Archive for November, 2012

Garden cities are coming home

21/11/2012, 07:00:18 AM

by Philip Ross

Although most of the big society thinking seems to have been put to the back of the cupboard, one idea seems to have survived -the idea of community ownership of assets. Boris had a section in his manifesto about community land trusts and the first London one was set in Mile End in July. To be fair, he seemed to get it, but elsewhere the Tories have tried to implement a bastardised form of it, basically withdrawing council funding from assets and asking the communities to pay for things themselves. Not quite the same thing.

Community land trusts (CLT), like that setup in Mile End, are a good thing and derive from two great 20th century British land movements which are the co-operative and garden city movements. You may think of garden cities as being very conservative places with high house prices that David Cameron has praised and wants to see more of.

But when the garden city movement was founded it was anything but conservative. For instance Krupskaya reported that while Lenin was in exile in London he attended garden city meetings and even stayed for a while in Letchworth the first garden city.

He said “Ilyich would listen attentively, and afterwards say joyfully: ‘They are just bursting with socialism!”’. This is in part because the first garden city – Letchworth – had as its social foundation stone the concept that the whole town would be community owned e.g. a community land trust.


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New unionism, not at all like New Labour

20/11/2012, 03:30:32 PM

Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal continue their look at the development of the unions and their role in founding the Labour party

By the mid-1880s, the establishment had got over the initial panic stirred by the emergence of unions. Civilisation had not collapsed and revolution, like coffee in tiny, tiny cups and the ability to pass a football for more than 30 seconds before launching it into orbit, remained strictly a continental phenomenon.

Even the arrival of a couple of actual, real live working class people in Parliament in 1874 hadn’t been too traumatic. From the vantage point of the Tory benches, the Lib-Labbers’, Alexander Macdonald and Thomas Burt, looked respectable enough and it made a nice change to have someone around who could do something about that squeaky door in the lobby.

The calm was not to last.

A new, angry, voice was about to make itself heard on behalf of the unskilled workers. This new unionism was exemplified by three significant groups: the match girls, the gas workers and the dockers

At the Bryant and May factory in Bow, East London, the workers were largely young women who were casual workers. This did not mean that every day was a dress-down Friday. It meant they worked 14 hour days for less than five shillings a week, and had even fewer rights than most other workers.  So less fun even than dress down Friday, then.

On the other hand, they did get to experience one of the period’s most advanced motivational programmes – a range of harsh, arbitrary fines for tiny infractions. For example, turning up late for work meant a fine of a half day’s pay.

On top of all this, the work itself was unusually hazardous. The phosphorous used to make the matches caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss. Worse still was phossy jaw, which may sound like a popular hip hop artist, but is actually a form of bone cancer. The whole side of the face would turn green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus. And then you died.

Even by Victorian standards, this was a bit much.

Annie Beasant and the match girls strike committee. Yes, they are judging you


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Can Ed find prime ministerial credibility in selling the case for Europe?

20/11/2012, 12:16:37 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Making a new case for an old ideal. In a nutshell that’s the job of all Labour leaders down the years. But Ed Miliband also thinks it’s the challenge for those who still see Europe as the solution to our national problems rather than the cause of them.

In his speech to the CBI yesterday he warned that fellow EU countries are “deeply concerned” because they sense Britain is “heading to the departure lounge”. A febrile mood on the Tory backbenches reflects the latent hostility among the British public with latest polls showing 56 per cent of Brits would vote to pull out if a referendum is held on the issue.

To his credit Ed stood firm against these siren calls saying he would not let Britain “sleepwalk toward exit from the European Union”. This is as strong an assertion of the importance of the EU as we have heard from any frontline political leader for some time. But even he only managed faint praise.

For he too recognises the EU’s focus is on the past not the future. It is still committed to propping up an insular, agriculturalist ancien regime rather than equipping Europe with the ability to withstand the challenges of the new century.

As he pointed out, farming subsidies still eat up 40 per cent of the EU budget while contributing just 1.5 per cent to economic output.  The focus should instead be on “public goods” for the EU economy like infrastructure, innovation and energy.

In a prescient section of his speech, he conceded that for the post-war generation, including his Jewish parents, “Europe was a murderous continent”. For them European unity was “a noble ideal” with the countries of Europe “seeking to put peace and prosperity in place of war and destruction through economic and political co-operation” (or in former SDLP Leader John Hume’s phrase, the EU is “the longest running peace process in the world”).


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Begrudgingly, Labour must accept police and crime commissioners

20/11/2012, 07:00:52 AM

by David Talbot

The police must no longer be immune to radical reform. A mighty vested interest, which has historically seen off just about all attempts to reform it, they have grown into a monolithic empire that successive governments dare not touch. It has been a failure of political will to pursue reform; Blair balked from many of the more controversial reforms his bellicose former home secretaries, in the shape of Messrs Blunkett and Clarke, conjured up. For Labour’s leaders, being pro-police was a vital ingredient of being New Labour. But the myopic faith our political leaders, and the public, once had in the police has sadly waned in the light of recent events – and it is why Labour should welcome the newly-minted police and crime commissioners

The police have long claimed the irrelevance of their political masters when it comes to policing. They have operated an arrogant closed doors policy that has intimidated, and dissuaded, many from engaging in their work. These reactions demonstrate that our police are systemically intolerant of debate and virulently closed to new ideas.

The police need democratic oversight. They are one of the most closed, complex and costly of public services. It is can only be right that the police are brought closer to the very people they are sworn to protect. The apparent immunity of the police service to wider accountability has been a distressing aspect of the service ever since the committees of councillors, members of the public and magistrates took over in the 1960s from local watch committees, which had existed since the 1830s.


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Sunday Review on Monday: Bill Clinton at policy network

19/11/2012, 07:00:52 AM

by Jonathan Todd

In the closing stages of the US presidential election Joe Klein voiced “the frustration that many informed voters have had with this race: Romney’s proposals for the next four years are ridiculous; the President’s are nonexistent … The vast majority of people in the vast majority of states are irrelevant to the process. The campaigns brag about their ability to microtarget voters. That is precisely what we’ve gotten: a whole lot of micro at a time when macro is sorely needed.”

Now that the Republicans have thrown all they could at Barack Obama, securing less popular votes for Mitt Romney than John McCain managed after the nadir of George W Bush and failing to deny the Democrats another four years in the White House, it seems almost churlish to revisit Klein’s moans.

But Bill Clinton brought them to mind last Thursday night at Policy Network and Global Progress’ launch of a major programme of transatlantic political dialogue. While full of praise for Obama’s hyper-efficient machine, which “knew the names of all undecided voters, the names of their children and their TV viewing habits”, Clinton stressed the continued importance of the macro vision that Klein felt was lost this year.

He argued that tough economic conditions set Obama a testing re-election challenge, meaning that he had to utilise every advantage, including micro-targeting of voters so precise as to outdo the slickest corporate campaigns. Progressives should, however, seek to hold the centre, as this will deliver a majority of support, irrespective of micro-targeting.


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Results this week show middle England is moving away from David Cameron

17/11/2012, 03:23:52 PM

by Michael Dugher

Yesterday’s Corby by-election victory for Andy Sawford was a significant result for Labour. It went well beyond our expectations, with a swing of 12.7 per cent from the Tories, which if repeated across the county in a general election would see a Labour majority of well over 100.

Corby is important as it is a key middle England seat and the result shows that people in the heart of Britain are putting their trust in Labour once again.  The Corby constituency is a microcosm of the country – with Corby itself, alongside small market towns and chocolate box villages.  Since its creation in 1983, Corby has been held and won by the party that has formed the government.  Labour won it from the Tories in 1997 and the Tories gained it in 2010.

Andy Sawford fought a one nation campaign, reaching out right across the constituency, persuading those who did not vote for us in 2010 to put their trust in Labour once again. That is exactly what Ed Miliband and one nation Labour is about – standing up for working families who are having their budgets squeezed, for young people who are out of work, and for those who are being ignored by a Tory-led government that thinks the priority now is to cut taxes for millionaires.

The government has tried to spin away the result as just people venting their anger at Louise Mensch for quitting half way through her term.  But that’s not what people were saying on the doorstep.  When I was out campaigning during the by-election, most people I spoke to hadn’t even heard of Louise Mensch.  But they had heard of David Cameron.  And they were angry with a government that is cutting taxes for millionaires while families across the constituency are feeling their incomes squeezed.


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Are Britons more comfortable with bureaucracy than democracy?

16/11/2012, 04:59:03 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The people have spoken.

Well some of us have. As the results from the police and crime commissioner elections trickle in, it will be a blessed relief if as many as one in five of us actually voted.

Of course some people were not just apathetic about the idea, but determinedly hostile; visiting the polling booth in high dudgeon – simply to spoil their ballot paper.

Here was a chance, as I argued yesterday, to bring some much needed accountability about how a vital public service is run. Might be a bit boring, or possibly abstract for some, but the hostility to the idea leaves me baffled.

Of course it’s not just the police commissioners. The dismal 18 per cent turnout in last night’s Manchester Central by-election reflects the same malaise at the heart of our politics. It is reckoned to be the lowest turnout in a parliamentary election since 1942, when just 8.5 per cent voted in Poplar South, (although I suspect the not insignificant combination of world war two and the blitz may have had some bearing then).

Even in Corby, scene of this afternoon’s significant Labour win by Andy Sawford, just 45 per cent voted. And that’s after a small rainforest’s worth of election leaflets and direct mails were shovelled through voters’ letterboxes.

It seems the old saying that ‘we get the politicians we deserve’ has never been truer. For a nation of inveterate moaners about how we are led we seem to readily pass up the chance to do anything about it.


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Forget the chatter, George Osborne’s power in the Conservative party is as strong as ever

16/11/2012, 07:00:01 AM

by Mark Stockwell

There has been a tendency lately in some circles – no doubt including many Labour Uncut readers – to scoff somewhat at George Osborne. Since the chancellor’s questionable (politically if not economically) decision to cut the top rate of income tax, there has been a sense that his influence is on the wane. In particular, there has been a lot of chatter to the effect that he can’t combine his position as chancellor of the exchequer with his role as the Conservative party’s principal electoral strategist.

This week’s op ed in The Times – “”Obama proves you can win in tough times’(£) – shows that both his opponents and his enemies underestimate Osborne at their peril: he remains the key strategic force behind Conservative modernisation. In conjunction with David Cameron’s well-received party conference speech – admittedly a rather short-lived success – the Times piece gives a clear indication that while the occupants of Nos. 10 and 11 Downing Street remain in situ, that agenda is still very much alive.

It was gratifying, of course, that the central thrust of the chancellor’s argument was to endorse that of my own piece on the US elections a couple of weeks back – namely that the Tories would be heartened by an Obama victory. As Osborne puts it, “People agree with the message ‘we’re on the right track, don’t turn back’ because it is correct.”

I hesitate to say ‘you heard it here first’ but…

While that central message confirmed the Conservatives’ strategy for the next election, there were two other particularly notable points about Osborne’s piece. These suggest that the chancellor is intent on continuing to lift his eyes from the red book and the latest economic projections, and take a rather longer-term view of the political landscape.


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Labour history uncut: “I’m alright Jack” say the skilled working classes

15/11/2012, 04:15:53 PM

Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal continue their look at the development of the unions and their role in establishing the Labour representation committee (LRC) in 1900

By 1866 the Tories had been out of power for 18 of the past 20 years and were pretty ticked off. What’s the point of being a Tory if you can’t lord it over the little people by being in government?

In the meantime working people had started to organise in earnest. Unions were springing up, Duncan’s horses were eating each other and civilisation was teetering on the brink of the abyss – at least as far as the landed gentry saw things.

Worst of all, there was pressure to extend the vote to the working classes. The Tories failed to see why anyone should be allowed to vote if they didn’t even have enough sense to be born into a wealthy family. But apparently, some people thought otherwise.

Throughout the 1860s various attempts by Liberals to broaden the franchise were defeated by a combination of Liberal splits and Tory opposition.

But it was only a matter of time.

In 1866 the Tories squeaked back into government as a minority administration. After so many years out in the cold, and with a toxic electoral brand, the Tories’ first moderniser, Benjamin Disraeli had a plan.

Previous approaches to voting reform had involved saying “no”, and then when pressed, shouting “NO!” much louder and storming out in a huff.

Core Tory supporters loved this approach and it always went down a storm in the House of Lords, which incidentally was where the core Tory support sat, literally. But, out in the electorate, enthusiasm was rather lacking.

Disraeli’s big idea was to stop saying “no” and start saying “sort of.”

It was going to happen at some point anyway, so the Tories might as well be the ones to do it. They could then claim the credit and still only implement low-calorie suffrage, thus averting the risk that the Liberals might implement something bonkers like votes for everyone. Those Liberals were crazy.

Disraeli, shortly after his appearance on "Pimp my Tory"

Disraeli, shortly after his appearance on "Pimp my Tory"


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Labour has missed a chance to be positive about police commissioners

15/11/2012, 01:42:29 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Well, here we are, the day when, if some pollsters are to be believed, fewer than one in ten of us in England and Wales will bother to trudge to the polling station and cast a vote for our first-ever police and crime commissioners.

It is fair to say that this is the most unloved choice put before the electorate since Herod offered Jerusalem voters a choice of slaughtering the first or second born.

It’s not just the prophets of doom among our number-crunching mystics who are predicting disaster. The hostile chatter across the media and British politics over the past year will make a low turnout today a self-fulfilling prophecy. I gave up going through the Labour website press release section looking for something – anything – positive that the frontbench has said about commissioners.

Yet the concept of elected police commissioners deserves a chance. A cursory glance through the independent report into the Hillsborough disaster shows why stronger oversight of our police service is so badly needed. South Yorkshire Police’s abuse of power, including running background and fingerprint checks on the dead as senior officers concocted their alibi and slur the victims, is what happens when the police have no-one able to frustrate their knavish tricks.

Chief constables enjoy almost feudal powers. Police authorities, which are supposed to act as a check and balance, are about as effective as the audit committee at Lehman Brothers. The conspiracy that resulted in the Hillsborough cover-up would not happen with a strong commissioner, ever mindful of public opinion, and ultimately personally responsible, refusing to be bowed by such evil intent.


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