Archive for September, 2011

You need more than courage to win

30/09/2011, 01:34:08 PM

by Dan Hodges

We have to understand. We need to grasp what has just happened to the Labour party.

Ed Miliband did not have a bad week. He had a grotesque, cataclysm of a week.

When the Leader of the Opposition finds himself having to rebut charges he’s “weird” you know something is amiss. But if you spend the whole of your own conference rebutting you know the wheels are detaching. And by Thursday morning there were more wheels bouncing around Albert Dock than a formula one pit lane.

Rebutting the idea the NEC was going to move to have Tony Blair indicted for war crimes.  That the party intended to licence journalists and kick out onto the streets those it caught misbehaving. That Ed Miliband planned to march into the Big Brother house and evict the lot of them.

And they were just the noises off. The fact Labour’s leader has no idea who his Scottish counterpart is was a mere footnote. The rapid unravelling of the tuition fees pledge a long forgotten irritant.

Just to put things into context, here are the responses from three shadow cabinet members to Ed’s speech on Tuesday. “I don’t understand what he was doing”, said one. “I feel physically sick”, said another. “I’m in shock”, said a third.

Those are members of a Labour shadow cabinet. Not minions of the Murdoch Empire, or Cameron cronies. Nor are they cartoon Blairites. They are serious politicians who want to see their party back in government. And they were, literally, in despair.

I just cannot understand Ed Miliband. He did not suddenly roll into town on a turnip truck, but worked at the very heart of the New Labour project. He may not have been a fundamentalist, and he saw at close hand the excesses and psychodramas.

But he is also a serious politician. He knows full well how an attempt to label elements of the business community as “predators” will be branded. What it means for a leader of the Labour party to turn his back on “consensus” politics. How, after a year of trying to cleanse the “Red Ed” stain, a speech which involved sticking two fingers up at the British establishment would be received. (more…)

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Post conference blues: Three dangers that will turn a leadership drama into a crisis

30/09/2011, 07:00:14 AM

by Atul Hatwal

So farewell then, Labour conference.

It’s done. The headlines were bad, the political management was poor and the top trending story for part of the last day was Ed Miliband’s denial that he is “weird“.

In amid the detritus of the retreat from conference, talking to folk leaving the security bubble, one apparent point of consensus was that Ed Miliband had definitively secured his grip on the leadership.

Andrew Sparrow even rated it the number one fact in his top ten list of things he learned about the Labour party at conference.


It’s true there is no cabal ready to mount a coup and there was no talk of imminent insurrection either in the bars or the fringes.

But appearances can be deceptive.

Conference has not given the leader the boost either within the party, or out in the country, that he needed. In the polls so far there’s been no bounce, not even the dead cat variety. In fact the fear in Liverpool was the reverse – that his ratings would slip slightly given the coverage of his big speech.


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Vision and denial

29/09/2011, 03:02:32 PM

by Rob Marchant

“The system has failed”, ran the original headline for the speech write-up chosen by the BBC, though they later changed it. But it has not.Britain has problems, yes. But it is not, in Cameron’s words, broken, however politically convenient it might be for either party to use that as a basis for change. And this was by no means a terrible speech; but its fundamental premise of moral decline was flawed, and it became a disappointing, and slightly alarming one.

In fact, in the wonderfully reassuring and welcoming bubble of a party conference, it is rather difficult to give a truly bad speech. The trick is not to sink into the soft, comfy armchair of audience acclaim and be drowned in its melting, enveloping embrace, like in some bad horror movie. Crowd pleasing is easy but, as Ed is only too aware, the real audience is outside.

There were some good things in the speech. Although even an outline of the solutions was nowhere to be seen, ultimately, the “squeezed middle” theme is a broadly correct analysis. There was the “You can’t trust the Tories on the National Health Service” passage on the NHS, made for the TV bulletins and an effective attack line against the Tories which will resonate.

But the speech was not about worrying Cameron (who I doubt will have broken sweat at any moment during the speech), so much as about convincing the public that Ed is prime minister material, and setting out direction of travel. (more…)

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Fiddling while Athens, Lisbon and Rome burn

29/09/2011, 08:44:38 AM

by Peter Watt

I am worried, really worried. And not just about where the Labour party goes after this week’s leaders speech. Although I certainly am worried about that.

No, what really worries me is the economy. Although I am no economist I can read the runes. Europe and America’s economies are in trouble, big trouble. Unemployment is rising. And every day seems to bring a new round of the latest economic indicators – and they indicate that something really bad is happening.

Think back to when Gordon Brown was busy saving the world. We were shocked that banks, those rock solid bastions of capitalism, could actually fail. I remember the uncertainty and fear in those months, when it seemed that the economic system, as we knew it, could collapse. Shops started closing on our high streets. Where were you when Woolworths closed?

Interest rates and the stock markets were in free fall. And the numbers being used to describe the scale of bailouts were so big that they seemed meaningless. In fact, what we now know, thanks to the memoirs of Alistair Darling and others, is that in reality the situation was even worse. Some pretty big high street banks were hours away from turning off their ATMs. (more…)

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Labour’s change curve

28/09/2011, 03:30:53 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Originally conceived by psychologist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, the change curve was formulated as a way to understand how people cope with catastrophic loss or terminal illness.

You get where this is going.

Subsequently, it emerged that the change curve accurately described the stages an individual or an organisation go through when they experience profound change. If you’ve been through a big change management programme at work, chances are, this will have played a big role in shaping it.

Defeat at the general election was as big a shock to the system as Labour has ever experienced. Since then, the party has recongnisably gone through the initial stages of the curve. Numbness, denial, fear and anger are all emotions the party has displayed in the past fifteen months.

This week, as Labour has gathered in Liverpool, the curve crystallises a sense I’ve had for a while and explains some of what the party seems to be feeling.

There’s been a curious insouciance about Labour this conference. The rules of political gravity appear to have been somehow suspended.


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Cook and Prezza can teach the shadow cabinet how to do opposition

28/09/2011, 01:15:51 PM

by Kevin Meagher

“My top demand of my shadow cabinet, my party, my team, is this: ambition”.

So said Ed yesterday. But not all agree that message has been getting through.

“This is a Tory government that’s doing some outrageous things and we haven’t had many words of protest”, says a less than impressed John Prescott. “Ed, you’re the leader, get a shadow cabinet who’ll do that”.

Fortuitously, the rule change passed earlier this week now allows a Labour leader to dispense with the ritual shadow cabinet elections, thus presenting Ed with a tempting new freedom. But rather than release his inner Alan Sugar, he should withhold firing any of his coasting colleagues. For now.

Like any responsible manager, Ed should look to see how he can develop his team rather than hand them their marching orders. After all, that is what “good” business people do.

Anyway, a reshuffle at this stage looks like a panic measure, an implicit acceptance that this first year has not yielded all that it might have against the backdrop of the government’s swingeing cuts and inept economic management.


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Speed dating the great British public

28/09/2011, 08:41:30 AM

by Jonathan Todd

A political leaflet has the time it takes to pick it up at the doormat and dispose of it in the bin to make an impact. Speakers at the pragmatic radicalism fringe on Monday night had two minutes to make their cases for policies they’d like Labour to take forward. The party itself has half a week of more prominent headlines and news coverage to move beyond Tessa Jowell’s verdict that we’re not being listened to.

This fleeting opportunity for Labour amounts to a speed date with the British public – a chance to say who we are, what our interests are and what our idea of a good time is; a chance, if possible, to connect. The widely covered pictures of Ed Miliband travelling to conference with his wife and young children told us some of these things. He’s a family man. His idea of good time is spending time with his family. He “gets” family. It is a theme he developed in his speech yesterday.

He understands the concerns of families about rising energy bills, train fares and tuition fees. Of course, single people share these concerns. Ed is a family man, but this isn’t primarily about families. It’s about those who work hard but who struggle to get by and worry about their future and that of their friends, families and communities. The small people dwarfed by the big world.

The big world isn’t just formed by private companies whose prices only seem to go in one direction, but by the public bodies who, while taxing ever more, appear to care about the interests of anyone but people like them. If the small people messed up at work, they’d get the sack. They are sure of this. And it keeps them awake at night. They’d be no state subsidised bonuses for them, unlike the bankers. They wonder why they bother when plenty of people seem to live as they couldn’t afford on welfare payments.


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Victims’ rights: better but not good enough

27/09/2011, 03:00:33 PM

by Sally Gimson

Jenny Chapman and Jacqui Smith recognize, in their contribution, Cutting Crime and Building Confidence, in The Purple Book Cutting Crime and Building Confidence that victims need far greater power within the criminal justice system.

Understanding what it was like to be affected by crime helped make criminal justice a Labour issue. It was one of the big achievements of our 13 years in power.

As Chapman and Smith point out, Labour recognised that crime was a social problem which affects the poorest most. “Those,” they argue, “with the least clout and power suffer most from crime and antisocial behaviour”.

And it was these issues that Labour concentrated on, introducing anti-social behaviour orders and putting police officers back on the streets with a remit to report back to local people.

Neighbourhood policing teams were introduced in every area of the country and a policing pledge, now scrapped by the Tory-led government, laid down minimum standards such as targets for responses to 999 calls and monthly “beat meetings”.

Labour home and justice secretaries also boosted victims’ rights,  introducing a victims’ code and creating the post of victims commissioner, held by Louise Casey.

Chapman and Smith outline these achievements and the fall in crime which happened as a result.

But now they say Labour must go further. And that existing Labour councils can lead the way by getting local communities more involved in local policing.


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Not quite “je ne regrette rien”, but let’s keep the contrition in perspective

27/09/2011, 12:00:31 PM

by Chris Bryant

I spoke at Lincoln Labour party a couple of weeks ago.  It’s the kind of seat that Labour needs to win back, though God knows what the boundary changes will mean. At the end of my talk, one of the councillors started his remarks with “well, you see, it all went to pot when Tony Blair became leader”.  You can probably imagine the rest.  At the end of the meeting, though, another councillor came up to me and said, “I don’t know what he’s talking about. If it weren’t for Tony I would never even have thought of joining the party”. And now she’s a stalwart.

So what does that mean for Labour midway through Ed Miliband’s first party conference in command?

First of all, winning over the Labour tribe will not be enough. We all know this, deep down. Even those who lob hand grenades at the leadership from time to time, demanding a more comfortably leftwing stance, respect a leader who tells us tough things we don’t necessarily want to hear.

Undoubtedly it will mean a harsh mental discipline, because we simply cannot indulge in the politics of the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland who invented six impossible things before breakfast. We need policies that stand the test of serious scrutiny rather than gimmicks – and everything we do needs to go with the grain of modern life. Aspiration, ambition, getting on in life; these have to be as important in our lexicon as equality, support for the vulnerable and social justice. And vice versa.

There’s also no point in trying to win the 2010 general election all over again – or, for that matter the 1992 and 1983 ones. It’s so tempting, but obsessing about lost campaigns is as fatal for political parties as for generals.

This was brought home to me the other day when a team from Télévision de Radio-Canada came to interview me in the Rhondda. Their final question, in French, was “is there anything you regret”?  I had just started to launch into “non, je ne regrette rien”, when I realised they weren’t really looking for a painful impersonation of Edith Piaf. Nor, I suspect, is Britain.

Of course there’s a balancing act here. Ignoring our mistakes whilst boasting of our achievements looks arrogant. But banging on about our failings can simply make us look mawkish and self-centred.

So, yes, I am sure we can all list our “favourite” mistake in government, but I also hope that Labour can twinkle with a quiet pride that our government did many good things. (Again, please supply your own list.)

I don’t underestimate the challenge ahead. This government has appointed 123 unelected peers (and more are to come); it is cutting the Commons by 50 MPs; and it’s rigging the electoral registration system. All of which will make it even harder for Labour to win votes in parliament or secure a general election victory. But the most important task for us is to convince the voters that we have real, credible and affordable solutions to the problems they face. That means eyes forward, foresight not hindsight.

Chris Bryant is Labour MP for Rhondda and a shadow justice minister.

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Conference diary

27/09/2011, 10:00:38 AM

A well-attended Labour party Irish society reception saw a run on the free Guinness within 45 minutes of opening. As stocks became dangerously depleted, quick-thinking chairman, Conor McGinn, did the decent thing and sacrificed his credit card – and possibly his credit worthiness – to supply liquid reinforcements.

Andy Burnham joined the outgoing leader of the SDLP, Margaret Ritchie, and Irish education minister, Ruairi Quinn, as he reminisced about his Irish immigrant grandfather’s days working in Liverpool’s Albert dock.

Praising the BT conference centre, Burnham rued the site not being home to his beloved Everton football club. At which point a reveller in Everton kit ran up to the stage to shake Burnham’s hand, rolling up a sleeve to reveal an Everton tattoo on his arm exclaiming: “It’s not a tattoo, it’s a birthmark”.

Apparently they’re rather fond of football in Liverpool.


A fringe meeting on the olympic games saw plain old “Seb” Coe line up alongside triple jumper, Jonathan Edwards, Labour’s former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell and Simon Henig from the local government association to fly the flag for the all-round wonderfullness of next year’s games. Complete, of course,  with its £9.3 billion price tag.

Spouting impeccable New Labour lingo, “Seb” said there was still “a massive amount done, a massive amount to do”.

But on a day when Ed Balls reaffirmed Labour’s commitment to budgetary rectitude, not all of his colleagues were quite so on-message.

Asked to give advice to future cities hosting the games, Tessa had this to say: “Get your budget with a great stonking contingency”.


How is Labour faring with its erstwhile corporate friends?

Many of the regional receptions are without deep-pocketed corporate sponsors to top-up delegates’ glasses with pinot grigio, except, that is, for the Yorkshire region.

They were treated to an embarrassment of riches with both Asda (headquarters in Leeds) and Yorkshire Water throwing contributions into the flat cap.

What is Yorkshire’s secret? Oh yes, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Caroline Flint, Rosie Winterton, Yvette Cooper, Hilary Benn and Mary Creagh are local MPs.

That’s what.


Party members visiting conference receive an “invitation” to see the leader’s speech. Excellent.

But you have to read the small print. Its to a “live screening” in one of the conference centre’s halls.

Not quite as impressive, but unfortunately there’s more.

“This invitation does not guarantee entry. Admittance to the auditorium is on a first-come, first-served basis”.

So let’s get this clear: its not an invitation to sit in the hall. Its not even an guarantee to see Ed in all his HD glory on the big screen.

So its not really an invitation at all, is it?

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