Archive for July, 2012

Is Mitt Romney the worst ever presidential candidate from a major party?

31/07/2012, 07:00:04 AM

by Nikhil Dyundi

Carl Lewis said it best about Mitt Romney’s little foreign tour: “Seriously, some Americans just shouldn’t leave the country.”

Damn right.

I can say that, I’m American. But based on Mittens’ performance in the UK, Israel and Poland, you are fine to think it too.

It’s not just Romney saying he wasn’t sure about how the London Olympics would turn out as he began his visit to er, London, or that Israel’s superior culture is the reason for their greater wealth than the Palestinians. These are individual pratfalls. To get to the heart of Romney’s true anti-genius you need to understand that it’s his instinct which is truly remarkable.

No politician in modern times has had a more unerring ability to make the wrong judgement in any given situation. Sure there have been politicians that have been on the wrong side of public opinion. Lots of guys have taken a beating in a poll.

The Dems had George McGovern in 1972 crash to a truly epic defeat and there was Barry Goldwater for the GOP in 1964 bringing tea party crazy to the peace and love decade. Walter Mondale was wiped out by Reagan in 1984 – he lost every state but his own and DC – and Bob Dole never got near to Clinton in 1996.

But in each of these defeats, the candidates were out of step with their time and the electorate. As professional politicians, they might not have been the outstanding talents of their generation, but they were competent. Most of the time, you don’t get to be the nominee unless there is some ability there.

In this country, you’ve had people like Michael Foot and William Hague. Neither would make a pantheon of great party leaders, but as statesmen they had their talents.

The thing with Mittens is that unlike this list of gallant trans-atlantic losers, he doesn’t even have the basics.

Romney gets everything, be it major or minor, wrong.


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Aidan Burley equal opportunities photo special

30/07/2012, 07:00:50 AM

Why, who’s this cheeky little scamp? It’s only misunderstood Twitter führer Aidan Burley. Here he is in a photo from his latest constituency e-bulletin, hard at work introducing a local councillor to the prime minister.

Well done Aidan, it’s good to motivate the local troops and what better opportunity than a glittering Number 10 reception. This councillor was probably selected for such an exclusive invitation because of some form of outstanding local community contribution.  That would probably explain why she is featured so prominently is Aidan’s e-bulletin.

But hang on, she looks familiar. What’s that name again? The bulletin tells us it’s Jodie Jones.

Surely not the Jodie Jones who also works for one Aidan Burley? And it can’t be the Jodie Jones that young Aidan is currently squiring around the bright lights of Cannock Chase?

Because, if it were that Jodie Jones, in a spirit of openness and transparency, we know Aidan would have made it clear in the bulletin.

Otherwise people could get confused again, much as they did over his Olympic tweets, and there might another terrible misunderstanding.

Silly, wrong-headed people might draw erroneous conclusions about the type of outstanding local contribution needed to secure an invite from Aidan to meet the PM and quaff free vino.

That would never do, because as we know from Aidan’s Friday night tweeting and subsequent clarifications, no one is more dedicated to the cause of equality of opportunity than Cannock Chase’s MP.


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What will it take for voters to choose Labour over the Tories on the economy?

27/07/2012, 07:00:25 AM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s the question on which the next election will turn.

David Cameron and George Osborne have been at the helm for just over two years and in that time the economy has been shrinking for five out of eight quarters.

While other countries that were also in the eye of the financial storm, such as the USA, have recouped their lost output since 2008 and are growing, our economy is still 4.5% smaller than when the banks collapsed.

Even in the nightmare of the Eurozone, only Italy is in a double dip recession like Britain.

The situation could hardly be worse, but still, almost beyond logic and certainly beyond the comprehension of most of the Labour movement, the public believe Cameron and Osborne to be more economically competent than Ed Miliband and Ed Balls by a double digit margin.

July’s ICM poll had the Tory incumbents in an 11% lead over Labour’s challengers. This lead actually grew between June and July by 2% from 9% to 11%.

So what would it take for the two Ed’s to take the lead or at least wipe out the deficit?

ICM has regularly asked voters which of the competing political duos they would prefer to be running the economy in their monthly polls for the Guardian, over the past nine months.

Mapping the Cameron/Osborne lead over Miliband/Balls against the actual movements in growth over these three quarters gives us a sense of whether there is a link between growth and the public’s preference, and if so, how bad the economic situation would need to become for Labour to be preferred.

Based on the last three quarters, it is clear there is a correlation between growth and the Cameron/Osborne lead.

The minor easing in the rate of economic contraction at the start of 2012 was mirrored in a slight increase in the Tory lead while the steep acceleration in decline in the second quarter this year was reflected in a sharp fall in the Cameron/Osborne lead from 17.5% to 10%.

Electorally for Labour, that’s the good news. Cameron and Osborne are definitely paying a price for their economic incompetence.

But then comes the very bad news.


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Open primaries not narrow shortlists are what the Labour party needs to re-connect with voters

26/07/2012, 07:00:21 AM

by Peter Watt

There has been a lot of discussion in the Labour party recently about the narrow pool from which the current parliamentary Labour party (PLP) is drawn.  Basically the concern is that there are too many white middle class graduates who don’t represent the community as a whole.

So this month we have seen Chuka Umunna launch a Future Candidates Programme aimed at encouraging more business figures to stand for the Labour Party.  As the shadow business secretary said:

“Our party – all parties in fact – must reflect what Britain looks like and the jobs which people do.  Not only do we want more people setting up businesses, leading businesses and working in businesses, we want more people from the world of business in our ranks – from our councillors to our MPs.”

And then this week Dennis MacShane has expressed concern about the paucity of working class MPs.  He has suggested “all working class shortlists” for some parliamentary selections.  The idea being that we could use quotas to increase the numbers of non-middle class candidates and ultimately MPs.

Dennis proposes that 10% of parliamentary selections should be reserved for people on the minimum wage so that the pool from which our politicians are drawn stops being so narrow.  As Dennis said:

“The country desperately needs new political ideas, but the intellectual reservoir from which we draw our political leaders has become a paddling pool, when what we actually need is a raging torrent to get the country going again,”

The Labour party already has a long and honourable tradition of using quotas to increase the representation of women MP’s and indeed councillors.  At regular intervals there is also discussion of using quotas to increase the representation of other underrepresented groups and in particular minority ethnic candidates.

But I think that all of these initiatives increasingly start from the wrong diagnosis of the problem.  The diagnosis is that the Labour party, or any of its rivals, are basically sound.

That as presently constructed, political parties are the best way to achieve social justice and progress and that once people realise this then they will want to be a part of it.

Yes, there are some institutional biases that influence selections; but overcome these by some form of positive action and all is well.

I no longer think that this is right.


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Time for Labour to root out the rotten politics of race in the Tower Hamlets party

25/07/2012, 07:00:14 AM

by Rob Marchant

It was with a heavy heart that Labour Uncut uncovered a little-reported nugget from seasoned east end politics commentator Ted Jeory: the expulsion of five Tower Hamlets councillors from the Labour party.

Actually, no. It was rather with delighted surprise and relief.

At last.

One of the councillors, Shahed Ali, tried to compare their floor-crossing – to join the non-Labour cabinet of independent, Respect-backed mayor Lutfur Rahman – with the failure of Dan Hodges and Alan Sugar (neither of whom are elected politicians, incidentally) to endorse Ken Livingstone.

And where Ali lost all credibility, as Jeory points out, was with his somewhat risible cry of “racism”. Ah yes, it was nothing to do with the councillors’ abject disloyalty: they were being picked on because they happened to be Bengali Muslims. Of course.

The harsh realpolitik is that Labour could not expel these councillors before the mayorals, because then they might have had to expel someone else who campaigned openly for Rahman – one Ken Livingstone.

This latest episode in the colourful history of Tower Hamlets Labour highlights not only the level to which party discipline nationally has diminished, but also how Labour is struggling to retain control over its local party in the east end.

It’s as if a small corner of the party had mutated, like in some bad sci-fi flick, and taken on a life of its own outside Labour.

This is not a criticism of long-suffering party staff, constrained by the political direction and resources they are given: nor of the many decent people in the local party, or its decent MPs such as Jim Fitzpatrick or Rushanara Ali.


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Stephen Twigg and Marvin Rees talk schools and childcare on the Bristol campaign trail

24/07/2012, 03:24:49 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

The UK is facing a schools places crisis, particularly in cities such as Bradford, Bristol, Leeds, London, Reading and Southampton. Areas such as Barking in east London are facing the prospect of a ‘shift system’, splitting the school day in two with some children attending the morning and others the afternoon shift.

Visiting Bristol yesterday as part of Labour’s city conversation, to help elect Marvin Rees as city mayor, shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg highlighted the government’s swingeing cuts with  new build funding for schools slashed by a massive 57%, against a general 30% cut in most other spending areas.

Rees and Twigg met with parents and representatives of a variety of community groups, to discuss children and families as part of Labour’s childcare commission consultation. Main concerns included current government changes to working tax credits and how little help parents felt was on offer, especially to help single mothers or fathers to be able to work.

Twigg has hinted that better and more childcare will be a key focus for the party’s 2015 manifesto. This will be music to the ears of parents and employers alike, given the intrinsic link between jobs and childcare. More flexibility from employers around part-time working arrangements and more workplace childcare were among ideas put forward in Bristol yesterday.

Speaking as chair of Labour’s childcare commission, Twigg has talked about “switch spending”. That is, reducing spending in one area to fund more in another. Substantial spending cuts would be needed to fund a big improvement in childcare.


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If we believe in a British nuclear deterrent, Trident is our only option

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

by Alan West

The debate over the future of Trident is coming to the public fore. This is an emotive issue and our starting point must be to respect the strength of feeling on all sides.

It is important, however, that the debate is based in fact and evidence.

This leads me personally to conclude that maintaining the present Trident ballistic missile system is the best option if UK is to remain a nuclear weapon state. Numerous studies over the past 40 years have reaffirmed that.

I have been involved in a couple of those studies.  Having looked at other options in detail it is quite clear that none of them are as cheap or practical as their supporters claim.

Recently the benefits of going for a cruise missile option carried in Astute class submarines have been articulated.

The first thing to remember about this is that no appropriate cruise missile exists. The UK would have to develop, test and bring into service a new weapon. Even allowing for the “triumph of optimism”, such a programme would be complex, fraught with risk (we have not developed such a missile before) and extremely expensive.

We would have to embark on a new warhead development programme for a nuclear package that would be capable of fitting into other weapon delivery systems. The design and production of completely new warheads would be hugely expensive.

The new missiles and weapon system would have to be regularly and rigorously tested on all measures of performance. This would involve the development of further new technologies and new associated assets. At present the US provide all the facilities for Trident test firings, so all of this would be a further cost to our exchequer.

We then come on to the operational issues.

What range should these missiles have? How many missiles should we have? How many cruise missiles should each Astute carry? Should all Astutes carry nuclear tipped missiles? How many Astute class submarines would be required?  The answers to these questions have implications for cost and capability which I do not see evidence of having been thought through by proponents of this model.


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Time for a more honest debate on immigration control

23/07/2012, 04:28:38 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

Today’s report by the Home Affairs Select Committee into the UK Border Agency makes uncomfortable reading for the Government. The report identifies a series of new “backlogs” building up – unsuccessful asylum seekers, visa overstayers, and foreign-national offenders who should be deported at the end of their sentence – in total numbering almost 300,000.

There are continuing management failings at the agency, and in the way it works with other parts of government, and the Committee is right to highlight them.

But the truth is that while in the early 2000s, this was a failing organisation (not “fit for purpose”, if you prefer) by 2010 it had been dragged up to a roughly similar level of competence and morale to the rest of government.

There are worrying signs that it is slipping backwards, in particular due to spending cuts. The coalition’s line is that the staff being made redundant will be replaced by new technology, but the synchronisation is wrong: rather than waiting for the technology to prove itself before taking the dividend in reduced staff numbers, the cuts started at the same time as the technology programme was mired in delays.

Some of the biggest challenges, however, are beyond the control of the agency – and even that of the government as a whole. Take the issue of removing those who have overstayed their visas, or had their asylum claim rejected, or were here legally but then committed a serious crime which should see them deported. This is one of those problems which, in opposition, both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats colluded with the media in presenting as easy to solve.

It is becoming increasingly clear that, in government, their performance has been no better than Labour’s – if anything slightly worse. The number of foreign national offenders removed at the end of their sentence, which rose each year from 2006 to 2009, has fallen each year since.

Today’s report highlights the growing backlog of visa overstayers, which the home office apparently has no strategy for dealing with – and warns that the backlog of unsuccessful asylum cases, recently cleared, may be starting to build up again.

This is an area where the policy and politics of immigration would be greatly improved if all parties decided to join together and be honest with the media and the public about the constraints on what government can realistically achieve.


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Labour seeks divine inspiration for new funds

23/07/2012, 07:00:45 AM

Labour’s belated appointment of a commercial director finally completes the new senior management team. Given the parlous state of the party finances, this is perhaps the most important appointment of all.

Broadening Labour’s donor base to attract corporate funds is essential not just to tackle the party’s debt, but to deepen Labour’s ties with business. Last year in 2011, total donations from individuals, companies and limited liability partnerships to the party were just £1.2m – 6% of total income of £19,316,555.

It’s a tough challenge and into this breach has stepped John McCaffrey.  His track record in raising funds is exemplary: several millions of pounds secured over the past few years. For a role such as fundraising, it is the only metric that counts.

But McCaffrey is in one sense a novel appointment. The official Labour press statement seems straightforward enough,

“John McCaffrey is a leading international fundraiser with years of experience which will be of enormous benefit to the Party. He has worked widely raising very substantial funds across the education, arts and museums sector in the UK and the US.”

But it doesn’t highlight a key element of McCaffrey’s CV.

In the past, Labour’s money men have been sympathetic businessmen, happy to tap their network of contacts. Lord Levy was a case study, and David Cameron’s Eton contemporary, Andrew Feldman, performs a similar role for the Tories.

In contrast, McCaffrey’s background is the church. The Catholic Church to be specific. He has personally raised gargantuan amounts for Catholic causes including $5m in 2006 towards the renovation of the Pauline chapel in the Vatican which has two of Michelangelo’s final frescos and £6.5m towards the cost of the papal visit to Britain in 2010.


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The Sunday review: The years of Lyndon Johnson: the passage of power by Robert A Caro

22/07/2012, 08:00:33 AM

by Anthony Painter

The latest volume of Robert A Caro’s genre re-defining biography of Lyndon Johnson is structured around the mortal battle of two political foes. This conflict comprises both dependence and an antipathy that will define their historical legacy. They can never rid themselves of one another. For all their qualities, their weaknesses are plain and revealed in their fraught interaction. Each would love to be free but their fates have become entwined. It consumes the final decades of both men’s lives. The men to which I refer are, of course, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Robert A Caro.

Whilst the real story lies beneath, the narrative of the book itself is centred on two main characters whose destinies swing around the pivot of John F Kennedy’s assassination. That is Johnson and Robert F Kennedy. Their mutual loathing is seemingly without bound. From the humiliation of the vice-presidency, Johnson emerges, in this volume at least, as a dominant President with a legislative agenda the like of which hadn’t been seen since the New Deal nor since. JFK’s domestic programme was log-jammed and going nowhere. Johnson, the re-emerging master that we saw in volume three, reprises his capacity for institutional transformation and turns the presidency in an active direction. He palpably fails to do the same whilst in vice-presidential office.

John Adams once referred to his position as Vice-President thus, “I am Vice President. In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.” This is the basic premise of the new Armando Iannucci created HBO drama, Veep. Moments of Johnson’s vice-presidency such as when he collapses in a heap while dancing with one of JFK’s mistresses at a socialite-laden Georgetown party might be comedic if they weren’t so painfully tragic. A dominant theme of Caro’s four volumes is the capacity for Johnson to find power in any situation – yet he fails to do this as Vice-President. He physically and emotionally crumbles as a result as he had a tendency to do from time to time.

Johnson’s plight is made all the worse on account of the social clash of cultures as the entitled Kennedys condescend and belittle the man from the Hill Country; JFK refers to him as a bumpkin-esque “Rufus Corpone”. In this, Johnson is frighteningly similar to Richard Nixon – forever burdened by a harsh upbringing, their fathers’ failures, with ferocious energy and drive filling the vacuum where status stood for the New England Harvard crowd. When Johnson and Bobby Kennedy have the opportunity deploy power against the other that is what they do without hesitation while all the time consumed by hate, contempt and fear. At the end of this volume, it is RFK who lies emotionally, physically and politically defeated, drenched in grief. We know he is to rise again – but not yet.

Caro seems clear where his allegiances lie – he’s a JFK man. While wanting to settle the odd historical score with President Kennedy’s biographer, Arthur Schlesinger, he basically appears to be bought into the Kennedy as lost great President narrative. It is the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis later this year and we are likely to hear a great deal about Kennedy’s diplomatic genius. We certainly get a flood of it in the passage of power. Actually, it was Krushchev who achieved far more in strategic terms through the crisis – the protection of Cuba and the removal of Jupiter air missiles from Turkey.


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