Archive for November, 2011

Gordon Brown’s tribute to Alan Keen

14/11/2011, 11:13:32 AM

by Gordon Brown

ALAN KEEN MP  (1937 – 2011)

Alan Keen, who was member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston for more than 19 years since his election in 1992, has died after a heroic fight against cancer. The chairman of both the all party football committee and all party athletics committee in Parliament, as well as a member of the culture, media and sport select committee, Alan will long be remembered as the greatest champion of football in Parliament.

He was born 25th November 1937 and is the husband of former health minister, Ann Keen.

Alan was a great MP: locally popular, diligent, and a great fighter for local causes.

He was born in London, but brought up in the Grangetown and Redcar area of the north east of England, attending Sir William Turner’s grammar school in Redcar. He served in the British Army for 3 years before joining the fire protection industry.

He was a great footballer, and a scout for his favourite club, Middlesbrough, for eighteen years. Working with Jackie Charlton,  the footballers he spotted included Graeme Souness.

Having served as a member of Hounslow borough council from 1986–90, he unseated the sitting Conservative MP in 1992 and served on both the education (1995–96) and the culture, media and sport select committees (1997–99 and since 2001).

He was Chairman of the all party football group with over 150 members from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, making it one of the largest all party groups at the palace of Westminster and spoke up for the grassroots and fans. He conducted two major inquiries into “English football and its governance”.

Alan is survived by his wife Ann and two sons and a daughter.

As Alan always said, serving the people of all his communities – Heston, Cranford, Hounslow West, Bedfont, Feltham and Hanworth – was his primary duty supporting all the different  and diverse groups in his constituency. He held regular advice surgeries and was assiduous and conscientious at all times in speaking up for local needs.

I salute his bravery in facing cancer – fighting it as long as he could  – and he will be remembered as someone who taught us how to fight illness. As he acknowledged, the NHS could not have done more to be of help and support.

Tributes have come from Lawrie McMenemy, the former manager of Southampton, who said of Alan Keen that he never lost touch with the people he represented.

He was a fine man. I will miss him.

Gordon Brown is Labour MP for Kircaldy and Cowdenbeath and a former prime minister.

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Why the eurozone crisis is lethal to Labour

11/11/2011, 07:51:38 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The eurozone crisis is an unmitigated disaster.

I know, hardly breaking news. But I’m not talking about the impending threat to global capitalism. Worrying as it is, rivers of words have flowed on that topic. It’s Labour’s electoral prospects that are the concern here.

On the face of it, the crisis should have improved the party’s standing in relation to the Tories.

The government’s economic strategy is in shreds. Growth has been flatlining for months, domestic demand is anaemic and now the fate of the mythical export led recovery rests in the hands of reticent eurozone members who have demonstrated a singular inability to get ahead of the markets.

Many of Labour’s criticisms have been vindicated and now, of all times, the public should be taking a look at Labour as a realistic alternative.

But they’re not.

And the longer the crisis continues, the less likely that becomes.

For all the catastrophic implications of the crisis for the government and it’s economic approach, the underlying narrative of what is happening in the eurozone is kryptonite for Labour.

The common story running through all the tribulations on the continent is that the markets destroy countries with high public spending.

Regardless of the economic realities of the situation – we’re not Italy or Greece, never were, never would have been under Labour, and besides, we’re not in the euro – the crisis is confirming the visceral fear of runaway spending within the British voters’ psyche.

It’s why they voted the last Labour government out of office and is a fear that has since remained at the forefront of their considerations.


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A three point plan for opposition

10/11/2011, 02:35:08 PM

by Peter Watt

Being in opposition can be thankless and getting the tone right can be tricky. Right about now it is doubly so. Which is why I was taken by an interesting article over at Labour List penned by Mark Ferguson. In “Labour can’t afford to look smug“, Mark argues that Labour risks looking smug in the face of the current dire economic situation if they appear to take every bad headline or statistic as vindication for their proposed approach. As he says, if we look smug:

“…then all we do is ensure that at best the public think ‘a plague on all your houses’ and at worst, we end up looking smug about a crisis that many people think we caused”.

Now I didn’t agree with some of the underlying assumptions in the post, but on this central tenet he was spot on. We do sometimes and inadvertently sound quite pleased at the poor economic outlook and the public hate it. And so I started thinking about what exactly the strategy for opposition should be for Labour right now. And I have come up with a cunning three point plan. (more…)

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These days the attack dogs are too nice. Where’s the modern Peter Mandelson?

09/11/2011, 07:30:56 AM

by Dan Hodges

Michael Dugher is not the new Peter Mandelson. We know this because last week Dugher told us so.

He didn’t just come out and issue a bald statement to that effect, obviously. That would just have been plain odd:

“Which senior former Labour politician aren’t you going to be tonight Michael”?

“Well, tonight Matthew I’m not going to be Peter Mandelson”.

No, the new shadow minister without portfolio was responding to a tweet from  “eyespymp”, the voyeuristic web site that tracks and broadcasts the movement of our Parliamentary representatives as the go about their daily lives.

According to our eyespy eavesdropper, Dugher was overheard “telling someone he’s going to be ‘Ed’s Mandelson’”. To which the member for Barnsley East responded with a characteristically blunt: “Load of bollocks. I’m currently at home with my kids”.

The kids’ gain is Labour’s loss. A new Peter Mandelson is exactly what we need. A Prince of darkness. Master of the dark arts.

Ed’s got lots of masters of the pastel-coloured arts. Tom Baldwin is an accomplished spinner. But he’s not a real attack dog. He tries. He affects a kick ass, access denied, off the guest list, card marked, co-operation withdrawn, lead-lined boots demeanor. But his heart’s really not in it. He’d hate anyone to know it, but he’s actually quite nice.

Then there is Stewart Wood, another shadow minister without portfolio, who is Ed’s “political mastermind”. Wood has a sharp mind, and a few tricks up his sleeve. He’s got a reputation in Westminster for being a straight shooter. Though if he has to, he knows how to bend the odd bullet round the wall. But he’s also got a serious flaw. Again, he’s quite nice. In an interview he gave to Suzie Mackenzie, Gordon Brown’s biographer, Mackenzie recounts:

“Wood acknowledged that the routine rudeness – the ‘just Gordon’ behaviour – had begun to trouble him. It became ‘more important’ after Brown became prime minister. He suggested that the ‘apologies’ they made for Brown had gone on too long. ‘How you deal as an individual with human beings is a core part of the job’, he said”.

How you deal with human beings? That’s all very good. But it’s hardly Prince of Darkness material is it?


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Our good friend Tony Gardner

08/11/2011, 12:01:29 PM

by Peter Watt and friends of Tony Gardner

Tony was formally remembered at the NEC this week and his funeral on Friday. I was proud and moved to deliver a eulogy along with Tony’s former agent Keith Humphries, his nephew Roger Gardner and representatives from the charities that Tony worked for.

We sang Jerusalem, Abide With Me and The Red Flag and celebrated Tony’s life. It was, of course, tinged with sadness at losing a friend. The comments that were posted in response to my original tribute reflect the warmth with which Tony is remembered. That same warmth was reflected by all those present on Friday.

Thank you for your comments.


October 20, 2011 at 8:34 am

You won’t get many like Tony around theses days. The interns and spads and youngsters don’t believe in hard graft. Its mobiles blackberries and telephone canvassing, rather than pounding the streets talking face to face with people. And the people at the top, the people we vote for, rarely venture into their constituencies.

Jon Lansman:

October 20, 2011 at 10:20 am

A nice piece, Peter. And I don’t often say that about what you write.

Damien watt:
October 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Well written Peter I agree Tony was a lovely guy.I also remember him driving down the road while I was running up and Down driveways leafleting and canvassing you’ll be sadly missed.A real local hero and force to be reckoned with and a very good counsellor. He was very suportive to our family whilst our dad was dying. RIP Tony.

Ralph Baldwin:
October 20, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Well when the Party starts promoting the Tony’s of the world, rather than the lazy and very ambitious, you’ll be sure to let me know.

Philip Hills:
October 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm

I’ve known Tony for 56 years when we both started at Southampton University, where he spent 4 years ending up as President of the Students Union. He was substantially instrumental in bringing me into the Labour Party and as good a friend as one could wish to have. As, in effect, you say above, no one could have been a more energetic and loyal member of the Labour Party than he was, working his heart out for it until long after infirmity would have caused most people to give up. It must be a bit over a year since I last saw him. I shall miss our meetings and occasional telephone conversations greatly.

Roger Gardner:
October 21, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Dear Peter
Thanks for writing such a warm piece about my uncle. Its funny that now he has passed away you get to hear from people in all walks of life that have been great friends with Tony. The phone hardly stops ringing and he will be greatly missed by all the family. My father, his brother David, asked if it will be a small family service and I had to tell him that he had no chance of that, bless.

The service will be held at Poole Crematorium Nov.4th 12.30pm
Pie and a pint after at Parkstone Trades and Labour Club, Ashley Road, Parkstone, Poole, Dorset.

Once again many thanks
Roger Gardner

Cecil Fudge:
October 27, 2011 at 9:42 am

Tony Gardner was a friend and fellow LP member for over 60 years and notwithstanding his parliamentary experience he constantly reminded me that whatever the leadership did “up there” the real world of politics was down at the local level where the real bastards were. And his love of local history meant that he could quote relevent Poole names over the last few hundred years! But I also remember his delight at finding new sea-food restaurents, purring over a good wine list and then complaining about the ourageous prices! In truth I think he would have liked to have spent all his weekends on a cafe crawl in the south of France. Thank you Tony for the many good times.

John Arnold:
October 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Like Philip Hills I first met Tony as an undergraduate at Southampton University in 1955. Tony came as a mature student having obtained a certificate after a course at the Cooperative college. He had had experience of real politics and had also studied political philosophy. He was very important to me as I had done my 6th form A levels but had a 2 year gap from academic study due to national service. I think that I learned at least as much from Tony as I did from our lecturers. He taught me how to learn from others.
After my first lecture I went into the Library to write up my notes, but after my second lecture Tony said lets go for coffee, so I did and that began my real education.
Tony was convinced that the opportunity given by University education required a commitment to public service. When ever we discussed what we intended to do with our lives Tony would always say ‘ we are not studying for degrees in order to sell soap’

Jenny Arnold:
November 2, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Tony liked the ladies so let a female friend speak up for him. When Tony was President of Southampton Students’ Union I was his vice president and sat beside him through many meetings.
Tony liked a good argument and could put his views clearly and cogently, but his sense of humour nearly always bubbled up to lighten any dispute.
I think he saw himself as a “man of the people” working for the disadvantaged through the Labour Party and through the World Development Movement, to which he contributed much time and effort in the Dorset area.
As well as appreciating good food and wine, Tony had green fingers and was a gifted gardener producing impressive crops and flower borders, he demonstrated that the “answer lies in the soil”! He will not be forgotten.

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The Sunday Review: Japan

06/11/2011, 01:57:32 PM

by Anthony Painter

Japan has a big society and blue Labourish solidarity. At the end of the 1980s and early 1990s it was seen as a competitor global economy to the US. Its ability to eschew individualism and embrace collectivism in pursuit of the long-term common good exemplified everything the Anglo-Saxon west wasn’t. This all went pop when its asset bubble burst and we haven’t heard much from it since – other than as a warning of what can go wrong.

Then, earlier this year, its east coast was decimated by a tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear reactor melted down as a consequence. Seemingly in a wave of sympathy, it was awarded the Guardian‘s long-haul tourist destination poll first place, with Tokyo taking top city spot. Germany, having weathered the financial storm better than most other major economies, now gets the most attention as an alternative social and economic model.

Japan has endured two decades of low growth as a consequence of a financial crisis which continued to have after-shocks throughout the 1990s and 2000s. But it has largely managed to adjust somehow – despite a rapidly ageing society, which in part contributes to ongoing low growth.

If the shorthand for conservative Labourism is “flag, faith and family”, then Japan’s motto can be summed up as “flag, firm, and family”. Its history can be summarised as a quest to maintain national independence.

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By all means let’s be tough on crime, but let’s also be principled

04/11/2011, 01:00:40 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

During my years working on prisons policy, I used to think that if the government was being attacked at the same time from left and right, that wasn’t a bad place to be (at least if we were being attacked from the right for being too soft, and the left for being too hard, rather than from both for being incompetent). When I see the new government finding itself increasingly in this predicament – attacked from the right wing media, former home secretary Michael Howard and Conservative backbenchers for being too soft, and from the Guardian and the left for being too hard – I am instinctively inclined to sympathy.

Where does Labour stand? When the sentencing bill was first published in June, Labour was very critical – and justifiably so. This was the Cameron government at its worst: the familiar pattern of early nonchalance, followed by last-minute panic, with a hasty, botched result. Not for the first time the mess was covered up by a bravura performance from David Cameron, good enough to fool the media on the day, but merely delaying the unravelling – as some of us predicted at the time.

In contrast to this, last week’s final changes to the sentencing bill looked like government, if not at its best, then certainly in decent working order. A substantial disagreement between two ministers, May and Clarke, each with a legitimate stake in the policy, was carefully brokered by Downing Street into a coherent and balanced package. Media coverage predictably focused on the Cabinet “split” and the “humiliation” of Clarke, who was seen as the loser – gleefully by the right wing media, sorrowfully by the left. In fact, this was a genuine compromise. Clarke lost some battles, but won others, more than his disillusioned liberal friends gave him credit for. He successfully defended the distinction between adult and youth sentencing for knife crime, even if at a lower cut-off age, and insisted that new mandatory life sentences for second convictions for the most serious violent and sexual offences – the so-called “two strikes and you’re out” sentences – would be very tightly defined. The main reason Clarke was seen as the loser was because he was so unguarded about his bargaining position; in other words, because he showed the kind of honesty the media say they want from politicians, but tend to punish when they get it.


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October shadow cabinet league table

04/11/2011, 09:09:24 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Back in June, based on a review of the first year’s performance in the shadow cabinet league, and the underlying politics of the party, I predicted four shadow cabinet exits – Meg Hillier, Anne Mckechin, Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell. Sure enough, the first three have departed, while Jowell has been moved down from Cabinet Office to shadow the Olympics and is expected to leave after the games next year.

The new shadow cabinet is four weeks old today. Contrary to Harold Wilson’s phrase, a week is not a long time in politics, and neither is a month. It takes years to build, or bring down, reputations.

Despite the anarchy at the top of the last Labour government over a period of years, Gordon Brown’s reputation for economic competence was remarkably resilient at the time. As is David Cameron’s despite his government’s economic record.

So the first month performance of the new shadow cabinet is unlikely to dramatically redefine the political landscape. But there are some hints at what the coming year might hold.

At the top, in amidst the familiar faces picking up from last term, Caroline Flint and Andy Burnham have pushed their way into the top six while three of the shadow cabinet newbies – Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umunna and Jon Trickett have staked out positions in the top ten.


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Tom Harris’ speech launching his campaign to be Labour’s candidate for first minister

03/11/2011, 11:55:17 AM

This contest must be decided on the qualities that matter

by Tom Harris

Two months ago, I became the first person to announce I wanted to stand – not as a candidate for the leadership of Scottish Labour, but as Labour’s candidate for first minister. I made that announcement because nearly four months after our dreadful result in May, there still had been precious little debate about the future direction of our party and how we could restore our electoral fortunes. There had been precious little debate, either, about the challenge of nationalism and the threat posed to Scotland through the break-up of the United Kingdom.

So, in the absence of virtually anyone else making the case for Labour or against the nationalists, I stepped forward.

Since then, I have led the debate on the future of our party and our nation.

In September I proposed the setting up of a standing commission on devolution, modelled on the successful Calman commission, so that decisions about which powers should in future rest with Westminster or with Holyrood could be decided on an rolling basis and, crucially, be evidence-based. (more…)

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Someone somewhere needs to paint a picture

03/11/2011, 07:30:07 AM

by Peter Watt

Boy oh boy do we need a vision. Let’s face it; our politicians look pretty rubbish at the moment. The Eurozone crisis means that to all intents and purposes, they are not free to act, not free to decide and implement and not free to make meaningful decisions.  Instead they, and we, are all now waiting for – well whatever the end game is in the Eurozone. All plans for growth are effectively just words. Office for budget responsibility forecasts are meaningless and future treasury planning looks pretty much fantastic.  Merkel and Sarkozy’s grand plan to save the Euro didn’t even last six days.

And this enforced paralysis is affecting all of the parties.

George Osborne, for instance, must be dreading his autumn economic statement. What the hell is he supposed to say? “Tax receipts are down, borrowing is up and the economy is stagnating but it would have been worse under Labour”. Well that will have them jumping up and down in excitement in marginal seats across the land. It may be true, or have an element of truth, but it’s hardly the stuff of political legend. (more…)

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