Archive for June, 2011

Tuesday News Review

28/06/2011, 06:37:15 AM

University challenge

Universities could be handed over to private firms and run for profit under plans to be announced this week. The Government wants to let companies set up or take over existing colleges and offer student loans. The plans are included in Universities Minister David Willetts’s delayed universities white paper. But a report by the Government-funded Higher Education Funding Council for England warned businesses would be able to cherry-pick the most profitable courses. And it added there was no guarantee they would work to widen the participation of less-profitable students. Sally Hunt of the University and College Union said: “Millions of students face being ripped off by operators whose main interest is their own profits, not education.” – Daily Mirror

Ministers say their plans will sustain the country’s world class universities and improve higher education opportunities. They also argue the proposals – which are linked to those that will triple tuition fees to £9,000 pounds by 2012 – will increase social mobility. As part of the changes, universities will be forced to provide potential students with more information about their entry requirements, job prospects and the quality of teaching. Popular universities will be able to accept any student achieving at least two A grades and a B at A-level – in a move aimed at increasing access and helping the institutions grow. Universities and higher education colleges charging low fees could also be allowed to increase their numbers. It is hoped that would encourage the more expensive establishments to reduce what they charge. And the White Paper is also likely to contain measures to boost the powers of the regulator, the Office for Fair Access (Offa). The watchdog is tasked with ensuring universities do not price out poorer students with higher fees. But the University and College Union warned against reforms that would allow the expansion of private universities, which are not subject to the cap on numbers. – Sky News

Strike breakers

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has written to schools throughout England and Wales telling them they could be in breach of employment law and health and safety regulations if they keep schools open during the pensions-related dispute. The letter emerged as Downing Street yesterday backed plans for parents to staff classrooms during the walkout, with ministers appearing increasingly determined to face down militant trade unions. David Cameron will make a last-ditch direct appeal to public sector workers today not to go on strike on Thursday, insisting their current pension arrangements are “not fair to the taxpayer”. The Prime Minister will address the Local Government Association’s annual conference to warn council workers and teachers that the “situation is unsustainable” and that they must accept changes. Downing Street sources said that Mr Cameron would be “robust” but would attempt to set out a “fair argument” over why reform of pensions was essential. – Daily Telegraph

People support calls for a change in the law to ban strikes by public sector workers if there is a low turnout in strike ballots, according to a survey for The Independent. They also believe that trade unions will fail to win public sympathy if they carry out their threat to stage co-ordinated strikes in their battle over pensions. Unions vowed last night to press ahead with a strike by up to 750,000 public employees on Thursday, after talks with ministers ended without a last-minute breakthrough. The survey by ComRes found that, by a margin of 50 per cent to 32 per cent, people agreed that the Government should ban public sector strikes unless there has been a turnout of at least 50 per cent in the ballot to approve the industrial action. The finding will increase the pressure on ministers to bring in a legal minimum turnout – an idea favoured by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, the Confederation of British Industry and some Tory ministers and backbenchers. – the Independent

Fox brings top brass into line

Senior members of the military will lose their jobs if they allow costs to get out of control and fail to manage budgets, under radical reforms to the Ministry of Defence published on Monday. The heads of the army, Royal Navy and RAF will be held accountable as never before, and will also be responsible for making significant cuts to the numbers of officers in their ranks. All three services have become overladen with top brass, according to a report by Lord Levene, chairman of Lloyd’s of London. His proposals have been accepted wholesale by the coalition government, with the defence secretary, Liam Fox, saying the MoD had been bedevilled by poor management. In his 84-page report, Levene noted that inter-service rivalry had added to the problems and recommended the creation of a new joint forces command, headed by a high-ranked military commander, as one way of breaking down the barriers between them. In one startling admission, Levene said the MoD and military chiefs often showed a disregard for costs. “Finance and the need for affordability are not regarded as sufficiently important throughout the organisation,” he said, adding that service chiefs who failed to bring in projects on time and within budget should face the axe.” – the Guardian

What Mrs Bone wants, Mrs Bone gets

Conservative MP Peter Bone, claimed that his wife, Mrs Bone, had been singing the praises of the Prime Minister because the UK would not be involved in the Greek bail-out. He then sought assurances from Mr Cameron on behalf of Mrs Bone, that the UK would not be required to participate in a bail-out before 2013, saying that “she would be very happy if he could give her that undertaking”. Mr Cameron replied that he felt that a very big part of his life “was giving pleasure to Mrs Bone.” And added that on this occasion “he could only go so far”. In March, the Tory MP demanded David Cameron call for a referendum about whether the UK should remain in the EU, saying it would please, among others, Mrs Bone. – Daily Telegraph

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Lansley’s failed NHS reforms: a pyrrhic victory for Labour?

27/06/2011, 03:00:50 PM

by Rob Marchant

So, government reform plans stymied. The smile wiped off Cameron’s face. Lansley humiliated. Been rather a good few weeks, hasn’t it?

Not so fast. A few thoughts, before we raise our glasses in unrestrained Schadenfreude, might give us pause.

What has certainly happened, over and above any disagreements we might have with them on policy, are two major errors: first, that the Tories foolishly bit off more than they could chew. They tried to completely restructure the largest employer in Europe with a rather hastily-put-together plan, while simultaneously trying to make real terms cuts. They needed an administrator of global stature – think the chief executive of a multinational, the former prime minister of a minor European state, or something similar – to plot out a gradual-but-radical approach to reforming this huge, complex beast over a number of years. Instead they had the luckless Andrew Lansley, a career politician who enjoyed one brief period as a civil servant. In short, this job is not like restructuring the passports service (and look how difficult that turned out to be).

Their second error was political: they failed to win the political support for their ambitious plans, with the public, their coalition partners and doctors. Most healthcare observers are aware that the latter, vital, vested interest has a history of not-very-helpful conservatism with a small “c”: Nye Bevan as health secretary under Attlee famously “stuffed their mouths with gold”, that is, bought them off with a sweetheart deal. Not to mention the public, who have a special fondness for the NHS which often borders on the sentimental, especially when the word “private” is mentioned in the same breath. None of these important constituencies bought into the plan, and the plan failed.

So where does that leave the NHS? With a revised plan, so lacking in any kind of meaningful change as to be worse than useless. Increased productivity through mixing public and private provision (not private funding: a vital distinction) – which Labour first introduced in a modest way, which is practised widely on the continent and which an LSE study has shown to save lives – has been all but removed. Also, bureaucracies have been removed in secondary care, but then others put in their place, which look worse. As the Economist succinctly puts it:

“…a fudge now may well lead to more dissatisfaction and shortfalls in the future. Meanwhile, the rejig has spawned new layers of bodies to ensure accountability. There will be ‘clinical networks’, ‘clinical senates’ and a central, powerful commissioning body with local arms. So much for the bureaucratic cull Mr Lansley once promised”.

All in all, we are no nearer to giving patients the choice and standards of service required for a twenty first century service. As my esteemed Uncut colleague Peter Watt – a former nurse – has pointed out, there are in any case still serious existing problems with standards of care in parts of our health service, a point with which the Economist concurs:

“Scandals over the care of vulnerable patients and hospitals that fall below acceptable standards suggest the service is more prone to failure than its uncritical admirers admit”.

Whether or not you agree with all, any or no parts of the Tory reforms – and clearly there is a big debate to be had – one thing is certain: the NHS for the next few years will function at best the same, and probably worse, than it has been doing to date.

But the real issue is that the NHS is crying out for reform, and any major reform is now surely off the agenda for either party until after 2015. Cameron surely will not attempt it without the mandate of a full majority, and neither will we. Meanwhile, the system will tread water, whilst all the time new and more demands will be made of it, as medical technology advances and, with it, public expectations.

So, we have rightly criticised the flawed reform program of the Tories, and perhaps helped bring it down, although we should perhaps modestly admit that the above-mentioned constituencies were probably much more important than us. And we have bought some time to develop the distinct policy of our own which is so far lacking, still pending the policy review. We have a political win: fair enough. We have done the best we could, from the constraints of opposition.

But, without trying to apportion blame in this complex picture, the judgement of whether no reform at all is better than a Tory reform is a finely-balanced one. There are real losers in this botched outcome of the reform plans: your family, and mine. Who will now wait at least four years for any meaningful reform to be started and, realistically, perhaps ten or more for it to be completed. Ten years more treading water, while we continue to lag behind other countries’ healthcare.

We all deserve better.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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Cooper runs away with goal of the month

27/06/2011, 12:00:00 PM

Mauling of Mensch is Uncut readers’ favourite

by Atul Hatwal

In a resounding victory, Yvette Cooper’s Commons slap-down of Louise Mensch was Uncut readers’ choice for June’s shadow cabinet goal of the month. With 38% of the vote, Cooper was more than 17% ahead of Andy Burnham in second place who secured 21% of the vote.

Ed Balls was third with 18%,  Tessa Jowell was fourth on 16% and Mary Creagh fifth on 8%.

Over the past year, Yvette Cooper has quietly established herself as one of the shadow cabinet’s true big beasts.

She has featured in two of the three goal of the month competitions so far, and has successfully defined the government as slashing frontline police services.


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You can’t cherry pick solidarity

27/06/2011, 07:20:00 AM

by John Woodcock

All of us need to address how we change to meet Ed Miliband’s critically important challenge to reach out rather than look inwards.

His call to action is rightly pitched to all parts of our diverse Labour and Co-operative movement – constituency activists, MPs, frontbenchers, members of affiliated groups and trade unionists alike. As we seek to do more to talk to the public rather than just talk amongst ourselves, we need to remember that most of us need to combine more than one of those roles simultaneously; we know we cannot be at our best as Labour MPs serving the public unless we remain committed local campaigners and trade union members.

There will rightly be difficult and spirited debates about how a more open party should operate and how its structures should change. But we should keep in mind our leader’s other message of recent weeks – that united parties win and divided parties lose.

The relationship between the Labour party and Britain’s trade unions should remain as strong and vibrant through the twenty-first century as it was in the last century in which the party was founded. When functioning well as part of a broad and progressive coalition of support, the trade union link is a sign that Labour at its best can govern for the whole country in a way that can never be achieved by the Tories, whose basic antipathy to unions continues to colour all they do.

That is why I will have no truck with anyone who suggests breaking the link. And it is also why I was disappointed to hear one general secretary, Dave Prentis, suggesting last week that his Labour-affiliated union would start cherry picking which Labour candidates were worth supporting and which were not.

I was delighted when Unison supported me in the Barrow and Furness selection race before the last general election. In the year since I have been elected I have been proud to help lead a high profile local campaign to get a fairer deal for Cumbria teaching assistants, many of whom are Unison members.

I hope we will often campaign together, just as I know there will often be times when Dave and Labour’s frontbenchers will disagree. We cannot accept, for example, that the direction of public service reform set by the last Labour government was wrong because it apparently provided a bridge for the Tories to march over and inflict the chaos that is now blighting key areas. We will remain proud of New Labour’s record in government: in 13 years, during which we reversed decades of under-investment, improved the quality and scope of services and employed many more public servants. By 2010, the British people were being served by 85,000 more nurses, 36,000 more teachers, and 274,000 more support staff and teaching assistants.

Through all those arguments, we should keep in mind that there never has been a time when the Labour party was completely in line with any one group who supports it – nor will there ever be. But it has always been the case, and always will be, that a Labour government is better for those who rely on public services and those who work in them than its Conservative opponents.

And whatever views any supporter may have about an individual candidate at a general election, each one stands on a shared platform with an agreed manifesto. We all share the values that Labour-affiliated unions stand for.  Basic maths tells us that the more Labour candidates that win, the better chance we have of forming a government and implementing that manifesto.

So an organisation that wants Labour to win but refuses to support some of the candidates surely risks shooting itself in the foot. And, to extend the metaphor, it risks shooting in the foot the millions of working people it represents.

There will be many differences of view as we seek to create a more open, more responsive party that is a credible force for the many who rely on a Labour government to stand up for them. There may even be the odd blazing row.

But we are stronger together. Whatever happens, let’s remember that.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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Monday News Review

27/06/2011, 06:33:48 AM

Tory tragedy

Christopher Shale, David Cameron‘s constituency chairman, was warned by Downing Street officials that a sensitive memo written by him had been leaked to a Sunday newspaper shortly before he died at the Glastonbury festival. The prime minister said that he was “devastated” by the news that Shale, aged 56, had been found dead in a portable toilet at the festival, after apparently suffering from a heart attack. Early rumours that he may have committed suicide were rejected by police. It has emerged that two Downing Street officials tried to reach Shale around lunchtime on Saturday to warn him about the note, in which he described parts of his local party as crass and grasping and said that it offered people no reason to join, had been passed to the Mail on Sunday. One official contacted him by text just after 12.30pm to advise him not to speak to reporters; another suggested he get in touch with Conservative headquarters. Shale subsequently contacted the Witney constituency agent Barry Norton, a West Oxfordshire councillor, who said that Shale had been aware of the Mail article but was “quite confident that this was not really an issue”. – the Guardian

That politics is a tough game is a much-used cliche, but it’s true. Like Harold Wilson’s phrase about a week being a long time in politics or Enoch Powell’s observation that all political careers end in failure, the old saying is accurate. The riddle of the untimely death in a Glastonbury VIP toilet of Cameron’s right-hand man, Christopher Shale, is a moment to reflect on the ­pressures of political life. Avon and Somerset Police are investigating and an inquest could be held. Conspiracy theorists have jumped to ­conclusions and will refuse to budge, as they did with Iraq weapons scientist Dr David Kelly. Mr Shale’s death is first and foremost a tragedy for his family. So out of respect to them we should avoid instant verdicts, although police suspect a heart attack. A senior figure in any ­political party would feel under pressure should a damning private assessment receive a public airing. That Mr Shale died after Downing Street rang him may well prove a coincidence, the call and his death hours later two unconnected events. Mr Shale’s conclusions – Tories come across as graceless and always on the take – were uncontroversial to anyone who sees the modern Conservatives up close. What made them controversial was his position as a ­prominent Tory in the PM’s backyard – a close friend. Did telling the truth have tragic consequences for a respected local politician? – Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror

Trade over rights as Wen Jiabao visits number 10

Mr Wen, who is on a three-day visit to the UK, has already said he wants to welcome more UK products to China. On Sunday he visited the Longbridge MG car plant, where he faced a small human rights protest. Downing Street said there was potential to create more jobs and investment opportunities for British businesses. The two leaders are expected to sign an agreement to help UK companies work with China’s regional cities, in architecture, civil engineering and research and development. British poultry farmers are being allowed to export to China and the visit is expected to see agreements reached for the supply of pigs. Chancellor George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague are due to join Mr Cameron for the talks and Mr Wen is accompanied by other senior members of the Chinese government. They are also likely to discuss improving cultural and educational relationships between China and the UK and global issues such as international security and climate change. A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “China’s rapid economic rise is good news for the UK. It means more money flowing into our economies and has the potential to create more jobs and investment opportunities for British business at home and in China.” – BBC News

Whitehall officials are firmly focused on improving Britain’s trade links with China as Wen Jiabao visits London – to the frustration of human rights campaigners. The Chinese premier and other senior officials are meeting David Cameron and other coalition figures in a summit this morning, as British officials seek to further their goal of securing $100 billion of bilateral trade with China by 2015. Deals worth over £1 billion are expected to be signed later, following up the $1.2 billion Rolls-Royce deal made when a UK delegation led by Mr Cameron visited China last November. The UK will raise human rights issues, but is not prepared to compromise its trade interests by souring relations with Beijing. “Our support for freedom of expression, development of independent civil society and our conviction that the transparent and consistent application of human rights under the rule of law, are essential prerequisites for China’s long term prosperity and stability,” No 10 said. China has released artist Ai Weiwei and dissident Hu Jia in the last eight days, but a strong police presence outside the latter’s home has kept journalists away from his home. –

The talks before the strike

Crucial talks aimed at averting autumn strikes will be held today between the Government and unions – with one official admitting the negotiations are “fraught with difficulties”. The meeting follows weeks of an increasingly bitter war of words over pay and pensions reform and ahead of Thursday’s industrial action involving 750,000 public sector workers. Unison leader Dave Prentis has already warned that his union will ballot over a million workers for industrial action if the dispute is not resolved. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, sparked anger earlier this month when he made it clear the Government would press ahead with plans for public sector workers to pay more into pensions and work longer. We have rigorous contingency plans in place to ensure that essential services are maintained during the strike action on Thursday. Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “What we are looking for is some sign that the Government is prepared to move on the three central issues – paying more, working longer and getting less.” The Government has based its proposals on a report earlier this year by former Labour minister Lord Hutton, which recommended increased payments, a switch from final salary schemes to those based on career-average earnings, and rises in the pension age. But in a speech last week, Lord Hutton warned that people could be forced out of pension schemes if government reforms were too punitive. – Sky News

This week the Coalition government faces its first great trial of strength with the unions as about 750,000 teachers, lecturers and civil servants prepare to walk out over reforms to public pensions. No one can describe the forthcoming battle as unexpected. David Cameron may not espouse the same shrilly ideological grudge against unions in principle that Margaret Thatcher appeared to evince in the 1980s. But the whole thrust of Mr Cameron’s and George Osborne’s agenda, which strives towards a grand rebalancing of the economy, away from the public sector and towards private enterprise and the voluntary sector, necessarily implies a clash with the unions. When the Government talks of “the country” bearing the weight of cuts in spending, this is shorthand for cuts to the numbers, wages and pensions of civil servants. So, neither side is sleepwalking into combat; it was a question of where and when. Each side is banking on public support swinging gradually if not immediately behind it. The unions hope that this week’s industrial action will be start of rolling strikes that gather strength as summer shades into autumn, tapping into a deep vein of public discontent with the handling of the economy that has hitherto struggled to find expression. With any luck, they may calculate, the strikes will expose new strains in the Coalition, adding to the unhappiness already felt by many Liberal Democrats with Government policies and so precipitating the collapse of the Coalition. – the Independent

Hain hails to the chief

Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain yesterday said Labour is on course for the biggest changes in “living memory” as the party prepares for major reforms. UK leader Ed Miliband pressed for sweeping changes when he addressed the National Policy Forum in North Wales on Saturday and called for the creation of a mass “movement”. Mr Hain, who has chaired the National Policy Forum, said: “What we are embarking on here is a really serious transformation of a political party , the biggest one undertaken in living memory, because politics has changed and we are a party – like the others are – that is stuck in the past.” A key proposal is to throw open annual conferences to non-affiliated charities and community organisations in an attempt to build a wider movement. Support for reform also came from former prime minister Tony Blair. He said: “Parties that succeed do so by constantly modernising.” – Western Mail

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The week Uncut

26/06/2011, 10:48:57 AM

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

Michael Dugher says Cameron doesn’t do detail

David Prescott offers his thoughts on refounding Labour

Atul Hatwal’s shadow cabinet goal of the month

Dan Hodges brings us David’s story and the commons sketch

Matt Cavanagh reports on the government’s sentencing shambles

Anthony Painter’s Sunday review, New British Fascism by Matthew Goodwin

Richard Costello says we must change how we operate

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Sunday News Review

26/06/2011, 09:00:02 AM

Ed outlines reforms

One of his proposals for reform involves putting popular grassroots ideas – with demonstrable local support – before the National Policy Forum for consideration. ”Much more of our policy needs to come from the everyday experiences of people. So we do need more of a voice for party members. But those we should hear the most are those who do the most in their communities,” he said. Mr Miliband said that Labour conferences should reach out beyond the party’s rank-and-file and invite ordinary members of the public, charities, pressure groups and community organisations to attend and speak to delegates. Plans to scrap shadow cabinet elections – whereby frontbenchers are elected by fellow Labour MPs – have already been criticised this week by backbenchers who fear losing influence over the leadership. But Mr Miliband insisted they were “a huge distraction and only emphasised differences”. – the Telegraph

Ed Miliband is to loosen the grip of trade union leaders over Labourpolicy-making as part of a sweeping modernisation drive that risks confrontation with the party’s traditional paymasters. The move to change historic links with the unions and open up policy to members will alarm union bosses as they prepare this week for the first in a rolling programme of strikes against public sector cuts. Miliband, who won the leadership race against his brother David with the help of union votes, signalled the move after he refused to back a planned strike by up to 750,000 teachers, lecturers and civil servants. In a clear reference to the power that union chiefs exercise at the party’s annual conference – where they wield 50% of the vote – he said that it was time for Labour to move on from “late-night deals thrashed out in locked meeting rooms by a handful of people”. He added: “The best policy does not come from a few people locked in a room. It comes from conversations on the doorstep, at the school gate, in our workplaces.” – the Guardian

The first is that party members have got to identify with the party’s goals and in a very real sense feel ownership of the project, however little they may realise their influence can be.   That requires a reinvigoration of debate and action at constituency level which is firmly embedded in the needs and aspirations of local communities.   Why after all do people join the party in the first place?   Clearly because they want to be involved in public affairs at whatever level, local or national, and to be able through working closely with similar others to have an impact on the local scene and maybe also a cumulative and collective impact at the national level too.   That will only happen when the party gets stuck into local campaigns that matter to people and is seen to be a force actively fighting for what people really care about. That’s why Ed’s right that Labour’s National Policy Forum should debate public petitions that command the largest number of signatures and that non-party members including sympathetic NGOs should be able to speak at party conference.   It’s also vital, if party members and supporters are to feel they carry weight at the highest levels, that conference is again taken seriously not just as a place of passionate debate but as a prelude to final decision-making, where its voting authority has been restored and is fully and properly respected by the leadership. – Michael Meacher

Gove attempts to use parents to break strike

Michael Gove is encouraging parents to break this week’s mass teachers’ strike by volunteering to turn up and take lessons themselves, The Independent on Sunday has learnt. In an unprecedented step in relations between the Government and trade unions, the Secretary of State for Education said that classrooms threatened with closure could remain open if head teachers used the “wider school community” – including pupils’ parents – to teach lessons. Some head teachers have written to parents asking them to consider, if they have been vetted by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), volunteering to ensure lessons go ahead, Whitehall sources claimed yesterday. A spokesman for Mr Gove said the minister thought it was “great” if parents could help out with teaching. But the move triggered concern from the National Union of Teachers, whose members are among 750,000 teachers and other public sector workers walking out on Thursday in a dispute over major changes to public sector pension schemes. – the Independent

Cruddas: Labour must deal with issues on the ground

Cruddas says Labour must shed its reputation as the party of “gangs and tribes”, consumed by in-fighting between Blairites and Brownites. He supported David Miliband for the Labour leadership, but believes his brother Ed could be “just the civilising individual who could allow this poison to be cut out”. It has been reported in a new biography of Ed that Cruddas told David on his defeat: “Why don’t you fucking punch him? That’s what I’d do.” He denies saying it, claiming he and David met last week and laughed it off. “I would not say to one brother to hit the other, or use the word ‘punch’. It is just ridiculous.” As the party’s liaison with the trade unions, Cruddas was in the front row of the Blair modernisation project, from the “New Labour, New Britain” rebrand to ditching Clause 4. Even last week Tony Blair warned his party not to shift from New Labour. But Cruddas says times have changed and the former prime minister now risks advocating a “sort of New Labour cosmopolitanism of the first-class British Airways cabin, where you look down from 36,000 feet rather than deal with issues on the ground”. – the Independent

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Really refounding Labour

25/06/2011, 01:22:44 PM

by David Prescott

So the party’s consulatation on how it operates has drawn to a close.

I know the cyncial among you might think that it was a waste of time. Personally, I think it has been a significant opportunity to help people who genuinely don’t have many ideas on how to restructure the party. This really was blank page politics and the following was my little doodle.

During the last general election, as director of campaigns for go fourth, the campaign for a Labour fourth term, I helped to organise and deliver a key seats tour of the country.

In a hired Ford Transit, financed by small online donations and Unite, we managed to cover 70 marginal seats in those 30 days of the short campaign and 30 more in the long campaign (from January to April).

It gave us a fascinating insight into what worked and what didn’t work in the key seats.

It became very clear, during the course of the tour, that some were far better prepared than others. A good test would be to see how well organized the visit was and how many activists attended.

The better ones would have more than 20 activists and supporters, a good location with strong footfall and journalists lined-up for interviews. The worst ones would let us meander down a street with no clear direction, purpose or media.

But the clearest indicator was the result and swing. (more…)

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Saturday News Review

25/06/2011, 07:39:48 AM

Ed to announce reforms

Ed Miliband today lays out far-reaching reforms designed to moderniseLabour‘s relations with the trade unions, open the party up to the public, and reinvigorate what he describes as its boring annual conference. The Labour leader regards these changes as critical to his efforts to get the party back in touch with the electorate, and ensure it stays in opposition for only one term. He also for the first time tells the public sector unions that it would be a mistake for them to strike next week, saying they need to do more to persuade the public of their argument over the perceived injustices in the government’s changes to public sector pensions. In a Guardian interview Miliband says: “I want to open up the leadership to the party and the party to the country. In a society that is changing so fast in so many ways, we cannot continue as we are, with essentially a closed structure that was formed a century ago.” – the Guardian

Ed Miliband was facing a left-wing backlash last night over his move to scrap elections for places around Labour’s top table. The Labour leader will argue today that the current system, whereby votes for 19 places are held every two years, forces Shadow Cabinet members to “look inwards”. His plan would give him full power to decide Shadow Cabinet positions. But left-wingers say the move is an attack on the party’s democratic traditions. – the Independent

Lib Dem plot to stop Tory health reforms

The “Yellow Bastards”, as the Tories now call the Liberal Democrats, are still not happy with the government’s NHS reforms plans. In a leaked email the former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, who has led the charge against the original Andrew Lansley blueprint, has condemned the revised plans as “bad”. This is what Harris wrote in the email, part of an email chain seen by the Guardian: “There is a view that we should keep quiet, say we had a victory and hope no-one notices this stuff – but I think that is not realistic. The plans remain bad for the NHS, go beyond the coalition agreement and we must insist on sovreignty (sic) of conference on major issues not in the CA.” Harris has already indicated publicly that he is not happy with the revised plans which were launched by David CameronNick Clegg and Andrew Lansley at Guy’s Hospital on 14 June. On 18 June Harris told the Guardian there were “new threats” hidden within the reworked NHS. – the Guardian

Cameron faux fury on EU HQ

David Cameron yesterday accused fellow European Union leaders of squandering £280m on a new Brussels building for themselves at a time when the public is being hit by spending cuts. At a dinner of EU leaders, the Prime Minister was furious when Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, circulated a glossy, 14-page brochure trumpeting the 27 leaders’ new headquarters. The Europa building, next door to the Justus Lipsius Building where the leaders currently hold their meetings, will include three conference halls, five meeting rooms and offices for Mr Van Rompuy, as well as for the country which holds the EU’s rotating chairmanship, delegations from EU member states, the press and refreshment areas. Mr Cameron’s attack caused surprise in Brussels since the project was approved in 2004 and would now be more expensive to halt than complete. Some EU officials accused him of pandering to Eurosceptics when the EU should pull together because of the economic crisis in Greece.

ED and Ted

Ed Miliband’s aides claimed this week that he was inspired by Baroness Thatcher. However, one of his biggest cheerleaders tells Mandrake that the Tory prime minister with whom he should really be compared is Sir Edward Heath. “Let’s not forget that Ted Heath was a hugely controversial figure in his time and he was a strongly disliked man, but, as we look back now, much of what he predicted turned out to be the case,” says Flora Fraser. The historian, who donated £2,000 to his Labour leadership campaign, adds: “This is what I am saying about the history of the future … you must be modern. I think he is a very modern man and it is so important that we look to the future rather than always focusing on the present.” Flora is the daughter of Dame Antonia Fraser and her first husband, the late Conservative MP Sir Hugh Fraser, who stood against Heath in the party’s 1975 leadership election that was eventually won by Margaret Thatcher. – the Telegraph

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Economic rebalancing: Labour must be “more interesting”

24/06/2011, 02:29:37 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The Labour front bench might not welcome advice from retirees, no matter how dignified. But they’ve got some. “Be a little bit more interesting”, said Peter Mandelson, in response to a question at a recent Progress event. National recovery from the major economic crisis of recent years requires big, bold ideas. He wants Labour to rise to this challenge.

This is the stuff of pragmatic radicalism on economic rebalancing. Pragmatism demands workable solutions to national concerns. The support that politicians, of all parties, proclaim for rebalancing the economy indicates that this is such a concern. The persistence of the imbalances in our economy – between domestic consumption and exports; finance and manufacturing; the south east of England and much of the rest of the UK – attest that this support is inadequate to purpose. A dash of radicalism is needed, for not only rebalancing to be achieved, but for Labour’s arguments to cut through the white noise of mainstream politicians professing support and delivering so little.

Many more elected city mayors are the stuff of this radicalism. Our top heavy state is a drag on economic performance. Elected city mayors are the next step on the devolution journey begun by the last government. The centre for cities and the institute of government recently called for their powers to be beefed up – through, amongst other things, chairing integrated transport authorities and co-chairing local enterprise partnerships. The common sense of people in cities voting for their leaders and retaking command of their destinies should be a truth loudly proclaimed by Labour – as should be the common sense of rewarding hard work. (more…)

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