Archive for December, 2012

If we are serious about growth, Labour should reject today’s banking commission report

21/12/2012, 01:58:28 PM

by Paul Crowe

Another day, another report telling us we need to be tougher on the banks. Today it’s the turn of the parliamentary commission on banking standards. In case you’re getting confused about which review is reporting now, this lot were set up by the government in response to the Libor scandal in summer.

The commission is a mish mash of MPs, peers and assorted others like Justin Welby, the soon to be archbishop of Canterbury. The top line of their report calls for the ring fence between retail and investment banking to be “electrified.” A vivid turn of phrase, yes, Helpful? Hardly.

For two years now there has been incessant legislative hand wringing about what to do about banking. The Vickers commission, the select committee and now this new banking commission, all speculating on the laws required to make sure the crash will never happen again.

Here’s a newsflash: ring-fencing and its associated regulations would not have stopped what happened in2007 and 2008 in the UK.

HBOS, Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley went down without having major investment banking divisions. Bad property deals are what brought down British banking.

Rarely has so much political and economic consideration been expended on laws that fundamentally fail to address the avowed purpose of the exercise.

If the net results of commissions such as this latest one were just a couple of forests felled to print hard copies of the final report, and some talking heads ventilating on the media, then the impact would be relatively harmless.  A waste of time, and some resources, but nothing to hurt the fundamentals of the British economy.

But this isn’t what has happened.


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Ed Milband is out of step with most voters on welfare reform

20/12/2012, 07:00:11 AM

by Peter Watt

If the economy is the central battleground of the next election then welfare reform looks like being one of the other key areas for the political combatants.  The chancellor’s Autumn statement made it pretty clear that he intends to make it a key wedge issue over the coming years.  And to make sure that we all got this, the Tories have released an online attack ad on the websites of local newspapers in marginal seats.

Click on the ad and you are asked your views on welfare reform by the Conservative party. Labour reacted with its own marginal seats campaign complete with outrage at the demonization of the poor and attempts to divide and rule between artificial notions of “strivers” and “scroungers”.

So both parties see the next election being about the cost of living; both see strategic weaknesses in the others approaches to those working on low to modest incomes and both now have drawn a line in the sand – the proposed below inflation 1% rise in most working age welfare benefits.

For the Tories this will help create a “welfare system based on fairness’” as the campaign leaflet to accompany their online ad makes clear:


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We must keep fighting the NHS reforms

19/12/2012, 04:51:46 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

I met with some very interesting campaigners last week in the west country, inspiring me with their tales of victory in overturning moves to privatise eight Stroud NHS community hospitals and health services (including 3,000 nurses and other health workers).

I was at their celebratory social and picked the brains of one of the campaigners, which should help me with my work. The lawyer was there who made their case possible. See for more information.

It is a tale of not accepting the hardships this government is trying to inflict on all who rely on the NHS for free health and social care services whenever they need them, not just now but until the day we all die.

In less than five years this government’s health reforms will no doubt see charges introduced for a GP appointment, maybe even charges to stay in hospital overnight. Yet I cannot recall anyone mentioning this to me on doorstep campaigning for the Labour party, or in social or family circles. People are either unaware of what lies ahead or maybe feel they cannot change things that are already in motion, I really don’t know.

My guess is most people really do not have a clue about these changes, about to become much worse when the government ushers in secondary legislation on competition, licensing and pricing. A clever but insidious way of detaching the marketisation of the NHS from the act itself: it is very difficult to over turn secondary legislation.


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Why isn’t Labour shouting about the success of the future jobs fund?

19/12/2012, 07:00:19 AM

by Dan McCurry

There was an interesting piece in The New Statesman by Rowenna Davis last week that examined the DWP report on Gordon Brown’s future jobs fund. Under this programme young unemployed people were given a guaranteed 6 months work at minimum wage and the DWP evaluation has found this policy had a net benefit to society, for each young person enrolled, of £7,750.

The writer contacted Ed Miliband’s office to ask for a view from the leader’s staff, only to be told that, “it still does nothing for those people who are in work on benefits.”

I see Ed Miliband as a man who has a great conviction that there is something deeply wrong and unjust about the system. He desperately wants to find the answer, but can’t quite put his finger on it. It’s as if it’s there, but just out of reach. It’s good to have a leader who wants to make a real difference, rather than aspiring to coast through a term in office. However, he does sometimes look like he is chasing rainbows at the expense of doing the job.

Rowenna’s experience tends to chime with a suspicion I’ve had in the past. I have an image in my mind of all the people around Ed Miliband desperately biting their knuckles, with the intense hope that they can find the answer, if only they can think deeply enough.


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Labour history uncut: party divisions deepen as Keir Hardie stands down

18/12/2012, 09:50:22 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

At the start of 1908, the Labour party was divided: visionary socialists on one side;  limited, practical union men on the other: two mis-matched groups forced to work together, like 1970’s undercover cops. Though fortunately in this case they did have more than 24 hours to solve the problems of global capitalism and centuries of inequality, before the DA took their badge.

With Keir Hardie away on an eight month cruise for his health, leadership of the MPs had fallen to PLP vice-chair David Shackleton, a union man and friend of the Liberals. Everything the party’s left disliked.

Shackleton was Keir Hardie’s opposite in almost every respect.

Keir Hardie was a powerful symbol of socialist zeal, particularly for the independent Labour party (ILP). He was unbending, principled and socialist to the core. The flip side of this was a lack of consultation with colleagues and a tendency to be so focussed on high-minded principles, he’d neglect the more mundane details, such as showing up to meetings on time.

Shackleton, in contrast was moderate, consensual, organised and just not that bothered about socialism.

Everyone loved David Shackleton’s Alfred Hitchcock impression

When Keir Hardie was in charge, the ILP and the left were prepared to give the party the benefit of the doubt and tolerate such impurities as the pact with the Liberals. With Shackleton running the show, it was a different matter.

In summer 1907, the discontent bubbled over in the form of a charismatic young man named Victor Grayson.


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Everything else is a sideshow to economic growth

18/12/2012, 07:57:19 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Once you start thinking about economic growth, as the economist Robert Lucas famously said, it’s hard to think about anything else. The British paradox, however, is that, while almost all policy questions come back to growth, our politics so lacks serious thinking and debate on growth.

In 2008 Barack Obama was the new kid on the block, Rafa Benitez and Fernando Torres were loved in Liverpool and reviled in Chelsea, and Gordon Brown was mid-premiership. It was a long time ago. Yet the British economy remains 3 percent smaller than it was then. The economies of emerging Asia, in contrast, are 30 percent bigger.

We recovered more quickly in the halcyon days of the 1930s. We have had our first double dip recession since 1975. We may still have our first ever triple-dip recession.

We are progressively poorer in real terms as inflation persistently outpaces growth. The less cake there is to share the quicker we are to point the finger at those who did not prepare it; whether these are global coffee chains that do not pay their taxes or “shirkers” that do pull their weight.

The longer the cake takes to bake the more austerity we are promised. It was meant to last until 2015 and now until 2018. We are halfway through this parliament and we have five years of promised austerity ahead of us – as we did at the start of this parliament. If growth does not improve and neither the doctor nor the medicine are changed then the current rate of progress and inflexible strategy will have us facing another full parliament of austerity at the end of this one.

In fact, current trends have us facing endless austerity. Without growth we can cut as much as we like and not reduce the deficit. The longer this persists the more invidious the spending choices will become. Only the organs of the state remain when cuts have already gone to the bone.


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We need to woo women voters to win

17/12/2012, 07:00:49 AM

by Sarah Rabbitts

A few weeks ago, the Labour Women’s Network held it’s political day, looking at how the Labour party can be a more electable party and the importance of women’s votes. As we come to the end of the year, the lessons from that day are worth reflecting on if we are to build on our current poll advantage.

Deborah Mattison, the founder and director of Britain Thinks, explained that Labour needed to target women because they are more likely to be concerned or affected by cuts to local public services and, crucially, are also more likely to switch party.

British elections are very different to the US Presidential elections in terms of scale and funding, but there are lessons in how to engage with women that we can learn from the Democrats. Merici Vinton, a former new media campaigner for the Democrats, advised Labour campaigners to respond to every email and social media post in order to engage with a high number of potential voters. It’s difficult to monitor and reply to everything because we have fewer resources in the UK, but this strategy makes sense.

The next general election will be fought using new media for the first time; we’ll have to embrace it and its ability to generate a two way conversation with voters. Josie Cluer, who’s on the board of North London Cares, acknowledged that the growth of twitter since the 2010 election has been immense: it’s grown from 3.5 million users, to 12 million users. However, Josie rightly argues that Labour’s twitter reach is limited if voters don’t chose to voluntarily follow our twitter campaigns. We need to be more creative with our use of new media. Labour needs to look at all the new media channels in the UK and how we can most effectively talk to different women’s groups through sites like, for example, Mumsnet.


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We must bring derelict properties back into use if we want to tackle rural homelessness

14/12/2012, 09:04:12 AM

Last month Penny Henderson won the “top of the policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s event in Kendal in South Lakeland. The winning proposal tackled the question of reducing rural homelessness

The right to a home is a basic human right. And a home in the community in which you have lived your whole life hardly seems too much to ask. Labour should stand for strong communities, whether these are rural or urban communities.

Rural communities need to know that Labour is with them if we are to be one nation. This does not need to be an empty commitment either. There are simple, practical steps that the party can commit to, which would make a real difference.

One such measure would be that the ownership of land and/or property derelict for a long period of time (e.g. 5 years) should revert to the local authority and be given over to affordable housing and/or council rented properties.

Gaining planning permission for new housing developments is often challenging in national parks but this should be less complicated in the context of these “brown field” developments. There are a surprisingly large number of properties that fall into this category.

Public authorities have the power to compulsorily purchase derelict land and property but it is rarely used and is legally complicated. The Labour party should make this procedure easier for local authorities.

While there is hardly any land available for new building in the Lake District, South Lakeland has “about 1,000 empty dwellings” (councillor J.Brook, housing and development portfolio holder, South Lakeland district council).


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Labour history uncut: Labour conference turns on Keir Hardie

13/12/2012, 01:50:02 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

The Labour party in 1906 had experienced some success, notably with the repeal of Taff Vale. However, the parliamentary party was divided between the limited, immediate goals of the union faction and the more visionary, nation-changing, red-flag-singing socialist contingent.

To focus on the practical and attainable, or attempt the wholesale overthrow of the capitalist system? That was the question.

“Or”, said Keir Hardie, “how about we forget that stuff and concentrate on women’s suffrage?”

Hardie was a committed believer in votes for women in general, and of the Pankhursts and their campaigning organisation (the women’s social and political union or WSPU) in particular.

Either that or he was pretending to be a “new man” to impress the chicks.

The suffragettes’ jack in the box was that year’s Christmas best seller

Hardie’s fixation managed to annoy both the union types and the socialists.

For the union brothers, personified by leadership contest runner-up David Shackleton, the issue of votes for women was a complete distraction. Workers were starving, unemployment was rampant and union rights under threat. Compared to these problems, female suffrage was little more than drawing room conversation for women in fancy frocks – a political After Eight mint.

For the socialist comrades, normally staunch supporters of the impeccably socialist Hardie, the WSPU were a) not radical enough and b) sounded like a sneeze (WSPU. Bless you).


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The party machines might not know it yet but political parties are dying

13/12/2012, 07:00:31 AM

by Peter Watt

Political parties are strange constructs where by necessity a coalition of views is encapsulated under one brand.  So you have the campaign group and Progress all sharing the Labour banner or left leaning Lib Dems sharing a party with the orange bookers and so on.

To put it even more colourfully, it means that Frank Field and Jeremy Corbyn can share the same political colours!  While there will be some shared world views of course and certainly a degree of shared culture and history, actually it is often more of a case of “vive la difference” or “damn your principles and stand by your party” depending on your view or current mood!  And the reason for this is that it is important for two very good reasons.

Firstly, when it comes to elections voters are offered a relatively easy to consume and unified approach from a small group of potential political alternatives.  Debates around the direction of travel and then the detail of policy happen within the parties in order that common policy stances can be offered to the public.

And secondly, that there is a reasonable chance of a stable administration being formed after the votes are counted.

There are other benefits of course.  Political parties have been excellent institutions at identifying and developing potential future political representatives.   They also allow a forum and focus for the discussion and development of policy positions as the wider environment changes.  All of this relies on party discipline and a desire for unity to work; and the system has generally served the country well for many years.  And at election times people have voted for their preferred party rather than their preferred candidate.

But slowly such certainties are changing.


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