Archive for August, 2012

The two Ed’s don’t get on? Good.

31/08/2012, 03:31:10 PM

by David Talbot

The psychodrama returns. A brooding, man of Brown, the shadow chancellor has taken against the young upstart Labour leader. Beadily eyeing what should be his, he uses secrecy, intellect and sheer aggression to domineer over his colleagues and undermine the leader he so clearly has scant respect for. Tentatively reported at the weekend, but now repeated as fact, the hierarchy of the Labour party is once again locked in a totemic struggle. Ed Miliband and Balls are said to be in the early skirmishes of something the Labour party has historically excelled at: vicious internal warfare.

We have, of course, been here before. Comparisons with the machinations that so undermined Labour’s thirteen years are inevitable. That the new cast are the support acts from the previous scene make the comparisons that much easier. Ed Balls displays a startling resemblance to the man he once so slavishly served. He is Gordon Brown’s man and Gordon is his man. Much of the words used by those oft-quoted “senior Labour party figures” are scarily similar to Brown; “high maintenance”, “secretive” and “domineering” to name just a few of the more praiseworthy adjectives.

It is, though, easy to admire his intellect, his work load, his ability to once organise a famously disorganised chancellor and, most recently, his uncanny knack of visibly infuriating the prime minister. But most of all he is a direct and influential. He has taken the eminently sensible step of vetoing shadow cabinet members committing to future spending plans.

For once the Brownite trait of an iron grip is to be praised wholeheartedly – Balls knows that the public retain a deep suspicion that the Labour party only knows how to govern by spending a grotesque level of money that simply isn’t there.

Not unsurprisingly, though, he is struggling to come to terms with the arrangements that now find him bequeathing his position to a man he long regarded as his junior.

But he is not stupid; he knows that to destabilise Miliband to such an extent that outright election victory is jeopardised will destroy him and deny him the position he so craves – to be a Labour chancellor.

His ambition can surely soar no higher. He tested his leadership credentials in 2010 and was roundly routed.

The accusations laid so heavily at Ed Balls’ door are the exact opposite directed to Miliband. Meek, insecure, deferential – it could be suggested that Miliband needs some balls.


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Self-interest not the national interest is driving each party’s economic policy

31/08/2012, 07:00:13 AM

by Peter Watt

For three successive quarters our economy has contracted.  And this week there is yet another report painting a gloomy picture for the foreseeable future.  This time it’s the CBI reporting that they expect the economy to contract by 0.3% this year.  The CBI’s director general, John Cridland, said:

“At present I believe the economy is flat rather than falling but, nonetheless, momentum seems to have weakened and the latest official figures put the UK in recession for the second quarter of this year.”

And so it goes on; it’s hard to remember when the economy was doing anything else other than struggling or worse.  Behind the headline numbers jobs are under threat, family budgets are squeezed and uncertainty stalks the land.  And on top of an economic contraction we have public finances that are in a pretty dire state.  No party expects an end to the current public sector budget squeeze until 2017 at the earliest.  In fact, after the most recent government borrowing figures even that looks optimistic.  In July 2011 the chancellor had a surplus of £2.8 billion and in July 2012 he had to borrow £600 million!

Some experts are saying that he may end up borrowing £30 billion more this year than last when the OBR had been predicting a significant drop in the amount needing to be borrowed.  Not quite the progress that George intended.

So now is the time for strong and bold leadership and honesty with the public about what our increasingly dire economic position means.  And yet none of the parties seem capable of either.

Firstly the government is increasingly wrapped up in its own navel gazing and appears rudderless.  For months now it has seemed bereft of any sense of purpose other than deficit reduction.  But now that this seems to be failing the lack of a vision is telling.  You would really struggle to say exactly what the government is for and what it wants to do.  There are exceptions; you might not agree with Michael Gove or Iain Duncan Smith but you at least know what they intend to do in their departments.

But beyond that, what are the government trying to do?  They chop, change and squabble giving the impression of being all over the place.  Policy is announced and then reversed and the briefings and counter briefings are now endemic.  Who’d be a government whip right now?!

Most importantly there aren’t many government MPs left who really believe that George Osborne is the man to save the country’s economic, and their political, bacon.  David Cameron appears bemused but is caught in the contradictions of the coalition.  But the one thing that still binds the coalition is the central plank of their coalition, their stated core purpose, deficit reduction.

To challenge their hitherto agreed approach right now maybe sound economics but risks exposing the schisms within and between the parties.  It risks further damage to that which keeps them all in government – their shared parliamentary majority.

Yet that doesn’t stop the deputy PM announcing wild and ill thought emergency taxes on the rich.  He might have thought that it would make him look in tune with the concerns of those who once voted Lib Dem but everyone else just laughed!


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Re-engaging young people is central to Refounding Labour

30/08/2012, 04:37:16 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

By starting the process of Refounding Labour, Ed Miliband has made much of rebuilding the party, making it more open to new members and to a broader section of society; welcome news then of the launch this month of Bristol Young Labour.

While experience of life and party politics is invaluable from older members, it is encouraging that enough young people in the city want to give their time and energy in outreach work and political engagement.

They offer the party the opportunity to refresh our politics in an age of disaffection and apathy

Young Labour is open to 14 to 26 year olds and brings voting privileges and access to events and activities that being an armchair supporter will never offer.

“Timings have worked out well for us,” explained Stephen Fulham, who chaired the launch event.

“Setting-up Young Labour alongside a mayoral election provides motivation and opportunities for members that would not otherwise be possible.

The mayoral election in Bristol on 15 November has regional and national significance and we’re networking with Young Labour groups around the country who want to help support Marvin Rees, Labour’s candidate to be the first directly elected mayor.”

Bristol Young Labour aims to engage young people across Bristol in the work of the Labour party and to reflect the diversity of young people within society.


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The fact is, Labour leaders and their chancellors always fall out

29/08/2012, 01:19:27 PM

by Kevin Meagher

We all know the tale. An ambitious chancellor plotting with cabinet colleagues to unseat a sitting prime minister who was responsible for an historic election victory.

Blair and Brown? It could equally apply to Sir Stafford Cripps’ attempts to oust Clement Attlee in the late 1940s. Labour history has a habit of repeating itself like that.

Right up to the present day, it seems. The Independent on Sunday’s John Rentoul has stirred a hornet’s nest by reporting supposed tensions at the top of the party.  “Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been getting on particularly badly recently, although each has long found the other trying” he wrote the other day.

Clashing styles and disagreements over banking reform are cited by those following up the story.

A similar pattern (psychodrama?) has been played out down the decades. The relationship between Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson, respectively leader and shadow chancellor in the late 50s, was such that Wilson even stood for the leadership against Gaitskell in 1960. That would be the equivalent of Ed Balls launching a bid to replace Ed Miliband right now. Let that then be the marker for talk of splits at the top today.

When he was eventually in the prime ministerial driving seat, Wilson fared little better. He didn’t get on with his chancellors, Callaghan, Jenkins and Healy. Mind you, as an expert economist himself, who served as Sir William Beveridge’s researcher when the great man was drawing up his famous report on the welfare state, it’s perhaps not surprising he thought he knew more than the occupants of Number 11. He did.


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After Clegg’s strop, it’s time for a grown up approach to Lords reform

29/08/2012, 07:00:02 AM

by George Foulkes

When, earlier this month, Nick Clegg announced the demise of his ill-judged and ill thought out plans to reform the House of Lords, he was in a terrible strop. So much so, that he rubbished any proposal to improve the present composition of the second chamber.

David Steel, Helene Hayman and others have proposed a number of measures which would make the current composition and method of appointment more sensible and greatly reduce the ridiculously large size. Hereditary peers could be phased out by ending the laughable by-election provision for so called ‘vacancies’ when hereditaries pass away. Weeding out poor and non- attendees and bringing in a retirement provision could provide the biggest reduction. New members meanwhile could be approved by an expanded and statutory appointments commission and some guidance criteria for appointments published.

Clegg would have none of this. He does not want to add any credibility to what he considers to be a totally discredited House.

In doing so, the deputy prime minister is adopting a typical Marxist/Leninist revolutionary posture: “do not improve the hated institution of government or you will delay the revolution”. But it should be evident to Mr Clegg that the only intelligent way to achieve his goal of Lords reform is through two stage evolution.

Stage one is the kind of tidying up of the present arrangements described above which remove the worst aspects of the status quo – huge size, hereditaries and lack of transparency in appointment.

Stage two however, could be started simultaneously to allay the fears of those who think stage one is a ploy to cast real reform back into the long grass. And this would be found upon the recommendation of the alternative report of the joint committee.


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US campaign diary: polling evidence grows that Mitt Romney is failing to cut through

28/08/2012, 12:56:30 PM

by Nikhil Dyundi

The headline polls might still be showing a virtual tie between president Obama and Mitt Romney, but underneath the surface there is evidence that the Republicans are failing to make the break through that all opposition’s need to oust an incumbent.

It is certainly the case that the US public is barely engaged with the general election. The news is all about Isaac while the monthly struggle to make the paycheck stretch is vastly more important for most Americans than anything the politicians have to say.

But as the Republican convention starts, or not, depending on where Isaac is headed, a new poll from Pew shows that for the first time this century less than half of voters are interested in watching the new Republican presidential candidate’s convention speech.

44% expressed an interest in seeing Romney’s big speech, compared to 52% for McCain in 2008 and 53% for Bush in 2000.

In comparison, 51% of voters are interested in Obama’s acceptance speech. This is down from 58% in 2008, but still crosses the magic 50% threshold.

The failure to generate public anticipation and interest for Romney is a sign of how the campaign has run away from him. President Obama should be extremely vulnerable given the economic situation, but the poll is a powerful indicator that the Republicans have failed to establish Romney as an alternative president-in-waiting.

More worrying for Romney is that while most people are not interested in his speech, they are keen to learn more about the GOP platform: 52% said they were interested to know more about the platform.

Convention platforms, particularly for the GOP, are detailed, lugubrious affairs. The 2008 platform rambled on for 55 pages tackling every last arcane topic of concern to the fruit loops that populate the Republican fringe.

This year, for example there is a section on a return to the gold standard. For some reason the GOP are obsessed with the gold standard, in 1980 the platform forced Reagan to hold a commission on returning to the gold standard when he became president, which predictably, reported back in the negative.


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Time to replace the failed model of rail privatisation with an integrated, publicly accountable structure

27/08/2012, 11:58:06 AM

by Jordan Hall

The unexpected jump in the RPI rate of inflation will be grim news for rail passengers. UK commuters who already pay the highest fares in Europe, face further increases of at least 6% from next January.

The coalition has insisted that above inflation fare rises will end when the costs of the rail industry are brought down. However this argument doesn’t stand up when Network Rail has already slashed running costs over a 5 year period.

Rail reform could be the key to winning over swing voters in the marginal commuter constituencies that Labour will need to win to form a majority in 2015.

Back in June shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, welcomed the Rebuilding Rail report by Transport for Quality of Life as a consideration in the policy review.


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Why did the Labour party’s running costs go up by almost 20% last year?

24/08/2012, 07:00:51 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Earlier this week the Electoral Commission released the latest quarterly donation figures for the political parties. Once again, income across the board fell. Down for the Tories but more importantly, falling faster for Labour.

As my esteemed colleague Peter Watt said in his post yesterday when he reviewed these figures, “the party simply cannot go on like this indefinitely.”

In these uncertain times the one action the party can definitely take is to cut costs. Yet the latest financial accounts for the party for the 2011 calendar year, released at the start of this month, reveal a disturbing situation.

Yes, expenditure was lower in 2011 than 2010, dropping by £3.5m from £33.8m to £30.3m. But in 2010 there was a general election that cost £8m while in 2011 the local election campaign only cost £900k.

If the party had managed to keep all non-campaigning costs at roughly the same level as in 2010, the reduction in expenditure in 2011 should have been just over £7m (the difference between the cost of campaigning in 2010 and 2011).

But it wasn’t.

The reason was an 18% hike in running costs for the party. Running costs are the biggest single line item in the party’s expenditure making up 80% of total spending. In 2011 they went up by £3.6m to £24m, from £20.4m in 2010.

An almost 20% spike in running costs, when there is no general election or major campaign, is quite extraordinary.

Delving into the detail of accounts, there is a breakdown of running costs which sheds some light on where the money is being spent.

source: Labour party 2011 accounts

In the first line of the table, it is clear that there was a £900k rise in expenditure on staff from 2010 to 2011. A note in the accounts reveals that this equated to an increase in headcount from 287 to 307 staff.


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The great cause as far as disabled people are concerned remains equality – not assisted suicide

23/08/2012, 01:40:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The suffering and death of Tony Nicklinson has been painful enough to watch as an outsider, let alone to experience what it must be like as a family member or friend of this once active and independent man.

His fight to reform the law to allow ‘assisted suicide’ – rejected in the high court last week – was heartfelt and passionate. It clearly gave focus to his bleak and tortured existence after suffering from “locked-in syndrome” for eight years following a massive stroke in his early 50s.

But his passion and sincerity were misplaced. The law should not be liberalised and, if anything, should be strengthened to prevent the slide towards legislation that creates circumstances in which the life of a sick or disabled person can be deliberately ended.

This sentiment will rankle with some who, moved by Nicklinson’s terrible plight, would have granted him the scope to end a life he plainly no longer wanted to live.

“I wouldn’t want to live if that happened to me” is a response most of us will have uttered at some point, usually as a response to the sight of someone with profound physical or mental disabilities.

The impulse is perhaps strongest among those who live successful, rewarding lives. Baby-boomers like Nicklinson personify a generation that takes personal autonomy and choice for granted, unhindered by others’ boundaries.

In this view, the thought of being humbled by disability or disease destroys the very thing that animates a well-spent life – individual freedom.

But let’s be clear what is at stake. Whether we call it euthanasia or assisted suicide we are talking about killing human beings. We are forced to cross a Rubicon. Unlike war, where death is a by-product of other strategic goals, in this instance death is the point.


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The latest party funding figures tell us we can’t go on like this

23/08/2012, 07:00:00 AM

by Peter Watt

I’m on holiday at the moment and have both limited internet access and limited interest in all things political.  Normal levels of political obsession will no doubt return once the holiday is over.  One thing has caught my attention though this week and I felt the need to write about it.  It’s an old favourite of mine, something I feel passionately about – party funding and the trade unions.

The Electoral Commission has published its latest quarterly report on the donations to political parties.  The first thing to note is that overall levels of donations to all political parties were down almost £1 million when compared to the first three months of the year.  The Tories were down £250,000 receiving £3.8 million whilst Labour was down £450,000 receiving just under £3 million.

So it’s clear that Labour, already receiving less than the Tories, appears to be feeling the squeeze even more. The detail of the figures goes on to show that that even more of party’s income is now derived from a single source: the trade unions.  Of all of the donations received by Labour in this reporting period more than £2 million, or about 70%, came from the Trade Unions.  And of this £2 million, Unite gave over £840,000 almost double that of the next biggest, USDAW, at £429,000.

Our opponents have once again tried to make mischief and claim that this means that 70% of our income comes from the trade unions.  This is simply not true.  As I have blogged on Labour Uncut several times before, the Labour party does not in fact receive the majority of its income from the trade unions.

In an average, non-general election year income comes roughly from the following sources:

  • £8  million in affiliation fees from trade unions;
  • £7 million from the tax payer in short money;
  • £5 million from individual membership subscriptions.

This gives a “definite” income of about £20 million per year.  In addition the Labour Party gets:

  • £2 – 5 million in donations from individuals, companies and trade unions;
  • £5 million or so from other things like commercial income, legacies and dinners.

So while the attacks of our opponents are an exaggeration, we should not pretend that they do not have a point.  Labour’s financial position remains precarious and we need to face up to it.


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