GRASSROOTS: Three key lessons for the Left from the Scottish referendum

19/10/2014, 11:20:15 AM

by Ranjit Sidhu

It has been just over a month since the Scottish referendum, but it could have an eon ago. With the Heywood by-election now concentrating political minds of the Left, it would be a missed opportunity if Labour, in particular, did not learn from what was an astonishing 15% rise in a matter of months for the Yes campaign in the Scottish referendum.

From the good natured debate on every high street to children asking you to do a referendum based questionnaire on the train, it was the kind of invigorating and surprising political debate I  thought had left the UK years ago.

And it’s resonance is still being felt. Last weekend, as was de-rigueur pre-referendum, on the local high street was a SNP table with a picture of Gordon Brown in a dunce cap and a queue preparing to sign up to them. So it was no surprise to me that the SNP has recruited 75,00 new members since the referendum. They may have lost the referendum, but they have picked themselves up and refocused in an instant.

Labour’s reaction has been somewhat the opposite: in denial would be the best phrase to use, but also something else, something that came across whilst the referendum was in full swing: a lethargy. As if the referendum was an unwanted insurrection that was put down, but whose soldiers, who had no real appetite for the fight, were happy to escape straight after back to familiar lands.

If lessons are not learnt the fear is not only will Labour be 20 Scottish MPs lighter come May, putting into prospective how Labour has got itself in such a tizzy about losing a possible 5 seats to Ukip, but have also missed the opportunity to learn some important lessons that could have reset Labour politics to a more positive paradigm.

So here are three interlinked, basic and positive lessons Labour can learn:

  1. The vision thing can still be a positive social agenda

The genius of the Yes campaign was how they were able to tie in the minds of the voters the independence of Scotland with that of a new vision of society for Scotland.  When ask what were the two or three most important issues for voting yes many did , indeed, mention disaffection with Westminster politics, but also NHS, public welfare and spending and better jobs were also high up.

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INSIDE: The inside story of the Labour reshuffle that never was

15/10/2014, 08:18:32 PM

Interesting rumours have been trickling out of the PLP and Labour HQ over the past fortnight about the seemingly imminent reshuffle. Uncut has pieced together various accounts to give a view of just what has been going on.

Earlier this month, amid the fall-out from the Scottish referendum and Labour conference, as MPs’ discontent with Ed Miliband bubbled up into the press, a plan was hatched by the leader’s inner circle.  A move so bold that it would reset the political clock, seize the attention of the journalists and demonstrate Ed Miliband’s leadership credentials.

The long awaited reshuffle was overdue and its centre-piece was to be Ed Balls’ ejection from his brief as shadow chancellor.

The tensions between the leader’s office and Ed Balls’ team have been well-documented. Ed Balls was not Ed Miliband’s first choice as shadow chancellor – that was Alan Johnson – and from the leaked e-mails last year, where Ed Balls was described as a “nightmare,” by Ed Miliband’s advisers, to  the two Eds’ splits over whether to retain the 50p rate of tax and their widely aired disagreement on whether to back or bin HS2, the relationship has always been uneasy.

With Labour trailing the Tories by twenty points on the economy and discontent on the left and right of the party with Labour’s economic offer, the rationale for action was obvious.

Balls’ potential destination was unclear. One option canvassed was foreign secretary with Douglas Alexander becoming a full time general election co-ordinator. However, the preferred choice was a switch to home affairs, with his wife, Yvette Cooper, becoming shadow chancellor.

Come what may, Ed Balls would have been furious, but to cause trouble in the run-up to the general election would have been difficult. All the more so,if his wife was the shadow chancellor, a role it would have been difficult for Cooper to turn down, especially given her own ambitions to lead if Labour is defeated next year.

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UNCUT: Labour HQ is the place where political narratives go to die

15/10/2014, 10:03:50 AM

by Alexander Shea

Last month’s Conference represented a nadir for Ed Miliband’s Labour party. It was a graveyard of narrative, an abandonment of the political.

Labour relapsed into ‘itemised politics’, presenting a praiseworthy plan for the protection of the NHS yet failing to encompass it within a wider coherent and compelling narrative of what is fundamentally wrong with this country and how Labour proposes to put it right.

As the shock of the Heywood and Middleton by-election has shown, an electoral strategy comprised of a single-issue focus on the NHS is not going to cut the mustard. Narrow, itemised politics is not the way forward. To win in 2015, Labour needs to think big.

Establishing a clear and firm policy line on the NHS was necessary. As polls have shown it is the most important issue in the upcoming election to 34% of voters, making it the leading issue for 2015.

But it is precisely in these polling figures that the sheer lack of ambition or political message that Labour conveyed by making the NHS its marquee policy, is able to be sensed. It smacked of a 35 percent strategy: a timid desire to play it safe politically- to score on ‘open goal’ policy issues such as the NHS- in the knowledge that due to an electoral quirk, Labour will win a majority in the next Parliament if it breaks the 35 percent threshold. What better way to implement such a 35 percent strategy than by banking on an issue that 35 percent of the electorate prioritise.

Pursuing such a timid approach, however, is the height of folly. John Prescott is right. Rather than scoring an ‘open goal’ on the NHS, by pursuing itemized politics Labour has sacrificed the potential for a broader political message, and consequently scored a massive own goal.

They presented David Cameron with a gilt-edged opportunity at his party conference in Birmingham. At a time when Cameron should have been on the back foot over Brooks Newmark’s sexting and Mark Reckless’ defection to UKIP, Labour effectively presented Cameron with the opportunity to use his party conference speech as a platform from which to project a narrative of British politics, that of ‘economism’ in which the twin gods of economic growth and welfare cuts are reified at the expense of humanistic politics, the latter focusing not on objective economic data but the subjective experience of living in austerity Britain: the cost of living crisis, the bedroom tax, childcare allowance and so on.

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UNCUT: Fifty years on, Harold Wilson’s triumph offers important lessons for Ed

14/10/2014, 10:12:31 AM

by Rob Philpot

The similarities between Ed Miliband and Harold Wilson, who became prime minister for the first time fifty years ago this week, are not immediately obvious. While Wilson’s father had been an active Liberal, his Huddersfield upbringing had little in common with the north London childhood, steeped in politics, of the current Labour leader. Wilson’s studied ‘man of the people’ persona – the Yorkshire accent, Gannex raincoat and pipe, love of HP Sauce, and support for Huddersfield Town – is hardly one shared by Miliband. And few would currently wager a bet on Miliband challenging Wilson’s record of four general election victories.

Nonetheless, Wilson’s premiership offers some important lessons for Miliband. When Labour returned to power in October 1964 it did so with a majority of just four. Miliband could face similarly tricky parliamentary arithmetic in six month’s time. With the arrival of fixed-term parliaments, he will not have the luxury afforded Wilson of governing for 18 months before going back to the country and asking for a majority to ‘finish the job’.

But Wilson’s strategy of reassurance during the short parliament of 1964-1966 – the focus on making Labour the ‘natural party of government’ and the determination to reach out to middle-class voters whose support was crucial if a bigger majority was to be attainted – is instructive. It was one which paid rich dividends: fighting on a slogan of ‘you know Labour government works’, Wilson went back to the country in March 1966 and won a majority of 97, secured seats that have only ever fallen to the party in 1945 and under Tony Blair, and, at 48 per cent, polled the party’s second highest ever share of the vote. As Ben Pimlott suggested, Labour had been rewarded for ‘a sense of movement and freshness, and a reforming zeal limited only by a tight economy and a very tight majority’. Wilson’s government had ‘ceased to alarm the electorate, yet succeeded in remaining the party of promise’.  Crucially, he continues, ‘not only had the Labour government handled the economy better than the Tories, its proven ability in this field was the real point of the election.’

Miliband should, though, balance a reassurance strategy with a willingness to take tough decisions early. Wilson’s determination that Labour should not again be seen as ‘the party of devaluation’ – he had been central to the debates in Attlee’s cabinet when it decided to devalue in 1949 – led him to postpone that painful but necessary decision for three years. Devaluing when Labour had first come into office could – with good justification – have been laid at the door of the policies of the outgoing Tory government. By 1967, Labour was landed with the entire blame. The fallout from that contributed to the party’s defeat in 1970.

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UNCUT: Where will we be in May 2015?

13/10/2014, 07:07:21 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Amid the fierce urgency of now, I look at possibilities beyond next May.

Labour majority

“Politics in Britain today,” according to a statement from Neal Lawson, Compass chair, “is not really about UKIP but about the failure of Labour in particular to present a coherent, desirable and feasible alternative to the Tories.” This was broadly the argument made by Atul Hatwal after the European elections and Ranjit Sidhu after the recent by-elections. As Sidhu was writing, John McTernan was bemoaning our politics’ lack of “lift, hope, ambition and above all life”. After the European election results, he told us that they meant Ed Miliband would be prime minister, while after recent by-elections, he laments that Labour is “in deep, deep trouble”.

McTernan’s seeming evolving view might denote the diminishing possibility of a Labour majority, while the repeated references to a lack of hope – straddling all from Compass to Progress – reminds us that many see little prospect of their lives improving. The major parties also suffer deficits of authenticity – widely presumed to be insincere and ineffectual – and public money – the fiscal position constrains resources to build hope where it is most lacking.

To secure a Labour majority, the deficits in hope, authenticity and public money must be overcome to not lose traditional supporters in Scotland to the SNP and in the north of England to UKIP, while gaining Conservative inclined voters in marginal seats in the south. Labour majority depends upon sufficient numbers of these disparate groups seeing the party as the bridge to a better tomorrow.

Reading Luke Akehurst suggests we seem reluctant to even sketch this bridge in Rochester and Strood, and does little to dispel Mark Wallace’s charge that Labour is “soft-pedalling” there. “Our mentality this close to general election ought to be that we are an unstoppable force,” Akehurst correctly notes, “not a party too scared of Nigel Farage to take him on in a seat we held until the last election”. As dispiriting as Labour appear in Rochester and Strood, Wallace is right that this by-election and Heywood and Middleton prompt resource challenges.

Does Labour have the capacity to successfully defend northern seats that UKIP will target and to robustly challenge for marginal seats in the south?

A recent article in the New York Times suggests that Labour fundraising may be improved by learning from ActBlue, an organisation raising funds for Democratic candidates. Whether this advance and others that Labour require comes quickly enough to secure a majority remains to be seen.

Labour as largest party in hung parliament

Martin Kettle reports that Labour has “a hard core of backbenchers [who] would … regard a coalition [with the Liberal Democrats] as a betrayal and would work against it”. Equally, he quotes a senior Labour source, “we haven’t thought [minority government] through”. Even short of coalition, such a government would probably require a supply and confidence arrangement with the Liberal Democrats – an option which Uncut’s sources say the Liberal Democrats are disinclined toward, seeing it as carrying all the costs of coalition without the benefits, posing another headache for Miliband.

Conservative majority   Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: After Heywood and Middleton, Labour needs to make tough choices on immigration, the economy and the leader

10/10/2014, 08:20:35 PM

by Atul Hatwal

On one point, Douglas Carswell is right: the big result last night wasn’t Clacton, but Heywood and Middleton.

Shell-shocked Labour spokespeople have been on the airwaves giving the official line: the vote held up, no complacency, blah, blah, blah.

What they are saying doesn’t matter. They can’t tell the truth because the truth is toxic for the party. There are three reasons Heywood and Middleton happened: immigration, the economy and Ed Miliband’s leadership.

On each of the three, Labour needs to make a hard choice, if it is to avoid an almighty crash next May.

1. Immigration

Every canvasser who went to Heywood and Middleton came back with the same doorstep story: the voters wanted to talk about immigration. But Labour ploughed on with its line on the NHS. Disastrous.

Now, Labour will have to face up to having the difficult conversation on immigration, and it can go one of two ways:  it can either tack right towards Ukip or it can make a case for its actual policy.

The former is the seductive option. It means that on the doorstep, canvassers can agree with voters. There’s no need for any tricky disagreement. All Labour representatives need do is to nod sympathetically, promise to be tough and hey presto, all is solved.

Except of course, it isn’t.

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GRASSROOTS: Clacton is a warning: unless Labour gives hope to all of Britain, the politics of fear will grow unchecked

10/10/2014, 12:30:57 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

Although Mr Carswell in victory this morning stated that UKIP must be “for all Britain and all Britons: first and second generation as much as every other,“ those who actually voted for Mr Carswell made it very clear their vote was not just a general protest vote; they voted UKIP because it had the “best policies on the particular issues they care about” and foremost amongst those was immigration.

“I like their policies of getting rid of all our immigrants. They’re coming over here and we’re keeping them,” says one

Mr Denham a supporter of the Mr Carswell and UKIP mentioned he moved to Clacton to get “out of the East End”, stating:

“There are lots of people like me here who moved to Clacton for that reason. I wouldn’t want to suggest we should eradicate everyone with brown skin, but this is our country.”

That the UKIP policy on migration control is centred around the “white” East European immigration shows that the UKIP rise is opening up a dormant, ugly wound in British society which many of us had hoped was ancient history.

“We’ve voted Labour before, then swayed towards the Tories, but immigration is becoming a problem in Clacton,” says Mr Slogget

In the 2011 census of the 85,359 who are residents of the Clacton constituency 97.4% (83,176) were white with 95.4% white and British (81,272), with 30 from Pakistani heritage and 35 from an Arabic  background.

The almost total homogenous nature of Clacton is even clearer when looking at the country of birth of the Clacton residents, with 95.7% born in the UK and 93.9% in England itself.  With 589, or 0.7 of one percent coming from the recently joined EU countries surely UKIP’s warning of unfettered immigration from these countries would seem like the least relevant policy for these residents?

So what is going on?

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UNCUT: Leadership challenge? You can’t be serious

08/10/2014, 01:15:34 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is always a little unwise to make predictions, as us bloggers occasionally find some time later, to our shame and embarrassment.

But perhaps we can venture one now. If there is a silly season within conference season, it is surely within Lib Dem conference. And this year, a few MPs and journalists have used its abject pointlessness as an excuse to take a break from serious politics.

And, indeed, from reality altogether: they have convinced themselves that a Labour leadership challenge is in the air, as these pieces from the Telegraph and the Mail show.

Only it’s not. Or, at least, it’s incredibly unlikely.

Oh, that’s not to say that some aren’t thinking about it, some even vaguely seriously. It’s always good to check where one’s political stock is, and a dip in the polls is an attractive time to do so.

But there are a lot of good reasons why it is merely fanciful thinking – more a crying into one’s beer in a Manchester hotel bar than a serious, credible campaign briefing.

First, history. Unlike the Tories, Labour is the anti-nasty party; one which gives a sometimes annoying level of benefit-of-the-doubt. It does not generally dump leaders before they have had a chance to lose an election (in fact, it sometimes doesn’t even dump them afterwards, as the 1987 election taught us, even if it really should).

Second, if a leadership challenge has not happened by a half-year before the election, it is a particularly dumb time to try and have one. No-one has time to put together a hole-free policy program in that time, which reflects their own personal stamp.

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UNCUT: The Tories Don’t Understand Human Rights

08/10/2014, 10:33:42 AM

by Sam Fowles

Forced to abandon NHS bashing for the sake of the election, David Cameron needed to feed the right some red meat. He chose the European Convention on Human Rights, promising to repeal the Human Rights Act, which allows English judges to incorporate the dicta of the Strasbourg court into their rulings, and allow Parliament to ignore the European Court of Human Rights.  This is more than simply wrong; it shows a fundamental failure to understand of the role human rights play in international law and politics.

The international law of human rights is based on the premise that there is something fundamentally valuable about each individual human. In this light Cameron’s idea of a “British Bill of Rights” seems absurd. People are not inherently valuable because they are British or French or Afghan. We are valuable because we are human. For this reason that the ECHR applies to British troops fighting abroad. To suggest that people should lose value in our eyes because they are non-European is an attitude redolent of the 13th Century not the 21st.

The ECHR is itself based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It doesn’t invent “European Rights”. It allows citizens of European states direct access to universal rights. It’s worth noting that the UK would remain bound by a plethora of international human rights conventions even if it were to secede from the ECHR (as the Conservatives threaten). The government’s legal obligations wouldn’t fundamentally change; they would just get more complex.

In practice human rights law protects the vulnerable from the powerful. This is why a bill of rights decided purely by the parliamentary majority is so dangerous. Human rights act as a check on the majority. Courts should make decisions (such as giving prisoners the vote) with which most of us disagree. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be a check on the majority.

This is important because, in a democracy, the majority should be able to change. If the power of a majority is not checked then there is nothing to stop that majority taking steps to make itself permanent. Cameron is asking us to trust to powerful to set limits to their own power. For a man who supposedly venerates the Magna Carter he sounds suspiciously like Prince John.

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UNCUT: The Vietnam doctrine and the Powell doctrine

07/10/2014, 12:33:04 PM

by Pat McFadden 

As the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries struggle to put together a strategy to combat Isis the question arises, has the West lost the will to implement the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force and is it by default reverting to the Vietnam doctrine of escalation in steps, with the danger that the steps are not big enough or decisive enough?

The question matters because the decision to engage in military action In Iraq and (for the US) Syria has been characterised as much by what is ruled out as what is ruled in.  Haunted by recent long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both Britain and the US have emphasised at all times their unwillingness to put “boots on the ground”.

What does ruling out boots on the ground mean in practical terms?  There should be little doubt that the leaders of both the US and UK would sanction special forces operations to hunt down the Isis killing squad who are beheading innocent hostages if they knew where they were.  Those special forces would be wearing boots.  And, for a time at least, they would be on the ground.

By talking about no boots on the ground our leaders don’t actually therefore mean no boots on the ground.  They mean something that doesn’t look like an army as in the long and visible military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.

But when we consider special forces, advisers and other means of co-ordinating military action from the air, and the imperative of stopping Isis establishing a caliphate, it is possible that these lines could become more blurred.

Philip Bobbit, the highly respected US author and academic wrote recently that ruling out boots on the ground was a necessary price for President Obama to pay to get approval for the action from the air that he sanctioned.

Perhaps, but two questions arise.  First, will the line between what is actually happening and what has become ruled out become more blurred as the action escalates?  And if it does, what questions will that raise about honesty and treating the public as adults?  Secondly, if the goal is to do serious damage to Isis and impair its ability to act, does the politics of ruling out boots on the ground conflict with the action necessary to make this goal more achievable?

In other words, is war weariness pushing the West back into an unwitting adoption of the Vietnam doctrine of escalation by degree rather than Powell doctrine of using overwhelming force which replaced it?

For our leaders haunted by the recent experience of Iraq and Afghanistan it is worth remembering, the past did not begin in 2003.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East

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