They Won’t Like it, but Labour Need the Wilderness Years

If, like me, you have a tendency to skip through headlines and then read the interesting articles, David Miliband’s latest remarks might have seemed a bit defeatist. The idea that Labour may spend “years out of power” (although to be fair, it’s was hardly ever going to be just “months”) seems an incredibly pessimistic prediction for a leadership hustings, but as ever, the quote itself is slightly different.

We could be out of power for a long time, history tells us we will. I want to buck that trend.

David Miliband

Dizzy’s angle on this is an interesting one. He argues that Labour haven’t yet learned the lessons of the Conservative time in opposition – nobody is the “natural party of government”.

The leadership contest has been a civil one, and much more civil than was expected. Most people, myself included, predicted a bloodbath between Brown and Blair factions – in particular the Balls and Miliband (David) camps, but nothing like this has emerged so far.

As much as this protects Labour from negative press and prevents a political implosion, it doesn’t provide a debate. I can’t seem to find much real discussion in media coverage of the contest as to why Labour are now in opposition. The Newsnight hustings did give some insight, with Diane Abbott commenting that the idea that immigration somehow lost Labour the election “takes us nowhere”.

This is almost certainly true – the problem with the famous "bigotgate” incident wasn’t what was said or the issue – it was the attitude that had been taken to a member of the public.

Amongst Diane Abbott’s remarks in the Newsnight hustings one in particular stands out:

[It is] quite tragic that we have conceded the civil liberties agenda to the Tories

Diane Abbott

Labour need to focus on why they conceded that agenda. Personally, I believe it was a habit of control – Labour genuinely believed that the popular opinion was wrong on issues such as ID cards, and the arguments in favour of controlling measures regularly (if not almost always) outweighed the value of preserving freedoms in the face of terrorism.

Both Miliband brothers, now considered the leading candidates, have said they believe the state became too centralised, so perhaps they are on the verge of thinking that control and the approach to the public were part of the reasons behind Labour’s defeat. I suspect however, it will take the party much longer to recognise this, especially so soon after the end of a period in government.

Rejecting the past attitudes of a party is not an easy thing to do from within – if it is rushed, then there will be those who argue their voice hasn’t been heard, and if there is any lesson from the last government, it is of the damage those voices can do.

Another Redesign for cunningtitle

Once again, in a desperate (and probably ultimately futile) attempt to encourage myself to post more, cunningtitle has been redesigned.

Now that my stint at URN’s Big Picture is over, I hope to be a little more open with posts and slightly less neutral. That said, I hope not to rant too much. Yelling and writing a post entirely in capital letters, whilst creating absurd and wonderful insults is, to be fair, fun. Nevertheless, it is what all blogs are: ultimately a bit self-indulgent.

It also tends to draw comments – the currency that many (although certainly not all) bloggers worship. But most exchanges as a result of a rant boil-down to a shouting match.

Comments are still something I’ve always prized on this blog, since it means I’ve written something worth bothering about. What’s more it’s why I’ve installed the very useful IntenseDebate – to try and have discussions rather than turn this site into some sort of droning monologue.

So I’ll try to avoid ranting.

Other people are entitled to their opinions, but they’re wrong.

Mark Kermode

In theory, more open (a neat way of saying “veering towards biased”) posts should make it a bit easier to post regularly. Over the last 6 months (when cunningtitle was using the Hemmingway theme) I tried to be as neutral as possible in posts, to the point of sacrificing content and quality – a grand total of four posts since January, mostly because when I sat down to write I confess I had a complete block.

Whether I’ll actually post more is probably subject to justified skepticism.

So in summary, the following will be moderately-biased, sporadic and self-indulgent blogging that occasionally rants, but tries very hard not to (and probably uses brackets far too much in the process).

Sounds like a good tagline.

Education: "Is our children learning?"

Rarely is the question asked, “is our children learning?”

–George W. Bush, 2000

Last week on The Big Picture*, Simon produced a special report on the state of the education system. The panel all seemed to agree that there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the current state system, going as far as to argue that there was a relatively even distribution of both state and independent schools throughout the league tables.

The panel don’t seem to be alone; a recent Populus poll for The Times (9th Feb 2010) asked people to rate their perception of public services on a scale of 0 – 10, and the modal average was 7.

This raises two puzzling questions: firstly, why are the Tories focusing on education as the target of their policy announcements, and why would anyone call for “positive discrimination”?

The Conservatives have been calling for reform of education with a focus on more traditional subjects like history, and have proposed radical changes allowing parents to have more influence. Their draft manifesto lists various policies for achieving this and granting more independence in what they call a post-bureaucratic age, but the true reason is found in the opening blurb:

the success of our plan to mend Britain’s broken society depends less on the actions that a Conservative government will take to give people more power and more on society’s response [emphasis added]

Despite the apparently positive view of education that the Populus poll indicates, the same poll found that 70% believe society in Britain is broken. The question is how to fix it, and the Conservatives have, rightly or wrongly, targeted education.

As for the private and state sectors, it can only be presumed that there is a perception of a gap between the two. Otherwise, the only reasoning for calls for “positive discrimination” is covert class war – something few parties are willing to openly advocate. Perhaps this argument may see such calls silenced over the course of the election, particularly if Labour are to claim that the state sector is now the equal of independent schools.

Is education reform needed, have the Tories misdiagnosed a “broken Britain”, or is this all myth?

*Shameless plug alert! Rob presents The Big Picture.

Allegations of Bullying in No. 10 May Have a Much Longer History

The recent allegations of bullying in Gordon Brown’s office are by no means the first of their kind. Andrew Rawnsley’s book merely suggested that people were shoved aside, as opposed to the more serious claims of mobile phones being thrown which have been circulating the internet for some time.

On top of this, the National Bullying Helpline is, as I type this, dominating the news channels – particularly since their patron has just resigned over the alleged breach of confidentiality when they stated that several people working in Gordon Brown’s office had contacted them about bullying.

But this doesn’t remove the political element from the story. The problem for Labour is one of context. For a party satirised by the fictional government of the Thick of It, one particular Malcolm Tucker quote stands out:

How dare you call me a bully. I am so much worse than that.

There are already those associated with Labour who the public and the media perceive as bullies: Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride, whilst labelled “spin doctors”, also were believed to have fulfilled the role of “enforcers”.

Whether or not this is true will by now be irrelevant; the damage is done to their careers. The real problem for Labour now is that this might be extended to the Prime Minister, and the fear that there might be similar consequences.

The media have been accused of being selective in their coverage and have to some extent ignored some of the more negative coverage of the National Bullying Helpline. More weight has been placed on the issues of confidentiality surrounding the statements of Caroline Pratt. Yet the media can afford to be selective and may well do so consciously – this story has a much longer history than the last 48 hours.

The Role of Blogs

The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election clearly showed the potential for the political use of the internet in campaigning. Our own general election here in the U.K. is likely to be no different, particularly with blogs such as Iain Dale’s Diary and LabourList already featuring prominently in discussions in the mainstream media.

Yet when there was originally speculation about the political role of blogs, it was suggested that they provided little more than a platform for the views of an individual. The comments sections seem to contradict this. Whilst yes, in some cases people are angered or seek to provoke others, there is also opportunity to hold the blogger to account and discuss issues further. Bloggers have taken to publicly asking questions of each other and answering them – as when Guido Fawkes of Order-Order questioned Daniel Finkelstein’s approach to tax.

Edward Murrow’s maxim holds true:

the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other

Both comments and the network of blogs (I refuse to use the term “blogosphere”) inform reader and writer alike. The change in tone from dismissing blogs to accepting them is one that has, and hopefully will continue to, expand discussion and debate.