Archive for June, 2014

Labour needs a new leader – and not one of the usual suspects

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

This article appeared in Solidarity.

After Labour’s abysmal showing in the Newark by-election, which closely followed on its poor showing in the European elections, it is becoming increasingly clear that the party faces defeat yet again in the 2015 general election. That would mean another five years of Tory rule, something which would be a disaster for working people in this country.

There’s considerable discontent and unease in Labour’s ranks, and disappointment at Ed Miliband’s role as party leader, making the question of who should lead Labour into the election a crucial one. Yet there are very few good suggestions.

Tony Blair seems to want to return to political life, but that’s not going to happen. Gordon Brown already proved himself a completely ineffective campaigner when he lost to Cameron in 2010. Ed’s brother David has wandered off to do good work for the International Rescue Committee. There seems to be no one around to step in and provide leadership at a time when it is sorely needed.

But let’s try to imagine for just a moment what the ideal Labour leader might look like.

First of all, if Labour is to be in touch with the party’s working-class roots, to re-capture those communities from UKIP, Labour should choose someone who shares those roots, who comes out of the working class.

Second, Labour needs to rebuild its links — already quite tenuous — with the trade union movement. The 54 TUC-affiliated unions have nearly six million members, all of them potential voters, and a leader who could appeal to them specifically would do well in attracting many of them back to the party that bears their name. That leader would also need to appeal to the many millions of working people who are not currently in trade unions, and who often do not vote — the people who feel excluded, disengaged and ignored.

Third, Labour needs to understand how deeply disillusioned voters are with the political class. Its next leader shouldn’t come out of the ranks of Labour’s contingent in Westminster. Labour needs a fresh face, someone who’s not been an MP or Minister.

And finally, the time has come — indeed, it is long overdue — for Labour to have a female leader. Nearly 40 years have passed since the Conservatives accepted that a woman could lead a party (albeit with disastrous results for the country). Why has Labour in opposition and in power always been led by those who are “stale, pale and male”, as I once heard them described?

The person who I heard that from more than a decade ago was running the TUC’s innovative experiment in trade union revitalisation — the Organising Academy. Her name was Frances O’Grady and today she’s the first female general secretary of the TUC in its history.

I think she should also be first female leader of the Labour Party, and the sooner the better.

I doubt very much if Frances would want to do this.

And yet she meets all the criteria I mentioned above. She’s a committed trade unionist, on the Left, articulate, experienced and a proven leader.

If anyone could re-energize the Labour Party, she’s the one.

People who can’t bear the thought of David Cameron being re-elected Prime Minister in 2015 should be prepared to take risks, to do what’s not been done before.

That’s why Labour supporters should launch a ‘Draft Frances’ movement today.


Life with a Chromebook: The first month

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

acer-c720About a month ago, my very expensive and much-loved MacBook Air died a sudden and painful death.  The screen fractured, initially displaying some thin vertical lines that I could ignore, and then becoming completely useless.

The “geniuses” at the Apple Store “Genius Bar” told me that it was all my fault and couldn’t possibly be an issue with how the thing is manufactured, and as a result, it wasn’t covered by the warranty and a repair would cost around £380 (US$636).

For that price, I thought, I could pick up a couple of brand new Chromebooks.

So I bought one (an Acer C720) and have been using it for 28 days.

(Meanwhile, the corpse of my brand-new MacBook Air sits on a shelf as I try to decide what to do with it.  Any suggestions welcome.)

There are basically four kinds of laptops you can own these days.  Most people buy Windows laptops.  Those with a bit more money buy Macs.  (A word of warning to them: don’t let your screen fracture.)  The more ambitious configure their laptops to run a variant of GNU Linux.  I’ve done all three over the years.

The fourth kind of laptop is what is properly known as a “thin client”, meaning a laptop with little or no actual software or memory.  It’s essentially a web browser, with screen and keyboard.

Like everyone else, I thought the problem here is what could I do with a thin client — don’t I need a “proper” laptop?

Short answer — no, I don’t.

Now this is not for everyone, but everything I did on the MacBook Air (and on my desktop, which is a Mac Mini) I can do on the Chromebook.

This includes the following:

  • Email: I’ve been using a web-based email system anyway, no need for a local client.  (They all work well here.)
  • Web: Goes without saying.  Limited to Chrome, but I don’t mind.
  • Social networks: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn all work fine.
  • Photo editing: I’ve only used Pixlr anyway 90% of the time (to crop or shrink images), and never owned Photoshop.
  • File editing and file transfer: I use ShiftEdit — works pretty much as well as using a more conventional text editor and dedicated FTP client.  Certainly useful for when I’m away from the office.
  • Music: I’ve been a Spotify fan for some time now, and don’t keep music on a hard drive anyway.
  • Word processing and spreadsheets: Google Docs is a reasonable substitute for OpenOffice and LibreOffice; I haven’t used Microsoft Office for many years.
  • Evernote: The Chrome app works like a charm.

So what’s missing?  It’s not possible that I can do absolutely everything with a ChromeBook, right?  I mean, it costs one fourth the price of a MacBook Air.

There is one thing: Skype.  It doesn’t work.  But I don’t care — I never use Skype on a laptop anyway.  I use it on my iPod touch, or a phone when I had one.

So what do I miss about my Mac Book Air?

The money I wasted buying it.