Tuesday, April 27, 2010

We're not stupid - tell us where you'll cut!

Money isn't everything, but when the country's structural deficit is anywhere between £70 and £90 billion per year it's pretty important.

The structural deficit is the amount of money we borrow to keep doing the things we do at the moment - the revenue costs if you like. If we borrow to invest in something new that doesn't count. Gordon Brown's 'golden rule' was based on a similar distinction, the rules of which got helpfully tweaked at various points over the last decade.

All the parties say they want to reduce the Structural deficit between half and two thirds over a parliament and say they can eliminate somewhere between £7.6bn and £12bn of 'waste' in public services , but that still leaves some pretty big figures. Today's institute for fiscal studies report states that:
"Based on commitments made so far, the Liberal Democrats would need to cut an accumulated £51bn from spending on public services by 2017. Labour's plans would require a slightly smaller cut during that time of £47bn, the IFS said, while the Conservatives would cut by the largest amount - £57bn."

As I said. some pretty big gaps. Some will come in tax rises, but what about the rest?

Take a look at the BBC articles here and here for some more explanation. 

Last October at conference time it looked like the Tories were going to lead the way and be more honest with us about what they'd cut. But they ran scared as soon as the polls began to change at the beginning of the year. 

There's going to be massive cuts in the public sector. It's not going to be possible to protect frontline services - every single one of the nurses and teachers. I want to know what each party is planning to cut so that I can see their priorities. I want to see some honesty and leadership so that we can at least look back and say 'we know what we voted for'.

We're not stupid so tell us where you'll cut!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The grass is green and it's time to step into the fray.

When a politican comes on TV and says, as they occasionally do, that their faith is a private matter and doesn't impact their politics it's a nonsense. It's like hearing that grass is orange and houses are built from the tip of their roof upwards.

Everyone's assumptions about the world around them - their beliefs - impacts their thinking and their actions.

I long to see God's 'kingdom come on Earth as it is in heaven' - a kingdom of justice, reconciliation,peace,  creativity and freedom for each person to be who God has made them to be. Every time God breaks through into our society in these ways His kingdom extends.

So when I'm figuring out which political party to support that's where I'm coming from.

Which parties and individuals are most likely to be open to breaking down the structures of economic, social and relational injustice that imprison both rich and poor? Who will best challenge lies, mistrust and hypocrisy both institutional and personal  that contaminates our society and pulls us into a slough of cynacism? Who will listen to the people, but show courage and leadership in addressing our economic woes - for 'without vision the people perish'?

These are tough questions and it's not possible that any one party will come out well in every area. It can be difficult to see how a particular vision works out in practical policies, but much better to make your best guess than keep that vision locked in an ivory tower, clean and untouched, but useless.
I've always been hesitant to openly supporting a political party - too much commitment for a gen-Xer like me, but sometimes you've got to step from the sidelines into the fray.

So I've nailed my colours to the Green Party flag this time round.

Like Labour, the Green Party are passionate about reducing inequality and poverty. Like the Tories they see the importance of building communities from the bottom up - the government can't solve everything. Like the Lib Dems the Greens are strong on freedom of conscience, religion and liberties.

Unlike any of the main parties the Greens grasp that our relationships with each other and the world around us has a central and profound effect on our wellbeing.

The Green Party offer a coherence in this area that is strikingly absent from the three main parties. The Greens argue that we need to break free of an economy and culture locked into over consumption and materialism so that people are enabled to do what  most of us want to do - feel safe in our society, spend time with their families and contribute sustainably to the communities around us.

We work the longest hours in Europe and commute two hours a day and risk living to work and destroying our own hopes, our relationships and the planet. The Greens have a raft of proposals that would encourage a positive cultural shift - to promote local shops, jobs and services and want to move towards a time where a 35 hour working week is the norm.

Whilst some people run around like headless chickens in a rat race others don't get the support they need to find work that provides purpose and an opportunity to contribute or get paid a derisory minimum wage that leaves them with the stress of poverty or embarrassment of claiming benefits or aren't recognised for the role of caring they do. The Greens would increase income tax for higher earners, pay everyone a 'citizen's income' to support families and carers, invest in hundreds of thousands of Green jobs and raise the minimum wage towards £8.10 per hour.

The people I've met and heard who are in the Green Party are passionate about seeing positive and concrete change, aren't afraid to say and do  the right thing  even when it's unpopular and have deep flowing, well thought through philosophy and values.

Of course I don't agree with everything they say (nuclear power and faith schools spring to mind) or even all of their underlying thinking (I might write on this another time), but these are people who best fit the questions above that come out of my faith. I respect their character, values, commitment and policies which means I can look people in the eye and say 'It's worth voting Green'.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

And I'll be voting for....

The general election gun will be fired by Gordon Brown on Tuesday (although as you've probably noticed everyone's already dashed off) and I've had a look at the themes of six of the major parties.

So, for those of you who don't already know, it's time to tell you who I'll be voting for on May 6th.

[very small drum roll]

And you'll just have to wait a bit longer, whilst I buzz on about an electoral bee that lives in my very fetching bonnet.

I've listed the parties in order of my preference as would be possible under the Alternative Vote system as opposed to the current First Past The Post. A form of this is already used in the European and London Maryoral Elections and Gordon Brown has promised a referendum on it if he wins this time round. It has two major positives:

Firstly it means that every MP would get a majority. If after all the first choices are added up the person with the smallest number of first choices gets eliminated and their second choice votes reallocated. This carries on until someone has 50%.

Secondly, you don't have to think about worrying about tactical voting (not that you should anyway) - if a currently smaller party is your first choice, put them first. You can then put your 'least worst' option of the big parties second and when the small party is eliminated your vote will count for the big party.

So Alternative Vote keeps the good bits of the First past the post but makes a fairer, healthier addition to democracy.

Anyway.  I'll be voting for...
[no drum roll this time]

1. Green Party (Feel the Love / Black Eyed Peas)
2. Conservatives (Eine Kleine Nacht Musik)
3. Lib Dems (Park Life / Blur)
4. Labour (Day in the life / Beatles)

It was a real tussle about whether to put the Tories or Lib Dems second.  The Conservatives have more 'bad eggs' in their party than the Lib Dems which makes me  nervous. However, they are the only one of the main three parties over the last couple of years that have consistently talked about the importance of supporting family relationships and rebuilding our society not from the state down, but from the bottom up. So if I had to choose between the three I'd hesitantly give the Tories a chance.

Luckily I don't have to choose and now I'm officially off the fence in the blogosphere I'll spend some time explaining why I'm voting Green as well as reflecting on the campaign to come.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Sing a simple UKIP song

I'm cheating a bit by rushing onto UK Independence Party before the election is announced on Tuesday. I will come back to the Scots and Welsh Nationalists and some of the smaller parties, but wanted to give fair due to a party that claimed they came second at the last European Elections.

The temptation to take the mickey out of UKIP is strong and I was planning to christen them with the theme tune to the Wizard of Oz.

If only we could get out of Europe....then everything would be wonderful. All the nasty witches of the economy and hundreds of thousands of immigrants  would magically be sorted out and Britain would be home again.

UKIP plan to 'end multiculturalism', ban the wearing of the burka in public and take Britain out of the EU, but sign free trade agreements to protect 'European jobs' (50% of the UK's trade is with the EU). Expand the the military by 40%, establish an English Parliament, get European lorries off the road, release businesses from 120000 EU laws, make St. George's Day a holiday... you get the picture. Here's their summary manifesto.

This is the sense that comes out strongly from their speeches and TV appearances. However, delve a bit deeper and there is another more interesting theme that emerges. Simplicity. Or as they would put it 'straight talking'. UKIP aim to cut through all the complex governance of 21st century life and make things clear again.

UKIP and their leader Lord Pearson (have you heard of him?) would remove all existing taxes and replace them with a flat 31% tax for everyone and a local VAT tax for Councils. This idea is appealing - hard to avoid, everyone knows what they're getting and where it's going. The simple theme is continued through a smaller number of benefits, 'life meaning life' and abolition of regional government.

Transparency is an important part of accountability and engagement. It's very difficult to challenge something  if it's wrapped up in bureaucracy, jargon and exceptions. Sometimes in our effort to be fair we make something so complex that it obscures justice. That's where UKIP have a valuable contribution to make in UK politics. However, simplicity from a defensive heart can cause oppression. Locking up 'career criminals' for good, a virulent attack on the public sector and ending 'abuse' in the asylum system come from a fear of change and ignorance of 'people not like us'.

The UKIP sing a simple song which is initially appealing and touches some of the real frustrations of bureaucratic modern life in the UK and problems with the EU. The racist ' I don't understand you foreigners' undertones are disturbing.
When UKIP gets down to detail it feels like they fade away, stick their fingers in your ears and wish things were like they were when they were children. After me, sing 'La la la la la, la la la la la, la la la la la laaaa.'
Watch the video. For you Carpenters fans, their version is here as well.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

All the people, so many people - the Lib Dems' Parklife

Do the Liberal Democrats have a distinctive identity, or as their opponents suggest do they sit in the middle trying to be all things to all people?

One of the things I find encouraging about the main political parties is that they have all grown out of particular philosophical and political traditions. This provides them with an important underlying cohesion and narrative. The Labour value the Christian socialism of RH Tawney and the works of Tony Crosland. The  Tories look back to the 'Grandfather of Conservatism' Edmund Burke and more recent thinkers like Michael Oakeshott.

The Liberal Democrats can lay claim to the even clearer heritage of Locke, Hume and JS Mill - founding thinkers of liberalism.

Of course this is to simplify political thinking. There are many overlaps and Tories especially might draw inspiration from these philosophical giants. However, it does point to the fact that the Liberal Democrats aren't just a party in the middle bobbing up and down, thrown this way and that by the latest political storms. Their consistent stand against ID cards and other infringements of civil liberties such as 28 day detention without trial demonstrate this well.

Perhaps unfortunately for the Lib Dems the political debate has moved away from these issues at the moment. So what else have they to offer?

The two senses that come from the party are policy openness and a welcome break from the cult of the leader.

Environmental and transport emerge as a key strand for their policies, along with the economy and their key policies are laid out in this nifty little booklet (pdf).

Their website if full of pictures of 'prominent' lib dems, most of whom aren't Nick Clegg and their news archive actually has initiatives from the relevant portfolio holder without the leader holding their hand. There is a lot of talk about 'All the people' in the party (the Lib Dems would like to convince you that there are 'so many people') all working together 'hand in hand' ready to support you through your 'parklife'.

It's that last part that still provides the problem for the Liberal Democrats. There's still a sense that, with the exception of Vincent Cable, they're not heavyweight enough for the big stage. OK to run your councils and clean up your park, but you wouldn't quite trust them with the nuclear button (which they wouldn't renew).

In the past their picking of unrelated key campaign issues (think Iraq war & Tuition Fees to appeal to disgruntled Labour voters in 2005) has made them sound more like students with gripes than with a strong, coherent narrative to govern.

The leaders' debates will be a massive opportunity for Nick Clegg to show that he can stand toe to toe with the other would-be PMs. These three set pieces of the election may well determine whether the Liberal Democrats join the big boys in government or continue jogging round and round and round the election cycle never quite breaking through to new ground.