Friday 23 June 2017

Grenfell Towers tragedy

A week after the Grenfell tower fire the political fallout shows no sign of slowing down.

As of today at least 79 people have died and the Chief Executive of Kensington and Chelsea council, Nicholas Holgate has resigned and leader of the council Nicholas Paget-Brown is under pressure to step down as well

It is without doubt a national tragedy and I agree a 100% with those people who have claimed it is our equivalent of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When Katrina struck the US city of New Orleans, it revealed the stark reality of how race and class in America played a major role in who escaped the city and those who were left behind.

The Grenfell tower fire has revealed similar uncomfortable truths. The fire claimed the lives of some of London's poorest residents living in one of the richest boroughs in the UK.

Anyone living in London or familiar with the city will know there are areas where huge amounts of wealth and poverty exist next to each other. In many respects London has always been like this, going all the way back to the 19th Century. The book 'A tale of two cities' by Charles Dickens immediately springs to mind when you think about London and Grenfell Tower.

There's no doubt that the tragedy and its aftermath is a failure of both local and central government. It's clear that the poorest in our society, those on low incomes and towards the bottom of the social scale have been ignored for too long. Residents had repeatedly complained to the council about safety measures at the tower block but their concerns were ignored.

When you consider why the tower had lethal flammable cladding, no sprinklers fitted into the tower and just one inner staircase as an escape route, it comes as no surprise that residents had previously urged the management company - Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) to improve the buildings safety - their concerns were ignored.

I recently read that in November last year, a resident's organisation the Grenfell Action Group warned on its blog that it believed "only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord" and end the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders"

After the fire had started, some residents stayed in their flats as they had been told to do so in the event of a fire - this guidance ultimately cost some residents their lives.

The response from both local and central government has come in for heavy criticism. Theresa May again showed her political weakness by failing to immediately meet with residents of Grenfell Tower. Such things are important and do matter as being a leader is about capturing the public mood at such moments and having the ability to clearly show empathy. Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council have not come out of this any better either.

The response has raised lots of questions about the state's role in providing a safety net for the country's poorest and most vulnerable people. I've heard comments saying that the tragedy is being made too political by opponents of the government; but how can this event be anything other than political?

Since the election of Margret Thatcher in 1979 and the advent of the new political consensus (I have to use the term neo-liberalism - it's such a cliche now) our ideas on the role of the state and what the state should do has radically changed. Fewer people now live in social housing and for those that do, the role of the state in providing maintenance, services and regulatory standards has diminished.

There's a growing feeling that the state needs to take a more active role and responsibility in many areas of society; whether it's in the economy or public services. This partly explains the rise in support for Jeremy Corbyn.

The tragedy comes at a time where it feels like the country is in turmoil. We've had a General Election which resulted in a hung parliament and not the expected Tory majority. We now have a weak minority government with a lame duck Prime Minister. During the election we had terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and we still have the issue of Brexit to deal with.

If feels like the country is in crisis. That there are forces developing that are leading the country to a new era of doing things. Perhaps this is what it was like towards the end of the 1970s. I was only a small child at the time but from everything I've heard and read, it felt like the country was coming to the end of a particular chapter which of course it was. It was the end of the 'Consensus post-war Period that was about to be replaced by Thatcherism.

I wonder if in years to come whether the Grenfell fire will be seen as part of a development that led to a new era of British politics and society. Only time will tell.

Monday 12 June 2017

Election 2017: Who saw this result coming?

Last Thursday with 2 hours left before the polls closed, I popped into one of my local betting shops and put a bet of £20 on The Conservative Party to win the General Election with a majority of 50 - 75 seats. I felt pretty confident, but as a 'hedge' bet I also had money on a Tory majority of over 75 seats.

Chatting about the election with the guy who took my bet, he said I shouldn't rule out the possibility of a hung parliament. I didn't hide my scepticism to that thought and went home confident that I was going to pick up some money the next day.

I'm sure you can imagine my surprise along with so many other people in the country when the exit poll was revealed at 10. I think I spent the next two hours in state of disbelief. Yet again the opinion polls got it completely wrong and all the assumptions about this election and the expected result proved to be a million miles off the mark.

The result of a hung parliament is an absolute humiliation for Teresa May and the Conservatives. I know life is about taking risks and it was always a risk to call this election but the odds were in her favour.

It's clear that the Tories fought an appalling campaign. I agree with the thought that it wasn't particularly positive or inspiring. It assumed that ultimately not enough Labour supporters would back a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. What is evident is that although Teresa May has been a front line politician for over a decade, it was only in this election campaign that the public got a chance to really know her. What I and everyone else discovered is that she is a terrible campaigner with little personality or charisma.

She remains as Prime Minister for now, telling her party that she got them into this mess and is the person to get them out of it. She's on borrowed time and would have gone if it wasn't for next week's Brexit negotiations and the fact there is no obvious candidate to become the new Tory leader.

A personal victory for Jeremy Corbyn: Time to eat humble pie?

At the start of the year, I genuinely felt that Labour would end up with under 200 seats in Parliament. I thought any General Election would damage Labour so badly it would take at least another 10 - 15 years for Labour to become electable again. I couldn't see how a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party could ever succeed when a left wing manifesto was put to the British people. Ultimately I thought he was incompetent and unelectable!

Well like many people it's time for me to admit that some of these assumptions were wrong. I'm not going to apologies for these views as many of Labour MPs agreed with me.

I've been incredibly critical on Jeremy Corbyn since he became Labour Leader. I voted in both Labour leadership elections in 2015 and 2016 and voted against him. I have to admit he had a great campaign. He's grown into the role of leader. He seemed to enjoy his time meeting voters around the country unlike Teresa May. And he was positive and optimistic in his message.

He put forward every left wingers dream manifesto. More nationalisation, an end to austerity, more taxes for the rich, investment for the NHS. Populist and left wing. Whether Labour could deliver any of this is another question but it galvanised voters, especially young people who finally realised that if you come out and vote then collectively you can make a difference.

It was a great achievement for Labour to gain seats but it shouldn't be forgotten that ultimately Labour lost the election. The performance is a moral victory which is something the left love to indulge in.

Despite recognising that Jeremy Corbyn has improved as a leader and has earned to right to continue leading the Labour Party, it doesn't mean that I'm going to abandon all of my previous views and jump on a 'Jez we can' bandwagon.

For the last 35 years Corbyn has stuck rigidly to his views and values and has been lauded for his "principled" stance. Well many of us across the political spectrum have principles it's not something unique to leftwingers.

There are still policies proposed by Labour I don't agree with. Parts of their manifesto could cynically be described as a populist bribe. I'm unconvinced that many of the promises made could be implemented but I've realised that Corbyn supporter simply don't care.

Labour are still a long way from being in government. They need at least another 70 seats to gain a small majority and still need to convince more of the electorate that they are ready for power. However, judging by the ineptitude of the Conservatives - Labour might just be in with a chance.

A period of chaos

Putting aside the performance of Labour and the Tories, my immediate thoughts on Thursday night centered on the view that as a country we are in chaos. We are about to embark on negotiations to leave the EU. Instead of having the 'strong and stable' government that was promised to deal with the biggest issue facing the country since the 2nd World War.

We have a government in crisis that is being propped up by the ultra conservative Northern Irish DUP.

The rest of Europe must be laughing at us. With Brexit and now this election I feel embarrassed at the state we now find ourselves in. Rather than thinking we can all have some time off from politics and elections we can instead look forward to another election within the next 12 months and more Brexit talks!

Sometimes I wish I wasn't interested in politics!

Thursday 8 June 2017

Election night thoughts

With just over an hour before the polls close I thought now would be a good time to review the election campaign and make my predictions for tonight's result.

Thinking back to 7 weeks ago when Teresa May I imagined that this would be the most boring and predictable General Election campaign that I'd ever witnessed. It's turned out to be far more interesting than anyone could have imagined. This is because it hasn't gone to script.

Teresa May was the 'strong and stable' leader who would lead the Conservatives to a crushing landslide victory over Jeremy Corbyn's party. The electorate would deliver a damning verdict on Labour's 'Hard Left' manifesto!

I have to admit, this is what I thought so I've been proved wrong along with many others but this election has revealed a number of things:

1. Teresa May isn't very good on the campaign trail. It's no wonder we saw so little of her during the EU referendum campaign.

2. The Conservatives have led a poor campaign. It hasn't been particularly inspiring. Teresa May has been evasive with the public and the media and that's before we even mention the 'dementia tax

3. Jeremy Corbyn has had a really good campaign. He looks like he's enjoyed it. He looks comfortable and has grown into the role of Labour leader. I have to admit I've found it unexpected.

4. Two party politics is back in fashion. After 2015 it seemed that the old two party politics were over. Although the Lib Dems suffered a humiliating loss of seats, the likes of UKIP and Greens gained a much larger share of votes and in Scotland, the SNP became the dominant party.

Things look very different now. The expected Lib Dem revival hasn't taken place and following Brexit, UKIP have become an irrelevance. The Green Party seem to be suffering now that the radical left option has been filled by Jeremy Corbyn. It seems only the SNP will remain in a strong position following tonight's result.

5. Terrorism and security have become significant issues. The campaign has sadly been overshadowed by the awful events in Manchester and London Bridge but it's raised awkward questions for both Corbyn and May. Firstly due to his previous support for the IRA and voting record in anti terror legislation and for May her record as Home Secretary.

6. Brexit has been surprisingly absent from the election debate

It's this point which has stood out as on a personal level as it's the most important issue for me.

This morning I decided to vote for the Liberal Democrates and my vote for them was based purely on the issue of Brexit. I voted Remain in last year's referendum and although I accept the result and don't want a re-run I certainly don't want a 'hard brexit' and want continued access to Single Market.

Of course there are other issues, like the the NHS, and public services, immigration and social care but for me, everything begins with Brexit. The direction which the country will take and how it deals with the issues mentioned will influenced directly by Brexit.

The Lib Dems won't win in my safe Tory constituency but I feel comfortable voting Lib Dem knowing that my vote is making my feelings known on the issue of Brexit.

Both Labour and the Conservative have had almost nothing to say on the issue which I find both ridiculous but unsurprising in equal measures. Teresa May seem determined to continue down the road of a hard Brexit and Labour seem to have little interest in the topic but then that was the case during the referendum.

It seems clear the Conservatives are going to win tonight probably with a majority of between 50 - 75 seats. It will not be a great victory for the Tory Party or Teresa May. Due to her performance she is very much a diminished figure and politician.

Jeremy Corbyn has exceeded all expectations but then those expectations were low to begin with. Corbyn has energised his base but I don't think it will translate into more seats, He will simply win more votes in already safe Labour seats.

I've written extensively about Jeremy Corbyn since he became leader of the Labour Party. If you've read any of my previous posts it will come as no surprise to know that I think he would be an mitigating disaster for this country.

This election is not a great election for somebody like me. I firmly believe that Brexit has and will damage this country; both Corbyn and Teresa May will simply damage the country in different ways. If I had to say who would be worse Teresa May and the Tories will be the lesser of the two evils.

I never thought I'd ever say that.