Saturday, 28 February 2015

Straws in the wind - and Mister Ed flunks it

To watch the demise of Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind was an exercise in nostalgia.  The corruption and venality of rapacious MPs was a leitmotif in the descent of New Labour, even though the most outrageous cupidity was demonstrated by backbench Tories, so it is symbolic that the latest sting caught the arrogant and the insouciant.  At least Straw went quietly, even if his motivation was principally damage limitation to his post-political career.

Rifkind on the other hand gave a masterclass in clinging on until it became apparent even to the Tories that he was a liability.  His self-justification that seeking additional income was necessary because an MP"s salary does not maintain him in the lifestyle to which he feels entitled was one of the most hilarious ever encountered; possibly it doesn't go far in Kensington and Chelsea but to the vast majority of the population it would represent untold wealth.  As you sow, so shall you reap.

The timing of the revelations was interesting.  Following a week in which it became clear that the Daily Telegraph has become so craven to its advertisers that its one remaining justification for existence, that of decent news reporting, is as much a chimera as its owners' transparency and accountability to the tax authorities, the story smacked of being a smear that was being held back until the full-scale commencement of the General Election campaign.  The Torygraph has attempted to buy its way back to journalistic respectability, but the corruption of Parliament is a story that is now hardly a ripple, and the debate is moving on.

Miliband, on the other hand, has had a bad week.  Whoever is advising Labour on tactics to discredit the coalition is around four years out of date.  It is perfectly possible to argue that the tuition fees increase in 2011 was a mistake, but only in the context of a wider discussion on the role and size of higher education.  Instead Labour are committed to a reduction in fees rather than the kind of root-and-branch review that would probe whether there is room for more radical reform.  When even the politically-neutral are concerned that a reduction in future debt will redistribute wealth yet further towards the high-earning parasites and the already-affluent, it is sheer folly to reduce government receipts when the real issue is how to protect public services and prioritise infrastructure investment.

Again, the cynic might argue that this, like 1992, is an election to lose.  Asking the Tories why their economic policies have resulted in a huge shortfall in tax revenues, and why, despite a relatively strong economic performance, their prescription is to remove yet more of the basic entitlements of the citizen to civic society and economic security, would be a clear strategy.  Instead we have small-scale, interest-group politics, trying to play off one section of society against the rest of it - emulating the Tory protection of pensioners against all suggestion that the whole of society needs to contribute to it in order to maintain communal coherence.

With the unravelling of UKIP, Labour have much more to do to maintain a level of support that will create a post-election choice for government.  The timidity and incoherence of Miliband's current approach does not inspire - and unless he manages to articulate the frustration and the anger that exists amongst his potential supporters, the election will be both dull and handed to the right on a plate.

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