Archive for June, 2011

It’s time to change how we operate

24/06/2011, 10:45:27 AM

by Richard Costello

With the refounding Labour review closing today I feel that it is important for us to consider the real issues in our party. We will never win again unless we confront the elephants in the room and for me the major issue is the role of constituency Labour parties CLPs.

Too often, instead of empowering members, CLPs create the feeling of powerlessness and inferiority in our membership – discouraging involvement in our movement. As a party we talk about making the country more meritocratic, well why don’t we start by making the Labour movement a meritocracy.

Many of us remember our first Labour party meetings, the story always seems to be the same, like a tale from a John O’Farrell book. You enter a drafty hall, which is half empty, there is probably a rickety table at the front where the chair and secretary sit and a horseshoe of seats, despite there only being two or three members in attendance. Those members are male, elderly and white, hardly representative of the people’s party.

Acronyms seem to be the order of the day with: CLP, CAC, NPF and NEC being branded about at alarming regularity, with no explanation of what they stand for or actually mean. Worse still there is a rigid agenda that is followed to the letter, despite the glaring mistakes in it. The biggest mistake being that there is no politics or time for open discussion on the agenda.

Despite this we persist and turn up to the meetings, somehow get involved in campaigning and move on from there. Many members do not though. The equally common story is of the young member who turns up once never to be seen again, put off by the rigidity, pointlessness and confusion that typifies Labour meetings. Those people are not just lost members, but lost talent and lost ideas. If Labour is to win again we need all the help we can get. The CLP in its current, archaic guise does not help to facilitate that. (more…)

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The shadow cabinet goal of the month competition

24/06/2011, 07:40:44 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Readers pick from Balls, Burnham, Cooper, Creagh and Jowell for June’s title

After another month of shambolic Tory U-turns but without any perceptible Labour progress, both sides find themselves pretty much where they left off in May.

Although little has fundamentally changed in the electoral race, amidst the melee, there were some pointed moments from Labour.  The five contenders for the goal of the month are, in alphabetical order, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Tessa Jowell.

1. Balls doubles down on his plan for the deficit

The main Labour story in June was about Ed Miliband’s leadership. It sucked up so much media oxygen that a fundamental shift in Labour’s approach on the economy was largely over-shadowed.

On the 16th June, Ed Balls gave a speech at the LSE where he committed Labour to a multi-billion pound tax cut by temporarily reversing the VAT rise.

It’s a bold move. And the logic is clear. Poor economic figures and anaemic growth are pointing the way potentially to a Greek tragedy.

But it is a gamble.

The polls show persistent public mistrust of Labour on the finances. Many of Balls’ colleagues in the shadow cabinet are deeply uneasy or opposed.  And the Tories now have a new £51bn spending black-hole attack-line on Labour.

If the cuts aren’t terminal and the UK economy does recover, even slowly, then the cost of the gamble in terms of public confidence in Labour’s economic competence will be high.

If the economy does sink into years of coma and the government is driven to take measures to jump-start growth, Balls will assume St.Vincent of Twickenham’s  title as politics’ economic sage.

What is not in doubt is that this is defining moment for Labour.

2. Andy Burnham teaches the Dept forEducation to count

Each month brings another gaffe from the Department for Education. In June it was slipshod accounting with serial over-payments to Academies.

Burnham’s delivery combines his usual eloquence and authenticity. But it is the substance of his point that is most striking.

Without proper accounting, the whole cuts programme is purely an academic exercise. Plans will remain just that, completely disconnected from reality.  It’s a systemic flaw in the way the department for Education operates which will generate several more urgent questions in the future.

Although Burnham is palpably frustrated with the department’s incompetence and Gove’s insouciance in not even bothering to attend proceedings, he is laying important groundwork.

Each time an urgent question lands, a little more credibility ebbs away from the Department.  In the end, a tipping point will be reached and the state of constant political meltdown which engulfed the Home Office in the last Labour government will come to Education.

It’s just a matter of time. (more…)

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Mandelson: the great returner

23/06/2011, 05:08:47 PM

by Dave Talbot

Moments after the close of the first debate of the general election, Lib Dem officials were breathlessly rushing around the Granada studios in Manchester. They were hailing their leader’s performance as a potential “game-changer” in an election that had seemingly been thrown wide open. I had travelled up north, more in hope than expectation that Gordon Brown would defy all his critics and speak in Shakespearian tones that would galvanise the nation. It was not to be. Somewhat bored and slightly tired, I turned to a Spanish journalist next to me:

“Nick Clegg did well”, I ventured.

“He has been like a gift from God for me”, he replied in his Catalonian tones. “There was no interest in the election before, none. But now Mr and Mrs Clegg will be on the front page. The Spanish people still fantasise that five hundred years after the Armada we are finally going to put a Spanish catholic woman in Number 10”.

“Probably not”, I replied. “Who had the Spanish press found the most to write about thus far”, I asked?

“Well Clegg, of course. But my favourite is Mr Mandelson. He is the most grotesque character”.


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Abuse of vulnerable adults: why no inquiry?

23/06/2011, 07:21:44 AM

by Peter Watt

Imagine if there had been a succession of child abuse stories in the media during the last six months. There would be an outcry. Every Baby Peter story that emerges, in all its grisly detail, somehow diminishes all.

The abuse of and suffering by the vulnerable affects all decent people deeply. We find ourselves asking, “how could this happen”? And “why did no one notice”? And worst of all, “what does this say about us and society”? Parents fear for their children and their children’s future. We collectively demand that something is done. Those involved become tabloid hate figures. Ministers condemn the perpetrators as evil and establish commissions to look at lessons to be learned. Our response is horror at the pain, misery and humiliation. We have a shared feeling that this abuse shames us all. And we have an angry determination that this abuse must stop.

The result is that over the years, there has been a succession of official commissions and investigations into the abuse of children. The Maria Colwell inquiry, the Cleveland inquiry, the Broxtowe inquiry, the Victoria Climbié inquiry (the Laming report) and most recently the Baby Peter inquiry.


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Commons sketch: PMQs

22/06/2011, 01:54:28 PM

by Dan Hodges

David Cameron is for turning. We know this because he spent the whole of PMQs telling us he is.

Would the prime minister, Kerry McCarthy asked, consider changing his evening viewing plans to watch a BBC documentary on child poverty? Oh yes, he most certainly would.

He would? Blimey. Poor Samantha. “Sorry love, I know we’re supposed to be going for dinner and a show, but I promised some Labour back bencher from Bristol East I’d stay in and watch a programme on impoverished children. All part of my new pragmatic leadership style I’m afraid”.

Ed Miliband sensed an opportunity. The country was at war. The defence chiefs were raising concerns about the mission in Libya. Quite serious issues like not having any planes, ships or guns. Would the prime minister look again to see whether our brave boys and girls had the tools to finish the job?

Look again? Was Ed Miliband kidding? This was pragmatic Dave he was talking to. “We’ve had a review of the national security and defence review”, said the PM proudly.

Reviewed the review? Labour’s leader looked astounded.

Perhaps he was toying with the image of a former Tory Prime Minister standing at that same dispatch box; “We will review them on the beaches. We will review them in the fields and on the landing grounds. We will never stop reviewing”. It would come as news to the military and defence community that all these reviews were flying around, Ed Miliband said. Why hadn’t the results been shared with the experts?

Share the reviews? With experts? David Cameron looked perplexed. He had set up the national security council. It sat weekly, something that came as a relief to those of us worried the defence of the realm took a break for Wimbledon. Its’ role, he said, “was all the time to ask have we got the right resources, do we have the right strategy”. He could have added that the answer to those questions was invariably no, but there wasn’t time. There were more u-turns to me made.

Would the prime minister look at the closure of the post office in Wick asked John Thurso? Stupid question. Of course he would.

Then Ed Miliband sprung his trap. OK, if the PM was so open to persuasion, what about his decision to let rapist run amok on our streets? Actually, it was a little bit more nuanced than that, something about retaining a DNA database of totally innocent people, on the off-chance they turned into crazed rapists at a later date.

David Cameron looked nervous. How pragmatic could he afford to be? More importantly, how pragmatic would George Osborne, sitting menacingly beside him, allow him to be? Stopping rapists costs money. Stopping innocent people who might one day become rapists would cost even more.

He glanced to his left, as if looking for help from someone who understood the intricacies of your average DNA database. Then he realised the man in the know, justice secretary Ken Clarke, wasn’t in his usual place, but jammed right at the end of the government front bench, away from prying eyes. That made his mind up for him. “There’s always room to see if the system can be improved”, answered the prime minister.

The ground for a new u-turn had been laid. By this time next week anyone accused of so much as shoplifting will have their DNA retained for posterity.

It’s called the politics of pragmatism. And it’s working. For now. But every u-turn leaves another tiny, imperceptible chink in the prime minister’s authority.

David Cameron cannot run away from his own decisions  for ever.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Cameron’s sleight of hand distracts from sentencing reform shambles

22/06/2011, 12:00:19 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Cameron fools the tabloids into thinking he’s delivered his promises on ‘jailing knife thugs’ and ‘bashing burglars’ to distract from the shambles on sentencing reform.

Two weeks ago on Uncut I criticised Cameron’s cynical opportunism over knife crime: exploiting the moral panic in summer 2008 by promising to send everyone caught carrying a knife to jail, a promise he clearly had no serious commitment to delivering. As the latest figures show, never mind everyone caught carrying a knife going to jail, in fact a smaller proportion are going to jail now than under Labour.

In a now familiar pattern, Cameron had managed to escape direct personal damage for this broken promise, shifting the blame on to his coalition partners and cabinet fall-guys – this time Ken Clarke, who has come under sustained and vicious attack from the Sun. But it must have worried Cameron, and when he needed a tough-sounding announcement to distract from the shambles of the U-turn over 50% jail discounts for guilty pleas, it was knife crime he reached for.

He still had no intention of actually delivering his pre-election promise, even if he fooled some, including the Spectator, into thinking he had. What he proposed was different: a new offence of ‘aggravated knife possession’, carrying a mandatory minimum 6 month sentence – but applying to a much narrower category of cases, around 10-15% as many as are caught carrying a knife.

‘Aggravated knife possession’ means using a knife to threaten someone. This is, of course, already a crime – and not one which needs much clarifying. Not only is it already a crime, the sentencing guidelines – dating from that summer of 2008 – already recommend a minimum prison sentence of 6 months. So what Cameron actually announced, was a way to wriggle out of his original promise by narrowing it down to a small minority of cases, an unnecessary new offence to distract from this, and – the only genuine change – a new mandatory minimum in place of a recommended minimum sentence.

Luckily for Cameron, the Evening Standard among others ignored all this boring detail, and fell nicely into his trap with the hoped-for front page splash: “ALL KNIFE THUGS TO GET 6 MONTHS as David Cameron Cracks Down on Crime”.

So far so good. But Cameron had clearly been worried enough about how the day would go, to feel he needed more than one diversion. The second, splashed across today’s Mail and Express front pages, was his plan to “put beyond doubt that home owners and small shop keepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted”. This predictably sent the Mail and Express into raptures (the Express wins the prize with its “NOW YOU CAN BASH A BURGLAR”) but again, a longer memory – or a few minutes searching the web – would again have revealed Cameron’s history on this issue, and raised questions about how new this announcement really is.

In early 2010, Cameron successfully courted the front pages with another promise, to change the law on self-defence, to allow anything short of a “grossly disproportionate” reaction to a burglar or robber to escape without charge. That would have been a genuine change – albeit an unwise one. Yesterday’s proposal, which retains the quite different test of ‘reasonable force’ for people protecting their lives or their families or their property, appears simply to restate the existing legal position.

When Labour did this kind of thing – announce a new offence, or new legislation, seemingly to distract from how effectively or severely existing laws were being enforced – both the Tories and the Lib Dems complained. In 2008, for example, the then Tory shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling derided it as “using legislation as a public relations exercise”, while Nick Clegg sniffed that “weighing down the statute book with new laws is no substitute for good government”.

But leaving aside the politicians’ hypocrisy and the journalists’ gullibility over these diversionary tactics, what about the U-turn itself – should Labour gloat with the tabloids, or join the Guardian and Independent in mourning it as a setback for liberal reform? As usual, this is a false choice. Today’s impassioned Guardian editorial is right to call Ken Clarke’s original sentencing proposals “the revolution that never was”, but wrong in its analysis.

It is right to criticise Cameron for “backing the Clarke plans in private, then emerging to trash them in public”, but wrong to pretend that Clarke “stood ready to unlock 20 years of failed thinking”. I support sentencing reform, but these were the wrong reforms: carelessly thought out, badly framed, confusingly argued, and ineptly and weakly handled. Rather than lamenting their demise, we should charge Clarke along with the rest of his colleagues with clumsily wasting a once in a generation opportunity, and reinforcing the general assumption among the political class that reforming sentencing is impossible. It isn’t – but it is difficult, and that means careful thought, and careful handling. A smarter approach would have kept Labour onside and spiked the worst of the tabloid attacks. Instead we got an incoherent mix of Clarke’s view that “prison is an expensive way to make bad people worse” (which you can call liberal if you like, though I tend to see it as old-fashioned Tory pragmatism), Osborne’s cuts, and Cameron trying to be all things to all people.

Until yesterday, when Cameron came down against reform, and for the status quo. When he intoned at the press conference that “we will always pay the costs necessary to protect the public and to punish criminals, and we will not reduce the prison population by cutting prison sentences,” you wondered where he was in October, when his Justice Secretary and Chancellor announced that his government would do precisely that. You also wondered if you had slipped back in time to the Labour era. Blair Gibbs of Policy Exchange noted approvingly that “the objective now seems to be to ‘stabilise’ the prison population at around 85,000, not reduce it” – back to the Labour position. Mandatory minimum sentences – favoured by Labour, dismissed by Clarke as “ill-thought out, overly prescriptive, and over-used” – are back.

Cameron’s “three principles” were lifted straight from a New Labour script: “the first duty of government is to protect the public… Serious and dangerous offenders must go to jail and stay there for a long time … breaking the cycle of reoffending needs to be at the heart of the criminal justice system” (yes, even the third: Labour had a target for cutting re-offending, not for increasing the prison population).

We heard the same tired bromides we’ve had from successive Prime Ministers, Home Secretaries and Justice Secretaries about prisons being full of foreigners, and people with mental health issues and drug problems. We heard that the ‘drug free wings’ which were being piloted in a handful of prisons in 2009 have been renamed ‘drug recovery wings’ and are being piloted in a (different) handful of prisons. We were reminded about the Peterborough pilot for getting innovative social investment into schemes for tackling re-offending – a pilot started by Jack Straw.

It is not all bad news. There are sensible proposals which take forward the New Labour approach, including taxing the earnings of prisoners working on licence in the community, and channelling the money to victim support services. And Clarke still plans to go further than Straw or any other Labour minister in tackling the rising legal aid bill. This is both necessary and overdue, and those who oppose the detail of the planned cuts should suggest alternative savings, ideally within the legal aid budget itself. But overall this is a confused, confusing, and hobbled set of proposals.

The Ministry of Justice rather pathetically continues to describe it as ‘radical’, and Cameron gamely asserted yesterday that it would still somehow ‘transform’ the system. But the truth is, having talked up the problems – society was broken, crime rising, the justice system a failure and Labour’s policies hopeless – the Government has abandoned most of the radical solutions, with no replacement in sight. Even the solution urged on Cameron last night by his favourite think tank, Policy Exchange, expanding private prisons, they admit is “a continuation of a process that began under Jack Straw”.

Cameron wants to slip back into the Labour narrative and policies he spent years trying to discredit, and hope that everyone will forget this ever happened. But it’s not so easy. The budget cuts which drove the previous proposals remain in place, and the U-turn has done real damage. For all the ambitious talk, what we are left with for the remainder of this parliament is a cautious nervy incrementalism, implemented by a confused and demoralised department, living under the shadow of future budgetary crises. It reminds me of the Ministry of Defence in recent years – hardly the most reassuring parallel.

Matt Cavanagh was a special adviser on crime and justice under the last Labour government. He writes in a personal capacity.

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The unravelling of the deficit strategy

22/06/2011, 10:12:16 AM

Labour had a strategy for cutting the deficit – it was called GROWTH. The government’s strategy was to cut spending. The consequence of those cuts is undermining growth, and that now risks blowing apart the deficit reduction.

In last week’s figures, retail sales for the month of May slumped to their lowest level in 16 months.  There is a risk that growth is about to stall.

The OBR provided a pre-June Budget prediction of the 2011 budget deficit under Alistair Darling’s budget. So, with our libraries still open, with EMA, with future jobs fund, no VAT rise etc, the borrowing in 2011 would have been 8.3%.

OBR June 2010 predictions based on Labour’s deficit reduction plan


Since the June emergency budget, the OBR has consistently downgraded 2011 growth, and increased its prediction of government borrowing. The graph shows the changes.

The current predictions for growth of 1.4% will result in borrowing of 8.1% of GDP, just below that predicted for Alistair Darling’s budget. But, if growth falls to 1.1%, then the government’s cuts will not only all have been in vain, the cuts could plunge the economy into a Japanese-style high deficit deflation.

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Wednesday News Review

22/06/2011, 06:57:54 AM

Please no return to the bad old days

Several hundred people gathered near interfaces close to the Newtownards Road. There were reports that three shots had been fired and a photographer had been shot in the leg. Michael Copeland, a member of the Ulster Unionist Assembly, said missiles had been hurled between the opposing sides. Police were also attacked with petrol bombs and stones. A major riot on Monday night in which police were shot at by loyalists in Northern Ireland was blamed on the Ulster Volunteer Force yesterday, despite the paramilitary group being on ceasefire. Before last night’s violence, political leaders appealed for calm. On Monday, about 500 people were involved in disturbances when there was hand-to-hand fighting and petrol bombs were thrown. Police said there were gun shots from the republican Short Strand area, while loyalists also opened fire. UVF members were blamed for starting the violence by attacking homes in the Roman Catholic enclave. – Daily Telegraph

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have condemned the riots, as well as a separate bomb attack aimed at police in west Belfast. Mr Robinson said: “At this time when many are working hard to build a better and brighter future for all in Northern Ireland, it is disappointing and deeply concerning to see this level of violence return to our streets. We have given clear commitments to continue to deliver progress for all within the community including in those areas most at need. This type of behaviour damages the local economy and unfairly mars the reputation of the community.” Mr McGuinness said: “A small minority of individuals are clearly determined to destabilise our communities. They will not be allowed to drag us back to the past. I call on all those involved to take a step back and to remain calm. I support the efforts of community leaders on all sides who have been working on the ground to restore calm in east Belfast.” The sudden upsurge in violence is being described as the worst the city has seen in years and loyalist community workers blamed simmering tensions at the notorious sectarian interface. – Belfast Telegraph

Cameron’s tough stance in tatters

Mr Cameron’s promise of automatic six-month sentences for anyone using a knife to intimidate or threaten also falls far short of his election pledge to jail anyone caught with a blade. But there was a bigger shock buried in the fine print of the reforms as it emerged that more than 3,000 criminals and suspected offenders will avoid jail each year as part of the Conservative-led coalition’s package. About 1,300 would have been jailed on remand but will now remain at liberty until their case is tried in a bid to save money. Around 250 ex-cons who would currently be put back in jail each year for reoffending or breaking the terms of their release will also be allowed to stay at large. Up to 800 foreign criminals will be freed early or let off with a caution on the condition that they go home, raising fears they could simply slip back into the country. Mr Cameron was desperate to talk tough yesterday after an internal Downing Street poll showed that the sentencing U-turn row has destroyed public faith in the Tories’ ability to tackle crime. – Daily Mirror

Ed’s message to Murdoch

Ed Miliband has told business leaders that Labour wants a “strong relationship” with them but there must be “responsibility” on pay at the top. The Labour leader told the Times CEO Summit in London: “I want to celebrate wealth creation in this country.” But he said there was an “issue about rewards at the top” while people on lower incomes had seen wages stagnate. He also backed his shadow chancellor Ed Balls’s call for a temporary VAT cut to help boost the economy. But he said scrapping the 50p top rate of income tax – paid on earnings over £150,000 – was “not a priority for us”. Mr Miliband addressed an audience including News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and chief executives of Goldman Sachs, Santander and Vodafone, among others. – BBC News

Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for “responsibility” on pay from those at the top of society as he addressed a summit of business leaders in London. Mr Miliband said Labour wanted a “strong relationship” with business and promised there would be “no going back to the penal tax rates of the 1970s” if he won power. But he warned that the credibility of the free enterprise system was under threat if middle and lower-income workers see their living standards stagnate while the richest continue to enjoy ever-increasing wealth. Speaking at The Times CEO Summit to an audience including News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and chief executives of companies such as Goldman Sachs, Santander and Vodafone – as well as Lord Mandelson, who famously said New Labour was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” – Mr Miliband warned that there was “an issue about rewards at the top” in Britain. – Daily Mirror

Labour Lords take on Clegg’s plans

Nick Clegg’s plans to create an elected House of Lords suffered a big setback last night when Labour vowed to oppose the shake-up and peers from all parties lined up to attack it. Labour was accused of playing politics as it rejected Liberal Democrat pleas to set aside the differences between the two parties to force through Mr Clegg’s proposal for the first elected peers to be chosen in 2015. The Coalition Government wants the 828-member House replaced by 240 elected members, 60 appointed crossbenchers, 12 bishops and a small number of appointed ministers. But Labour favours a 100 per cent elected second chamber. The Deputy Prime Minister has led the charge for Lords reform. Although David Cameron has backed the change, there are doubts that the Conservatives will devote the energy and Parliamentary time needed to force through Mr Clegg’s Bill before the next general election against strong opposition in both Houses of Parliament. – the Independent

Mandelson shows his support

Ed Miliband needs to show more courage as a leader if he is to unite the Labour party behind him, Peter Mandelson has suggested. Speaking at a meeting of the Labour pressure group Progress, the former first secretary of state warned his party against returning to the infighting which characterised the Labour party during the 1980s. He said: ‘We need to take a few risks; talk more directly to the country; be more innovative and courageous. Our leader is a leader of the country, not of the party’s sections and factions, and it is to the country he needs to be given the space to prove himself.” Lord Mandelson’s support comes despite his backing of David Miliband during the Labour leadership election. –

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David’s story

21/06/2011, 08:19:15 AM

by Dan Hodges

History is written by the victors. Just ask David Miliband.

He’s been plotting. Briefing. Generally making an embittered nuisance of himself.

We know this thanks to Ed,  the racily entitled stab ‘n tell biography by James Macintrye and Mehdi Hasan, trailed last week in the Mail on Sunday. Not that all of these allegations are actually contained within the book itself, but its serialisation unleashed the biggest frenzy of speculation, allegation and recrimination since…well… the last lot.

Supporters of David Miliband had been bracing themselves for fall-out from the book’s publication for several weeks. Although they cooperated with the authors, and received assurances that it would be a balanced look at the leadership election, they were under no illusions: “Ed won and David didn’t”, said one insider, “That sets its own narrative”.

The narrative has basically three elements. An enraged elder brother, his political ambitions thwarted by his younger sibling, has been actively plotting his revenge and preparing a bold Blairite counter-coup.

Exhibit A in the case for the prosecution has been the speech-that-never-was, the address, leaked to the Guardian on the eve of the book’s publication, that David would have delivered had he himself been crowned leader.

“The idea that speech was leaked by David is bollocks”, says an insider. “Do you think he’s stupid? If he really wanted to damage Ed would he do it in a way that tied himself so directly to the act”? Other sources point out that, contrary to popular belief, the speech had quite a wide circulation. The Labour party was furnished with a final draft. A copy was left on a teleprompter after a leadership announcement rehearsal, although some former Miliband  staffers say it was an early version. External advisors, such as Jonathan Rutherford and Maurice Glasman, worked simultaneously on both David and Ed Miliband’s victory speeches. And Ed Miliband’s team approached David Miliband after the result to ask if they could have a copy to assist in producing their own address. David Miliband is said to have considered this, though his team reacted angrily to the idea, with selected passages eventually being passed across instead.

The fact is that, whatever the intent, the leaking of the speech damaged David Miliband more than his brother. “It didn’t do David any good to have that floating around”, said a friend, “It just hyped the story and made it look like he was agitating”. The result was the release of a statement by David urging people to “move on” from the leadership election, and calls from senior DM supporters such as Jim Murphy to rally around Ed.

That said, there’s no doubt that David Miliband has himself found moving on a difficult thing to do. “He’s been in a dark place”, said one friend. To be fair, even members of his own campaign team reject some of the more fanciful charges laid at the door of his brother, such as the claim that David wasn’t aware of Ed’s final decision to stand until it appeared in the media. “That’s rubbish”, said one source, “There were extensive discussions, involving both of them and the wives. David knew Ed was running, and when he was going to announce”.

But what David Miliband did apparently find hard to take was the nature of that campaign once the contest was underway. “David thought they had an understanding”, said one former aide, “They weren’t going to brief against each other. They were going to steer clear of personalities. He stuck to that agreement. Ed’s team didn’t”.

This is confirmed by a journalist who attended an editorial dinner with David Miliband during the campaign. “We’d been getting some pretty heavy briefing from Ed’s people against David. When we asked him about it his face fell. He obviously didn’t know it was going on”. “That really hurt him”, said a shadow cabinet colleague, “He couldn’t believe Ed would allow that sort of thing to happen”.

Members of his team urged him to hit back. But he refused,  not just out of a sense of propriety, but also through a fear of what would happen to both campaigns if they become engaged in a destructive briefing war. “David thought it would be a catastrophe”, said a source, “If the whole contest had descended into a bitter and public family feud it would have been the end for both of them. They’d have taken each other off the cliff”.

Although the briefing hurt David Miliband  personally, those around him acknowledge the political impact was relatively minimal: “We’re talking Ed Miliband and Polly Billington”, said an insider, “Not Gordon and Damian McBride”. Perceived as much more significant was Ed Miliband’s astute repositioning as the anti-New Labour and change candidate, keen to move on from an election manifesto that actually he’d written himself.

“David was too slow to appreciate the danger”, a former advisor acknowledges, “You have to remember, he and Ed had been part of the New Labour project all their political lives. An attack like that, from the left, he just didn’t see it coming”.

Key supporters urged him to move away from his safety first messaging. Jon Cruddas never told David Miliband to punch his brother. But he did warn him that he had to stop running such a conservative, mechanistic campaign, and begin  to make some bold, eye-catching statements. “David, I don’t think you’re winning this”, he told him in one meeting, “You’ve got to open up. Stop nuancing and start painting in primary colours”.

David responded with a speech at the Keir Hardie lecture that was regarded as his best of the campaign. But by that point Ed had the definition and the momentum. David’s team, nervous that the contest was slipping away, urged him to reach out to Ed Balls and try to secure his second preferences.

Again, he hesitated, “The problem was Balls’ Bloomberg speech”, said an insider, “David thought it was much too weak on deficit reduction. It made it very hard for him to offer Balls the position of shadow chancellor”. By the time David Miliband began to tentatively  court Balls it was too late. Key members of Balls’ team had already begun to mobilise behind his brother, along with Gordon Brown, who personally telephoned selective wavering MPs. Their intervention proved decisive.

It did not help that David had allowed himself to be characterised as the last living Blairite. As the contest developed Miliband’s team became desperate to put distance between themselves and the other living Blairites. They sought, and received, assurances from Blair himself that he wouldn’t intervene directly in the contest. But they failed to elicit a similar guarantee from Peter Mandelson, whose claim that Ed Miliband would lead the Labour party “into a cul-de-sac”, proved to be a crucial turning point. “It was a disaster”, said one David supporter, “Those MPs who were sitting on the fence all started shifting towards Ed. David was furious with Peter. In fact, he still is”.

So is all this history as ancient as some would claim? Since “bloody Sunday”, which saw the revelations in the book, the leaking of David’s victory speech and broader concerns about Ed Miliband’s leadership collide, both brothers have been making efforts to stress that the tensions of the past will remain there.

Some insiders are, to put it mildly, sceptical. “Perhaps we’re all just going to get along now”, said one David Miliband supporter, tongue pressed firmly to his cheek. Others claim that both brothers peered into the abyss, and recoiled at the sight. “David and Ed witnessed what happened to Tony and Gordon at close quarters”, said a shadow cabinet colleague. “They saw how, in the end, it destroyed them both. They know the party can’t afford a repeat of that”.

David Miliband has not relinquished his leadership ambitions. But those closest to him are adamant, in a  pointed way, that he doesn’t intend to trample over his brother to fulfil them. “Look”, said a friend, “what’s David supposed to do? If he stays on the outside he’s plotting and scheming. If he comes back in he’s a distraction and a back seat driver. He can’t win”.

He’s certainly not at a loss for advice. “It’s time for him to return to the shadow cabinet”, says one former aide. “I’ve been arguing that for a while. It’s the only way to begin to draw a line”. “He’d be crazy”, says another shadow cabinet insider. “Every statement would be set against what Ed had said. He needs to stay precisely where he is”.

So will he? “Look, the defeat hurt him personally”, says a friend, “And Ed hurt him personally. But he’s not under any illusions. A lot of the problems and criticisms Ed’s facing are problems and criticisms that would have been directed at David even if he’d won. Yes, he’s still angry. But there’s also a little bit of him that thinks, ‘there but for the grace of God’”.

History is indeed written by the victors. And for the moment David Miliband can do little except hope their verdict isn’t undly harsh. But that doesn’t mean he has given up all thoughts of eventually penning a chapter or two of his own.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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Tuesday News Review

21/06/2011, 04:40:44 AM

Cameron gets his way

David Cameron will today ditch plans to halve jail terms for offenders… after complaining his Lib Dem Coalition partners are stopping him being as tough as he wants to be. The Premier will humiliate Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg by killing off plans to offer 50 per cent sentencing discounts for criminals who plead guilty. The move, following weeks of public wrangling, comes after Mr Cameron suggested in a radio interview that the Lib Dems are preventing him from taking stronger action to bear down on immigration and benefit scroungers. His move on sentencing suggests he is concerned about cheering the Right-wing of his party, which was left seething last week by a retreat on NHS reform in the face of Lib Dem opposition. Tory MPs had expressed anger that the stance was undermining the party’s traditionally strong position on law and order.  Drawn up by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, and initially signed off by Mr Cameron, the policy was enthusiastically backed by the Lib Dems. Mr Clegg rowed in behind Mr Clarke as controversy raged, arguing that scrapping increased sentencing discounts would leave a large black hole in the Ministry of Justice budget. The proposals were designed to save £130million a year. It had been widely expected that the Coalition would end up offering a ‘fudge’ which would see rapists, sex offenders and those convicted of serious violence excluded from increased sentencing discounts, but less serious criminals included. But a Ministry of Justice source last night told the Daily Mail that the Prime Minister had overruled Mr Clegg and Mr Clarke and scrapped the scheme altogether. It is expected that deeper cuts to probation services will now help make up the funding difference. – Daily Mail

David Cameron has accused the Lib Dems of blocking tougher action on immigration and stripping the workshy of benefits. The Prime Minister rejected claims only Nick Clegg was being forced to compromise in the Coalition. He said: “We’ve all had to make compromises. If I was running a Conservative-only Government we would be making further steps on immigration control or welfare reforms.” Mr Cameron’s comments on BBC Radio 2 came as a report from Oxford University’s Migration Observatory dismissed the Government’s chances of cutting net migration to “tens of thousands” in four years. Annual net migration to the UK is currently 242,000, but the group predicts Coalition policies will reduce that number by 75,000 “at best” by 2015. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the report showed that the Government has “no workable policies” to meet its promise. She said: “David Cameron pledged to cut net migration. He’s not being straight with people.” – Daily Mirror

David Cameron has made his clearest admission yet that the coalition has clipped his party’s wings, saying that being in government with the Lib Dems has curbed Conservative plans on immigration and welfare. In an interview on BBC Radio 2 with Steve Wright he said: “If I was running a Conservative-only government I think we would be making further steps on things like immigration control or making sure that our welfare reforms were absolutely making sure that if you’re not prepared to work you can’t go on welfare – I think we’d be tougher, but we make compromises. “We make compromises, we make agreements, but as a government I think we’re delivering a lot of good things for the country.” The prime minister previously emphasised that being in coalition had improved policymaking. On immigration, the Conservatives are attempting to reduce net migration from outside the EU to “tens of thousands each year, not hundreds of thousands” over the lifetime of the parliament, while the Lib Dems had wanted to see an earned “amnesty” for illegal migrants who have been in the country for a decade. The coalition document committed the government only to introducing an annual limit on non-EU migrants through a mechanism yet to be determined, but in the interim Cameron and the home secretary Theresa May have consistently used harder language. Pressure from the business secretary, Vince Cable, also meant the Tories have been far less tough in placing annual limits on skilled work permits and overseas student numbers than they would have first liked. – the Guardian

No return to the bad old days

They’ve done it again this weekend – announcing big changes to pensions for nurses, teachers, dinner ladies and other low-paid workers before talks with their unions had even finished. Everyone agrees public sector pensions need to be reviewed as people live longer. But the Government should be getting round the table and talking changes through. They should not be pulling the rug from under people who have dedicated themselves to teaching, nursing or ­policing for 20 years. Last year, the number of working days lost because of strikes hit a record low because in this day and age – and thanks to 13 years of Labour insisting on it – both employers and unions want co-operation, not ­confrontation. The Tories want to wreck that ­approach. Let’s be clear what George Osborne’s game is. He knows the economy has flat-lined over the last six months. He knows he’s losing the economic argument on the deficit and jobs, and needs to change course. But instead he’s trying to pick a fight about ­pensions, provoke strikes and persuade the public to blame the stalling economy on the unions. That’s why trade union leaders must avoid George Osborne’s trap. He wants them to think that going on strike is the only option and the best way to win the argument. – Ed Balls, Daily Mirror

A seismic event early in your career usually resonates throughout the rest of your working life. This is exactly what happened to Ed Balls when he had a ringside seat for the debate about British membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in the early 1990s. Balls had recently arrived at the Financial Times when John Major took Britain into the ERM in October 1990 – against the instincts of Margaret Thatcher – a month before he succeeded her as prime minister. The then 23-year-old Oxford PPE graduate was one of a handful of people at the FT who were sceptical about British membership of the ERM. Major hoped that joining the ERM would help tame inflation. In September 1992 Balls was still a leader writer at the FT when Britain was ejected from the ERM in dramatic circumstances. David Cameronwas shaped by Black Wednesday as well. As a 25-year-old special adviser, he stood near Norman Lamont in the Treasury Circle on a balmy September evening as the then chancellor announced that Britain was leaving the ERM. – the Guardian

Another popularity contest

David Cameron‘s personal popularity has dropped, and the Liberal Democrats‘ poll rating has hit its lowest level for 14 years, a Guardian/ICM survey has revealed. But while the poll offers no joy for the coalition, it gives scant comfort forLabour: the party retains a narrow lead among voters in a hypothetical general election, but Ed Miliband‘s personal rating has slumped again and he is now competing with Nick Clegg for the title of most unpopular leader. Overall, hostility to the coalition has grown sharply, with 50% of voters saying the government is doing a bad job and only 35% saying it is doing a good job – a net rating of -15%. That is 10 points worse than March and 38 down on June last year, when the coalition was enjoying a honeymoon. The poll was carried out at the weekend after a difficult few days for the coalition, dominated by the relaunch of the NHS plans and announcements of industrial action by several public sector unions. Cameron remains more popular than either his party or the coalition, but only just, and he is in negative territory for the first time. While 42% say he is doing a good job, 47% say bad, a score of -5. In March his score was +5 and last June it was +23. – the Guardian

Labour leader Ed Miliband suffered a fresh blow last night when an ICM poll revealed that he was even more unpopular than Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, despite his party being ahead in the polls. The poll of 1,000 adults taken between 17 and 19 June gave Mr Miliband a rating of minus 21, down eight points since March and a point behind Mr Clegg, who has been under fire over cuts and student tuition fees.   Prime Minister David Cameron hit a new low of minus five, but was still 16 points ahead of his rivals.  The result comes after internal criticism that Mr Miliband, who beat his brother David in last year’s leadership contest despite polling lower among MPs and party members, is not managing to land any punches. There are concerns he is not making ground at a time of major U-turns on health and justice by the coalition. Labour is also struggling to stay ahead in the polls, with 39 per cent, just two points ahead of the Tories on 37. – the Scotsman

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