12 July 2007

Gordon Brown has surprised me - he has so far been very good.

It is not often I agree with the Daily Mail...
- whatever the morality of gambling - the Mail was right to argue against supercasinos and Brown has been right to scrap them. I was horrified a Labour government was even suggesting gambling would be good for redeveloping run-down areas. The evidence (pdf) from Australia (the biggest gamblers on Earth) just does not support this - quite the opposite. Not surprisingly (for an activity that produces nothing tangible for society), poverty increases when gambling increases - it would target the most vulnerable and is a license to print money for those running it. The thrill of winning big money is always going to appeal most to those with little money. It is a big relief it has been scrapped.

So as well as doing the right thing by scrapping supercasinos (although the fight goes on to stop the sixteen 'large' casinos), Brown has also delighted 'reform anoraks' like me, by bringing back onto the main agenda the review of electoral systems, placing votes for 16 year olds, an elected upper house, devolved power to local government and direct democracy (all protected by a written constitution) into the limelight - if Brown delivers on just some of this it would be great. It means nothing until it happens but it is better for morale than being ignored (at least for a short while) and this does seem more than just vague aspiratioon from Brown - I think he realises he has to deliver quickly if he is to win people over - just talking about it and not delivering will most certainly backfire.

There is a good discussion on politicalbetting.com on the subject of the Alternative Vote. There have been hints for quite a while that AV has won over quite a few converts in the Brown government but I agree with the commenters on politicalbetting, that Labour just does not have a big enough mandate to change the electoral system (no matter how little change or improvement AV is in practise when compared to FPTP - Robin Cook said the change to AV was so minor it did not warrant a referendum) or a mandate to do much else constitutionally without winning an election first with it included in their manifesto or better still by winning a referendum.

I think the building of more houses has near universal support (and certainly my support) even if few householders wants them built nearby. Brown has finally placed housebuilding at the centre of the agenda (this is long overdue) and Labour have a lot of catching up to do - it is disgraceful that in the last ten years less housing has been built than the previous ten under the Tories (a lot of this is down to opposition and planning red tape from Tory local government) but nevertheless it is Labour who are in government and they need to put this right quickly.

Reforming the NHS is a more difficult task - the media have took cynicism to new levels - levels that make it impossible for a politician to be heard above the din of criticism. If politicians are 'incompetent scumbags' then some blogs and media outlets are a step even below this.

So Brown's only hope was to appoint a doctor to make the case for reform. There are many vested interests to tip-toe around but the plans outlined for more treatment centres for specialist treatments (non-emergency) like joint replacements and cataracts, dentistry etc and for more primary care in the home does sound more efficient and more customer focussed - the road to it however might prove more difficult when it involves closing existing hospitals. This will always be exploited by the local media and politicians as 'cuts' - people will easily believe such claims - only by taking on the criticisms head-on and producing quick results can this be countered.

Raising the school age was an old idea I first heard mentioned by Alan Johnson and it is good to see it is firmly on the agenda. We cannot afford to let people avoid training, work and education at such an early age (or any age for that matter). It is also good to hear more flexibility for teachers in teaching the curriculum - Ed Balls seems to be getting to work quickly and efficiently.

Also good to see John Denham quickly get into the act by a promise of more grants for students - always a good sounding policy - not too costly but one to restore morale amongst younger Labour voters.

There is a raft of good measures here to cheer us on the Left of politics - even Michael Meacher is pleased - but it is also politically astute - we are wrong footing the Tories who are finding it hard to criticise directly any of what is being proposed - just criticising it on the basis that it cannot be achieved.

It is hard to know how Tories keep a straight face sometimes, when we compare the policy initiatives they manage to come up with.

They spend six months to assert policies so plainly absurd about marriage and poverty that it is beyond ridicule. Policies that not surprisingly will be regressive and increase inequality. I suppose when you put Ian Duncan Smith in charge it is not surprising. All of their measures are punitive (although taxing booze more and increasing the gambling age they are right about).

Brown is right to stress the moralising aspect of the Tory policies on family and marriage - because that is the position they always take - whether immigration, homosexuals, co-habitees etc - 'oooh, they are a bit different' cries the Tory prejudice - a threat to the mainstream - better 'slap them down'. It all stems back to the poor law idea of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor. The Tories cannot quite describe it thus but we really have to get away from this 19th Century thinking.

Rewarding married people for getting married is like (as the Guardian put it) rewarding parents for calling their children 'Arabella'. Children with that name get better exam results but it is not the name that causes it, just as it isn't marriage that brings up children better - it is the people who make the 'decision' to marry who just happen to be better parents, it is not the decision itself. This is hardly rocket science - the Tories are thick but not that thick - all this is about, is redistributing once again to the people who vote Tory - those already quite well off but shrouding it in something that sounds nice and plausible on the first listen - but is complete bullshit.

The new bunch of Tories really scare me - they are even more wide-eyed and despicable than their Thatcher predecessors - we really cannot afford to let these types into power. If Sayeeda Warsi is the 'new type' of Tory that Cameron wants to promote, then we really would head backwards in time (God I hate Justine Greening as well _ these smug Tories would be a nightmare). Warsi openly denounces homosexuals (supports section 28 and is against the equal age of consent and all sex education in schools) and refuses to apologise for it - there should be no place for bigots like this in politics. The fact that Cameron promotes her to the front bench, tells us all we need to know about his true priorities. Whether it is grammar schools (admits they lower social mobility but wants more of them), the environment (more roads, doesn't recycle and hires chauffeurs to drive his shoes - in other words a hypocrite), human rights (wants them abolished), Europe (supports fascists), Poverty (wants to penalise those not married and cut benefits to the most vulnerable)- this guy really is not to be trusted.

No comments:

Post a Comment