UNCUT: Its Labour’s fault there’s no-one as good as Salmond

24/04/2014, 10:08:10 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Alastair Darling has many qualities. He was an effective minister, a mainstay throughout Labour’s years in power and as Chancellor, he steered the economy through the worst recession since the 1930s, leaving behind a growing economy in 2010. He is widely respected and admired. But as a campaigner, he makes David Moyes look like Jose Mourinho.

He is so ill-suited to leading the cross-party campaign to galvanise Scots behind the simple proposition that they are “Better Together” with their kith and kin in the rest of the union that the No campaign against Scottish independence looks set to snatch defeat from the jaws of what should, on paper, be an easy victory.

Yet a vote for independence is now a real possibility – with a poll last weekend putting the Yes campaign just three per cent behind the No campaign, a once unthinkable prospect. (To put this in context, a poll last November had the No camp leading by a margin of 29 per cent).

This is a calamitous situation with the polling numbers now starting to reflect what is all too evident to anyone watching this referendum battle unfold: The Westminster class has badly underestimated Alex Salmond.

Frankly, it has paid too little attention to Caledonian affairs in general in recent years, wrongly assuming the devolution settlement of 1998 was the end of the line as far as Scottish nationhood goes. This has left opponents of independence with a strategic problem. There is simply no equivalent Scottish figure now able to make the case for retaining the Union with the same panache Salmond displays in trying to break it up.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the most swivel-eyed pro-Union party in British politics, can barely open his mouth on the subject without sending undecided voters flocking towards the independence camp.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, southern English and middle-class are clearly deemed surplus to requirements and have the good sense to stay out of it. Labour’s Scottish Leader, Johann Lamont, is tough and said to get under Salmond’s skin, but she is a provincial figure in comparison.

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UNCUT: Blair switches on Syria: We need to do a deal with Assad and accept he’ll remain president

23/04/2014, 10:47:36 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In a wide-ranging speech on the middle east, Tony Blair today made a significant intervention to recast the British debate on Syria.

Until now, the assumption has been that President Assad would have to go as part of any peace deal. The dividing lines of the conflict seemed to be clear: Assad was the oppressor, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own people, while the opposition represented Syria’s best hope for a more democratic and enlightened future.

The idea of President Assad remaining in power was unthinkable.

But as the tide of the conflict has turned in Assad’s favour, and Islamist factions in the opposition have gained prominence, Blair’s speech signals a fundamental reappraisal of the negotiating position.

At the time of the parliamentary vote on military action in Syria, within Labour it was the Blairite wing of the party which was most in favour of punitive measures against President Assad. There remains an abiding sense of grievance among many in the party at the manner in which Ed Miliband first backed intervention, and then opposed it.

Now, however as the facts on the ground have changed, so has the solution – at least in Tony Blair’s view. In the Bloomberg speech he states,

“But the truth is that there are so many fissures and problems around elements within the Opposition that people are rightly wary now of any solution that is an outright victory for either side. Repugnant though it may seem, the only way forward is to conclude the best agreement possible even if it means in the interim President Assad stays for a period. Should even this not be acceptable to him, we should consider active measures to help the Opposition and force him to the negotiating table, including no fly zones whilst making it clear that the extremist groups should receive no support from any of the surrounding nations.”

Contrast this with his view in June last year,

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UNCUT: If the UK is serious about the digital economy, we need to stay in the EU

23/04/2014, 09:02:19 AM

by Callum Anderson

Just in my life time, the way we communicate both with our friends and family, as well as, perhaps more significantly, in the work place, has changed dramatically. Out has gone the fax machine, and at times the telephone, and in has come the internet, alongside email, Skype and numerous other applications.

Similarly, the way we hold data has changed. According to the European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, 90 per cent of our existing data has been produced during the last two years. In two days in 2013 the world produced as much data as in the year 2003.

The greatest challenge for governments in the twenty-first century will be how to utilise technology to the advantage of their citizens. Those who succeed will enable their countries to prosper, whereas those who restrict this digital revolution, or at least fail to position themselves so that they can take advantage of technological progress, will be left behind. Indeed, the governments who succeed will be successful because of their willingness to co-operate with other nations.

If the UK is to be among these successful nations, then there is no doubt that it must continue to work closely with its partners in the EU.

According to the European Commission, the digital economy is growing at seven times the rate of the rest of the economy. By implementing its Digital Agenda, the EU would raise its GDP by 5 per cent, equal to £1,200 for each EU citizen, and create 4 million jobs by 2020. This provides a compelling reason why Britain must retain its position at the heart of the EU, so that it can enjoy its share of the potential benefits this sector will bring.

A study by the Vlerick Business School in Belgium found that the internet sector provides 3.4 million jobs in the EU, with the UK representing 292,000 of this, the highest of any individual EU country. The result is that this comparatively new sector contributes €119.8 billion to the EU economy, about 1 per cent of EU GDP.

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UNBOUND: An extraordinary Liberal party election broadcast from the archive

22/04/2014, 02:18:40 PM

An extraordinary election broadcast from 1974 – Jimmy Saville, followed by Cyril Smith in support of Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal party (h/t Left Futures)

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UNCUT: Labour has made George Osborne

22/04/2014, 12:17:51 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The premise of the North Sea Scrolls, a concept album, is that the musician Luke Haines and the writer Andrew Mueller are given the scrolls, a document recounting a different version of history, by the actor Tony Allen. One track is called “I’m not the man you think I am Karen, I’m the actor Tony Allen”.

Too often Labour has failed to see the actor Tony Allen for what he really is. Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond all have Tony Allen type features. They bemuse Labour as much as they reach into parts of the electorate that Labour struggles to understand, never mind reach.

George Osborne is a different kind of Tony Allen. Farage et al are anti-politician politicians for our jaded times. Osborne, in contrast, was respected within the beltway before he was known beyond it, revered in SW1 when reviled outside it and held in ever higher regard in Westminster as his public esteem grows.

His stock ascends with economic good news, which presumes he is responsible, as chancellor, for these events. A relationship reinforced by Osborne’s opponents holding him accountable for everything that was previously going wrong.

It was precisely the chancellor’s fiercest critics, as the FT’s Chris Giles recently put it, who were themselves unable to distinguish between correlation and causation during the period of stagnation and have thereby legitimised Mr Osborne’s rhetorical victory lap. Of course, times remain tough for many. Because of this, equally obviously, Osborne would be daft to overdo this lap.

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UNCUT: Axelrod won’t make a difference as long as Zombie Labour marches on

18/04/2014, 01:33:10 PM

by David Talbot

The charge was made infamous by Unite’s Len McCluskey who, in typically robust style, refuted comments made by the Labour MP and former Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson.

That the former general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union had the audacity to attack the trade union movement in the organ that they most despise, Progress, ensured that this former comrade had joined the dead roll-call of “Blairite zombies”. Indeed, the moniker is seemingly used to tar anyone who is either proud of the work of three successive Labour governments, or who is not an instant adherent of whatever ‘One Nation’ Labour purports to be.

The imagery is powerful, as those who deploy it clearly acknowledge, and the connotations serious. It is used a weapon of instant dismissal, not on the merits of the argument being put forward but on the political relevance, or not, of the person articulating them.

For we know that happens when movements, parties or politicians continue to stagger forward, limp-like, dead behind the eyes. They become “zombies”. Unable to articulate any coherent political thought they mindlessly harp back to better days, presumably when they were at least alive, and stick cult-like to their dogma.

For the left of the party, who have monopolised this attack on the perceived wickedness of the Labour right, this interpretation allows them to, at a stroke, blame them for all the party’s woes. It is the swivel-eyed, walking-dead platoon of Blairite ultras holding Labour back, so the argument goes.

The living dead in the Labour party are, though, not the target often cited. With their clammy dead hands it is not the Blairites who have a zombie grip on the direction on the Labour party. The political lobotomies belong solely to the left of the party who, with the recklessness of those about to die, have realised they could do everything they ever dared for.

When deciding whether to sign on the dotted line, its unlikely that Labour’s newest guru, David Axelrod, had full sight of these legions on the undead left. But as he gets to work, he will soon understand their power.

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UNCUT: The CPS was right on Evans. Prosecution of the powerful is vital in a democracy

17/04/2014, 10:25:53 AM

by Sam Fowles

There are many things the CPS does wrong; the test to prosecute sexual assaults is not one of them. MPs should stop playing politics with prosecutions and take a look at “acceptable behaviour” in the Palace of Westminster.

In my final year at St Andrews I read a story in a student newspaper. A girl described standing on the mezzanine of a popular student bar when one of the university sports teams came in. It started with the familiar catcalls, the stereotypical suggestion that she should get her tits out for the lads. Unsurprisingly she told them all to fuck off. It was at that point that one of the sportsmen stood behind her, pinned her to the balcony rail and pulled up her shirt, exposing her chest to the bar below. To accompanying cheers and jeers from his teammates. The police were called. They declined to take the matter further. My point is this: Being falsely accused of sexual assault must be unbelievably traumatic. Being sexually assaulted with impunity must be indescribably worse.

Politically charged calls for fewer prosecutions of sexual assaults are misinformed and dangerous.

Prosecution isn’t a zero sum decision. Criminal justice involves more than just the rights of the accused. An innocent person’s interest in not being convicted must be balanced against untold innocent people’s interest in not being the victim of crime. Tipping the balance too far in favour of the latter leads to tyranny but tipping it too far in favour of the former simply leads to tyranny of a different kind.

If the CPS raises the evidential threshold for productions for sexual offences against the person then it decreases the risk of an innocent person undergoing trial. But it also increases the risk of a guilty person escaping justice.

Every year around 85 000 people are raped and a further 400 000 sexually assaulted. In 2011 – 12 there were 91 000 prosecutions for Sexual Offences Against the Person (SOAP), 67 000 were successful. The balance is clearly not tipped too far towards prosecutions. Three failed prosecutions does not justify a tip in the balance.

As the experiences of Messers LeVell, Roache and Evans have so publicly demonstrated, the innocent man has another line of defence: a fair trial. There is a certain irony in supporters and members of a party, such as Roache and Evans, which has systematically eliminated so many of the rights on which citizens rely to hold their government to account in court, should now be calling for that same government to prosecute fewer cases.

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UNCUT: If Cameron was smart, he’d recapitalise the food banks

16/04/2014, 08:32:46 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Britain’s food banks are doing a brisk trade. And unlike their commercial namesakes, they’re doing it without a bean of government cash.

The Trussell Trust, which runs the largest network of food banks, today reports that 913,138 adults and children were provided with food parcels last year, up from just 61,468 in 2010.

David Cameron should love food banks. Well, perhaps not love, but he should recognise their existence is proof that the Big Society, that concept we thought had been buried under 20 tonnes of concrete, has something going for it.

After all, food banks are examples of well-meaning, civic-minded people and organisations stepping up to the mark to provide a volunteer-led response to make a difference in their local communities.

In pretty much every other instance, the Big Society simply exposes the utter naiveté of ministers in glibly assuming that by removing public provision we would see a flourishing of voluntary effort instead. It hasn’t. It won’t. It never was going to.

But because of the shock value of what they do – feeding the absolute poor in one of the richest countries in the world – every time food banks are mentioned in earshot, Cameron has the good grace to squirm.

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UNCUT: Ukraine: at some point, Labour will need more than warm words

16/04/2014, 09:06:43 AM

by Rob Marchant

To date on this blog, we have not spoken much about the events in Ukraine: reflecting, perhaps appropriately, the priority it currently has in the agenda of both the British public and its politicians. After all, foreign policy does not win elections in peacetime.

But given that we are surely living through the most tense moment of East-West relations since the height of the Cold War, it behoves us to take a moment to see how Labour might be affected.

Britain, like much of the West, is clearly living through a period of reluctance, even quasi-isolationism, with regard to foreign conflicts. Interventionism may not be dead, but it is most certainly having a nap. A perception that fingers were burned in Iraq and Afghanistan pervades almost all foreign policy thinking, to a greater or lesser extent. And nowhere is this to be seen more clearly than on the fringes of British politics.

On the left fringe, Stop the War Coalition and their fellow-travellers within Labour’s hard left have decided that the West is so fundamentally evil, that they must oppose it so strongly as to apologise for some deeply unpleasant regimes who oppose it (in this case, the borderline-despotic Russian regime). Exhibit A: the Stoppers’ Putin apology pieces, or their frankly bonkers assertion that NATO is “itching for war”, when in fact its constituent nations are going to great pains to avoid the merest hint of military involvement.

On the right fringe, there a few odd backbench Tories along with UKIP; owners of a “little Englander” mentality all, seasoned with an instinctive mistrust of the Establishment and a longing for the smack of firm government. This strange combination ends up with their views converging on, paradoxically – as we saw recently with the Putin-admiring Nigel Farage – the same lines as the left.

Then there is the mainstream of both parties; as we saw on the Syria vote, many of these on both sides are happy to opt for happy isolationism and call it statesmanship.

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GRASSROOTS: Why Labour should fear the blowback from its war on business

15/04/2014, 11:22:40 AM

by Samuel Dale

During his doomed leadership contest David Miliband said Labour could not afford to go into the 2015 general election with no business support.

One year ahead that election and that is exactly what is happening. Labour is at open war with business with signs it is about to step up the offensive rather than build bridges.

The list of proposed interventions into industry is dizzying with almost every major sector targeted.

I’m told Labour is planning a policy blitz on no fewer than eight sectors ahead of party conference later this year. It is part of an ambitious agenda to significantly boost consumer rights and hand power back to consumers and away from huge corporations. 

Ed Miliband positions himself as US President Teddy Roosevelt breaking up monopolies and boosting competition. His modern incarnation has been called many names from pre-distribution to progressive austerity or socialism with no money. In 21st Century Britain let’s see what Miliband is actually proposing in your crucial industries.

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