UNCUT: Keir Starmer’s task is to show how the Tories’ choices left Britain so exposed to the ravages of the crisis. Just like David Cameron did to Labour in 2008

06/04/2021, 10:35:20 PM

by David Talbot

When Gordon Brown took to the despatch box for Prime Minister Questions in late 2008, his slip of the tongue – that he had “saved the world” – was, of course, mercilessly mocked by his many detractors. Brown’s handling of the financial crisis, both actual and perceived, went on to form the nucleus of the Conservatives’ electoral strategy for the election two years later – and to dominate British politics for the next decade.

History has since judged the efforts of Gordon Brown to recapitalise the world economy in a rather more favourable light. Indeed, a rather noted economist may even agree with his assessment. But it provided a perfect wedge opportunity for the then opposition Conservative party who, as history has also rather forgotten, had hitherto pledged to match Labour’s spending plans.

The Conservatives’ ruthless exploitation of the global recession, and its central accusation that Labour’s profligacy had largely caused it, was the platform on which it fought the 2010 and 2015 elections. It was a conscious and potent choice to blame Gordon Brown and the Labour Party as being solely responsible for the recession and to continually fuel fears that the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. ‘Borrowing’ became the bogey word in British politics and the deficit the fulcrum in which all political decisions were taken. In a perfect illustration of how it is the victors that write history, the budget deficit today is exactly double what David Cameron and George Osborne were apparently so apoplectic about in 2010.

What, then, are the lessons to be applied to today’s, COVID-dominated, politics? Sir Keir Starmer marked his year in post with a missive in the organ of the left, the Observer, stating that the Prime Minister’s “slowness to act at crucial moments cost many lives and jobs”. It was possibly Starmer’s most damning assessment to date of the government’s handling of the pandemic, but it was mentioned only in fleeting, and not as a central thread of an event that, as the Prime Minister himself has admitted, the country will be dealing with for a lifetime.

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GRASSROOTS: Will the UK’s relationship with coal burn on?

06/04/2021, 08:30:55 AM

by Benjamin Robinson

Near the end of 2020, the UK government published ‘The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution’. It outlined how the country will emerge from the Covid pandemic through a green recovery and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In doing this, it promises hundreds of thousands of high-skilled high-paid jobs as, in the words of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, investment turns the UK “into the world’s number one centre for green technology and finance”.

The importance of this plan goes beyond domestic borders. At the end of 2021, the UK will host COP26, the UN conference in which Johnson’s Government must convince the gathered international parties to fulfil the Paris Agreement and ultimately tackle climate change. By setting out a seemingly impressive carbon reduction strategy, the UK is also challenging other countries to follow suit in a game in which the stakes could not be higher. According to US Climate Change Envoy John Kerry, the conference to be held in Glasgow “is the last, best opportunity that we have” for the world to avoid the catastrophe of rising global temperatures.

With this in mind, one could understandably be confused to learn that only a month on from the publication of the plan for a green transformation, permission was granted to open the first new deep coal mine in the UK for thirty years. The £165m mine, near Whitehaven in north-east England, was given the green light by the Cumbria County Council who were drawn in by the prospect of jobs. The ward has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the UK and the 500 jobs provided by the mine and the many more it will support are seen as a lifeline to the deprived area.

Whilst Cumbria Council shortly succumbed to pressure from environmental groups and announced they were reconsidering the mine’s application, it took the Government three months to do likewise. The protracted time to do so asks real questions of Johnson’s green agenda. The mine is projected to have an appreciable impact on the UK’s carbon budgets, with greater annual emissions than that of all of the current open UK coal mines combined. Moreover, the UK is one of the leading countries in the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a coalition of governments supposedly working to move the world on from coal.

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GRASSROOTS: A new generation of young leaders is ready to change politics

09/03/2021, 07:30:33 AM

At 25, Anthony Lavelle is bidding to be the youngest mayor of a major city in Britain. He explains why we desperately need more young people to shake up our outdated politics.

Ever since it was announced that I was on a shortlist of two to be Labour’s mayoral candidate for Liverpool, I’ve faced one question over and over.

Aren’t you too young to be running for mayor?

I usually reply that they’re asking the wrong question. Given that more than half the world’s population is under 30 and yet the average age of a councillor is 60, the question should really be, why aren’t more young people running for leadership positions in politics?

“When you are young, they assume you know nothing,” sings Taylor Swift, but the reality is Gen Z’s and Millennials not only know plenty, but they are also shaping the future and starting to make their mark in politics.

Whether it’s Finland’s Sanna Marin, the world’s youngest state leader, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman to serve in the United States congress, or Scotland’s Mhairi Black, who at 20 was our youngest MP since 1667, a new generation of young social democratic leaders is fast emerging across the world.

Plenty are still in denial about this. In local government there’s still resistance to the idea that young people can take on leadership roles. Many think you shouldn’t enter public life unless you have grey hair.

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INSIDE: Crisis in Liverpool deepens following failed bid to scrap mayor

28/02/2021, 09:50:13 PM

In years to come, the mishandling of the process to select a Labour candidate for the Liverpool mayoral election in May will enter party folklore.

A quick recap.

In December, Joe Anderson, the bombastic but often highly-effective executive mayor of the city since 2012, was arrested and bailed in connection to an ongoing police investigation – ‘Operation Aloft’ – focusing on corruption in the city, particularly in relation to planning matters.

Liverpool City Council is in a deep mess with government inspector, Max Caller, currently compiling a report for Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, about planning, land sales and governance controls at the council, following the arrests of several developers and senior council officials.

His report is due by the end of March and might result in commissioners being brought in to run the council.

But there are other issues in the background, not least ‘Operation Sheridan’ – a separate police investigation concerning Liverpool City Council and Lancashire County Council and the shared service company they co-owned with BT.

All in all, a bit of a mess.

Anderson’s administrative suspension made him ineligible to be the party’s candidate in May, cutting short his tenure in the role.

So, a process began to choose his successor. A three-woman shortlist was drawn up, including the current interim mayor, Wendy Simons, Anderson’s estranged deputy, Ann O’Byrne, and Anna Rothery the current Lord Mayor of the city.

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GRASSROOTS: Starmer’s response to Hancock tells us a lot about his long-term strategy to win

23/02/2021, 10:40:57 PM

by Tom Clements

No doubt that you are appalled at the failure of Matt Hancock to publicise the details of the Covid contracts that his department handed out. But I doubt that you were surprised. You might, however, have cocked an eyebrow at Keir Starmer’s refusal to call on the Health Secretary to resign.

But you shouldn’t be. We should take it as a clear signal that the new leadership of our Party has a strategy to win in 2024.

Predictably, there was much outrage for the extremes of our Party at Starmer’s perceived weakness. The electoral sage of the NEC, Laura Pidcock, even took to Twitter to ‘profoundly disagree’ with Keir and his lack of anger.

But this criticism misses the point.

To be clear, this is in now way a defence of Matt Hancock. Indeed, it is incredible how low a minister in this government needs to stoop before they will be expected to do the ‘honourable’ thing. Instead, it is a defence of the strategy that is in play in LOTO.

What do Ken Clarke, Jeremy Hunt, George Osborne, Theresa May and Boris Johnson have in common? All of them faced calls from either Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn to resign. And none of them did.

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UNCUT: The latest government NHS reorganisation is an unprecedented admission of the failure of the Lansley reforms. Labour needs to be careful in its response

10/02/2021, 08:45:46 AM

by David Talbot

In a grey side-room at the Royal College of Nursing conference in early 2011, a grey-looking Andrew Lansley attempted to defend his controversial reforms of the NHS. In what was surely an unintended ‘Nicola Murray moment’, the then Health Secretary, in the moments after the Congress had unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in him, uttered: “I am sorry if what it is I am setting out to do has not communicated itself”.

It was a gift to Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. It repeatedly called on the reforms to be scrapped, with the now King of the North, Andy Burnham, burnishing his credentials as Labour’s saviour of the NHS. It wasn’t just politicking, though, with healthcare professionals labelling it as “the wrong reform, not just now but at any time in the future”. The bill’s passage didn’t get a smoother time in Parliament either. The House of Lords alone tabled 374 amendments and it was debated for over 14 months with with 50 days of parliamentary debate, in what was – and still is – the most scrutiny that any bill has had in the history of Parliament.

Lansley was sacked less than a year and a half after his nuanced apology in Liverpool. His ambition to reconfigure the NHS, nine years in the making, had derailed the coalition, stultified and appalled vast swathes of the NHS and, ultimately, cost him his job. He left a toxic legacy within the NHS profession towards the Conservative-led coalition, with the more affable Jeremy Hunt moved into place with the (sole) brief to dampen the NHS as an election issue.

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UNCUT: Starmer placed a bet on Labour wanting to win again. It is time to double down on it

01/02/2021, 11:20:03 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Tom McTague in The Atlantic paints a scenario that should worry Keir Starmer. While Britain’s Covid-19 death toll has risen above 100,000, it may be that a successful vaccine drive leaves a more lasting memory.

After this piece was published, the UK’s vaccine spat with the EU escalated. Poor handling by Brussels leaves the impression that the EU do not like the UK’s vaccine lead, making it easier to spin the UK’s rollout as a Brexit win.

Suddenly, Kate Bingham might seem as likely as anyone else to be the next prime minister. In the meantime, the incumbent has reason to be optimistic about the next 12 months.

While Brexit’s teething problems are painful for those directly impacted, the strong consensus among economic forecasters is that output lost to Brexit in 2021 will be more than offset by gains from lockdown ending and pent up demand being unlocked.

These forecasters have an average UK GDP 2021 projection of 4.4%. Not enough to recover all growth lost in 2020 but our fastest annual rate of growth for over 30 years. Sufficient to make many people feel better about themselves and possibly their government. The resumption of activities now prevented by social distancing – visiting family, drinking with friends, hugging strangers – will also trigger a pervasive positivity in wider senses than the narrowly economic.

Labour should not be complacent about the extent to which the prime minister might make more sense in this context. But – as Dan Pfeiffer often says on Pod Save America – we should worry about everything in politics but panic about none of it.

Now is the time for Starmer to reenergise his leadership’s founding purpose. This is to show that our party has changed from that decisively rejected in 2019 and deserves a mandate to lead our country in a new direction.

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UNCUT: The ripples from the US election and its aftermath could profoundly affect Labour’s journey from here

25/01/2021, 09:17:33 AM

by Rob Marchant

It should be uncontroversial at this point, for any (small-“d”) democrat, to say that the election of Joe Biden is immensely good news for the world in general. Following the final debacle of Trump’s disastrous presidency, the Capitol insurrection, the alternative in retrospect seems ever more unthinkable, because it is now clear that his open contempt for democracy could easily have led the US to a much, much darker place than happened on the 6th of January.

We are now at least in the happy position of going back to something resembling politics-as-usual. We can finally start to critique the new presidency as we would have done any other and, for us on the left, things mostly look very promising. But there are also some flaws, as we shall see.

But, at the risk of seeming a little parochial, what’s in it for us? What difference does it make to us, the Labour party, in its struggle to clean itself up and get back into power?

The good news is that, obviously, we will have an occupant of the White House who might be reasonably expected to prefer a Starmer-led government to a Johnson-led one (as indeed he would prefer an anyone-led government, if insider accounts of Biden’s dislike for our current PM is to be believed. One thing is clear: there will be a serviceable working relationship between the two leaders – there always is – but it will not be a chummy, personal one, like Clinton-Blair or Bush-Blair).

There are two caveats to this positive: first, Starmer needs not to do anything ill-advised. For example, this effect didn’t work so well with Ed Miliband, who was reportedly persona non grata in the Obama White House for some time, following his disastrous handling of the Syria vote in the Commons. Second, that this kind of “left-left” alignment is not usually much direct help anyway, although some occasional supportive noises from the president might help a little to build Starmer’s desired image as a PM-in-waiting.

And now to the bad news.

First, there will be things Starmer will want just as much as Johnson, which Biden may not help with, or even actively work against. On a post-Brexit trade deal, for example, all the signs are that Biden may well opt for Obama’s celebrated “back of the queue” position. Or that from this, the first president with Irish roots to win office in twenty-eight years, help in resisting what is likely to be increasing pressure towards Irish reunification seems unlikely to be forthcoming. These issues need to be handled with care.

Second, and perhaps more concerning, there are concrete things Biden has already done, and others he might do very soon, which can create a negative knock-on for Starmer. Why so?

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UNCUT: Could Blair have won in 2010?

08/01/2021, 10:40:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘The biggest mistake Tony Blair made as prime minister,’ Andrew Adonis tweeted earlier this week, ‘was to stand down in 2007.

Instead, ‘[h]e should have continued and won the 2010 election, then Britain would be fundamentally better today.’

From the pit of despondency, on the wrong end of a four-nil run of election defeats, we can perhaps excuse his Lordship’s nostalgia. But is there anything in it?

There are three big assertions to unpack here.

The first, is that Blair ‘should have’ or, perhaps, could have stayed on as leader in 2007. Adonis suggests it would have been plain sailing, only it was not.

Blair was not in good shape, politically, at that stage – particularly with the various allegations about cash-for-honours swirling around him – and no shortage of his own MPs trying to manoeuvre him out. There was a sense, particularly after Iraq, that his time had passed.

Granted, Blair won a thumping victory in 2005, two years after the invasion, but it was later, when the full futility of the war became fully apparent, that the damage to his reputation really started to show.

The second question is whether he would have won the 2010 general election. You can cogitate on all kinds of hypotheticals, but it feels that, thirteen years into the job, Tony Blair’s appeal would have seriously eroded by then.

He might still have fared better than Gordon Brown did, but it would have been a case of diminishing returns. Between 1997 and 2005, the party lost 3.9 million voters.

But let us assume he did win in 2010.

For a modernised Conservative party under David Cameron to be stopped dead in its tracks by Labour would have precipitated a major schism in the Tories, who were already under growing threat from UKIP.

Might a fourth term Blair legacy have been the realignment of the Right?

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INSIDE: Has the Boundary Commission just thrown Labour a lifeline?

07/01/2021, 10:39:01 PM

David Cameron was clear. He wanted to reduce the number of parliamentary seats from 650 seats to 600.

Estimates varied, but Labour was set to be the big loser (quelle surprise) – holding more seats with smaller populations in urban areas – and some estimates suggested the party would forfeit up to 30 MPs.

However, hope springs eternal and now the Boundary Commission for England has announced that it is starting afresh, keeping the number of seats at 650.

In fact, ten new seats are to be created in England – mainly in the south east – coming at the expense of the north and midlands and Wales.

The commission will publish draft proposals for new seats in the summer with rounds of consultation next year before final proposals are submitted to Parliament in July 2023.

Tim Bowden, Secretary to the Boundary Commission, confirmed there is ‘likely to be a large degree of change across the country.’

Logically, this will delay the selection of parliamentary candidates, leaving as little as 18 months before the next general election to put candidates in place.

However, an election in winter 2024 is unlikely, so if we assume a spring or autumn date, candidates will have only been in place for between nine and 14 months.

This plays to the advantage of incumbent MPs – especially those Red Wall Tories – who can expect to have a built a profile in at least part of any new seats.

Yet, it could have been a far worse outcome for Labour and makes the mammoth task of winning the next election just that little bit smaller.

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