Archive for November, 2012

The Lib Dems are flocking to Labour, but are we losing support too?

30/11/2012, 02:42:58 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So as we predicted earlier this week, Labour held Rotherham last night. And, on the face of it, in impressive style.

Labour’s Sarah Champion lived up to her name winning 46 per cent of the vote, 1.7 per cent up on 2010. UKIP were next on 21.8 per cent, with the BNP in third place.

Against the triple whammy of a horrible child grooming scandal in the town, the case of the foster parents who had three children removed from their care by the local council for being UKIP members and the circumstances of Denis MacShane’s resignation, it was not a bad night, all in all, for Labour.

The Lib Dems crashed to eighth place, repeating their dismal performance in the recent police commissioner elections in South Yorkshire when they managed fifth place. Out of five.

They could only muster 451 votes last night, on a 13.9 per cent swing away from their 2010 result when 5,994 people voted for them. Not enough support, then, to win a local council by-election in the town.

So where are these ex-Lib Dems going?

If they are coming straight over to Labour, which seems perfectly plausible given what we know about voting patterns between the two parties, then Labour’s result would have been even more impressive.


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Ignore the headlines, Leveson will still pass…if Nick Clegg wants it to

30/11/2012, 07:00:59 AM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s quite simple really. The decision on whether Leveson is implemented is not exclusively in the gift of the prime minister. He does not, to quote today’s Telegraph headline, have a veto because the Tories do not command a majority in the House of Commons. Ed Miliband has committed to bringing forward a vote on the judge’s recommendations so it will be down to the 650 members of parliament to determine the future of press regulation.

Here’s how the arithmetic stacks up: the coalition normally has a working majority of 82. This is the number by which the 360 coalition MPs (303 Tory and 57 Liberal Democrat) exceed the combined strength of all the other parties – 278 MPs – less the speaker and his three deputies who don’t vote and the five Sinn Fein MPs who similarly don’t vote.

If the Lib Dems were whipped to support a vote on implementing Leveson (albeit an amended version to address Clegg’s misgivings on Ofcom’s role in verifying the new watchdog and on data protection), the working majority over the Tories would be 35 (303 Tories versus a new combined total of 335 of the rest).

There is the potential that one of the Lib Dems, John Hemming, will defy the whip, given he signed the anti-Leveson letter organised by Conor Burns and David Blunkett. Similarly there are a handful of anti-Leveson Labour MPs who may defy the whip, including Blunkett, Gisela Stuart, Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Gerald Kaufman and Eric Joyce (yes, I know Eric Joyce is nominally an independent).

Taking these dissenters and adding them to the Tory total gives a reduced pro-Leveson majority in the Commons of 18 (a combined total of 328 MPs versus 310 Tories and anti-Leveson defectors.)

As whips office veterans of the knife edge votes in the 1990s and late 1970s can attest, this is where it gets complicated. The remaining 23 votes are made up of a hotch potch of minor groups and parties.


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Labour history uncut: By-elections beckon and the fixers get fixing for the LRC

29/11/2012, 07:37:20 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

It was early 1902 and times were tough for the Labour representation committee. They had a worryingly low bank balance, only 2 MPs and not enough members to deliver leaflets.

The parliamentary Labour party couldn’t even descend into proper factionalism as Keir Hardie and Richard Bell got on quite well.  This wasn’t what the left was about at all.

The Taff Vale ruling by the Lords had thrown the LRC a much needed lifeline, forcing more unions into the arms of the party, but support wasn’t growing quickly enough. Although more were affiliated by 1902 than 1901, numbers were still down on the founding conference in 1900.

Something needed to be done.

Fortunately, Ramsay Macdonald was on hand. He was a sharp operator and he had a cunning plan.

As party secretary, Macdonald had a key role in developing the party machine and fixing things about which the saintly Keir Hardie didn’t have to ask too many questions.

Secondary duties included taking minutes, making the tea and, eventually removing his glasses, shaking his hair out and waiting for Keir Hardie to say “why Mr Macdonald, you’re beautiful.”

Movember was a way of life for Ramsay Macdonald


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Pink Pussy anyone? In the mess of the drinks industry, minimum pricing is only one solution to part of the problem

29/11/2012, 10:25:17 AM

by Ian Stewart

So, a government that is headed by a man who made some of his fortune through selling “Pink Pussies” in Tiger Tiger bars (via his vital work as a director of Urbium plc bar company in the early 2000s) has woken up to the problem of excessive alcohol consumption.

Obviously not 25 Year Old Islay Malt, nor Chateau Petrus, no – nothing wrong could ever happen if you drink expensively, could it? It is those other drinks, the common drinks, which cause all the problems. After all, who ever heard of, say, well-heeled Oxford students running about causing perturbation & fear?

The drinks business that is the making, exporting and selling of alcohol in the UK is, profits-wise, doing pretty well during our austerity times. Yet, beneath the balance sheets of the likes of Diageo and SAB Miller and the ever-enthusiastic reviews of new bars and products in the press, there is a continuing crisis.

Ever since supermarkets were allowed to join the off-licence trade, bringing in a race to the bottom in price terms, there have been ever-increasing number of pub closures and ever harsher terms for leaseholders. The big pub companies have lead the way in vertical drinking establishments, telling us to “drink responsibly” whilst discounting shots and jugs of nasty cocktails to compete, driving out independents where they can.

Pub companies now mainly see their leased stock as a potential source of revenue – not from what they sell, but in what they could achieve on the property market. This has hit rural areas particularly hard. All the while, alcohol consumption has risen to almost pre-1914 levels, after a sustained fall overall until the 1970s.

With deregulation profits soared and drinking habits changed. Yes, we eat out more, and drink more wine now than ever before. But unlike our continental cousins we seem to drink that Aussie Shiraz like beer. So the problems of drinking too much too fast – public disorder, private agony, illness, misery and working days lost have increased.

Step forward Theresa May and her universal solution – minimum pricing. There is some evidence that this will help in some areas, but this is a measure designed to hit one section of society, the working class and unemployed. Yup, it’s the plebs and chavs again – as if the only problem with alcohol could be encapsulated in a single episode of Shameless. Of course, “reasonable”, “average” (that would be middle and upper class) drinkers will not be affected by this measure.


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UKIP will take votes from Labour as well as the Tories in Rotherham today

29/11/2012, 07:00:18 AM

by Peter Watt

There is one aspect of the UKIP Rotherham storm that I have found intriguing and that has, for the most part, passed largely without comment: the foster carers who were at the heart of the story were former Labour voters.

And yet this on the face of it belies the presumption that UKIP is a problem for the Tories.  Psephologically speaking of course, it does seem that for the time being at least UKIP has taken voters from the Tories.

It is why Michael Fabricant MP said the unsayable this week by talking of Conservative electoral pacts with UKIP.  But psephology alone is surely only half the story because scratch the surface of the assumptions about UKIP and there are some others bout who votes UKIP and why.

One of the main issues is that those of us who suffer from an obsession with politics still tend to see politics on a linear ‘left-right’ spectrum. This means that we could sit in a bar and quite quickly group policies as “left” or “right” with a high degree of consensus amongst ourselves.

So broadly, parties on the left are in favour of bigger government and those on the right smaller government.  Parties on the left are in favour of the state directly delivering help to the poor and those on the right are more supportive of community and self-help options.  And so on; and depending which party you are from would depend as to whether the broadly left approach or broadly right approach was seen as a positive or not.

Even though in reality we know that it isn’t in fact this simple, it is a stereotype that we instinctively feel is broadly right.  And we think this because it complies with our worldview as Labour activists.  And the same would be true for political activists generally.


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The rule of law is more important than unbridled press freedom

28/11/2012, 06:46:03 PM

by Mark Stockwell

Like cornered cobras, journalists and editors have been baring their fangs in recent weeks to put pressure on the government to reject the statutory regulation of the press most now expect the Leveson report to recommend.

This is only to be expected – their way of life is being called into question.  Even those newspapers usually so quick to dismiss ‘producer interest’ are suddenly spouting every self-serving rationalisation as to why their industry should be uniquely free from interference.

Let me be clear – I hold no brief for statutory regulation of the press. Instinctively, I favour self-regulation. And I accept that the press is different from other industries, that having an open discourse of ideas and opinions is part of the lifeblood of parliamentary democracy. I get it, I really do.

But it is wholly unacceptable for an editor to state, as Fraser Nelson of the Spectator did on Wednesday, that he will not abide by the law.

Before he has even seen what Leveson proposes; before the government has come forward with its response; before the democratically-elected parliament has had a chance to consider and debate the proposals, Nelson has taken it upon himself to declare his publication and, by extension, his profession, above the law.


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Despite everything, Labour will win in Rotherham tomorrow

28/11/2012, 05:32:32 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Labour will win the Rotherham by-election tomorrow.

To paraphrase George Orwell, that’s a revolutionary prediction in a time of angst for the party in what is usually thought to be a safe northern heartland.

A perfect storm of hostile circumstances surrounds this election, from the botched selection of the party’s candidate through to last weekend’s train wreck issue when a foster couple in the town, who happen to be members of UKIP, had three children removed from their care – with 20 minutes notice.

But these are trifles compared to the deeper issues affecting the town – and the election.

It is of course set against the revelation of a systematic problem of child-grooming by mainly Pakistani men in the town. Specifically, the indolence – and therefore complicity – of public authorities in Rotherham who knew of the problem and failed to act out of a misplaced sense of not wanting to inflame racial tension.

And, not to be forgotten, there’s the actual reason for the by-election in the first place: the resignation of Denis MacShane, in disgrace, after the Commons’ standards and privileges committee pilloried him over his expense claims.


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The short Gaza conflict has shone a light in Labour’s dark corners

28/11/2012, 03:25:25 PM

by Rob Marchant

The attacks on both sides have ceased in Gaza and southern Israel and the death tolls have ceased to mount – a sure-fire way to get the issue off the news bulletins again – and an uneasy truce holds. For now.

But, during those eight days, the focus of popular attention briefly fell on what is probably, for the vast majority of its citizens, an issue at the very margins of their daily thinking. Even many of those interested in international affairs have simply given up trying to understand the complex debate on the territorial and governmental rights of Israel and Palestine, or simply feel “a plague on all your houses”. And that is for those who think about it at all.

Except one group of citizens, of course. The political class: not necessarily politicians, but that odd and strangely passionate group, those actively involved in politics. If you are reading this, you are very likely one of them. Everyone has an opinion.

What has happened on the British left during this short period, therefore, is that the somewhat strange, yet long-held, views of some of its members have suddenly had a public airing, where no-one would normally even listen. Often all the complexity of the Israel-Palestine situation, with respectable arguments on both sides for ends if not means, has been reduced to the infantile football-terrace chanting of “my side’s right, your side’s wrong”; and oh, what a revealing set of quotes it has provided.

“We do not hate Jews. We hate Zionism,” shouts George Galloway, seemingly feeling that he really needs to make it clear, speaking to a somewhat disturbing (watch it here) Bradford rally, flanked by two large Palestinian flags. So that’s alright then. Not Jews. Just Zionists.

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Preview: Tony Blair’s speech on Europe

28/11/2012, 07:00:03 AM

by Jonathan Todd

While Andrew Rawnsley reports that Ed Miliband’s speech to the CBI on the EU “leant heavily against a referendum”, Peter Mandelson recently wrote in the Financial Times that a referendum is “inevitable”. Today Tony Blair will deliver a speech in which he will argue for Britain “to be at the heart of the EU”.

For decades Labour has been pro-EU, while being vague on the role of the EU in securing our goals. Imprecision is increasingly inadequate in a fast moving debate.

Is Miliband ducking a fight that Mandelson thinks is inevitable? Will Blair’s intervention encourage Miliband to be bolder? But what exactly does he mean by “the heart of the EU”? In the Euro and the EU banking union or just leaving the door open to British membership at some stage?

It has been clear from early in this parliament that Europe would be more central to it than throughout the Blair/Brown government. But many unanswered questions remain for Labour. As they do for the Conservatives.

Michael Fabricant, dashing vice chair of the Conservative party, has given Nigel Farage an enhanced platform, much as the leadership debates in the last election brought Nick Clegg to a wider audience, by floating the idea of an electoral pact between his party and their “brothers” in UKIP.

Being a more sensible politician than Fabricant, Farage is holding out for as much as possible. He was on the Daily Politics on Monday; fully twelve hours after Fabricant went public with his cunning plan. He wanted an apology from the prime minister for his comments on UKIP following the Rotherham fostering farrago – a strong showing from UKIP in the Rotherham by-election will help Farage and the fostering issue plays into his hands. He was also pushing Tory troublemakers in the direction of Michael Gove, the member of the cabinet seemingly most sanguine about the UK leaving the EU.


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Labour history uncut: the LRC finds its feet

27/11/2012, 05:56:40 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

After the 1900 election, the Labour representation committee had managed to get two MPs into parliament: James Keir Hardie and Richard Bell.  Not a huge number, but at least they could hold party meetings on the omnibus to work.

Whipping was a much simpler affair too. No need to issue papers every week, Richard Bell just had to make sure that, when they went through the lobby, he was holding Keir Hardie’s hand.

For his part, Hardie was returning to parliament for the first time in five years. The time away had not dented the sense of proportion and willingness to compromise that had served him so well the first time round.

Early in 1901, he put down a motion calling for legislation, “inaugurating a Socialist Commonwealth founded upon the common ownership of land and capital, production for use and not for profit and equality of opportunity for every citizen.”  It would have included a free puppy for everyone too, but there wasn’t enough room on the order paper.

Hardie laid out his proposal to the commons.

‘”Who’s with me?” he asked.

“I am,” cried Dickie Bell.

“Anyone else?”



The parliamentary equivalent of taking a shot on goal from kick-off had failed. Shocker. Clearly it was time for the LRC to get over the excitement of being in parliament, and face some difficult facts.

“You, at the back. Perhaps you’d like to share what’s so funny with the rest of the mob?” Keir Hardie addresses the crowd.


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