Archive for February, 2013

The runners and riders to succeed the pope

11/02/2013, 04:00:02 PM

It might not be a form of politics that the Westminster village is familiar with, but the papal succession is nevertheless pure politics.

There are factions, rebels, personality clashes and fickle electors a plenty. Behind closed doors debates rage about how to maximise reach in new markets like Africa and Asia, turn back the opposition in these markets (that would be Islam) and how to rebuild a declining base in Europe. The economy and global austerity could even influence the selectorate of cardinals.

At this early stage, the choice seems likely to be forward looking. So it will be a new generation that takes the papal helm – “new generation” in this case meaning someone in their early 70s rather than knocking on 80. But don’t expect a liberal choice, the conclave of Cardinals that elects the pope has been packed with conservatives over the past years and doctrinal orthodoxy will be one of the entry level criteria.

So who are the runners and riders to succeed Benedict? Here are three to watch.

Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier, Archbishop of Durban – the media candidate

At the time of the last succession in 2005 there was much talk of the potential for a black pope. Back then the Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze was the leading candidate, but the mood of the papal conclave was too conservative. Now 81, Arinze is seen as too old and Cardinal Wilfred Napier (72) is this year’s great black hope. From a media perspective, interest in an African pope would be intense and expect to see stories in the coming days heralding to the Catholic Obama.

Napier is known as passionate advocate of social justice, going so far as to oppose a papal visit to South Africa in 1988 as legitimising the apartheid government. But he is also the driest of dry on the Catholic touchstones of contraception and abortion. He is a resolute backer of church orthodoxy on the use of condoms in preventing AIDS

Napier’s main rival from Africa is likely to be Cardinal Peter Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana. Turkson has similar beliefs, but controversially, authored an economic critique of the world financial system in 2011 that called for the establishment of a global public authority and a “central world bank”. All fine ideas, but unlikely to find favour with many governments or the important American market.

Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice – the Italian

Of course, there’s got to be an Italian. If the papal conclave wants to play it safe, Cardinal Scola (72) will be a hot favourite. The Italian lobby will already be pointing out there hasn’t been a local pope at the Vatican since the 1970s and Scola has a good biography. The son of a truck driver, he could use his formative experiences in post-war austerity Italy to lay claim to understanding the current concerns of working people around the world.

Scola’s scholastic interests in trying to find a way to avoid a “clash of civilisations” would position him well as a concilliatory sounding champion in the global competition for converts that is being contested with Islam. He also has impeccable organisational pedigree – three of Scola’s predecessors as Patriarch of Venice have gone on to take the big job in the past 100 years: Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I.


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Labour’s bandwagon needs a shove

11/02/2013, 12:43:42 PM

by John Braggins

The first polls are out for the Eastleigh by-election and they give the Tories a three point lead over the Lib Dems, or the Lib Dems a three point lead over the Tories – depending on which poll you believe or how you interpret them.  I know from many years of campaigning that by elections have a special dynamic that means early polls often turn out to be deceptive.

Veteran Lib Dem campaign supremo, Lord Rennard, ennobled, it is said, for his services to the dark art of by-election campaigning, says the Labour vote is there to be squeezed in a “classic two-horse race.” Where have we heard this before?  Well in every Lib Dem leaflet penned by Chris Rennard, at every by-election since the Liberals won Bermondsey in 1983.

In the past this was a largely successful ploy as the LibDems have always claimed they were neither Tories nor Labour and if you didn’t like one or the other, then you could vote for them.  But that was the old politics and today things are very different – voters In Eastleigh can vote Labour precisely because they are not the Tories or the Lib Dems.

Now is time for Ed Miliband to step forward and show he has the vision and guts to pull-off an amazing by-election victory in this ex-railway town. And why not, all the components of an electoral bandwagon are in place.

Tory candidate Maria Hutchings begun her campaign being forced to deny quotes from the past and quarrelling with David Cameron on Europe, gay marriage and abortion.

In 2005 she was quoted as saying “With an increasing number of immigrants and asylum seekers then the pot is reduced for the rest of us, Mr Blair has got to stop focusing on issues around the world such as Afghanistan and AIDS in Africa and concentrate on the issues that affect the people of middle England.” Undoubtedly Ms Hutchings could turn into a liability – her presence in Westminster would certainly send a shiver down the spine of David Cameron.

And with a nasty Tory campaign, if the early comments by party chairman, Grant Shapps, are anything to go by, that will upset the many decent voters of Eastleigh.


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Labour history uncut: Lloyd George topples Asquith as Labour sit tight in government

10/02/2013, 03:28:22 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

On the 13th November 1916 the battle of the Somme finally ended. Since its launch at the start of July, the British army had suffered 420,000 casualties to advance a grand total of 5 miles.

This rate of attrition revealed that the army’s brilliant “more men forward” approach would indeed get us to Berlin, just as long as we didn’t mind taking another 48 million casualties on the way.

A quick head count of the British population (46 million) led people to suspect the wisdom of this military strategy, despite the resolute self-confidence of generals.

Even Arthur Henderson and the Labour party, however much they tended to go weak at the knees for a man in uniform, had doubts. But as minor members of the government, there wasn’t a whole lot they could do. The sight of Labour men questioning the war effort could easily be mistaken for a lack of patriotism and they were getting enough criticism on that front already thanks to the barbs of Ramsay Macdonald and his anti-war chums.

Instead, Labour opted to stay quiet and look hopefully to prime minster Asquith for some inspiring leadership.


What they got instead in November 1916 was Asquith asking the cabinet to jot down any ideas they might have about what to do for “Herbert’s big book of war-winning notions.” As leadership goes, it wasn’t exactly “Once more unto the breach dear friends.”

Things got worse when Tory grandee Lord Landsdowne, did jot his ideas down. They weren’t exactly what Asquith was hoping for.

“[the war’s] prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it.”

He put this upbeat prognosis in a letter he offered to the Times, to perhaps publish for a bit of fun alongside the horoscopes and sudoku. The Times was appalled by what they saw as the anti-British letter and refused to publish it, as they believed any decent paper would.

The Telegraph happily ran it.

Lord Landsdowne shows the sunny demeanour that inspired his famous letter


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Labour’s new way of selecting parliamentary candidates makes a mockery of calls for more working class MPs

08/02/2013, 07:00:08 AM

by Peter Watt

Class is back on the agenda.  Bashing the posh “Eton” Tories has become popular again for many in Labour’s ranks.  Personally I think the “posh” attacks are pretty appalling.   But the Tories don’t really help themselves and I guess you could argue that they invited it with the “we’re all in it together” nonsense.  But it’s a long time since the Labour party was stuffed full of working class members or representatives.

Nope, Labour may not have quite the public school quotient of the Tories but our ranks are still drawn from a narrow pool.  We are pretty much wholly middle class and there are an awful lot of teachers and lawyers at most party meetings!  The same is true of our MP’s except that there are also a fair old number of political professionals from the ranks of trade unions and political advisors.

The party has though made some real strides over recent years in increasing the numbers of women.  There’s a way to go, but the progress is clearly good news.  And you’d think that the recent signals that the party was looking to diversify its ranks in Westminster further, by recruiting more working class MPs for instance, would be the start of further progress.  But I fear that it is in fact just hollow words that will come to nothing.

Those who really know the Labour party know that real power is in the hands of those who control the organisation.  And that means that you need to understand the rules and procedures.  Better still, mould them to your own ends.

It is why the Organisation Sub-Committee (Org Sub) of the NEC is the committee that every member of the NEC wants to be on.  And it’s why the Trade Unions fight so hard to make sure that they have plenty of reps on it and generally chair it.  You see, the Org Sub controls selections, discipline, the rule book and internal elections.  And the reality is, that it is the wording of the rules and regulations for the selection of Parliamentary candidates, approved by the Org Sub that determines whether fine words are translated into reality.


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Back to the future with GDH Cole

07/02/2013, 04:44:58 PM

by Jonathan Todd

How much left the room when GDH Cole stormed out of a Fabian executive meeting in 1915? More than you might imagine.

James M. Buchanan was born a few years prior to Cole’s exit and died last month. He tends to be celebrated by right-wingers, enamoured with a small-state, as his work on public choice theory supports scepticism in big government. Unlike Cole, such right-wingers have never been inspired to socialism by reading William Morris. Yet Cole’s doubts about the central state were as vehement as Buchanan’s.

Cole’s was a socialism with as small a central state as possible. Subsequent perceptions have tended to see socialism and the state as so synonymous as to make Cole’s minimal state socialism oxymoronic.

Those who remained in the Fabian executive meeting after Cole had left it would be relaxed about this association. Their aim was to capture the commanding heights of the state through democratic elections and have socialist politicians use the organs of the state to gradually transform society to socialism.

Tony Crosland’s The Future of Socialism (1956), the great revisionist text of post-war Britain, contained some caustic lines about Beatrice and Sidney Webb, the leading exponents of this dominant Fabian view. He mocked them for spending their honeymoon investigating Trade Societies in Dublin. It was their austere methods that he had in mind when he warned that: “Total abstinence and a good filing-system are not now the right signposts to the socialist Utopia: or at least, if they are, some of us will fall by the wayside.”

Crosland liked a drink and was right to put more emphasis on relaxation, fun and culture than the Webbs did: quality of life, in contemporary parlance. And right also to assert that in the blood of the socialist “there should always run a trace of the anarchist and the libertarian, and not too much of the prig and the prude”. This liberalism justified the reforms enacted by Roy Jenkins, another protégé of Hugh Gaitskell, as Home Secretary in the 1960s and distanced Crosland from the Webbs.

But the break made by Crosland with the Webbs was not as decisive as he thought. While being socially much more liberal than the Webbs, his dominant pre-occupation was equality and creating a more equal society through a comprehensive school system. The Bevanites with whom Gaitskellites, like Crosland, quarrelled in the 1950s put more emphasis on nationalisation, rather than equality, as the end of socialism. In so doing, the Bevanites were as attached to the central state and public ownership as the Webbs were.


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Whip’s Notebook: Who does the PM ask to find out what’s going on with his flagship equal marriage bill? The Labour whips

07/02/2013, 01:16:13 PM

by Jon Ashworth

If you want to find out what is going on in the Commons you ask a Labour whip, so said a Tory MP to the Labour whips’ office on the night of the equal marriage vote. While I can’t claim to know what is always going on I certainly know that the prime minister’s party management skills were again called into question this week.

This blog has already argued David Cameron’s modernisation of the Tory party is on its last legs. This week we had more evidence. On something that Cameron himself had decided was a touchstone issue, the majority of his MPs voted against him. In fact 136 voted no, 127 voted yes and 36 abstained. More starkly roughly 40 per cent of the “payroll” vote failed to back him – including nine out of fourteen in his own whips office – the very people who are supposed to enforce the will of the prime minister.

Of course the issue was a free vote but Cameron, Michael Gove, George Osborne and Theresa May were all out in force in recent days desperately trying to persuade their backbenchers to back the prime minister, and yet amazingly 70 per cent of Tory backbenchers ignored them and refused to vote the same way as the Prime Minister.

The free vote on Tuesday evening was on whether to give the bill its second reading and so the bill will now go off to committee to be scrutinised line by line before returning to the Commons and then the Lords. Immediately after these second reading votes the Commons also usually agrees a “programme motion” which timetables the bill though committee, a “money resolution” which agrees the relevant funds for the policy enacted in the bill and a “carry-over motion” to agree that the bill can be “carried over” to the next Parliamentary session should its passage not be completed in this session. The Commons often, though not always, agrees these motions without “dividing” i.e. voting on them.

But on Tuesday evening some Tory backbenchers were determined to cause as much trouble as possible for the Tory leadership and so forced votes on all of them.

And yet despite the scale of the vote against second reading, the Tory whips either were not motivated or caught unaware as to what would happen next. Perhaps it was a bit of both.


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Labour history uncut: More men for the meat-grinder please!

06/02/2013, 05:20:49 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

In January 1916, when Labour was wobbling over whether to stay in a wartime coalition that wanted to introduce conscription, prime minister Asquith had made a promise that his proposals would exclude married men.

Admittedly, just 7 months earlier, when the Labour party was wobbling about whether to join the wartime coalition in the first place, the same Asquith had said there would be no need for conscription at all. But surely this time Asquith meant it, having pinkie-sworn it and crossed his heart and hoped to die?

In April 1916, Asquith’s government brought forward a new conscription bill to call up married men.


This Australian war recruitment poster, handily doubles as a Soho cinema listing

After the usual “we do. we don’t.” hokey cokey from Labour on whether to support the bill, the leadership of the unions swung decisively behind the measure.

And so the bill passed with fulsome Labour backing.

Conscription had been (and continued to be) a difficult issue for Labour,  and the party may have changed their minds more frequently than they changed socks, but in one sense it was just a symptom of a more deep seated problem: the position in the war.

Bloody stalemate on the continent was devouring Britain’s resources. It had made conscription necessary and the resulting manpower shortages were fomenting rebellion within the Labour movement against the leadership.

In March 1916, shop stewards at Beardmores engineering works on “red Clydeside” in Glasgow went on strike in objection to the “dilution” of labour. This involved semi-skilled labour and unskilled labour, and often, god forbid, women being used to fill roles normally occupied by skilled labour. It enabled the skilled labour to be freed for more important activities, such as getting blown up at the front. (more…)

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The far left has gained entry at the top of the Labour party

06/02/2013, 01:24:28 PM

by Rob Marchant

While the latest controversy surrounding the Socialist Workers Party shows that we all still have an odd, vicarious interest in the goings-on of a fringe, far-left party – or as blogger Laurie Penny put it in an unintentional comedy moment, a party which contains “many of the UK’s most important thinkers and writers” –  we might just miss something less obviously scandalous but closer to home.

Three weeks ago, Ken Livingstone’s former chief of staff, Simon Fletcher, was appointed as trade union liaison manager to the leader’s office. A backroom role, it is there to manage the relationship between trade unions and the party and has the ear of the party’s leader and deputy.

While the Mail and the Standard, not really newspapers which understand the running of the Labour party, ran their predictable “Red Ed” headlines and tried to use the appointment, laughably, to attack Miliband for being a Trot in disguise, in the process they made one legitimate point which should concern us on the mainstream left. It relates to the so-called Socialist Action group.

Although most Labourites believe they know Livingstone, it is surprising how many of his supporters are still unaware of Socialist Action. For those requiring a brief refresher, the Trotskyite clique that spawned most of Livingstone’s advisers during his mayoral tenure is documented in an extract from his biography:

“[it is] so discreet and secretive that it does not even admit its own existence and its members will not confirm they have ever belonged to the group.”

The only member of Ken’s coterie listed on the group’s website appears to be Redmond O’Neill – who died in 2009 – although Fletcher’s and others’ associations with it have been documented by other sources, including said biography and former members. With Socialist Action, the emphasis, as the above quote indicates, is on plausible deniability, an old tactic of the far left frequently wielded by the former mayor himself (although, in his case, the word “plausible” may have often been stretched to breaking point).


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The conventional wisdom is wrong, David Cameron has been strengthened by the Tory rebellion on gay marriage

06/02/2013, 07:00:42 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Tory splits, MPs in open revolt and a beleaguered Conservative prime minister; it all seems rather 1990s. Labour tacticians are rubbing their hands in barely concealed glee. The political fall-out will be devastating, or so the conventional wisdom goes.

Weak leadership, political incompetence and an out of touch party do indeed dominate today’s news stories. And Labour does seem to be receiving a poll boost from this latest bout of Tory fratricide.

But David Cameron is not John Major, and in the medium term he will be strengthened by the rebellion.

Three points differentiate what happens next for the current prime minister from the fate of his Conservative predecessor.

First, the vote was won. Even with the Tory rebellion, this bill which David Cameron has staked so much upon, will become law. Yes, it was only won with Labour and Lib Dem votes, but to the general public this is a nuance: the prime minister emerged triumphant.

In the 1990s, the truly memorable occasions were when John Major was defeated.  Think Maastricht or VAT on fuel, few remember the countless near defeats where Major somehow squeaked through. A win is a win and Cameron will now have a genuine legacy achievement to point to.

Second, by taking on his party, Cameron has defined very clearly that he is a different type of Conservative to most of the rest of his colleagues. While many of his MPs do their level best to live up to the billing “same old Tories”, Cameron is vividly showing how he isn’t.

One of the mistakes the Tories made under both William Hague and Michael Howard was failing to understand how their stance on individual issues impacted the public’s overall view of the party.

Their obsession with Europe and immigration might have made for good day to day headlines, and been popular with sections of the electorate, but at election time, mainstream voters looked at the Tories and concluded that if they were this right-wing on Europe and immigration, then they would probably also privatise the NHS and laugh as pensioners starved in their freezing homes.

By taking a liberal stand on gay marriage, David Cameron has helped buy himself the benefit of the doubt from voters on all the other issues where they might suspect a traditional Tory.


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Don’t judge my family

05/02/2013, 01:49:34 PM

by Julianne Marriott

It is a truth universally acknowledged by troublesome elements of the Conservative party that men and women should get married, especially if children are involved, and that same sex couples should not.

In an attempt to appease those resisting (and in some cases resigning from) the party’s direction of travel, the Tory leadership has pulled a marriage tax allowance out of the hat. They are, they say, sending a signal that they understand the value of commitment by recognising marriage (and civil partnershps) in the tax system.

However, Cameron and Osborne, while finding the image of a land of fantasy fifties families alluring, are not actually as out of touch with the public as many on the left like to think. They have no ideological commitment to a marriage tax allowance. They know that it is not the job of the government to judge commitment. They also know that this policy will not help those families that most need it. But they need to be seen to go through the motions to keep their party together to fight the next election.

So the rhetoric begins. (more…)

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