An Open Letter To The Labour Party

I am a left-winger. I went to an anti-poll tax protest, by myself, when I was (I think) eight (I had to go home early because it went past my bedtime). I think that the two greatest governments of the last seventy years were the Atlee government and the first Wilson government. I’ve been a Guardian reader since before primary school (albeit with occasional dalliances with the Independent). I’ve been hugged by Billy Bragg at anti-fascist rallies and devoured Tony Benn’s Arguments For Socialism when I was in school. I wanted to join Young Labour when I was in primary school. I’m a member of Amnesty and Greenpeace, I’ve played anti-fascist benefit gigs, delivered leaflets for Hope Not Hate. I’ve been on the dole, and I’ve worked in the NHS. I love Mark Thomas, Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy. A few years ago a few online friends and I had a detailed discussion about Margaret Thatcher – specifically trying to draw up a rota so that those who wished to dance on her grave would not be inconvenienced by those who wished to piss or shit on it. I’m a lefty.

I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats, but the first two times I voted for them – in 1997 and 2001 – I did so with a sense of residual guilt because of having been raised all my life to believe that the reason Thatcher won in 83 and 87 was because the SDP split the left vote. It’s only over the last six or seven years that I’ve defined myself as a Liberal Democrat (and more recently as a liberal) rather than as a disaffected Labour supporter.

In short, working with the Tories is about as appealing to me as testicular cancer, and while I see the need for the coalition, I am very, very dubious about it. I am precisely the sort of person, in fact, that Labour should be trying to win over.

Now I’ll be frank – no matter what, I’m not going to vote Labour in the next election, because the last government was so outright evil. I simply won’t support mass-murdering torturers who, among other things, removed the right to a duty lawyer when arrested, brought in 28-day detention without trial, made it politically acceptable to blame immigrants for eveything, and destroyed huge swathes of the NHS ( in the first ten years of the Labour government, on average more than two psychiatric beds a day were lost – at one point when I was working at a hospital, we had ten more psychiatric patients on our ward than we had beds for).

But I might be persuaded to vote Labour in the election after that, if I happened to live in a Labour/Tory marginal. And if the next election is fought under a preferential system, as I sincerely hope, then you might well want me to give you my second preference. And even if neither of those is the case, it’s entirely possible we will have another hung parliament again relatively soon, in which you might want to work with the Liberal Democrats (and would need the support of the membership).

But rather than try to persuade me to look more favourably upon your party, most of what I’ve seen from both your Parliamentarians and your membership (with a few honourable exceptions among the members – if you’re a Labour member who I’m in any kind of regular contact with, I’m not talking about you here) has been designed to make me, and those like me, ever more determined to stick with the Lib Dems and stay as far away from Labour as possible.

Now, I’m not talking here about the normal politics – even though Labour would have made cuts were they in power, *of course* they’re going to attack the government for them now. That’s what opposition parties do. And I’m not talking about the normal dirty tricks, going back on manifesto commitments to get at the other side, accusations of gerrymandering and so on. That’s all par for the course, and while it’s not nice it’s something all parties are guilty of (I can’t actually think of any examples where the Lib Dems have done so, but I’m sure Labour can). I’m talking about a few main things. If you do these, you won’t have my support, but you’ll at least have my *respect*:

1) Admit you were wrong on civil liberties and the ‘war on terror’. These two things are areas where Labour got things so utterly, horribly, catastrophically wrong, both pragmatically and – what is worse – morally, that there can be no excuse. I *should not* be listening to Kenneth Clarke – a man whose last period in charge of justice and civil liberties I viewed at the time with horror – and thinking “It’s nice to have a moderate in this job after those horrific authoritarian Labour ministers”. No amount of apologies and meae culpae can make up for the horrors inflicted by the last government, but if delivered sincerely enough they might at least persuade us that you won’t do it again.

2) Stop dismissing the gains the Lib Dems got out of the coalition agreement. The *LAST* thing you want is for people to start thinking the Tories aren’t really so bad. All that will achieve is all those who avoided voting Tory last time because of scary folk-memories of Thatcher (a diminishing number anyway) thinking “Well, this government weren’t so bad, and since the Lib Dems had no real influence I’ll just vote Tory this time”. A HUGE amount of your support is predicated on “Ooh, Tories, scary!”, so it’s in your interest to give the Lib Dems credit for as many ‘nice’ things as you can from the coalition government – even (or perhaps especially?) when they weren’t Lib Dem ideas. That way those who like the current government will at least not vote Tory over Lib Dem next time (I assume everyone’s agreed that a Tory majority would be even worse) while those who don’t like it will turn away from the Lib Dems and towards Labour because they had so much influence and it stil turned out badly.

3) and this is the most important… STOP IT WITH THE HOMOPHOBIC SHIT, RIGHT NOW!. The constant ‘jokes’ about Cameron and Clegg being ‘in a civil partnership’ are, frankly, sickening. No true Liberal – no decent human being – will have the slightest respect for anyone making jokes like that. Anyone making that kind of joke is, firstly, showing themselves up as homophobic, and thus nobody any liberal (or any decent human being) could vote for, and secondly showing they have the mentality of a sniggering schoolboy, which doesn’t lead to a great deal of trust in their ability to run the country.

The coalition government presents Labour with a real opportunity to make themselves more attractive, both to future voters and to the Lib Dems as a future potential coalition partner. Instead, they appear to be sinking and trying to pull the Liberal Democrats down with them (and, it must be said, succeeding somewhat in the latter if opinion polls are to be believed).

Next election we *could* have a choice between the Tories, a Labour party who’ve admitted their mistakes and reformed, and a Lib Dem party with experience in government. Or we could have a choice between a still-unelectable New Labour, a Tory party who now appear like good guys because they can take credit for Lib Dem achievements, and a shattered Lib Dem party who the public at large see as a Tory appendage. The second option there does not sound like a good one for Labour *or* the Lib Dems – or for the left in general, or for the country.

I have a number of Labour friends who are convinced that the Labour party can be the party of Atlee and Bevan, the party that gave us the NHS and the Open University, the party that legalised homosexuality and ended the death penalty. That party is no longer my party, and I doubt it ever will be – too much of my political identity is now firmly Liberal, and that’s not going to change – but it was a good party, and a necessary voice in British politics. But at the moment, you’re the party of Iraq and torture, of ID cards and detaining people in psychiatric wards when they’re untreatable, of “British jobs for British workers” and homophobic jokes, of Hazel Blears and David Blunkett.

Take a look at yourselves in the mirror, and ask yourselves – “Is this really who I want to be?” You could be so much more…

So Farewell, Then, Labour…

For those three people who don’t yet know, the Labour party refused to make any concessions to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. As a result, the Lib Dems were left with the choices of either a Conservative minority government or forming a coalition with the Conservatives. One or other has happened and now David Cameron is going to become Prime Minister.

We don’t know yet what the deal is, but the rumour is that party members will be balloted. I am unsure how I shall vote – that depends on the details of the deal, but either way I shall remain a member of the party and stand by its democratic decision.

The Liberal Democrats will be pilloried for this, and have probably been set back electorally fifteen years. But if the Conservatives have most votes *and* most seats, and if Labour won’t work with us, there are no other options open but to try to moderate the damage the Tories will undoubtedly do (just as if the situation were reversed we should have had to moderate the equally evil acts they would no doubt perpetrate).

It’s come to something when a Conservative in Ten Downing Street is actually the least-worst option open to us, and when the closest the Lib Dems have ever got to power is also the event that will destroy a large part of their support base.

Just remember, anyone who wants to talk about ‘betrayal’ – We did exactly what we said, and negotiated in good faith. Labour wouldn’t give ground on human rights and electoral reform. The Tories apparently would. Don’t DARE ever claim to me that Labour are ‘progressive’ again. If they’re more right-wing and authoritarian than Tory scum now, then you can call them Tories or you can call them fascists, but you can’t call them progressive. We tried for the deal you wanted.

Don’t let this make anyone think I will support the government, though. I will support the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, and work to get the Tories out, just as before.

A Quick Explanation For Americans And Other Confused Persons

Batman posts have to hold off a few days I’m afraid…

The one-line summary for Americans is that we’re reliving Bush vs Gore, and Ralph Nader has been asked to choose.

In the election this week, no party got an overall majority – this is roughly the same as not being filibuster-proof in the US system.

There are three major parties in the UK – the Conservatives, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. They came first, second and third, respectively, in the election, but none did well enough to form a government. The Conservatives and Labour hate each other even though there’s not really very much difference between them, so definitely won’t work together.

The Conservatives could form a government with Liberal Democrat support, and have a majority. The Labour party could form a government if it got the support of the Liberal Democrats *and* the Nationalist parties (there are parties that want Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to become separate countries. They all hate the Tories and have effectively agreed to this even without being asked) *and* the single Green MP.

The Liberal Democrats are probably closer politically to Labour than the Conservatives, but not by very much (we’re more different from either of them than they are from each other). Most Lib Dem members and voters *HATE* the Conservatives, but just dislike Labour, but some feel the other way round.

However, the Conservatives did far better than Labour in the election, and it may well be politically impossible to support Labour, because it’s clear that nobody likes the Labour government,and people *LOATHE* Gordon Brown.

However, most of *OUR* supporters probably prefer Labour to the Conservatives, and would feel betrayed by supporting the Conservatives (including myself unless we got an *astonishingly* good deal).

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, though, is rumoured to be closer to the Conservatives.

One of the most important things we’ll be arguing for is a fairer voting system. The Conservatives *won’t* let us have this. Labour *might* – but they’re after a different system instead, which we don’t like. The Nationalists etc would side with us on this.

Nick Clegg can’t make a deal without the agreement of both the Federal Executive of the party *AND* the MPs – if he doesn’t get that agreement then he has to call a party conference to decide.

We’re not, however, a very large party compared to the other two, so don’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre.

Interesting times lie ahead. Whatever happens, a lot of people are going to be angry. Probably including me.

A Quick Note To Labour Twitterers

Proper post about the election later, but for now I’d just like to say:

I hate the Tories as much as anyone, but Labour supporters keep saying things like “In UK, Tories won 36% of vote.LibDem-Labour combo: 52%” or “labour+libdem got 15,205,906 votes, making 311 seats. conservatives only 10,561,428 votes =301 seats.”


Yours is the party of war criminals, destruction of civil liberties, and inflating economic bubbles that favour the middle-classed and middle-aged against the young and poor.


I may disagree with the Tories even more than Labour, but DO NOT count my vote – or the vote of anyone I know who supported the Lib Dems – as a vote in support of a party and an agenda I despise.

On Coalitions

A lot of Labour supporters – and Green supporters – have been up in arms for the last day or so, practically frothing at the mouth and screaming because Nick Clegg has said that

if Labour gets the smallest share of the vote of the three main parties and the most seats, he would not tolerate Brown remaining prime minister.

(from here. Warning – Murdoch paper.)

A lot of Labour supporters seem to be seeing the Lib Dems as basically the same as Labour really (in the attitude that ‘Liberal’ Conspiracy takes), and as some kind of secret backup plan – and so they’ve been incredibly hurt by this, and got angry, accusing Clegg of saying he will form a coalition with the Conservatives, and screaming ‘vote Clegg get Cameron’.

But look at what he’s actually saying:
IF Labour come third in the vote
THEN we would not tolerate
GORDON BROWN remaining Prime Minister.

What this *DOESN’T* say:
We won’t work with Labour if they come second
We won’t work with Labour with another leader
We won’t work with Labour as the junior partner in a Lib Dem-led coalition.

It’s very simple – if Labour come THIRD (not second, note, THIRD), Gordon Brown doesn’t get to be Prime Minister any more. That’s all he’s said.

I’ve spent much of this election staggered at the sense of entitlement coming from the Tories, their sense that they don’t need to actually do anything because it’s their turn to be in power – but even they don’t have the nerve to suggest that IF THEY COME THIRD they should run the country, and be angry at A DIFFERENT PARTY for not agreeing with them about that.

Just to be clear, I don’t think we will form a coalition with the Tories – in fact I would leave the party if we did so, because I remember the Thatcher and Major years too well, and even though I actually have no rational basis for preferring Labour – both parties being evil, as far as I can see – I have a visceral, irrational hatred of the Tories. So if I thought I was supporting a Lib/Tory coalition, I would leave today. It’s not going to happen.

But all along Clegg has made clear exactly what would have to be agreed to form a coalition with either other major party – tax rises on the rich to pay for tax cuts for the poor, spending more on education for poor children, electoral reform and a change from an economy based on financial services to a more environmentally-friendly one. Those don’t sound especially Tory to me.

I suspect it simply never occurred to him until this week to say “the party with the most votes should be in charge” because it would take a sense of entitlement the size of a small galaxy to demand to still be in charge AFTER COMING THIRD, and to make that demand of a party WITH THE WORD ‘DEMOCRATS’ IN ITS NAME.

To be honest, I think Labour and the Tories would make better coalition partners together than either would with us. As I said in the comments to this post by millennium, “Let the war criminals and the idiot sons of privilege go into coalition together. They deserve each other.”

In this election, for the first time in my lifetime, there’s a chance for *REAL* change. Vote for the party *YOU WANT TO WIN*. If you want a bunch of corrupt war criminals, vote Labour. If you want a bunch of inbred aristocratic cretins who think they have a right to rule because their great-grandmother slept with the Queen, vote Tory. Me, I want a Liberal and Democratic government, so I’m voting Liberal Democrat.

But if the Liberal Democrats come third, I won’t go stamping my feet and demanding that Nick Clegg get to be Prime Minister anyway, as Labour supporters are already doing. Because I am mature enough to know that ‘coming third’ is not the same as ‘winning’.

The second part of my Beginners’ Guide will be up tonight.

Triple-jacked over a steeplehammer and jessop jessop jessop jessop jessop

Before I start writing this, I just want to point everyone in the direction of the comments to my Joe The Barbarian post. There’s some fantastic stuff there, and I’m just sorry I’ve not been online enough to engage in that discussion more. It’s comment threads like that that make the ridiculous amount of time I spend on this worthwhile.

A couple of days ago, two teenagers died. This is, unequivocally, a bad thing. It’s also not, unfortunately, that unusual.

These two teenagers were, by all accounts, taking methadone, a highly dangerous opiate. They were also, apparently, drinking a large amount of alcohol – which is not only dangerous in itself, but which when combined with methadone can lead to respiratory problems and even death. They were also taking a substance called mephedrome (4-methylmethcathinone) but which the press, for God only knows what reason, are referring to as ‘miaow miaow’ (a large number of people have as a result also been asking if they’d been taking yellow bentines or clarky cat) – an amphetamine-type stimulant. It is suspected that one or more of these substances may have contributed to their deaths.

So far, so reasonable. It’s the kind of thing that happens all too often, but it *does* happen, and there appears very little we can do about it.

The press, however, have been stating that ‘miaow miaow’ – and that alone – *definitely* killed these two people. This is entirely possible – having spent a couple of years working with mental patients with substance dependencies, I am all too familiar with the damage amphetamine-type stimulants can cause (even caffeine, in sufficiently large doses, can do some alarming things to you, as I discovered myself about eighteen months ago – caffeine is an amphetamine-type stimulant too). However, given that as far as can be discerned only one other death has ever been caused by use of the substance, which is used by (at least) thousands of people, I would suggest the burden of proof is on those making this claim.

The response of the Conservative Party to this has been instructive. It hasn’t been just to suggest criminalising mephedrone (I wouldn’t agree with this, but given the drug’s pharmacology it would at least be consistent with current drug policy), but to say they will criminalise ‘all legal highs’.

This has led to many jokes on Twitter about coffee and chocolate being banned, but to be honest I don’t think we should be giving them ideas. Just because something sounds insane and unworkable doesn’t mean that the current political classes won’t try to do it anyway, as the history of the last thirty years should show anyone. Just because it’s pretty much impossible to formulate a legal definition of ‘legal high’ doesn’t mean they won’t pass such a law.

Now, I’m voting for the Liberal Democrats this election, because I agree with the majority (though far from all) of their policies, because I think their elected representatives are generally doing a good job, and because the other two major parties are, frankly, evil.

However, given that the Lib Dems are unlikely in the extreme to form the next government – and I’d be very surprised if we even get in in my constituency (which has, allowing for boundary changes, had the same MP for forty years, and apart from a four-year period in the thirties has had a Labour MP since 1922 or 1906, depending on which of the old constituencies that make it up you look at) – here’s something that could make me vote for either of them.

If they’d just promise to *DO NOTHING* for five years.

I would gladly vote for a government that I knew was – unlike every government of my lifetime – not going to actively make things worse. Even if things stayed just as bad as they are, just *NOT MAKING THEM WORSE* would be good enough for me. No new legislation passed, no big organisational changes, just let everyone get on with it for five years.

A government that would say “We’re not going to start any more wars of aggression, or torture any more people. We’ll keep the current ridiculous drug laws, but if someone discovers a slightly different method of getting off their tits, good for them. If the DEBill gets passed before the election, we’ll keep it, but not criminalise all the trivial technical ways round it that will become popular two days after it passes. We’ll keep all the laws against ‘extreme pornography’, but if someone somewhere discovers a new way of getting themselves off, we won’t stop them. The schools and hospitals will continue to be crap, but we won’t, for example, get rid of two more mental health beds every single day on average, like Labour have since 1997, so they won’t get any crapper. The BBC will keep producing crap that you don’t watch, but it’ll still be there for at least another five years and its executives won’t have to grovel to us and chop bits off in order to keep the service going. We won’t deliberately inflate any massive economic bubbles that take money from the poor and give it to the rich in the name of ‘growth’, and if any bubbles happen and then burst, we won’t take money from the poor and give it to the rich in the name of ‘recovery’. Things will still be bad in five years – but they won’t be *WORSE*”

If either of the two main parties were to say that – and mean it – they’d get my vote.

But as it is, I’ll be voting for a party which not only won’t make things worse, it might even make things slightly better if it’s given the choice. Why not join me?

Linkblogging For 13/02/10

Beatles post tonight, assuming this migraine dies down.

Firstly, while I thought I had reason to be mildly annoyed at Google, at least it didn’t decide I automatically wanted to be bestest friends with an abusive ex and a bunch of people who want to rape me, like it did with someone else… meanwhile Twitter has handed a gift to repressive regimes.

(The first link there has since been turned into a private blog and will not be viewable if you click it. I won’t republish what the author said, but the mere fact that she’s now *had* to close her blog down, as a result of Google’s actions, should say a lot…)

Andrew Rilstone is blogging at a more regular pace again. Here he’s got a short tale about the police, which just might be a metaphor. Mark Steel is less metaphorical on the same subject.

The Mindless Ones have another competition.

Marc Singer continues his run through his comics syllabus with a quick look at Watchmen.

And Justin completely demolishes the government’s response to the Binyam Mohammed case.

And after looking through that list (torture, stupidity, war and abuse) I think my migraine’s worse, not better…

(But this has cheered me up – Cerebus valentines:

Cerebus valentine

Cerebus valentine