Monday, April 12, 2004
Blog suspended
Category: My thoughts

Those that know me will know why I will not be blogging for the forseeable future. Sorry to all the readers of this blog.

Posted by Paul @ 05:04 PM
Sunday, April 04, 2004
Media whore
Category: My thoughts

I am doing a phone-in on LBC, for those in London who care about such things, from 10.30am this morning on Blair and Blairism. Tune in, etc.

I have spent much of the past week in Holiday Inns in Derby and Middlesbrough. I travelled from one to the other, and it was exactly the same in every detail. Pure Kafka. Only the accents of the receptionists were different. This globalisation lark really does reduce all that is distinct into one-size-fits-all. Even MacDonalds is different in different parts of the UK, and world.

I felt like somebody had died when Bev Hughes resigned. If you strip away the hysteria, all she had done wrong is forget that someone wrote her a letter several months ago, amidst millions of pieces of correspondence which crossed her desk. I have seen ministers working into the small hours, and every weekend, just to keep up with the Red Boxes. Surely we can run a political system with some latitude for human frailties, without demanding and getting a resignation for every tiny mistake?

As well as a sense of disappointment that a talented minister has been forced from office, making my government just a little more unsteady, I wonder about the role of the Civil Service. Why did officials not recall the letter from Bob Ainsworth, and brief the Minister. Did they forget it too? Are any of the Private Office going to resign for the same memory lapse as Bev Hughes, or is it only ministers who are supposed to have photographic memories?

Posted by Paul @ 09:14 AM
Monday, March 29, 2004
Tony Blair and the Hand of History
Category: My thoughts

LABOUR PARTY LEADERS are never very popular with Labour Party members. Party members give grudging acceptance at best, or at worst visceral loathing towards the men they elect to lead them. If you want to hear Tony Blair’s most outspoken critics, the people prepared to call him a liar and a murderer, then pop along to your local Labour Party branch meeting.

‘Twas ever thus. Keir Hardie, George Lansbury, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, Michael Foot, John Smith: all were denounced as traitors, trimmers and turncoats by their own side at one time or another. This ‘friendly fire’ predates Blair’s New Labour, or Kinnock’s Policy Review, or Wilson’s white heat, or Leon Trotsky’s warning that the crisis of socialism was a crisis of leadership, or even Ramsey MacDonald’s sell-out to the National Government.

It was there at the birth of the party itself at the Memorial Hall, encoded in some strand of the party’s DNA. In 1908, the hero of the 1889 Great Dock Strike Ben Tillett, later MP for Salford, published a pamphlet ‘Is the Parliamentary Labour Party a Failure?’ and swiftly concluded that the ‘toadies’ of the Labour leadership were ‘liars’.

The best way for a Labour Leader to be loved, is to cease being Leader, and wait about a decade, or die. With hindsight, Labour Leaders assume a rosy glow, their crimes forgiven, their motives unquestioned, their veracity unchallenged.

John Smith is lionised on the tenth anniversary of his death, and rightly so. He was a great man, a good socialist, and led the party with sagacity and skill for two short years. But at the time of his leadership, he was condemned by modernisers for ‘sleepwalking into oblivion’ and by traditionalists for giving up on full employment and progressive taxation, and for forcing through one-member one-vote (OMOV).

Michael Foot is loved today as a great man of letters, a parliamentary orator of a kind much missed from today’s anodyne Chamber, and a living link to the romance of Bevanism. I don’t recall such kindness and support at the time of his leadership. Clement Attlee is a Labour Saint; his contemporaries plotted endlessly against him, and called him every insult in the book.

So where does this leave the latest incumbent?

It seems Blair enjoys considering his place in Labour’s history. Every time he notches up a record – longest continuously-serving Labour PM, first Labour winner of two consecutive terms – we are made aware of it. Someone in Downing Street is keeping count.

In common with all Labour Leaders, Blair is loathed by large sections of his own party. They fulminate in the pages of New Statesman and Tribune, form cliques and sects dedicated to his overthrow, and grumble and gripe from the back of party meetings. But unlike most other leaders, this mood is not widespread nor politically significant. The Labour Party is not riven with the same kind of intrigues and bitterness that bedevilled Attlee, Wilson or Callaghan. There is no equivalent of Bevanism nor Bennism, no Keep Left nor Militant Tendency. Blair’s critics, such as Roy Hattersley or Tam Dalyell, are harmless and impotent.

After ten years as leader, several splits and resignations, a clutch of small wars, and endless games of chicken with the backbenches, Blair is still the only serious game in town. Blair is the most successful Labour Party leader ever – measured against any test of psephology, redistribution of wealth, constitutional reform, or investment in public services. And there may be years more to come. In a just world, that’s how his party would judge Blair in twenty years’ time.

Historians of Labour will have trouble defining Blair, because he has no known precedent. A Labour leader who wins elections, crushes the Tories, introduces redistributive measures, and is driven, not by pragmatism or panic, but by conviction, is not a creature hitherto discovered in the Labour jungle. But this will not stop his detractors. To love Blair, you have to love the idea of Labour in government and to love political success, and not even Tony Blair has changed the Labour Party that much.

Posted by Paul @ 09:17 AM
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Category: My thoughts

Sorry for the lack of posting recently. Blogging really is for people who either take it very seriously (Tom W, Harry, etc) or have too much time on their hands (just about everyone else). I currently fall into neither camp, so I can only apologise.

At the St Stephen's Tavern, Westminster last night an interesting conversation developed about how MPs shouldn't blog because their words will come back to haunt them. Can this be true?

Posted by Paul @ 11:24 AM
Saturday, March 20, 2004
Tawney Lecture 2004

I attended the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) AGM today at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. I must have missed the abseiling protestors. The AGM included the annual Tawney Lecture, given this year by Chris Smith MP, just days after the death and funeral of his father.

I don't agree with everything he said, particularly on the war in Iraq, but I reproduce the lecture below.

See what you think.

A Legacy to Sustain

It is now almost ten years since John Smith died, so tragically cut down at the moment when he was poised to take our Party forward to victory and to nurture our country and our society back to health. It is also exactly eleven years since he himself gave this Tawney lecture; and I am proud to follow in his footsteps.

I am proud, too, to be part of the Christian Socialist Movement, not just because I am a Christian and a socialist, but because the CSM has always been, and I hope always will be, an integral part of the Labour movement, exercising that influence and persuasiveness that come from being part of something rather than an outsider looking in. To its eternal credit, the CSM has always represented a strand of liberal and inclusive thought within the faith community and within the wider world of politics. Long may that continue; but more of this later.

Posted by Paul @ 07:51 PM
Friday, March 19, 2004
Guardian column
Category: My thoughts

My column for the Guardian politics website is here. Or below.

Posted by Paul @ 04:17 PM
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Short Change

There's a new website calling for Clare Short to be deselected. It's the first of its kind, as far as I know, so I mention out of interest more than support. If MPs are to be deselected, it should be up to the local party members, and no-one else.

Forgive me a Labour anorak moment, but who else thinks that CLP GCs should no longer be allowed to shortlist candidates in parliamenary selections? I've heard of yet another case where a shortlist for a London Labour seat has been packed with weak candidates to stop a strong candidate from being shortlisted, thus allowing one candidate a clear run. It's thoroughly undemocratic, and a travesty of the principle of OMOV many of us campaigned for over the years.

Parliamentary shortlisting should be done on the basis of some automatic threshold of support amongst party members, not the whim of a small clique of activists. If you don't know what I'm on about, then apologies...

Also, Tony Blair In His Own Words has just notched up its thousandth sale, and it's only been published for a couple of days.

Posted by Paul @ 11:32 PM
Why vote Labour?
Category: My thoughts

I have returned from my travels. I would like to say that I have been in Tokyo or Washington, but actually I have been in Manchester and Nottingham. Much has happened since last we spoke. The Madrid bombing (I have three friends there, each shaken, but okay); the Labour Party Spring conference; the Budget; the outing of Belle de Jour, Stephen Pollard cancelling his subs to the Guardian in spectacular fashion, and many other important events.

There are many varied and sophisicated arguments for voting Labour on 10 June, and again next year. Most of these have been articulated over the past week: we mustn't let the coalition against terror be undermined by removing Blair at the ballot box, we must keep the investment going into public services, as outlined by Gordon's budget, we have to get a third Labour term to carry on transforming the life chances of the many, not the few, as outlined at Labour's conference.

But for me, the reason for voting Labour was most forcefully made, not in Manchester from the conference platform, but in Nottingham this week. I was training neighbourhood wardens over three days. This is a new scheme in this part of Nottingham, designed to provide a uniformed presence in tough neighbourhoods to deter anti-social behaviour, to help citizens go about their business in peace, to identify problems for the council or police to sort out, and to provide some social glue to hold communities together.

Neighbourhood wardens are effective, successful and popular with local people. They exist because Labour introduced them into many towns and cities, and if the Tories won they would be scrapped. Obviously you shouldn't vote Labour because of a single regeneration scheme - but because of the philosophical approach it represents. We believe in the value of community; the Tories don't.

Next week I am in Nottingham again for two days, and in Brighton for two days on the Whitehawk estate, where millions are being pumped into community regeneration through EB4U (East Brighton for You). The week after I am in Derby for two days and Middlesbrough for two days, with the New Deal for Communities schemes there. The week after that I am in East Manchester and North Huyton, on Merseyside. These estates and neighbourhoods are places the Tories left to rot, and now, slowly are coming back to life thanks to Labour. There is no better reason to vote Labour than the real experiences of real families in some of the poorest places in Britain.

If you doubt me, stop reading blogs and go and see for yourself.

Posted by Paul @ 10:31 AM
Sunday, March 07, 2004
Tony Blair in his own words

This is a shameless plug. Regular readers will know that Tony Blair in his own words is a new collection of speeches and articles by the Prime Minister, from 1982 to February 2004. The publishers Politicos tell me it will be out this week, in time for Labour's Spring Conference in Manchester.

I think it's a solid piece of work (well, I would, wouldn't I?) which offers some illuminating insights into Blair's political development and thinking, and also his changing rhetorical style. The only way you'll know if I'm right is to rush out and buy a copy.

Obviously there's a lot I've left out, too. It is a shame that I couldn't include the speech Blair made last week in Sedgefield. Perhaps that's one for the second edition?

As a taster, here's Tony Blair's leaflet when he stood for leader of the Labour Party, nearly ten years ago:

Principle Purpose Power

We must change the tide of ideas, state a new vision of our country, a vision of hope, justice and renewal.

The Labour Party will soon have an historic opportunity. To rebuild Britain. To create jobs. To ensure our schools are centres of excellence. To make the NHS once more the envy of the world. To wage a crusade against crime. To give hope back to the people whose trust we seek.

Posted by Paul @ 10:51 AM
Saturday, March 06, 2004
Permission Campaigning
Category: My thoughts

This post is for that small band of people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of election campaigns. It is a new section from How to Win an Election, where I am developing an idea called 'permission campaigning'. I'd be really interested in your views.

The next logical development in political campaigning is what I call ‘permission campaigning’.

This lends heavily of the idea of ‘permission marketing’ developed by Seth Godin, vice-president at Yahoo. Godin argues that traditional advertising is based on interrupting you doing what you were doing (watching your TV soaps, reading a magazine, staring out of a car window) and tries to attract you. This ‘interruption marketing’ is mostly annoying (try watching a film on Channel Five to see what I mean). Successful commercial marketing, says Godin, will be based on getting people’s permission first – by asking them to volunteer their views, preferences, or time through surveys, on-line click-throughs, competitions, or free phone numbers. Once a customer has contacted a company, they have permission to build a relationship with them over time.

The need for permission campaigning grows from two factors: first, the massive explosion of commercial advertising and marketing in the past twenty years, which means that an individual citizen is bombarded with every kind of attempt to plant messages in their brain: media advertising, direct mail, telephone sales, emails, sponsorship, door to door sales, text messages, and so on. Just consider how many different kinds of marketing you encounter from your bedroom to your workplace on an average morning. Turn on the radio or TV, open a newspaper or magazine, open your post, step over your doormat, walk down the street, use public transport, enter your office, turn on your PC, talk to your colleagues – by 10am you’ve been subject to hundreds of attempts to change your attitudes or behaviour. No wonder you need a coffee. For most people, politics is a tiny part of this constant clamour and noise, and not a welcome one.

The second factor is the collapse of deference and trust in politics and politicians. A canvasser knocking on the door is not considered in most households as a welcome opportunity to find out more about a party’s policies: it is a pain in the neck. Campaign newsletters join the bulging pile of take-away flyers and free newspapers, to be glanced at and binned. Politicians hover between estate agents and drug dealers in the public’s esteem. So the local manifestation of national politicial parties – the local canvasser or candidate – cannot expect the red carpet treatment.

These twin factors – the cacophony of unwelcome commercial marketing, and the general hostility towards politicians – mean that political campaign strategists must adjust their thinking. For most of the twentieth century, political campaigning was seen as part of the ebb and flow of local community life, alongside football matches, fairs and carnivals, Bank Holidays, Church festivals, the ice-cream van, and the rent collector, insurance agent or brush salesman knocking on doors. Today, a knock on the door after teatime is usually seen as a potentially hostile act. Political parties have moved past their ‘right to be heard’. Today they have to earn the right to be heard.

So how can political parties ask permission to interact with their potential audiences? They will need to engage in a relationship with citizens over years and not weeks. This relationship-building will be a long-term process, punctuated by, but not defined by, elections. They will need to develop far better systems of listening to people, and learning what they expect, want and need.

Labour’s ‘Big Conversation’ process in 2003-4 can be seen as an example of permission campaigning – asking people for their views, not telling them what’s what. Parties’ communications must become more lateral, not horizontal. That means instead of the party hierarchy sending messages down the line, from top to bottom, successful parties will develop local word of mouth networks, driven by local advocates and champions who are authentic, respected and trusted. Finally, permission campaigning will need to develop an alternative to the soapbox and megaphone approach of the past. The language and tone of political campaigning may become less bombastic and noisy. In essence, permission campaigning means that political communications will become about building a stable relationship based on mutual understanding and trust, not just saying anything to get a one-night-stand.

What do you think?

Posted by Paul @ 03:42 PM
Excuses, excuses
Category: My thoughts

I mentioned that posting would be light, and I wasn't lying. It'll be the same next week, I'm afraid chums. I'll try to rattle something off from Labour's Spring Conference in Manchester - anyone else going?

Posted by Paul @ 03:34 PM
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Labour parliamentary selection news
Category: My thoughts

Congratulations to Andrew Gwynne who has been selected as Labour's candidate in the safe seat of Denton and Reddish in Greater Manchester, to take over from Andrew Bennett.

Andrew was born in 1974 in Manchester, and went to Salford University. He is chair of the CLP, a local councillor and works for the local MP. He won on the first round of voting, with a high number of postal votes, and beat union-backed Keiran Quinn, who many expected to take the selection.

Posted by Paul @ 01:49 PM
Sunday, February 29, 2004
Category: My thoughts

Here's a short article on the honours system, which I did for the Fabian Society last week. It's led to a small piece in the Observer this morning:

Going Going Gong

It reads like a Who’s Who of British household names: Roald Dahl, David Bowie, Nigella Lawson, Peter Alliss, Alan Bennett, Alastair Sim, John Cole, Michael Frayn, Honor Blackman, and Graham Greene. This is the secret list, revealed to a Sunday newspaper a few months ago, of prominent people who have turned down honours, from the humble OBE to Knighthoods. Artist LS Lowry turned down five awards, including the chance to become Sir Lawrence.

Some, such as Ken Loach, refuse a gong because they are staunch republicans. Others for the far more dangerous rationale, that the whole pantomime is ridiculous, outdated and discredited. When Dusty Springfield was told she was going to receive an OBE, she reportedly said: ‘Isn't that what they give to cleaners?’

When childrens’ book writers, golfers and celebrity cooks are turning down gongs, and when even William Hague is calling for reform, you know that time’s up for the Honours System.

Our Labour government is addressing the issue: an inquiry, of course, led by Sir Hayden Phillips (GCB 2002, KCB 1998, CB 1989), the permanent secretary at the department of constitutional affairs. Sir Hayden’s deliberations are being helped along by a House of Commons public administration committee investigation, chaired by Tony Wright MP, a former chair of the Fabian Society. The former might be expected to look at ways of rebranding the honours system, removing some of the worst excesses of Imperial pomp and class-ridden English snobbery, and making it seem a little more palatable. The latter is looking at recasting the system to reflect a different set of social values altogether.

The image problem is important, of course. In 1996, I wrote in my Fabian pamphlet Long to Reign Over Us? that:

The problem is the musty smell of Empire which pervades the Honour System, the odour of Europeans-Only Clubs, of soldiers drilling on the parade grounds of Lucknow and Cawnpore, of Pax Britannica, which turns the stomachs of democrats in a multi-racial European parliamentary democracy. There is something faintly ridiculous in conferring the Order of the British Empire when there isn't one. The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire and the Imperial Order of the Crown of India were abolished, rightly, in 1947. The restyling of the OBE is long-overdue.

But more important is the fundamental question of who gets an award and why. Currently, the Honour System is an excuse for the civil service and military establishments to give themselves a great big slap on the back and sing For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow in a very loud voice. One in 123 diplomats gets an award, and one in 2,125 civil servants, but only one in 15,500 teachers is honoured, and one in 20,000 nurses. The head teachers, school cleaners, lollypop ladies, bus drivers, charity volunteers, sporting heroes and ‘safe’ celebrities who hit the headlines are merely a smokescreen for thousands more pen-pushers and bean counters who are rewarded for nothing more than not getting the sack for twenty years.

Radical reform should have at its heart a new set of underlying social values – a reappraisal about who matters in British society and deserves national recognition, and who should be satisfied with their huge salary, pension, and a retirement serving on commissions and quangos.

There should be three criteria: contribution to a particular community (either geographical, or of interest); doing your job in an outstanding way; or doing something which enhances the standing of your country in the eyes of the world. But the highest honours should be removed from their hierarchy and gradation. A single top award should be created, and no more than 500 should be awarded each year. Other new types of award might be created to celebrate service in particular fields: charity work, teaching, fire fighting, the health and social care sector, and even our friends in the civil service.

Nomination should be made only by individual members of public, and all nominations published. A randomly-selected panel or ‘citizens’ jury’ of 20 members of the public, appointed for three years and rotated by thirds, should decide which 500 people should be honoured each year. In this way, the honour system becomes a bottom-up process, not a patronising pat on the head. Honours recipients should then have the right to choose between two ceremonies: one at Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty the Queen; and one at the House of Commons, with the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Often governments fail to take credit for the big things they do; they are celebrated for the small, but important things. It may be decades before Labour’s contribution to tackling child poverty or investing in schools is fully understood. A thorough-going overhaul of the Honours System as outlined above - like granting the vote to 16-year olds, extending pub licensing laws, reintroducing NHS dentistry, and having more Bank Holidays – might be a small but important step in Britain’s march towards being a modern, vibrant democracy.

Paul Richards is former chair of the Fabian Society, and associate fellow at the Social Market Foundation.

Posted by Paul @ 09:15 AM
Saturday, February 28, 2004
A Party within a Party
Category: My thoughts

Here's a piece I've done for Progress. You can link to the on-line magazine here, or read it below:

Now that Labour's lead over the Tories has narrowed, and its decade-long dominance of the opinion polls is at an end, there has been much speculation about Michael Howard's chances of becoming prime minister. In theory, of course, it is possible. Labour has never managed a full two-terms in office with a majority; we have never managed to win three elections in a row, and the Tories have done it twice in the past century. But even in their most fanciful moments, the Tories must know that for Howard to walk into Downing Street next year it would take an electoral earthquake, that would make Attlee in '45, Thatcher in '79 and Blair in '97 look like tiny tremors. With Labour five points ahead of the Tories in February 2004, after Labour's toughest period of office ever, Howard's chances of winning the 2005 general election do not look good.

The scenario for which the Tory strategists are planning, is that Howard wounds Labour significantly, vaporises our majority, and leaves us in office, but impotent. This is what happened to Attlee's Labour government in 1950, before losing in 1951 and staying in the wilderness for thirteen more years. It is what happened to John Major in 1992, before limping through five torturous years and finally being swept away in Labour's landslide. A Labour government with a majority under 30 would place Blair in a difficult position: blamed for the loss of so many seats, denounced by scores of sour ex-Labour MPs, unsure of commanding a majority in the House of Commons for key legislation and prone to ambush by the resurgent Tories at any moment. That's what the Tory high command, installed in their new Victoria Street offices (above Starbucks) are hoping for.

Tory hopes were given an incalculable boost by the recent vote on the university higher education bill, which saw Labour's huge majority reduced by rebels to just five. Here, former ministers and whips were organising a sophisticated machine to persuade rebels to vote against the government, even though there was more at stake than university finances. In such a situation, a Labour government with a small majority would be unable to function. During the debates around the bill, a phrase crept into the discourse which we haven't heard for a while: a party within a party. Veteran MP Jack Cunningham used it on the Today Programme: 'I spent 18 years in opposition fighting on many fronts against, in particular, Militant Tendency, the hard left, to stop the development of a party within a party. That is another lesson the Parliamentary Labour Party must learn. A former chief whip, a former deputy chief whip openly, coherently working and planning to bring defeat to their own government? It gets perilously close to that, doesn't it?'

So given the confluence of these two factors - a Tory party capable of winning seats from Labour and a determined group within the PLP willing to vote down government legislation - what could politics look like after the next general election?

Let's look at two scenarios: a five percent swing from Labour to Conservative, and a ten per cent swing from Labour to Conservative. Leaving aside the usual caveats about non-uniform swings, and also the likelihood that even though the Tories may win seats from us, they may also lose them to the Liberal Democrats, what would happen? On a five percent swing, Labour loses roughly 50 seats to the Conservatives. Fifty fewer Labour MPs, fifty more Tories, plus a handful more Lib Dems, means a Labour majority of under a hundred. Manageable, but not great for Labour's business managers.

But what does such a swing do to the loyalist/rebel balance of forces inside the PLP? Twenty-one of the 50-odd losers would be MPs who are currently on the 'payroll vote': ministers, whips, or PPSs. These are solid Blair loyalists. A further eight are loyalist backbenchers, who backed the government on the crucial higher education vote. So about 30 Blair loyalists would be polishing up their CVs on a five percent swing. There are only four members of the Socialist Campaign Group - the so-called 'hard left' (hardcore serial rebels) who would be joining them: Philip Sawford, John Cryer, Robert Marshall-Andrews and Ann Cryer. Inside the PLP, the swing is towards those willing to vote against the government and away from those who support it.

And what about a massive ten percent swing from Labour to Conservative (bear in mind Thatcher's victory in 1979 was based on a 5.2 percent swing, and Labour's in 1997 was based a 10.2 percent swing.)? The government would be in serious trouble. A ten percent swing wipes out about 130 Labour MPs, and with it Labour's overall majority. With Labour on roughly 283 and the Tories on roughly 296, Labour would need the support of the Liberal Democrats to form a minority administration. This would be Blair's killing fields. Just two further members of the Socialist Campaign Group would be out: Ian Gibson and Mike Wood. But 28 Labour ministers and PPSs would be history, plus a large swathe of habitually loyal backbenchers, most of whom owe their seats to the modernisation of the Labour party. This scenario would see a PLP which resembles much more closely, in terms of politics, the class of 1983.

So, a back of the envelope calculation shows that the bigger the swing to the Conservatives, the more New Labour loses disproportionately to Old Labour. It is not just the prospect of more Tory MPs which excites the Tory strategists: it is the prospect of a Labour party returning to its bad old ways of extremism, division and internecine strife.

Posted by Paul @ 12:54 PM
Tuesday, February 24, 2004
A little experiment
Category: My thoughts

Here's a little experiment: I am writing the section on 'political blogging' for the new edition of How to Win an Election - the art of political campaigning (deadline: this weekend). When the book first appeared in 2001, I'd never heard of blogging, and I'm not sure it even existed. Anyway, here's what I have written for the book - see what you think. Don't forget this is written for the general reader, not all you cyber-literate cognoscenti If there are any additions or points you think I should make, let me know, and they may appear in the book.


Blogging may sound like an unfortunate medical complaint but is in fact an on-line phenomenon which has taken off in the past two or three years. Blogging started in the USA, as a result in the development of software which allows on-line publishing to be available to all, without any specialist programming skills. At its most basic, a blog is an on-line diary which someone wants to share with the world. Most are of the ‘what I had for dinner, why hasn’t he phoned, did you see that film last night’ variety. In the world of politics, blogging is a way of providing daily commentary on political events, links to on-line newspapers and magazines, and links to other political blogs. There was an attempt by some to coin the term ‘plogging’ to describe ‘political blogging’ which must be resisted at all costs, in my view.

Blogs that have the capacity to allow comments from readers can spark debates and discussions. In the UK, there are only a handful of serious political blogs. Some are run by politicians such as Tom Watson MP, Clive Soley MP, Richard Allen MP, Cllr. Stuart Bruce, and member of the Welsh Assembly Peter Black. Others are run by journalists and commentators such as Stephen Pollard, Melanie Philips or Johann Hari. Others are ‘group blogs’ with a collection of different writers. Others are the public musings of students, academics, people unhappy in their jobs, and people with too much time on their hands.

The advantages of blogs are that they are cheap to run, and have the potential to reach millions; they are democratic, in the sense that anyone can become their own on-line publisher, and anyone (with a PC) can join in the debates. For an elected politician or candidate, they can be a useful tool in communicating with potential voters, because they can be frequently and easily updated. They beat the old-fashioned newsletter in terms of speed and ease of publication, if not on numbers of target voters reached.

The disadvantages are that there is no quality control, and some of the political debates descend quickly into trivia, nit-picking, or simply insults flying back and forth across cyberspace. Blogs allow people to insult others, call them names, and question their intelligence in ways they would never dare to face to face or in a political meeting. There are plenty of egotists and attention-seekers out there. Some blogs have had to remove the comments facility from their sites because of the risk of libel, and because of the disturbed nature of some of the comments.

Where there is a high-quality of writing and an informed readership, a political blog can be an interesting side-show in the world of politics, but it is unlikely blogs will change political campaigning much in the next few years, despite the claims by the champions of blogging that they will revolutionise politics. The swift collapse of Howard Dean’s primary campaign in early 2004 shows that faith in cyber-politics can be misplaced.

Copyright P. Richards

Posted by Paul @ 10:49 AM
Friday, February 20, 2004
Too busy to blog
Category: My thoughts

I feel it only fair to say that posting will be light in coming days. As well as the much-plugged books appearing, I am visiting Bradford, Leicester, Leeds, York, Brighton, Huyton, Northampton, Derby, Middlesbrough and Manchester this side of Easter.

Posted by Paul @ 06:02 PM
Monday, February 16, 2004
Fabian public event on the Lords

Come along if you can:

A Democratic Lords: The Third Stage? Wednesday 25th February, 7pm-9pm, Grand Committee Room, House of Commons

You are warmly invited to attend a Fabian Society public event at the House of Commons to debate the next stage of Lords reform. The hereditary peers are on their way out - but what happens next? Ministers have promised a third stage of reform but oppose a directly elected second chamber. With no consensus on reform, what should a new second chamber look like?

Panellists will include Billy Bragg who will argue that the secondary mandate option - a second chamber elected according to the share of the total votes cast at a General Election - would enhance political re-engagement and restore trust between the grassroots and the politicians. This was the option floated by Peter Hain at last Saturday’s Fabian New Year conference.
David Clelland MP will argue that a fully appointed second chamber is the only way to maintain the primacy of the Commons. Meg Russell of the Constitution Unit will argue that the debate needs to be much broader than the manner of appointment or election, and will look at the powers which a second chamber should have and how to ensure a diverse and representative chamber.

Posted by Paul @ 01:33 PM
Those who can't...
Category: My thoughts

Labour Party member becomes teacher - shock!

The coverage of ex-Blair staffer Peter Hyman's entry into the world of teaching is being treated as though he'd become an astronaut. There are tens of thousands of teachers in the Labour Party. It's an obvious move if your personal values are Labour's. Labour party members have a commitment to society, to future generations, and to the greater good. That's the job Jo Moore went into after leaving her role as Byers' special adviser.

In 1987 under the Tories, there were 57 barristers and 48 teachers as MPs. In 2001 under Labour, there were 33 barristers and 64 teachers as MPs. And aside from the Great Leader, which would you rather have?

Posted by Paul @ 12:17 PM
Slash and burn
Category: My thoughts

The Tories want to reduce state expenditure from 42 per cent of GDP to 40 per cent, which equates to roughly £35 billion cuts over the next seven years.

If it ever happened, it would of course be very bad news for a range of public services and benefits. You could wave goodbye to all manner of government initiatives, some large, some small: Sure Start, New Deal for Communities, Housing Action Zones, New Deal for the Unemployed, free Museum entry, various health campaigns to tackle obesity, etc, and many other examples besides. Once they had abolished Labour's initiatives, they would turn to the civil service: fewer administrators, inspectors and regulators, a loss of several thousand jobs. But then the big cuts would come: cuts in council grants, police grants, a stop to capital expenditure in transport, schools and hospitals, a reduction in the numbers of nurses, teachers and police.

By 2011, Britain would be well and truly on the way to being back to where it was under John Major: underinvestment, high unemployment, cuts, failing public services. So that's the choice facing the voters. Investment or cuts. Forwards or backwards.

Letwin's speech sets out the battle ground for the general election, far more than arguments over Iraq. For Howard to get his 10 per cent-plus swing to form a government, is a £35 billion cuts package what the nation wants to hear? It didn't do William Hague much good in 2001, and I doubt trying to win that particular argument for a second time in 2005 will meet with much success.

Posted by Paul @ 12:02 PM