Archive for November, 2010

Sunday News Review

28/11/2010, 08:40:57 AM

Ed sets out programme of review

Ed Miliband vowed yesterday to give everyone a say in drawing up Labour’s policies – and even the chance to choose his successor. He made the pledge as he urged the party to move beyond New Labour and reconnect with the public after “losing its way”. In his first major event since returning from paternity leave, Mr Miliband warned that Labour could not wait for David Cameron’s coalition to “screw up” if it wanted to snatch power back. He said: “We shouldn’t mistake the anger at what the coalition is doing to the country for a sense that it isn’t as much about us as it is about them. The strategy that says ‘wait for them to screw it up, simply be a strong opposition’ is not a strategy that is going to work.”- The Mirror

Labour, stressed Miliband, could not survive as a “party of declining membership” but had to relaunch itself as a “genuine community organisation” that embraced non-members. Miliband, who has been criticised privately by some Labour MPs for not making his mark on the leadership rapidly or firmly enough, insisted that union members would remain a vital part of decision-making. But aides said he was keen to see the public involved in future as well. One idea could be to give non-Labour members a share of the vote in future leadership contests – a move that could anger the grassroots. One senior Labour MP said: “If members of the public are to have a say in all these things, what is the point of being a Labour member?” The moves will be seen as Miliband hitting back at critics who say he is in the grip of the unions.  – The Observer

On first sight it would seem ridiculous to claim that a young Opposition leader, whose party is up to five points ahead in the polls and who faces a Coalition Government driving through a harsh programme of spending cuts, could be on the edge of a crisis just two months after being elected. However, Mr Miliband’s speech to Labour’s National Policy Forum in Gillingham on Saturday was inevitably branded a relaunch as he sought to re-establish his authority on a party still bearing the scars both of its general election defeat in May and the subsequent leadership battle, which saw Mr Miliband win the crown narrowly and controversially from his brother David, owing his success to union members’ votes. Labour, two months on, is still suffering from damaging infighting and junior Labour MPs have begun dividing shadow cabinet ministers into those who have “stepped up to the plate” to take the fight to the coalition and those who haven’t. Ominously for Mr Miliband, growing numbers on his own side appear to think he is falling into the second category. – The Telegraph

ED MILIBAND yesterday told party members to leave New Labour behind if they want to return to power. The new leader wants to distance himself from the policies drawn up in the 1990s that put Tony Blair and Gordon Brown into office. In a keynote speech, he vowed to transform Labour by reaching out to the people of Britain and again becoming the party of their “hopes and aspirations”. Addressing Labour’s national policy forum in Gillingham, Kent, Miliband said there had to be a move “beyond New Labour” following the party’s election defeat in May. – The Daily Record

The right-wing papers are eagerly writing off Ed Miliband. They are a bit premature. Although he has only had the job for a couple of months, he has Labour ahead in the polls and his own rating is better than David Cameron’s was at this stage of his leadership.Mr Miliband has a lot to do and he knows it. But he has the great advantages of an imploding LibDem vote and the effects of the brutal cuts that will be felt next year. There is everything to play for. Mr Miliband and his Shadow Cabinet team have to remember that, stay focussed and all pull together. – The Mirror (more…)

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Miliband must resist the evils of spin

27/11/2010, 06:34:14 PM

by Keith Darlington

As a member of the Labour party for over 35 years, and one who passionately cares about our party, I believe that we need a frank and honest assessment of our period of government and what went wrong.

Ed Miliband is right to set up a review. I hope that this will mean not just reviewing policy but also consider our conduct during our time in government. Some in our party seem to think that all we need to do is tweak some policies here and there and everything will be fine. For me, this won’t do. For at the heart of everything that went wrong during the New Labour years was Blair and Brown’s obsession with spin.

The spin doctor culture, of which Brown and Blair were among the main architects, succeeded in shutting out much sensible debate and enforcing a regime of top-down control at the expense of constructive and open discussion. In the early years of government, there might have been a case for some of this after the chaos in our party in the 1980s – for fear of being off-message and divided. But it went much too far in that it eventually poisoned our image with much of the public who came to see us as out-of-touch, untrustworthy, unprincipled and obsessed with power. (more…)

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The week Uncut

27/11/2010, 11:00:25 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut last week:

Dan Hodges identifies a new demographic, the “vajazzled middle”

Sally Bercow says that Osborne’s VAT bombshell is both mad & bad

Nick Pearce sets even tests for Ed Miliband

Tom Watson says Andy Coulson is off, but there is more to come

Uncut leads the charge for Mandelson to appear on strictly

John Woodcock says it’s time to listen and think

Jonathan Todd on who the new Lib Dem President really is, and why

Anthony Painter says Lord Sugar is right and Nick Clegg is wrong

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Saturday News Review

27/11/2010, 09:06:55 AM

Beyond New Labour

Labour leader Ed Miliband will warn tomorrow that the same old stance from Labour will not restore trust in the party, as he unveils 22 policy inquiries and promises the party will engage in a million conversations to reconnect with a disillusioned public. Miliband is due to address his first national policy forum as leader, where he will describe the party as beyond New Labour, and say it needs to start with a blank page on policy. His plans arguably represent the biggest policy review undertaken by the party since “Meet the challenge, Make the change”, the two-year overhaul overseen by Neil Kinnock that failed to win the party the 1992 election. – The Guardian

Mr Miliband will announce details of Labour’s root-and-branch policy review. He will insist that it will be an outward-looking process in which local parties and trade unions will hold “one million conversations” with members of the public. Working groups will be chaired by Shadow Cabinet members but will include outside experts such as businessmen and academics. Think tanks and charities will be invited to submit ideas. A Labour spokesman said: “We want this process to be rooted in real people’s lives. We want it to lead to real change in our movement. Ed is determined that Labour mustn’t retreat into a discussion with itself. He wants Labour to reach out in a way it was never able to do while in government, and draw on the best ideas from across the political landscape.” – The Independent

He will announce a series of policy-making initiatives and a widespread review of Labour’s internal workings. This may include a look at how leaders are elected in future. A ticklish topic given the controversy over Mr Miliband’s own union-weighted victory. One thing is sure. Ed Miliband will set out his stall as a leader with the humility to listen to his party, which in turn must have the humility to listen to the electorate. Particularly its squeezed middle. – Sky

It’s not difficult John

On the Today programme this morning an incredulousJohn Humprhys could not believe Ed Miliband’s suggestion that the “squeezed middle” consisted of people earning a bit above or a bit below £26,000. The Institute of Fiscal Studies might have told Humprhys that this was indeed the band in the middle of British society, and that only the richest 15 per cent or so of people pay the 40 percent tax rate. When I last spoke to the IFS, it told me that it makes as much sense to look household income as individual salaries. By this measure, families bringing in £30-£50,000 a year make up the broad middle class, which fills so much of Britain. Exactly the people Miliband was talking about, in other words. The financial crisis is hammering them. – The Spectator (more…)

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Jesse Norman offers utopian conservatism, but the big society is the left’s for the taking

26/11/2010, 03:00:53 PM

by Anthony Painter

Two golfers shuffle up to the first tee. The first pulls out a shiny new, technologically engineered driver and pings a 250 yard shot straight down the centre of the fairway. He strokes his designer cap and steps back so that the second can settle into her stance. She lifts her single club- a six iron- and swings at the ball, just clipping it as she loses her balance in the effort of it all. The ball bounces a few yards forward, coming to an embarrassing stop 65 yards and 45 degrees off to the right. She daren’t take another shot such is her shame.

How can these golfers compete?

A fabian – as Jesse Norman caricatures the entire left in his new handbook for Cameronism, Big Society – would reach for the handicap system right away. The caricature is fair neither to fabianism or the left but let’s run with it.

They could play together for a while but really it wouldn’t be a competition. The first player surges ahead, wins, the scores would be narrowed at the end and both players would be left angry, frustrated, or both.

If I’ve understood Jesse Norman’s argument right, I suspect we’d have a similar analysis of a better way to proceed than that. As it happens, despite her humiliation the second golfer showed some instinctive talent for the pastime. She takes some lessons, practices intensely for a few years, and when the two players end up on the same tee once again they have a good, competitive game. They even get on rather well. We forget the result. In philosophical terms, this is the capabilities approach associated with Amartya Sen in contrast to outcomes-oriented philosophy of John Rawls.

But our lady golfer has to work long hours at minimum wage, she has a family to feed, and a husband who is not sympathetic to her taking up a pastime. She lacks time, resource, support, and consequently esteem. The rematch never happens. Quite simply, she doesn’t have the power to nurture her talents so that she can at least compete and gain some form of parity of esteem.

It is on the question of whether the second match happens or not that Norman and I diverge. I suspect it probably wouldn’t. Norman is more optimistic that it would. It’s important to understand why we would disagree. (more…)

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Bilateralism is a neat policy, which doesn’t actually work

26/11/2010, 11:45:01 AM

by Nick Keehan

We live in an uncertain and dangerous world. Look at North Korea. It is a world of international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and cyber attack, as well as of good old-fashioned state-versus-state conflict. A world in which threats in one region can quickly spread to others.

As David Cameron noted in his foreign policy speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet last week, such a world requires that Britain adopt a strategic approach to its national security. To this end, the government, immediately on entering office, established a national security council. This would bring together defence, development, diplomacy and domestic policy, “to consider Britain’s strategic interest in the round and to ensure that foreign policy runs through the veins of the whole of government”. Which would be all well and good, had not foreign policy ceased to run through the veins of the foreign office. (more…)

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The vajazzled middle.

26/11/2010, 07:00:41 AM

by Dan Hodges

Harriet Harman or Katie Price. Who is the most compelling role model?

To us, it’s an easy answer. The glamorous, media savvy stunner was always going to edge out the artist formally known as Jordan. Alex Reid? Tough? Has he ever met Jack Dromey?

Sadly, our view is not shared by the producers of Today. Seasoned BBC journalists are up in arms at news that the retired page 3 empress will guest edit their program. “It is showing a certain contempt for the audience”, said one BBC source. “They are quite a high-brow lot”.

The BBC aristocracy may cringe. But we sneer at our peril. Because whether we like it or not, for a significant proportion of young working class women, Katie Price is their Harriet Harman. Tough. Successful. Empowering.

My wife recently attended a debate on the “Pricey phenomenon”. One contributor described her as “Vichy France with tits”.  Katie Price that is, not my wife.

It’s a great line. But whether we regard Price as an appropriate ambassador for post-feminism, or a Trojan horse in a g-string, is irrelevant. We’re not her market. They are: “Bernadette and Keilly McCrory, 26 and 24 respectively, who think she is “brilliant, just dead down to earth, just a really nice, normal girl”. Ashley Ribair, 22, who says: “She’s just someone you can relate to. She’s been through such a lot but she’s just a real role model in the way she’s dealt with it”. Kayleigh Sansom, 19, who said she’d read her first book “when I was pregnant and was going to be a single mother and I just thought if she can cope, then so can I”.

That’s not some ad blurb. That’s from the Observer: “she inspires the kind of devotion that will inspire nearly 1,000 women to queue in the freezing cold outside Borders in Wallsend on a Wednesday morning in February”.

Katie Price may not be our cup of tea. But her constituency is our constituency. And if we can’t start to connect with her audience, we’re not connecting with our own. (more…)

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Friday News Review

26/11/2010, 06:55:51 AM

AV campaign heats up

The 5 May referendum will ask voters whether they want to keep the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs or to replace it with the alternative vote (AV), under which candidates are ranked in order of preference. The president of the “no” campaign was named last night as Margaret Beckett, the former Foreign Secretary. She will be joined by four other Labour veterans – Lord Prescott, Lord Reid, Lord Falconer, and David Blunkett. Three Tory Cabinet ministers will be campaign patrons – William Hague, Kenneth Clarke, and Baroness Warsi. The heavyweight line-up – described by No to AV as “titans of the British political system” – is evidence the campaign to retain the status quo will be highly-organised. Supporters of a yes vote intend to portray themselves as the “people against the political establishment”. – The Independent

The depth of division within Labour over voting reform was exposed tonight when it was announced that Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, is to lead a group of the party’s big beasts in a campaign to reject the reform in a referendum on 5 May. Beckett will chair the campaign against the alternative vote system, with the help of figures including two former Labour home secretaries, David Blunkett and Lord Reid, former lord chancellor Lord Falconer, and the former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott. Labour’s manifesto committed the party to the referendum, and several shadow cabinet members, including Alan Johnson, John Denham and Peter Hain, will campaign for a yes vote. – The Guardian

The No to AV campaign has unveiled its list of patrons, and a fascinating picture emerges of cross-party co-operation between some of the biggest hitters (Prescott’s on the list) from the Labour and Tory sides. It starts to look like a pincer movement by the establishments of the two big parties, designed to squeeze a Lib Dem orientated Yes campaign in the middle. And, yes, yes, I know there are Labour people in the pro-AV team but unless they can pull a rabbit out of the hat soon then they risk the widespread perception being that their campaign is broadly Clegg’s creature. Considering recent developments, such as the emergence of considerable opposition to the Lib Dems on student fees, having Nick Clegg out front isn’t likely to be a campaigning advantage. – Wall Street Journal

Ed sets out his stall

Thirteen years in government led to many lasting achievements, but also to a party remote from many people’s hopes and aspirations. In government we lost the humility to listen and learn. In opposition we must find it again. We must understand why, despite all that was achieved over the last decade, so many people who work hard and want to get on came to feel squeezed. Why did too many families feel that the gap between their lives and their dreams became larger and harder to bridge? It is a gap that I fear this Coalition will widen dramatically. The prospects for millions of families under Mr Cameron’s government look bleak. Slashing funding for universities and tripling student fees risks making the burden of personal debt far worse. The slogan “we are all in it together” is being used as rhetorical cover to push millions of families outside of the basic social deal, that if you work hard and do the right things, you will be helped to get on. It’s not just Child Benefit. Scaling back support for child care through tax credits and support for young people in education will hit the aspirations of millions. – Ed Miliband, The Telegraph (more…)

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Who the new Lib Dem president really is. And why.

25/11/2010, 03:00:43 PM

by Jonathan Todd

For all Nick Clegg’s slightly vague talk of “giving the party with the biggest mandate the chance to govern” it wasn’t hard, given opinion polls, to see a Tory/Lib Dem government as a potential outcome throughout the general election. I warned Westmorland and Lonsdale that they might vote Liberal Democrat and end up with such a government. They didn’t listen. I was less surprised by the government we ended up with than the extent to which the motivations of my Liberal Democrat opponent, Tim Farron, recently elected president of his party, seemed so close to those of Labourites.

He professes “anger at the injustice” of Margaret Thatcher. At hustings he’d offer impassioned rhetoric on whatever social problem was most germane. Whether this was the struggles of hill sheep farmers or global warning, he challenged market iniquities. His stump speech tells of watching a repeat of Cathy Come Home as a teenager and being so compelled to do something about the injustice he’d witnessed that he decided to use his pocket money to join a political party instead of buying a Smiths single. While he was far more profligate in Biblical quotations than me, at hustings we battled to colonise the language of poverty and oppression.

Farron’s constituency once belonged to Tory grandee, Michael Jopling, whom Alan Clark famously recorded saying of Michael Heseltine that “his trouble is that he had to buy his own furniture”. Jopling stood down in 1997, bequeathing Tim Collins a majority of over 16,000. Collins was defeated eight years later by a candidate fired by rage at a Prime Minister in whose government Jopling served.

Farron first contested the seat in 2001, when Collins was a shoo-in. The next year he switched jobs to work in the constituency and at some stage – long before it was thought a potential site of a Tory “decapitation” – he settled his family locally. All of this suggests reserves of self-belief and a willingness to play the long game.

He may sometimes sound like a lost member of our tribe, but part of the reason for Farron turning a safe Tory seat into a solid Liberal Democrat one has been a ruthless crushing of Labour. His annihilation of me came after all Labour councillors had been vanquished. As considerable Tory support remains in the more rural parts of the constituency, which have recently formed the backdrop to Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan’s The Trip, he has assiduously worked wards that were once Labour.

Good Labour councillors have been crushed by Farron’s machine. While it would delight me to see these councillors returned to office, Farron represents a different kind of Liberal Democrat from, say, David Laws. In effect, they are now in different parties.

As Tim Montgomerie observes, this is a governing ensemble in three parts:

  1. the almost indistinguishable front benches;
  2. the Tory right;
  3. the left of the Liberal Democrats who, in their hearts, would still have preferred a deal with Labour.

Farron is one of the leaders of the latter and Laws seeks – with, for example, his crass dig at Ed Miliband for buying a round of teas – only to help the former.

The difference between being a human shield happily (Laws) and begrudgingly (Farron) may seem trivial when you are protecting a prime minister as destructive as she who inspired Farron to go into politics. But there is significance in the distinction. The willing human shields will be appealed to by Cameronites like Nick Boles who intend the Tory/Lib-Dem alliance to endure beyond this parliament. Longevity in this axis is to be feared by Labour.

Immediately upon becoming Lib Dem president, however, Tim Farron dismissed the notion as “absolutely stark raving mad”.

Labour might build upon this by following the advice offered by Liberal Democrat David Hall-Matthews in Renewal:

“There might be more to be gained for Labour by trying to woo the Lib Dems – or at least by highlighting their (huge) differences from the Tories, rather than condemning their similarities. It would be a disaster for the left if a 2015 balanced parliament created the possibility of a clear Lib-Lab majority but five years of mutual carping had poisoned the well”.

It would be in tune with the post-tribal sensibilities of the public for Labour to be upfront about where we can agree with the Liberal Democrats and where we can’t. This should uncover a considerable basis of common ground, potentially on issues like a land tax and a second chamber elected by full PR, which the Lib Dems share with Labour and which neither can share with the Tories. The election of a social democrat like Farron as president and quotations like that from Hall-Matthews indicate that there are plenty of Liberal Democrats looking for common ground. For them, perpetual governance by the Boles-Law class is almost as nightmarish as it is for us.

We shouldn’t forget, and should continue to resist, the damage that Farron has wrought on a CLP. We should be suspicious of his ambitions (having been told he was crazy to think he could beat Collins, he may now secretly think he can lead the Lib Dems to be the largest leftist force). We should expect him to over-egg the progressive credentials of the Liberal Democrats.

But we should probe these credentials fairly and seek – rather than firing endless rounds into the human shields – to build bridges and back-channels with those of Farron’s bent. This will expose the greatest enemy: David Cameron. And we may even discover that Farron got Stockholm syndrome not six months ago but soon after watching Cathy Come Home.

Jonathan Todd is Uncut’s economic columnist and was Labour’s Parliamentary candidate in Westmorland and Lonsdale at the 2010 general election.

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Let’s not play politics with drugs

25/11/2010, 12:00:42 PM

by James Watkins

Drug addiction is too often the background noise in communities up and down the country. Even if your own family has not been affected, it is very likely you will know someone who, in some form, has been damaged by this trade.

The financial costs of the drugs trade also demonstrates in stark terms the harm that is being caused. For instance, in the West Midlands police area, as of January 2009, crime linked to 1125 class A drug users had an estimated impact of £108 million on the economy. The charity, Addaction, claim that between 1998 and 2008, drug-related ill health and crime cost the UK economy £110 billion.

The last government had made progress in tackling this problem. The 2009/10 British crime survey found that 8.6% of 16 – 59 year olds in England and Wales used illicit drugs. That figure in 2008/09 had been 10.1%. The number of 16 – 24 year olds using illicit drugs in England and Wales dropped to 20% – compared to 22.6% in 2008/09.

But these statistics also show the shockingly high numbers of people whose lives are being steadily destroyed by drugs. The government will shortly publish its public health and drugs strategies – which will have implications for every single family. This will also be a test of Labour’s commitment to constructive opposition. (more…)

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