Dark days for Brown

Is the situation worse for Gordon Brown than it was for John Major in the dying days of the last Tor

It's all looking rather bleak for Gordon Brown. In fact, if you agree with veteran Conservative politician John Gummer, the situation's actually worse for the prime minister than it was for John Major as his government faltered to extinction.

Writing this week on newstatesman.com, Gummer says: "I fought my first election more than forty years ago and I can’t remember anything comparable. Even as a cabinet minister living through the dying days of John Major’s Government - attacked on every side and beset by swivel-eyed revanchists – it wasn’t like this."

The ex-environment secretary expresses sympathy for Brown adding that he finds the sharpness of the attacks "disconcertingly unfair". You can read Gummer's article here.

Meanwhile David Miliband writes in the Guardian about the odds being against a Labour victory when Britain next votes and talks about turning it around for the party by offering real change. He doesn't mention Gordon Brown at all. And nor did he later rule out a leadership challenge. Although he did insist he wasn't running a campaign.

Either way ex-minister Denis Macshane thinks Miliband was spot on.

Writing on newstatesman.com he berates critics of the foreign secretary: "Instead of welcoming his rallying call to attack the Tories and to support the Government and prime minister the briefers are back running Labour into the ground. I hope Miliband continues to make his case and the maggots briefing against him are squashed."

Meanwhile Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is in bullish form arguing her party has everything to play for after the summer recess.

Like Miliband, Smith is keen to remind us of what she sees as Labour's achievements. But does anyone want to listen?

In the past few months I've been to a couple of meetings organised by the Fabians with Labour MPs and others to talk about presenting a vision for the future. At the last gathering - just as parliament was breaking up for summer recess - I suggested people needed to be reminded of the number of new schools and hospital buildings built since 1997. I also suggested they get local people (activists or otherwise) to tell the story of how these services have improved lives.

Under the Tories the health service creaked. They were like landlords running down a listed building until everyone agreed it had to be demolished. They had the same policy with the railways - privatisation of BR along with the citizens' charter being the memorable legacies of that political era.

Fortunately Labour was elected in time to save the NHS and many of the facilities are scarcely recognisable compared to when Major was chucked out of Downing Street. I haven't even mentioned portacabin classrooms.

There have been achievements - they need to be trumpeted. But, yes, there also has to be a vision for the future - maybe universal free school meals or a bonfire of the quangos as part of a wider vision for a more transparent, accountable government.

Whatever Labour can claim, it certainly isn't that it ruled for all the people. Whole parts of the UK remain stuck in a kind of economic purdah unseen, for the most part, by the rest of us.

The authoritarian controlling tendencies of New Labour have helped no-one except David Cameron who, astonishingly, is managing to sell himself as reasonable and quasi-progressive.

Opponents of the New Labour project from within the party meanwhile are quick to return to old battle grounds.

Alan Simpson is a good example in his article for newstatesman.com in which he writes:

"For months now, a group of ex-ministers have been cruising the corridors and cafeteria of Parliament in search of stray Labour MPs to descend on. “Carruthers, dear boy/girl, we haven’t spoken for ages, but have you got a moment? What are we going to do about Gordon? He is leading the party into disaster. I know you don’t want to lose your seat at the election, but what do we do?”

"If we were children, the process would be called ‘grooming’. It has little to do with the well-being of the MP or the party. Most of the approaches are coming from the remnants of the Blair Witch-Way Project, looking for a way back to power. Their interests are more in shafting the Labour Party than in saving it."

I suspect it's going to be a very silly silly season...

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Empty highs: why throwaway plastic goes hand in hand with bankrupt consumerism

We are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff.

A University of California study revealed this week that mankind has produced more than nine billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s, with almost all of it ending up in landfill or the ocean. With the terrible effects of our decades-long addiction to throwaway packaging becoming increasingly apparent, it’s clear that a fresh approach is needed.

In April 2010, David Cameron set out his vision for Britain in the Conservative Party’s manifesto. Keen to show that the Tories had turned away from the "I’m Alright Jack" individualism of the 1980s, Cameron sought to fashion a softer, more inclusive brand.

The good society, Cameron argued, embraced much higher levels of personal, professional, civic and corporate responsibility. There was such a thing as society, and we’d all do well to talk to our neighbours a bit more. The Big Society, however, was roundly derided as a smokescreen for an aggressive tightening of the Government purse strings. And on the advice of his 2015 election fixer Lynton Crosby, Cameron later dropped it in favour of well-worn lines about economic security and jobs.   

While most would argue that the Big Society failed to amount to much, Cameron was at least right about one thing. We are happiest when we are part of something bigger than ourselves. No matter how much the credit card companies try to convince us otherwise, mindless individualism won’t make us nearly as contented as we’re led to believe by big conglomerates.

By any measure, we are in the throes of a terrible addiction to stuff. As a nation, we have run up unsecured debts of more than £350bn, which works out at £13,000 per household. Fuelled by a toxic mix of readily available credit and interest rates at historic lows, we cripple ourselves financially to feel the empty high derived from acquiring yet more stuff.

Purchasing has become a leisure pursuit, ensuring the rate at which we acquire new stuff exceeds the rate at which we can find somewhere to put it. Burdened with ever increasing amounts of stuff, consumers are forced to outsource their storage. The UK didn’t have a self-storage industry 30 years ago, but now it is the largest in Europe.

With the personal debt mountain soaring, we’d all do well to realise that we will never have enough of something we don’t need.

The growth of rampant consumerism has coincided with an explosion in demand for single-use plastic. Like the superfluous possessions we acquire, throwaway plastic packaging helps satisfy our desire to get exactly what we want without having any thought for the long-term consequences. Plastic packaging is easy and convenient, but ultimately, will do us immense harm.

In 1950, close to 1.5 million tonnes of plastic was produced globally. Today, the figure stands at more than 320 million tonnes. The vast majority of our plastic waste either ends up in landfill or the ocean, and our failure to kick the plastic habit has put is in the ludicrous position where there is set to be more plastic than fish in global seas by 2050.

There is also growing evidence that our penchant for endless throwaway plastic might be storing up serious health problems for our children later down the line. According to a University of Ghent study published earlier this year, British seafood eaters risk ingesting up to 11,000 pieces of plastic each year. The report followed UN warnings last year that cancer-causing chemicals from plastic are becoming increasingly present in the food chain.

Something must give. Unsustainable as our reliance on fast credit to finance ever more stuff, our addiction to plastic packaging is storing up serious problems for future generations. The instant gratification society, high on the dopamine rush that fades so quickly after acquiring yet another material asset, is doomed unless decisive action is forthcoming.

So what is to be done? The 2016 US documentary Minimalism points to a smarter way forward. Minimalism follows the lives of ordinary people who have shunned the rat race in favour of a simpler life with less stuff and less stress. The most poignant bit of the film features ex-broker AJ Leon recounting how he chose to forgo the glamour and riches of Wall Street for a simpler life. After a meteoric rise to the top of his profession, Leon decided to jack it all in for a more fulfilling existence.

While challenging the view that to be a citizen is to be a consumer is easier said than done, there are small changes that we can enact today that will make a huge difference. We simply have no choice but to dramatically reduce the amount of plastic that we can consume. If we don’t, we may soon have to contend with the ocean being home to more plastic than fish.

Like plastic, our bloated consumer culture is a disaster waiting to happen. There must be a better way.

Sian Sutherland is co-founder of campaign group A Plastic Planet which is campaigning for a plastic free-aisle in supermarkets.

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