UNCUT: Five things we learnt from Tristram Hunt

29/10/2014, 04:49:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Having derided Ed Miliband as “a vulture” in his column, David Aaronovitch is not an uncritical Labour observer. Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, was last night brave enough to sit down for an hour of conversation with him at a Progress #InConvo14 event.

We can only wonder what an hour of conversation between Miliband and Aaronovitch would tell us. But five things to take away from last night’s event were:

Labour loves teachers

Blowing smoke up the bottoms of teachers is a Hunt speciality. The policy chat was of lessons to be learnt from Finland and Singapore where a focus on teacher quality has driven improvement in school performance. The political pitch was also clear: for the support of teachers bruised by Michael Gove. Where Gove sought to bend them to his will, Hunt wants to put them on a pedestal. And if the Finnish and Singaporean experiences can be replicated, children and parents will thank Hunt.

Labour doesn’t love faith schools as much – but isn’t going to abolish them

Parental choice and school diversity become Labour virtues under Tony Blair. Last night, though, we debated what kind of divided society we might become if this choice is exercised to create a diversity of schools centred on different faiths and ethnicities.

Hunt recognised the concern but argued that school challenge and collaboration can overcome it. He claimed that these characteristics were present in the successful London Challenge, while their absence goes some way to explaining recent problems in Birmingham schools. A diversity of faith schools, on this argument, is unproblematic if they are challenged by Ofsted and integrated into local networks of both accountability and collaboration.

Labour wants to make a big play out of being pro-EU

“The thing,” according to Chuka Umunna’s recent GQ interview, “business fears most is exit from the EU, not a Labour government”. Umunna made this argument when it was put to him that Labour is anti-business. Hunt did the same last night when similarly pressed. Labour cannot be anti-business, so the story goes, because business values the UK’s EU membership and Labour government guarantees this membership, whereas Tory government doesn’t. Having cast around for business pitch, it appears that Labour has disembarked on what it thinks is a winner. Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Ed Miliband’s position on immigration is incoherent and will hand Labour votes to Ukip

29/10/2014, 02:26:39 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Is Ed Miliband a Ukip sleeper agent?

At PMQs today, the Labour leader parroted Ukip’s lines on immigration at David Cameron: broken pledges to cut numbers, a system out of control, the need to be tougher; it was a miracle Miliband didn’t rehash talk of being swamped.

All the while, the Labour leader seemed blissfully unaware of the staggering, juddering, dissonant incoherence at the heart of the case he was bellowing, across the despatch box, at the prime minister.

Here are some basic facts: out of total net annual migration of 243,000 into the UK, 131,000 came from the European Union. That’s a significant chunk and represents a rise of almost 40% in the past year.

Europeans can come to the UK because freedom of movement across the EU’s member states is a central pillar of the union.

If Ed Miliband is going to make cutting immigration a centre-piece of Labour’s electoral offer, he will need to cut EU migration and that means either a change to freedom of movement or accept that Brexit is inevitable.

We can discount the former, because here’s what the new President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, had to say on the matter last week,

“We have a treaty. Freedom of movement since the Fifties is the basic principle of the European way of co-operating. These rules will not be changed.”

So presumably, Ed Miliband is about to announce that Labour is prepared to leave the EU?

Er, not so much. Here’s what the Labour leader had to say on British membership of the EU in March this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Could Labour lose the South Yorkshire police commissioner by-election?

29/10/2014, 10:58:25 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Tomorrow, Labour faces a massive electoral test that hasn’t, so far, garnered much publicity. Forget Heywood and Middleton, if Labour loses the by-election for a new Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire, deepest red Labour territory and the political backyard of Ed Miliband and a swathe of the shadow cabinet, the fallout will be immense.

Twelve months ago, the concept of Labour faring badly here would have been unthinkable. In the 2012 Rotherham by-election, caused by the resignation of Denis MacShane for fiddling his expenses, Labour held on comfortably, with more than double the share of the vote of second-placed UKIP.

That was then. Now, with the Rotherham child grooming scandal still reverberating – in all its three-dimensional awfulness – bookies have UKIP hot on Labour’s heels as we enter the last day of campaigning.

As I wrote at the time, the party’s initial response to the Rotherham scandal was slow and uncertain. Not much has changed since. Indeed, there have not been, as far as I am aware, any visits by Ed Miliband to reassure people there that this bleak episode in the party’s management of the town will not be repeated. Contrition has been thin on the ground.

Let’s be clear: the systematic abuse of children and young girls by gangs of Pakistani-heritage men in the town was unforgivable. Girls in care were thrown to the wolves by inept council officials who put political correctness ahead of decency and common sense. Grooming was seen as girls making “informed choices”. The police couldn’t have cared less. There is no other way of dressing it up. There is no missing context. This was a vile episode. Some heads have rolled – and deservedly so. Others should follow.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report made clear that there were at least 1,400 victims. This is her conservative estimate, as young Pakistani girls and boys were also abused, but are less like to report it for cultural reasons.

And the shame for it rests squarely at Labour’s door. The ‘wicked’ Tories weren’t to blame. Neither were the Lib Dems or UKIP. Between them, a Labour council and Labour-controlled police force created this mess. Meanwhile, the town’s MPs were apparently blissfully unaware.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Will the Pro-European Labourites please stand up?

29/10/2014, 09:28:14 AM

by Callum Anderson

Just when you thought that the subject of the EU would, at least, momentarily take a place on the back-burner, it came screaming back onto Twitter, our newspapers and television screens.

First, there’s been the case of the EU budget and the UK’s prospective £1.7 billion surcharge, an additional contribution to the EU budget – whilst the likes of France and Germany are set to gain rebates of £801 million and £614 million respectively. The prospect of the UK coughing up more money to the EU, when it is already one of the biggest contributors already, as well as effectively handing over money to equally rich Member States is undoubtedly a difficult one.

The prime minister has taken the opportunity to appear as morally outraged as possible, taking a progressively harder line, stating in the House of Commons that Britain would pay ’no way near’ what the European Commission wants them to.

But the emerging facts are yet again highlighting David Cameron’s school boy approach to EU diplomacy. It is beginning to become clear that the prime minster, the chancellor and HM Treasury knew of the likely additional payment that would be required of them. Furthermore, not only did it appear that the Dutch government, who are also required to contribute an extra £506 million to the EU budget, would pay their own surcharge, but that they had also made contingency plans in preparation for their likely additional contributions.

Second, the topic of immigration was brought into the limelight, with the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon stating that he UK could be “swamped” by EU migrants – ignoring the fact that Kent, where Mr Fallon’s constituency lies, was according to the 2011 census 89.1 per cent White British. Not exactly swamped.

Yet it has become clear that there is little appetite among other European Member States for the significant treaty change required to restrict the freedom of movement, with that ever important player Angela Merkel stating that she was wholly against restricting this freedom.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: There’s a big electoral win on trains without renationalising the railways

28/10/2014, 10:40:54 AM

by Kevin Meagher

I must confess to being entirely unfamiliar with the concept of a “super off-peak ticket” until the other day when the attendant at St. Pancras Station pointed out that I had one and, given it was after 3.15pm, I was ineligible to travel on the train I was just about to hop on to.

If I’d had the forethought to buy an off-peak ticket (which I thought I had), I could have travelled until 4.00pm. That’s the point when the cheapo riff-raff (like me) are chucked off the system altogether for the full fare brigade and have to wait until 7.00pm.

And what pleasure lay in store!

All I can say is “thank you” East Midlands Trains. Thank you for the ancient, rattling rolling stock.

Thanks, also, for the uncomfortable seats, with spongy cushions and itchy coverings.

For the fixed armrests and legroom designed for Snow White’s pals.

For the hair-trigger vestibule doors, which fling open with every gust of wind.

For the depleted buffet trolley, with its cold tea and warm beer.

For the blocked toilets and lack of running water.

And, perhaps most of all, thank you for the unmistakable aroma of stale food and bodily gasses, that seems to permeate from the carriages of all of your services.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

GRASSROOTS: Labour can lead on immigration by reforming the asylum system

26/10/2014, 10:05:28 AM

by Jack Tunmore

Ed Miliband’s speech in Rochester and Strood this week provided some welcome clarity on Labour’s immigration policy. It is certainly encouraging that he chose to focus on specific and achievable measures that directly affect millions of people: stopping the exploitation of workers and the undercutting of wages will be both progressive and effective, as will closing loopholes that allow agencies to hire only from abroad. A crackdown on illegal immigration as part of his Immigration Reform Bill will no doubt be popular – but Miliband was also at pains to stress that both he and by-election candidate Naushabah Khan were the children of immigrants and were proud of the contribution they and many like them had made.

These clear and concrete policies contrast well with Cameron’s increasingly alarming drift towards Brexit. They are also particularly timely as the whole political spectrum expresses incredulity that the Prime Minister had supposedly just discovered the UK had been landed with a £1.7 billion EU surcharge – Civitas damningly concluded that “this is all a problem of David Cameron’s making”.

Labour now has an opportunity to inject some nuance and decency into the immigration debate. An important start would be a wholesale reappraisal of our asylum system.

That is not to say that the asylum system will be a major election issue; or that such an appraisal would not be difficult. A report from the Migration Observatory published in July noted that attitudes towards immigration are more negative in the UK than they are in the US and much of Europe, with asylum seekers being held in much lower regard than students or high-skilled migrants. Reform of our asylum system is however a chance for Labour to show that we can lead rather than just follow the immigration debate. A balance of compassion and pragmatism is required.

It would be hugely positive, for example, for Labour to lead strongly on the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine’s report published last week which examined how asylum claims made on the grounds of sexual orientation are handled by the Home Office. To summarise: they are handled disgracefully, with “intrusive” interviews that sometimes even question the validity of same-sex relationships. Such questioning has no place in our society and Labour should be saying so loud and clear.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

INSIDE: Party chiefs will hope Lamont’s resignation gives them a fresh start in Scotland

25/10/2014, 12:10:39 PM

The resignation of Scottish Labour party leader, Johann Lamont, has plunged the Scottish party back into one of its periodic bouts of crisis.

Lamont, long an advocate for greater devolution for the Scottish Parliament and more autonomy for the Scottish party, was said to be furious that national chiefs treated Scotland like a “branch office”.

The final straw came earlier this week with the enforced departure of the Scottish party’s general secretary, Ian Price.

Recruited last year to lead its referendum campaign and drive forward efforts to reform the fractious party, he was already sidelined by July, when the party’s respected former North West regional director, Sheila Murphy, was asked by Ed Miliband to step in and manage the campaign instead.

The view from London is that Labour cannot take the chance that a resurgent SNP will burrow into its vote and put seats at next year’s general election in jeopardy.

However it was clear from the result of the referendum, with places like Glasgow voting for independence, that Labour’s support base in working-class Scotland has been shaken.

The party’s indelicate treatment of Lamont and Price reflects the fact it does not want to have to spend time and precious resources campaigning in seats that Labour should easily win.

In her resignation interview with the Daily Record, Lamont warns her colleagues that “the focus of Scottish politics is now Holyrood, not Westminster” and that too many of them, both in Scotland and London “do not understand the politics they are facing”.

That may be so, but the party’s focus is holding on to what it currently has next May and many will be privately relieved at the chance of a fresh start.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

GRASSROOTS: The rise of UKIP is a symptom of Westminster’s failure. Now is the time for our great cities to halt the country’s political decline

24/10/2014, 04:30:27 PM

by Ben Garratt

Immigration has become an electoral and symbolic issue, not because Brits are less tolerant of foreigners, but because immigration highlights the growing gulf in experience between Westminster politicians and communities across the country. Trying to out-UKIP UKIP is therefore not the answer.

YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times earlier this month found that, when people are asked which political leader they trust most on immigration, 26% said “none of them” and a further 13% said “don’t know”. Nigel Farage was considered twice as trust worthy as Labour, but even he could only equal “none of them.” But this challenge does not end at immigration. 40% of respondents said they don’t trust any of the party leaders, on anything at all. As Peter Kellner wrote in June, voters are simply unwilling to believe what the political classes tell us.

How can we understand and halt this decline? When a parent tells you what to do, it might be frustrating but often there will be a niggling feeling that they know what they are talking about. When a successful boss tells you to do something seemingly inexplicable, you instinctively know they have a point. Why? Because of shared experience. They have been there. But, it seems that when a government minister speaks, there is little trust. Why? Because of a lack of shared experience.

From the EU to skills, the environment, immigration and the economy, what national politicians are saying seems less and less grounded in anything socially or economically tangible to our everyday lives, and it is not in Ed Miliband’s or David Cameron’s gift to fix this. This isn’t a failure of speech writers, charisma or the traditional skills of the Westminster class, but a result of the collapse of social, cultural and economic structures which used to connect us to each other and connect our politicians to us. It is a lack of shared experience.

This gap is growing, which is a major problem for our democracy and for getting anything done. Only by reconnecting communities and political leadership can we tackle challenge and, to do this, we need our city regions and communities to take the lead. In a world where traditional class definitions mean less and less, our cities and regions – built on businesses, communities, politicians and more – are the closest spaces of decision-making to our everyday lives. By working together in our regions, we can therefore build on our shared experiences, shifting the debate on immigration, and numerous other intangible long-term issues, away from homogenous headline numbers, and towards credible solutions built on aspiration and investment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: If working class apathy with Labour becomes permanent, then the party’s over

24/10/2014, 03:00:29 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Twenty years ago, I took my father to hear John Prescott speak at Bolton Town Hall as part of his Red Rose tour. This was one of those “ra-ra” events on the road to the triumph of 1997. Optimism was high. Promises were easy. The Tories were a shower and New Labour had the answers.

In his inimitable podium-thumping style, Prescott told the packed hall that the capital receipts from council house sales of the 1980s – that local authorities were banned from spending – would be released in order to build new houses.

This was one of the party’s big policy promises at the time. It would address housing shortages, (that were already apparent), as well as putting hundreds of thousands of building workers, like my dad, back to work after the deep recession of the early 1990s, which had hit construction particularly hard.

It was the kind of rooted, common-sense measure that spoke directly to millions of voters like him at the sharp end of a Thatcherite economy that had left the North in the deep freeze. Now, it was our turn. Fast forward a decade though and things didn’t quite work out as planned.

By then, Prescott’s capital receipts pledge had turned into the Decent Homes Programme. A £19 billion pound effort to renovate dilapidated social houses with new bathrooms, kitchens and roofs.

In reality, it saw expensive contractors soaking up oodles of public cash. According to the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, costs of the programme doubled to £38 billion by 2010, without creating extra new homes or the scale of jobs that sort of public investment should have done – (or, indeed, that Prescott had promised would happen that night in Bolton).

What the last Labour government did deliver was the lowest rates of new house-building since the Second World War. Unfathomably, Labour ministers were more concerned about helping Middle England’s property values to appreciate than they were in tackling housing shortages for first-time buyers or putting construction workers back to work.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon