Archive for July, 2012

Progress are here to stay, get over it

16/07/2012, 01:32:14 PM

by Curtis McLellan

It’s been a strange few weeks to be a Progress member, a Unite member and a Labour party member.  It is almost like me and my kind are persona non grata.  Well, I am not ashamed.  My kind are part of a long proud lineage of revisionist thought in the Labour party.  My kind and our thought laid the philosophical foundations for an unprecedented 13 years of Labour government.

My kind bided our time whilst the other side had their 1983 manifesto, we fought against Trotskyist entryism, siding with the unions to remove that threat.  We had internal victories and internal defeats, but there was one thing for certain: we were in perpetual opposition.  And then, in 1996, many of my predecessors formed a think-tank to generate ideas for the fledgling New Labour project. A year later, well, the rest is history.

For all of you still pretending that it is simply an “organisational” spat, who still believe in the platitudes that we are a broad church, be under no illusion.  This is an ideological attack on Progress and the philosophy of New Labour, cloak and dagger.

In all honesty, anyone on the centre should have seen it coming.  We were in the ascendancy for too long, and now we are in decline.  That is the cyclical nature of internal Labour party politics, and it is now time for revenge.  They’ve got their party back.  For those of you who disliked Luke Akehurst’s Niemoller analogy, look away now: prepare for a period of Stalin-like rewriting of history.  Unite call the last Labour government “a bitter disappointment”.

Why?  Was there too much employment?  Too high a quality of life (certainly better than before and now)?  Did the minimum wage grind their gears?  Perhaps the low number of strikes annoyed them.  Or maybe there were too many hospitals and schools built, or the top tax rate was too low.  I don’t know, but it certainly wasn’t what some union leaders had wanted.  But it’s not just the past, and how bad New Labour was that draws union leaders’ ire. It’s the influence of New Labour now.

I should hope that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, two members of New Labour government, feel quite insulted that they are not thought to be able to think for themselves.  The times that they adopt centrist policy, it is claimed by Unite, is only at the times that those nasty Blairites lean on them:

“‘it was Progress who argued that Labour’s front bench needed to support cuts and wage restraint. Congress regrets that Ed Miliband caved into this pressure. Congress notes with concern the support by Ed Balls and Ed Miliband for public sector pay restraint, thus giving credibility to Tory arguments about the deficit”.

For the record, Progress did not argue that.


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The Cameron project has stalled

16/07/2012, 07:00:05 AM

by David Talbot

The Cameron project is now in major crisis. When a smooth talking, young Conservative leader burst on to the British political since in late 2005 he talked a new language for the new Conservatives. The project had a clear-cut logic and sensibility.

After three election defeats the Conservatives could no longer content itself in its own obsessions, talking to nobody but itself and lecturing us on tax, immigration, law and order and Europe when most sane members of the British public had long since given up listening.

The approach drew unapologetically from New Labour. Cameron, for his many faults, was one of the few Conservatives who clearly understood that the Tory brand had become the central problem and that it had to be detoxified. Then, and only then, could the whole edifice be modernised, renewed and the long, slow reconnection with the voters begun. This is what led to Cameron’s most memorable moments in opposition.

The original appeal of Cameron’s leadership was that he would break with his party’s past. He was emphatically not a traditional conservative. So a party that was neither socially liberal, green nor redistributionist was forced to lump Cameron “hugging a hoody”, having photographs with huskies and engaging in wild talk about “sharing the proceeds of growth”.

It was all part of his bitter struggle to rid the “nasty party” image that he, and the public, so disliked. The trouble is, unlike New Labour, the game failed miserably for Cameron at the last general election. His party only managed to defeat Gordon Brown’s policy-less, self-obsessed, exhausted and divided administration by a mere 48 seats.


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Westminster’s Tony Montana needs to learn how to chillax

13/07/2012, 12:17:37 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Those prime ministers whom the gods wish to destroy they first ridicule.

The current incumbent, who once promised to “let sunshine win the day” has a face like thunder these days.

That’s because David Cameron’s once-luxuriant Teflon coating has now rubbed off leaving him mired in a series of presentational sticky patches. He’s getting to know what ridicule is all about.

From his cosy relationship with the Murdoch empire through to leaving his daughter at the pub, the gaffes mount; while his performances at prime minister’s questions are becoming an erratic series of desperate lunges and hacking motions. The rapier has become a bludgeon.

His latest scrape, berating Tory backbencher Jesse Norman who led Tuesday’s House of Lords rebellion against the government, is now Westminster folklore.

What gives the story added comedy value is the tale of four government whips banishing Norman from the parliamentary precinct. Was it for his own good? Did they think Dave would pop a cap in him during a corridor “walk by” if he hung around?

Red-faced, finger-jabbing, insult-waving petulance is not behaviour that adds to the prime ministerial lustre.

As he put it himself when goading his predecessor-but-one, “he was the future once”. It is a telling remark. Slowly, but assuredly, David Cameron is turning into yesterday’s man.


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Leveson heads for press regulation proposals that will mean war with the papers

13/07/2012, 07:00:49 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Did you know Leveson was sitting yesterday? Thought not. But away from the high political drama of Jeremy Hunt or low criminality of hacking, this was one of the most interesting sessions.

Inquiries are defined by the character of their principals. The decidedly establishment mores of Lord Hutton became clearer throughout the progress of his investigation into death of David Kelly just as the more challenging approach of Lord Macpherson was increasingly evident in his conduct of the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder.

In this latest phase of the Leveson inquiry, which has moved on to deal with the future of press regulation, Brian Leveson’s character is emerging. And most pertinently, his thoughts on what he will propose seem to have crystallised.

The key witness yesterday was Sir Charles Anthony St.John Gray.

Gray is notable for three reasons: his background, suggested approach to regulation and Leveson’s interventions.

First, as Leveson acknowledged, Sir Charles Gray is one of his long standing friends. Both served at the bar and as judges in the House of Lords, until, in the words of Leveson, Gray, “decided that he’d had enough”. The professional experiences and social environment that shaped Gray’s outlook have equally moulded Leveson.

Second, Gray runs an organisation called Early Resolution (ER). It is a body that adjudicates on press disputes without having to go through the time and cost of a full court case.  ER is voluntary but Gray was up before Leveson proposing a mandatory incarnation of his organisation as the new press regulator.


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Whip’s Notebook: Oh what a night

12/07/2012, 11:00:41 AM

by Jon Ashworth

Supporters of a democratic House of Lords can take cheer that on Tuesday night the Commons voted by 462 to 124 give the House of Lords reform bill a second reading. But what a night. What a rebellion.

92 Tory MPs rebelled against their leader’s position. That’s a bigger rebellion than the recent EU referendum vote and almost the biggest Tory rebellion post-war.

From the start of the debate on Monday, Labour MPs have witnessed a slow motion car crash unfold for the Tory whips and No 10 which culminated, apparently, in an angry exhausted red faced Prime Minister angrily jabbing the chest of a leading rebel late at night in the corridors of the Commons. No wonder influential Lib Dem blogs are comparing David Cameron to John Major.

Should last night’s rebellion have come as much of a surprise to the prime minister and his Liberal Democrat colleagues?

Probably not.

For weeks Tory MPs have sidled up to me in the tea room and elsewhere asking for guidance on what Labour’s tactics would be. Fortunately our position was and had been always clear: to vote against the programme motion but support democratising the Lords and so vote in favour of the bill at second reading.

It’s been less straightforward on the government side with question marks over whether the government would win a vote on curtailing the timetable for debate, the so called programme motion.

On Monday, rumour had it the Tory whips were so worried about losing the programme motion that they were encouraging dissident MPs to vote in favour or abstain but rebel on second reading. But the Tory whips’ strategy was soon to be shot to pieces.

Early on Tuesday afternoon, Nick Clegg was still defending the programme motion but minutes later the Leader of the House Sir George Young opening the debate was forced to withdraw the very same programme motion.

Sir George tried to blame the Labour opposition for government’s failure to build support for the programme motion, an incredible claim later torpedoed by leading Tory rebel Jesse Norman who helpfully pointed out to Sir George that the government had been forced to withdraw it due to opposition on the Tory benches.


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Why is the government delaying on social care?

12/07/2012, 07:00:39 AM

by Peter Watt

It may have been a dream once, but free social care for adults who need it is not going to happen.  The majority of adults in this group are aged over 65, about 1 million of them.  The state does not currently pay for all of their care and so many have to pay some or all of their costs.  The reality is that whoever is in government in the future, this situation is only going to get more difficult.

Right now, if you think that you need social care then the local authority has to carry out an assessment of your needs and then and assessment of your finances.  Firstly they see if you are sufficiently impaired so that you need help and then they decide if you or they have to pay.

Increasingly though, the thresholds being used by councils to decide if you are sufficiently impaired are being raised; it means that the numbers of people that they have to provide help to can be reduced along with their costs.  But it doesn’t mean that the needs are less!

So many people who need help with washing, cooking, dressing, and so on have to pay someone to do it.  And similarly many people who need to go into residential care have to pay.  Essentially if you have savings of less than £14,250 then care at home is free; between that point and £23,250 the costs are shared and after that you’re on your own.

If you need residential care and own your house then, unless your partner is continuing to live there, then you will probably have to sell your house to pay for your care.  Quite frankly the situation is a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of families.  You don’t think about it until it is too late; you don’t know what it is you may have to pay for and you don’t know for how long you will have to pay!

The result is that 800,000 older people are going without the care that they need or are relying on friends and family, whilst a further 500,000 are paying for their own care.

But the answer is not to pretend that somehow it can all be solved just by throwing money at the problem.  Or that it is all the fault of the government and cuts.  Labour had 13 years to solve it and didn’t; we don’t have the money and quite simply we’re not going to have it.

The need to reduce our structural deficit means that there are hard choices to be made by this government and the next.  The fact is that many older people do in fact have the resources that mean that they can contribute to their care.


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Labour approaches a tipping point

11/07/2012, 03:13:52 PM

by Rob Marchant

“The future is unwritten” said Joe Strummer. He was right.  We really can change the future: really. Because politics is driven by people and events.

That said, many of these people and events are in turn, whether we like it or not, driven by power.

It’s significant that even the word tends to bring to mind thoughts of how power corrupts or how the wielding of power is somehow an undesirable act. But power can be good too. We need it. The just wielding of power is a wholly good and desirable act, whether or not we agree with the political outcome. Democracy would be meaningless without it, after all. Power is there to be used for good, even if that is not always the result as we see it.

Those who have it can choose to wield it, or not. And sometimes it can be about perceived, rather than actual, power, as well. The shifting of the political tectonic plates often happens because the balance changes between one side and another, and it is often these events, rather than the froth of the everyday media, which we should be watching.

So, let’s go beyond, for a moment, the day to day – whether or not Osborne will apologise to Balls (he should), or even whether the coalition is on the rocks (it’s probably not) – and take a little look into the Labour Party’s immediate future. It’s either entirely frivolous, or deadly serious: you choose.

And so we come back to the underlying story which manifested itself in Labour’s affiliated unions wanting to ban Progress. It hasn’t gone away, as many had hoped: the motion to conference has arrived from ASLEF, and it’s not clear that it was an “honourable peace” either, as Mark Ferguson  noted at LabourList on Monday.


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Flawed bill, floored coalition

11/07/2012, 11:03:15 AM

by Phil Hunt

Lords reform faces a hugely uncertain future with the failure of the Coalition government to even put its timetable motion to the vote in the House of Commons last night. The humiliating climb down was a sight to behold. As the Coalition partners slugged it out over a long two day debate, it became abundantly clear that a mass of Tory MPs would not support the Bill. Equally clear during the debate, was the catastrophic failure by Nick Clegg to produce a coherent piece of legislation.

Whatever the controversies over whether the second chamber should be 80% or 100% elected, once only terms of 15 years or the place of bishops, the focus of most MPs was on the powers of an elected Lords. And the lack of any convincing argument from Ministers as to how legislative gridlock was to be avoided between two elected chambers was rapidly exposed.

Potentially, the House of Lords has a lot of muscle. The pre-legislative scrutiny undertaken by the Joint Select Committee it reported back: “if the Lords chose to use its powers, it would be one of the most powerful second chambers in the world”. Yet it hasn’t done this for many years, precisely because its current members know they lack democratic legitimacy. Conventions have developed to help Peers exercise a voluntary constraint. An all or mostly elected chamber will give short shrift to that.

One of the more fanciable claims made by the government about its Lords Reform Bill was that Mr Clegg had dealt with the fear of many MPs that Commons primacy would be challenged by an elected second chamber. In fact, all the Bill does is to say that the Parliament Acts will apply. Without the conventions however, there will be little to hold back a confident and assertive House.


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Clegg blinks

10/07/2012, 07:58:41 PM

Or at least he is trying to blink. Whether his party lets him is another matter. Word reaches Uncut from the yellow side of the fence that the Lib Dem leadership are engaged a tentative operation to defuse the bomb they carefully primed, and pull back from vetoing the Tories new parliamentary boundaries.

It had been assumed that the Lib Dems would take their revenge on the Tories for sinking Lords reform by blocking the new parliamentary constituency boundaries. But, after some emollient words from the prime minister earlier in the day, a commitment to get something through in Autumn and perhaps an extra biscuit with his cup of tea, Nick Clegg wants to work it out with the Tories.

Talk of tit for tat retaliation is being played down as the Lib Dems and Tory press teams try to pin the blame on Labour before the watching gallery of aghast Lib Dem activists.

Clegg still has his eye on passing a Lords reform bill in the Autumn, either stripped down to resemble Lord Steel’s token effort at reform or potentially something more ambitious with a firm commitment to a referendum after the first election to the new chamber but before the second.

Why the emboldened Tory rebels would put down their cudgels in three months is unclear. Certainly there’s no love lost for David Cameron who was being openly ridiculed by jubilant rebels as they celebrated in the bars of Westminster.

But Clegg still thinks he can salvage his legacy with a constitutional bill that could nominally have the prefix ‘historic’ appended, and as a result, David Cameron seems to have been granted the benefit of the doubt from his junior partner yet again.

The next 24 hours will determine whether Nick Clegg can sell his conciliation to the beaten and battered Lib Dems or whether this time, there will actually be a yellow reckoning with the Tories, regardless of Nick Clegg’s dreams of the history books.

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If the coalition really does fracture after tonight’s vote, will Labour be ready?

10/07/2012, 07:00:35 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Tonight’s the night. The Commons votes on House of Lords reform and a series of dominoes will start to topple.

First, the government’s attempt to limit debate on the House of Lords reform bill through a “programme motion” will be defeated by a coalition of Labour and Tory votes.

It will mean Tory rebels in the Commons can filibuster the House of Lords bill, and the rest of the government’s legislative programme, into extinction. Faced with this threat, the prospect of the government throwing in the towel on House of Lords reform tomorrow morning seems almost a racing certainty.

Second, the Lib Dems will hit back by scuppering the Tories’ plans for revised parliamentary boundaries. It’s hard to see how the Lib Dem leadership could hold their party together without some retribution against the Tories. Again, on balance this seems a highly likely scenario.

Third, notwithstanding many Tories’ secret yearning to bury the new boundaries, there would be an explosion of Tory backbench, even frontbench, rage at their junior partners.

The price demanded by angry Tories would be new, true blue Conservative policies defined by the inability of the Lib Dems to support them. Lists are already being drawn up. The word “Europe” features heavily.

This is where there would be a speculative if not impossible next step. The final domino. Relations would become so strained between the government partners that they mutually lose the will to go on. They row. They snipe. And finally, they vote against each other. It would culminate in the death knell of all broken parliamentary partnerships, a failed vote of no confidence.

In the chaos of the ensuing election, out of the wreckage of the coalition, maybe, just maybe, a Labour government with a small majority would emerge.


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