scottish Parliament will replace the current property-value based council tax with a Scottish local income tax. Now, there is much to be said in favour of significant reforms of local government funding (more…)

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