Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Pensioner and the Penitent Sinner

Why was the encounter between Gordon Brown and Gillian Duffy in Rochdale so achingly uncomfortable?

Not because he groaned ‘bigoted woman’ – he wasn’t wrong; not because the top man hadn’t answered a customer’s complaints – he had; not because he couldn’t spin an explanation of party policy – he had; not because he had failed to manage a conversation with Labour Party kin – he had; That was his problem – he ‘managed’ his dialogue. He answered her, but he didn’t engage with her. He made no concessions. What he, and everyone around him – and many commentators, too, didn’t appreciate was that the white woman in Rochdale also managed: she wasn’t an ingénue, she wasn’t ignorant, had a clear, coherent and unyielding critique of her party that should have engineered equality but decided not to. Her final poignant protest about student fees should have alerted Brown and his comrades to what was exercising Gillian Duffy: this women knew exactly what was different for the working class between now, and then – when her own generation could enjoy ‘great expectations’ but her grandchildren’s generation seems doomed to hard times. Immigration reared up, as it always does, as both bigotry and as a proxy for pitiless disappointment.

The tragedy of the encounter was that he expected her to be grateful, and she was angry about everything.


There’s a spookie tone about Neil Boorman’s latest spiffy idea. Neil Boorman has ideas, he’s a writer and music promoter, and one of his most celebrated spectacles of anti-consumerism was to torch his designer wardrobe (he could have given the stuff away!) and live without retail therapy for a year.

His new bad idea is promoted on You might be expecting the banks to appear somewhere in this blame blog. But they don’t. Instead he targets the babyboomers – people born after World War 2, the generation that was blessed by the National Heath Service, free universal education and mass public housing. It seems they were blessed by everything, and now they are blame for everything. Boorman has launched a campaign to kick out the baby boomers – not because of their age, oh no, but because of their generation.

He recommends the hypothesis offered in David Willett’s book, the Pinch, (see my Guardian Comment is Free blog, 21 Feb 2010).

Willetts, a rare thinker among Tories, argues that the babyboomers are the selfish generation: among their many social felonies, they are spendthrifts who have priced their children out of the housing market. Willetts is wrong – it wasn’t the babyboomers who created the crazy housing market, it was Thatcherism in the 1980s, and every government since. It wasn’t the babyboomers who introduced student fees; who sold off 1.7 million council houses; who created the pensions crisis and left the infrastructure to rack and ruin while the people making loadsmoney went on making loadsamoney.

By a sleight of hand, a political project has been re-interpreted as a generational mission.

Thatcherism, albeit audacious and surgically successful in our dysfunctional electoral system, never actually secured a majority of votes cast. But it tilted the centre of  gravity of English Parliamentary culture to the right. And there – alone in these islands -  it has stayed.

Boorman rehearses the Willetts’ rhetoric. But with more bile. ‘In 650 days time the babyboomers will start to retire, they’ll stop feeding money into the system with taxes and start sucking out of it with benefits…we don’t have the money to pay for them.’

He complains that ‘we are going to be slaves to our parents, working longer hours, paying more taxes, getting further into debt, just to pay for their retirement…’

What should we do with them, then? He doesn’t suggest mass euthanasia, just mass contempt and electoral eviction: ‘Kick them out,’ he says.

So, the ghost of Margaret Thatcher lives, inflaming angry young men with nothing to lose but loadsamoney and their labels.

But do not despair, babies of babyboomers: check out the Green New Deal, read the  Green Party manifesto, – there is another way, it will put the smile back on your face, and hope in your heart: vote Green.

Green Shoots

The Green Party is fielding more Parliamentary candidates than ever before – now electors in over 300 constituencies will have the opportunity to vote for the only party whose priorities unites social justice, sustainable society and sustainable environment.

We are the green shoots of British politics. Even in our hostile electoral system our presence is being felt and it is helping to renew our bedraggled political culture.

In the last European Parliamentary elections,  the Greens came ahead of Labour in the South East and the South West. Greens beat the Tories in Brighton and Hove, Oxford, Norwich, Liverpool and Manchester.

The devolved jurisdictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have introduced forms of proportional representation and their governments are manifestly more representative of their voters. Not so in England where the unreformed Parliamentary electoral system has for the last 40 years distorted our political sentiments.

It is in local government that Greens have been able to get past our crazy electoral system. Already the Party’s impact is palpable.

Hampstead and Kilburn is a progressive constituency – the combined vote at the last general election shows that the anti-Tory vote is overwhelming. The addition of Kilburn wards makes the constituency even more like the Londoners who make London what it really is.

People say: but won’t voting Green risk letting in the Tory who currently trails behind Labour’s Glenda Jackson and the Liberal Democrats’ Ed Fordham? I say it is time for people to be allowed to vote for the candidate they really want to elect. If your priority is to keep the Tory out, don’t vote Tory.

Pressure for electoral reform is becoming irresistible – all the more reason to show by our votes that we want an electoral system that expresses Londoners’ green values, our social justice sentiments and diversity.

Let the green shoots grow!

You can contact me through this website