Archive for March, 2012

How Ed can fight back after Bradford West

30/03/2012, 01:43:02 PM

by Samuel Dale

If ever there was a wake-up call, this is it. Not since 1987 when Labour lost the Greenwich by-election to the SDP has the party faced such a devastating loss.

Last week there were some positive signs, Miliband’s good performance in response to the budget or harrying of the Tories over donorgate and pastygate shouldn’t just be forgotten. But now more than ever this needs to be harnessed and  turned into something tangible and lasting. A narrative that can run until the next election.

He is capable of doing it but there is one problem. It’s the economy, idiots. Labour still lacks credibility and until it regains it, sporadic good polling and Tory slip ups will remain shallow and electoral success a far off dream.

In all of the soul-searching that is to ensue next week Ed Miliband has a chance to address this core problem.  The biggest issue is the impression that Labour was profligate with the public purse and that caused the crisis. It’s not true but it’s the impression.


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Is this the beginning of the end for Ed Miliband?

30/03/2012, 07:55:37 AM

by Atul Hatwal

This morning it’s a cold new world. But as the shock passes and the harsh reality of George Galloway’s crushing victory begins to sink in, the questions will become louder and more insistent. Two in particular will dominate: How could this happen? And what does it mean for the leader?

The party briefers will try to box this result as a freak. They will cite the combined effect of the swing from Labour towards Respect among the British Pakistani community and the collapse in Tory vote as a localised one-off.

They will be wrong.

The vote demonstrates two critical points: first, hell will freeze over before large numbers of Tories switch to Labour. After the week the Tories have had, it’s not surprising their vote was down. But Labour picked up no Conservative switchers and remains toxic to swing voters.

The reality is, for too many people, Labour under Ed Miliband is not a viable alternative. The polls on leadership and economic competence have been unrelenting since he became leader.

Earlier this month the Guardian’s ICM poll placed David Cameron and George Osborne 17% ahead of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls on managing the economy 42% to 25%.  Meanwhile YouGov’s latest March figures on peoples’ preference to be prime minister had David Cameron 20% ahead of Ed Miliband 38% to 18% – that’s double the lead he held at the same point last year.

Second, the British Pakistani community has sent a clear signal to a party that has long taken their vote for granted: no more. Labour has spent two years since the general election agonising about Mrs.Duffy, Englishness and what are euphemistically called “white working class issues”. Well, congratulations, this is the result.

Simply cranking the handle on decaying community political machines and expecting the sheep to file through the pen will not work forever. When George Galloway condemned Labour’s use of “biraderi” or clan-based politics last night, he was right.

At some point Labour as a party will have to engage with its former ethnic minority supporters rather than just assume they will be there, regardless of whatever the party does.

But in one sense, there really is no excuse for such total and utter shock. This isn’t the first time that a feeling has taken hold in a formerly Labour supporting electorate that the party is no longer upto  leading or even interested in the local community.

What just happened in Bradford now happens in Scotland as a matter of course.  For Alex Salmond read George Galloway and the pattern begins to look a little more familiar.


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Time to learn from the union link in funding politics

29/03/2012, 07:18:41 PM

by Ian Stewart

Every time there is a donor scandal in British politics, Whether its Ecclestone or an oligarch’s yacht, the same old arguments for state funding rise, Lazarus-like from their tomb. No doubt since Sunday, Lib Dems have been muttering to their dwindling band of friends that all this will go away if we had a system like Germany.

It is a tempting argument, well made by Mary Ann Sieghart earlier this week in the Independent. Many inside progressive politics are no doubt swayed by its siren call. Yet like so many centrist arguments favoured by political nerds, this one has some gapng holes:

Hole 1:  Germany has had state funding since the 1950s, yet corruption and bribery still happen. The massive “Lockheed scandal” of the 1970s forced politicians and Luftwaffe Generals to resign over the purchase of the starfighter warplane. Germany now apparently requires companies to state what they have spent on buying political influence, so that they can levy a “bribes tax” (hmm… thinking about this one…)

Hole 2:  The old Soviet Bloc had state funding for its token “Opposition” parties in the GDR, Poland et al. Anyone see any good that came of that? No? Lets move on…

Hole 3: Politicians are about as popular as leprosy. Do we want more of our taxes spent on them?

Hole 4: The state is not always neutral. State funding of political parties could take away some of our independence and ability to propose radical new policies.

Hole 5: Why should a Labour supporter help fund the LibDems/Tories/UKIP/BNP/Respect… or indeed anybody else? Why should a Scottish Labour supporter fund the SNP? That’s what Brian Souter is for.

Hole 6: For Labour, it further weakens the trades union link, and Progress are in favour of it.


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The missing name from the Manchester Central shortlist

29/03/2012, 08:00:46 AM

Two men and two women were announced yesterday as the contenders for Manchester Central shortlist. The particulars of Lucy Powell, Rosa Battle, Mike Amesbury and Patrick Vernon have been detailed elsewhere, but Uncut has heard whispers from unhappy local members interested in a missing name: Mohammed Afzal Khan.

The first Asian Lord Mayor of Manchester and a local councillor since 2000, Khan has built up a formidable base of local support. His desire for a parliamentary seat is longstanding but Khan is rapidly becoming Labour’s nearly man of the north.

Initially he was a front runner for Oldham East and Saddleworth following Phil Woolas’s departure, but in a surprise move did not even make the short list, despite being a partner in a law firm in Oldham and having strong local backing.

Then there was the Labour selection for Manchester’s police and crime commissioner (PCC). As a leading local Labour politician, a senior lawyer and a former police constable, Khan was interested and this should have been his break-through.

Until that is Tony Lloyd indicated that he would be prepared to relinquish his ultra-safe seat to become Labour’s PCC candidate in November’s election. At this point the political calculus changed and the central machine whirred into action.

A prize such as Manchester Central is rare and with Ed Miliband’s Manchester-based deputy chief of staff, Lucy Powell, looking for a seat, the choreography was clear: Lloyd to PCC and Powell to Central.


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The Youth Contract must be the beginning not the end

28/03/2012, 12:30:17 PM

by Richard Darlington

Any day now, the Government will formally launch the new Youth Contact and from April, 160,000 job subsidies and an extra 20,000 apprenticeships will begin to come on stream to help young people who have been out of work for more than a year. The new scheme cannot come soon enough and it will fill the policy vacuum left by the abolition of the Future Jobs Fund, more than a year ago.

Since that decision was taken, youth unemployment has risen to the highest since records began in 1986/7.

Last month, the latest stats show that more than a million (1,042,000) young people (aged 16-24) are now unemployed, the second highest since comparable records began in 1992, and a rise of 67,600 in the last year.

Most worrying of all, there are now more than a quarter of a million 253,000 young people (aged 16-24) who have been unemployed for more than a year. There has been an increase of 24,900 over the last year in this group, that would have been helped had the Future Jobs Fund not been abolished.

But it is not just work, but training, where too many young people are losing out in record numbers. There are now a total of 958,000 young people (aged 16-24) who are NEET (not in education, employment or training), up 19,000 over the last year and a record high of 15.9 per cent for a fourth quarter.


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Time for Ed and Cam to grow up on funding

28/03/2012, 07:00:23 AM

by Peter Watt

The cringe inducing video of Peter Cruddas promising supper with Sam and David with comic buffoonery was still leading the news.  The nod and a wink about the promise of policy input into (something called) the number ten policy committee of course took this to another level.  At a stroke it went from being just another “cash for access story” to “cash for policy” – the real daddy of political sleaze.  Having said that, I was actually still quite optimistic on Sunday, maybe this time there would be a political deal; maybe this time our politicians will sort it out; maybe this time there would be legislation fundamentally reforming the funding of political parties?

But by Monday evening the optimism was dashed.  Once again the ugly head of tribal politics intervened.  Ed Miliband and Francis Maude stood at the respective dispatch boxes and shouted at each other.  It was horrifically depressing.  Neither of them in my view did politics any favours, despite the supportive bellowing from their respective benches behind them.  The public, to the extent that they were watching, must have thought, “WTF was that” because it certainly wasn’t edifying.

None of the parties has much to boast about here.  Each has their list of scandals involving party and MP finances.  It is all too easy to get dragged in, as I very well know. Some scandals involve people trying to personally gain while some involve mistakes, or are the result of playing within the rules but not within the spirit of them.  All though, involve a further nail in the coffin of the reputation of politics, as a sceptical public do not draw any distinction as to the motives.  I know that I certainly regret my part in the succession of stories that have damaged politics.

Now if someone decides to feather their own nest and act corruptly there is probably not much that we can do about it, but there is something that we can do to reduce the risk of other funding scandals.  Because the harsh truth is that the current system encourages the parties to push at the boundaries of the legislation passed ostensibly to clean up politics.  Just as people perfectly reasonably employ accountants to help them avoid tax, so political parties employ people to maximise the income that they can receive.  After all, why should they turn a gift horse away?  So loop holes are found and exploited.  Legal?  Yes.  Acceptable?  Certainly not to the public.


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Sunday review on Tuesday: Pragmatic Radicalism’s defence “top of the policies”

27/03/2012, 05:48:12 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

Affecting party policy should be more about ideas and innovation than shabby promises to open-up the Downing street policy unit for £250,000. This is what Pragmatic Radicalism offers Labour members and last night it hosted the first event of Labour’s defence policy review with Labour Friends of the Forces.

Chairing was shadow secretary of state for defence, Jim Murphy MP, with speakers having just two minutes to present ideas as complex as the reform of NATO and UN Security Council to the complete overhaul of the territorial army. Two minutes of questions from the floor for each person was then followed by a vote at the end.

Security and resilience issues in a globalised and highly networked world were tackled by the winner, Dan Fox, UCL honorary research associate at the Institute for Security & Resilience Studies, with “cyber reserves: strength through expertise.”

Fox, a serving JNCO in the Territorial Army, outlined the need to have a dedicated cyber Reserve supported by cyber apprenticeships, co-ordinated by the ministry of defence and with greater collaboration between FE colleges and ICT practitioners. Fox presented the common sense but intriguing notion of “white hatting” hackers, to turn their expertise and skills to do good.

Speaking to Labour Uncut last night, Fox said: “No party has a monopoly on caring about and promoting the best policies for our armed forces. Pragmatic Radicalism’s defence ‘top of the policies’ evening showed that we in Labour have the ideas, experience and commitment to ensure our national security, and support our servicemen and women.”


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The false debate over the public funding of politics

27/03/2012, 09:00:15 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Here’s a question: who is Labour’s biggest donor under Ed Miliband?

Is it Unite? Unison? Maybe the GMB?

Answer: none of the above.

An Uncut analysis of donations to the Labour party since Ed Miliband became leader reveals that the biggest single donor is the House of Commons, giving £9.6m. This so called “short money” is a stipend paid to the opposition to balance the advantage a government gains from the enormous resources of the civil service.

Roll in the funding the opposition receives from the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament and grants from the Electoral Commission for policy development and Labour has banked almost £11.3m from public funding sources since October 2010. That’s more than the combined donations to the central party (as opposed to individual constituency parties) from the all of the unions.

This isn’t a recent a development either. A decade ago, when the Tories were at their nadir, what was their biggest source of funding? Was it Lord Ashcroft? Or a.n.other city gent, eager to run down his bank balance?

Of course not. In 2002 the total donations from individuals to the Tories came to £2.3m. In comparison the amount the Tories drew from public funds was nearly double at £4m.

These figures expose one of the myths in the political debate on funding – that the public will not accept state funding of politics.

Newsflash: they already have.


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Where have the working class MPs gone?

26/03/2012, 02:26:11 PM

by Hazel Blears

The 2010 General Election was notable for ending – at least temporarily – the era of one-party dominant governments in the UK, and ushering in a coalition. Less notable, but much more worrying, was the continued demise of that all too rare representative: the working class MP.

In 1983, a staggering 51% of MPs had been educated at private school. This began to gradually fall, dropping to a low of 30% in 1997. However since then the figure has begun to rise again, and the 2010 election saw constituencies return an intake of MPs of which 35% have been privately educated. By comparison, only 7% of the school age population are in private schools; politicians are drawn from a narrow social class.

Of the 2010 intake 91% of MPs have attended university. So cliquey is politics that just under 30% of our MPs come from two universities, Oxford and Cambridge. Just 13 schools produce a tenth of MPs. Politics is clearly becoming a graduate profession.

Whilst some MPs from working class backgrounds have made it to the top of politics – the likes of Alan Johnson and David Davis – the reality is that the social composition of our representatives is not representative of our country.

Good governance requires a range of views for effective policy making. If politicians are approaching issues from the same point of view and life experiences, they are likely to create group-think, and their narrow social experiences will be reflected in policy making. A case in point – would the current cabinet have been so quick to withdraw tax credits for working families if any of them had ever had to rely on them? Even the Labour party – the most diverse of all three main political parties – is hardly in a position to lecture about diversity.


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The Kelly proposals: eminently sensible and workable

26/03/2012, 02:08:13 PM

This post by Peter Watt was originally published on 24th November 2011. David Cameron could have done with reading it back then, might have saved himself a spot of bother. But at Uncut we believe in giving people second chances, so here it is again.

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.

  1. Politics is expensive. Staff that run campaigns, develop policy and arrange conferences, plan strategy, engage the public and design materials, websites and videos cost money. And there’s everything a reasonable sized organisations needs:  advertising, membership systems, property, cars, travel, hotels, publications, professional services like accountants and lawyers, furniture, computers, software licenses, insurance and stationery. This does not come cheap and it all needs to be paid for.
  2. Politicians are generally shallow and fear failure. This means that they don’t care all that much about where the money comes from to pay for those things that they think that they need to maximise their chances of winning. They will dress it up as wanting to win to do good things, and there is obviously some truth in that. But fundamentally they want the glory; and they need funds to achieve it.
  3. Politicians do not get involved in fundraising. They, rightly, fear being tainted by the “dirty” business of fundraising. So while they demand that the funds are there when they need them, they generally don’t lift a finger to raise it unless absolutely forced. The result is that those charged with raising funds are put under enormous pressure and are given very little support to raise the necessary cash.
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