Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Will Heaven On Freedland

I never thought I'd say this because I haven't really 'got' Will Heaven so far in my relatively short blogging journey (maybe I'm jealous of his relative youthfulness and palpable cleverness - I certainly apologise if those are the reasons!), but he's just posted a piece answering that desperate Freedland thing that caused a bit of a stir in the leftwing media today of such dazzling brilliance that I'm afraid I've caved-in to the temptation to cut and paste it here so that you don't have to venture into its natural habitat to read it:

Emails from my Lefty friends have been pinging into my inbox this afternoon.Their subject lines have all been similar: “What do you think about Jonathan Freedland’s article in the Guardian on life under the Tories?” Hardly surprising, since it has been trending on Twitter all day. But I thought I’d take a closer look at what’s really worrying the brilliant Left-wing columnist.

Freedland writes, à la Kinnock: “I warn you that a chance some have waited for all their adult lives will slip away, perhaps taking another generation to come around again: the chance to reform our rotten, broken electoral system.”

But do the voters really want Labour sharing power after 13 years in government? Surely not, judging by recent polls which suggest a Labour collapse worse than one overseen by Michael Foot in 1983. They’ve had enough. And if you won’t listen to the electorate, at least read Boris Johnson on the problems with PR:

With PR, you end up with two types of MP and two types of democratic mandate; you promote the rise of extremist and fringe parties, such as the BNP, which has exploited PR to capture a seat on the London Assembly; and you end up with a system that is not remotely proportional. As Clegg knows full well, the effect of PR is greatly to magnify the influence of the third or fourth or fifth party – at the expense of the first or second. Look at Germany, where the FDP was able to hold the balance of power, and retain the foreign ministry for decades, in spite of winning only 5 per cent of the vote. Look at Israel, and the disproportionate influence of the minority religious parties.

All these are grave defects, but there is one final and overwhelming reason why Britain should not and will not adopt PR – that it always tends to erode the sovereign right of the people to kick the b––––––s out. Look at Belgium or Italy and see the disaster of coalition governments, endlessly forced to appease their constituent parts, chronically unable to take the decisions necessary for the country.

Freedland knows this first-hand. The only time I have met him was on a trip to Israel during the last Israeli election, when he explained to me and other students – in crystal clear terms – why Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian Right-wing nut (and former nightclub bouncer), was about to be made the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs despite his extreme party, Yisrael Beiteinu, only receiving about 11 per cent of the popular vote. PR – and a weak coalition government – was to blame.

Freedland continues: “If Cameron wins, he will not only thwart any move to fairer voting, he will act fast to rig the system in his favour. Even neutrals agree that his plan to cut the number of MPs by 10% – presented as a mere cost-cutting measure – will be one of the grossest acts of gerrymandering in British political history.”

The above link – to an Independent story – was a curious one to include. The so-called “neutrals” are David Blunkett, some unnamed “Labour officials”, and – finally – there is some research from the University of Plymouth which concludes: “The geography of each party’s support base is much more important, so changes in the redistribution procedure are unlikely to have a substantial impact and remove the significant disadvantage currently suffered by the Conservative Party.” Right, so that supports Freedland’s argument, does it?

Thirdly, he calls for “reform of our absurd, unelected second chamber” which, he writes, “will be postponed indefinitely, enabling Cameron to pack the Lords with his mates and sugar daddies, including perhaps a few more of those businessmen who so obligingly sided with the Conservatives in condemning Labour’s plans for national insurance.”

Why not acknowledge the fact that the Conservatives have themselves pledged to reform the House of Lords? Here’s the key quote from their manifesto:

We will work to build a consensus for a mainly-elected second chamber to replace the current House of Lords, recognising that an efficient and effective second chamber should play an important role in our democracy and requires both legitimacy and public confidence.

Freedland laments the Tory plans for the economy, saying, “I warn you that the economy could slide back into despair… A sudden shut-off of the public spending tap could well send a frail recovery staggering back into recession: the dreaded double-dip. It’s happened elsewhere and could happen here.”

But, as I blogged earlier, the argument that swift debt reduction could endanger the British economy is wearing thin, as Greece’s debt crisis shows worrying signs of impacting Europe as a whole. As one influential financial journlist (who until 48 hours ago was planning to vote Lib Dem) put it to me: “There is only one way for the UK to avoid a Greek-style crisis, and that is to reduce the country’s deficit as quickly as possible. The Tories’ economic plans have been vindicated.” The Economist and the Financial Times – both of which have backed a Conservative government – seem to agree.

Freedland is suspicious of Cameron’s wicked, wicked plan to ringfence NHS spending and of the Tories proposed inheritance tax cut, which is unlikely to happen soon. He is also anxious that single mothers and widows will receive £3 a week less than married women, because the Conservatives believe that the tax system should promote the family.

And he is sceptical about fusty old Tory backbenchers, while failing to note that half of them are about to be elbowed aside by a new intake of younger, more progressive, Conservative MPs. He is worried by David Cameron’s friends in the EU – but I think Daniel Hannan has answered that claim effectively on his blog, pointing out that “the ECR is more respectable than either of the two big blocs, the EPP or the Socialists.”

Finally, Freedland wishes he had time “to make a positive case for Labour, echoing its promises on a living wage and a cap on predatory chargecard interest rates or its plans for green jobs.”

But the truth is that – after 13 years in power – there really is no positive case for Labour. Tomorrow, the electorate will show they know it.

Superb. And here here!

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