The Futility Monster

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Posts Tagged ‘Peter Mandelson’

Would Brown Have Stayed Labour Leader Anyway?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 12, 2010 @ 09:00

There are so many good photos of Peter Mandelson. Let's hope he returns some day...

The Sunday newspaper story that got the most headlines over the weekend was the serialisation of Peter Mandelson’s book in the Sunday Times, and the bit that’s got the most coverage is the apparent “revelation” that Clegg asked Brown to stand aside.

As Mike Smithson has pointed out, none of this is much of a surprise. It had been rumoured and speculated for a long time that should the election result be inconclusive, amidst a perception of Labour taking a good beating, Brown, as sitting PM, would have to take the flak for it. And yes, even this humble author wrote about it too.

Brown did try to say he’d go on and on, but it was never going to happen.

I remember some arguing that it was hardly the Lib Dems place to dictate who the Labour leader was in these post-election negotiations. After all, the Lib Dems had hardly had a successful election result either. Clegg’s hand should not have been strengthened, yet he still managed to play it in such a manner that Brown felt compelled to step aside.

The most intriguing thing is that Brown was going to quit later rather than sooner in the event of a Lib-Lab coalition. Remember that statement saying he would be going and Labour should put in place a timetable of events, and he would be caretaker leader in the interim? Only to be followed a day later with his immediate resignation from everything…

Something happened in those 24 hours that made him see the writing on the wall. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but in any event whoever made him see the light should have our thanks. Perhaps that’s what Mandelson should be revealing instead?

Labour are in a sorry state at the moment anyway, but if Brown had still been leading the party right now, while the leadership contenders bickered over his legacy, and constantly had to skirt around the issue of whether they “supported” him, it would have made everything rather surreal.

In summary then, what we have is the Sunday Times telling us about something that most people speculated was going to happen, and then actually did. We also probably had the good fortune not to suffer the bizarre instance of a Lib-Lab coalition with a temporary PM, followed by another unelected PM; and a Labour leadership election stifled by power, which would have resulted in an even more boring campaign than the current one.

Brown was going, one way or another. The idea that he could have stayed any longer than he did is just untenable.

The Sunday Time is gonna have to feature something a little better than this if they want people to stump up the cash. Surely the Dark Lord has better anecdotes to share?

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Bully Boy Brown

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 22, 2010 @ 09:30

Somehow, it's hard to imagine someone with hair like that being a bully.

It would be wrong to let the events of the past 24 hours regarding the latest Brown shitstorm to pass without comment, so here goes.

First of all, Andrew Rawnsley is probably one of Britain’s best political journalists. His contacts within Labour especially are second to none. He has always been known as having his finger on the pulse of the New Labour movement, and has always written with tremendous insight into the Blair years in power.

Secondly, the Brown administrations defence of the situation seems to be rather curious. “I have never hit anyone,” said Brown. Well, that’s funny, because Rawnsley never actually accused him of doing so. That’s what we call a straw-man, Gordon. Brown’s spokesman also denied that there had been any inquiry regarding the allegations. Rawnsley never suggested there had been. Merely the Cabinet Secretary asking a few informal questions to find out what was going on.

Thirdly, you have the spectacle of Mandelson denying anything and everything. Except that Brown has a bit of a temper, and has an “impatience to get on with the job” (paraphrased, but broadly right). Classic media management. Try to turn a negative story into a positive one, that Brown is frustrated that he isn’t delivering quickly enough. Make out that the system is against him, but by gosh, he’s trying his damndest!

Fourthly, you have the unexpected twist: the director of a national anti-bullying charity breaking cover in the oddest way, publicly insisting that she has been in contact with members of the Downing Street team regarding allegations of workplace bullying: a claim flatly denied by Number 10, not that they would know if members of their team had indeed called a confidential helpline.

Drawing all this together is the hardest part. What is not disputed is that Brown is a grumpy, messy, sometimes angry person. Angry mostly at himself, and that frustration is taken out on Nokias, newspapers and potentially other people by shouting. Not necessarily at them for their mistakes or failure, but as way of sharing his emotion to his group: “They’re out to get me!” – his (alleged) shouted reaction when he heard about the loss of the child benefit database.

There is also no question about anything physical encounters. If there were, this would be very serious indeed.

That just leaves the unknown. Workplace bullying is hard to nail. Sometimes bullies don’t actually set out to be so. They’re just nasty pieces of work who aren’t very sociable, and their actions are perceived by staff as being hostile towards them.

That may partially answer these allegations, since we already know that Brown is a bit of a brooder, with very poor social skills. But maybe too he has gone a bit too far at some points.

The real question of all this is does it damage him politically.

Only the polls over the next few weeks will tell us that.

UPDATE 15:50 – and the story continues, with the allegations now that our unexpected twist above under “Fourthly” now has a Fifth Dimension. Might the rather amateur looking anti-bully charity actually be stuffed with Tory stooges?

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Did Brown Do Enough?

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 30, 2009 @ 06:32

The man even told a few good jokes. Well, good in a political context...

The man even told a few good jokes. Well, good in a political context...

The switch in the Sun’s support to the Tories has got to be one of the most underwhelming and entirely predictable stories of the year. They have spent years now bashing the Labour Party, and all we’re seeing is a cynical, and successful, operation to divert attention from Brown.

Why would they do that? Well… there was the small matter of his speech yesterday: a thunderous hour-long affair which went down well with the conference. Then again, the previous day they had lapped up one of Mandelson’s most entertaining speeches, filled with political handbagging and extremely camp gestures. Nobody does it better!

So the fact that they liked Brown’s speech was no surprise. And, to be fair, it was a decent speech. It certainly did the job of rallying the troops, putting a little fire in their belly. That’s what Labour needed if it’s going to survive this next seven months in the run up to the election. Seven months which are bound to be the most difficult they’ve ever faced, if the polls are to be believed.

The most striking aspect of it to me, though, was the fact that Brown seems to have thrown all caution to the wind. The list of pledges was long: a new National Care Service, more free childcare, a fund for industry, more spending on benefits and international aid… as well as moves on electoral reform, the House of Lords, ID cards and the right of recall for MPs.

There was one thing missing from his speech though. A price tag. There was some vague promise about how it would all be costed, but I can’t possibly see how some of these things, particularly the pledges of personal care for those who need it most, can be met without very large sums of money.

And so, it seems, Brown has decided to gamble the election on one very last spin of the roulette wheel. There was a little talk of cuts and savings, but it’s clear Brown is going to Carry On Borrowing. The plan appears to be to offer a vision of a future, a vision that was indeed rosy and utopian, and hope enough people buy into the idea, rather than get swallowed up by the sometimes depressing rhetoric of both the Tories and the Lib Dems about the dark days of frugality ahead.

So the speech scored very highly for boldness and policy. There was a small amount of grandstanding about past success: but I think Labour have finally learned that elections are not just about the government’s record. They are essentially about the future, and Brown did a decent job of articulating his new agenda in that way he does best: a canny oratorical mix of assertion, delusion and haste.

Overall, I would say he has just about done enough. Brown will be the man fighting the next election for Labour, and Labour will go down to defeat.

But, perhaps, after this week, it won’t be quite so historic…

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Even Public Sector Workers Want Cuts

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 14, 2009 @ 12:30

Any recession that involved these things would be very welcome, and would remind me of my long, lost childhood.

Any recession that involved these things would be very welcome, and would remind me of my long, lost childhood.

Yesterday’s papers were filled with comment on a poll carried out by YouGov for the Policy Exchange think tank. Most of them focused on trust in government, but, as is always the case with these polls, there was a little more to it than they could fit in the headlines.

The full details of the poll are available directly from the Policy Exchange site.

I’ve had a quick look through the figures, and this question caught my eye:

Spending on public services such as schools, hospitals and the police has risen sharply in the past ten years. Overall, how much of the money do you think has been wasted on such things as bureaucracy paperwork and penpushing?

First of all, questions like this bug me. I don’t like to read too much into them, because they are explicitly negative and almost invite the respondent to join in the browbeating of government. The media have conditioned us to “hate” bureaucracy, as if to say that any money spent on administration must be bad. Perhaps they would like doctors and nurses sitting at computers making their own appointments, booking patients in, arranging rooms, etc…

But regardless, there is a widespread impression that vast swathes of government spending goes to feed the paperwork monster (my cousin, I think). This has been true for years and will continue to be so no matter which government is in power. There’s no doubt that fat can be trimmed from the civil service and local government, but the demands of the wider public for such efficiency savings are unrealistic and insatiable.

So this result is not surprising:

  • A lot: 62%
  • A fair amount: 22%

The next result, however, is more interesting. Instead of it being the result of the entire sample, it drilled down to only include those who worked for the public sector…

  • A lot: 59%
  • A fair amount: 25%

Overall, the same percentage in these two responses as there was for the entire sample.

In other words, the public sector workers, those who see the waste on a daily basis, are just as likely to be fed up with spending on needless things as the general population. One might have expected the public sector worker to be more defensive of their line of work. They have often been considered Labour’s “payroll vote”… but if even they are getting fed up, I think the battle is already lost.

Cuts are on their way. Even Lord Mandelson has admitted it today… in ways which might even excite the Labour Party, especially if he cancels Trident.

The final remaining political point of interest is this… when the public sector recession begins, will it be so severe that it does indeed cause the dreaded “double-dip”, W-shaped, recession?

If so, the Tories are going to have an extremely bumpy ride in their first couple of years in office.

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And The Press Did Spin

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 10, 2009 @ 09:45

He's Just A Loveable Pussycat Really. So he says...

He's Just A Loveable Pussycat Really. So he says...

Can anyone possibly be serious when they suggest that Peter Mandelson could soon become the leader of the Labour Party? Or worse, Prime Minister?

I certainly can’t utter those words without breaking out into a smirk. Because, as we all know, Mandelson is probably the most hated member of the Labour Party. Even surpassing Blair, though we don’t know whether he is indeed still a member. One would have thought so or it could be mighty embarrassing.

However, there is one lesson to be learned from all the headlines surrounding the noble Lord Mandelson’s return to high politics, and reputed visions of gaining the top job.

And it’s one of my old favourites. One I may just possibly have mentioned before.

Never trust the media.

Why? Well, this story is actually one of a tedious, abstract nature.

The issue: whether life peers should be able to resign their peerage and leave the House of Lords behind.

On the face of it, this is totally open and shut. It is madness to suggest that, once made a member of a legislative body, that you should never ever be allowed to leave of your own free will. The only escape basically being when you’re six feet under.

After all, an MP can resign. Indeed, even a hereditary peer can resign. That’s what all that fuss over Tony Benn was all about decades ago. And we managed, somehow, to lay that ghost to rest. The law was changed.

So why shouldn’t a “life” peer be allowed to move on? Such an odd constitution we have thanks to its piecemeal nature.

But wait! How can we make this tedious piece of news into a long-running saga that now even has the Tories excited because they get the chance to enjoy headlines like this: “Tories pledge to block law allowing Lord Mandelson to return to Commons” ?

Well, it’s simple, isn’t it.

Personalisation. The human interest angle. Make each piece of news, no matter how individually worthy or necessary for updating an antiquated constitution, into another piece of the petty partisan battle that will then, inevitably, make people oppose something merely for the sake of it.

And that’s exactly what’s happened. There is actually nothing in the article where the Tories explain why they would oppose such a move. But, after all, that’s not necessary! Why wouldn’t they oppose sticking one over Mandelson! Who wouldn’t?!

And do you know what else?

This is exactly why nothing ever seems to get done in politics.

The media are just as complicit as anyone.

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Bloody Students Again

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 28, 2009 @ 00:44

Urgh. What are this lot so happy about? Their degrees are likely to be bloody useless. Like mine.

Urgh. What are this lot so happy about? Their degrees are likely to be bloody useless. Like mine.

… was the first thing I thought when I began to muse about the topic of today’s blogpost, but with the issue of universities still burbling in the background while “success” in Afghanistan is widely celebrated, I thought it was still worthy of some further comment. But I won’t be making a habit of it, I promise.

Yes: in the past couple of days there have been a stream of stories about what’s going to happen to university tuition fees: culminating in this one from the Sunday Times which suggests that both Labour and the Conservatives are preparing the ground for significant rises.

Then, as if to hammer home the point today, Lord Mandelson came out (no, not like that) and all but told us that tuition fees are definitely going to rise by tacking on the usual caveat of helping the lower classes achieve degrees too.

What I find curious about all of this is, first of all, why now? A partial answer is that there is a review coming up required by the legislation that introduced student top-up fees. But that is not for many months and is, ostensibly, independent. The conclusion: it’s very clear that the debate is being framed in preparation for this review to basically say that only one answer is appropriate: fees must be allowed to rise.

Which is exactly why so many of us were implacably opposed to tuition fees in the first place, that they would be the thin end of the wedge that sees us moving closer to the American system of a financial market between the universities – where the poor don’t bother going at all, the lucky working class have to go to the cheapest (and worst) universities, while the elite continue to dominate at the top, which feeds into the continuing class divide. Typical Britain, one might say. That’s not to say things were perfect before tuition fees were introduced – they weren’t – but it’s clear to me that we’re going in completely the wrong direction.

My second point of curiosity regarding this current debate is also answered somewhat by the financial crisis. After all, as I pointed out a few days ago, it seems Mandy has chosen to lead the way by starting the cutbacks process already. Testing the water, if you will, against an easy, low turnout, target who are lost to the Labour Party for a generation anyway. Well, did you really think the cutbacks would have started by abolishing the pensioners winter fuel payment? No, of course not. Spending cuts are going to focus substantially on those who don’t matter electorally – and that’s entirely the youth’s fault for not voting.

Thirdly, and on a partisan point that I just can’t resist making – if Labour continue to ignore students, and the Conservatives choose to follow them down the same path, then the Lib Dems will remain the party of students for years to come. Today’s activists become tomorrow’s councillors and MPs – and the Lib Dems aren’t doing too badly in certain parts of the country out of all this.

If the Lib Dems continue to play this one carefully, talking about what is fair even when the chips are down and the economy is turning against you – as we did on the Gurkhas issue – we may continue to carve ourselves a neat little niche that could be very productive come election time.

Ahh. The refreshing aroma of principled politics!

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And So It Begins

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 25, 2009 @ 00:35

But more time for drinking with less money surely equals more Lidl Finkbrau? Bloody students...

But more time for drinking with less money surely equals more Lidl Finkbrau? Bloody students...

With the news that Business, Innovation and Skills Department (including Universities, but without telling everyone Universities are included) is slashing £65m off budgets for next year, it’s pretty clear that you don’t need a Budget to economise.

And the even more telling part of this story? The fact that it is Lord Mandelson’s very own department that is wielding the axe.

I’ve no doubt we’re going to see more and more stories of this nature as the months go by. Perhaps even slipped out over the summer while they hope no one’s watching. It’s possible that this could lead to yet another death by a thousand cuts to the government. More likely though, they’re hoping that people aren’t likely to notice a little cut here, a little cut there, and particularly if they are not in areas that are going to hit the headlines.

Rather that than in next year’s budget issuing huge climb downs over growth forecasts (cos that one’s not looking too good either, Alistair) – literally weeks before a General Election – and being forced to drastically cut departmental budgets because they were a little too optimistic compared with last year. Either that or increase borrowing still further: surely suicidal in the run up to Voting Day as it would play right into the Tories hands.

But it is surely a sign that the government has accepted that overall expenditure must come down in cash terms, not just in real terms.

Or is it? After all, they only yesterday told us that they have £1bn to spend on electrifying railway tracks. An idea I support; and one that fits properly into Keynesian economic theory (infrastructure investment) – but I can’t help but feel that this is what should have been done instead of useless VAT cuts.

Or perhaps this all hints at another strategy. Could the election actually be called before the next budget? Labour, knowing defeat is inevitable, may decide it’s better to make the Tories be the ones who take the potentially unpopular decisions of cutting budgets and raising taxes. Because, make no doubt about it, taxes will have to go up somewhere. Reducing spending simply won’t be enough if we’re to service this mountain of debt we’re building up.

That strategy, perhaps seeing an election in March, may be the one that hopes for a Tory victory, a very small one in a hung Parliament, and then hoping they fail to deliver, leading to a second General Election within the year – one which could see Labour returned to power.

All a little far fetched, maybe. But you never know what Mandy’s up to. And all this on top of previous news freezing student loans, he’s clearly picked this fight with the Universities because he thinks it’s one he can win…

All we need now is for Gordon Brown to emerge telling us that spending won’t be cut, that white is black and night is day and David Cameron is a jolly nice chap, really.

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