Hurrah for the off-switch!

Many moons ago, our political leaders would bleat;

Don’t trust the BNP! They’re horrible, the BNP! They manipulate figures on immigration and misrepresent the truth and whip up fear! BOO THE BNP! BOO THEM!

This was necessary leading upto the 2009 European Parliament elections, because this was the time of the BNP actually looking organised for once, with the Labour government dancing around an orchestra of innuendo and the Conservatives still elbowing each other with hints about ‘thinking what we’re thinking.” It all came to naught, in a way, as Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons became elected parliamentarians, a result which led to the inevitable demise of the BNP, but that’s perhaps a story for another entry…

The aftermath of 2009 and all that was shown for all its glory with the fall of Phil Woolas. Using the Labour Party’s innate ability to speak the language of race and immigration with all the subtle undertones of a firework being thrown through a takeaway. It was the style at the time.

We wouldn’t be in the position where all three party leaders have to play some kind of Navy-based wang measuring contest were it not for two factors; the Census and UKIP.

Let’s start with the Census. We’re less Christian and less white than at any time in modern history, and nobody outside Fox News thinks that’s one of those bad things we keep hearing about. Oh no, hang on, they’ve just copied a Daily Mail article in full. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

I’ve not considered the reduction of a white, Christian population on these islands anything of a bad thing for as long as I can remember. But I was young when an Ugandan Asian family moved into a considerably white part of council-estate Preston, so my first experience of ‘immigration’ was a family where a woman whose name was difficult to pronounce made a living cutting hair in their conservatory, and that’s not the “coming over here, claiming our benefits” truth right from the start.

The growth of UKIP is not directly linked to the demise of the BNP, though the coincidence of the timing might as well have been written by a soap opera script consultant. “Let’s pair up the end of one career with the start of another,” they say, pushing a doting father under a bus and dragging an attractive and available doctor through the door. And so here comes Farage, all dressed up, tanned and nowhere to go.

Using the same tricks as the BNP, the sound of drums coming out of the election leaflets pushed through the doors of Eastleigh suggested that 38 million Bulgarians and Romanians were about to leap in a single bound over the English Channel. Wholly inappropriate, wholly scare-mongering and misleading. Such is the immigration debate, though, and the level to which all parties feel it’s necessary to plunge whenever it’s mentioned.

Armed with spades and helmets, off the main party leaders go to ape Farage and his immigrant mouth-frothing. Does a bell go off in their heads, I wonder? Do blood-stained words flash in front of their eyes? MUST SOUND TOUGH ON IMMIGRATION.

It’s counter-productive because the sound  of all British political leaders saying exactly the same sort of misleading, misrepresenting anti-everything is EXACTLY the things which keep Indian University students heading to the USA. And that’s saying something when the US has a more attractive attitude towards immigrants than Britain. It’s the opposite of “better the devil you know”, to an almost perverted degree. But when you’ve gone from “Don’t listen to the BNP, they mislead you on immigration” to “Frankly, this country has become a soft touch.” then you’ve made the leap into exactly the territory you wanted to avoid only a few years ago. It would be like football fans happily sitting down amongst away fans, whilst still chanting their own songs.

Parading in front of us within a fortnight has been Nick Clegg talking about “cash bonds” for immigrants, Ed Miliband pledging to dissuade people from taking low-paid jobs, and Cameron making a speech on the horrors of letting people in which has been effectively ripped apart by his own side. Yawn-a-rama, guys, you’re not convincing anyone.

This country would grind to a halt without the work of people born outside the UK. Indeed foreign workers are over-represented in both the very highest and very lowest professional sectors. It’s not any foreign person’s problem that the native population have chosen to focus on employment opportunities in the middle. If the opinion is, “they come over here taking our jobs”, I can only respond with “they’re taking the jobs nobody else applies for.”

Over-arching all of this, for me, is the big neon-lit sign flashing “I DON’T ACTUALLY CARE”. (I’m not sure how much neon costs for so many words plus apostrophe). Maybe it’s because I had to stop listening whenever my Dad began his anti-everything rant, or because I’ve grown up thinking more about lightbulbs than the exact percentage of non-Britons living here. I’ve tried to care, it’s just the inevitability of the topic being reduced to some gross name-calling tennis match. Our political leaders should know better to keep blowing dog whistles, particularly when the shrill only attracts a minority of voters and a majority of non-voters. The tracksuited circus that is the very splintered far-right won’t be won over by Ed Miliband saying “Immigrants are bad, k?”, it makes no sense to try. Why should all three parties – LibDems in particular – swerve to the right on an issue which actually helps the British economy more than it harms?

I love watching people tiptoe around bank bonuses and high-tax rates on the basis that the City of London could move to Zurich within months, whilst merrily throwing hospital cleaners and bin-men on the next train home. If this country loses its financial heart, there will be trouble, I understand that. I’d love to see how a specific region would suffer, never mind the whole country, if low-paid immigrants were suddenly ordered to pack their bags.

It’s just so much fluff and nonsense. I expect whinging against people willing to come here to suffer colder weather and terrible food just for the sake of a better job from that subsection of obsessed numpties who have “PROUD ENGLISHMAN” as their middle name on Facebook. I’m not one of those wishy-washy, bring down the borders libertarian type, but neither am I happy or comfortable to watch the Tabloid Corps of our ruling classes playing top trumps with peoples lives. If clever, qualified, educated people are dissuaded from coming here in fear of being labelled as “a dirty immigrant” from the Prime Minister downwards, then well done to all involved when the exact result you wanted turns out to be exactly what you get. We don’t need to frame this debate in terms of “immigrants verses native”, but that’s what we’ve got. And why?

Because it’s easier to follow Nigel Farage than it is to turn off his microphone. That’s more depressing than whether the head of year at a local school is Latvian.

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Look North with George Galloway

Proving that I should continue effectively boycotting bookies shops for the time being, I wrote prior to the Bradford West by-election my confident prediction of a clear Labour victory. Just in case you need reminding this soon after the event, George Galloway just sneaked ahead.

In this shrug-shoulders cynical age, the manner of Galloway’s victory could be easily shoved to one side, bunged on Wikipedia and left alone. To be clear, the seat of Bradford West was once considered exceptionally strong for Labour, held by them since 1970. Galloway has broken one record – by virtue of standing a candidate in the general election, his share of the vote increase of 52.8 percentage point is the largest ever recorded rise since the introduction of universal suffrage. It’s worth noting too that the swing against Labour is the second worst of its kind in British political history. Let’s not be too dismissive of this flash in the news headlines; Bradford West has already guaranteed its place in political history, as much a marker on the great long road of British political history as the Liberal victories in Orpington, and Bermondsey, and the Labour victory on the Wirral on the run up to the 1997 election.

So conclusion number one – Labour and Ed Miliband are in trouble, yes? Well…yes. But not emphatically. Bradford West is significant for them by virtue of the lessons we all assumed they had learned when Galloway himself took Bethnal Green and Bow from Oona King: of all the parties who are guilty of taking for granted working class voters and particularly the voters from South Asian immigrants and their families, it is the Labour Party. When the Party dismissed across Scotland last year can still look stunned and slack-of-jaw at the result of Bradford West, you just know lessons have not been learned. There can only be so many times that the same brick can hit the same feet without someone wondering if the pain couldn’t be somehow averted.

Ed Miliband is a weaker man today than he was last week, and given his reputation as Labour leader, that’s the same level of weakness that sends the office loudmouth to KFC over Virgin Fitness. He has been at the centre of a Thick Of It style week of unbelievable news – pasties, petrol, ‘Cam Dine With Me’ – only to conclude with the deflated trump of a pin-pricked balloon. Surely someone within Labour HQ knew the ‘cheat codes’ for Galloway at this point? Or for that matter, the necessity to avoid treating British Muslims as an homogeneous group  of grateful Labour voters? Here in Preston, we’ve seen this come and go in real time: one of the safest Labour wards in the city lost to the anti-Iraq war Socialist Alliance and then Respect, with Labour so unwilling to accept the inevitable conclusions that they would take 8 years to win back the seat. It’s not that Respect have won due to ‘banging the right drums’; Labour just assumed the melody they had been banging would be stuck in the heads by now.

The unmitigated disaster for Labour in Bradford West could yet be overturned in the short-term; there’s boundary changes coming up, with the newly redrawn, more rural West likely to reject Galloway’s charms, just as Poplar and Limehouse decided to put him third in the elections last year. There’s the continued slow motion course changing which Labour continue to stop/start. And there’s the Coalition – rejected soundly by the voters in Bradford – whose fortunes will be turned round by 2015. Or at least one would hope.

Another institution failed in its duties on Thursday: the mainstream media. Having long since abandoned covering by-elections, neither the BBC nor SKY looked able to cover the polling day results adequately until the last possible minutes. For the Beeb, it’s more of a disgrace, for they once had the will and attitude to ensure every parliamentary by-election was treated with respect and good grace. Twenty-four hour news cannot be the only reason for reducing by-election coverage to a scant mention in regional opt-outs; whilst the BBC replayed a repeat of “Hardtalk”, SKY News had grabbed Galloway for an exclusive interview. Even here, though, SKY daren’t take over a third of a studio for anything approaching actual coverage.

Surprised when the media had fits of confusion when Galloway was all but declared the winner? Two studio guests and a decent Twitter feed analyser would have had that sorted within minutes. Thanks to the new emphasis on making current affairs ‘relevant’, the main broadcasters have alienated the very people who want to know, and need to know, the issues of the day. It’s not enough – especially for the BBC – to point to the big screens showing TweetDeck loading up to call their new modern coverage ‘state of the art’. If Auntie means what she says about respecting the little bits of her empire, it’s time to prove it. Next by-election – which could be Manchester Central – the BBC’s outfit oop North must be involved.

The discussion surrounding George Galloway’s win touches on many stepping stones along the river of modern Britain. His victory reminds us that politics can still shock and surprise – maybe even shock and awe! – and that not one of the three main Westminster parties can claim to fully understand the way in which the Muslim vote (and larger BME votes) can be sought and retained. This is not a victory without flaws or potential banana skins; Galloway is a provocative and controversial man, one who was ultimately proved right about both Iraq and Afghanistan. But that does not mean there’s any more of a ‘revolution’ now than there was in Bethnal Green, at which George spoke of a “you ain’t seen nothing yet” atmosphere across East London.

Yes, there has been a shake of a kaleidoscope and the pieces are in flux. For the good of his party, Ed Miliband must now learn the lessons of years of complacent Labour attitude and ignorance….and George Galloway must prove that he is willing to be more of a ‘member’ than just a ‘parliamentarian’. History can only be kind when it is written by the victor. 

Ruffled feathers

Cards on the table – though by now regular readers should have fathomed this out – I am not the biggest fan of the Labour Party. I was struggling even as a child, when my dad would sneer at the very sound of the word “Kinnock” and I’d be given very compelling reasons why the son of a Wiganer whose entire working life was down the mines was no more ‘socialist’ than a goldfish.

It doesn’t help that the current Labour leadership is so ineffectual. Remember Ed Miliband telling us that the strikes earlier this year were wrong “while negotiations are still going on”? (It’s the video in which he tells us again and again and again and oh sorry my ears have run away).  Now he’s using the same drone-voice reasoning for this U-turn. I presume the Union leaders have sharpened their poking sticks. He must be one of the few walking talking humans whose voice doesn’t change when goosed.

Ed Balls doesn’t help make the Opposition very attractive to me either, and that’s not a personal insult against his face, though it does resemble a sack of cauliflowers. I would appreciate Balls admitting that the Labour Party is partly responsible for the mess we’re in, though that would be less forthcoming that admitting he dresses up in Yvette’s clothes of an evening, so instead we’re faced with an economic “5 point plan” that’s more insane than a cheesecake made from Ritalin.

During yesterday’s Prime Minister’s bunfight, two things happened. One – John Bercow signed his resignation letter. Two – D-Cam used “left-wing” as an insult. It was obviously the soundbite he wanted because he used it twice, including the bit at the end where he can say whatever he likes because Ed has used up his six questions. It wasn’t much of a soundbite anyway, because the flow was all wrong – “Irresponsible, leftwing and weak!” sounds clumsy and without any rhythm. It’s not an insult so much as a shopping list.

“Red Ed” still gets used against the Labour leader, and despite its accuracy has not stuck. Political labels are difficult to sustain as insults. “Liberal” in the United States might as well be “Baby Eating Whore”, though that’s very much a product of the polarised political situation over there. “Liberal” in this country has never caught on as a disparaging label. “You’re too liberal!” sounds almost effete and camp. “You can protect my civil liberties any day of the week, you jolly old eek.”  “Fascist” has taken to wearing on the damp cloak of “Tory!” and “Thatcher!”, not so much an effective swipe to the ego, more a measure of the man saying it. “You’re just a Yellow Tory!” is something I am often accused of being, though it does paint a picture in my mind of an elderly conservative woman having trouble with her bodily functions. But that’s just me. And in any case,  I am no Tory. Okay, I’m a bit more economically conservative than I am socially liberal but I point honourable members to my dad for that one.

Cameron’s use of “leftwing” as an insult landed squarely on the floor in a heap of damp tissue and I suspect he knows this. Nobody denies that the left have their loony tendencies, or being a slogan-shouting anti-everything socialist does tend to have you marked down as potentially unstable. “Tax us more! Spend more! Borrow more!” – it’s like being shouted at by a drunk Open University lecturer, one whose still trapped in side your television in a beige box room, strangling  himself with his kipper tie in your nightmares.

If “leftwing” sticks, it’ll be accident and not design. One time socialist micro-grouplet “Left List” tried and failed to win elections some years ago in the London Assembly elections, the word “left” seeming unusual and out of place. We know “Labour” and we know, at a push, “socialist”. The slow  beating to death of ideology in the years following Margaret Thatcher’s fall from power probably did for the extremes to do much good in the identity stakes. It took Tony Blair the Iraq war for some members of the Labour Party to remember that they were, in fact, on the left wing. Hence the birth of the Socialist Alliance and Respect and all the other far out placard wavers.

Both sides of the political spectrum agree with each other more than they think, or would dare to admit. It’s expediency to use each others stance as a beating stick. It’s also potentially damaging to a discourse already reduced to its most shallow forms. We’re supposed to do democracy different in this country, and Cameron had vowed to end Punch and Judy politics. If Ed Miliband is wrong just for being “leftwing”, than Cameron has missed the point entirely. Labour is wrong for all sorts of reasons.  Using political labels in this way is inaccurate and insulting. It would just have to be a fluffy, fence-sitting liberal to point that out. 

Press constraints/contrition

“Self-regulation is dead,” declares Greg Dyke, as the ongoing development of the News of the World, its closure, and hackgate, reverberates through the Establishment this week as hard as it did months ago. If David Cameron looks nervous, it’s genuine; the close relationship between his predecessors and certain elements of the media’s largest empires has reached the explosive conclusion everybody knew would detonate eventually. From here – the death of an iconic newspaper with over 7 million readers, arrests and enquiries, questions at the heart of Government as much as the corridors of ‘Fleet Street; – where exactly is traversed next?

At the sight of its iconic 1992 front-page – that of Kinnock as a lightbulb to be extinguished were Labour ever victorious at that year’s general election – the architects of New Labour realised their immediate future steps would be to the doors of News International, Rupert Murdoch, and every influential newspaper editor connected thereto. The creation of New Labour had right at the beginning the finger-click of Murdoch or his acolytes by way of permission. As the photograph shows, above, current Labour leader Ed Miliband trod up the path to the newsrooms of Britain’s soar-a-way NI titles. Press officers and communications directors crossed from one side of the Establishment to the other, making what has always been a difficult relationship (there has always been press barons, there has always been press officers willing to bend the rules) into something far dirtier, complex, malignant.

Cameron’s “we were all in this together” speech was the sound of a man having to excuse all his predecessor’s behaviour. From the very start of the NI invasion (“I always found it funny how easy it was to buy into British newspapers”, as the man Murdoch said himself over a generation ago), Prime Ministers and those behind them stood bewitched by the colour, language, attitude, and ultimately the power, of the new breed of newspaper industry growing in front of them. The consequence was a pact, unwritten, signed only by handshakes. Labour’s run of Home Secretaries, each more hardline than the last, effectively allowed their policy papers to be written by Sun journalists the night before. Sway became push, suggest became demand.

Above all the newspapers in this country (well, almost all), sits the ombudsman without much clout, the Press Complaints Commission. As anyone could tell you (including me in an earlier post around the Jan Moir débâcle), the PCC was the wrong body doing a terrible job, ineffectual and irresponsible. The ‘freedom of the press’ was always guaranteed when the overseeing group was self-appointed, self-serving. Richard Desmond withdrew his Express titles from the ”control” of the PCC system as easily as a teenager walking out of the house to avoid his parents.

In his speech, and in others by politicians and commentators since, David Cameron has spoken of the vital need of a ‘new’ PCC, one which is enabled to cope with events like hackgate and the behaviour of all British newspapers. The sound you could hear at the time was the loud tutting with newsrooms – whispers of ‘censorship’ and one side of the Establishment letting down the other. “You screwed us over with expenses stories,” crowed the MPs, “now we’re getting our revenge.”

It’s not necessarily so. Press freedom in the UK is amongst the best in the developed world, and is certainly amongst the most distinctive in the English-speaking press anywhere on earth. There is, largely because of the hands-off regulation approach, almost nowhere the press won’t go in search of a story. From dodgy vicars and unscrupulous business men, to the bedroom antics of pop-stars and royalty, the press provided the goods and the public bought it in its millions. Where we are today is the result – so much freedom, so much public interest, so what if mobile phones are hacked in the hunt of another headline, another scandal? The Telegraph’s exposé of MPs expenses came from the illicit sale of documents, and from there has been the jailing of former MPs and wholesale changes in the expenses system.

Cameron is right, as are all critics of the PCC, that self-regulation has to change. The PCC is not able to regulate the print media. However, “Ofprint” must not be the filter through which copy must go before the presses, nor should it be populated by the very media folk who ensure the extent to which each back is scratched. Rightly, such actions as the hacking of Milly Downer’s phone have been condemned by public and politicians alike – but what can the PCC do, and how does “Son of PCC” better them? To what extent do we demand a tighter press regulator?

The freedom of the press is central to any functioning democracy. We have all enjoyed, as consumers, the freedom of the British press; its foibles, the success stories and shocking line-crossing. We have all bought shares in the scandals and controversies. Rightly, we complain at any perceived bias – the BBC is too lefty, the BBC isn’t left enough, the Guardian is too liberal, the Guardian has forgotten its liberal routes, the Mail is an anti-everything rag. What should we demand from the watchdog for the printed press? How much bias? I wonder what we mean by our demands for a stronger PCC. When I complain about prejudice, I do so from a largely left-wing perspective; what do I want from “son of PCC”? I want fairness, the right to expression, the right to shine light on the dark corners of all the Establishment. Do I want it from a left-wing perspective? How strong should the fine be for a commentary piece dripping in right-wing bile? Or for that matter, oozing socialism with which I disagree as strongly?

We demand that the Internet is saved from censorship, control, governance. Towards the press, our attitudes are very different. With reason, given what has been happening. And from this will come, in a new form, possible censorship, control and governance of the print media we celebrate as free and fair and brilliant. My ideal world hands “son of PCC” enough power to counter the excesses of journalistic misbehaviour whilst allowing the right to expression which we expect from a democratic state. The phone-hacking scandal displayed in lurid colour the extreme behaviour of journalism’s hunt for the next big headlines. The consequences for the freedom of the printed press are only now being written; the “exclusive to all newspapers” story of that is a splash nobody thought would ever get to the presses.

Making the Case for AV

Ed Mili…Edward Miliband has made some good judgement calls recently, balancing his rather unwise “I have a dream” moment at Hyde Park. (Historians will not, I suggest, draw a linear connection from the Suffragettes to the Right Honourable Member for Doncaster South).

First good call – supporting the “Yes” campaign for the AV referendum, which should ensure a decent turnout amongst Labour supporters, many of whom still smart from Tony Blair’s dismissal of all things related to constitutional reform. (It was Blair who asked Roy Jenkins to come up with a new voting system for Westminster. When he did so – a modified form of AV called “AV+”, Blair decided he didn’t like having his eyes glazed over by policy documents so dumped them without apology).

Miliband’s support for AV is significant in this age of Coalition government. He is confident – and genuinely so, it seems – that there still can be bridges built between Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, and others ‘of the centre and left’, to use his phrase. It ensures that he can have some of his words from last year pinned on him – that Labour under his leadership won’t oppose for the sake of it. He makes the case for AV fairly and reasonably, unlike NO2AV, whose ignorance and groundless claims have been rightly ridiculed from the start.

“Having words from the past pinned on you” draws me to my second tick against Edward’s actions. He has, quite rightly, ensured Nick Clegg is nowhere near the Yes campaign stage. Nick is currently on some kind of Deputy PM fact-finding tour in Mexico, speaking Spanish no less, so is as far away from the Yes crowd as could possibly be. This is very good news. Clegg’s “calamity” moments from the last election do tend to keep stacking up, not least his label “miserable little compromise” attached to the AV voting system he is now supporting.

Making the case for AV is absolutely vital for the wider constitutional health of our country. The chance for change is not mere rhetoric. Saying “No” to AV would mean slamming the door on almost every other reform agenda – the House of Lords especially, possibly even the proposals to allow binding referendums on council tax increases currently in the Localism Bill. Importantly “no” would mean “NO!” for generations. We would be lumbered, stuck, anchored to and disabled by the first-past-the-post system for decades to come, never again able to revisit the question of voting reform, trapped in the frigid Hell of small-c conservative opinions.

AV is not perfect, though it offers much more for our democratic process than FPTP ever would. It would stop this nonsense of candidates becoming very handsomely salaried law makers on 33% (or less) popularity in the constituency they claim to represent. Every candidate from all parties would need to work that little bit harder, sell their candidature that little bit harder, to ensure the magic 50% mark was reached. This silly “one person, one vote” campaign on the NO side, launched today, misses the point entirely. AV gives people ONE vote – just the ONE – which is given to candidates other than the initial leader under specific circumstances. There is no more “loonies deciding elections” than under FPTP (I have been around elections long enough to know how many people go into polling booths to choose one party as an alternative to their first preference, usually BNP or other extreme frapperies)

Making the case for AV means being able to concede that some problems with Coalition government is misplaced. Political rivals can, and should, work together. Political parties are not, here or anywhere, ‘walled gardens’. There can be shades of grey. Standing still, trapped within dogma, leads to stagnation. Making the small step to AV opens up the possibility of better, more proportional systems, and if STV is good enough for Scotland and if d’Hondt is good enough for Great Britain’s allocation to the European Parliament, then something over and beyond AV is surely decent enough for Westminster.

I agree with Edward. AV must pass. It may be the darkest irony that a Liberal Democrat leader cannot be associated with voting reform, but such sacrifices are often needed in the march towards the greater good. Join Ickle Ed and other progressives – and that includes the Liberal Democrats…and Nigel Farage…and vote YES to AV.

open market universities

Lord Browne has released his recommendations for higher education funding, largely covered by the press as ‘the tuition fees increase plan’.

Tuition fees, as a policy, in addition to the 50% “application aspiration” created a trap for successive governments, effectively “locking in” future administrations to the model of an education free market. Remove tuition fees – as Liberal Democrats have campaigned since their introduction by Labour – and the gap needs to be filled by some payment structure of at least equal value. I remember the “march forth on March 4th” anti-tuition fee protests of the time, just as I had started College. I was against tuition fees as much then as now.

Graduation tax, as favoured by Vince Cable and new Labour leader Ed Miliband, would be an additional layer of income tax introduced into an already complex tax regime. Although it seems fairer to reflect immediate earnings in repayments, graduates would pay back money from the moment they earn more than the current income threshold (just shy of £6,500 at the moment, £7,500 or thereabouts next year, aiming for the £10,000 pledged within the Coalition agreement by 2015). Lord Browne suggests removing the tuition fee cap with a minimum “payback level” of £21,000.

Even with this “minimum level”, potential or existing students must see the future of learning as an arduous and expensive ordeal. Those with a level head realise that, as with many investments in life, the initial outlay must be the toughest part. Only education is not – or was not until 1997 – supposed to lie in parallel to buying a house, car, or taking a holiday. Suddenly the University dream became an economic nightmare, one in which those who could afford top-up fees and repayment rates felt marginally less uncomfortable than those who simply could not. Having had the encouragement to apply for Uni – not least through the Labour Party’s 50% “application aspiration” – students should not be forgiven for thinking they have been invited into the educational equivalent of timeshare apartments.

There’s no credible University funding argument anymore, trapped as we all are with a student-focused repayment plan created in 1997 from Lord Dearing’s report and continued by Lord Browne. The market for education has been firmly tied into the fabric of education reform.

Some level of realism needs to sink into this debate. Uni is not for everyone, but neither should it be restricted to the academically able who just happen to be economically restricted. The depressing manner in which Uni as a gateway to mega-bucks jobs and economic stability has been accepted without question is perhaps the more vital question. When did education for the good of the mind become unfashionable? It is this question which has been forgotten by almost everyone involved in the debate.

Fail on Sunday

Yesterday, the Labour leadership election was won by Ed Miliband. The analysis of how he won will go on for most of the weekend; statistically Labour members and MPs voted for his brother David; his push over the winning line came from mammoth Union support. Due to the electoral method used – where the three elements combine – his win will inevitably be questioned for its marginality. On everything from the bank bailout and 10p tax rate abolition to membership of the euro and Trident renewal, the responsibility of governance and opposition falls on Ed’s shoulders. He has a fixed-term parliament to shape and define Labour as effective and distinctive.

His policies and past records are legitimate points of debate, of course, nothing wrong here. What should not be questioned is Ed’s lifestyle. But guess where Ed has been criticised for his relationship with Justine Thornton? Where his very modern relationship is described on the day after his success with sly digs and arched eyebrows?

That’ll be the Mail on Sunday.

I’d much rather have ‘Red Ed’ digs than this sort of sniggering snobbish ‘commentary’. At least the articles on his political views are based on policy. The Mail has often been seen to ‘outdo’ itself; this idiotic article is one of its most offensive.

Brothers in arms

So, then, Ken Livingston beating Oona King. Does this point to the way in which Labour votes have gone for their Leadership election? If not an absolute repeat of the post-1979 reaction to an election defeat, 2010 appears to have all the characteristics of a party in opposition needing solace. When the Labour Party are shaken by events, they tend to shunt to the Left.

The debates leading to today’s announcement – confirming the victory of a Miliband from social democratic stock, one less so than the other – shaped the direction Labour will take along the path to the 2015 general election. Neither Miliband are as ideological as the pre-announcement media would paint, and regardless the secret of electoral success after Margaret Thatcher has been distancing of ideology from the voting public. John Major – the ‘solo coalitionist’ in Peter Hennessy’s detailed study of Prime Ministerial history – could not have won the 1992 election as a ‘typical’ Tory. In 1997, Tony Blair would stride through the jibes – “I’m Tory, Plan B”, “Tory Tony” – to secure a landslide victory as a Labour PM albeit not as a Labour man.

David Miliband is the Blairite Continuity Candidate, whose leadership skills have been brought into doubt following two scuffed opportunities to depose Gordon Brown. His leadership would not detach the Labour Party from its recent history or some of the policy decisions from the past which remain today. For every nod to progressive policy announcements – the LibDem favoured ”mansion tax” for example – Dave would happily subscribe to the spend now, pay back later mantra of both Blair and Brown. He has told plenty of leadership hustings that ‘state knows best’, his only nod to something vaguely socialist. Where the Coalition try to cut down the size, shape and cost of central Government, David would walk right back in and press ‘reverse’. ‘Nanny state’ philosophy, such as it is, would not disappear under the older Miliband. His campaign video starts with spiel of assured management speak which reeks of Blair’s televangelist style;

New Labour did fantastic things for the country, never let anyone take that away. But what counts is Next Labour. Listening, passionate, engaged, committed, thoughtful, radical, decisive: Labour. That’s what this election campaign is all about.

His younger brother, broadly speaking, is ‘of the left’, perhaps acknowledging that no Labour leader has been celebrated by its membership as being quite Left ‘enough’. He is the ‘change’ candidate, whose campaign video is 90 seconds of breathless undoing of the reputation of Labour’s time in office. Talk of creating ‘good jobs’, whatever they are, of reshaping foreign policy by ‘values’, seems disconcertingly vague. It’s worked, though, his echoing Gordon Brown tapping in to the concerns of a Labour membership tired of small ‘c’ values pervading economic and social arguments. Lord knows Ed needs someone else to write his script, if this from his campaign video is any guide;

I am the candidate most willing to turn the page in this Leadership election. I think that is an important voice and I am an important voice in that contest. I think where Labour politics needs to go, it needs to show people that we can create good jobs and good wages for people because we have too many people who are struggling and working harder and longer for less in this country….

Ickle Miliband got to the Living Wage pledge before his brother, has hinted with fellow left-leaning candidate Ed Balls that the 10p tax rate abolition was disastrous for the core Labour voter, and will doubtlessly continue to support the Coalition’s plan to increase income allowance to £10,000. His brother has given no similar assurances.

Both Milibands know the shadow of Labour’s time in office will be hard to shift. The gap between rich and poor was widened not narrowed. Child poverty was focused upon but not resolved at anything like the rate envisaged or necessary. State Knows Best target cultures turned police officers into admin staff chasing spreadsheets. “There’s no money left”, the parting shot from Liam Byrne, remains a sick punchline to their economic joke. David and Ed will both take their Party and potentially the country away from this reputation; Dave to the centre ground with continuing flavours of Blairite and by extension Thatcherite economic medicine: Ed with a Brownite, socialist flavour.

It was possible for Blair to win with Labour in 1997 by topping off the long reinvention process initiated by Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Now the Miliband brothers have a fixed-term parliament to undergo similar amount of renewal. The time for misunderstanding the Coalition is done, now the long walk back into power begins.