Monday, 29 September 2008

Shock horror - radical party proposes high speed rail lines

and do you know what the shock is............? is that the Tories are the ones who are pledging to spend £20 billion on a new high speed rail network between London, Birmingham and Manchester.

And the tragedy.......

....that after 11 years of my party being in power, with two landslide majorities, with often unpopular privatised railways, with ever more clogged roads, with growing concern about CO2 emissions and a Tory party which, whatever the spin, is at its core less concerned about the environment - my party failed to even suggest this policy.

I would bet that 99% of Labour members and voters would back the Tory proposal to scrap Heathrow's expansion and build a high speed rail network.

Not only is it common sense, environmentally sound and dynamic, but it is also extremely politically shrewd. It may succeed at doing what we should be doing to the Tories. Namely, it smokes out the true nature of a political movement. We are in danger, unless we match or better this policy proposal, of being shown to be timid, while they will be able to present themselves as radical.

I cannot believe that I am typing it is all so unnecessary. Please Gordon, throw a few more scraps of meat to the hungry membership base and, frankly, the public at large. People like Governments to take action sometimes (as you're discovering).

Now is the time for us to be radical, or else we will be exposed on all flanks by the Opposition (who of course have the luxury of not actually being in power)....

New arrival and other things...

Yesterday I became the proud father of another beautiful baby daughter - Annabelle May Slinger.

Mummy and baby are both doing very well.

I wonder if she'll fuel my radicalism as much as her sister has? Every minute that passes I feel less inclined to believe that 'the Establishment' is particularly concerned with enabling individuals, families and communities to create FOR THEMSELVES a better society.

There was almost no mention of community in Gordon Brown's conference speech last week. The subtext to almost all he says is "macro, macro, macro". To coin a rhetorical technique 'threes' which Tony Blair made his own, one might say that for the Prime Minister (and seemingly most of the Cabinet) the priority is "macro, macro, macro". As we try to water down the EU's carbon emmissions targets, what was there from the PM about empowering communities and individuals to save energy and generate their own. Very little. And why? I suspect that the Treasury (and DBERR) is instinctively hostile of micro solutions to problems. With all the vested interests and powerful lobbies keen for its ear, I doubt they are institutionally inclined to spend money in rigging the market in favour of renewables (in the way that, for e.g. the Germans have shown is eminently possible). On a day when the Government pledges up to £20 billion of our money to nationalise Bradford and Bingley (admittedly our money will only be used as a last resort and the banking sector itself is liable for £15 billion), it is clear that public money can be found to shore up private banks. Yet the amount we invest in renewables is, frankly, peanuts. Whatever the Government says, it is not enough to do the job - i.e. to rig the market in favour of renewables rather than rigging it in favour of nuclear, gas and coal (all of which are necessary fuel sources in themselves).

I've no time to go into my thinking on this now, as I'm too busy tidying up our house for the new arrival, but it does strike me that my party, the Labour Party, is far too in thrall to the macro solution. I do not advocate the Tory, neo laissez faire option of granting money and power to the Third Sector as the solution. Indeed I am suspicious of it. But why are we as a party seemingly afraid of uttering sentences such as "parents ought to be able to work fewer hours, so that they have more of their evenings free to look after their children, volunteer in their communities, run sports teams, etc, etc." We shouldn't need schools to act as a state-sanctioned automated parenting system between the hours of 8.00am and 6.00pm. We should start to reconfigure the debate in the interests of families. We should stop from repeating the cringe-making mantra of "hard-working families" as if it is some God-given virtue that mothers and fathers devote all hours to working hard in order to buy material goods and expensive houses, in order that this spending props up our economy.

I may be mistaken, but we are perhaps reaching the moment when a new paradigm comes into being. I don't think anybody knows what it is (LEAST OF ALL ME). But with financial capitalism's certainties and dogmas collapsing or being propped up with the ill-disguised techniques of socialist interventionism, with the gap between the rich and the poor (in the UK) expanding, with no politician actually having the guts to say that a fall in house prices could be a good thing or that lower consumption and people actually realising that they needn't spend money to enjoy themselves - perhaps the above and more might provide space for us all to reconsider what our collective and individual priorities are. I'm not sure that the situation we had allowed to be built up by 2007/8 is what we would rebuild.


My band, The 7.20s, supported the superb Exit Calm on Friday. We had a great gig and gave our free sample CDs from our forthcoming EP - Aquarian Charm. Watch this space (all 4-10 of you)!

Over and out,


Letter published in The Rugby Observer (Warwickehire) on litter

The Editor
Rugby Observer

23 September 2008

Dear Sir,

Having lived on King Edward Road for nearly two years, I would like to comment that the amounts of litter and dog mess on my road and many of the streets between the town centre and the train station are a disgrace to Rugby. The council cleans the streets too infrequently, and appears not to employ litter wardens. Were they to do both of these things, they would address both the symptoms and the cause of the problem.

On bad days, it is no exaggeration to say that the litter and general detritus makes parts of central Rugby look like the Third World. We in the community should take more pride in our streets, our parks and recreational areas. If the council is incapable of doing so, I respectfully suggest that individuals start to challenge those who litter and allow their dogs to foul. Don't forget, they are breaking the law, damaging the image of Rugby and endangering public health. We should perhaps all consider picking up litter rather than walking past it. If we all did so, those who litter and allow their dogs to foul might feel a little embarrassed.

Litter clearly isn't the biggest challenge society faces, but if the community can send a clear message that our streets belong to the vast majority of decent people, we would be taking a small step towards challenging the antisocial behaviour of a minority which blights our community as a whole.

Yours faithfully,

John Slinger

Monday, 22 September 2008

The PM

Gordon Brown's supporters have been talking up what, accorduing to them is the Prime Minister's great strength - his years of experience in running the economy. Now there are many holes in this stategy, but there is one which immediately springs to my mind. Isn't it a sad indictment of the Prime Minister and his accolytes, that it requires the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street Crash in order to give a boost to his prospects for survival?

Looking at things from another perspective, the current leadership crisis in the Labour Party also paints a depressing picture for people like me of a party which has allowed itself to be dominated for far too long by two political giants (Blair and Brown). Discovering that Gordon Brown is ill-suited to be Prime Minister is particularly galling because the party has become so emasculated under the influence of the New Labour duocracy of Blair and Brown that there are no heavyweights remaining to challenge the Prime Minister and there is no clear groundswell of support amongst the membership for an alternative vision, or even the same message, presented in a manner which inspires confidence. Not only is there not a clear challenger (unlike in 1994, when Blair was the clear favourite), but neither is there a credible alternative vision to the big business-friendly, timid, cautious on the environement, pro-Establishment technocratic style of governance which Brown seems to have perfected and that voters seem to have shunned.

I wish there was. And so, I suspect, does the public.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Excellent article on inequality of opportunity in the UK and the role of public schools

This excellent article by Johann Hari in yesterday's Independent is well worth a read if you are interested in trying to do something to make Britain a true meritocracy rather than be content with a system which allows people with more wealth to ensure far greater educational life chances for their children, irrespective of the child's ability.

I've had a couple of letters published in The Times on this issue in the past:

The Times

October 23, 2004, Saturday

'Social engineering' by universities

From Mr John Slinger


There have been shrill outbursts from the Russell Group of leading universities, Oxford University's Chancellor Chris Patten, Trinity College Oxford's Master Michael Beloff and others attacking the Government's intention to engage in what they term "social engineering". This "social engineering" intends to redress the imbalance in university admissions whereby, in the case of Oxbridge, approximately 10 per cent of the post-16 school population who attend independent schools account for nearly 50 per cent of the undergraduate population. Surely those who spend significant sums of money on an independent school education for their children, with the advantages including an increased chance of attending a leading university, are themselves engaged in blatant "social engineering". The NHS was created specifically to prevent the wealthy from leapfrogging their less fortunate neighbours in receiving the healthcare that each citizen needs, and in so doing "socially engineered" our country into an infinitely more civilised place. The Government should not feel afraid to apply similar principles with regard to a right that is arguably even more important.

Yours faithfully, JOHN SLINGER, Balham, SW12

The Times

November 28, 2007

Opportunity for all

We would condemn a country which turned someone away from A&E. What is so different about education?


In Britain it is possible to buy an education for your child, thereby increasing their chances of reaching a top university. This is possible either through the private school system (report, Nov 27) or by owning a house in the catchment area of a good state school.

This understandable parental instinct has hugely damaging repercussions for society, ensuring as it does that no government dares to treat access to educational opportunities in the same way as access to healthcare or the criminal justice system. We would rightly condemn a country which turned someone away from A&E or denied them a lawyer on the grounds that they couldn't pay. What is so different about education, which perhaps more than anything determines an individual's life chances?

John Slinger