Sunday 30 May 2010

Nuclear power - thanks but no thanks

Interesting that Chris Huhne makes it clear that he is not ideological on nuclear power. I have always been not ideological on nuclear power. I think the balance of effort needs to be much further toward the renewable end of the spectrum than it has been. And I also think we need to do the unthinkable =- actually change our lifestyles rather than continue to produce more and more power to feed it. But politicians aren't allowed to say that kind of thing.

I feel more comfortable with the idea of nuclear power stations being built with no subsidy. But I can't get my head around how it might work. Let's take an example.

My company, (greenpower inc, or some such name) decides to build a power station. Sets up a new company to do the job (ourfuture inc, or something like that), floats it on the stockmarket with lots of shares, gets in loads of cash, borrows from the banks at silly rates because the government is telling banks to up their lending.

I open my power station with plaudits from the Prime Minister of the day whoever that is, but it will be male, white and not quite middle aged, with good hair and teeth.

I make lots of power and even more money. (I donate some to various political parties.)

I become a Lord, (Lord Green of Much Unwitting or something like that).

I make lots more power and lots more money. ourfuture inc shares do well. I reschedule the debt, share prices rise even further and I am hailed as a business genius. I am probably brought in to head a government task force on waste or something like that.

As the power station nears the end of its useful life, rumours emerge about the financial health of ourfuture inc. Shareholders take their profits and the price dips.

My pension fund is doing nicely.

When the time comes, I pull the plug on the power station and send the staff off to the next one I'm building (under a different company).

On the day I send in the new set of decommissioning staff, I discover, to my shock and horror, that there is no money left in ourfuture inc. I regretfully and with much protestation of innocence, have the company put into administration. I am punctilious in informing the government of what needs to be done to make the plant safe, and hand over all the blue prints.

I give up my lordship, convert my tax status to non-dom, and swan off to some Caribbean island, leaving the government to find upwards of £30 billion for the decommissioning and making safe.

What else would any sensible business person do?

David Laws, Lord Laidlaw and newspapers

David Laws' resignation is a cause for deep regret. I did not want him to resign. I am dismayed that he felt the need for secrecy over his sexuality, and I am equally dismayed at the newspaper treatment of it, which demonstrates that his felt need for secrecy was well founded, despite what other gay people may say. I think it would have been possible for him to carry on. There are certainly suggestions that David Cameron thought so. Nevertheless I feel proud that Laws has done what would in a less febrile atmosphere be called the right thing. I am also sure that he will return when the dust has settled, and that that will be the right thing too. The price of politics is high. I am sure that Laws knew that already, but it has now been reaffirmed for him. He is a tough man though, I have no doubt of that, and our politics will be better run when he returns to office.

Many are saying that the coalition has been weakened. I do not believe this is so. The coalition has been wounded, but I think it will emerge from this episode the stronger. The media narrative has already formed around Laws being pivotal to the growing understanding between Conservatives and Libdems with the implication that it will all start to unravel “coalition in turmoil” is a headline in the Observer today. I doubt that. The unexpected is the stuff of politics. “Coalition takes first blow, flesh wound, no stitches required, will survive” is more like the truth, but that doesn't sell newspapers. Laws is an unusual talent, but there is plenty of other talent on both sides, as well as willingness to do the job. And in any case, I am sure that Laws will still be there in the background providing support and advice as far as he can.

Meanwhile another item of news is far more important for the long term future of British politics. Lord Laidlaw, substantial donor to the Conservative Party, has resigned as a lord in order to maintain his status as a non-dom. Well, good riddance. This is the man who made a specific written promise in 2003 that if made a lord, he would become a UK taxpayer. He welshed on the promise, and, it has to be said, the Tories let him. Every day he continued as a Lord, living a lie, was another day in which the old politics could still outshine the new. There is plenty of old politics still around, as this headline shows, (I note there is no suggestion of Conservative party misdoing here) and much still needs to be done to sort out party funding. But at least we have one liar less in the Lords. Laws will be back, Laidlaw, I very much hope, will not.

The manner of publication of Laidlaw's decision says a lot about our press. The Times headlined the article: (read it now before it goes behind the paywall) "Sex addict peer gives up seat to save non-dom status". I don't give a stuff about Laidlaw's sexuality, and neither should anyone else. It says a lot that the Times leads with the "sex addict" bit, when this is possibly a fundamental moment in the move to change the way in which British politics is done, far more important in the long run, I think, than the question of David Laws' resignation. And I thought the Times was interested in politics.

Perhaps the Times is vying with the Telegraph for cheapest broadsheet headline of the year. The Telegraph headlined their article about David Laws expenses (I apologise here and now to David Laws for bringing this up again, but my purpose is to outline the cheapness of the Telegraph's editorial stance): "MPs' Expenses: Treasury chief David Laws, his secret lover and a £40,000 claim". No doubt "MPs' Expenses: Treasury chief David Laws, his £40,000 claim" would not have sold enough copies. This is the paper that brought us: "MPs' expenses: Jo Swinson submitted receipts for tooth flosser and eyeliner", for which a true headline would have read: "Young woman spends own money on inexpensive makeup, shock, horror". Perhaps the Telegraph wants to be the first broadsheet to join the Daily Mail in the gutter of British journalism. It's got a long way to go to get that low, to be honest, but it's heading there fast.

Saturday 8 May 2010

The current scene

I've just sent most of this to balancedparliament at

To my surprise I find I'm less bothered about facilitating a Tory government than I thought I would be. I worked through the 80s and 90s when almost every day brought more examples of Tory viciousness and Tory sleaze, and we still see evidence day to day that many of the party grassroots haven't changed a bit. I still think that if they get into power the right wing will come out of hiding and try to blast Cameron into submission to their way of thinking. For what it's worth,. I don't think Cameron himself has a political anchor. He doesn't really believe much of what he's been selling to the British public over the last couple of years. But also I don't think he's actually as right wing as the 2005 manifesto that he wrote. He is a supreme salesman. If he believes in anything, he believes in privilege. But his political position has no weight, and he is therefore vulnerable to being knocked rightwards by the blasts that will come at him from the Tory roots.

But we strive to be democratic, and as somebody said grown up politics involves sometimes having to work with your enemies. I think we have already put ourselves into a good position by being consistent – the party with the mandate to govern should govern. The Tories have that is both votes and seats, so they get their chance.

Yes, we could prop up Brown, and his offer on electoral reform is probably more soundly based than anything we'd get from the Tories, because he knows it's his last chance. And, OK, many of us are instinctively closer to Labour than to the Tories. But I don't think the voters will forgive us in the end for keeping Gordon alive. And after all he has form – 13 years in power, not one step on electoral reform till he's on his political deathbed. Grown up politics sometimes means not working with your friends, when your friends have turned out not to be real friends.

At the same time we have to be clear about how much power we have, or rather don't have. We can do what we can, but it's limited in the face of a Tory party that hold most of the cards.

I don't think we should ally with them. It's a political calculation of costs and benefits. I do not believe we will get any great benefit – electoral reform in particular will be manoeuvred out of the way. Even if Cameron was half inclined to deliver it, any move in that direction would cause his troops to march him behind the bike sheds for a mock execution. Followed by a real one if he went any further.

So to my mind the resource and supply idea is probably our best bet. The key thing is for us to both act and present ourselves as acting for the good of the country and for the good of democracy. We must strive not to be saddled with responsibility for Tory actions that we really disagree with, and we must strive to present our arguments in favour of those actions that we do agree with. It will call on our Parliamentarians to be extremely well organised and extremely nimble to keep on top of all the political and procedural manoeuvrings that will take place. My MP is Norman Baker, and I know of nobody who works harder than he does, but he and all our other MPs will have to work even harder. All our new MPs will need to learn very quickly when to act and when not to act, and they will need immense support from our seasoned campaigners.

Along with that, we will need to take a good long look at all the party's resources, and rearrange them if need be to provide the best support we can to our MPs and our spokespeople over the next few months. Making sure that they get the support they need to make the right decisions, and making sure that the message gets out about how and why we are doing what we are doing is more important now than ever, so at some point soon, the powers that be in Cowley St and the regions need to have a good hard look at how our administrators and support staff can be best utilised. That is also part of the stuff of politics.

I have a couple of other minor observations about the current political situation. Firstly, there has been some talk of us being able to manoeuvre George Osborne out of the way and get Cameron to replace him with Ken Clarke. Much better idea for the country. But we have to get real about the amount of power we have. See the execution scenario above. The idea of a pro European in charge at the treasury is even less to the liking of the Tory grassroots than PR. So we're stuck with Sixth Form.

And secondly one of my biggest fears about a Tory majority was the social repression that might follow in its wake – votes on the hunting ban, and an all out assault on our abortion legislation, in particular. Those now seem much less likely with the Tories in a minority. I haven't looked at the balance of the new Parliament on those issues in detail and I have no idea how the numbers stack up. There will definitely be some people calling loud and long for them, but they will not get their way nearly so easily.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Stroud vs Stroud

Philippa Stroud has hit some headlines, though notably not those of the Murdochracy, or of the BBC, which is apparently too frightened of the Murdochracy to run it. The nub of the issue is her practice of praying for homosexual people to be released from the demons which so obviously infect them.

The response so far has been fourfold:

a) a denial from Ms Stroud that she believes homosexuality is an illness. Which is an accusation nobody has put to her.

b) silence from her on the issue of whether homosexual people are possessed by demons.

c) a rapid disappearance of Philippa from Twitter and Facebook, presumably in case people press her on these issues. Wonder what she's got to hide then.

d) a concerted defence from various Tories, including, bless him, Iain Dale, that this is old news, something she did ten years ago. With the carefully not spelt out implication that things might be different now.

There has been little coverage of whether she is still a member of the church she founded, which holds among other relics of tub thumping patriarchy, that the man is the head of the woman and she must submit to his authority.

Now we find that Mr Stroud, said authoritative husband of the above mentioned, has signed a declaration intended to put the views of socially conservative Christians, the Westminster Declaration, so he's still around and still very right wing. (Update: it's been fisked by Ekklesia, thank goodness.) So this is a live story, not a ten year old one. Given that she's standing for Parliament, and given that this is still a democracy, her potential constituents have a right to know:

a) does she still hold to the tenets of the church that she founded?

b) in which case does she still believe that homosexuals are possessed by demons?

c) does she hold that she is subject to the authority of her husband?

d) in which case whose conscience will decide her votes if she gets into Parliament and exercises that vote on behalf of her constituents - hers or her husband's?

PS as a Christian I resent the presentation of the Westminster Declaration "Declaration of Christian conscience" as if it speaks for all Christians. They speak only for those who very selectively quote bits of both Old and New testaments to assert that dinosaurs never existed, except for those who still believe that they have a right to control everything their womenfolk say and do. They most certainly do not speak for me, but they try to claim that theirs is the only truth. They should meet the Pope when he comes over; they'll find they have a lot in common.