Archive for June, 2012

Revealed: The document that explains how Unite intends to take over the Labour party

22/06/2012, 09:15:10 AM

by Atul Hatwal

This morning, over at the Telegraph, Dan Hodges reports on Unite’s moves to create a distinct party within the Labour party. At the heart of the union’s plans is a political strategy document. Labour Uncut has managed to get a copy of this strategy and it makes for uncomfortable reading.

Unite Political Strategy

Few would claim the last Labour government to be perfect, but much good was achieved. The minimum wage, the social chapter and unprecedented investment in schools and hospitals are just a few of the positives of which the party can be proud.

But these are all dismissed by Unite in their political strategy. Instead, for them, “the record of the last Labour government was, for the most part, a bitter disappointment”.

It’s worth pausing a moment to reflect on that statement.

These aren’t the words of a fringe group within the union. This document was adopted by the union’s highest decision-making body, the Executive Council. It is the settled view of Labour’s largest donor and affiliate.

The question is: if the spending of the last Labour government on public services was a “bitter disappointment”, what does Unite have in mind?


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The night Michael Gove nearly joined the Labour party

21/06/2012, 06:44:41 PM

As Michael Gove reads the headlines tonight he can bask in the glow of a day’s work well done. He ingratiated himself with the Daily Mail with a proper Tory exclusive, serenaded his party’s frothing right-wing and sent the Lib Dems into apoplexies of public rage.

All with a policy that neither he nor anyone in government seriously thinks is going to become law. An entirely confected debate with no other purpose than to help define Michael Gove as the true blue, king over the water.

Which it has.

But it was not always this way. Word reaches Uncut of a very different Gove.

It was October 1997, Conservative conference. The mood was one of shell-shocked despondency. The howling wind and rain of Blackpool matched the demeanour of many of those going through the motions in the Winter Gardens that year.

But for some, things weren’t quite so glum.

Michael Gove for one. He was there, working for the Times, gambolling from reception to bar to reception, fizzing with enthusiasm.

He had seen the light. The light had a name. And that name was Tony.

Gove was full of the joys of the previous week’s Labour conference and the sainted leader of New Labour. He luxuriated in the company of Labour lobbyists who had worked for the party in the recent campaign, quizzing them on their campaign methods and the political faith of their master.

In one exchange at a reception, Gove laid bare his personal theological struggle.


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What is the role of government when there is no money to spend?

21/06/2012, 07:00:12 AM

by Peter Watt

I very much enjoyed reading this blog from Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson the other day.  Mark (slightly tongue in cheek) posed the question for politicians “why is leaving things alone never an option?”  It reminded me that one the criticisms levelled at the last Queens Speech was the relative paucity of proposed legislation.  As if one test of sound government was how much they added to the statute book!

But actually I think that it was a perfectly fair and indeed increasingly important question that Mark raises.  Politicians really do seem to feel the need to reach for the statute book or to make regulations to try and solve an increasing array of problems.  Some work, some don’t and some seem to make things worse.  It doesn’t really matter as long as “something” is done.  Just think Dangerous Dogs Act, the cones hotline, rewrites to school curricula, and endless reorganisations of services.

Whatever the latest moral crisis is then you can guarantee that a politician will announce the solution.  And if you really can’t think of anything to do then call a summit of experts at Number 10 and at least you will be seen to be taking action.

But the state does actually do lots of things and spends lots of money doing them.  And there is a large degree of political consensus over some aspects of what the state does like maintaining our defence and managing our criminal justice system.

But there is more debate as to the role and extent in other areas; from the choices about how we organise (say) health care and how we support the most vulnerable to the role of the government in managing the economy.

On the left we tend to be warmer to the notion of a more interventionist and active state, in particular when it comes to supporting the most vulnerable.  But Conservative governments have hardly been immune from interventionist tendencies.

Interestingly, Mark’s article provoked some comments from some along the lines of “but if the government did nothing how would you solve..?” The basic assumption of these responses being that unless the government intervenes, then the social ill will not be solved.  But surely this is wrong, or at least not always right?


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We need a better deal on the buses

20/06/2012, 01:39:07 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

Last week Amanda Ramsay won the “top of the policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s future of transport event, chaired by Maria Eagle MP, shadow transport secretary. The winning proposal was for a “Better Deal on the Buses”, to bring buses under a new regulatory framework.

Having worked in four UK cities: Bristol, Manchester, Plymouth and London; I have seen first-hand the huge differences in public transport available in different parts of the country. As a Bristol resident and campaigner, the contrast with London is nothing short of shameful.

Decent, affordable bus services are essential for any sense of social mobility and access to health care, jobs, leisure facilities, shops and family and friends, but too often are expensive and not efficient enough in terms of routes and regularity.

Bus route availability and costs in cities like Bristol and Glasgow could be overseen and controlled by the local authority and elected representatives, in a similar way Transport for London runs the capital’s bus system, where residents are well served across the whole city and pay just £1.35 a journey using Oyster, a pre-charged electronic swipe card. Prices are also capped.

In Bristol, it is often cheaper to get a taxi than to hop on a bus, for a family or group of friends. This is crazy, especially, for a city with bad air quality from high car usage with higher than average asthma rates, stemming from its basin-like geographical location. This is an environmental issue as well as a social policy imperative.

Looking forward to 2015, we need to demand a better deal on the buses; a better, cheaper, more efficient bus system that is all about social mobility and getting Britain working.


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Time for Labour to make its peace with the idea of police commissioners

20/06/2012, 08:11:35 AM

by Kevin Meagher

So there we have it, 41 newly-minted Labour police and crime commissioner candidates. Greeting their unveiling, Ed Miliband said the party would “make the best of a bad job”, using the elections for these new roles as a referendum on police cuts.

Meanwhile shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Labour still believed November’s elections should be “called off” and the money reinvested in frontline policing.

Do I detect a distinct lack of enthusiasm?

As I’ve argued before, Labour really should not be so curmudgeonly about elected police commissioners. With government plans rubbing out a fifth of police numbers and decimating back office staff, there is a real need for a strong democratic voice at the top of local constabularies providing public accountability about how policing is restructured in response to the cuts.

That aside, what are we to make of those selected? First of all it was a victory for high profile figures – with seven former ministers selected.

Former deputy PM John Prescott won in Humberside, although the narrowness of his victory surprised many. He won with 552 votes, with former Hull divisional police commander, Keith Hunter, running him a close second on 458.

The toughest scrap looks to have been in Merseyside though, where two former ministers went head-to-head for the nomination. Former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle took on former Northern Ireland minister Jane Kennedy in what was seen locally as something of a grudge match.

A more leisurely pace was found further down the M62 as Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd, former chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, was confirmed as Greater Manchester’s candidate after failing to find a challenger. He was selected unopposed.

As was former Labour MEP Simon Murphy in West Mercia.

A second parliamentary by-election now looms following the selection of former Welsh first secretary Alun Michael who was elected to fight South Wales. Meanwhile his son, Tal, a former police authority official, was picked to fight in North Wales.

Former deputy leader of the House of Commons, Paddy Tipping, narrowly won the Nottinghamshire nomination, while former DWP minister James Plaskitt romped home in Warwickshire.

As did former solicitor general and Redcar MP, Vera Baird, in Northumbria.

She is one of 15 women selected as Labour PCC candidates – 37 per cent of the total.


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It’s time for the party to fête our activists like we do our financial donors

19/06/2012, 04:52:43 PM

by  Prem Goyal

David Lloyd-George declared upon the end of the Great War that his mission was to “make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”.  While we are not at war, fighting in no-man’s land, Labour is engaged in a constant battle for the hearts and minds of the British people, which requires high grassroots morale.

Lloyd-George understood that after years of sacrifice, the country had to improve and mobilise to recognise the value of ordinary men putting their lives on the line. Fast forward, and it’s time for Labour to recognise and reward the many activists who put themselves on the neighbourhood frontline,  in various, hours, days, weeks and months, campaigning for the social democratic cause and empowering their local communities.

All of our members have stories and experiences that have the potential to excite and inspire, so let’s create a club with which we can celebrate this commitment and success.

This club would be an equivalent to the Thousand Club – with the difference that it would recognise members for contributing time and effort rather than money.

It would bring the same benefits enjoyed by our generous donors to members contributing significant amounts of time for Labour, whether campaigning, developing Labour policy and ideas within their local areas or empowering their local community.

While not discrediting the Thousand Club in any way, Labour must be willing think outside the box of traditionally rewarding people for financial capital and recognise the importance of voluntary and human capital – proactively rewarding activists for time and effort put in that is equivalent to the amounts paid to the Thousand Club.


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We need to address our poverty of language

19/06/2012, 07:00:03 AM

by Peter Goddard

So Ian Duncan Smith busy is developing proposals for new measures for child poverty, to include various social and lifestyle measures.

That sounds sensible enough, but there are some on the left who were quick to disagree. Polly Toynbee was one of them. On the eve of Duncan Smith’s announcement she was doggedly insisting that “the only way to measure a nation’s poverty over time,” she states, “is to count how many fall below the norm, and how far. This international measure counts anyone on less than 60% of a country’s median income.”

As Neil O’Brien points out, though, this “effectively conflates poverty and inequality.”

Needless to say, equality and measures thereof are of vital importance, and much valuable research indicates that equality is a vital national good. But equality is not poverty.

The dictionary (OK, defines ‘poverty’ as “the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support.”

According to O’Brien’s research, most people share this understanding, “(70pc) think it still means not having enough to eat, or a place to live.”

In fact, almost nobody outside the political classes, when asked to define poverty, will ever use the words ‘median income’.

By confusing relative poverty with absolute poverty, Toynbee and her ilk enable some stirring invective. But it also creates some curious paradoxes.

It is, for example, perfectly feasible for everyone in an economy to improve their income and become visibly better off but, through an increase in inequality, this to result in more people falling poverty.

So by using this measure you can become materially better off whilst simultaneously plunging into poverty.  Most would agree this seems counter-intuitive at best, manipulative spin at worst.


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HS2: The evidence finally catches up with the government

18/06/2012, 07:00:15 AM

by Ben Mitchell

The future of High Speed Two (HS2) hangs in the balance. Just writing this sentence seems preposterous, considering the amount of time and effort that has gone into hyping up its supposed benefits. The government’s high speed fantasy looks like it will become just that.

This is meant to be the great transport project of our age; enthusiastically backed by ministers, dreamt up by Labour. Barely six months after receiving the official go-ahead, the wheels are starting to come off. Once vaunted, yet now being mentioned in lukewarm terms at best.

According to the Spectator, it has been told that HS2 is “effectively dead,” with “momentum draining,” and only David Cameron’s personal support keeping it on “life support.” Missing from the Queen’s speech, supposedly being held back for another year, the coalition’s solitary nod to Keynes is getting the equivalent of the ministerial cold shoulder. Several cold shoulders, if reports are to be believed.

The Spectator alleges that the current transport secretary, Justine Greening, was never an unequivocal backer in the mould of her predecessor, Philip Hammond. Most significantly, the man with the purse strings, Chancellor George Osborne, has apparently turned against it, citing capacity problems at Britain’s airports as a bigger priority. At least they’ve realised the folly of one idea, only to replace it with the folly of another. We shall see.

Back in January, I wrote a lengthy piece tackling the arguments in favour of HS2. It seems the evidence has finally caught up with the government.

The cost was always going to come back to bite minsters where it hurt. With the total of the full Y-network (that’s London to Birmingham, and then on to Leeds and Manchester) nudging up from £32.7bn last year to £36.4bn this year (this is before we include rolling stock capital: £8.15bn, and operating costs: a further £21.7bn. Follow the above link and see page 37 for a complete breakdown), and wider economic benefits falling year on year, or every other month, as has been the case this year, the government’s grip appears to be loosening with every new evaluation.

Readers of last November’s transport select committee report into HS2 (of which I admit to being one such nerd), won’t be in the least bit surprised by the unravelling of the case for.


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Hands off Progress

15/06/2012, 03:31:17 PM

by Jamie Reed

As a GMB sponsored Member of Parliament, I’m proud of the achievements of my trade union. I don’t only have good working relationships with GMB officials at a local and national level – where I watch them undertake incredibly valuable work for their members, day in, day out – but I enjoy strong friendships too, in some cases, stretching back decades.

My grandfather was a GMB trade union official – and without him and his commitment to the trade union movement, the political world would never have held any interest for me. The point is, my association with the GMB trade union is long, deep and personal.

That’s why I cannot understand the decision of the GMB conference to seek to ‘outlaw’ Progress from the Labour Party. Let’s be clear: Progress is one of the most important, active, hard-working parts of our party. In helping to deliver an unprecedented three general election victories, Progress holds an important position in the most successful period of our past and it must play an equally important role now and in our future if we are ever to form another government. Progress is part of our future. Progress is here to stay.


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Time to fight for the Labour party

15/06/2012, 07:00:07 AM

by Atul Hatwal

A few years ago, a colleague told me a vignette from life in the Labour party in the mid-1980s. She was a member of the proto-modernising group, the Labour Co-ordinating Committee (LCC), and acted as whip for the LCC group in her inner London constituency Labour party (CLP). At each constituency meeting, she said there was a ritual to begin proceedings: the first motion was always to open the window and it was always put to a vote.

The reason? To gauge the relative strengths of the factions present. The modernisers would vote one way, the melange of militant and hard left, the other. The window was irrelevant. It was where the players lined up that counted.

Today, Progress is that window.

All the agonised commentary within the party about the conduct of Progress, its fate and what might or might not happen at party conference, is utterly irrelevant because this isn’t really about them.

Since Ed Miliband became leader, Progress have been a paragon of dutiful loyalty.

Last year at conference, when Miliband veered off into classifying businesses as predators or producers, without having much in the way of evidence either way, it wasn’t Progress that criticised him.

The editorial in last October’s magazine was positively supportive:

“It is rare for the words of a leader of the opposition to change policy; generating headlines is their normal intention. Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour party conference, however, managed both.”

When Labour selected a disastrous mayoral candidate in London, Progress campaigned for Livingstone.

And most recently the key proposals from Progress have focused on how to improve Labour’s organisational machine. Ideas like the fightback fundraiser kitemark are hardly the stuff of left wing nightmares.

No, this is not about the substance of what Progress do. This is a power play by the left. The objective:  to flush out those in the shadow cabinet, and at the top of the party, who would publicly back Progress. Those who would stand up and defend a Blairite group with all that is implicit in that act.

Progress is a proxy for the future direction of the Labour party.


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