Archive for January, 2012

Sunday Review on Monday: The Iron Lady

09/01/2012, 08:00:44 AM

by Tom Harris

Margaret Thatcher is an interesting person. Hers is a fascinating story, crammed full of controversy and drama. The first woman ever to become British prime minister, she destroyed the miners, defeated Galtieri, defied the IRA, presided over record levels of unemployment, poverty and social unrest while enjoying unprecedented electoral success. Her dramatic rise to the top of the Tory party and her ruthless dispatch after nearly a dozen years at Number 10 is the stuff of Shakespeare.

So it was inevitable that her story would, at some point, be captured on celluloid, the former PM herself being portrayed by a noted and established actress. Whether you consider Thatcher the heroine or the villain of the story, her biopic was one that everyone with even a passing interest in British politics or social history would queue to see.

What a pity, then, that they made The Iron Lady instead.

It’s quite legitimate, of course, to use the device of an ageing woman succumbing to the early stages of alzheimer’s in order to tell a back story through flash backs. Unfortunately – and frustratingly – they seem to have done it the other way around. The Iron Lady is primarily about using a few very brief glimpses of Thatcher’s premiership in order to tell the fictionalised story of her loneliness and her imaginary arguments with her late husband, portrayed (unfairly) by Jim Broadbent as an intensely irritating individual.


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London’s lesson from Jamaica: don’t write off your candidate

08/01/2012, 12:01:04 PM

by Conrad Landin

While Britain slept off its Christmas excess, Jamaica went to the polls on 29 December. Overnight, result after progressive result rolled in as the votes were counted.

The scale of victory for the People’s National Party (PNP), the main left-wing grouping, was a surprise. Poll after poll in the last weeks had shown the election on a knife-edge, with most showing the governing right-wingers slightly ahead.

In the event, it was a contest of policies and records. Poverty had skyrocketed under the incumbents, who also faced negative publicity from their connections with Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke, the drug dealer who made global headlines last year when the island’s government refused to extradite him to the US.

But behind all this lies a remarkable woman: Portia Simpson-Miller. Despite her youthful appearance and manner, she has been on the country’s political scene for the best part of three and a half decades, entering parliament seven years before Tony Blair first graced the green benches.


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The government is failing the most vulnerable – and doesn’t care

06/01/2012, 03:03:41 PM

by Jon Trickett

At the start of the New Year most of us look forward with anticipation and hope. But there are increasingly large sectors of the population who are to some extent excluded from those aspirations and dreams. For many, the stark reality of life today is one of great uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety about what the future holds.

Here in Britain a family faces being made homeless every two minutes. Every day more children are being pushed into poverty as a direct result of the Chancellor’s policies and 5 million households are living in fuel poverty, of which half owe more than £250 to their energy supplier.

Some will argue that the increase in the numbers of people who are socially excluded is the inevitable result of the recession. But the over-riding test for any government is how well it treats the most vulnerable in society and the truth is that the coalition’s policies are making the situation worse.

And they knew that this is what they would do.

This can be the only explanation why my opposite number in the cabinet office, Francis Maude, abolished the social exclusion task force.  A deliberate, cold hearted and conscious decision to remove the coordination functions within the heart of government to lead the drive against social exclusion.

There has always been a need to address social exclusion, but in these difficult economic times with young people, pensioners and families being hit hardest, it is more important than ever not only to understand the causes of social exclusion but also to find solutions.

Of course issues surrounding social exclusion are multiple and extremely complex.  But this government’s spending cuts and tax rises are undoing much of the progress which Labour had begun to make.

The coalition seems to manifest an almost ideological drive to kick away the few existing routes out of poverty for many of the most vulnerable people. Pre-election talk of social mobility and “we’re all in it together” were unsurprisingly just part of a cynically-crafted illusion aimed at winning votes. (more…)

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Whips notebook: part two

06/01/2012, 11:03:04 AM

by Jon Ashworth

Just before the Christmas recess we won a vote. It was at the end of a debate on the economy and our quick thinking and experienced chief and deputy chief whip forced a division when the government was least expecting it. There was panic on the faces of government whips, with one senior government whip, with the rather splendid title of comptroller of Her Majesty household seeming especially agitated.

It was no wonder that the government whips were so hot under the collar. When the final scores on the doors were read out by the Labour whip (who just so happened to be me) only 79 government MPs voted, compared to 213 from the opposition. Of course winning a vote is nothing to get carried away with. Defeating the government on what was effectively a procedural matter doesn’t really change anything, though it does make the government look like a bit of a shambles and puts a spring in the step of a Labour MP.

Labour Uncut readers don’t need reminding that winning the central argument on the economy is vital to Labour’s future electoral success. In squaring up to George Osborne our shadow chancellor Ed Balls has a formidable opponent. (more…)

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The twelve rules of opposition: day 12

05/01/2012, 01:30:48 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 12 Understand how a mirror works

And so as the twelve days of Christmas finally end, we come to the last rule of opposition. Unlike the others, this is not about the presentation of policy, improving the leader’s image, tactics against the government or party management.

It’s not about any of the conventional areas of political action.

Instead, it’s to do with honesty. Specifically the leader being honest about what they see when they look in the mirror.

A stroll down the high street of any British town after eight in the evening on a Saturday night reveals a strange phenomenon.

Most men and women out and about at this time don’t understand how a mirror works. (more…)

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2012 predictions: Dave and Nick to wed, the boundary review to be dropped and maybe Lansley too

05/01/2012, 09:17:01 AM

by Kevin Meagher

A mug’s game and a fool’s errand, but in the spirit of offering hostages to fortune, making rash and arbitrary predictions and being willing to be hoist by my own petard, please find my political predictions for 2012:

1. “With this pact I thee wed…”

This will be the year that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats finally face up to the indisputable logic of a pre-election pact. Like a couple who have lived together for years, there is little reason to hold off from tying the knot – sooner or later they will realise this. They get on better than either side initially expected. Their candidates go into the next election with a joint record. The two parties’ fortunes are now symbiotic so there is no point manufacturing differences.

For ambitious Lib Dems, carrying on with the coalition is their best shot at retaining a ministerial career. For Cameron, Lib Dem ballast gives his government a better equilibrium, ensuring he doesn’t have to try too hard to please his right flank.

Austerity is going to stretch into the next parliament. Both sides can sell the deal as a continuation of “acting in the national interest”. Brutally, the number of marginal seats where the Tories are the main challengers to them would see off half the Lib Dems current 57 MPs. So logical and self-interested then; but will this convince both parties’ grassroots?

2. A shuffling of the pack

2012 will see a significant cabinet reshuffle. Commendably, David Cameron is proving a reluctant butcher. By the spring, however, he will want to freshen up the cabinet’s middle ranks, probably waiting until after May’s local elections. At the very least, Clarke, Spelman, Gillan and Warsi are all expendable. If Boris beats Ken for the London mayoralty, he can risk promoting a generation of Cameroons. (more…)

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The twelve rules of opposition: day 11

04/01/2012, 01:00:54 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 11 – What gets measured gets managed

Labour’s favourite pearly peer, Maurice Glasman, popped up last week with his latest sage intervention. This time he was attacking the monopoly of Oxbridge graduates at the top of British politics.

Ignoring, for a moment, the alma mater of Ed Miliband, the man who saw fit to enoble Lord Glasman, and the piquancy of a peer of the realm railing against elitism, he nearly had a point.

Glasman was right to identify an issue with the background of the current crop of political leaders, but an Oxbridge education is not it.

My Uncut colleague Rob Marchant put his finger on it when he tweeted that the real problem was that so many them had never had a proper job.

There’s nothing wrong with having only worked in the Westminster village per se. Many politicos work extremely hard and achieve great things.

Few can doubt Ed Balls’ pivotal role in ensuring that Labour did not enter the euro, which, in hindsight was one of the party’s most valuable legacies from government.

But life as a journalist or political adviser has its limits if the ultimate destination is Parliament.

This new caste of politicians has become increasingly proficient in the Westminster game of snakes and ladders, at the cost of broader experience. The specialised gene pool from which they are drawn has led to professional inbreeding.


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Labour is for the workers; not those avoiding work

04/01/2012, 07:30:37 AM

by Peter Watt

Gulp, here goes. I think that if the reports that Liam Byrne, with the full support of Ed Miliband, is to shortly announce a change in approach to benefits policy are correct, then he is spot on.

Over the last 30 years Labour has moved from being seen as a party that supports labour, working people, to being seen as a party of welfare dependency supporting those who do not work. It may be uncomfortable to say it, but it is certainly held to be true by millions of voters. It’s not hard to see why. So you are struggling to make ends meet, balance work and home, and life feels tough. You play by the rules, pay your taxes and yet you can’t afford to fill the car up anymore. Then you will understandably find it galling that some people seem to be able get by whilst choosing not to work, never mind working hard, don’t pay any tax and still get their slice of the growing welfare cake. Hell, that cake is paid for from your tax, and the amount of tax you’re paying just keeps going up.

There is of course some truth in how disgruntled voters feel. The number of those in receipt of welfare payments has risen steadily over the last few decades. While it was not all the result of Labour policy, we certainly played our part. And here is the dilemma for Labour. You could argue that it is a sign of our success that we have increased the number of benefits available to poorer members of society. That would certainly reflect one strand of thought within the party. But to argue this is all about playing to our own consciences.


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The twelve rules of opposition: day ten

03/01/2012, 03:00:13 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Rule 10: Stories, stories, stories

It’s not often that there is unanimity between the pixels of Uncut and Liberal Conspiracy, but on one issue there is total agreement – the need for Labour to be more prolific in generating news stories.

In May last year, Sunny Hundal posted about how the shadow cabinet seemed half  asleep. The big stories revealing the levels of public sector job cuts, crony appointments to quangos and costs of over-running departmental programmes were all driven by pressure groups.

Precious little research that quantified what the government was doing was coming from the shadow cabinet.

Based on an analysis of Labour press releases as part of Uncut’s monthly work effort league, since Ed Miliband became leader, his shadow cabinet (excluding the leader and deputy leader) have proactively generated 70 stories between them.


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Why we should keep on blogging

03/01/2012, 12:00:34 PM

by Rob Marchant

During 2011 a number of people, often well-meaning, sometimes not so, have questioned the choice of some bloggers at Labour Uncut and elsewhere to analyse dispassionately, and sometimes brutally, not just the Tories and the Lib Dems, but the Labour party under Ed Miliband. The inference being that, as loyal party members who want a Labour government, bloggers should make only supportive comments (which, by the way, those same people often do), and not critical ones.

Some history: at the beginning of the New Labour government in the late 1990s, the UK political internet was in its infancy, and there was really no such thing as blogging in the UK. The only real outlet that party people had was through the traditional media, and largely the only people who could really get arrested in the traditional media were MPs (and with the local press, councillors).

Many of our present-day Labour bloggers were, around that time, part of a machine which had become obsessive about its control over these outlets and for the very good reason that the Tories were good at it. In that world, the party with the most discipline over what went out, and how the other side’s views were rebutted, had a real chance of winning the battle for influence. In the end, taking their lead from the Clintonian  Democrats, it was a battle that Labour won conclusively.


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