Archive for June, 2012

Revealed: the GMB backtracks on Progress

29/06/2012, 02:10:43 PM

by Atul Hatwal

As Labour’s internal battle between the moderates and the left rumbles on, evidence reaches Uncut that some selective re-writing of recent history is under way.

The GMB kicked-off the latest witchunt against Progress at their conference. Paul Kenny, seen as the most pragmatic and savvy of the current generation of leaders, turned up the heat in his speech. The key passage couldn’t have been any clearer,

“On Progress let me say this. I know that at this very moment a resolution is written and will be delivered to the Labour party shortly. It is a rule amendment which will go before this year’s Conference for next year which, effectively, will outlaw Progress as part of the Labour party, and long overdue it is.”

But now, the GMB is backtracking. Talk of “outlawing” Progress and changing the Labour party’s rules has been quietly dropped and is in the process of being airbrushed out of accounts of their conference.

Last week, the union’s national political officer, Gary Doolan, sent a private e-mail to the network of GMB councillors with some very careful wording. The relevant paragraph comes at the end:

“In addition, there has been much debate about GMB’s Motion 154 to Congress, which has been described as “banning Progress from the Labour Party”. Just to clarify the situation I have included the actual Motion 154 for your perusal.”

The operative phrase here is “there has been much debate”.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Tuesday’s defence debate shows this government needs to get a grip on the figures

28/06/2012, 04:17:13 PM

by Kevan Jones

Since taking office Ministers have repeatedly told the country that Defence cuts must be quick and deep due to a “£38 billion black hole” inheritance in the MoD budget. Yet there is another story. Public body after public body has questioned the validity of the £38bn figure.  This has, of course, now become folklore, but we must scrutinise the claim that underpins the legitimacy of all the government are doing.

The Defence select committee’s report into the SDSR stated that ‘without proper detailed figures’ the government’s claims about the extent of the black hole ‘cannot be verified’.

The National Audit Office has correctly concluded that ‘the size of the gap is highly sensitive to the budget growth… If the Defence budget remained constant in real terms…the gap would now be £6 billion over the ten years. If…there was no increase in the defence budget in cash terms over the same ten year period, the gap would rise to £36 billion’. Cursory scrutiny shows that the defence budget is rising in cash terms. Ministers have said they will make public statements on this but are yet to produce any detail of how this figure has been arrived at.

Within months of this government coming into power the former secretary of state, Liam Fox, had claimed that he had balanced the budget. Now we’ve had Philip Hammond say exactly the same thing. If the ‘black hole’ is as large as they have alleged, how have two secretaries of state been able to claim twice separately that the imbalance has been rectified?

In a defence debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday not a single government minister or MP could explain how the “black hole” figure was reached.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

“Growth not austerity” is the new “stop the cuts” and will be just as successful

28/06/2012, 07:00:16 AM

by Peter Watt

This week saw yet another u-turn by the chancellor.  This time over the imminent rise in fuel duty now delayed until Christmas at least.  It was all great fun as George Osborne further dented his reputation and future leadership prospects.  Rightly Ed Balls had a ball pointing out the increasingly lengthy list of u-turns since the budget.  But there was another piece of economic news this week that was much more significant.

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, was appearing at the Treasury Select Committee on Tuesday and his conclusions were pretty grim:

“When this crisis began in 2007, most people did not believe we would still be here. I don’t think we’re yet half way through this. I’ve always said that and I’m still saying it. My estimate of how long it will take to recover is expanding all the time.  We have to regard this as a long-term project to get back to where we were, but we’re nowhere near starting that yet. We’re in a deep crisis with enormous challenges.”

So however bad we think it is at the moment, we ain’t seen nothing yet.  There are years of tough times to come whoever is in government.  Years of cuts and years of tough decisions.  We already know that the majority of the proposed cuts to public spending, the level of which we have accepted, are still to come.

But it feels at the moment that many in Labour have comforted themselves with the notion that (1) George Osborne is useless and (2) all we need are some pro-growth policies.

Then as growth returns and tax receipts rise we can avoid tough decisions.  But setting aside that delivering growth is easier to say than to deliver; even if the economy began growing Labour would not be able to avoid those tough decisions should we form the government post 2015.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Cameron’s women problems

27/06/2012, 04:32:39 PM

Treasury minister Chloe Smith last night joined an exclusive club.

No it’s not the Bilderberg Group. Not much chance of an invitation there after her disastrous appearances on Channel Four News and later on Newsnight defending the government’s u-turn on fuel duty.

No she’s just been inducted into the ex-Next Big Things club. It’s a select intake of those of whom great things were expected.  But bad news travel fast in modern politics and Twitter was abuzz last night and this morning at the general awfulness of her career-limiting performances.

Of course an individual minister taking a caning in an interview is neither here nor there, but Chloe Smith’s case exposes a deeper problem for David Cameron.

In fact he has two big problems: both with women.

The first is the growing sense that the PM is a bit of a chauvinist. It’s revealed in small things like his silly put-down to Angela Eagle in the Commons (“calm down dear”) and probably not helped by leaving his daughter in the pub the other week.

These are relatively trivial offences, compared to the differential impact coalition cuts are having on women’s lives, wisely picked up early-on by Labour’s frontbench and now used to bring home the very real effects of the government’s programme to women voters bearing the brunt of unemployment, tax hikes and service cuts.

His second problem is closer to home. A government reshuffle is due soon. Unlike most other PM’s Cameron is said not to believe in regular changes, allowing ministers to get to know their briefs properly. A commendable enough sentiment, but the government is in need of fresh faces and to prune the less effective ministers.

In a bid to tackle his problem in communicating with women voters, the logical impulse is to promote more female political talent. But it’s not until you look down a list of government ministers that you realise just how few women there are.

The attendant problem is that the women ministers he currently has are among the least effective performers in the government.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The right and the wrong way to attack the Tories on housing

27/06/2012, 01:48:45 PM

by Peter Goddard

So David Cameron has announced his latest cuts, this time directing his bloody shears at housing benefit for the young.

Predictably, left-wing commentators have howled their outrage at this latest withdrawal of the state.

The problem, though, is that while many on the left focus on the gross abrogation of an individual’s right to benefits, criticising Cameron for cutting benefits in this way is little more than accusing a Tory of being a Tory.

The Tories are, as with most of their proposed cuts, using the opportunity to portray the recipients of housing benefit as the undeserving poor, to be contrasted with and despised by the squeezed middle.

These benefits are always shown as being paid to some feckless individual, who ultimately makes a better living on welfare than they would by honest toil.

During straitened times such as these, the rights based case for benefits will only go so far with the public.

Surely it would be better to oppose the Tories in terms of the national interest, the common good. Something in which everyone has a material, rather than moral, stake.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Finally, Labour seems to be getting it on immigration

26/06/2012, 12:30:05 PM

by Kevin Meagher

My dad’s just turned 67. Like many people these days, he’s still working. But he’s not sat in a cushy office hunched over a laptop; he’s up on a scaffold, or knee-deep in mud and clay in the footings of a house.

He’s a bricklayer; and still finds himself out in all-weather doing the job he’s been doing for 50 years. He can’t afford to retire. When you work in a speculative industry your pay goes down as well as up. In a non-unionised industry, the rate is under constant negotiation.  In the 1960’s and 70s it was a good job – paying well above average earnings.

During the 1980s, two biting Tory recessions wiped out construction. Try saving for retirement when you’re not earning enough; keeping the wolf from the door is the name of the game. So work on he must.

That’s partly because the past decade hasn’t been much better for construction workers either. Even during Labour’s boom, the wealth didn’t trickle down to people like him. There were two crushing forces at work: the Labour government’s general failure to build enough homes and the impact of low-cost immigrant labour, following the accession of the Visegrad countries to the EU in 2004.

The first issue is well chronicled – and indeed championed by the Left. Construction of new homes dropped to a post-war low under Labour. Having fallen by two thirds since the heyday of the 1960s, just 156,170 houses were built in 1997-8. By 2009-10, this had nearly halved to just 88,690. Not enough houses mean not enough jobs and flat pay.

Of the second issue – immigration – you will hear ne’er a squeak.

There’s been a self-denying ordinance in even talking about the issue for as long as I can remember. Like actors who won’t say the name of “the Scottish play” for fear of bad luck, the centre-left has been utterly mute on the subject of immigration for years.

Of course there is a familiar form of words about ‘valuing the contribution immigrants make’ but no discourse on the other impacts. The downsides must remain unspoken; such is the paranoia about feeding the far right.

So Ed Miliband’s speech was hugely significant, if only for its topic. Stacked full of caveats and careful formulations, he did, however, manage to throw off the veil that “worrying about immigration, talking about immigration, thinking about immigration” does not make people bigoted (“not in any way”). People are simply “anxious about the future” he said.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

What we talk about when we talk about Tony

26/06/2012, 07:00:52 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour’s new policy supremo, Jon Cruddas, says that Tony Blair got worse the longer he was prime minister. Phil Collins, the Demos chair, not the Genesis drummer, says the opposite: Blair improved in office.

According to a speech that Cruddas delivered shortly before his appointment by Ed Miliband:

“From 1994 to 2001 Blair managed to build a liberal patriotic sentiment in the country; it subsequently collapsed. Blair set out as ethical socialist, ended as a neo-classicist.”

It all went wrong, on this account, when Cruddas stopped working for Blair. Collins disagrees. He thinks that Blair was a better prime minister by the time he was working for him at the end of his premiership.

When reviewing Anthony Seldon’s biography of Blair, Collins wrote:

“There is a common account of the Blair years that runs as follows: the first term contained some good things, hampered by excessive financial prudence; the second term was lost to Iraq; the third term was no more than a parade of vanity as a prime minister without authority hung on. This is conventional but a long way from wise … The second term was when Blair really found a method for reform of the public sector … The third term was, in many ways, the most fruitful: school reform, the NHS into surplus, pensions reform, energy, Northern Ireland – a good record for a supposedly defunct term.”

The man writing the next Labour manifesto has, therefore, succumbed to the conventional and un-wise. Perhaps this is a consequence of seeing politics, as Cruddas said in his speech, “more about emotion than programme; more groups, community and association – imagined as well as real – rather than theoretical or scientific”.

What Collins might praise as an effective method for public service reform, Cruddas may lament as a politics denuded of emotion. But when these judgements are made, they aren’t fundamentally judgements on Blair. They are windows onto the political soul of the judge.

What we talk about when we talk about Tony isn’t really Tony: it is political strategy.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

They don’t know what they’re doing

25/06/2012, 07:00:05 AM

by Steve Bassam

So this week we finally get to see the Nick Clegg version of Lords reform. Regardless of the merits of progress with this Bill, the  government’s programme of legislation has already suffered because of it. Ambitions have been limited by what ministers can get through in the current session with Lords reform in place. Competing with other Bills for time, Lords reform threatens to dictate the speed at which other measures make it onto the statute book.

The House of Lords currently has six government Bills in play, two of which are described as ‘Lords starters’: Crime & Courts, and Justice & Security.

These two Bills would never have been on my list to start in the Lords. Any amendments we pass will be hard for the government to undo as they can’t use the Parliament Act on either Bill and what emerges from the Lords should as a rule stay. It is also harder for the Commons to claim financial privilege with Lords starters.

Both of the Crime & Courts and Justice & Security Bills have few friends. The likelihood is that both will suffer setbacks and have a round of ping pong with no guarantees. How ensnared they get with Lords reform and other emerging problems is hard to predict.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The Sunday review: What money can’t buy: the moral limits of markets by Michael J Sandel

24/06/2012, 07:00:18 AM

by Anthony Painter

A few years back I was on a college committee that was considering whether to offer an iPod as an incentive for students to enrol at our establishment. We looked at the costs and benefits extensively. In the end, we decided against the idea mainly on the grounds that we thought it would create perverse incentives – to attend but not necessarily succeed. The decision was taken and we moved on.

The reason I raise this is because this exact discussion is one of the central case studies presented by Michael J Sandel in What money can’t buy: the moral limits of markets. His basic argument is that we need to quarantine the market and limit its ability to corrupt public goods and things we hold sacred. Over the last thirty years, market forces have been injected into more and more areas of our lives. This has destroyed things of value and we now even seem incapable of engaging in moral discourse. There are sacred cows.

So would our debate have been enriched by conducting it along moral lines? We had a fairly utilitarian discussion of the costs and benefits based on the available evidence. Would we have been protecting the public interest to a greater extent had we started off by articulating that the corruption of education through the use of market incentives should be avoided as it is wrong?

Actually, such a discourse would have been a disaster. I imagine there would have been a pretty angry response to it being presented in moral terms. In fact, there may have been a reaction to such a discourse and a different decision may have been taken. In Sandel’s world-view Educational Maintenance Allowances are a moral bad. Despite presenting some evidence that some incentive structures can improve educational attainment, this is largely dismissed. Just how moral is it to ignore evidence of interventions that can improve attainment and performance?

At a very basic level, Sandel’s argument that markets have moral limits is of course correct. To pick an extreme illustration, do we really want elderly people being paid to die so that their organs can be transplanted? It’s disgusting and disgust is what morality responds to. Very quickly though, Sandel moves from the self-evident to the preposterous.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

It doesn’t have to be this way on housing

22/06/2012, 12:36:15 PM

by Andy Hull

England is a rich country that is failing to properly house its people.

The root of the problem is that demand for housing massively outstrips supply: we are now building around 100,000 new homes a year – the lowest level for a century – when we need to be building at least twice that number. If we continue at this rate, by 2025 unmet housing demand will be greater than the housing capacity of Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle combined.

As a result, home ownership has become an unaffordable aspiration for too many, with house prices having tripled in a decade, while wages were left to stagnate. Unless first-time buyers have access to the ‘bank of mum and dad’, raising the deposit required to buy a home is now a real barrier, compounding inter-generational inequality. Meanwhile, social housing – a scarce resource rationed on the basis solely of need – is being residualised to the point that it houses only the poorest and most vulnerable. So, the ‘squeezed middle’, including a young ‘generation rent’, is being funnelled into a poorly regulated private rented sector that remains a tenure of resort rather than choice.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon