UNCUT: Labour is tying itself in knots over Gaza

31/07/2014, 08:05:41 AM

by Rob Marchant

Britain, it is perennially noted, is an island nation and often behaves accordingly.

It is a feature of modern British politics that, unlike some other countries whose very existence depends on their relations with larger, closer neighbours with whom they share a land border, foreign policy counts for little in the calculations of Westminster life. Elections are certainly not won or lost on it, mainly because polling shows that it features so low on the list of voters’ priorities.

So, a strange phenomenon occurs: since a governing party is chosen to govern based on everything but their foreign policy, one can find that, as the new tenants arrive at No. 10 and the FCO, what results in practice is a bit of a lucky dip. One can equally find the shrill nationalism of a Thatcher; the shameful isolationism of a Major; the strident interventionism of a Blair; or the “I want to, but I can’t” of a Cameron.

It’s a shame, because the world is clearly undergoing one of its most dangerously unstable periods since the cold war. Syria, Ukraine, Iraq and now Gaza underline how the West is facing two serious threats simultaneously: the rearrangement of geo-political powers into a multi-polar world, its most notable feature the re-emergence of Russia as a foe rather than a friend; and the seemingly ineradicable virus of jihadism.

Nowhere is that lucky dip truer than in today’s Labour party. If Cameron’s foreign policy has been paralysed by cuts to military resources and political support, Miliband’s has seemingly been by its lack of ambition and often, well, coherence. Dan Hodges, formerly of this parish, quoted a Miliband observer last week: “he’s got next to no interest in foreign policy”. While this is just one opinion, it is one that resonates.

Certainly, last year’s Syria vote is something best forgotten for Labour. But as an example of how disjointed is the policy of a party which could conceivably, in just over eight months, have a seat at the top table in world politics, we need look no further than its recent moves over Gaza.

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UNCUT: Will we ever see the likes of Blair again?

30/07/2014, 09:56:25 AM

by Jonathan Todd

We are now too cynical to entertain the idea of a leader who defeats all, reconciles all and ultimately encompasses all, Janan Ganesh concluded following Tony Blair’s Progress speech. We won’t see his like again. And in their absence, Ganesh observes, Labour seeks a squeaked victory on a left-wing platform, while the Tories devote all campaign resources to 40 seats that they are trying to retain and 40 more that they aspire to gain.

Given the seeming lack of traction for a Blair-like big tent, the two largest parties battle a war of attrition, both closer to their voting and ideological citadels than Blair preferred.

Is the centre ground, which Blair dominated, so drained of potency that neither of the largest parties is best served by squarely holding it?

We might attach personnel or structural explanations for neither Labour nor Tory rushing to do so.

“Tony Blair,” according to a Labour strategist quoted by George Eaton, “was doing an impression of Bill Clinton, and David Cameron was doing an awful impression of Tony Blair. Ed has no interest in doing an impression of David Cameron.” If we conclude that Cameron and Miliband lack the capacities of Blair and Clinton, we might explain their non-centrist strategies in terms of personnel.

There is, however, a British leader seeking to command the same terrain as held by Blair, Nick Clegg, which has led John Rentoul to diagnose the paradox of centrist politics. This is that elections are supposed to be won in the centre ground, but the one party that occupies precisely that territory is facing damnation – meaning to be cut by about half – in next year’s election.

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GRASSROOTS: Labour needs to make common cause with left-wing Lib Dem supporters to win in 2015

29/07/2014, 02:46:20 PM

by Robin Thorpe

Politics, especially party politics, requires compromise. Political parties are necessarily a broad church, so it is little wonder than history is littered with tales of disagreements, splits and reunions. The latest twist in the tale that began with the Gang of Four leaving the Labour Party may this time help rather than hinder a Labour election campaign.

Recent speeches by David Laws and Tim Farron highlight the wide disparity in ideological approach present within the Liberal Democrats. The internal debates within the Liberal Democrat party may not be of huge concern to the Labour supporters, particularly as they are likely to haemorrhage seats at the next election. But they currently represent a significant caucus of the population, the support of whom Labour will need to ensure a majority next year.

The David Laws speech was given at the Orange Book 10 year conference on the 24th June 2014 and considers the question “where next for the liberal agenda?”  He rather predictably revels in his own self-importance but also goes onto present ideas that could have been said by almost all of the coalition front bench. He argues  that

“A liberal state must continue to invest in first class education and health services, even as it seeks to contain the share of GDP consumed by the state…the level of tax rates likely peaked over the last 30 years, and liberals will want both to decline further over time…state spending at 40% of GDP should not be necessary or desirable over the medium and longer term as we reform welfare, raise employment rates, reduce crime and are able to shrink the share of GDP committed to defence and – eventually as developing countries develop – overseas development assistance.”

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UNCUT: It’s “not flash, just Gordon” redux. And is likely to be even less successful.

25/07/2014, 01:47:16 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s been said that he is the son of Brown and today Ed Miliband made a quintessential Brownite move.

His speech on leadership could have been lifted wholesale from Gordon Brown’s back catalogue. In fact, if it wasn’t quite lifted, it was almost certainly written by some of the same hands that crafted Gordon Brown’s attempt to address his image problem.

Back in 2007, Gordon Brown was struggling against a telegenic Conservative leader. Plus ça change. Brown seemed awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin. The response? “Not flash, just Gordon.” Saatchi & Saatchi designed the poster below and the message was clear: substance over style.

Not flash just Gordon

To bolster Gordon’s credentials as a serious but normal kind of guy, his wife was deployed for media opportunities.  A Mirror headline trumpeted in 2008 that she was to be Labour’s “secret weapon.”

Sound familiar?

Fast forward to today and its Ed’s turn to be self-deprecating about his media talents and attack and the emphasis on “photo-opp politics” in contrast to his own sincerity and conviction. And here’s the Huff Post headline for the Justine Thornton interview from 3 days ago, “Could Ed’s wife turn out to be his secret weapon?”

We’ve been here before and we know how this story ends. In fact, its likely to go even less well for Ed than it did for Gordon, for three reasons.

First, Brown was prime minister. Whatever the shortcomings of the politician, the office bestows authority and Gordon Brown’s experience at the top of British politics meant he did have a certain gravitas. The most successful line his team used in this campaign was “no time for a novice.” Not something Ed Miliband can say.

Second, Twitter was not a factor before the last election. It is now. As Ed Miliband delivered his speech, my timeline filled up with his photo-opps, from the 7,000 mile round trip for a photo with president Obama, to this absolute peach from the pasty tax campaign (h/t James Manning),

Photo opp

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UNCUT: Neil Kinnock in his own words: On devolution, #indyref and Welsh independence

24/07/2014, 04:42:21 PM

by Julian Ruck

In the second part of my interview with Neil Kinnock a great many issues were discussed, indeed far too many to go into detail here on Uncut. I have therefore tried my best to distil things down to bit-sized paragraphs whilst keeping an eye on the matters that I feel may be of particular interest to Uncut readers.

On devolution and independence:

“JR: I must quote from Martin Westlake’s ‘Kinnock, The Biography‘ where the author states, ‘From the beginning, Kinnock opposed these moves to devolution with a vehemence hard to appreciate today.’ Do you still hold this view?

NK: I was against a form of devolution, not devolution in itself. No democrat can be against de-centralisation, it’s just that we made a bloody mess of it back in the 70’s.

We’ve got it and we’ve got to make it work. But it still begs the question that we had always anticipated back in the 70’s, in Whitehall and Westminster as well as Wales, and I repeat it without fear but with realism : There is or can be, a government that owes nothing politically to Wales or Scotland or a party, say UKIP or elements in the Conservative party, that can impress English voters with the slogan ‘If we didn’t spend so much, certainly more than we gain, from Wales and Scotland, we would have billions to renovate Yorkshire, the Midlands, Merseyside, Inner London, wherever.’

Now, this is one unresolved question and it will continue to be until we have a great deal more force and growth in the economy, where Wales is concerned anyway. This is the real danger implicit in the potential for antagonism, especially when you get a combination of ant-Conservative governments, be it in Wales or Scotland, and governments that are anti-Welsh, or politically dismissive about Wales, in London.

They might not be overtly anti-Welsh or Scottish but a government dominated by ‘do we really need them? Politically they’re a bloody nuisance to us; they are a constant drain on public resources, we can get votes by saying, ‘well, if you want to go off by yourselves, you do just that,’ especially if they nominally accept the monarchy.

There is no case for independence – for secession – in Scotland and the same can be said for Wales It’s just plain daft. We live in the permanent era of globalisation, where size does count. We must be effectively engaged in the European Union because this is the way the world is heading, and the same argument applies to sustaining the UK.

To come back to Wales, if you get an almost permanent drudgery of insecurity, low economic advantage, low incomes, a sense of exclusion socially, it’s not difficult for a populist to say ‘we have never accepted this government in London; let’s elect our own government; let’s accept that our own poverty may be marginally deeper, though not that you’d notice, and make the break.’

I’m not saying this is probable or anything so defeatist. I’m saying that it’s not impossible that the argument can be postulated and get some support if there’s a sense that, in the centre in London, at the core of power, there’s not much enthusiasm for retaining the union, particularly if the message got through that a Conservative government owes Wales nothing politically, in other words, ‘you go off if you want to, you’ll save us a lot of money.’

JR: You must accept that a vibrant and flourishing democracy demands change. We’ve had 90 odd years of Welsh Labour in Wales, this cannot be a good thing, surely?

NK: Yes it does. I agree. The function of an effective politician, especially on the left, is be  ahead of the curve, what we’ve got to do is respect the past, make the present better and design and build for the future.

JR: Yes, but that isn’t quite answering my question. You must know that Wales is now run by a Welsh speaking elite, intent on an undemocratic and unaccountable Welshification process, regardless of what the majority in Wales want.”

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UNCUT: More fizzle than sizzle, Obama is yesterday’s man

23/07/2014, 04:37:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption underpinning Ed Miliband’s 25 minute meeting with Barack Obama the other day is that an audience with the US President makes a British politician walk taller in the eyes of the voters.

Indeed, it sometimes works the other way too. When candidate Obama was seeking to burnish his credentials as a nascent international statesman he met with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Tony Blair. He is later said to have described, Brown as having “substance”, while Cameron was all “sizzle” but Blair was “sizzle and substance”.

But Obama himself has turned out to be more fizzle than sizzle. The 44th US president is now a busted flush. A let-down. A talker, not a do-er. Even his flagship achievement in office – state-subsidised healthcare – hit the legal buffers yesterday.

It may be recoverable, but the failure to implement Obamacare effectively is just the latest in a string of flops that have bedevilled his presidency. His famous campaign mantra of “yes we can” has been reduced to, “no we can’t”. Certainly when it comes to closing down Guantanamo Bay, making headway in the Middle East, protecting Christians from Genocide in Iraq and Syria or even, nearer to home, raising US living standards. Obama simply hasn’t delivered.

In fact, if Ed Miliband wanted to visit a world leader to learn about paying the price of promising big and delivering small, then he could have taken the Eurostar to Paris and met with Francois Hollande and saved himself the air fare to Washington.

The most maddening aspect about Obama – habitué of the golf course these days – is that he is content to just coast along, a second term bed-blocker. Like his infamous drones, he seems to operate on auto-pilot, presiding over an unprecedented retrenchment in US influence around the globe and a sluggish economy at home. (Indeed, a brutal editorial in this week’s Economist describes him as the least business-friendly president in decades).

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UNCUT: Westminster wargames and what we don’t know

23/07/2014, 09:27:07 AM

by David Butler

Dominic Cummings, Gove’s former SpAd, has been compulsive and compelling reading ever since his essay ‘Some thoughts on education and political priorities’ sparked controversy last October. His blogposts are rich with challenging material and thinking, unlike much of the noise in politics today. The other day, he released an Autumn 2010 Westminster wargame considering the potential dynamics of this current Parliament, setting out what the Cameroons wanted and thought would happen and what they didn’t.

The wargame covered seventeen categories, from macroeconomics to free schools, and from coalition politics to international terrorism. What the Cameroons wanted and thought would happen were generally on the lines of a Britain rejuvenated, a quiet world and the end of anti-politics. The opposite was a fragmented Coalition, economic decline and a conflict-ridden world.

The Cameroons were correct, on balance, in nine of the seventeen categories. The economy is (finally) growing and the cuts are seen as necessary with strikes manageable. Cuts to policing have not resulted in rising crime, although the police are still in need of reform.  On education, as I wrote the other day, Gove succeeded in expanding academies and implementing reforms to improve behaviour and standards. The Liberal Democrats did indeed lose the AV referendum but didn’t threaten the integrity of Coalition in the aftermath. The Lib Dems have not fractured and whilst the Tory grassroots are noisy over Europe, they haven’t abandoned Cameron. The Olympics were a resounding success, despite the issues with the legacy of the project. Civil liberties haven’t really been ‘restored’ but there has been a welcome absence of terrorism. The City of London remains a major financial centre despite the LIBOR scandal.

However, they were wrong in seven of the seventeen categories. On welfare, IDS’s reforms have failed to change incentives to work much. Immigration has not been limited (as it is mostly driven by the EU) and UKIP have benefitted from it. The EU has been a major issue within Westminster due to UKIP’s success. There have been significant international conflicts and the Arab Spring was the foreign policy black swan of the past decade. Health reforms are a mess, whilst the civil service have blocked reforms (which was the rumoured trigger for Sir Bob Kerslake’s departure). Finally, anti-politics is on the rise, with UKIP the main beneficiary.

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UNCUT: There is building anger at home and abroad. We need a new big tent

22/07/2014, 10:06:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“Today my work is global,” Tony Blair reminded us in his inaugural Philip Gould Lecture. Even when Blair was a mere domestic politician, the forces that he grappled with, as he often noted, were global. Policy Network, the international think-tank, sees these forces as having contributed toward 5-75-20 societies.

The fruits of globalisation have been sweet for the 5 per cent at ‘the top’, enjoying ‘runaway’ rewards from finance and property. They have been bitter for those at ‘the bottom’, seemingly trapped in cycles of low-wage, irregular work. The 75 per cent are the squeezed middle. These ‘new insecure’ have suffered declining wages, feeling the pressures of continued globalisation and automation.

In the NICE – non-inflationary continuous expansion – years of prime minister Blair, the pitch to the middle class emphasised aspiration. If they worked hard and played by the rules, they could aspire to lives at least approximating to the 5 per cent. Now, however, the 75 per cent are more fearful about falling behind.

As in the famous class sketch, featuring John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the middle classes still look up and down. But angrily in both directions. Upward at the 5 per cent, who are increasingly presumed to hold their status due to underhand methods. Downward at the supposed welfare queens of the 20 per cent.

Of course, this is to paint a very broad brush picture. But reconceptualising contemporary society in 5-75-20 form allows us to understand afresh the popularity of both Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze and the vengeful tone of the government’s welfare policy. The former speaks to the frustration of the 75 per cent with the 5 per cent and the latter to the antipathy of the middle for the 20 per cent.

Viva Hate was one of the albums of the 1980s and we risk regression to that decade’s politics of competing antagonisms, so viscerally evident on Morrissey’s record, rather than building upon the big tent optimism of the Blair years that came in between. 5-75-20 is an attempt to revive a big tent. To pitch progressive politics as the solution to the problems of the broad mass. In this endeavour, grounding social security in contribution, which would curb the resentments of the 75 per cent against the 20 per cent, and making capitalism inclusive, which would allow all to share in the success now appearing the preserve of the 5 per cent, are vital. Liam Byrne is doing his bit by forming and unanimously being elected chair of a new APPG on Inclusive Growth. Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: Yes, it’s a reshuffle cliché, but George Osborne’s fingerprints are all over the new Tory line-up

18/07/2014, 11:40:36 AM

by Renie Anjeh

The reshuffle is over.  William Hague dramatically resigned as foreign secretary and has announced that he will retire from politics in 2015 after 26 years as an MP. Ken Clarke’s ministerial career – which began under Ted Heath in 1972 – has come to a close.  Teachers and pupils (and probably Theresa May) rejoiced when Michael Gove was demoted to the humble role of chief whip.  The reshuffle was not just the equivalent of football transfer day for political anoraks, it was the most important reshuffle in David Cameron’s premiership.

The reaction to the reshuffle has been varied. Dan Hodges (the prime minister’s favourite columnist) called it a ‘strange’ reshuffle whilst Charles Moore labelled it as ‘the worst reshuffle in 25 years’.  The official line from the Labour party was that the reshuffle was the ‘massacre of the moderates’ and almost every single tweeting Labour MP repeated that message religiously as the reshuffle unfolded (probably with encouragement from the whips). However, the party’s claim was demonstrably untrue and actually highlighted a failure on our side to truly understand our political enemies.

The departure of one nation Tories such as Clarke, Young and Damian Green is down to the political longevity rather than their politics.  Dominic Grieve may be a supporter the Human Rights Act but he is also an opponent of HS2 which may have also counted against him.  Although, David Willetts and Alan Duncan are the godfathers of Tory modernisation (‘Tory Taliban’ was coined by Duncan), it is wrong to suggest that they are One Nation Tories.

They are Thatcherites who in spite of their Eurosceptism and economic liberalism, hold very socially liberal views.  If the reshuffle was a cull of the moderates, as Labour yesterday, then since when did Owen Paterson and David Jones become moderates?

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UNCUT: Gove is down but he’s already won

17/07/2014, 04:12:46 PM

by David Butler

“Woo! Balrog’s dead” – Phil Smith, upon the downfall of Malcolm Tucker, The Thick Of It

Cheers rang out in classrooms across England. The leaders of the NUT and NASUWT punched the air. The great phantom is finally vanquished. The revolution is over. Except, their celebrations are hollow and wasted. For there will be no return to the status quo ante. Gove’s school structure reforms are not going anywhere

In policy-making terms, institutions matter. Institutions set the rules of the game; they mediate and seek to balance powers through norms and rules. In the case of education, this means moderating the competing demands of parents, teachers, business, the wider community and the state (on behalf of the taxpayer/general citizenry). Through building institutions, politicians can embed the aims and principles they are seeking to achieve and extend.

The institutional analysis can help explore Gove’s expansion of academies and creation of free schools. His reforms represent the culmination of a thirty-year project (of both centre-left and centre-right) to create, mould and embed a new institution, namely the independent state-funded school. Baker’s City Technology Colleges evolved into Adonis’s City Academies, which in turn provided the foundations for Govian Free Schools (and the Twigg-Hunt proposed Parent-Led Academies).

School autonomy, the main feature of the new institution, involves greater freedom over the curriculum (and its delivery), ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff, and control over school day and school term lengths. This autonomy is aimed at raising standards and extending parental choice (the principles capture by the institution).

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