Monday, 20 March 2017

Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party

Leader of the PLP

Dear Christine Shawcroft,
     I heard you on the radio this morning, and I looked up your website. I approve all your attitudes, and applaud your massive efforts in support of those attitudes. But I come to a different conclusion. 
     You were advocating lowering the requirement for MP endorsement for the selection of a future Leader of the Labour Party (LLP). It seems to be a matter of observable fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not follow Jeremy Corbyn. And that the Membership will not follow anyone else. So, we are at an impasse.
     Why not scrap completely the requirement for MP endorsement? Let Congress/NEC/Membership/Affiliated unions select a Chairman/President/Leader.  You may see no reason why 229 MPs should frustrate the democratic wishes of the 515,000 Party members, merely on the grounds that they have won a parliamentary election?  
     But the team in Parliament needs to be a team. I would like the PLP to get their act together, and to put their best parliamentarians forward to advocate effective opposition. They need to create the semblance of a Government in Waiting. Let the PLP select their own leader, unanimously — a shadow Prime Minister, if you like.
     If you question the democratic authority of the PLP, bear in mind that 229 MPs represent 229 x  75,000 = 17.2 million constituents; and are therefore voted for by 229 x 37,500 voters; i.e. approximately 8.6 million voters. That makes the Party Membership seem almost irrelevant. 

Yours sincerely, Cawstein

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Future of the Labour Party

The Future of the Labour Party


     ‘Power’ in British politics requires commanding the ‘interest' of 51% of the population. The movement called 'New Labour' in the nineteen nineties grasped the truth that our ‘first past the post’ voting system leaves no room for parties that  appeal to minorities: to Trade Union members, Manual Workers, Recyclers, Climate Changers, or Liberals. To campaign honourably and passionately on behalf of the weakest sectors of society may inspire 30%; but not 51%. Climate change may worry 30% of the country. But unless these interest groups combine, and combine with others, till their consortium comprises a majority of the population, they will never have the power to form a government and change the law.
     It may be that 'New Labour’ grasped the even more depressing truth that the biggest umbrella to cover the biggest interest group is money. If you can convincingly claim to have policies that will make 51 percent of the population richer, you will gain power. If you offer to raise disability allowance you may gain some respect, but will gain a mere handful of votes for your cause.

     What New Labour did not grasp, however, is the importance of proportional representation. Had they introduced proportional representation when they had the power to do so, the forming of these alliances would have become a much simpler task. Parliament would have become more representative and more powerful (relative to Government). Our present electoral system is a system for generating disgruntled voters. With three or more parties we have the triumph of some 30% and the eventual despair of the 70%.  The system disenfranchises the majority of voters and throws their votes away. Voting turnout falls. (In ‘Safe Seats’ voting is always pointless for supporters of the 2nd 3rd and 4th parties.) It is perfectly possible to devise a system where at least some account is taken of the 70% of votes that are lost in the present system. The first step would be simply to publicise the figures.

     Labour surely arose as a class-based party. Its success doubtless stemmed from the  fact that there were many more manual workers than owners. If the many little people combined and unified, they could take on the big guns. But automation has progressively eroded the manual work-force, and we have seen an enormous growth in the numbers of white-collar workers. Today the Labour Party probably attracts some traditional workers, and some others who are the loyal sons and daughters of former Labour voters. Labour’s support for the underprivileged, and the unemployed may appeal to another bunch of voters, and this altruism may attract further voters with ethical issues. But this is inevitably a weak alliance. Without the power to make law, it is hard to convince the electorate that Labour would reduce CO2 levels better than Green Party.

     There is an enormously important factor in deciding the outcome of constituency elections which is barely touched on in the media, and that is the intellectual and moral quality of the candidates. Unless a party can field good quality candidates they will not win elections. And failure to win elections feeds back on the ability to attract good candidates. Unfortunately the hysteresis in this feedback loop is vey long — maybe extending to a generation. After a by-election, there is much discussion of the issues, and voter responses to those issues, but scarcely a mention of the candidate. However, in a general election it is possible to detect candidate-specific results as ‘results that buck the trend’. Though these seldom attract the attention of the press unless that candidate wins. However, it is quite clear that there are good candidates and weak candidates; and that voters can tell the difference.
     In a two-party system the ‘official opposition’ can be seen as a government in waiting.  The quality of the party in opposition will be judged very largely by its performance in the House of Commons. It may wish to oppose at every opportunity, or it may wish to appear judicious. But need we have a two-party system and an ‘official opposition’? We should think outside that box.

     Any two-party system is divisive; it causes, exploits, and perpetuates a split in opinion. The original Right/Left nomenclature comes from the French Revolution when those wanting little change sat on the right side of the legislative chamber and the new radicals who wanted to change everything sat on the left. It was not in essence a Rich/Poor divide, but of course there is a tendency for those who are already well off to resist change, while the dissatisfied will seek it. In nineteenth century Britain the split was not based on wealth but on source of wealth; land versus commerce. Both sides of the house were wealthy, and all MPs were gentlemen. The issues included: free-trade, empire, education and the franchise.  In the twentieth century the Labour party brought to parliament the clash between capital and labour, which had already existed for a hundred years on the shop-floor. Success was its undoing. Leap-frogging wage-claims forced Britain out of world markets, and annoyed the country, with Thatcherism as the result. New-Labour was hardly a Labour party. It adopted many capitalist concepts (and faults), among them the idea that money is the only motivator, and that every issue should be judged by 'the market'; but it won three elections. Since 2010, the Tories have run with the same baton, though surely the banking fiasco should have put paid to this discredited system. Unfortunately, economics is a complex intellectual puzzle and academic economists are as split as the politicians. The current Labour party, with a tenth of the expertise of the Tories, was just beginning to focus on economic fairness when a second divisive issue arose in the field of foreign policy. It gradually became clear to thinking people that our military adventures in the middle east were both immoral and damaging. Jeremy Corbyn rode into the ring on this latter issue, supported by a wave of disgust at militarism, elitism, and a feeling of grass-roots-powerlessness. But his appeal is not currently sufficient to win 51% of the country. The moral high ground, alone, is not enough.
     The country was split more or less 50/50 in the nineteenth century on the issues of free trade and imperialism. The Labour/Capital debate of the twentieth century produced an unstable equilibrium (and needs further thought — see below). The present split of Self/Others will of course always be won by ‘Self’ interest, though there are now the issues of Europe, immigration, and ‘populism’ to divide us further.

The Future

     Pending proportional representation there should be as much deliberate and courteous pre-election discussion as possible between opposition parties; like the Primaries in the United States;  Labour waving a popular LibDem candidate through in one constituency should be matched by an uncluttered two-candidate fight in another where a Labour candidate has a good chance of winning. Scores can be kept, and there should be an explicit agreement to support PR at all times.

     Quality candidates must be sought and cultivated.  It is infuriating for the grass-roots to see resignations and firings of able front-benchers. The method of choosing ‘the party leader’ must be re-examined. Indeed the very concepts of 'party leader' may need re-thinking. I suggest that the Parliamentary Labour Party must be a team and have a unity of purpose; the 'official opposition' must be seen as ready to take office. Party Leader in the House must be agreed unanimously by the MPs, probably for his qualities as a chairman. He may not have the qualities of a cross-examining barrister required at Prime Minister’s Question time, but need these questions come from the Party Leader in the House?
     The Party membership, and the trade unions can certainly choose a leader; a president perhaps, or Chairman of Congress, but clearly cannot foist their choice on the MPs.
     The economy must be thoroughly and visibly understood by any party of government. A beginning was made in 2015 when John McDonnell, as Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, formed an economic advisory committee, but that has broken up and vanished. Why? Was it from faulty chairmanship, or perhaps from lack of funding?  The Danish Labour Movement formed their "Economic Council of the Labour Movement" (ECLM) in 1936. Where is ours?

     Post-war Germany developed a unique political philosophy they call Ordoliberalismus, believing that the state must actively protect and regulate the operation of the ‘free market’. “Ordoliberal ideals drove the creation of the post-war German social market economy”. We talk about the German Economic Miracle, but do little to understand and imitate; we suspect that it involves hard work and leave it at that. Why?       (Word count = 1,452)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Letter to a Sanguine 'Leaver'

Dear Max,
You have a very clear head. What you say sounds perfectly straight-forward and, once it is said, it sounds obvious. Brexit terms ‘should’ end up as 'zero tariffs both ways, free movement on reciprocal bases, co-operation on police, security and intelligence'. But:-
[1]  It is largely true (is it not) that the big “Leave” voices have disappeared or gone quiet (Gove, Farage, Leadsom, Boris). We are left with Remainers trying to implement (gestate) the other camp’s baby (May, Hammond, the Civil Service). And why is that??

[2]  It is unfortunate but true; the terms of Brexit will be at least partly determined by the 27 and not by us. So it is reasonable to fear that the Junckery-type people (who were our bogeymen in the first place) will see their job as 'preventing exit from being beneficial’ (in case Europe unravels). (It is a pity we did not have the foresight, force of character, or interest, to curb these people when we had the chance. Whyever is the head of the European Civil service called a President? )

[3]  We look back with pride and astonishment at the first two years of WWII  alone against the fascists. We remember a Commonwealth extending round the world. (People born in New Zealand still referring to Britain as “home”, selling us butter and lamb and buying our cars). But some of this will not come back, because the world has moved on. Some of our capital is spent, some of our coal and oil burnt. India, Brazil, China and the Far East,  have developed. But we also ‘remember’ the long hot summers and the crisp snows of our youth, even though the meteorological tables accuse us of misremembering. 

[4]  Europe took it into its head to include the ex-communist states of eastern Europe and the ‘sunny’ states of southern Europe. We were perhaps doubtful, but saw them as possible markets and went along. The time to object to the extension of Europe to the east was back then, but we missed our chance. They are of course a burden and a problem to which the remaining core states of Europe are bound and with which they are lumbered. We now opt out of Europe and its burdens. But the 27 will (probably) not let us compete using both hands when they have one tied behind their backs. There is (I suppose) an honourable side to trying to weld a cultural entity at considerable personal cost, but the practical English do not see it that way; they see only the costs. And I suppose we on our island never did have to rub shoulders with the Balkans in the way that Austria, Germany, Italy and Poland have been doing for 2 millennia. 

Though I voted 'Remain', I was not over-enthusiastic about remaining in Europe and hope not to lose friends over Brexit. I expect there will be some compensations to counter the loss of influence, status, and wealth that will result from opting from a trading bloc of 360 million to one of 60 million with a GDP resembling the assets of a middle sized commercial company. There is a whiff of excitement, as on beginning any new relationship. But I do not expect the 'long hot summers' that some leavers have been dreaming of. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The National Health Service

Dear LabourList,

There seems to be widespread concern about the collapse of the National Health Service around here (Banbury). It is important that the country should know the Labour party line on the NHS? I trust the Labour Party done the research and got the answers? 

Should there be more Government money spent, to match the fraction of GDP spent (per head) by Germany and France?

What do we say if the Government retorts that they are spending more now than ever before? That it is still not enough? That the population has risen? That our spend is a lower fraction of GDP than in comparable first-world countries? Can we defend our figures? 

What do we say if the Tories say that Tony Blair started the sell-off and Private-Public-Partnership concept? That we now regard that as a mistake?

Do we subscribe to the idea that we must squeeze out inefficiency and waste? Or do we point to the global efficiency of our NHS compared with USA or Germany?  Is our NHS more efficient or less efficient than USA or Germany/France? On what metric. Can we defend these figures in Parliament. 

Do we think there is Mission Creep in the NHS, with an ever- increasing list of treatments, procedures and medicines?

Would Labour advocate 1p/£ increase in income tax specifically to fund the increased demands on geriatric care, rather than see closures and sell-offs? Say, 20% 'basic rate' rising to 21%; as advocated here some 4 years ago. 

(Trying to help! ) Best wishes, Cawstein

Friday, 3 February 2017

Bank of England mis-estimates spending buoyancy

(Yesterday   tweeted misestimated the buoyancy of consumer spending. Perhaps they overestimated the amount of gloom caused by Brexit vote. Ha ha.)

Yesterday (2017/2/2) the Monetary Policy Committee revised its estimates for both monetary growth and wage inflation downward, admitting that its November estimates misread the future in two (compensating) ways: Wages were not rising as fast as expected, and consumer spending had not fallen as expected [1]. 
Mark Carney, at his press conference, made several suggestions as to wages: perhaps increased population, or changes to taxes.
I make here one suggestion as to buoyant spending. The Monetary Policy Committee probably thought everyone in Britain would all be as shocked as it was at the vote to leave the European Union. But they overlooked that fact that a majority of the country actually welcomed the idea of "taking back our sovereignty", and doubtless found in Brexit a harbinger of good times ahead.  
(Haha ! They keep catching us out.)


Live Chat with The Times (London)

(I am quite in favour of the new “Live-Chat” method of providing immediate help. Not, however, on the following occasion. But at least they gave me a transcript of the conversation!)

Chat Started: Friday, March 18, 2016, 15:40:30 (+0000) Chat Origin: TNL-SERVICE Agent Martha C ( 1m 41s )

Martha C: Hello, you’re chatting with The Times Live Chat Team. How can we help? ( 3m 7s )
Cawstein: Thanks. I submitted a Letter to the Time 14th March. It is of course exclusive to the Times, unless they do not use it. How can I tell? Or how long should I wait. ( 4m 36s )
Martha C: What do you mean ? ( 5m 32s )
Cawstein: I shall send the letter elsewhere if the Times does not publish it. Have They published it? ( 6m 14s )
Martha C: What letter Ian ? ( 6m 50s )
Cawstein: Er?? A Letter to the Editor of The Times (London) ( 8m 5s )
Martha C: We would not have received this letter as they are a different department. ( 9m 41s )
Cawstein: I can look in the times of today 18th March. But I do not have access to the Times of 15, 16, 17th March. Where can I get access to check? ( 11m 18s )
Martha C: To check what Ian ? ( 13m 21s )
Cawstein: For goodness sake Martha!!!! What is the use of having a person like you answering queries? Incidentally, it is not THEY who are a different department it is YOU !!! I am sorry to have wasted both your time and MY TIME

Monday, 28 November 2016

Health Wisdom

     Two friends have very different attitudes to health, and what to do when poorly; matters of medication, diet, sleeping, rising.
     He believes in doing what feel right at the time; rest when tired, sleep when sleepy, fast when he has no appetite, eat fruit when the mood dictates, drink water when thirsty. He has a rationale; "the body knows"; millenia of evolution; the wisdom of the dumb animals that eat grass when deficient in something or other, without having a name for the missing vitamin. 
     His friend favours almost the opposite; the unexpected; the option that would not occur to the average person. She also has a rationale. She values the wisdom of the ancestors, and is careful to remember and transmit it. If chicken soup with rice is the "right thing" for an upset stomach, the very fact that you resist is taken as proof that the recommendation comes from a deeper source.
      Of course, there is a further point in favour of her inherited wisdom, for she is the priestess that mediates between the past and the present. Just as there is point in his notion of following his immediate inclination, for that doctrine puts him in charge; who else knows?