Archive for February, 2012

Welcome to the 2010s: the era of reactive, populist, say-anything politics

22/02/2012, 12:00:59 PM

by Rob Marchant

What has David Cameron done so far, which has marked him out as a prime minister? The answer is, surprisingly little, as John Rentoul observes in the Independent on Sunday: “…the Prime Minister seems unformed. He is adroit at reacting to events, but not so good at making them happen.”

But that does not mean he is unpopular (despite lots of potential reasons for this to be so), or that he will lose the next general election. It is just an example of an era, post-2010, which has seemingly been defined by a lack of seriousness of purpose on the part of the major parties.

Cameron has scored a few political successes. He has done what few would have predicted: he has put together, and held together, a coalition that has lasted nearly two years and will quite likely last five.

He has been successful, thus far, in winning public support for his eminently populist handbagging of his EU partners, although only time will tell whether he was wise to do so. He is generally felt to have had a “good war” in Libya.

But as regards defining a domestic policy direction for his government, he has relatively little to show: an austerity program, showing strength but courting unpopularity; and education reforms which are competent and probably modestly positive with the public, although mostly despised by Labour. The rest is largely either a blur, with no significant impact made, or a mess.

Now compare and contrast with his coalition partner. Clegg made a textbook populist pitch before the election, “an end to politics as usual”, before demonstrating eighteen days later, via the person of David Laws, that he represented just the opposite.

Being a junior coalition partner encourages populism, because of one’s limited impact on events and the inevitable going along with large numbers of things which you do not like. There’s not much else you can do: hence the rubbish about “alarm clock Britain”, Clegg’s desperate and probably doomed scrabbling around for a distinct identity for his party.

And lastly ­- in the order in which the media currently treat the three parties – we come to Labour. Miliband at times seems populist, but it is not in the sense that most people would recognise. And this is because his populism is mostly directed inwards, at his own party, and what they want to hear.


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Whip’s Notebook

22/02/2012, 07:00:01 AM

by Jon Ashworth

So we’re all back after our constituency week and I’m spending my time as a dutiful whip touring the tearoom, smoking room and the various other nooks and crannies hidden away in the palace of Westminster to catch up with fellow members of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

The first day back after recess always has that back to school feel and we’re all eager to swop stories of what we got up to. Talking to colleagues, I’m struck by the extent to which unemployment is affecting all our constituencies in similar ways.

Last week we learnt that unemployment, youth unemployment, over 50s unemployment all rose again across Leicester South. I’m not surprised. In recent months, I’ve found more and more people turning up at my advice surgery desperate for any guidance I can offer to help them find work. Almost every Labour MP I’ve spoken to this week tells a similar story.

And yet we have a government that is completely failing to show any grip and put in a place any strategy to deal with the unemployment crisis so many areas of the country now face. I’m well aware it’s so clichéd to remind Labour Uncut readers that Norman Lamont twenty years ago famously said “unemployment is a price worth paying” but I’ve become convinced that the government’s complete lack of action in tackling unemployment suggests that David Cameron probably harbours that attitude even he is not so gauche as to say it in the way his former boss did.

Take for example when I asked Cameron at PMQs when he had last met a young unemployed person, I was amazed he couldn’t answer. What’s more neither he nor George Osborne could tell me when they last visited a jobcentre plus office. Instead of organizing Downing Street summits on the wretched and disastrous health bill, where are the Downing Street summits on youth unemployment? Where are the meetings out in unemployment hotspots to find out what needs to be done?


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In Alex we trust

21/02/2012, 01:10:41 PM

by Tom Harris

When I launched LabourHame in June last year, I thought it would be fun to initiate a semi-regular column entitled “Questions To Which The Answer Is Er…'”

The point was simply to expose some of the more glaring inconsistencies in nationalists’ arguments and to poke a bit of fun at them in the process.

So, for example, we asked “Why are the SNP so reluctant to re-regulate the bus industry?” “Does the largest party in a hung parliament always have a right to form a government?” And  “Would the euro be good for Scotland?

Each of these questions is aimed at a particular Achilles heel in the nationalists’ armoury: their receipt of a million pounds from Stagecoach owner Sir Brian Souter; the SNP’s insistence that in 2007 Alex Salmond had the exclusive moral right to lead a government but in 2010 David Cameron didn’t; the party’s long-established (and continuing) support for ditching sterling in favour of the euro.

What was remarkable was the response from nationalist readers of, and contributors to, LabourHame. Was there even a hint of defensiveness or disagreement about their party’s inconsistencies, as there is in every other party? Not a bit of it.


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Labour must go further, faster on welfare reform

21/02/2012, 07:00:16 AM

by John Woodcock

The workfare row of the last few days may have exposed the shambolic nature of the government’s work experience scheme, but Messrs’ Cameron, Duncan Smith and Grayling may nevertheless view the fury it is generating as manna from heaven.

For the heated debate over whether or not placements in supermarkets were voluntary or obligatory, permanent or temporary, and exploitative or not, risks giving a false impression that there is a substantial and coherent government programme to tackle unemployment.

There is not. It is right to be angry about the millions out of work who are being failed by this Tory-led government; but so far, what ministers are failing to do should make us angrier than the schemes, however flawed, they are attempting to establish.

Welfare minister Chris Grayling was clearly delighted to take to the airwaves and wind up the rhetoric in the knowledge that every protest he provokes diverts attention from the real scandal: namely, that this Tory-led government is doing far too little to get people back to work, not too much.

The charge sheet of inaction on welfare is growing longer alongside the spiralling numbers of jobless and continued failure to return the economy to growth so businesses can create more jobs. Ministers have set their face against financing extra job opportunities for young people by repeating the tax on bankers’ bonuses; they axed the future jobs fund and have belatedly replaced it with something less extensive; and there are already dangerous signs that their flagship work programme could fail to help sufficient people off the sick because of problems in the contracts agreed with private and voluntary sector providers.

In assessing what is happening now, it is worth dwelling on just how much damage to families and whole communities was inflicted by the last Conservative administration’s failure to act on welfare.

On top of the appalling legacy of long-term youth unemployment, areas like Barrow and Furness still bear the scar of welfare dependency inflicted when Conservative ministers tried to mask the true level of joblessness by parking many thousands of able people on the sick and leaving them to rot. Nothing was asked of them, and no help was given to get back to work. Those people dumped on incapacity benefit were the forgotten millions, sentenced by the Tories to a life of quiet despair.

But in truth, Labour let them down too; we should have spoken up for people trapped on sickness benefit sooner and asked more of them alongside increased offers of help.


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Police Commissioner deadline extended as candidates start to emerge

20/02/2012, 03:53:46 PM

Labour Uncut has learned that party officials have extended the deadline for applications for Labour candidates hoping to become Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

Originally, potential candidates had until 17 February (last Friday) to submit applications for the 40 new roles which cover existing force areas. Now, the party is saying that it will “accept applications from interested individuals until the end of February”.

The two-week deadline extension hints at a shortage of potential candidates. One possible reason is that candidates must actually live in the force area they wish to stand in. A panel of Labour’s National Executive Committee is expected to meet in early March to begin shortlisting in each area.

The most high-profile candidate to emerge so far remains John Prescott in Humberside. Last week Labour leader Ed Miliband came close to backing him, saying he was an  “unstoppable force and I’m sure he’d be a great police commissioner.” Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair also praised the former deputy prime minister, saying he would do an “extraordinarily good job.”

Sitting MPs hoping to become police commissioners include current Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Tony Lloyd, who is hoping to become Labour’s candidate in Greater Manchester and former Welsh First Minister, Alun Michael, who is hoping to stand in South Wales. By-elections for their Westminster seats will be triggered if either wins.

Perhaps the most closely fought contest will be in Merseyside where two former Labour ministers are set to go head-to-head. Jane Kennedy and Peter Kilfoyle, who both stood down at the last general election, will compete for the Labour nomination.

Other former Labour ministers who have announced their candidacies include Paddy Tipping, a former deputy leader of the house (Nottinghamshire) and former DWP minister James Plaskitt (Warwickshire).

In South Yorkshire, former Chief Constable Med Hughes has announced he is standing for the Labour nomination – just four months after retiring from the force. He previously claimed politicians were not “of the right calibre” to be police commissioners.

Police and crime commissioners will set strategic priorities for their force, while chief constables will lead on operational matters. Elections will be held on Thursday 15 November, the same day earmarked for elections for any city that chooses to have a directly elected mayor in May’s referendum.

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The right Labour attack on Lansley’s health bill

20/02/2012, 07:00:41 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“The trick is to keep doing outrageous things. There’s no point passing some scandalous piece of legislation and then giving everyone time to get worked up about it. You have to get right in there and top it off with something worse, before the public have had the chance to work out what’s hit them. The thing about the British conscience, you see, is that it really has no more capacity than … a primitive home computer, if you like. It can only hold two or three things in its memory at a time.”

Thus spoke Henry Wilshire, cut-out evil 1980s Tory of Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up. And Wilshire was half right. But only when certain conditions hold.

The conditions are that the central principle of the reform enjoys both popular mandate and sympathy.

This brings to mind, not for the first time, the contrasting fortunes of Iain Duncan Smith and Andrew Lansley. The first is at the peak of his career, the second fights for his.

The latter is taking forward legislation that voters did not vote for, while the former is doing broadly what the last Conservative manifesto promised. If we wish the next Labour government to be transformative, our manifesto must, to borrow a supposed Cameroon maxim, seemingly forgotten by Lansley, roll its pitch.

Pitch rolling should connect proposed policy programmes with popular values. Duncan Smith’s core argument is that work should pay more than welfare. This resonates so strongly with popular values that he has reduced much of the public to Wilshire’s 1980s’ home computers.


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Revealed: foreign investment in the UK collapses by 33% in a year with £16.2bn less invested

17/02/2012, 07:00:02 AM

by Atul Hatwal

New figures uncovered by Labour Uncut reveal that investment in the UK by foreign companies has plummeted by a third. The latest results, released at the start of February, are for 2010 and show a massive fall of £16.2bn from the £49bn invested in 2009 to £32.8bn in 2010.

In an ominous sign for David Cameron’s isolationist European policy, the biggest fall over the year was in investment from Europe which fell by 94% from £32.1bn in 2009 to £1.8bn in 2010 – the lowest level since records began in 1988.

Despite the British prime minister’s initial close relationship with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, France led the way in withdrawing funds from the UK. They cut their investment in Britain by a net £23.7bn in 2010, a record for a European country.


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If Labour wants to save the NHS it must change it

16/02/2012, 07:30:58 AM

by Peter Watt

Almost everybody agrees that the NHS bill is dangerous. Except, probably, the health secretary Andrew Lansley. Patients groups, trade unions and most of the royal colleges are seemingly all united in their condemnation. And opinion polls indicate a sceptical public. The legislation is so dangerous that the end of the NHS is apparently nigh if you listen to the most hysterical opponents of the legislation.

And increasing numbers of Tory MPs allegedly think that the bill is bad for their political health. If the economy is Labour’s weakness, then they know that the NHS is theirs.  Much of the public may not yet have caught up with the reforms, but they fear that they will soon.

Up until now the government has successfully blamed all of the country’s ills on the last Labour government. It has been easy, and on the whole very successful. But they know that between now and the election, every winter crisis, unclean ward or staff shortage is an opportunity for Labour to blame them and their NHS legislation. And that risks their seats and may just put the outcome of the next election, which up until now they were feeling optimistic about, in some doubt. (more…)

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Occupy’s marketing lesson for Labour

15/02/2012, 07:00:49 AM

by Peter Goddard

Despite an unbeatable city centre location, great transport links and, eventually, welcoming neighbours, it looks like London’s newest bijou residential opportunity – the Occupy camp at St.Pauls – is about to close its doors, or more accurately tent flaps.

Although a judgement on eviction has been postponed until 22nd February, it seems that even without the attention of the judiciary, time is running out for the not so happy campers.

The Telegraph reports “a leading group member” all but admitting the disintegration of the site, quoting: “it really is tough. People always ask about the cold, but the cold is the least of it. We have people with alcohol and drug addiction issues, we have people with mental health problems and very challenging behaviour”.

Thus the media narrative about the Occupiers seems set.

The campers were idealistic, they were naïve, they were probably long-haired and smelly. Despite their best efforts, big bonuses will still be paid (in the private sector at least), business will carry on as usual and, all in all, nothing will have been changed.

From a news perspective, the story of Occupy is coming to an end, the campers ultimately undone by their own lack of organisation and inability to express their needs beyond an angry cry of rage.

In one sense, this is right. It certainly describes the facts. But let’s not forget that although the media loves an easy story arc, the real world often offers much more interesting, and useful complexity.


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Modernisation is harder for Labour than the Tories

14/02/2012, 07:00:58 AM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s worth pondering how Churchill did it. Not winning the war; there is no shortage of history books telling us how he did that – not least by the man himself.

No I am talking about how he won back power so quickly in 1951 – just six years after suffering a catastrophic election defeat at the hands of Clem Attlee’s great reforming Labour government.

Labour cruised to victory in 1945, winning a 145-seat majority. The Tories were trounced, losing 190 MPs.

But it was more serious than that. Theirs’ was an intellectual defeat too. The right-wing historian Andrew Roberts once claimed that an entire generation of Tory politicians were “emasculated” by the defeat. Labour genuinely enthused the electorate with the promise of change for the many: the creation of the NHS, the welfare state, full employment and the nationalisation of key industries. The post-war world was Labour’s.

The Tory party was not just beaten; it was invalidated as a party of government. Its jingoism, servility to wealth and malign neglect of the poor were crushed by the optimism of the possibility of change. “Let us face the future” was Labour’s election slogan. The audacity of hope, so to speak.

Pre-war memories lingered. The dreadfulness of the 1930s was still raw. Churchill’s wartime leadership aside, the Tories were still the nasty party of the Jarrow March, grinding poverty and the misery of mass unemployment.

Yet in 1951 an even more stooped and aged Churchill returned. The Tories were back in business. Six years from political oblivion to triumph. How did they manage it?


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