Archive for September, 2011

Labour’s Nothing Year

23/09/2011, 08:59:27 AM

by Atul Hatwal

“Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all, the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before. And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow”

While I was looking at the latest polling earlier this week, this melancholic eighties gem, Nothing Ever Happens, by Del Amitri, came on the radio. It couldn’t have been more appropriate.

At the start of the year in this column I highlighted Labour’s poll challenge by tracking responses to three specific questions asked intermittently by YouGov in their daily and weekly polls.

These questions go beneath headline voting intentions to examine voters’ attitudes on what are likely to be defining issues at the next election.

They chart three things – first, how the public feel the government is hitting them in the wallet; second, their view of how the government is cutting the deficit and third, who they prefer as a leader – David Cameron or Ed Miliband.

The answers over the past nine months have involved hundreds of thousands of responses and reveal that the entire Labour party might as well have not turned up for work this year.

Nothing has happened. Nothing has happened at all.

The wallet line tracks voters’ financial self-interest. Because it focuses on peoples’ perceptions of their own financial future, it gives quite a different perspective to the general doom and gloom about the economic position.


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The world has changed: but we’re still partying like it’s 1995

22/09/2011, 11:14:07 AM

by Peter Watt

Since the general election it is fair to say that the Labour party, probably the left generally, has been struggling with exactly what it is there for. In simple terms, what is it that the Labour party wants to do that the government doesn’t?

The problem has been that there has been a divide in Labour’s ranks over the handling of the economic situation, the cuts, the Blair and the Brown legacy. So when it comes to key questions we struggle for coherent answers. Would we have needed to cut? Should we tax more or less? Should we defend public sector jobs? What about the role of the private sector in delivering the public services? Is there a “progressive majority”? On so many issues there is a divide on the left.

The government, in contrast, seems to lack none of this uncertainty. It makes mistakes, but at its heart it is playing a pretty mainstream tune. Mainstream in the literal sense that its overall message resonates with, well, the mainstream of voters. It’s a message of economic prudence, balancing the books, prioritising spending decision and localising decision making. It celebrates family and tradition but looks to the future. It is comfortable with enterprise and would prefer lower rates of tax.

Those “right wing extremists” have become the mainstream and the Labour party is becalmed on the fringe, apparently struggling to find answers to the problems of the day. The government is a security blanket in a scary world. And that is before we know the full extent of the Eurozone crisis. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

22/09/2011, 08:34:31 AM

Clegg holds strong

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, ended a surprisingly placid party conference by offering himself as the anchor that will keep the coalition government on the centre ground and on a liberal path. Ending a conference dominated by the gathering gloom on the economy, and by whether the Liberal Democrat Keynesians in the government should challenge the Treasury orthodoxy, Clegg promised the coalition “can and will do more” to help a worsening economy. But he said the government would not veer from its commitment to eliminate the structural deficit by the end of the parliament, and admitted this meant a “long, hard road ahead”. Quoting JS Mill, he added: “the only struggles worth having are the uphill ones” and urged his party to lift their spirits, saying: “Never apologise for the difficult things we are having to do.” The party had grown up by going through the door of government, he said, repeatedly claiming his party was “doing the right thing and not the easy thing in the national interest”. – the Guardian

Cameron: we must act quicker to stop suffering

David Cameron will today urge the world to be quicker to take military action to stop states from slaughtering their own people. The Prime Minister will use his first speech to the United Nations to demand that the organisation become less of a talking shop and intervene when people under brutal regimes require its help. In a clear statement of intent following Nato’s successful campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, Mr Cameron will tell international leaders that the world must be prepared to act again. “You can sign every human rights declaration in the world but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country, when you could act then what are those signatures really worth?” Mr Cameron will ask the General Assembly. “The UN has to show that we can be – not just united in condemnation, but – united in action acting in a way that lives up to the UNs founding principles and meets the needs of people everywhere.” – the Telegraph

News International executives knew in 2006

Up to a dozen News International executives, including Rebekah Brooks, were told in 2006 that the Metropolitan Police had evidence that more than one News of the World journalist was implicated in the phone-hacking scandal. New information obtained by The Independentchallenges the timetable, as publicly stated by Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper group, of when and how it first became aware of the extent of illegality at the now-defunct Sunday tabloid. Senior figures from NI have repeatedly stated to Parliament that the company had no significant evidence until 2008 that illegal voicemail interception went beyond the NOTW’s jailed royal editor, Clive Goodman. The new evidence, which is likely to be central to the investigations into the Murdoch empire, reveals that police informed the company two years earlier that they had uncovered strong “circumstantial evidence” implicating other journalists. A senior police officer held a meeting with Ms Brooks in the weeks after the arrest in August 2006 of Mr Goodman and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire. – the Independent

National Trust refuses to back down

The head of the National Trust today sets out “red line” demands before the start of negotiations with the Government to end the row over controversial changes to planning rules. Dame Fiona Reynolds, the organisation’s director-general, is expecting to sit down with Greg Clark, the planning minister, to hammer out a compromise over the next few days. The breakthrough came after David Cameron wrote to Dame Fiona with a personal assurance that the environmental benefits of developments would be assessed before new projects were given permission. Replying in an article today’s Daily Telegraph, Dame Fiona says she is delighted that the Prime Minister’s letter “confirms that the purpose of the planning system has not changed”. Ministers are currently pushing through plans to replace more than 1,000 pages of planning regulations in England with just 52 pages in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The change is controversial because it writes into the rules a new “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, which is not defined clearly in the rules. – the Telegraph

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The 1980s comparisons are easy to make, but wrong

21/09/2011, 10:07:39 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Spending cuts. Unemployment. Economic experimentation.

Royal weddings. Bombing Colonel Gaddafi. Kenny Dalglish and Alex Ferguson.

Tottenham riots. Strikes and marches. Labour stuck in opposition.

Another series of Ashes to Ashes? More like a tour d’horizon of our so-called new politics.

Welcome back to the 1980s – with parallels as brash and ungainly as a first generation mobile phone.

Overseas, an army labours in the rugged Afghan terrain. In the 80s, the Red Army faced the Mujahideen. Their rebranded successors, the Taleban, now take on the Brits and the Yanks.

At home, a million young people languish, outside the reach of schooling, jobs or training. In the 80s this malaise was simply called “youth unemployment”. Now we call them “NEETs”. They remain poor and hopeless either way.

Many are taking to the streets in civil disobedience. Not miners this time, but minors, with young people and even schoolchildren radicalised.

The first group are idealists, blanching at the crippling cost of studying for a degree. The second group are nihilists, making off with hundred quid trainers and a flat-screen telly, an off-key coda to 80s Thatcherite consumerism.


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Sunday Review on Tuesday: The Purple Book

20/09/2011, 04:57:33 PM

by David Talbot

It is hard to recall now, but 2 May 1997 was a gorgeous spring morning. It felt as though it might have been 26 July 1945, the day that ushered in the first majority Labour government. The country seemed fresh again; there was a sense of something about to be born, a new world, a new start, a new Britain – a new Labour. Even the Conservatives, if you could find one, did not seem to resent the new era or begrudge this young, charismatic prime minister, who had led the Labour party out of 18 years exile to a stunning victory. It was, however, the beginning of his end. The triumphal procession of 1997 led to excited hopes that could never be fulfilled. It was, as George Dangerfield said of the Liberals in 1906, a victory from which Labour never recovered.

But we bought it, all thirteen and a half million of us. Those were the heady days of the new deal, taxes on the profits of privatised utilities, the minimum wage, sure start and five millennium villages (no, me neither). With British troops in Kosovo, even the wars were better.

Now, of course, it is different. The narrative of disillusionment and betrayal is almost beyond challenging. To speak well of him, these days, is to invite scorn, ridicule and worse among Britain’s self-appointed liberal intelligentsia. It is difficult to recall a former prime minister that was last faced with such rancour – much of it, it should be said, coming from his own side. (more…)

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The best argument for an elected mayor will come from the people

20/09/2011, 09:35:29 AM

by Tom Keeley

On the day, at the weekend, that “yes to Brum mayor” launched its campaign for next year’s referendum, Birmingham Edgbaston CLP held its annual community conference.  While not at the campaign launch, I find hard to imagine that the assembled activists and politicians could have made a more compelling argument for an elected mayor than that made through the stories that residents gathered at the community conference told.

Time after time, residents expressed concern over the level of service the council provides. From bin bags to education and from rodents to health, residents felt that the performance of the council was unacceptable. All present could remember a time when the council had not responded to their needs; whether during a council tax enquiry or when trying to secure education for a disabled child or when seeking social care for an elderly relative. Most concerning was not that these problems exist, but that these are the same problems their parents had to contend with. Many admitted that they had stopped even trying to sort problems because dealing with the council was futile endeavour. “The lights are on in the council house, but no one is home”, commented one resident.

There was also a feeling in the room that as a city Birmingham had lost its way.  While other cities such as Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester have confidently claimed their place in twenty first century Britain, Birmingham has so far failed. It has failed to address the needs and harness the power of a young, diverse and changing population. It has failed to respond to a changing industrial reality. It has failed to admit that the city we now live in is deeply divided. Rather, it has drifted from year to year led by a council which lives from budget to budget.

Notwithstanding their disappointment, the number of residents present at the community conference is testament to the fact that the people of Birmingham are still willing to give politics a chance. But they need a politics that is accountable to them. Residents felt it unbelievable that the “leader” of Birmingham was selected through internal Conservative party dealings (and that a Labour leader of the council would be selected in the same way).  Residents bemoaned the fact that the leader could not in any meaningful sense be held accountable for his performance. “I would have sacked him long ago if I had the chance”, said one lifelong Birmingham resident.

The position of the elected mayor has the potential to bring vision and accountability to the politics of Birmingham. I am not foolish enough to think that one of the largest councils in Europe would suddenly change direction with an elected mayor; its failings go much deeper than that. But, having a person with whom the buck stops, who is accountable, who must consult in order to understand rather than to pander and who can be fired by the electorate for not seeing through election promises, would add much needed impetuous.  For too long Birmingham has lived with a Kafkaesque council and mediocre leadership.  This is an important election for Birmingham and a great opportunity for politics.

Tom Keeley is an activist in Birmingham Edgbaston CLP.

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Tuesday News Review

20/09/2011, 08:33:16 AM

Murdoch £3m offer to the family of Milly Dowler

The family of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler have been offered nearly £3m by Rupert Murdoch’s News International as the company tries to draw a line under the single most damaging incident in the phone-hacking scandal. The huge payout, which The Independent understands is to be divided between Milly’s family and charities designated by them, comes after Mr Murdoch held his head in his hands in a meeting with the teenager’s parents this summer and repeatedly apologised for the interception of her voicemails by his News of the World. The revelation in July that the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire accessed Milly’s mobile phone on behalf of NOTW after her disappearance in March 2002 – and that messages were deleted from her phone, giving her family false hope that she was still alive – was a tipping point in the hacking saga, unleashing a wave of public anger and revulsion which ultimately forced the closure of the 168-year-old tabloid. The revelation sparked an unprecedented risis in the Murdoch empire. The main principles of the settlement between NI and the Dowler family have been agreed and the package is expected to be finalised in the coming days. It is likely that Mr Murdoch personally approved the payment to the Dowlers. – the Independent

Cable: Grey skies ahead

The country faces the “economic equivalent of fighting a war” with the global economic crisis worsening, Vince Cable warned the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham. The Business Secretary said that he could see only “grey skies ahead” and that the financial collapse had broken the post-war trend of “ever-rising living standards”. The economy dominated the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference in Birmingham yesterday, where a succession of government ministers stressed the severity of the situation. In his speech, Mr Cable warned that there was little reason for optimism. “Even with a stimulus to support recovery the next few years will be difficult,” he said. “Living standards are being squeezed by continued high imported inflation. And the painful truth is that Britain is a poorer country as a result of the financial crash.” He added: “When my staff saw my draft of this speech they said, ‘we can see the grey skies, where are the sunny uplands?’ I am sorry, I can only tell it as I see it. – the Telegraph

The Business Secretary’s comparison of the economic battle with the Second World War was depressing. He recognises the country is in a financial hole, but his ConDem Government is still digging. I don’t want 10 years of squeezed living standards any more than Cable who is, I admit, a thoughtful chap. Yet to pursue the Coalition’s failed economic policies is utter madness. Yes, the recovery will be built on cars not casinos. The answer, however, isn’t defending 15 months in which the ConDems strangled growth. Politicians are weakened by banksters and assorted gamblers who play roulette with national economies. To be in the recovery game Cable needs to acknowledge deep cuts now are suicidal. He didn’t, so his prophesy will be self-fulfilling, grey economic skies raining austerity for years to come. That is not to deny Cable has a few good ideas. Tackling unearned soaring pay for a wealthy few is one of them. And the Lib Dem’s criticisms of capitalism would never be uttered by a Tory. But the tortured soul in the Business Department needs to get real. If Britain is on the edge of an economic cliff, we must step back. Not wring our hands and shout: “We’re all doomed.” – the Mirror

Gove emails under scrutiny

Education secretary Michael Gove is facing potentially damaging claims that he and his closest advisers have conducted government business using private emails. The emails allegedly include a discussion of replacing personnel in the department but civil servants were unable to find those emails when asked to retrieve them under the Freedom of Information Act, the Financial Times reported. The information commissioner has written to the permanent secretary at the Department for Education to raise concerns about the department’s handling of FOI requests. A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner’s Office said it was still making inquiries and had not launched an investigation. – the Guardian

Michael Gove and his closest advisers are under scrutiny after Government business was apparently conducted using personal email accounts. The emails allegedly include a discussion of replacing personnel in the department, but civil servants were unable to find the messages when asked to retrieve them under the Freedom of Information Act by theFinancial Times. Moving correspondence to non-official email accounts would mean they could not be scrutinised by anyone through the act. The allegations follow an email sent in February from Dominic Cummings, the Secretary of State’s chief political aide, who wrote to colleagues stating that he “will not answer any further e-mails to my official DfE account”. It added: “i will only answer things that come from gmail accounts from people who i know who they are. i suggest that you do the same in general but thats obv up to you guys – i can explain in person the reason for this …” The Education Secretary’s aides stressed the email was about party political rather than governmental business and did not breach the rules. – the Telegraph

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Postmodernism is dead. But Nick Clegg isn’t quite

19/09/2011, 09:13:29 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Edward Docx declared postmodernism dead in Prospect during the summer. Many hierarchies were shattered by postmodernism’s insistence that no perspective is more legitimate than another. This revolutionary insight has wrought all kinds of change over the past 40 years or so, but also contains the seeds of its own exhaustion. If all perspectives are valid, do any of them mean anything?

Our contemporary longing for authenticity suggests that postmodernism has left us with a deficit of meaning that we are seeking to fill. Docx sees this all around us.

“We can see it in the specificity of the local food movement or the repeated use of the word “proper” on gastropub menus … We can recognise it in advertising campaigns such as for Jack Daniel’s, which ache to portray not rebellion but authenticity. We can identify it in the way brands are trying to hold on to, or take up, an interest in ethics, or in a particular ethos”.

There is more politics in this observation than there might seem. And the political insight has much commonality with that contained in this tweet from Chris Dillow: “Politicians obsess about public opinion and are despised. Steve Jobs doesn’t do market research and is admired. There’s a lesson here.”

Jobs is thought authentic and politicians are not. He seems propelled by mission and genius, while politicians appear calculating and superficial. As postmodernism has encouraged the decline of deference, the political class has been lampooned. Politicians seek redemption by desperately scrutinising opinion polls. But they are looking in the wrong direction.


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Monday News Review

19/09/2011, 07:32:35 AM

Faron and Clegg clash over Coalition

The Coalition could break up before the general election, the Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron suggested at the parties conference in Birmingham. Mr Farron made the comment in a conference speech which saw him fire a barrage of criticism at the Conservatives. Mr Farron made the comment in a conference speech which saw him fire a barrage of criticism at the Conservatives. The Coalition Agreement commits the two parties to remain in office until May 2015. But Mr Farron, a leading figure on the Left of thLiberal Democrats, said that the partnership could end in as little as three years. “If it’s a marriage, well it’s a good-natured one, but I’m afraid it’s temporary,” Mr Farron told activists in Birmingham. “I don’t want to upset you and it’s not going to happen for three or four years, but I’m afraid divorce is inevitable.” However, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader, insisted that the Coalition would survive the 2015 election. “I intend to see it well beyond one term,” he said in a BBC interview. His view is clearly not shared by the rest of his party, with even supportive ministers suggesting he could leave before the election. – the Telegraph

Cable to set out workers rights over boardroom pay

Vince Cable will set out plans on Monday to give workers and company shareholders rights to call time on spiralling boardroom pay as part of a Liberal Democrat-led drive to champion “responsible capitalism” and retain wavering public support for the coalition’s austerity measures. The business secretary will also announce that all directors of firms listed on the London Stock Exchange will be required to set out in a comprehensible form the total value of their salary, pensions, share schemes and bonuses. Remuneration committees will also be forced to explain in annual company reports why they have paid bonuses that are not justified by performance, or are out of line with their pay policy. Cable will argue that for Britain to be “turned around” requires giving people a sense of a shared society. That means, he will say, “reducing our appalling inequalities of income and wealth, and creating a responsible capitalism. I want a real sense of solidarity, which means a narrowing of inequalities.”  – the Guardian

Top Tory demands EU vote

Mark Pritchard, the secretary of the 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, is the most senior Tory yet to demand a vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union following the eurozone crisis. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Pritchard says that the EU has become an “occupying force” which is eroding British sovereignty and that the “unquestioning support” of backbenchers is no longer guaranteed. He says the Government should hold a referendum next year on whether Britain should have a “trade only” relationship with the EU, rather than the political union which has evolved “by stealth”. He warns that the Conservatives will see constituents “kick back” if taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for the failure of “unreformed and lazy” eurozone countries to introduce fully-fledged austerity measures. Mr Pritchard is a leading figure in a group of 120 Conservative MPs who are pushing the Prime Minister to set out a “clear plan” for pulling back from Europe. – the Telegraph

Clegg warns Cameron on Europe

Nick Clegg will veto any proposals by the Conservatives to repatriate powers from Europe if treaty renegotiations are needed to save the eurozone. Party officials said Mr Clegg had made it clear to David Cameron that any attempt to translate euro-sceptic Tory rhetoric into policy would be opposed by the Liberal Democrats. Mr Clegg is expected to address the question of Europe in his speech on Wednesday and will stress the need to help eurozone countries rather than use the crisis to leverage powers from Brussels. The Lib Dem leadership expects the issue of Europe to dominate the Conservative conference in Manchester the week after next, and are expecting tough words from the leadership to appease the party faithful. But they are insistent that this should not be fed through into policymaking or the position of the Government in dealing with the European financial crisis, which is likely to dominate autumn’s political agenda. – the Independent

Grieve under pressure to block Met on journalists sources

The attorney general, Dominic Grieve, is facing growing pressure to block an attempt by the Metropolitan police to use the Official Secrets Act to force journalists to reveal their sources. As senior Liberal Democrats indicated that Nick Clegg was “sympathetic” to journalists, police sources also expressed unease after Scotland Yard applied last week for an order under the 1989 act to require the Guardian to identify its sources on phone hacking. One police source said the decision to invoke the act was “likely to end in tears” for the Met. Lib Dem sources said that as deputy prime minister, Clegg was unable to express a view on what action the attorney general should take. But senior Lib Dems lined up at the party conference in Birmingham to call on the attorney general to use his powers to rule that the Yard’s use of the act is not in the public interest. – the Guardian

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The seven-year itch: a cautionary tale of tax, cuts and debt

18/09/2011, 12:00:14 PM

by Rob Marchant

There was this bloke. And there was this girl. They met, fell in love, got married, usual story. It was a big, special wedding, everybody went. A match made in heaven, everyone said. People came out of their houses to wave as they went to the church. The kind of wedding that fills everyone with hope for the future.

She was popular, always a lot of boys round her. But she was smart, knew what she wanted. Sometimes it looked like she wasn’t paying much attention, but she did when it counted. Didn’t stand for any nonsense. He, on the other hand, was a bit of a tearaway. Heart in the right place, but not very together a lot of the time. And a drinker. A long history, in fact. Lots of girlfriends, but in the end, they all went, because of the drink. But not this one: this time it’d be different.

So, on the day they married, he promised to her that that was it with the drinking. And it was true. Never touched a drop. Day in, day out, he would walk home past the pub, think how lucky he was to have found her, and kept straight on walking. Life seemed charmed. (more…)

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