Archive for March, 2011

What are Labour councils for?

31/03/2011, 01:00:14 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Socialism, Herbert Morrison once helpfully summarised, is what the Labour party does. A partial assessment to be sure, but is there a more reliable compass for what Labour politicians in office should find themselves doing?

In a few short weeks, local authorities up and down the country will go red as voters give their verdict on 12 months of dismal Tory-Lib Dem cutbacks and recession. But what, when faced with reducing expenditure by a quarter, will Labour councils offer by way of a response?

Labour today launches its campaign for those elections with a blizzard of statistics and weblinks playing out the familiar annual ritual of showing that Labour councils are better value than Tory ones. The Tories will, naturally enough, produce rival spreadsheets next week showing the reverse. Plus ca change.

To accompany the usual political riffs, the party has also published a document entitled: Labour: Your voice in tough times. It suggests that: “…every Labour councillor you elect will be your community’s first line of defence against the damage being done by a Conservative-led government and its Liberal Democrat allies”. (more…)

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The good news and the groupthink

31/03/2011, 07:00:02 AM

by Peter Watt

Less than a year after the horrors of securing a derisory 29% in the general election, Labour is competitive again and is rightly optimistic for the first time in many years.

The party is consistently ahead in the polls, and by-election results are stunning at a Parliamentary and local government level. At the same time, the government seems gaffe-prone: just think forests, Andy Coulson or school sport partnerships. And it is doing things which are unpopular and controversial like introducing spending cuts, raising tuition fees and reforming welfare. Economic recovery is slow at best, inflation is a problem and interest rates look like they are on their way up, pushing up mortgage costs.  And all that before the full impact of the cuts are felt and the outcomes of May’s elections and AV referendum impacts the morale and unity of the government. Mutterings in the newspapers about a possible early general election following a coalition ripped apart by its own divisions are nonsense – but they are indicative of unease.  And all this less than a year into the government. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

31/03/2011, 06:21:55 AM

Cameron embarrassed by Lansley’s failure to build reform support

NHS chiefs are urging ministers to rethink their health service shakeup because the speed and scale of the radical restructuring could damage patient care and cause financial problems. The government’s failure to persuade health professionals that its proposals are needed is destabilising the NHS and alienating staff, the NHS Confederation warns. It represents 95% of the service’s employers, such as the bosses of hospitals, primary care trusts and ambulance services. In a new paper, the confederation says that the coalition should rethink its insistence that trusts be abolished in 2013 and replaced by consortiums of GPs to commission patients’ care. Instead, the trusts should be allowed to continue and the new consortiums be given the freedom to develop slowly then gradually acquire control over treatment budgets, in what would be a major U-turn for the health secretary,Andrew Lansley. The confederation’s intervention comes amid intense government discussions involving David Cameron about how to improve the health and social care bill after the Liberal Democrat spring conference’s call for major changes. Lansley has caused growing concern among coalition colleagues by failing to win over public opinion, or any major health or medical organisation, by insisting on a big bang approach to change in the NHS.- the Guardian

I know it is wise not to believe everything you read in the papers, but if I were Andrew Lansley, I would not like what I see. There is enough around, as his officials will be muttering nervously to each other this morning, to suggest David Cameron is about to cut him adrift. By this I do not mean that he faces the axe in the reshuffle, though it is not impossible. What I do mean is that the Prime Minister’s political instincts finally appear to be kicking in, and he is seeking to avert the car crash Lansley has inadvertently caused. A succession of ministers has already learned that the Prime Minister tends to let them get on with it, pays scant attention to detail during policy planning, but then finds he has to step in. It is becoming harder and harder to find an expert voice or a vested interest (sometimes the two are combined) who thinks the non-mandated reforms will do anything other than real damage to healthcare. Cameron has had his jibe at the BMA as being just another trade union, but beneath the bravado, he is getting worried, and looking to make change. – Alistair Campbell

Warsi under fire again for AV comments

Baroness Warsi, the Conservative Party chairman, was accused of scoring a spectacular own goal last night in a speech about the British National Party, provoking calls from some Tory MPs for David Cameron to move her in a summer reshuffle. Senior Conservatives joined Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians in criticising Lady Warsi after she claimed that a Yes vote in the referendum on electoral reform would boost the prospects of the BNP. They pointed out that the BNP was on the same side as the Tories in opposing a switch to the alternative vote (AV) in the 5 May referendum. Her critics accused her of giving the BNP credibility and publicity – the very things she argued that AV would provide for the far-right party. One senior Tory MP said: “It looks as though she didn’t think it through. There’s a growing feeling that she should be moved to a job as a departmental minister.” – the Independent (more…)

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Labour’s defence policy review: responsibilities beyond our borders

30/03/2011, 01:00:24 PM

by Jim Murphy

Yesterday the shadow defence team launched Labour’s defence policy review with five specific areas of work. Dramatic events around the world and the deployment of UK armed forces make this an important time for debate on defence policy.

For the country, it is a moment to decide on the nature of our involvement in causes beyond our borders in our national interest or for humanitarian ends. For the Conservatives, following the exposure of a weak, narrow foreign policy and a rushed, widely criticised defence review, it is a moment to reflect on whether they remain the natural home of the forces. For the Left it is a moment to decide whether we are bound by the legacies of Iraq or whether we can learn the right lessons and now help shape defence policy around our values.

We all know that the security landscape is fast changing with a myriad of fresh and well-established challenges. The most immediate is Libya. The UK government was right to take the action it did. As internationalists we had both the responsibility and the opportunity to help enforce international law and save innocents from slaughter and have therefore backed the UN decision. But in doing so we will keep asking the questions the country wants answered. (more…)

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Exposed: Osborne’s secret addiction to debt

30/03/2011, 07:00:33 AM

by Dan Cooke

A charlatan chancellor is as predestined to opprobrium as a philandering preacher.

This government has found a vivid and compelling rhetoric to justify its choice to slash services and squeeze the middle. When George Osborne urges the need to pay off the “nation’s credit card” it resonates with the common sense verity that all should live within their means. The polls show every week that this homely paradigm is the bedrock of government support and the stumbling block for Labour breakthrough.

Yet Osborne’s silver tongue is forked. His strictures on the evils of debt are an indictment in his own case. His ultimate comeuppance is as certain as for a televangelist preaching chastity while screwing half his flock.

The final audit of coalition Britain has not yet been written, but the first draft is the revised forecasts of the office of budgetary responsibility. These show the truth about the preacher when the camera is off. They tell a story of more public borrowing and more private borrowing, even as public and private investment is squeezed. And they tell a tale of premeditated deception on debt. (more…)

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Wednesday News Review

30/03/2011, 06:42:10 AM

Creep and compromise

After a day-long conference in London on how to move forward the political process in Libya, other developments included: An admission the Coalition did not yet fully know who made up the opposition, which came after Nato said American intelligence had shown “flickers” of al Qaeda among the rebels; A suggestion the Coalition would be prepared to see Colonel Gaddafi go into exile if a country was willing to take him; A claim by the Italians that several nations were working on a deal involving a ceasefire, exile for Gaddafi and a talks framework between Libya’s tribal leaders and opposition figures; Nick Clegg warning about the “danger of overreaching” during a speech in Mexico, but stressing liberal interventionism must be upheld. – Daily Herald

David Cameron today promised a “new beginning for Libya” was within sight as Britain held open the door for Colonel Gaddafi to flee into exile. He vowed that the UK and other allies would not abandon the people rising up against the dictator. Foreign Secretary William Hague had earlier made it clear that Britain may be willing to allow Gaddafi to flee into exile. Piling the pressure on the dictator, America and Britain also refused to rule out arming the rebels. Mr Hague signalled that Britain may be willing to allow the tyrant to escape to a safe haven as part of a deal to end the bloodshed. “We are not in control of where he might go. I am not going to choose Colonel Gaddafi’s retirement home,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Italy has already proposed an exit route into exile for Gaddafi – and Turkey has offered to act as a mediator to end the conflict. – Evening Standard (more…)

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£150m cut from schools standards grant at zero notice

29/03/2011, 04:00:17 PM

Michael Gove is acquiring the reputation as the most “accident prone” member of the government. A reputation that has been enhanced by a letter received by schools and local authorities last week, which has come into Uncut’s possession. The letter, which could win the Sir Humphrey Appleby award for lack of clarity, explains that the government is not paying councils the last instalment of the school standards grant before it is abolished at the end of the financial year and the money merged into school’s mainstream funding.

The letter reads:

“we recognise these developments may cause an accounting issue for local authorities”.

What “these developments” actually do is cut, at zero notice, £150 million from a grant dedicated to raise standards in education.

The school standards fund is paid to councils, who then hand it on to schools to pay for a range of work to, as the name suggests, improve standards.

These range from providing extra staff for pupils who need the support, meeting the costs of running homework clubs after school, recruiting advance skills teachers and a whole lot more. At a time when schools budgets are being cut in real terms across the country, this sudden loss of money will have a significant effect. The impact of the cut is exaggerated by its suddenness, giving local authorities and schools no time at all to plan for its impact.

Over 100 local authorities have protested to Michael Gove about this change, which many local councillors and head teachers are calling a “stealth cut”.  Either this cut was planned for some time and simply not announced or, rumours suggest, the department for education is struggling to balance the books at the end of the year and looking for quick ways of saving money.

If so, it adds to the weight of evidence that the government’s cuts package cannot actually be delivered in reality.

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A Labour-SNP coalition after May? Stranger things have happened (just).

29/03/2011, 01:00:25 PM

by Sunder Katwala

Could Labour and the Liberal Democrats govern together, despite their current animosities? It would be unwise to rule anything out about what is a very unpredictable electoral environment in 2015. But we might have a Lab-Lib government in five weeks rather than four years, once the Scottish elections take place on May 5.

Who governs Scotland may be the biggest unknown about May’s elections.

Labour, having performed extraordinarily well in Scotland in the British general election last May, remains favourite to top the poll, though SNP first minister, Alex Salmond, remains the dominant public figure in Scottish politics, and the latest polls are neck and neck.

If Labour can emerge ahead of the SNP in the PR election, it will have to decide whether to seek to govern alone or with coalition partners.

The favoured option of many Scottish MSPs and MPs is for a minority government, on the model of that run by Alex Salmond since 2007. A fixed term parliament makes this possible. And there are many MPs and MSPs who wish that Labour had governed alone when it was last in office. Introducing PR for local government has been particularly unpopular with several in the Labour tribe. (more…)

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Half a minute Harris

29/03/2011, 11:00:04 AM

Episode 5: A distraction from the main event

You can catch up with previous episodes here:

Episode 1: Welcome, Uncut readers, to the mind of Tom Harris

Episode 2: Should we abstain on the welfare reform bill?

Episode 3: How’s that working out for you Polly?

Episode 4: Student visas… I’m with Theresa May on this one

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UK Uncut was always going to spoil Labour’s party, but we invited them in

29/03/2011, 07:00:01 AM

by Dan Hodges

By the time you read this I will just have completed my morning’s shopping. First, I’m popping into Fortnum and Mason. Unlike the majority of public school anarchists who were trashing the place on Saturday, I can’t afford a full hamper, so I’ll probably settle for a nice jar of strawberry jam. Then I’m planning to wander down to Topman. Not too sure what I’ll pick up there, seeing as I haven’t been in a Topman since Mark Harrison’s fifteenth birthday party back in 1984. I think I bought something grey. To me grey was, and still is, the new black. I was part of the south east London greyblock.

These are, I concede, small gestures. But there are times one has to take stand. Fight the power. Face up to the man.

At the moment I’m a lone voice. But I have high hopes of blossoming into a fledgling movement. UK Half Cut. Or Half Baked. Something like that.

Meanwhile, as I await the flood of applications to my new, organic, grassroots protest group, (I hope I can get a few  grandmothers who have never protested before; the BBC love those), I must proffer an apology. (more…)

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