Sophy Ridge: My Friday with George, off-message tweets and life as a woman in the lobby

Anyone for caulking, weekend chats with George Osborne, or treks out to Eastleigh? Who ever said life in TV was glamorous? Sophy Ridge writes the diary.

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Moody’s blues

Working weekends can either be intermin­ably quiet or ridiculously busy. When the ratings agency Moody’s announced that the UK economy had been downgraded from triple-A status, I knew it would be the latter. Moments later, I was swept inside No 11 to interview George Osborne for Sky News. Making announcements late on a Friday night might suit the markets but it does nothing for the social life of journalists.

Then, any thoughts of a quieter Sunday were quickly dashed when the papers were full of stories about the Lib Dem peer Chris Rennard. He is facing allegations of sexual harassment, which he strongly denies. Once again, I found myself being whisked into a room to interview the key player. This time, it was Nick Clegg, who angrily denied knowing about “these allegations” but admitted that he had been made aware of “indirect and non-specific concerns”. What exactly is the difference? Somehow a story about serious allegations had turned into an argument about semantics.

Juggling act

Writing of the allegations against Lord Rennard, I can’t help but feel that the Lib Dems would benefit from having a few more women on the airwaves.

They are hampered by having a meagre seven female MPs – and it’s not just the Lib Dems with that problem. Images of fusty gentlemen drinking whisky in smoky corridors are wide of the mark but, in some aspects, Westminster can still feel like an old boys’ club.

One high-profile female Labour frontben­cher told me that when she went to pick up a “spouse pass” for her other half, the parliamentary official simpered: “You must be so proud of your husband.”

This attitude can also sadly be found further up the Westminster food chain. I know of a current member of the cabinet who told a colleague that he didn’t believe working mums could successfully juggle top jobs in government with having a family. “They just can’t do it,” he said, implying that they were struggling to keep up with their male counterparts at work.

Suits you

Not that a political journalist can throw stones – the number of women in the lobby is an embarrassment. I remember being introduced to an MP by a male colleague when I had recently joined the lobby as a newspaper hack. “Nice to meet you,” he said, sticking out his hand. “Do you work for the fashion pages?”

I was dressed in a suit and was walking through Portcullis House with a lobby pass. Most people would have thought these were pretty good hints as to my job description.

Earnest of Eastleigh

The Rennard allegations are a row that the party could do without before the Eastleigh by-election, which pitted the two sides of the coalition against each other for the first time.

I’m at a slight disadvantage because by the time this appears in the magazine, the result will be old news. What I can say for sure is that this was the Lib Dems’ contest to lose. They have an impressive local base, with 40 of the 44 councillors who represent wards in the constituency. The party’s well-oiled by-election machine – masterminded by none other than Lord Rennard – was in overdrive at the time of writing.

The Conservatives were also desperate to win because it’s a test of David Cameron’s election strategy. The consensus is that if he is to win a majority in 2015, he needs to take about 20 seats off his coalition partners/ri­vals. If he can’t do it in seats such as Eastleigh, his party will become more agitated about its prospects in two years’ time.

A steady stream of Conservative MPs have jumped on the train from Waterloo or driven up the M3 to the old railway town – all determined to stick it to the Lib Dems.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, however. I was out campaigning with Eric Pickles when a man holding a young child opened the door. “How old is your daughter?” the secretary of state asked cheerfully. “He’s a boy,” was the rather less happy reply.

Coalicious cycle

The best thing about the Eastleigh by-election, however, has been the Conservative MP Michael Fabricant’s tweets.

This is one politician who was truly wasted in the government – ever since he left the whips’ office, his quirky sense of humour has been unleashed. “Just spotted Vince Cable in #Eastleigh looking like a war criminal with hat pulled over face #indisguise Lol,” he wrote, followed swiftly by: “My last tweet was distinctly not very #Coalicious!!”

He has also been tweeting the various notices pinned on people’s doors that show just how enamoured residents are of the political attention.

One read: “All political parties campaigning for the Eastleigh by-election, please do not knock on my door, please just **** off!” Another threatened to shoot campaigning politicians on sight. Who would want to live in a marginal constituency?

Caulking and talking

I was hoping to be able to drop some impressive-sounding cultural exhibition into this diary – but, alas, it hasn’t happened.

This is largely because I’ve recently bought a house and most of my days off are spent liaising with plumbers or making mad dashes to Ikea.

I’m now an expert in all manner of brain-numbingly boring things and have learned a lexicon that I didn’t realise existed until now: caulking, rising damp, olives that are parts of radiators rather than something you eat. At a party this weekend, rather than discussing the latest trendy gigs or hot gossip, I found myself in a heated debate with a friend about the merits of feature walls.

Taking a step back, I couldn’t help thinking: I’ve spent my Friday night with George Osborne and my Saturday night discussing DIY – who said TV was glamorous?

Sophy Ridge is political correspondent for Sky News. She tweets as @SophyRidgeSky

A bookmakers' odds for the Eastleigh by-election. Photograph: Getty Images

Sophy Ridge is a political correspondent for Sky News.

This article first appeared in the 04 March 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The fall of Pistorius

Photo: Getty Images
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If Corbyn becomes leader, what's left for the Greens?

The forward march of the Greens, halted? A Corbyn leadership will be a new challenge for the Green party, says Rupert Read.

The seemingly unstoppable rise of Jeremy Corbyn toward the leadership of Labour is an exciting and heartening event for anyone who wants to see a fairer Britain and a more meaningful political debate. That means: it is heartening not just for Labour-supporters. Most of us in the Green Party are delighted by this turns of events, too.

This article addresses, in this context, how exactly Greens (or at least: this Green, your humble author) relate to the rise of Corbyn.

Politics is usually thought of as, in essence, a ‘right’ vs. ‘left’ affair. What does this mean? Basically, it means capital vs. labour.

There are however three big things wrong with this idea:

  1. Capital vs. labour, right vs. left, is, to be sure, an important political spectrum. On that spectrum, Greens nowadays tend to see ourselves as on the left. Corporations and the rich have gobbled up far too much wealth; the scales need a serious re-balancing. BUT: this spectrum is only one political spectrum. There are others that are also of great significance (Here’s a well-known one.) An additional, neglected political spectrum that I’d particularly like to draw your attention to is: centralisation vs. localisation. On that spectrum, we Greens tend to find ourselves no more sympathetic to the ‘left’ than to the ‘right’.
  2. There is an even more fundamental problem with boiling politics down into a struggle of capital vs. labour. It leaves out something more basic, on which both of these ‘factors of production’ depend: land. The Earth. Ecology. That is ultimately why the ideology of choice for the Green Party is not socialism, nor conservatism, nor liberalism. It is ecologism. Only when ecology is placed front and centre is there a politics fit for the 21st century, the century in which the prime question becomes how we will reconcile ourselves to the planetary limits that as a species we are breaching.
  3. The struggle between right and left is a struggle over how much of the spoils of economic growth should accrue to capital and how much to labour. Seen from the Left, it is (to be blunt) the effort of labour to get itself a larger chunk of what capitalists will accumulate and hoard for themselves if given half a chance. Karl Polanyi, in his great work The Great Transformation, shows however that we cannot understand our world adequately, letalone build a better one, if we allow labour thus to be commodified. The pursuit of a higher price for one’s labour concedes that labour is a commodity. But what Polanyi argued so brilliantly is that labour, money and land are all of them fictitious commodities. They are not real commodities: for real commodities respond to the laws of supply and demand. Real commodities are arguably not too horribly deformed by being treated as commodities. Land, labour and money by contrast are fundamentally not things suitable for such commodification: they are life itself. ‘They’ are us.

Let me expand on this 3rd point, by going briefly through the cases of land, labour and money in policy-terms, from a Green point of view:

  1. The Green Party favours the introduction of a Land-Value Tax (LVT). LVT is designed to realise the truth that land is not a genuine commodity. LVT would deal with the absurd ‘propertarian’ culture of contemporary Britain — and our dangerous levels of financial speculation in land — by returning to the public the escalation of land-value that is not brought about by any action of the owner of that land, but rather by other changes in society, often due to public investment (e.g. by the opening of a new tube station).
  2. The Green Party advocates a Citizens Income(CI). Now, provided that CI is set at a sufficiently-decent level so that the poorest do not lose out - and (contrary to misinformed media reports during the last general election campaign) the Green Party would ensure that this is so - this revolutionary policy-instrument points the way toward a less overworked ‘leisure society’. It abolishes wage-slavery, as well as the poverty- and unemployment- traps. It provides a permanent safety net for all, including the “precariat”. While Labour pins its hopes on the “Living Wage”, a labourist idea that continues to treat labour as a commodity (and simply seeks for it a better price), the visionary Green solution that is CI points toward a future in which we are treated by the state and indeed by employers more as citizens than as labourers.
  3. The financial crisis of 2007 to the present day has brought rudely to public attention the absurdity of a monetary system that allows money to be created privately as debt, and that treats money as a commodity to be produced and traded like any other (and that is what the modern ‘financialisation’ that landed us in the crisis was: an attempt to make oodles of money simply off money, to treat money as itself the ultimate thing to buy and sell, to ‘make’). Money is necessary in a complex large-scale society: it is the means by which we conduct our economic affairs. Money is a “commons”: its creation should be for public benefit, both in terms of its volume and in terms of the profit (the “seignourage”) it yields. That is why Greens believe in Monetary Reform: the state (more accurately, the public, nationally and also locally) taking back (and taking away from the commercial banks) the power to create money as well as the profit from its creation.

 

When one understands these three points, one can understand how Greens tend to see the rise of Corbyn. Corbynmania represents a revolt against the machine-politics and hollowing-out of Labour, against the inauthenticity of what that Party has become. In that sense, it is hugely welcome. Like the “Green Surge”, it is a demonstration of the hunger at this time for truth, for a big change in politics-as-usual, for radical solutions to the problems that face us all. Furthermore, in terms of the conventional ‘left vs right’ political spectrum, most Greens welcome a turn to the Left, for the reasons I gave under, above. We too want to see a joined-up railway system back in public hands; an end to the cruel austerity cuts, a restoration of the kinds of rates of tax on the rich that we had in the 80s (if income tax at 60 per cent for those on the highest incomes was not too high for Thatcher, then for goodness sake it shouldn’t be too high for Britain today), and more besides.

 

BUT in terms of the other, neglected political spectrums (such as centralisation vs localisation); in terms of putting ecology front and centre; in terms of dropping the fantasy of endless economic growth and replacing it with the sanity of one-planet living…in all these terms, Corbyn is not Green. In his out-of-date espousal of economic growth of coal-mining when what we have to do with most fossil fuel is to #leaveitintheground, and simply in his labourism. He is Labour: and that’s just fine; indeed, that’s as it should be…

 

For it’s great to see the Labour Party apparently about to crown as its new leader someone who is actually Labour. Actually Left. It makes things in British politics rather clearer than they have been ever since the arrival of ‘New Labour’ on the scene. It also makes it simpler to see where the Green Party stands:

  1. We are broadly ‘left’ (and thus more sympathetic with Corbyn than with his lacklustre leadership rivals) BUT we are also determinedly and radically decentralist, in favour of a long-term project of economic and political delocalisation.
  2. We think it the merest sanity to take the deepest possible care of our one and only planetary home, the Earth, and we regard this requirement as more basic even than the ‘left vs right’ fight. There can be no social justice without a sound foundation to our collective life, a foundation in ecology.
  3. Given this, then continued economic growth at this time is simply irresponsible, and is neither desirable nor in any case necessary. Rather than trying to commodify ever more of our world - whether it be ecology, human activity or finance that is being commodified - we badly need to supersede the taking of land, labour and finance as commodities:
  1. LVT is a key instrument to this end, so far as land is concerned: it profoundly disincentivises the commodification of land.
  2. CI, unlike the Minimum Wage or even the Living Wage, fundamentally de-commodifies human ‘labour’.
  3. MR understands (and creates) money correctly as a commons, not as a commodity that private banks can create and do as they please with.

These three signature Green policies are key — in fact, absolutely central — examples of what our time needs. They are Green policies; not Labour policies, not even Corbyn policies.

 

In 1978, Eric Hobsbawm famously penned his prophetic pamphlet, “The forward march of Labour halted?” . Is the Green Party’s progress now in danger of being halted, ironically, by the seemingly-inevitable accession to the Labour leadership of a man who Hobsbawm would have been thrilled to see take the reins of that Party? If all that British politics were was a battle of ‘left vs right’, then perhaps we would be in danger of this. But I have set out here why politics, and the Green Party, are SO much more than that.

So long as we are and remain in this sense the Green Party — and now that (with the ‘Green Surge’) we are stronger and better-resourced than we have ever been, and are at long last starting to get some of the public- (including: media-) attention that we have so long deserved — I don’t see the (splendid, extraordinary) rise of Jeremy Corbyn stopping us.

With ecological crisis gradually pressing in upon us all ever-tighter, it is — both sad and happy to say — hard to see the forward march of the Green Party being halted.