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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UNCUT: Harriet should know better. Loose lips sink ships – and election prospects

17/07/2014, 09:51:16 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Is Harriet Harman the victim of an unfair Tory attack for seeming to suggesting that middle-income earners should pay more tax?

No, she is not. Neither, for that matter, has she been misquoted. She did say that middle-income earners should pay more tax. Labour’s deputy leader was guilty of a clumsy circumlocution, telling LBC radio on Monday that:

 “I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes”.

Let’s be clear, if she was making a general point about the desirability of a progressive taxation system, then fine. Indeed, she seems to have meant:

“I think people on middle incomes should contribute through their taxes”.

But that’s not what she said. She is guilty of committing an unforced error, using unforgivably loose terminology in a broadcast interview. For a senior frontbencher of her experience it was an amateurish thing to do and has played straight into the Tories’ gleeful hands.

Last night she wrote to David Cameron accusing him of telling fibs:

“You claimed at Prime Minister’s Questions today that ‘yesterday Labour announced – in an important announcement – that it is now their policy to put up taxes on middle income people’. This is not true. It is a lie.”

Tory party chairman Grant Schapps has also been busy. He has written to everyone he has an email address for, launching a poster campaign that the Tories must have been itching to release.

Tory poster

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INSIDE: Flowers’ scandal casts shadow over Co-op party

16/07/2014, 03:58:18 PM

The welter of awful headlines that have greeted revelations about the Co-op Bank and its colourful former Chairman, Paul Flowers, in recent months seems to have left behind something of a ‘brand contamination’ problem for the Co-operative Party.

So much so that it’s General-Secretary, Karin Christiansen, has just written out to its members asking for donations to help fund a “scaling up” of the party’s media work because “too many journalists are getting their facts wrong”.

The aim is to raise £10,000 through small donations to help with efforts to target journalists and commentators and improve understanding of how the party “fit[s] into the wider movement.”

Christiansen adds: “Recent media coverage has misrepresented the Party, and confused our relationship with the Labour Party and the Co-operative Group. It’s incredibly frustrating, and leaves too much of our good work unnoticed.”

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UNCUT: Cameron’s reshuffle reshapes the battlefield to exploit Labour weaknesses

16/07/2014, 01:18:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Forget the breathless minutiae of who’s up and who’s down or biographies of the newly promoted, most analyses of the Tory reshuffle have missed the most important point: this was a reshuffle defined by Labour. Labour’s lines of attack and Labour’s vulnerabilities.

Ed Miliband was the silent witness, standing in the corner, at the back of David Cameron’s mind as the prime minister worked out his new ministerial jigsaw.

In each of the three major changes David Cameron announced – the promotion of women, the demotion of Gove and the installation of Phillip Hammond at FCO –  the same motivation is evident:  to reshape the battlefield with Labour. To make the Tories a smaller target, minimise the potential for distracting internal conflict and focus the national debate on the two areas where David Cameron is confident he has the beating of Ed Miliband: leadership and the economy.

It is debateable whether Labour’s repeated attacks on Cameron for sexism have won over many wavering voters, but they certainly had media resonance and diverted the political conversation away from the Conservatives preferred topics.

Ta Dah! David Cameron now has a defensible position on women’s representation. Labour will continue with its attacks, as was evident at PMQs today, but the traction is gone. Broadcast journalists are notably less opinionated than their newspaper comrades, but these tweets by ITV’s Chris Ship are indicative of the mood among the lobby.


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UNCUT: Bring on the éminences grises

16/07/2014, 09:42:18 AM

by Rob Marchant

As silly-season reshuffle madness has gripped the Westminster village the last few days, we at Uncut are obviously above pointless speculation about the Labour reshuffle expected after Conference.

Well, almost. In fact, it’s not so much speculation, rather an observation.

If we were to be brutal, we might observe that both government and opposition benches, if the lights are dim, might occasionally be mistaken for a sixth-form outing to Parliament, rather than a government and a government-in-waiting.

It’s nothing personal against the current bunch. There is talent there. But much of the talent is green. And yes, there is ministerial experience among it – it’s not 1997. But – and excuse the bluntness here – there might also be more important pre-requisites than having held a junior ministerial or middle-ranking Cabinet job for a few years during the fag-end of a thirteen-year Labour administration.

Neither is it just that so many older MPs left in droves at the 2010 election, either, although that is clearly a factor. Or that some of the talented ones who remained, such as David Blunkett or Tessa Jowell, were not given proper jobs to do and chose to opt for a quiet life outside Parliament.

The clincher is this: as we have observed before here, we live in the age of the SpAd (ministerial Special Adviser). The gradual professionalization of politics means that the number of years that any of the current Shadow Cabinet has spent in the outside world is severely limited.

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UNCUT: Has Cameron passed the peace pipe to teachers, or raised the white flag?

15/07/2014, 02:15:11 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Last night the big news was William Hague’s exit as foreign secretary, but the real significance of this reshuffle is Michael Gove being moved out of education.

Gove is a bell-weather for the Government’s intellectual self-confidence in a way Hague isn’t. It is in schools policy where the Tories have been truly radical (for good or ill, depending on preference).

Free schools and the acceleration of the academies programme were totemic for Cameron in opposition, providing a solid direction of travel in an area of policy where the Tories struggle to convince people they are on their side.

But Gove’s central problem is that he governs like he’s still a newspaper columnist; dividing opinion with something approaching reckless abandon. Little wonder, then, that in term of teachers’ voting intentions, Labour leads the Conservatives by 43 per cent to 12.

This figure is actually not bad for the government given that a YouGov poll found that just 6 per cent of teachers think that academies and free schools are taking education in ‘the right direction’.

David Cameron may be belatedly recognising that the teaching profession is an area where he can quickly mend fences after Michael Gove has – perhaps too gleefully – spent four years kicking them down. With his education reforms embedded in the system, the scope is there to now pass the peace pipe to the profession and narrow the gap with Labour.

One thing will be certain, his new chief whip will be watching to make sure his boss doesn’t instead wave the white flag on his cherished reforms.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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