Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Letter from Diane Abbott

I received this following in reply to my suggestion that Ms Abbott (who is my local MP) should sign up to the movement to impeach Tony Blair over his actions on Iraq:
Dear Ms Cruella*,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Iraq conflict and the involvement of British troops. As you may know I have been opposed to the invasion from the beginning. I voted against it, partly because in my judgement it was illegal, but also I feared we could be drawn into a quagmire. I am as saddened as you to see the present security situation as bad as it is.

One of my key concerns following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime has been whether we are actually making the region any more stable. As we know there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. But now Iraq is awash with Islamic terrorists. With every day that goes by the American and British forces look less like an army of liberation and more like an occupying force. I am also concerned about ‘mission creep’. I am reluctant to draw comparisons to the Vietnam conflict but there is a danger that the withdrawal of other national forces such as Spain our troops will be drawn deeper into the conflict rather than a staged withdrawal. We should be looking at options to bring troops home rather than deploying more. Whatever the reason for them being there I am deeply concerned with the welfare of British troops as well as the Iraqi people.

After invading Iraq we do owe the people there security and a safe passage towards some level of peace and prosperity. I personally would favour the current force in Iraq being replaced with a more international force with a focus on troops coming from Muslim states. This would not only allow British troops to leave but would also give the troops more of a peace keeping role rather than the perceived invasion force that is there at present. Ultimately Iraqi’s must be given the chance to govern and keep the peace themselves, and this cannot happen with foreign troops on their soil. I assure you I will continue to speak on this matter at every opportunity.

Best Wishes

Diane Abbott MP

Laurence Meehan Research Assistant to Diane Abbott MP
*Name changed to protect what limited blog anonimity I have. you need to use your real name and address so you can be confirmed as a genuine resident of the constituency and voter, otherwise you'll be lucky to get a reply.

Shame really that despite her having views, and expressing them periodically in the house, which are not entirely dissimilar to my own, I still can't vote for her because the party she stands for doesn't adhere to those views and the leader she votes for is no longer responsible to either the party or the country.

Still the encouraging news is that MPs, even senior ones like Ms Abbott, do read letters sent in by contituents, or at least ask their research assistants to do so. Other bloggers who wish to do likewise avail their local MP of thier views should try this very helpful website.


Andrew said...

faxyourmp.com is very good as well. My MP is pretty good at responding.

And I really do hope that your attitude prevails amongst the electorate at large, as it will make it so much easier for Michael Howard to sweep to victory. ;)

Cruella said...

Faxyourmp actually doesn't work for Diane Abbott. Although I have used it to fax other MPs when I lived in other places.

"Michael Howard sweep to victory"... hahaha. There are a number of things I could say here, but it is hard when I'm doubled over with laughter. Michael Howard is more likely to win Big Brother 6 than the next general election. I'll be amazed if he's even running the Tories by the time that comes around, let alone getting any votes. Fathers4Justice are more likely to win than Howard!! Ho ho ho. Sorry but that really is funny...

Seriously go and read my blog about the Hartlepool bi-election. I think you'll see what I mean.

Andrew said...

Yeah, it was a partially ironic comment, hence the smiley. Nonetheless, your kind of voter switching from Labour to the Lib Dems, or abstaining, will mean more Conservative seats, simply due to the UK's electoral maths. That's a fact. Although it's extremely difficult for the Tories to get in, even with a plurality of the popular vote, Labour's majority will be much reduced, and the third term will be very difficult for them.

And you shouldn't rely on by-elections (not bi-elections - they don't swing both ways...) as a gauge of public opinion. People obviously won't vote Conservative in areas where they can't possibly win - they'll vote Lib Dem tactically to remove Labour candidates - you're naive if you believe the Conservatives will get around 10% of the vote in a general election, despite opinion polls putting them in the low to mid 30's. Opinion polls which have consistently underestimated their true level support.

Be realistic - you'll get a better discussion if you acknowledge reality.

Cruella said...

I don't think people will abstain in protest about Tony Blair. But if Michael Howard manages 30% (or even 35%) it is hardly going to do him any good since. You really need 50% of the votes to win. Now I'm personally hoping the Labour to Lib Dem swing will be enough by the time the election comes round to hand them outright victory. If not then power-sharing would at least give the Lib Dems some significant sway in national politics.

In the interests of promoting discussion, by the way: Which of Mr Howards policies are you so enthusiastic about?

Andrew said...

A Lab - Lib swing will not win the general election for the Libs. The Libs will never gain power in this country unless Labour collapse completely. There isn't room for two left wing parties in a country which is (primarily) right-of-centre on many issues.

As for which of Howard's policies I like: Not many. The possibility of tax cuts is really the best I could hope for. I'm pragmatic about my politics, and the Conservatives are closer to my views than Labour or the Libs are. I'm socially and economically liberal (in the classical sense). If the Libs would abandon their economic policies and campaign on low taxation, free trade, free markets, deregulation, etc..., I would vote for them without thinking twice, as socially, I am much closer to their politics than the others - e.g. I believe in legalisation of drugs, etc...

In a trade off, which is what I face, I'll take economic liberalism over social liberalism, which is what the Tories offer (in part). At least with economic liberalism, you can buy some social liberalism. I also think it would be easier to move the Tories more towards a stance I really agree with than to move the Libs. It's a selfish view, but that's life. People vote out of self-interest.

Andrew said...

Also, on a point of accuracy, you don't need anywhere near 50% to win in the UK. Labour won with 40% of the popular vote in 2001, and even in 1997 only got 43% of the vote. If Michael Howard gets 35% (which is where polls are, and which is likely to be an underestimated figure), the Tories will gain maybe 50 seats on a uniform swing (which isn't what will happen), and many more on a tactical vote unwind (which is more likely).

Cruella said...

I see what you mean but for me the free market/deregulation road is an open house for corporate corruption. I think if we don't protect things like healthcare and education we end up with an effective underclass who are largely unable to escape their situation (except by being football players or lottery winners). We effectively create a new corporate ruling class.

When humanity crawled out of the seas and started forming civilisations we did so because by organising collectively we could achieve common goals more effectively. After trying tribal leaders, kings, oligarchs and dictators we finally decided that the best way to run things was via democracy.

So now lets take the power away from our elected leaders and hand it over to the leaders of our corporations, effectively the oligarchs... if robert maxwell is the best person to run this country he should run for power and we should all vote for him. Clearly he's not.

Now granted I rate that toad Blair not much better. But just because its not working perfectly seems to me a foolish reason to throw it away and instead let the big companies run the country. Which is what would happen if we really had a completely free market and total deregulation.

Cruella said...

The "trouble with corporate rule" is well illustrated with what's happened in the US over the last 20-30 years. There is a great article on the growing inequality (not published, of course, by any of the corporate-owned mainstream media):

Andrew said...

Okay, but fear of corporations is overblown. You can always choose. That's the point. They have to appeal to you, or they die by competitive forces. To believe otherwise is paranoia. Only governments can oppress people, because you have no choice over them, even if you didn't vote for them. How do you think die-hard Democrats feel about Bush today? How do you think they feel about McDonalds?

As for creating a permanent underclass, the welfare state does that very effectively. Why should people work if they get paid not to, get free healthcare, free education and free housing?

Cruella said...

I disagree entirely. I think people underestimate the threat of corporations. The idea that consumers "rule" corporations through choice of product is a myth in most cases. Firstly not all corporations sell goods to the public, many sell goods to other corporations, for export, or to the government. Secondly corporations which do sell directly to the public are well known for trying to limit consumer choice and form cartels and monopolies.

To offer a few examples:

1) "Everlasting" lightbulbs have been produced which last hundred of times longer than regular ones but the patent was bought by a consortium of electrical suppliers and they have never been manufactured.

2) Video recorders have been produced which will deliberately not record the adverts. Manufacturers collectively signed agreements with TV stations not to produce them.

3) US tobacco companies have been proved in the courts to have withheld from the public information about the dangers of smoking.

4) Elliot Spitzer has just started litigation against the major US insurers for accepting heavy commissions to market one product over another.

5) Globally defence companies (many of them British, where we could regulate them but do so woefully inefficiently) spend a fortune on bribes encouraging dictators and warlords to provoke wars leaving peoples fields mined, villages devasted and millions killed.

6) In Australia the authorities are currently investigating 30 instances of cartel-formation: http://www.findlaw.com.au/article/11876.htm.

7) In the US private individuals wishing to purchase TV commercial advertising space have been refused access where the messages they create conflict with the messages of key advertisers.

8) In the US privately-run schools sell sugary fizzy drinks and show TV adverts in classrooms.

I could go on all day...

As for your assertion that the "permanent underclass" of society does not want to work but wants to live on benefits - your vision of humanity revolts me. No-one wants to remain indefinitely in an underclass of that sort. People want the opportunity to pull themselves out of that and create a better life for themselves and their families. To do so people need to be funded while they gain an education and while they recover from illness. They need good effective childcare so they know their families are well looked-after while they work. The stark fact is the rich-poor divide is much wider in the US where welface is virtually non-existant and much narrower in Scandinavia where benefits are more generous.

Andrew said...

Okay - on corporations - the fact that you can name those scandals proves that they are accountable. We can hold corporations accountable in law courts, and by boycotting their products. Tobacco companies are a good example.

On welfare, you're simply wrong, and naive if you really believe that everyone wants to get out of the underclass. You come across as being the sort of middle-class liberal who has never experienced the underclass themselves. They don't share your values. The benefits system allows people to live permanently in a state of relative comfort, and many do choose that life. The documentary on ITV this week about teenage parents showed that. The steady increase in numbers of people claiming 'disability' benefit, often for spurious reasons, shows that.

Now, I obviously don't disagree that there needs to be a minimal safety net, but it can't be so generous that it allows people to live on it permanently, which is what our current system allows. I would also prefer it to be supplied by charity, rather than government, but that's just my preference.

The rich-poor divide is measured in relative percentage terms, and is therefore meaningless. Americans have a higher standard of living than Europeans, mainly because their economy is bigger, and growing faster, but also because they have less regulation, which makes things generally cheaper. The important measure is the number of people below an absolute (rather than relative) standard of poverty. The Scandinavian system is unsustainable, because it requires an ever increasing tax burden to fund an aging, and increasingly dependent, population. You can't increase taxes indefinitely, as it destroys people's willingness to work.

If you don't mind me asking, what sort of field do you work in?

Cruella said...

You seem to have the impression that people on benefits are a different species to the rest of us. This simply isn't true. Teenage parents have enormous hurdles to overcome and if their first priority is raising their child rather than building a career, then that demonstrates a very sensible and adult perspective. If they don't seem as responsible or as ambitious as you were hoping then perhaps you should consider the fact that they are children. At the age of 16 I had very little interest in getting a menial minimum-wage job. I had the priveledge however of a further five years of education followed by the opportunity to apply for a range of interesting well-paid career-focussed jobs. I do think its a shocking state of affairs that the people in this country least well equipped to go out into the real world and find a job are forced to do so 5 or more years before those who are actually better able to do so.

Have you noticed the size of the US deficit? Its a fair bit higher than the deficit in Scandinavia. Population pyramids and their shifting shape do cause taxation issues for governments, some of which can be mitigated by encouraging immigration and some of which is inevitable. Meanwhile having your country run by a bunch of defence companies who eat up more than half of your annual budget is even more likely to leave you in financial difficulty.

In the US where the only welfare, basically, is from charity, hundreds of thousands of people are caught in and unable to escape the poverty trap. These people go without basic healthcare, have limited or no access to education or vocational training and a quality of life comparable to parts of the developing world. Furthermore your assertion that the US has a higher standard of living than (presumably western) Europe is very much dependant on which measures you look at but on most standard measures even, its just plain wrong.

The fact that we have identified various instances of corporate corruption does not mean we have identified all of the cases or dealt with them all effectively. The lightbulbs and video players I mentioned are still not available. The insurance market has been behaving in this unfair way for years and the death toll from tobacco-related illness is in the millions. We can attempt to boycott firms whose practices we feel are unacceptable but (a) things like cigarettes are addictive (b) to buy only fairly-produced products would require people to leave their jobs and travel round looking for such products all day every day and (c) its often impossible to know which products are ethically produced. One way to boost consumers right to choose ethical goods would be to require companies to produce ethical annual reports detailing the ethical aspect to their business. People like Mr Howard have always been first in the queue to dismiss suggestions like this.

My main job these days is in finance and, sure, I'm both middle class and liberal. I have a secondary job however, as discussed elsewhere in the blog, as a stand-up comic which regularly entails standing in Leicester Square with a sign advertising the evening's show and handing out flyers. Some days in the square are better than others sometimes it rains and sometimes there are crowds. Usually some middle-class "lads" show up at some point and try to treat me in a demeaning way (humping my leg is a favourite, or trying to grab my tits, or asking how much I charge for oral sex) that they certainly wouldn't do if they met me in my suit while I'm doing my day job and tells me a lot about the way that "working class" people are perceived by the middle classes. One thing always happens though, come rain or shine, whatever day I do it on, someone always comes over and asks me how they can get work doing the same thing...

...no one has ever asked me directions to the local benefits office!

Andrew said...

A lot of what you're saying simply isn't true, however much Guardian leader columns might assert to the contrary.

I don't think people on benefits are a different species. I think that if you look at the whole spectrum of human behaviour, you find that everyone has different motivation. For some, it's money, others family, others security, others health, others happiness, others career, and so on. Some of those people have no ambition in the traditional sense. That isn't a bad thing. It's just a fact. Necessarily, if you offer those people a free ride, they'll take it. I don't think that is fair on society, when people who genuinely need welfare don't get it.

I do think its a shocking state of affairs that the people in this country least well equipped to go out into the real world and find a job are forced to do so 5 or more years before those who are actually better able to do so.I'm not sure what you mean by this - no-one is forced to work. Not everyone can go to Universities for 4 years and then go into white collar work. Because everyone is different, there will always be people who are more suited to different types of work.

The US defecit is bad, but at least their problem is transparent - they just had an election where both candidated pledged to reduce it. Our social security systems in Europe are bankrupt, but no government is prepared to admit it and start fixing the problem. Sweden may not have a high defecit, but it had incredibly high taxation. This isn't sustainable. It discourages innovation and growth. Sweden has lagged behind the growth of the rest of the West for decades. This harms their populace. Just look at http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,3604,1342660,00.html for some commentary on Europe's problems.

In the US, the only form of welfare is not charity. This simply isn't true. Medicare provides free health care to most of those who can't afford insurance. Many who don't have insurance in the US do so out of choice, not out of poverty - studies have shown this to be the case. Social security provides pensions to retirees.

Furthermore your assertion that the US has a higher standard of living than (presumably western) Europe is very much dependant on which measures you look at but on most standard measures even, its just plain wrong.Saying something is wrong does not make it so. Food is cheaper, healthcare is cheaper, education is cheaper, most goods and services are cheaper. How is this a lower standard of living? Show me these 'standard measures'.

One way to boost consumers right to choose ethical goods would be to require companies to produce ethical annual reports detailing the ethical aspect to their business.The media does this very effectively already. Consumers may not necessarily want ethical products. I don't really care if Nike employ third world workers at below-first-world conditions, for example. The simple fact is that there is no way for a corporation to force you to do something in the way that a government can do easily. That's isn't to say corporations don't do bad things - they do, you've identified some - but they do get punished. If Starbucks declared war on Iraq, I'd stop buying their coffee. If Tony Blair does it, I can go to hell.

Usually some middle-class "lads" show up at some point ...Well, there are problems in society - no-one would deny that, and it isn't restricted to one class. But I would argue that this sort of thing is related to an increase in government nannying - when someone is telling you what you can and can't do all day long, the human spirit is inclined to rebel. Encouraging a breakdown of families leads to a lack of discipline amongst the next generation - we're paying the price now for misguided teaching and an overly liberal approach to crime over the last few decades. The answer isn't more government - it's to get off people's backs and let them succeed or fail as they choose.

Andrew said...

I think part of the problem is that we both see the world in different ways.

I think that people are amazing creatures, capable of incredible innovation, of enduring adversity, of overcoming difficulties. I also think that people are generally quite selfish, perhaps not entirely for themselves, but certainly for their close family. This is because people are individuals, all playing the game, looking for advantage, trying to win, trying to get ahead. I think the best way to encourage people to be all they can be is to put as few obstacles in their way as possible. People can fail, but they can get themselves up and try again.

That has a dark side, of course. It is a pessimistic view of human nature - people are selfish individuals - but I think a realistic one. But it is also enormously optimistic. In spite of our nature, we manage to do great things. Build up enormous knowledge, create wealth, extend our own lives through technology and innovation, go to the stars, work together even. It's optimistic for the future.

Your view seems to be that people are basically good natured and co-operative. They'd rather work together to make sure everyone is okay, than work separately just for their family or themselves. If people fail, everyone should rally round, pick them up, dust them off, and get them going again. All for one and one for all.

The problem is that your view also has a dark side. It implies a basic lack of trust in what people will do - they need to work for the common good whether or not it's in their own interest. You may trust what people are, but not they way they'll go, so that has to be prescribed. It's a disempowering view - it takes away people's ability to make their own choices. People need protecting from others, but worst of all, from themselves, from the consequences of the decisions they make. It's also, paradoxically, much harder when you fail in that sort of environment, because there is so much support and help available for when you do. That kind of environment actually makes you feel like a failure. It's also pessimistic for the future - it's the attitude that says 'things are great now, why change them? It could be worse.'

Apologies if I'm misrepresenting your view - it's just the way I see it. Please feel free to correct me.