Tag Archives: election

Communism finished in West Bengal

It was always an anachronism in India. West Bengal ruled by a communist party for the past thirty-four years and always trying to bend and flex the limits of communist ideology so they might embrace the real world. Now the communist rule is over.

I remember being in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) working on behalf of the West Bengal government a few years ago. They asked me to give a keynote speech at a conference and then do some consulting work focused on how to develop the local hi-tech services economy – IT and IT-enabled services.

I rose to speak to the conference knowing that the IT minister of West Bengal was going to speak immediately after me, but he had not briefed me on his speech and I had not been asked to brief him on mine.

My main thrust was that West Bengal should play to its strengths; the vibrant higher education community, the strong links between academia and industry, the sheer scale of educated young people…

I showed them that they have a unique proposition that is focused on highly trained resource. I explained that they should not try to ape other Indian states, such as Karnataka (where hi-tech Bangalore is located), and focus on offering low-cost labour into the growing call centre industry as it would not be a long-term opportunity for the region.

The minister stood up and the first image he presented described how much cheaper the labour is in West Bengal, compared to Karnataka, and how great this would be for call centres. The entire conference hall fell about laughing at him.

Embarrassing for me, and probably more so for him as it showed he was not really in tune with the business community and had not even taken the time to check what the speaker ahead of him was going to say.

But as I worked with the government there, one thing in particular intrigued me. The IT sector was declared a ‘special’ industry. The local government wanted to attract foreign investors so they decided that all the normal labour legislation would not apply to this one industry.

In West Bengal, strikes have always been common because workers often flex their muscles and refuse to work if they have a grievance with the management. In the IT sector, strikes were banned.

The minister smiled at me when he told me about this and declared that foreign investors have nothing to fear from the communist government, because of the ban on industrial action in the sectors they were trying to boost.

So I asked how the IT workers would get to work when the bus drivers were on strike, or how the computers would work when the power company workers were on strike, or how the workers could eat if the restaurant workers were on strike?

He couldn’t answer. He only gave some weasel words about IT staff sleeping in the office to avoid transport strikes, or companies bringing in food and using diesel generators to keep the lights on. None of it was a real solution and if I was a genuine foreign investor, I wouldn’t have been impressed because the government was trying to remain communist in spirit, yet also doing anything they could to attract foreign money to the region.

So the communists of West Bengal were never really communist in the sense of Plato’s Republic, they just liked the colour red. And Che Guevara T-shirts. West Bengal has joined the rest of us in the real world at last.

Jorasanko Mansion - Kolkata

Brazil elects clown to replace clowns

Brazilian citizens just elected a clown to their Congressional lower-house. Here is the story as covered by the BBC.

At first, it sounds bizarre, but look at the way the congressional elections are structured in Brazil. It’s an open-list proportional representation system, so almost anyone who fancies a stab at getting elected can put their name forward with almost no restriction. Over 6,000 people did that, for around 500 places in Congress.

Naturally that means celebrities and those who can attract media attention have an advantage, because you won’t vote for someone you have never heard of. And Tiririca the clown has mastered the art of making funny videos and posting them on YouTube.

He is also the classic anti-politician, just like the Hartepool monkey. Democratic representation started out as a system of true representation – we don’t all have time to participate in the leadership of our town/city/nation – so we elect representatives to do it on our behalf. But many citizens in Brazil and the world over feel disenfranchised by professional politicians who have forgotten that they were elected to serve. They are servants of the people. They are supposed to be humble, not swaggering and beating their chests, emphasising their power and claiming endless expenses.

It may seem ridiculous, but sometimes it’s a good thing to elect a clown, because it reminds the clowns in suits what they are supposed to be doing.

Jesus loves you

The budget – good for IT?

It’s the UK government budget on Tuesday next week.

Do you think there will be any change for the IT industry? Anything good or bad that the new government might do that affects how your company operates?

Let me know your thoughts here or just send me a direct email. I’m planning to write a lot about the budget so I’d be delighted to quote you – or just to take your views on board if you don’t want to be quoted.

Birds of prey hovering over Downing Street?

I loved the ornithology section on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House yesterday. Take a listen on the iPlayer, it’s in the final 5 or 10 minutes of the programme.

Do you remember the Cameron / Clegg love-in on the lawn last week? While they were speaking to the press in the garden of 10 Downing Street, there was a lot of bird noise in the background. BH got an ornithologist to identify them.

The noisiest bird was a Robin – the red of Labour trying to ruin the press conference – but what was really interesting was that he identified a Kestrel. Kestrels hover around over their prey before swooping in for the kill. Did the Miliband brothers send it swooping over the garden that sunny day?

Election TV

Now that it’s all over, I thought I’d post a quick summary of what I think happened on TV last week.

It’s fairly simple in my view. The BBC went way over the top with their election studio. It was grand and impressive, but despite the lack of presentation, ITV in their little studio on the Grays Inn road were getting all the results first. Sometimes, ITV was 10 or more seats ahead of the BBC. The BBC also did that horrendous ‘ship of fools’ stunt where celebs were given alcohol on a Thames boat, so they could comment on the results to Andrew Neil. Neil does a good job of serious interviews, but here he was charged with trying to elicit content from the likes of Bruce Forsyth and Joan Collins. I cringed as I watched them offer their views on the election.

The saving grace for the BBC was David “the machine” Dimbleby. This election was possibly his finest hour – or 24 hours. He started presenting live on Thursday evening and then went straight through the night and into the chaos of the next day. I’m not sure when he stopped, but I estimated he had gone through to Friday lunchtime – others told me they saw him on air later. Yet he looked fresh and confident throughout. What a performance!

ITV’s set may have felt a bit cheap and cheerful, but they did get all the results first, they had some decent analysis that was not overwhelming (another BBC fault with Jeremy Vine and his green screen) and they really included the online community in the show. They were first to run the Youtube videos of people who could not vote, they had regular looks at Twitter to see what was being said, and they had Will Straw and Guido Fawkes blogging live from the ITV studios.

Sky was informative – they know how to get an immense amount of information on the screen at the same time. Watching Sky news is a bit like watching one of those financial news channels in Asia – three news tickers thundering across the screen with images and audio commentary that are not necessarily connected. But Sky did manage to put a good show together – their major failing in this election has been their partiality.

Everyone knows the Murdoch press favoured the Conservative party, but when it starts feeling like that on Sky News then it’s dangerous for a news channel that should be impartial and informative.

So, in my view, it was ITV news wot won it. Alastair Stewart may get something of a career resurgence from this as he was a decent host during the leader debates (suffering the disadvantage of being first and having to interpret all those debate rules) and a very strong host for the election evening itself.

Next time, I’ll just stay tuned to ITV. I never thought I would be saying that.
Big Ben and London bus

It’s the Tories

Who would have thought it? We went from The Conservatives being phenomenally popular a year back to almost throwing it away. This election was always going to be a tough one for Brown. After 13 years in power and with issues such as the ongoing foreign conflicts and the expenses scandal, the incumbent would always be working hard to cling on to power.

But the Lib Dems getting fewer seats than they had in 2005 and still ending up in government as part of a coalition. Who would have scripted it this way?

The big question now is how far will the electoral reform go? The new government has promised a referendum, but will it be for true PR – in the lower house as well as upper – or just a halfway option of something like AV?

Then, if the coalition lasts long enough for electoral reform, will that be the point it breaks apart? How long are the Lib Dems in this game for?

What is Clegg doing? The answer is Mandelson!

This is the Mick Jagger election. None of the parties are getting any satisfaction.

Yet, even though he failed to win as many seats as expected, Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems are now the kingmakers.

He promised to talk first to whoever had the most seats – the Tories – but why would he really take that idea seriously now? The Tory MPs will not want to work closely with the Lib Dems and the Lib Dems I have been reading online are all horrified that there may now be a partnership with Cameron.

It’s a recipe for disaster and Clegg must surely realise this.

Perhaps it is why he is now playing hardball with his demands. As he entered talks with party officials today, Nick Clegg made a statement saying he has four big priorities: 1. Fair tax reform 2. Education 3. Approach to the economy 4. Political reform to the electoral system

I think he might be able to reach agreement with the Tories on points 1 and 2 as their manifesto pledges are not miles apart there, but Clegg has very open views on how to run the economy and it is through transparency and devolving power from the treasury. Plus he wants a root and branch reform of the electoral system, to introduce a system of proportional representation – consigning the first-past-the-post system to history.

The Prime Minister is extremely weak right now. Clegg could do a deal with Labour that gives him control over all four issues and become a reform parliament. Labour and the Liberal Democrats could join together to lead as a minority government, or they could bring the nationalists into the fold – who would almost certainly join a coalition if money was thrown to their regions.

If Clegg could boot out Brown and announce a reform government with an interim Prime Minister (Mandelson or Johnson?) and Vince Cable running the economy then I think a lot of Labour and Lib Dems would be happier than getting into bed with the Tories. And if the focus is on electoral and economic reform then they could pledge to call a new general election as soon as the electoral system is ready for change – let’s say after one year.

One year down the line, with a PR voting system, the Liberal Democrats would stand a very high chance of getting real power – with a lot more seats.

Clegg could get a lot more of his own MPs into parliament, totally reform the electoral system, get his man running the economy, and keep British politics generally focused on liberal values by kicking the Conservatives out for a generation.

So why is he still talking to Cameron?