Archive for January, 2009

Lab-Lib Pact?

January 30, 2009

Sunder Katwala, the Big Cheese of the Fabian Society, has written a piece for the New Statesman in which he talks about the benefits of forming a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition before a general election.

Mr.Katwala is an intelligent chappie whose opinion I always take seriously. However, I am deeply sceptical about any suggestion of reviving the ‘progressive’ alliance and do not find his article convincing. Just because Vince Cable and Shirley Williams come along to speak at Fabian events does not mean that a Labour-Liberal coalition could work smoothly or would be worth the trouble.

What would such a coalition mean for the Lib vs Lab struggles at a local level? Here in Islington, for example, we are unfortunately presided over by a Liberal Democrat Council which avoids Labour-advocated progressive policies like the plague. Whilst the Lib Dem councillors are spiteful and petty their Liberal Youth contingent are getting high as kites and encouraging others to do the same (read the story here: Lib Dems Give Drugs Equipment to Children!). The Labour Group is hopeful that the years of Liberal misrule will soon be coming to an end and that a Labour Council will be able to oversee changes such as strictly enforcing the target of at least 50% of new homes in the borough being affordable and implementing a plan of free school meals for Islington’s children. How would a national Labour-Liberal love-in change the dynamics of local Labour-Liberal loathing?

I am also very uncomfortable with the idea that “Labour should stand down in those Lib Dem seats where the Tories can challenge from second place”. Again, Sunder Katwala does not take into account the difficulties this would pose for Labour councillors battling it out with the Liberals at a local level. Once Labour ceases to contest ‘no hoper’ parliamentary constituences I shudder to think what the consequences would be for our identity as a national party and for the morale of those (already neglected) local bands of Labour supporters who find themselves in hostile territory.

Obviously I do not want to see the Conservative Party victorious at the next general election and any strategy which claims to make that event less likely to happen should be fairly considered. However, I would hope that it should be possible for Labour to rejuvenate itself without the assistance of the Liberal Democrats. That way lies (potential) madness!

Captain Jako


1.5 hours versus 2.5 hours

January 29, 2009

Joe Goldberg – the recently victorious Labour Councillor from Haringey – seems to be suggesting here that part of the campaign’s success was down to “keeping the commitment of activists small” – i.e. with 90 minute canvassing sessions.

Comrade Luke Akehurst, however, describes himself as “a proponent of 2.5 hours as the optimal canvass session length at weekends – short enough not to reduce life expectancy of canvassers, long enough to have a meaningful impact on contact rate”.

The lazier part of me sympathises with the 1.5 hour position, but my head says that once you’ve gone to the trouble of organising a canvassing team to meet in the appropriate place with all the necessary sheets, clipboards, etc you may as well keep going for 2.5 hours of canvassing fun and win all those extra votes for Labour.

Captain Jako

Will Tory councils get their comuppance from Cameron?

January 29, 2009

A good post from Theo Blackwell on the new LabourList, about how Conservative and Labour run councils are making different choices with their powers and budgets.

I suppose it’s inevitable that councillors of the nationally governing party bear the brunt of voters’ irritation: just as in 1968 and 1986, Labour’s 1990s-strength in local representation has ebbed away as voters take a “costless” swipe at us. (There is also the very good point that Tories will always be overrepresented in councillor numbers because of two-tier local government in the Shires and unitary authorities in Scotland, Wales, London and Metropolitan areas – but let’s not go there).

However, a thought occurs. Tory councils – such as Camden and Hammersmith &Fulham, both referenced by Theo – are keen to play up the fact that they are able to cut council tax AND invest in services (although this inevitably means investing in “cuddly” services like parks, whilst letting less interesting provision for the seriously vulnerable fall by the wayside). However, a lot of the “service improvements” and “record investment” that they crow about comes not from budget choices that they make, but from direct, ring-fenced grants from the government.

Now, if Labour loses power at the next election, I can’t see David Cameron being nearly as concerned with this sort of investment as Labour have been. How will his councillors square that circle? Will the new municipal conservatism be shown up for the shallowness of its foundations? I certainly hope so.


Too broad a Church?

January 28, 2009

It is all very well proclaiming your solidarity with Jews and visiting concentration camps but if you are simultaneously letting Holocaust-deniers back into your church methinks you are undermining your credibility somewhat.

The murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is not the only historical event that Richard Williamson holds controversial views on. He is a ‘9/11 troofer’ who thinks the U.S government organised those attacks. Oh yes, he also thinks women should not be allowed to wear trousers.

The bloke is one wafer short of a communion if you ask me. Is the Catholic Church so short-staffed that they really need to let nutters like this back in?

Captain Jako


January 27, 2009

Being an administrator on an anti-BNP facebook group (as I am) means that you have to expect to receive wacky messages from BNP supporters now and again.

I don’t really know what they hope to achieve by getting in contact with me. These BNP supporters always tend to confirm my impression of the essential characteristics of the BNP supporter breed: they are stupid’n’angry. Their professed love of their country clearly does not translate into an earnest desire to respect the English language. Plus all the writing in capital letters gives the impression that they are – how to put it – slightly DERANGED.

Here is a fine example that popped into Captain Jako’s inbox earlier this evening:

Hi Jacko was it you who invited me to join your group? YOU need to wake up my friend, Labour have RUINED our country and thank GOD most of the meda and BRITISH people have seen these MARXISTS for who thay realy are…POSH MARXISTS! Liberal political correct NITS ! The BNP Fear what most fear, the TAKE over of OUR country by the Muslim and its on its way THAY ARE FIGHTING THERE WAY FROM THE INSIDE OF BRITAIN And thay have to be STOPPED for our childrens sake ! ! ! And its the Blind Liberal nits like YOU who are throwing OUR once GREAT COUNTRY AWAY to ISLAMIC NUTS ! Immigrants flooding into the UK from 1997 onwards Labor have opened our Doors to Murdering thilth from Albanian, Turks in MY town eyeing up 13 year old girls ! Pakistanis buying into all of Britian ie..Subway Bit by bit our country is turning Islamic ! WAKE UP JACK ! And that is way i will ALWAYS VOTE BNP, AND NO i am NOT a RACIST, That is the most over used word ever invented ! Take Care !

Charming! Not sure if I will bother responding, though it is sometimes fun to engage these loons in lighthearted banter. And as someone with a touchingly cute faith in humanity, as well as in the awesome power of my own intellect, I like to think that reasonable argument can dissuade this person from supporting the gang of Hitler-fancying, criminality-prone, melanin-obsessed freaks, geeks, and ne’erdowells which is the British National Party. But I don’t have the energy just now. If anyone has ideas on how I can possibly answer back to this fella please let me know.

Captain Jako

Holocaust Memorial Day – Remembering the Past, Looking to the Future

January 27, 2009

Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on January 27th because it was on this day in 1945 that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Allied forces.

I’ve always thought the Holocaust should be looked upon as a tragedy for all of humanity – something we all have a moral duty to reflect upon and to learn lessons from.  The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust shares this view and presents the day as an opportunity to remember all genocides.

When working at the Imperial War Museum I often spend a lot of time sitting at a desk not doing much. We are allowed to read through the museum’s bountiful stock of history books and one I looked at recently was ‘Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust’.

In a book full of harrowing accounts, perhaps the most disturbing statement came from a British Army doctor who was working with his medical team to provide aid to Jewish victims suffering from typhus at a recently liberated camp. He recalled a British nurse complaining to him in the camp: “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I came over here to help our brave boys, not these scum”.

At UCL someone has drawn a massive swastika on the wall of one of the toilets. The cleaners have done a pretty good job of wiping it away, but the faded outlines are still visible. You could see this as fittingly symbolic of society’s efforts to eradicate race hatred.

There is of course a present-day leader of a British political party who has described the Nazi effort to exterminate all those they considered undesirable and subhuman as the “Holohoax”. In a year when the British National Party has a good chance of winning a seat in the upcoming European elections, one practical way of commemorating the Holocaust would surely be to redouble our efforts to defeat today’s fascist threat.

Captain Jako

p.s Almost immediately after I wrote this post the good folk at Searchlight sent out an email asking for signatures for their latest petition campaign. They are demanding that Nick Griffin publicly apologise for his statements on the Holocaust and fully renounce his Holocaust-denying views. Pigs will fly before this happens, but it is a good way of spreading awareness of how mad the BNP leader is.

Criminal Justice

January 26, 2009
Prisoners are SCAAAAAARY

Prisoners are SCAAAAAARY

Not many people may have seen this story today, about a bail hostel programme the government has been running.

Predictably, “local residents” (for which, read self-appointed busybodies) are up in arms; add to this the fact that Tory MP Paul Goodman very decently leaked the content of a private letter from Justice Minister David Hanson MP to the Tory press office, and there’s a right bruhaha.

The key fact here – which is so blindingly obvious that I can’t believe it’s seemingly never considered – is that most prisoners will leave prison at some point. Apart from a small number of really unpleasant specimens, the aim of the criminal justice system is (ultimately) to ensure that those in its charge can re-enter society at the end of their sentences.

So, unless even the most minor crimes are to carry life sentences, bail hostels are needed – and if the aim is to reintegrate prisoners into society it certainly makes sense that they are near other people, since other people are who the prisoners will ultimately have to live with in their daily lives.

It’s really low of the right to make a controversy out of an issue like this: what else would they do? Lock up perjurers and credit card fraudsters for the rest of their natural lives?

What must come out of this scandal is an elected Lords

January 25, 2009
House of Lords

House of Lords

Deeply worrying reports in the Sunday press today, about alleged corruption in the House of Lords – four Labour Peers have been accused by undercover reporters of agreeing to interfere with the passage of legislation in return for cash.

We at the Paintbrush Collective wouldn’t want to pre-judge the Noble Lords. It’s possible (just) that the issue is sufficiently nuanced, and that the press reports have been sufficiently overblown, that nothing criminal has taken place.

Criminality, though, isn’t the whole point – what’s undoubtable (if the substance of the accusations are true) is that there is a considerable gap between the behaviour we’d all like to expect of Legislators, and what this bunch were up to.

Inevitably, political scandals produce huge outpourings of moral indignation. However, when an MP has misbehaved, once all of the cant and preaching is done with the electorate can deal with them in a very workmanlike fashion – their constituents can directly opt to eject them, and the wider electorate can take it as an indicator of the relative morality of the parties in making their own decisions.

We should be more shocked, and more censurious, when unelected officials behave badly, precisely because this mechanism doesn’t exist. All politicians are in a position of trust: however, unlike MPs, with Peers all we have is trust – and that for life. We have no recourse if they lose our trust.

In a modern democracy, though, shouldn’t we have something more than simply trust in legislators? It may have been enough in the past for voters to simply vote every few years and let them get on with it: or, in the case of the Lords, to do the same, but without the voting part. However, the sort of fury that cases like this provoke suggest that we expect something more now.

Opponents of an elected Lords will always put the argument that the Lords provide “expertise”: however, that isn’t the point (to say little of the fact that most Peers aren’t experts in anything, but rather a motley collection of former MPs and associated political hangers-on).

This assumes that the purpose of a legislature is to solve technical questions. It isn’t – a legislature is there to resolve political problems, and should call on expert advice as required to help in that. In order to resolve political problems, legislators need to be representative; not only that, but normal punters need to be able to terminate their contracts if they’re not shaping up.


Ken Livingstone comes to UCL to talk about London, Gaza, and Flushing the Toilet

January 25, 2009

Readers will be pleased to be informed that despite the minor set-back of electoral defeat Ken Livingstone is not mellowing in either his ambition or in his aptitude for making outlandish statements! As someone who doesn’t listen to much radio apart from the essentials on Radio 4 I have never tuned in to Ken’s show on LBC, and apart from the odd newspaper column penned by the great man I have not heard much from him recently. Thus when I saw that he was being hosted by UCL Labour last Thursday I was keen to go along to get an earful of Ken.

And what an earful I got! The clichéd saying is that Ken Livingstone is one of those characters you either love or you love to hate. I would like to adopt a slightly more subtle position: there is much in Ken to admire, many of his policy prescriptions to political issues are spot on, and he is one of the great characters of the Left; but at the same time he does have a habit of sometimes making himself sound quite, quite mad.

Let us start with the positive stuff. When it comes to the ‘bread and butter’ responsibilities of the mayoralty Ken always had – and from what I heard on Thursday he continues to have – a clear understanding of how to use the office effectively in order to help Londoners. And let’s not beat about the bush here: it is poor Londoners especially that Ken wants to help. Setting the 50% affordable housing target, pushing for cheap and efficient public transport, having the guts to introduce the congestion charge, planning to use London’s successful Olympic bid as a means of raising government investment in the East End, these were all policies aimed at making London a fairer city, as well as a more prosperous city and a nicer place to live. Ken still rejects as “complete bollocks” the notion that wealth inevitably trickles down from the superrich and is somehow benevolently dispersed amongst the rest of society. He remains a firm believer in government-led redistribution, is optimistic that a red-green agenda can mitigate climate change whilst promoting social equality, and basically still espouses many of the views that put the wind in the sails of Captain Jako’s ship.

But then there is the other Ken. Combining a dig at Boris Johnson’s scruffy appearance at the Olympic handover ceremony in Beijing with a prediction of the future balance of power in the world, Ken started telling us that the Chinese government enjoyed majority support amongst the population, that the regime in Beijing don’t like being lectured to about human rights, and that China cannot accurately be described as a police state. Oh dear. Even though I might not necessarily disagree with any of those specific statements, I become slightly nauseous when I hear someone start to fawn over a government like the Chinese one.

In fact it is the realm of international affairs where I take most issue with Ken’s positions. Unfortunately this came up quite often during his time as Mayor since he did work hard on promoting a foreign policy for London sometimes quite distinct from that of the national government! When a UCL student asked him about Gaza this predictably set him off on one, and soon enough he was talking about the assistance Israel gets from a worldwide “Zionist machine”. Now imagine him saying this along with the funny whining sound that he routinely emits – “meeeeeeeeeh!” – as if he has a newt stuck in his nose. He comes across as eccentric, to say the least.

To clarify my own position: I think that there is an onus is on Israel, as the more powerful side with the disproportionate control of land and resources, to make drastic concessions in order to facilitate the creation of a viable Palestinian state. But I despair at how opinions on the Middle East situation mostly conform to a binary split – you are either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian – and how the voices most often heard on the issue tend to be characterised by the fiercest partisanship. My nauseous feeling swiftly returned when Ken skipped over any disagreements he might have with Hamas and instead said he could see why young Palestinians turn to violence. Fair enough Ken, I can empathise why Palestinians have their grief. But at the same time I would always ensure I clarify my view by stating that I do not sympathise with terrorist tactics or with the lunatic Islamist ideology driving Hamas militants. Ken has been one of the great campaigners against war and against racism in modern Britain – why can’t he equally condemn the Palestinians who choose to pursue their struggle through violent means and who portray that struggle in rabidly anti-Semitic terms?

Onto the somewhat lighter subject of how to save the planet from environmental catastrophe: Ken spent an unnervingly long time telling the audience how important it is not to flush the toilet after “a wee”. However, he did concede that flushing after a No.2 is probably a good idea. I look forward to Ken authoring a pamphlet on Scatological Socialism (perhaps Compass would publish it?). Here at Frank Owen’s Paintbrush we will certainly be taking this idea seriously and we will inform our loyal readers of the results.

Unfortunately your correspondent was not able to ask Ken a question. If I had I think I would have been interested to hear him explain to us why he feels the need to be Mayor again in 2012. If I was being provocative I might even have asked whether he would run again as an Independent if he did not win Labour’s selection. The Paintbrush posse will of course campaign enthusiastically for whichever comrade is the Labour Party candidate, but I think I speak for all of us when I say Ken does not have our automatic support. He had eight years in the job in which he did a lot of good work, but he also managed to irritate many. I suspect that Ken has been spending too much time with his buddy Hugo Chavez (for wants to amend the Venezuelan constitution so that he can run for President ad infinitum). Sometimes it is best to admit that you have had your time in the spotlight and that someone else should be given a chance. It will be interesting to see who else from the party ranks expresses an interest in the job and what policy proposals the potential candidates put forward. For now at least, the much-coveted Frank Owen’s Paintbrush endorsement is still up for grabs!

Captain Jako

Compass’s credibility eroding, one resolution at a time

January 24, 2009

Luke Akehurst has been taking a look at the latest offering from Compass, Labour’s latter day Miserable Tendency. As part of “How to live in the 21st Century”, their latest effort to make thousands of voters desert Labour to the Conservatives, they’ve been asking members to suggest policy proposals to assuage their self-lothing trendy leftie consciences deliver real positive change for Britain’s working class.

We at the Paintbrush won’t delve too deeply into them – Luke has seen to that – but we will draw attention to one gem:


“Voluntary extra taxation to be spent on the causes the taxpayer wants”

Fantastic – because cute animals are, you know, really struggling in the credit crunch.

Ludicrous though this is, it illustrates an important point – that the Government is there, in part, to ensure that those causes that fail to attract popular attention are taken into account.

Voluntary action by individuals – either via the market, or in charitable donations (or even top-up taxation) – would probably not provide much by way of special needs education, or training for prisoners, childcare facilities for poorer families, or long-term care for the less trendy chronic diseases (to name but a few things).

The Tories are savvy to a lot of this – in Hammersmith and Fulham, for example, their administration has been very canny in the cuts that it has made to fund its £12.74 annual Council Tax cuts: increasing charges for home care and meals on wheels and cutting back on council grants to charities and voluntary groups that they didn’t like, or that didn’t like them.

Since all of the poor, old and sick people in the borough were voting Labour anyway, and the grannies of the swing young commuter voters (by and large) didn’t live locally, they got away with it – exchanging vital, though obscure, services for votes.

Compass should be careful what they wish for – pushing at the door of increasing popular participation and/or volunteerism in tax collection and revenue allocation could be a very mixed blessing for the left.