Archive for November, 2011

Government pubs report fails to stand up for the little guy

30/11/2011, 02:07:29 PM

by Toby Perkins

Pubs are businesses at the heart of their communities; so it is a cause for great concern that pubs are now shutting at the alarming rate of 25 a week, and the government is failing to live up to its promises to take action to support this great British institution.

The pub sector is also an area which starkly illustrates the difference between the active, intelligent government working in partnership with business which Labour stands for, and the ‘government getting out of the way’ approach, favoured by Osborne, Cable et al.

The business, innovation and skills select committee has investigated in detail the relationship between the pub companies (or PubCos) – the branded chains of pubs which account for the majority of pubs in the UK – and their tenants. It has produced three reports on the subject over the past three years.

Most significantly, they found an unfair relationship between the huge companies which dominate the market and the small business owners who run individual pubs, alongside restrictive practices preventing smaller breweries from accessing huge swathes of the trade.

This week, after months of dither and delay, the government finally responded to the long-standing call for a fairer relationship between pubs and their owners. Sadly, it is a case of too little too late, and comes up short of the action needed.

The previous Labour government gave the industry a year to reform itself, putting in place a voluntary code, and made it clear that a statutory code would be put in place if the industry did not get its act together.


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Miliband: seeing into the future or shouting at the sea?

30/11/2011, 07:30:01 AM

by Rob Marchant

Last Thursday, Ed Miliband was speaking at the IPPR on the economy, doughtily willing that Labour’s alternative can soon be heard again in light of Britain’s increasingly dreadful prospects. In spite of the response of many commentators that here was a battle he couldn’t win, his words indicated that he genuinely believes things are going his way on the economy and that Labour merely needs “one more heave”, as Dan Hodges puts it. He and Ed Balls need only to keep saying the same thing, and the political tectonic plates will have shifted their way by the general election.

Never mind that Labour’s economic polling is awful and has shown little sign of shifting over the last year, in spite of the crisis. Never mind that the Tories have two fairly foolproof deflection strategies for this mess: blame Labour, blame Europe. Team Miliband is convinced that the tide is turning and it is just a matter of time.

Why? It is instructive to examine the psychology behind this. There seem to be two factors at play. One is about the vision thing. There are a few people in any generation – a very few people – who have the extraordinary gift of seeing the future. Not literally, like a soothsayer, but the visionaries: the Steve Jobses or the Thomas Edisons. Or  the political figures who define a generation: the Mandelas, the Luther Kings, the FDRs, the Kennedys. People who see the trend lines in today’s thinking and can extrapolate them out, accurately, into the future, along with a road map. They anticipate, and they get it right. These people are extraordinary (not to mention usually pretty successful in their chosen field).


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Tom Harris’s election email to Scottish Labour members

29/11/2011, 01:00:35 PM

As leadership ballot papers arrive through members’ letterboxes, I want to remind you of the task Scottish Labour now faces.

Political recovery starts with acceptance: not just acceptance that we lost, or even acceptance of the reasons why we lost. But acceptance that we deserved to lose, that the electorate is never wrong.

Too often, Labour gives into its instinct to blame the electorate for our failings and we spend the next four years telling the voters that it was they, not us, who got it wrong. And when we do that, we lose again. And deservedly.

And if it wasn’t the voters who got it wrong, then we blame the leadership. They ignored the wider party, says received wisdom, and produced a manifesto that the grassroots had no say in. An easy excuse, but just that: an excuse, with very little truth to support it.

The fact is that May 2011 was a rejection, not of a manifesto or of a leadership: but a rejection of our party. A party so set in its ways, so convinced that it and only it has the answers to the challenges facing Scotland, that it stopped saying anything interesting or relevant to the Scottish people years before that cataclysmic election defeat six months ago. The seeds of our 2011 defeat were sown many years earlier, not in the few weeks of the campaign.

There persists a myth – and it is a myth – that Scottish Labour rejected New Labour and Blairism because we were too socialist. Wrong. Scottish Labour rejected Blairism and New Labour because we were too conservative.

The ability to change has never been one of our strong suits. That’s why we’re in this mess now.


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Osborne has dug his hole; Balls shouldn’t dig one too

29/11/2011, 08:00:26 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“What he is now doing is the equivalent of ripping out the foundations of the house just as the hurricane is about to hit”.

Ed Balls said this of the government’s economic strategy in August 2010. It is curious, then, that last week David Cameron told the CBI that controlling Britain’s debt was “proving harder than anyone envisaged”. That’s anyone besides Balls and an increasing number of others convinced by him.

The day after Cameron’s CBI speech The Financial Times reported that it now looks impossible that George Osborne will be able to fulfil the boast made in the March 2011 budget that the structural deficit will be eliminated by 2014/15. Indeed, The Financial Times went on, achieving that goal in 2015/16 also appears unlikely.

To acknowledge that the structural deficit can’t be closed this parliament, John Redwood concedes, “is a defining moment … This, after all, was said to be the (government’s) fundamental point”.


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We’re getting serious on enterprise

28/11/2011, 01:00:05 PM

By Luke Bozier

I wrote in March, in an article for LabourList, that Labour had “in effect become the party of the public sector”, in response to Ed Miliband’s speech to the TUC rally in Hyde Park.

Soon after, Alex Smith & I met to discuss our concerns on the party’s declining credibility; in our own ways, both socially and commercial, we are entrepreneurs, and it was – and still is – pretty clear that Labour has lost its voice on enterprise. That’s not a luxury we can afford; the future economy, which we are already entering – post-recession, post-credit crunch, post-crisis – is an economy which will be built more than ever on the back of entrepreneurs, self-employed people, micro-enterprises, social enterprises and other independent economic actors.

The “means of production”, in the old language of socialism, is now in the hands of every individual with a computer. Instead of being afraid of enterprise, and recoiling away from the opportunities it presents to create a fairer society with more opportunity for all, Labour under Ed Miliband must embrace enterprise and put it at the heart of everything we do as a party.


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The dalits of poor Britain hate immigration, not immigrants. When will we get that?

28/11/2011, 09:08:01 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Teachers at my school used to try and gee-up indolent pupils by telling them they would end up picking-out burnt cornflakes on the Kellogg’s production line if they didn’t get their acts together.

This warning often fell on deaf ears, and a strong back or willingness to work unsocial hours still pretty much guaranteed you a job anyway. Okay, not a great job, but you could stand there all day, bent over a factory conveyor-belt scouring for errant pieces of breakfast cereal, or lump heavy goods around a dockside or building site. Or perhaps join-up and see the world. You could, in short, earn a living, with or without qualifications.

There was a level of total educational failure we could tolerate as a country and still mop-up the consequences in the foothills of the labour market afterwards. And for those fulfilling these unfulfilling roles, the reward of hard, grinding work was the promise of a job that at least allowed you to secure basic frugal comforts.

The world looks a lot bleaker from those same foothills today. This month’s unemployment figures were especially wintry, indicating, as they do, that at least a million young would-be workers are left without the prospect of any kind of job whatsoever. Not even low-status conflake-picking roles. They simply don’t exist any longer, certainly not on the scale that will soak up the current need. Back in 2006, Lord Sandy Leitch’s landmark report into skills policy warned that by 2020 there will only be 600,000 jobs in our economy requiring no formal skills, down from around 3.5 million today. Some dispute that the numbers are quite that pessimistic, but the broad trend remains correct.


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Whatever happened to the Darling Plan?

25/11/2011, 09:55:28 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Ed Balls is walking into a trap. Unfortunately, it’s one he has set himself.

Next week George Osborne will deliver an autumn financial statement swathed in uncertainty and gloom for the government. So far, the questions from the media have focused on the chancellor’s forecasts and whether he will hit his deficit target, but at some point someone will ask Ed Balls those same questions about Labour’s plans.

Specifically, George Osborne, in the chamber, on Tuesday.

Ed Balls hasn’t mentioned the Darling plan in months, but based on what Labour’s frontbench have been saying and the party’s policy platform, we have a fair view of what Balls will set out.

Labour’s five point plan for growth defines our alternative approach. Out of five pledges, three are straight tax cuts – reversing January’s 2.5% rise in VAT, cutting VAT on home improvements and repairs to 5% and a one year national insurance tax break for small firms hiring new employees.

Given this, at the despatch box, Ed Balls will be promising growth from the tax cuts that will make-up the immediate revenue shortfall and increase economic activity so that unemployment falls, tax receipts go up and the deficit falls.

Quite a complex case with lots of links in the argument, but no numbers on either deficit totals or timelines.


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The Kelly proposals: eminently sensible and workable

24/11/2011, 08:00:40 AM

by Peter Watt

The reaction to the report “political party funding – ending the big donor culture“, by the committee on standards in public life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, has been depressing if not surprising.

I feel strongly about this issue. I was caught up in “cash for honours”. I had to instigate swingeing budget cuts and redundancies to avoid bankruptcy at the Labour party. I was part of Labour’s negotiating team in the failed Haydn Philips inter-party talks on party funding in 2006 and I was embroiled in a pretty major funding scandal that lead to my resignation as general secretary and another police investigation. I also gave evidence to the Kelly enquiry.

So let’s start with some cold hard facts.


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Leveson: the celebrity sham-trial

23/11/2011, 08:04:36 AM

by Dan Hodges

This will already be the hundredth article that you have read about her. She began the week as anonymous junior barrister Carine Patry Hoskins. Now she is the woman on the left, the vivacious/doe-eyed/comical (delete as appropriate), star of the Leveson investigation into phone hacking.

The unfortunate Ms Hoskins will no doubt  feature in the film of the book of the judicial inquiry. Indeed, both she and Hugh Grant will probably play themselves. Or if it is directed by David Lynch, each other.

Our brightest students will study her and the interrelationship between the courts, press, politicians and social media. “Monday, 21 November 2011 was the day the Twittersphere began to devour its own. Discuss”.

She will become the subject of debates about the law, feminism, class, love, longing, celebrity, privacy, voyeurism and the wisdom of cameras in the court room. Though I suspect that after yesterday there is about as much  chance of the latter as Ronnie Biggs finding himself called to the bench. “What does the woman on the left tell us about…” headlines are set to assail us from every side.

This is what she tells us. She tells us Leveson is a farce. (more…)

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Step change in Spain

22/11/2011, 04:06:37 PM

by David Mathieson

Labour Uncut? Maybe, but our sister party in Spain, the PSOE has just been sliced, diced and stuck through the democratic mincer. The general election on Sunday put an end to the centre left government in Madrid. It gave the conservative Popular party an overall majority, a rare event in a country used to being governed by coalitions of one sort or another.

These results come on top of some disastrous regional election results for the PSOE earlier this year when voters handed the PP power in almost all of Spain’s powerful autonomous regions. 2011 is without doubt the PSOE’s annus horribilis and will rank amongst the troughs for a party which has had more than its share of bleak moments since it was founded well over a century ago.

For Spaniards and the Euro zone the key question is what happens next? But first a quick post mortem. The numbers were always against a PSOE victory. A rocketing deficit, near doubling of the national debt since the onset of the current crisis, five million unemployed, and eight years in power left the socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero without much in the way of a narrative or alibi. And Zapatero played a poor hand poorly. Until early 2010 he appeared to be in a state of denial about the extent of the problems, insisting that the Spanish economy was fundamentally sound and “playing in the Champeon’s League”. (more…)

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