What's in Paisley's Pants? Political ramblings about things that catch my attention... (rather than some smutty double entendre...)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tories still need Ken Clarke

David Davis and David Cameron both launch their leadership bids today. I watched a bit of their speeches, and an interview with their chosen representative, on the Daily Politics, and a major fact hit me. They are both, Davis is particular, so bland.

Cameron less so. From what little I saw of his speech, he seemed pretty switched on and engaging. David Davis on the other hand, was a different matter. He is the frontrunner in the race, with, it is reckoned, twice the support of Ken Clarke amongst the parliamentary party. However, watching him on the podium, settign out his stall for the campaign ahead, he came across as grey, uninspired and uninspiring. In fact, he reminded me greatly of John Major, and that is never a good comparison.

If the tories are going to fight New Labour on the centre ground, which they must to win votes, then they must be prepared to fight over very little ground. And when the margin is so small, the result depends ever more on charisma, on charm, on that hideous phrase, the 'x factor'. David Davis lacks this. Ken Clarke on the other hand has charisma in spades, which is why he is easily the most recognised face in the leadership election (I'm afraid I can't remember the exact poll figures, but he was around 10% ahead of the next candidate).

Critics of Ken Clarke point out his popularity with the electorate almost as a weakness. How misguided are the tories becoming? Or is it simply that they've become so used to losing elections, their little 'c' conservative instincts tell them not to upset the status quo.

Ken Clarke provides exactly what the tory party needs - a charismatic, recognised face to lead the party. His age does count against him, but he should be able to get the tories up to speed again by the next election, and after that, David Cameron should be ready to take over.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lib-Dem's shift right?

Most people are predicting it, but why then is the Orange Book out of print? From The Independent:
While the authors of the now infamous Orange Book, which advocates a lurch to the right, are busy on the conference fringe, the book itself is in somewhat short supply. A sad notice in the official conference bookshop declares that the party faithful can order the tome and have it posted to their home.
So why no copies of this seminal text? "It's out of print but one of the authors has a few copies left that we can get hold of,"

Now, is it just that it's so popular that they've simply run out of copies to sell, or just that demand was so low that they didn't reprint it? The fact that 'the authors having a few copies left' does summon up images of the lonely self-publishing author, sat at home, surrounded by piles of his own book that nobody wants to buy, and are destined to become Christmas/birthday/bah mitzvah presents for years to come...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Following on...

from this post yesterday, it struck me today that the finest example of unions being largely ineffective against an American corporation is the Gate Gourmet situation over the summer. Despite hugely disruptive solidarity action from BA baggage handlers, and the TGWU hard at work negotiating with the Gate Gourmet executives, still nothing has come from negotiations, except the promise of (probably pitiful) compensation. But 500 workers are out of a job with no source of income.

What is more worrying is this statement from Tony Woodley:
"We are in active discussions, we are talking, and we are trying to make progress but with these people [Gate Gourmet's bosses] having switched a gear on so many occasions I wouldn't like to get my hopes up,"

This suggests that he doesn't entirely have a grip on proceedings. In fact, it suggests that the Gate Gourmet executives, far from being in the thrall of the power of the union, are rather merely pandering to them. I would suggest that the GG bosses are letting PR guide their side of negotiations, rather than the TGWU having any real force. Indeed, GG needs the renewed contract from BA, who in turn will only sign once the whole situation has been cleared up neatly. GG are going for the least possible compensation which causes the least possible backlash amongst the sacked workers, and therefore the least possible bad PR.

A situation where someone's livlihood is dictated by such things is entirely wrong, but unfortunately is entirely inevitable with the trade unions so cripplingly emancipated. Thatcher turned them into toothless relics, Blair has done nothing to reverse the process. And now once proud and powerful unions are, on a large scale, impotent in the face of corporate power. Which is why, of course, we must oppose the forces of neo-liberalism, leading to the joyous success here, and here, and here, and here...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Yes! Yes yes yes! But let's not get too carried away, it's just the beginning...

Dead Men Left is getting very excited about the German election result, and rightly so. The post ends on this optimistic note:
There is now the potential, probably everywhere, to create broad-based radical parties in opposition to neoliberalism. The language and the style of the politics needed have been around for a while, in the form of the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements; what is now being demonstrated is that the social base exists to support popular parties built on these lines.

I have to agree with his optimism. This seems like it could be the start of quite an exciting time for the left. Hoorah!

(P.S. I'm sure I have posted along these lines somewhere before, but seemed to have mislaid it... If anyone comes across this wandering post, please point it in my direction - the poor dear's probably scared out of his skin out there all alone)

Some niblets about Wal-Mart, ideal for dinner party conversation

This is all courtesy of Johann Hari's column in The Independent today, but readable here. The article itself isn't really much - it reads more like an oxfam pamphlet, giving countless case studies in a bid to extract cash, rather than say anything, and his conclusion is more misty-eyed dreaming than anything viable. But, such case studies can be rather interesting, and useful to drop into conversation sometimes. So anyway:

The company has admitted locking workers in at night without a key, supposedly to stop theft. Some employees told The New York Times they were threatened with the sack if they used an emergency exit, and that when someone became ill, it could take hours to get medical help. There have been two decades of court judgments finding they discriminate against women. They pay poverty-level wages: at the time of the buy-out, they offered just £7000 a year for a full-time job.


the country they would appear to most love working in is China, where trade unionists are punished with jail. In 2001, the National Labour Committee found that Wal-Mart was paying many suppressed workers seven pence an hour


a woman in Bangladesh... was forced to work seven days a week, from 7.45am to 10pm, for six months without a break


[In Asda] There is evidence of a "crackdown" on toilet breaks and a slicing of employment benefits: higher pay rates for working weekends and Bank Holidays, for example, have been abolished.


In their Wigan store, for example, the men working in the storerooms were told to increase the number of back-breakingly heavy boxes they carry by 40 per cent an hour. This wasn't physically possible without risking a serious injury - but the management wanted them to proceed anyway. Only a strike by Wal-Mart's mortal enemy, the trade unions, saved these men from risking injury.


All Asda storeroom staff... are being fitted with electronic tagging equipment while they are at work.

The conclusion that Hari draws is that the Asda workers are somehow leading the fight against Wal-Mart because they are unionised - or 20,000 of them are, at least. This seems to me to be somewhat wishful thinking. The only reason that Wal-Mart are facing problems now that they weren't before is that there simply were no trade unions that they had to worry about before. Now, they have 20,000 employees out of 1.7 million worldwide who belong to a union. The proportion is staggeringly small, as is the size of the problem for Wal-Mart. The unionised British workers are not a wedge that will drive open the chest of the company and expose it's evil exploitative heart - the unions are simply too weak to have any real effect against a corporation of this size. Simply put, the status quo of market driven ethics in business will continue until somebody at government level puts a stop to it, most crucially in America. This, of course, will never happen, as Luka so eloquently points out.

Defining terrorism

After all the bother at the UN last week over defining terrorism, I was going to post a little thing about it. Unfortunately Mr Majuka beat me to it, and has done quite a fine job too. I suggest you go and read it (and maybe, like me, pretend it says 'posted by paisley whitworth' at the end of it).

And this comes after he complained about my lack of posting. There's just no pleasing some people.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Biblical scenes in New Orleans

It has been said over and over that New Orleans is witnessing 'biblical scenes'. To which I say 'If only'.

Just think how much better off New Orleanites would be if all that water were turned to wine. Looters would become so malcoordinated that they could not loot. All those trapped would be able to drink themselves happy. Even those drowning would be better off - from past experience I can safely say it's much nicer to drown drunk than sober. I do feel sorry for all those stuck in the stadium though - there must be so many pub bores in that building it'd be unbearable.

Anyway, bring on the son of God, say I.

Ken Clarke’s leadership bid

It must be rather depressing for David Davis, Malcolm Rifkind, David Cameron et al. There they are, steadfastly and resolutely not in any way fighting the non-battle for the Conservative party leadership all through the summer, when suddenly in the space of a week, the are all but forgotten when Ken Clarke throws his hat (and cigar, probably) into the ring. Now the others can’t get newsprint for love nor money, and if they do, they are usually just being tacked onto the end of a piece about Clarke.

What must be worrying for the other leadership candidates, and for New Labour, is that Clarke seems to be talking a fair bit of sense, something which seems to have been lacking for a while now, and something which will resonate with voters.

From The Independent today:

"The 65-year-old political heavyweight, who described himself as midway through his career, directed his fire at Mr Blair rather than his rivals for the Tory crown. He adopted a strongly liberal approach to anti-terrorism laws, accusing the Prime Minister of a knee-jerk rush to legislation through "moral blackmail" and "unhelpful and undignified" attacks on judges.

He warned that bringing in new laws after every terrorist atrocity could be counterproductive, saying they could feed a sense of panic and enhance the grievances from which the terrorists hoped to derive sympathy. "You do not beat the enemies of freedom by taking freedom away," he said, warning that moderate Muslims were being alienated."

A couple of points to draw from these two paragraphs. Firstly, Clarke is sensibly targeting Blair rather than resorting to in-party fighting. This gives the impression that Clarke is the natural opposition leader, who will hold the government to account. Secondly, he has the centrist policies that will appeal, as he has pointed out, to most voters – the Tories have for to long tried to win elections by appealing to their own voters. (Just as an aside, one can’t help but feel he’s simply stating the bloody obvious. Unfortunately, the bloody obvious has been all too absent recently)

He has ditched the pro-Europe stanch which lost him the last two leadership elections. In doing so, he has gained the support of UKIP (Ken Farage, UKIP MEP is quoted as saying "Ken Clarke is a man of great principle and experience… He says he’s the best man for the job, and we at UKIP agree wholeheartedly"). While this in itself may not be such a bonus, it does indicate that those to the right of the party may be willing to back him.

Critics have said that he is both too old, and too much of a reminder of the Thatcher/Major era. On the first count, this seems a fair point – he will be 69 at the next election. However, until the Tories produce somebody else who can win, there seems to be little choice in the mater. On the second charge, I doubt this will have little baring on a vote – the electorate can have a surprisingly short memory.

Clarke basically seems a shoe-in to the job. Or at least, he should be. Lets not forget that this is the party that got IDS instead of Clarke on 2001, although with the rule changes coming in, this shouldn’t happen again. Clarke gives the Tories a viable chance in defeating Labour in 2009.
And the other candidates for the leadership? Malcolm Rifkind is reduced to a weak criticism over consistency, and as for David Cameron:

"David Cameron moved to counter Kenneth Clarke's challenge for the Tory leadership yesterday by trying to position himself as the candidate in touch with the concerns of young voters, vowing to make Britain "the most civilised place in the world to live". "

Mmmm, them’s fightin’ words.

Hurricane Katrina

I recommend looking over China's postings on the topic over at Lenin's Tomb, particularly this one.

The scenes coming in from New Orleans and surrounding places are horrific, that much is plain. What is also horrific is the absolute balls-up any sort of authority has made of imposing, well, any sort of authority.

The attitude towards those left in New Orleans is abhorrent. Around 300,000 people, almost all of them too poor to escape before the hurricane. They are told to wait for aid and rescue, but none is forthcoming. Then, when they try and obtain food for themselves, they are shot by the National Guard. There were pictures on the news last night of people, starved of food and water, showing the cameras where there are supplies locked up, which they are not allowed to take to feed themselves and their families. This zero tolerance policy towards looting has made people fearful, and the inevitable result of this is the gunfights that are taking place in the streets – the natural reaction when a person is afraid is to strike out to defend themselves. This in turn means that any paltry aid efforts are further hampered. People are dying in the streets – the people have, as China says, become ‘expendable’ to the authorities. The current rescue efforts are the equivalent of the US Federal authorities, right up to the President, closing their eyes and sticking their fingers in their ears, and hoping the problem will go away.

China describes it as a ‘catastrophe of mismanagement’, but I think this does not cover it. Mismanagement suggests effort is at least being made, but hampered by mistakes, poor judgement and incompetence. In New Orleans, the biggest obstacle in the way of any aid operation is an absolute reluctance to help. It is sheer obstinacy. I’m not going to try and offer reasons for the reluctance – many others have done so, citing race and class as two possibilities. It is not ‘mismanagement’ hampering the rescue effort, but callousness and selfishness on the part of the authorities – a refusal to manage.

Probably most indicative of the rather sickening attitude of the authorities is President Bush’s speech made on the subject, where he spent more time reassuring the American public that oil prices, and subsequently petrol prices would be kept as low as possible. This was deemed more important than any sort of leadership or decisiveness or willingness to offer help to the stricken region. But then, its not the first time that oil has come before the lives of people. Bush will not come out of this looking good in any way – presumably why he is so keen that "people don't play politics during this period of time". The reason is that he simply cannot win – his reticence and delay speak too loudly in themselves.