Archive for May, 2010

The quiet after the storm

May 18, 2010

I’d expected that finishing my last ever exam would be amazing. Instead I felt shell-shocked and slightly sick. Free, but still not really free. It’s out of my hands now, and I’m waiting for the piece of paper with my grades; the university’s assessment of what I’m worth, and how worthwhile my time of study has been. I know I won’t have done as well as I could have done, but as long as I do reasonably OK, I’ll have no regrets.

Still, when it comes to getting over the stress of finals, there’s no better place than where I am now. Me and 10 of my classmates from Chinese are spending a few days in a cottage on the west coast. It is beautiful. We’re on the North shore of West Loch Tarbert, having driven up Loch Lomond and down along Loch Fyne yesterday afternoon to get here. The house is big with huge windows onto the Loch: Here’s me by the window! (All photos in this post are from Kit)

Last night when we got here Will cooked a delicious dinner of lamb with ratatouille and fresh salad followed by homemade muffiny sponge cakes with orange syrup. Then we settled down for a drink and a relax in our little house. I went for a walk but it was pitchblack and I got terrified by the noises of animals so ran back to the house – I’ve become a proper city girl me! Here’s a photo of some of us after dinner:

OK it’s Wednesday now, the sun is in and the weather has settled with deeper blue-greys and light drizzle. The water is seaweedy with blobby purple-spotted jellyfish. I like the dull light that glows across from the south.

Yesterday we climbed up a dewooded hill to see the view. You can just see the edge of Jura in the distance. The estate is 1000 acres with just a few houses. There used to be 5 crofts, though all have been long abandoned and are being turned into holiday houses. Here is us climbing – I’m the one at the back scrambling up the next bit.

Then we rowed out into the Loch in a rowing boat. It was very choppy and we were pretty inept at rowing, so unlike the lads who took the canoe and zoomed across to the other side, we lulled about near to the shore, drank some whisky, and spotted a seal. The woods were beautiful too, with that perfect fresh green colour that is special to May.

In the evening we had delicious roast chicken with salad and a garlicy sauce full of mint and lime. Then we played mafia (like wink murder but you get to lynch people) and generally mucked about. I’m reading a book about evolutionary psychology and the genetic determinants of supernatural beliefs which is very interesting. Today has been very relaxed, with large quantities of food, reading, and lounging. The next plan is to drive to the fishmongers for some fresh salmon and mackrel. I’ll be leaving tomorrow bright and early to get the bus back to Edinburgh. After quite a refreshing three days.

Scorched Earth: A plea to labour and the left

May 10, 2010

There are worrying vibes going round the Labour camp. Twitter, the Guardian, mates at the pub; it’s everywhere. It’s the desire to undermine the Lib Dems, to make things as difficult for them as humanly possible, and even to hope they fail. Hundreds of comments about “Lib Dems scuttling to Labour” and “Con-Dem to be stopped at all costs”. Putting Nick Clegg up on ebay and other hilarious internet satire. It’s all very funny, and it’s important to be critical of his dealings, but I’m not sure how constructive it is. Indeed from some parts of the left, what I’m worried about is  the Tory-baiting temptation, and a return to scorched earth thinking which could harm us all.

The scorched earth strategy was pursued in South Yorkshire in the 90s. Thatcherism destroyed the local economy (based on coal mining and steel), but in some cases the Labour-run local authorities made things deliberately worse. Sheffield City Council is widely thought to have tried to bankrupt itself in order to force a government bail-out. City funds were piled into paintings for the town hall and building Sheffield Arena (where ironically Neil Kinnock delivered his death speech in ‘92). Local rates were increased to such high levels that the poor couldn’t pay and were forced to default. Nationally this was mirrored in the rate-capping rebellion. Now they try to deny it, but party members were quite aware of what was going on. The strategy was to create huge difficulties for the Tory government, while maximizing local rage.

I describe this as a parable for how a party whose very purpose is to protect the poor might play a game that harms the poor. Because right now we face some very dangerous decisions. The cuts proposed by the Tories would create massive social damage. There is no doubt that they intend to slash local services, especially provision of nursery places and support for the vulnerable. The much praised “free schools” scheme, modeled on a trial carried out in Sweden, has been roundly condemned by the Swedish authorities’ own research due to increasing educational inequality. There is no justification for a short-term debt reduction plan which is certain to cause long-term damage to social and human capital. Especially since it is entirely avoidable. But this is the Tory plan.

The worst case scenario then, is a conservative majority government. This must be avoided at all costs. And there are only two ways it can be avoided. Either 1) a “progressive coalition” of the left, or 2) a lib-con coalition of the centre, keeping the Tory rightwing in their box. But I am worried that there are elements in Labour who seem determined to avoid either scenario. Which leaves only outcome number 3), a government collapse followed by the inevitable election of a Tory majority. After all they were only 16,000 votes short this time, and are the only party with the cash to run another campaign.

Why would anyone in Labour let this happen? Due to the same sort of scorched earth thinking described above. We know the economy is in for a rough time in the next year, we know some cuts will be made. But they want the pain to fall upon the conservatives, to let Britain and the Tories burn together. A short period in the wilderness would allow the Labour party to make a clean break from its unpopular leadership and emerge fresh and renewed, with a soothing hand to wipe the tears suffered under recession and Tories. The worse the pain in between, the greater the likelihood of cruising back into government in an unreformed electoral system. We’d be begging them back all sins forgiven. But this would be deeply irresponsible. You can blame a rabid dog for savaging the electorate, but if you could have stopped it and chose not to, then you too are to blame.

This is why Labour must put country before party, and talk to the Lib Dems. Ideally they would cobble together a coalition of the left which offers swift electoral reform, and bring the deficit down gradually without regressive cuts. But if this can’t be done, they must allow a lib-con coalition without trying to sabotage it. I understand the temptation. The Lib Dems are treading on eggshells and risk a severe grassroots backlash. If they collapsed there would be a flood of refugees to Labour and possibly the greens. But this would be a TERRIBLE OUTCOME for the left. Labour might gain, but the Tories would gain much much more. A Lib-Dem collapse would rule out any coalition of the left, and it would prevent any co-operation with the right.

And Nick Clegg “selling out” to Cameron would be an absolute PICNIC next to leaving Tebbit, Letwin et al with a chainsaw in one hand and the keys to the country in the other. The Lib Dems need our support no matter what. Of course, we must use all our political pressure to ensure the best deal possible with the most concessions – especially anything we can get on electoral reform. But equally, we must refrain from pulling the rug out from under their feet. The sniping, bitching, ranting that has been going round and round, the blatant hope that the Lib Dems will be finished if they make any sort of deal: it is just not helpful. Because the Lib Dems have no choice, unless you make a better offer.

The ball is in Labour’s court. Labour activists, if you want the best deal for the country, you either 1) push for a fast and full attempt to build a progressive coalition based on compromise, or 2) sort yourselves out in private, and in public be constructive, on no account trying to undermine Clegg’s delicate work.

Whatever you do, don’t throw the Tories, the Lib Dems, and the whole of Britain into the furnace together.

I realize that directing this rant at “Labour activists” may not be the most pertinent. I’ve no doubt that the majority within the Labour party understand these things already and want the best for the country. And those eying a “Lib Dem fail” in gleeful expectation of savaging them afterwards are hardly confined to Labour, indeed those to the left of Labour may be even more guilty. Nevertheless, this is a crucial time, and we must all hold our politicians to account. Constantly, but most important, responsibly.