Archive for November, 2012

Bristol’s Labour councillors have been undermined by a blinkered NEC

27/11/2012, 12:20:17 PM

by Ben Mitchell

A farce and an embarrassment is how I’d describe recent events in Bristol. In under a week, Labour have managed to score not one, but two own goals. All coming off the back of the election on November 15th of the city’s newly elected mayor, George Ferguson, the independent candidate.

From the moment he took office, Ferguson has called for a “rainbow coalition” to sit in his cabinet. Based on the election results, he vowed to fill it with three Labour councillors, one Tory, one Lib Dem, and one Green. A city beset by years of political squabbling and inertia was finally going to put Bristol first. Indeed, the city has felt just that little bit more upbeat, hopeful that this time things will be different; a mayor, with bite, and the power to get things done.

Well, that was the fantasy, anyway. Labour has shut the door on the chance to be a part of Ferguson’s cabinet. Last Wednesday evening, Bristol Labour party members gathered to reflect on defeat, and to look ahead to the future, where it was to decide on whether the party should accept a role with the new mayor. A vote was taken, where much to my dismay but not surprise, most members voted against entering into coalition rule. I was at this meeting and voted in favour.


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The Tories would have to be mad, literally mad to cosy up to UKIP

27/11/2012, 07:00:49 AM

by Mark Stockwell

“Political correctness gone mad.” That’s what they’re all saying about Rotherham Council’s decision to remove three children from their foster parents because they had joined UKIP. In this instance, sadly, it seems they may have a point. Now it seems a fair few Conservatives are also intent on beating the well-trodden path to political insanity.

UKIP can clearly expect to do very nicely out of the foster-care furore.

As chance would have it, the good people of Rotherham go to the polls on Thursday to choose a new MP. Normally this would be a shoo-in for Labour – the town’s former MP, Denis MacShane, won with a handsome 5-figure majority over the second-placed Conservative in 2010 – but the circumstances in which MacShane was forced to stand down have left a nasty taste in the mouth.

There has been a controversy in Rotherham lately after the ill-starred local authority asked staff to bring their own IT equipment to work in an effort to cut costs. It turns out they could just have popped into see our Denis in his office, made him a few cups of tea, and walked away with one paid for by the taxpayer after all.

Now the storm over the three foster children means UKIP is ideally positioned as the party of protest against mainstream politics, especially in a town where it’s hard to see the party’s stance on immigration costing it too much support outside the council’s social services department.


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We need to strengthen, not break, the union link

26/11/2012, 02:05:03 PM

by Ian Stewart

On the twentieth of November Mark Ferguson over at Labour List published a good article in support of the 150 workers on strike in Swindon in the Carillion/Great Western hospital dispute. It was posted on the same day that saw these workers and their elected GMB union representatives demonstrating and lobbying in London. It was a fine piece, arguing the case of a group of mainly women, mainly Goan employees who have been subjected to bullying, blacklisting and attempts to buy them off over a period of time going back to at least 2007.

The trouble was that the strike is now in its eleventh month. So where were the posts on Labour List, Left Foot Forward, Labour Uncut or any other mainstream site over the past year? Those of us who write and contribute to left wing political blogs can be accused of many things – hypocrisy, hair-splitting, hyperbole – but one thing which many of us need to own up to is all too often ignoring the trades union struggle, that is until conference time.

Aah yes, conference season, when we can all rely the usual suspects to explain to us lesser mortals exactly why unions are a bad thing, and being linked to them will lose us the next election. I am sure that the posts are already written for 2013, with “insert union leaders’ name here” blank – hey, it never gets old does it?

Only it does, it gets very, very old very, very quickly, especially if we are trying to broaden and strengthen our support across the country. Especially as we are trying to turn away from doing things in the old stale ways. For example, consider Arnie Graf and his report – you know the one that was so good, so visionary that I am not allowed to see it. Now one of his main ideas is that we as party members need to be much more firmly rooted within our communities, and to be fostering leaders, rather than sheep for central office to order about. All well and good, but amongst the church groups and community associations, can we please consider those mass membership organisations that foster leadership and self-confidence amongst working class people? If you have forgotten what they are called the name is TRADES UNIONS.


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An insider’s view of the Bristol mayoral election

26/11/2012, 07:00:31 AM

by Amanda Ramsay

Defeat in the mayoral campaign is hard to take. Labour fought a clean campaign, but lost to a so called “independent” candidate”, George Ferguson, a colourful local business man (famed for wearing red trousers) who stood on a seemingly contrived non-party political platform, despite being a Lib Dem member until August of this year.

We’re all entitled to change our minds in life, of course, but Ferguson made much of rubbishing the Labour party, our manifesto pledges and party politics itself; despite being a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate and councillor. He ran a distinctly anti-Labour campaign, especially in the final week, presumably because Labour had the momentum and were perceived as the odds on favourite to win.

I’ve covered the mayoral debate all year, initially looking at the ten cities where there were May referenda, in terms of analysing the terrain and outcomes. Back in the spring one Labour MP told me: “Tories recognise that mayoral elections can turn into personality-driven/anti-politics contests, it’s a desperate attempt to undermine Labour in the core cities.”

This has certainly proved the case in Bristol. Ferguson joined the fray with an already established city and media presence, with face and name recognition amongst the chattering classes, city and regional journalists.

The prime minister said he wants a “Boris in every city” – a reference to London mayor Boris Johnson. But other cities fought hard against a Tory-led government, seen as trying to destabilise Labour dominance in metropolitan cities. The likes of Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham were having nothing to do with it.

Bristol may well have its own Boris now, after all Ferguson literally launched his campaign in a circus, but what next?


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Sunday review: “Populism in Europe and the Americas: threat or corrective for democracy?” by Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser

25/11/2012, 08:00:25 AM

by Anthony Painter

Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, has granted himself sweeping new constitutional powers over the constitution, democracy and the legal system. Hugo Chavez did the same in Venezuela and suppressed political opposition and voices of dissent in the media. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, has changed voting rules and given himself power over the judiciary and a wide range of protections against legislative change unfavourable to Orban – constitutionally enshrined.

Ideologically, Morsi, Orban, and Chavez could not be more dissimilar: a political Islamist, a socialist, and a radical conservative. Something does link them though: they are all, in different ways, populists. Straight away we enter the realm of confusion. Populism has become a dirty word, synonymous with impulse, emotion, charisma, authoritarianism, fundamental institutional change and destruction of minority rights. From Morsi, Orban and Chavez it can be seen as some if not many of these things but it’s something even deeper than that and where there is democracy then there is populism – yes, even in the case of the UK as we shall see.

Cas Mudde and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser take a look at the impact and nature of populism in their important new work, Populism in Europe and the Americas. In this edited volume, experts look at Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Austria, Venezuela, Peru, and Slovakia. They might well have added the tea party in the US and euroscepticism in the UK for they define populism as a battle between “the pure people” and “corrupt elites.” In the case of the former, the “corrupt elite” is, of course, Washington and the Wall Street. For eurosceptics they are “eurocrats” or ECHR judges and all who conspire with them.


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The runners and riders for Bristol North West

23/11/2012, 10:20:53 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

The recent controversy over the Rotherham shortlisting shone a very critical spotlight on the candidate selection process within the Labour party, but no such drama is reported from the current contest in Bristol North West, which concludes this weekend. The three hopefuls are Simon Bowkett, Keir Dhillon and Darren Jones.

The search to find Bristol North West’s next prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) started amidst a long mayoral campaign that gripped Bristol Labour party for five and a half months. Disappointing election results from last week still hang heavy in the air, so lifting members’ morale will be one of the keys to success in 2015, maintaining a match fit team, capable of turning around a 3,274 Tory majority.

Currently represented by Tory MP Charlotte Leslie, one of the beneficiaries of Lord Ashcroft’s millions, back in the pre-2010 general election, Bristol North West saw Labour slip to third place back then.

Former Conservative Party deputy chairman, Ashcroft has recently become the new co-owner of Northcliffe Media, the regional publishing arm of the Daily Mail group, which publishes Bristol’s evening paper, the Post; worrying for local representatives and candidates, keen to have their voices heard through the local press.

On the recent elections Simon Bowkett has this to say: “Last week’s Parliamentary by-election results were very encouraging – a similar swing in 2015 would see Bristol North West return to Labour. Yet the disappointment of the mayoral election shows we can take nothing for granted in Bristol.”

An Exeter Councillor for nine years, Simon works in the voluntary sector. His campaign buzz word has been very much “community”: “Our turnout was very low in core areas and we have much work to do to re-engage with those communities, to build relationships. My background in community development will enable me to lead on this work, to move voters to being supporters, and supporters to being members and activists,” he promises.


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Whisper it quietly, the government maybe about to back Leveson

23/11/2012, 10:32:09 AM

by Atul Hatwal

So now we know, it’s next week. Lord Leveson will finally publish his long delayed report on Thursday 29th November, complete with recommendations on the future of press regulation.

For many months now, the conventional Westminster village wisdom has been clear: Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg will back the report while David Cameron will demur.

The prime minister will kick the report into the long grass and accept the public’s opprobrium because (a) backing the newspapers’ position will guarantee better coverage for his government as the next election approaches; and (b) most people already think the worst of him on this issue with few swing voters likely switch their allegiance on the basis of press regulation.

But, as Lord Leveson’s report goes to the printers, this wisdom is looks increasingly askew. It fundamentally misreads the credibility of the newspaper owners’ blandishments and threats – and the evidence suggests number ten knows this.

The owners might privately brief the government in warm terms about better coverage tomorrow if Leveson is blocked today, but word are cheap; would they really follow through?

There is a deep scepticism within number ten that the attack dogs of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Sun will meekly roll over and give the government a pass for the next three years.

A story is a story and in the cutthroat competition of the newspaper market, few will refuse the opportunity to hurt the government if it drives sales.  At the margins, perhaps some stories might be soft pedalled, but collectively supressing major news would be commercially counter-productive.


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Labour history uncut: Labour fights its first election

22/11/2012, 03:30:22 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

The 129 delegates’ votes were counted at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon. Keir Hardie’s motion had been carried and a new movement was born.

The squabbling assortment of socialists and union representatives that had trooped into the hall that fateful morning on the 27th February 1900, had decided to come together to form “a distinct Labour group in parliament”.

There was little time to waste. The working class was in need and now they had a new, thrusting champion, ready to tackle the iniquities of the late Victorian world. It was time for action.

So they formed a committee.

The Labour representation committee (LRC) to be precise, comprising 2 members of the Independent Labour Party, 2 members of the Social Democratic Federation and 7 union members.

Well, you can’t just rush into things can you? A political meeting without a committee – that’s just anarchy.

In the beginning, membership was relatively limited and funds even more so.  Quite how tight the finances were is indicated by the party’s choice of Ramsay MacDonald for their first secretary.

Why did they choose MacDonald? His vision? His passion? His integrity?

No. It was his wealthy wife.

Thanks to the income of Margaret MacDonald, Ramsay was able to work for nothing more than a subsidised sandwich at lunchtime and a stack of Labour representation committee business cards.

Ramsay MacDonald was, in fact, the Labour party’s very first intern.


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Five reasons why the future of the left is local

22/11/2012, 12:57:49 PM

by Graeme Henderson

Localism has emerged as the poster boy of new policy ideas. For instance, the recent Heseltine review, a report on UK competitiveness, could easily be misread as a report on localism. Following similar themes, the publication of IPPR North’s northern economic futures commission final report this coming week will set out how devolving more power to the north of England could help it prosper. All of the main political parties are cautiously warming to localism and its benefits. The caution is understandable as it effectively means national government rendering itself less powerful. However, for those of on the left, the problem is more fundamental: simply put, is localism merely a byword for the dreaded postcode lottery? This is an unfair assessment of localism, yet it is one which is still persuasive on the left.

It is time for us to view the left as the natural home of localism. Localism, after all, means bringing power closer to the people, empowering communities and, when done right, more meaningful democratic accountability. There are several reasons why the left should embrace localism. If you’re still sceptical, keep on reading.

1. We already have a postcode lottery, let’s at least make it accountable

What is important is that local areas receive a fair proportion of public funding, not that funding is delivered (or even raised) centrally. Identifiable public spending per head, excluding social protection, is £6,647 in London, but only £5,385 in the north east. For Yorkshire and the Humber the figure is just £4,841, and yet studies have shown that the higher level of public expenditure received by London does not correspond to objective measures of need.

The regional disparities are even starker for transport infrastructure spending. Failing to adequately invest in vast swathes of the country affects the poor and disadvantaged most. Research shows that the high-skilled labour pool is far more mobile than those with lower skill levels. The most able or those with financial backing can move to wherever the jobs are. If London hoovers up the lion’s share of talent – people educated across the UK – and also public and inward investment, the regions suffer. Such extreme centralisation focused on London and the South East can only result in long-term damage to the national economy. Localism can help give local people a voice when their areas are being overlooked, and by extension, rather than hindering equal opportunities,  it can help to ensure that people get the same chances, wherever they happen to live..


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Uncovered: a secret memo to George Osborne

22/11/2012, 07:00:57 AM

by Peter Watt

I can’t tell you how this came into my possession but the following memo was found on a photocopier in Westminster yesterday.  The send field was hidden.*


To: Rt Hon George George Osborne

Date: 20/11/2012


Turning around our current polling situation

George, as you know the Labour party think that they have the next election in the bag.  They think that the public have pretty much decided that the government is a busted flush.  They think that what has undoubtedly been a pretty appalling year for us has sealed our fate.  Privately they accept that Miliband has a way to go before he’s seen as a prime minister but think that our self-inflicted wounds (if we are honest, our incompetence and successive blunders) will mean that he is given an easy ride through to the election.  And that ultimately our unpopularity will overcome his shortcomings in the minds of voters.  But as I have said to you, I actually think that not only are they wrong, their confidence in the face of their substantial poll leads will prove to be their undoing.

In essence I think that that whilst the Labour party undoubtedly has a lead at this stage, its position is exaggerated by the positions of the Lib Dems and UKIP.  It is virtually certain that the Lib Dems will rise in the polls before the election and in all likelihood will poll in the high teens on election day.  Equally, whilst Farage and co might do well through to the Euros they will fall away as we near the election.  If both of these are correct then the true polling position is considerably closer.  In other words the Labour lead can be overcome.  Of course, that does not mean that we do not need to regroup and fast.


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