Archive for May, 2012

Labour is missing a trick on Beecroft

24/05/2012, 07:00:13 AM

by Peter Watt

There is nothing like a bit of hysteria to whip up a good story.  The report from venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft into possible changes in employment law was finally published this week.  I say finally, as the draft report leaked to the Telegraph was dated October 2011.  The reaction of much of the left has been so frenzied Labour is in danger of missing a trick.

First things first; the report is not in itself going to deliver growth in the economy, it is not in fact in any shape or form a growth strategy and, as far as I can tell, no one from the government is claiming that it is.

People keep saying that we need a growth strategy, as if growth is simply in the gift of the government but no one has yet established quite what this holy growth grail looks like.  Hikes in spending aren’t possible and the options to tax raise tax to fund investment are limited.  And so, whoever was in charge, would face the same problem.

Labour of course has its “five point plan for growth and jobs” which is ok as far as it goes but it really isn’t going to singlehandedly turn the economy around, even if it was fully implemented tomorrow.  No, the uncomfortable truth is that the road to growth is likely to be paved with luck and a series of small and not very exciting stepping stones that cumulatively help encourage investment and inspire consumer confidence and thereby, help our economy to grow.

The government has however put all of its economic eggs in one basket; as David Cameron seemed to confirm this week when he again claimed that the only way to deliver growth was austerity.

In the face of this, it is right for Labour to criticise the government’s lack of ambition on growth and or even tweak its economic approach in light of evidence that it needs to do more.  Where is the creativity, the innovation or the optimism?  Some measures may work, others may fail but when faced by a flat lining economy, surely it is worth trying?

The government could continue to cut spending while taking some modest steps that may help deliver growth.  Some of these measures could be very local or regional whilst others, as Peter Mandelson and Ed Balls set out, should be delivered internationally.

So why then has Labour become near-hysterical about the Beecroft report.  Logically, looking at removing barriers preventing firms from employing people has to be a sensible thing to do.  It doesn’t seem unreasonable to allow a government to remove red tape to allow business to prosper.


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Time for policy in the pub with Jack Dromey

23/05/2012, 03:06:07 PM

It’s that time of the month again. Pragmatic Radicalism is hosting a “Top of the Policies” session on housing, chaired by shadow housing minister Jack Dromey, tonight, in the pub. The fun and games will run from 18.30 to 20.30 upstairs at the Barley Mow pub, 104 Horseferry Road, SW1P  2EE.

The “Top of the Policies” debates are designed to make the floor accessible to as many Labour voices as possible: speakers have just 90 seconds to speak on a policy proposal of their choice, followed by three minutes of Q&A.

At the end of the session there is a vote for the top policy, prizes and the winner will go on to set out their idea in all it’s glory in an article right here, in the hallowed pixels of Labour Uncut.

Yes, wow indeed.

And failing all else, there are free refreshments. What more could you ask for?

See you in the pub.

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Time for some nostalgia marketing for Labour

23/05/2012, 07:00:05 AM

by Peter Goddard

We are living, as the old Chinese curse has it, in interesting times. Greece is on the verge of exiting the Euro, in Spain, Bankia has to deny rumours of a run, the News International debacle just keeps on going. Short of Rebecca’s horses eating each other, the signs that the old certainties no longer apply couldn’t get much worse.

The Tories are playing directly into this narrative of unease with their programme of cuts, cuts and more cuts. And this week they have further identified themselves with the sense of national uncertainty and fear with their plans to make sacking employees easer.

This close identification between the Tories and personal insecurity for so many people provides Labour with an opportunity to offer something different.

Leaving it to finer minds to identify the policies that might take the country through this traumatic period and into happier times, there are a range of things we can do in terms of messaging and presentation to maximise the attractiveness of the party during a period like this.

It is a widely-agreed truth in marketing that in times of hardship or recession, nostalgia becomes a powerful ally.

As Martin Lindstrom says in his book, Brandwashing, “In the face of insecurity or uncertainty about the future, we want nothing more than to revert to a more stable time.”

Marketers have been acting on this for some time already. Back in 2009 the New York Times reported that, “As the recession continues taking its toll, marketers are trying to tap into fond memories to help sell what few products shoppers are still buying.”

Certainly things have not got any better since then.

Knowing this, what could Labour do?

First and foremost, it can stop reinventing itself, having ‘conversations’ in which nobody is really listening and obsessing about exactly what shade of what colour the Labour party might be today.

Secondly, it can start remembering, celebrating and reminding people of the substantial achievements of the Labour party, locating today’s party as the evolution of the party for people who stand up for the less fortunate.

The NHS. The sacrosanct-to-all-voters NHS that Labour built is the easiest example to point to, but there is much, much more.  The post-war social housing revolution, equalities legislation and most recently, rebuilding this country’s schools and hospitals after generations of neglect.

Practically, this can be achieved without mechanical repetition in speeches. Labour doesn’t have to trap itself in a retelling of the past to make its point.

What is required is some retro show don’t tell.


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Whip’s Notebook: Where have all the Tories Gone?

22/05/2012, 07:00:53 AM

by Jon Ashworth

Since the Queen’s Speech, the House of Commons chamber has become a very different place. As a dutiful whip I spend most of my time in and around the chamber and although too many dismiss what goes in there as irrelevant, I still agree with Tony Blair’s valedictory description of it as the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster and is often the place for the pursuit of noble causes.

Whipping affords me the advantage of seeing our opposition on the Tory benches close up, indeed I can often see the whites of their eyes.

I’m fast becoming familiar with the various personalities on the Tory benches. There are the desperately ambitious types mustard-keen for George Osborne’s recognition (it’s always Osborne they want to impress not so much Cameron oddly), the eurosceptic rebels who bang on about nothing else, the thoughtful select committee parliamentarians and the patrician grandees who, I have to admit, are like nothing I have ever come across before in my life.

But this last week I’ve seen less of them. Labour MPs have totally dominated the debates on the gracious address. Our chief whip in the Lords has highlighted already the flimsiness of this Queens Speech. All quite extraordinary for a government’s second Queen’s speech considering this government is made up of a party out of office for thirteen years and another that has been out of office for ninety or so years.


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Profiles of Labour’s candidates for the Bristol mayoralty: Kelvin Blake

21/05/2012, 06:09:01 PM

As part of a series on all short-listed candidates, Amanda Ramsay speaks to former Bristol City Councillor Kelvin Blake

Kelvin Blake was the first Labour campaigner for a ‘yes’ vote in the 3 May referendum to publicly declare his interest in standing for Bristol mayor.

A likeable character, Blake presses all the right Labour buttons: “My focus and energy will be on delivering a fairer more equitable city for everyone,” he tells me.

Offering a good balance, with both city council experience and having spent his career in the private sector, Blake proudly tells of working his way up from the bottom, as he puts it, having left school with few formal qualifications. Blake is an experienced senior programme director at BT, living in Knowle West, about two miles from the city centre.

A non-executive director of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Blake is a softly spoken Bristolian who speaks with infectious conviction and a real passion, not just for the city he’s always lived in, but also for the future of the Labour Party at a city level.

“We have the opportunity, between now and the election, to talk about an inclusive vision for our city and a programme of delivery, to tackle the key issues with a sense of urgency. That’s exciting.”

Of the election on 15 November, he points out: “This election is almost as important as a general election. It is about Bristol’s future but it will also be a judgement call on the terrible direction of this Tory led government and Labour’s response.


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The Tory party: idealists welcome

21/05/2012, 01:30:53 PM

by Kevin Meagher

For JS Mill, the Tories were famously the stupid party. By the 1980s they were definitely the ideological party. But under David Cameron are they are becoming something else: the home for political idealists?

We casually think of idealism as the preserve of the Left, but the lodestar of this government is to reshape the state in as profound a way as Attlee or Thatcher managed.

From the NHS reforms to free schools. From academies to police commissioners. From the big society to big city mayors. Austerity cuts through to the massive welfare shake-ups; there is an abundance of idealism. Or ‘tip-up-the-apple-cart-ism.’

Much of it is to be regretted of course; a lot of it feels impractical, even reckless, but idealism it most definitely is. As is George Osborne’s “faith based” economic policy. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he presses on.

It’s like watching one of those old bits of film of a man flapping giant cardboard wings and jumping off a pier, expecting to fly. The chancellor is the ultimate expression of optimism over reason.


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The truth about the thinnest Queen’s Speech in modern times

21/05/2012, 06:00:57 AM

by Steve Bassam

Much commentary has already been made about the government’s wafer thin agenda for the 2012-13 parliamentary session. The thing is, it is actually far worse than most observers have noticed, not least because of the uncertainty created by putting Lords reform at the heart of the programme.

The recent Queen’s Speech identified just 15 bills in a programme designed to accommodate the LibDems’ pet obsession. Yet ministers are likely to press through even less legislation, as 5 of these bills have already been identified for carry over until the next session. We are not talking minor matters here, but big issues such as energy, banking reform, children and families, and pensions, as well as an EU Accession Bill for Croatia.

This amounts to third of the government’s new legislative programme to be subject to carry over motions. None of these bills will have been drafted yet, and some may even need a white paper to launch them.

We also know that despite the best efforts of the joint committees on Lords reform, that bill is currently being re-drafted to try and make it more acceptable – the question is for whom?

So, for much of the rest of this calendar year we, we will have just 9 bills in play in the Lords. At this stage in most parliaments, governments are just getting into their stride.

Our analysis of the period since the late 1970s suggests a government in its third year of power can expect to push up to 40 to 45 bills, 30 of which will be part of a core programme.


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Profiles of Labour’s candidates for the Bristol mayoralty: Marvin Rees

18/05/2012, 03:14:51 PM

In the first of a series of profiles of the mayoral candidates, Amanda Ramsay talks to Marvin Rees

With an election on 15 November for Bristol to have an elected mayor, Labour South West announced a short-list of candidates yesterday for the Bristol mayoral selection: former city councillor Kelvin Blake, current Labour group leader Cllr Peter Hammond, former council leader Cllr Helen Holland, former Bristol City Councillor and MP for Wansdyke in Somerset Dan Norris and party activist Marvin Rees.

First off the blocks for Labour, the weekend after Bristol voted yes, was Marvin Rees, who had actively campaigned for a yes vote in the 3 May referendum. He appeared on the BBC Sunday Politics show and cuts an impressive figure.

Rees is a manager for race equality in mental health with NHS Bristol and a former journalist and BBC Radio presenter. Hailing from the Yale Global Leaders Programme, he has an intriguing CV and was apparently once the executive assistant to President Clinton’s Spiritual Advisor. Rees stood unsuccessfully for the Bristol West selection in 2010.

Rees speaks with authority about life in Bristol’s inner city, coming from a poor background and says: “I was one of two brown-skinned children of a single white woman.”

Despite the poverty in some parts, during the referendum campaign the prime minister pointed to Bristol being the second richest UK city outside London, but local people feel the city could do much more.

“Bristol is a premiership city performing at championship level,” explains Rees, who blames poor leadership at a council level.

“Core to that underperformance has been a vacuum of leadership, the lack of an aspirational long term vision for where Bristol wants to be and how it will get there and the absence of a coherent city narrative, that genuinely results from and reflects the lives of all Bristol residents.

“There is an on-going challenge in making best use of the council officer-elected member relationship particularly around the charge that it is officers not politicians who lead or manage the city.”


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Labour’s European quandary

18/05/2012, 07:00:13 AM

by Alan Lockey

“There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of a society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.” John Maynard Keynes The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919)

And so the Eurozone crisis lurches on. Of course it has been a long time since we wondered whether anybody at the European Central Bank has read any Keynes.  If little else we can be certain of that. But as the crisis moves into a new and potentially decisive phase, with the possibility of ‘Grexit’ openly discussed, it is time to ask: what are the political implications for Labour’s policy on Europe?

The economics themselves remain as intractable as ever. Indeed, in a startling interview on Tuesday’s Today programme, Dr Michael Fuchs, vice-chairman of Angela Merkel’s CDU, practically admitted as much, suggesting that restoring Greek competitiveness through lowering their cost base was “impossible” but that Greece “must follow the rules” set out by the so called ‘troika’ of the IMF, ECB and EU.

But aside from shouting from the sidelines, Labour can do little to affect any of this. If the next election comes in 2015 then this crisis, for better, or more likely for worse, will have been resolved. What we might have done differently will be largely irrelevant. Of course it helps to associate the government with a reputation for austerity’s failings – but we need little impetus from Europe to do that.

And yet the sheer volatility of the crisis means we should not take anything for granted, particularly when it comes to Europe. It has long been conventional political wisdom that Europe represents promising terrain for Labour. This is based on two assumptions.

First, that whilst basic polling data might indicate that public opinion on Europe is, at best, divided, the Tories repeatedly fall into the trap of over-exaggerating its importance.

Second, that it can be used as a ‘wedge issue’ with which we can drive our opponents into a factional, frothy-mouthed frenzy, as we look on with united, pragmatic glee.


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Now we’ve got more councillors, here’s how we show the difference they make

17/05/2012, 02:48:56 PM

by Tom Keeley

A major challenge for Labour’s 824 newly elected councillors is to prove to their electorate that the right choice has been made.  In local politics this is easier said than done.  Even the hardest working councillor can be made to look like a one-trick-pony come election time. Avoiding this depends largely on how work done and successes achieved are perceived by the electorate.

Most councillor accomplishments will be small.  Road signs cleaned.  Bulky waste collections increased.  Alleyways cleared.  Double yellow lines painted.  Police patrols rerouted.  And, while there is much more to council politics than this, this is what the majority of the electorate will see the majority of the time.  The little things.  The challenge for local councillors is to present their successes to the local electorate in a way so as to maximise results at the ballot box.

The traditional way of presenting successes is that as double yellow lines are painted we rush out leaflets to the surrounding roads claiming credit.  As potholes are resurfaced, pictures are circulated of the candidate standing by the newly smoothed piece of road.  Night-time door knocks in areas where new street lights have been installed.  The usual.

This traditional way presents success as one-off individual accomplishments.  The problem is that residents do not and will not vote for a councillor simply because there are new street lights on their road.  This is a naïve and commonly held misconception.  Residents want more than this.  Therefore we need a new way of promoting Labour councillor success.  This should present individual accomplishments as part of a larger body of work, maybe even as part of a vision for the local area.

In my professional life I work as a qualitative researcher, which essentially means I make sense of what people say on a given subject; in my case the subject is health and health care.  Stay with me here, I am coming back to politics.  To make sense of what people say you need a structure.  You build this structure by initially pulling out broad themes within what people say, and then attaching or attributing people’s individual statements and opinions to the broad themes.  The structure allows you to make sense of a huge amount of opinions and present a coherent case or argument.  A similar method can be used in presenting local political success.


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