Enamoured of Carla Bruni?

Sark-astic Britain

As Mrs Miggins said of the fleeing French aristos in Blackadder the Third: “ooh la la and an éclair for both of us!” The visit of diminutive French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his glamorous other half has caused a stir in Westminster this week, but bloggers saw cracks in the gloss. Iain Dale has not yet been won over by “France’s Thatcher”. Sensing demagoguery in his eyes, he also fears a lack of focus:

“While he appeared to have clear plans for France, he has allowed himself to be distracted from the main task of reforming France's stagnant and centralised economy.”

And Eutopia asked whether Sarko has stitched up Gordon Brown domestically, by hinting that he’s acted to get Europe “moving ahead”. He wrote:

“Sarko seemed to be suggesting that Gordon’s done something pretty major to ensure that the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. Pretty major like following Sarko’s lead and refusing to hold a referendum? Or was there some other agreement made behind the closed doors of the Council?”

The sceptics won’t like that.

Meanwhile the fragrant Carla Bruni was getting ratty over the sale of an old pic of herself in the buff – while on a more sensible note, Edis Bevan provided some interesting historical context to these suddenly rosy Anglo-French relations.

Musical Youth

The week saw the launch of Liberal Youth, the new organisation for young Lib Dems. Your intrepid blogger showed up late at its launch party on Tuesday night and missed the free booze. Andy Mayer, a self-declared decrepit old hack from its predecessor organisation, was highly impressed. He enthused:

“I have to say much has changed since the early 1990s. For starters the event was heaving, overflowing the main venue into two side rooms and an outdoor terrace. Possibly around 250-300 people. Further everyone was frankly rather normal. This was not 30 socially awkward policy geeks stuffed into a cold gymnasium in Hull discussing abolishing the monarchy while agonising whether or not the cheesy nibbles were vegan.”

Perhaps irked at http://www.order-order.com/2008/03/party-that-dare-not-speak...">not receiving an invite, Guido complained that the group’s new website has a “Top of the Pops circa-1974 feel.” What a grump!

What have we learned this week?

That the epic abortion row between Nadine Dorries MP and blogger Unity looks set, as they say, to run and run

Across the Pond

Like many of the shriller US bloggers Michelle Malkin is unhappy with John McCain’s recent use of leftist rhetorical tactics – such as nuance. Media Lizzy is more impressed though, and thought McCain’s foreign policy speech this week hinted at an ability to win over Democrats.

Video of the week

The must-watch video of the week is a contribution by ‘Kev Livingstone’ to the London Elects site. An impression of Ken Livingstone doing an impression of Boris Johnson as a stuck CD. Post-modern!

Quote of the week

“Personally I think this is all pretty timid stuff. I would prefer to see him strung up from a lamp post by his fingertips, next to Jack Straw and Ed Balls. That's not really anything to do with beer taxes, though. It would just be for fun.”

Greenie blogger Paul Kingsnorth on the online campaign to bar the Chancellor from every pub in Britain.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Young voters lost the referendum but they still deserve a future

It's time to stop sneering at "crap towns" and turn them into places young people want to stay. 

What a horror show. A land-slide 75 per cent of young people voted in favour of Europe. The greater numbers of the over 65s met that force with 61 per cent against. Possibly the greatest divide in our country turned out to be not gender, not race, not even party politics, but age. The old and the young faced off about how to run our country, and the young lost. 
 
What have we done to our future? Well, whatever happens now, leadership is required. We can’t afford to have the terms of the debate dictated by Brexiters who looked as shocked at the mess they have made as Stronger-Inners are distraught. We can’t afford to wallow either. Young people across this country today are feeling worried and let down – failed by all of us - because when their future was on the line, we were unable to secure it. We – those who believe we achieve more by our common endeavour - all feel that deep worry, and all share in that shame.

How we should all rue the choice not to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. And quickly re-ignite the campaign for votes at 16.

But young people don’t need our worry or our pity or our shame. They need a better chance and we need to give them one. I believe passionately that the future for this country was as a leader in Europe, but that does not mean we give up on our future now. For Labour, the challenge now is to work out how we can build a better future for all our people and communities. The sky has not fallen. The UK is still a rich country.

Beat recession with better housing

Let’s start with housing and development. It is no longer good enough to simply set targets with no possibility of meeting them. The housing crunch has killed off the chance of owning a home for many young people, and left thousands at the mercy of cripplingly expensive rent.  The housing market is broken and we need to build much faster in high growth areas like London and Manchester at the same time investing in restoring low quality housing in our northern towns, in Scotland, Wales and in Northern Ireland. 

In policy terms, we should be asking the Local Government Association, the Infrastructure Commission, and the construction industry itself, to collaborate on a counter-Brexit house building plan with a focus on areas where there is a clear market failure. We could get a champion of industry and construction such as my old Network Rail boss, Sir John Armitt, to be in charge, and lead a national mission to build and rebuild homes.

In the last parliament, Osborne first tried the "tighten our belts" approach to speeding up growth. He failed, and then tried plan B: investment for growth. Now we have the possibility of another recession on the cards and may well need to use investment to stop our economy grinding to a halt. Now - or possibly sooner - would be an excellent time for a national building project like this housing plan.

Stop sneering at "crap towns"

On economic development, it is clear that Labour needs a strategy for giving our northern towns an economic future and linking them up with the modern economy. When cities grow, and towns fall behind, those towns are a breeding ground for frustration. This is not just about cuts, it is about the uneven distribution of the benefits of globalisation. The Brexit vote was centred around areas that justifiably feel they have lost from the last decades. We need to make sure they win from the years ahead.

For far too long, there has been a sneering "crap towns" attitude. These places can offer good housing, community, and a decent life. But the problem there is work. In many of our towns, there is too little to do that can offer a young person a career tomorrow as well as a shift today.

Because, as it happens, the biggest driver of low pay tends to be skill level, not immigration. 

Teach the skills we need

Of course we should stop exploitation of migrant workers who undercut others. Let's tell firms that use exploitative agencies they can't work for the Government. But you can’t raise wages without changing the structure of the labour market. It’s not just about replacing one set of workers with another - you have to raise the level of wages that those workers can command. Because the truth about work in too many places is that most of the jobs available are either those with the low status of care work (though it may be highly-skilled work), or industries with a high volume of low-skilled work such as retail and hospitality. But from there, there’s nothing to move on to. The brain drain to cities has consequences.

Leaving Europe will shut off economic opportunity across the country to many young people.  Frankly, we owe it to them to work like demons to offer them something better closer to home.

We need a social partnership for skills and work. The Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress working together to deliver an urgent plan for training and career progression in the towns with stagnant labour markets and low skills. We need to find a way to stop the brain drain that sucks the talent out of the places that need it the most, using the experience of programmes like Teach First. When the best people feel they have no reason to return to where they grow up, it is both a sign of a deep problem and also demoralising evidence of decline for those left behind.

And our new metro-mayors must pay as much attention to the towns in their region as well as the city centre. No one left out, no one’s local shops lying empty whilst a city down the road flourishes. And no schools failing, either.

It is undeniable that people voted for change in the referendum. The problem is that the change they voted for will do little to solve the problems they face. Labour’s role is not just to point this out, but to offer a vision of real meaningful change. 

Not easy, perhaps. But one thing is for certain, mouthing platitudes about "hearing concerns"and offering only symbolic gestures has been tested to destruction. People deserve better and we need to offer it to them.

Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South

Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South.