Archive for March, 2013

Yes they’re right wing, but UKIP is not fascist

14/03/2013, 02:48:43 PM

by Kevin Meagher

David Cameron famously described UKIP members as a collection of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. But are they fascist too? This is the question being posed by campaign group Hope Not Hate.

It is asking its supporters whether their successful efforts at taking on the far right in the shape of the BNP and English Defence League since 2004 should now extend to UKIP ahead of next year’s European elections.

“Should we begin to oppose them or should we stick to extremist groups like the BNP?’ they ask on their website:

‘The case for opposing UKIP:

‘UKIP is increasingly taking an anti-immigrant tone and as anti-racists we cannot ignore that. They are whipping up fears over new immigration and as we approach next year’s European Elections this will even get worse.

“The growing support for UKIP is scaring the mainstream parties and it will push them to adopt more hard line policies on immigration and multiculturalism. We need to prevent this and offer a positive alternative to the politics of hate and division.

‘The case against opposing UKIP:

‘We might not like some of UKIP’s policies but they are not a fascist or far right party. They are embedded to the democratic system and have more in common with the right wing of the Conservative Party than the fascists of the BNP. And, despite their current anti-immigrant rhetoric, they are still basically a single issue party.”


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Our parties and politicians don’t understand how the world is changing

14/03/2013, 08:08:28 AM

by Peter Watt

There doesn’t yet appear to be an existential crisis at the heart of our political establishment but there quite possibly should.  Right across Europe from Germany to Greece and Italy there has been a rise in new, fringe and occasionally comic parties.  They are all benefiting from a sense of disenchantment with the established parties.

In the UK it was traditionally the Liberal Democrats that farmed the protest ‘none of the above’ votes but the advent of the coalition appears to have put a stop to that.  The result is the rise of other smaller parties – Respect in Bradford, UKIP in Eastleigh or a whole series of independents.  In fact increasing numbers are choosing to either not vote or vote for whichever other party or candidate is best placed to deal the establishment parties a bloody nose.

The political assumption appears to be that this malcontent has at its heart the prolonged economic crisis.  Financial uncertainty combined with an already rapidly changing world has meant that people are looking for an answer to an increasingly complex set of questions.  Where we used to assume that we would be better off in the future we now expect to be worse off and we worry for the economic plight of our children.  Following this logic through and when the economy upturns, then political business as usual will resume.  Labour and the Tories will battle it out for supremacy with Lib Dems battling for scraps or possibly further coalition.

The result of this assumption is essentially conservative; it is the politics of no change in how we do our politics.  The countdown has begun to May 7 2015 and the only question is which of the big two will be the largest party the day after.   Whilst others may be suffering from the economic situation or the rapidly changing world, the world of politics appears unaffected.

Candidates are being selected from those who have most faithfully played the traditional political game within each of the parties.  And the political cycle of conferences, budgets, parliamentary rebellions, briefings and gossip has not been interrupted one dot.  The political elite may feel a little battered reputationally but they are certainly not unduly concerned; patience will be rewarded with the maintenance of the status quo.


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Nick picks Ed over Dave. Leveson is coming.

13/03/2013, 03:49:17 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Leveson saga reached a turning point in the House of Commons at lunchtime today. As ever with that place, it was wrapped in the arcane minutiae of parliamentary procedure, but make no mistake it was pivotal.

Following the Conservative’s refusal to countenance enacting Leveson, pro-reform forces have looked to make amendments to existing bills to legislate for the majority of Lord Leveson’s recommendations. Principally, these amendments have been tabled for the Crime and Courts bill and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill.

The Conservatives have been privately panicked at the prospect of these amendments coming to a final vote in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Their whips have been warning the leadership for weeks that it is unlikely the Tories will be able muster the votes to defeat the amendments, and so prevent Leveson becoming law.

Late last night came a final throw of the dice. The Conservative whips tried to re-schedule Commons debate on the Crime and Courts bill amendments. Specifically, they tabled a welter of new amendments to the bill – 29 pages of them – and tried to specify that any debate of the Leveson changes would happen after consideration of the government’s new additions.

With a fixed limit of two days debate on the amendments, all of the Leveson provisions would have been lost.

This procedural attempt to remove the Leveson amendments was contained in something called a programme motion: a motion which sets the timetable for parliamentary debate and is itself discussed, and voted upon, on the floor of the House of Commons.

In response, Labour tabled an amendment to the programme motion that would have guaranteed time for debate of the Leveson amendments.

For the Conservative plan to work, they needed the co-operation of their Liberal Democrat partners to defeat Labour’s amendment to the programme motion.

It offered the Lib Dems a potential route to help out David Cameron without being seen to publicly renege on their commitment to support Leveson.

Until this lunchtime, no-one on either side of the debate knew conclusively how hard the Lib Dems would push their coalition partners on Leveson. When Lib Dem home office minister, Jeremy Browne, got up to speak at the despatch box, on the programme motion for the Crime and Courts bill, he implicitly answered the questions on the Lib Dem’s commitment to Leveson.


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Oh dear David

13/03/2013, 11:43:41 AM

Rarely has there been a more potent medium for political self-harm than twitter. That chirruping little app makes it so easy for our elected representatives to comment, so simple to give an immediate view that sometimes the brain cannot keep up with those furiously prestadigitating fingers.

Last night, while sitting distractedly in the House of Commons chamber, David Lammy gave the viewing public a little insight into his unmediated thought process. Observing the latest BBC tweet on the election process for the pope, he was outraged. What was all this talk of black smoke? And what? White smoke? This would never do. Onto twitter immediately:

That showed those purveyors of “crass and unnecessary” prejudice at the Beeb.


The comments soon started to pop up. Tentative explanations that the BBC tweet was about how the pope was selected. Others opined that maybe this was a rather wry joke by our battling hero.

David was soon back on, clarifying his position,

Ah, right. Cue the follow-up questions from the crowd. Some sought guidance on how to describe a chess board in a non-prejudiced way. Or a photograph that wasn’t in colour.

As the tweets piled in, David saw the error of his ways and owned up to his mis-tweet mistake.

In all, a comparatively minor episode, barely registering on the Aidan Burley scale of complete and utter tweeting disaster. But a salutary lesson nonetheless for MPs everywhere: when idling in the chamber choosing between your bird based apps, stick with the angry variety and give the little blue one a miss.

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Time for socialists to rethink the role of government

12/03/2013, 04:48:43 PM

by Robin Thorpe

In December 2011 I wrote a piece for Uncut on the subject of how we address the meaning of socialism today and in the future. In this piece I discussed the notion of solidarity and how Leo Panitch describes this as meaning “transcending diversity” and not merely collating groups of ethnically or culturally similar people. I was reminded of this article and a few of the comments by several recent events.

The first of these was a training course in which the trainer presented Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This made me think of the following comment by Amber Star;

“Here’s the dichotomy… the more successful a Labour government is in legislating for minimum wages, equality in the workplace, health & safety, maternity/ paternity leave, paid vacations & other workers’ rights, the less need there is for working people to join a Union &/or organise themselves”.

The fundamental basis of Maslow’s theory is that each of us is motivated by needs. “Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development” (

This notion has particular relevance in industry where employers can optimize the workers potential by ensuring that they have a secure standard of living, welfare etc and are therefore focused on doing their job. The other side of Maslow’s needs based model is that where systems of support that maintain lower order needs are removed, then an individual no longer has the motivation to achieve higher order needs.

This has particular resonance in the field of politics. Amber Star’s statement is superficially true but it misses the point that we need to maintain this safety net to enable us to succeed in life. Furthermore, successfully resolving these needs is not possible without collaboration.


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Warnings from the prophet Ashcroft

12/03/2013, 07:00:36 AM

by David Talbot

Does the Labour party still have a polling department? The party may not have the funds to do private polling on anything like the scale they have done in previous years, but frankly it may not need to. If Labour’s nice new offices on Brewers Green do indeed still contain a polling unit, no one could criticise them for doing almost exactly what the entire political establishment do, and wait for Lord Ashcroft to upload his latest PDFs.

His latest study is an authoritative account of what the British political landscape. It contains the hearty news that a majority of 84 is seemingly within the party’s grasp. But, alas, the good Lord’s work does not contain all good news for Labour– he is a Conservative, after all.

Ashcroft’s continued estrangement from the Conservative party has ironically served his greatest foe. The Daily Mail ran the curious tale of the peer meeting with Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election co-ordinator from the 2010 campaign. Seemingly, both sides have conveniently forgotten they spent years openly trying to destroy each other – indeed; many defeated Labour MPs owe their redundancy in large part to his finance. And yet again, many newly elected Labour MPs in 2015 may well owe a debt of gratitude.

The polling shows Labour advancing deep into Conservative held territory, with the very un-Labour sounding seats of Dorset South, Somerset North East and Chatham & Aylesford all returning to the Labour fold. Furthermore, a paltry 24% of respondents identified themselves as approving of the government’s record to date, whilst the same again said a Conservative government was their preferred outcome at the next general election.

Labour’s predicament is not as bad as that of the Conservatives in 1997 – for one thing, the party holds 258 seats, 93 more than the Tories’ apocalyptic total. But it does not follow that Labour will bounce straight back. From Jim Murphy’s warning of the rise of “Lazy Labour” – or the Toynbee tendency, depending on your rhetorical flourish – the party’s future depends on accepting why it lost, learning the right lessons, and making the necessary changes. From the research, the evidence shows any signs of doing so are at best mixed.


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Will Miliband face either Cameron or Clegg at the election?

11/03/2013, 03:24:31 PM

by Jonathan Todd

This weekend the fog of war descended on Brighton, central London and Grantham. It seemed to be thickest in Brighton where the Liberal Democrats met for their spring conference. Some think their enemy are the “self-appointed detectives” in the media. Others are convinced that their enemy is the party with whom they share government.

Orange-on-orange attacks are more to the taste of some: What did Nick Clegg know about Lord Rennard and Chris Huhne? And when? Is the party capable of avoiding electoral annihilation with him at the helm? Does he agree with George Osborne or Vince Cable on public investment? If Cable, where does that leave the commitment to immediate deficit reduction that supposedly lies at the heart of the governmental compact between their party and the Conservatives?

It’s not clear whether Cable’s abdication of this compact is a declaration of war with Osborne or Clegg. He’s undoubtedly taking collective responsibility and unrelenting commitment to deficit reduction on fleet-footed dances. In so doing, he wants to emerge with his now battered reputation for economic wisdom restored and his status as the heir apparent to Clegg renewed.

The sensible argument for the defenestration of Clegg is that the alternative is to reduce the Liberal Democrats to a parliamentary rump of cockroaches. His embrace of Cameron and support for increased tuition fees shattered public trust, so says the argument against him, which can never be regained. No masochistic radio phone-ins or relaunches are going to change this. Clegg, pace Jonathan Freedland and John Kampner, is a dead man walking and if he is not removed then he will drag his party down with him.


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For Labour, the hard work on immigration starts now

11/03/2013, 08:12:28 AM

by Anthony Painter

Why is Labour obsessing about immigration? Try the fact that – according to a recent Lord Ashcroft poll – two of the top three most salient issues are welfare dependency and controlling immigration. 32% and 20% of Labour supporters respectively favour the Conservative positions on these issues. No party that seriously expects to compete for office can fail to respond to public anxiety on these issues. Welfare and immigration are tightly linked in concern about the failures of the modern state.

Reponses to this have fallen into two camps: there’s not really a problem and there is problem and it requires a response. Ed Miliband falls into the latter camp.

The mistake the former camp makes is that it thinks that it can win the argument with numbers when this is an instinctive, cultural and emotional set of issues. So the fact that there is a net contribution by migrants to the public purse or that few migrants come here with the purpose of claiming benefits or free-riding on the NHS simply doesn’t cut through. Nor will it. The issue is not the quantum of free-riding but that the system allows it. There is also a broader sense that welfare has become simultaneously marginal so it benefits the few, out of control in terms of cost and fosters dependency. It is about fundamental institutional logic and many people see the welfare state – with the exception of child benefit and pensions – as something for other people at an exorbitant cost which we collectively shoulder.

More specifically on immigration, trust has broken down in our ability to control the flow of migration – particularly at the lower skill level. The fact that this may be to our broad economic benefit, improve public services, or better finance an ageing society or the national debt do not seem to counter-balance the anxiety over loss of control.

If your immigration and welfare systems do not have wide public legitimacy then you have a problem. That is the situation.


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Clegg says the Lib Dems are a party of government, so let’s judge them on their record

10/03/2013, 01:00:12 PM

by Michael Dugher

This weekend, Nick Clegg has declared that the Liberal Democrats are no longer “a party of protest” but are instead “a party of government”.  Clegg is keen to stress their record in government and to present the Lib Dems as somehow the custodians of fairness in the Tory-led government.  Indeed, Clegg recently asked people to judge the Lib Dems specifically on their “record of action” in government.  So it is their actions, and not their words, that Lib Dems must be judged on this weekend.

Partly Clegg’s plea to be judged on what they have done is a desperate acknowledgement that no one believes a single word the Lib Dems say anymore.  As I said to the Progress conference in Stoke Rochford on Saturday, in an era of unprecedented cynicism about politics, Nick Clegg has become the poster boy for a politician who routinely breaks his promises.

Before the election he warned about the dangers of a “VAT bombshell” – he then introduced one in government.  The Lib Dems pledged not to increase tuition fees – but then they voted to treble them after the election.  On Tuesday, Labour MPs will vote in the Commons in support of a ‘mansion tax’ – but now the Lib Dems are refusing to support the idea of a mansion tax on homes worth over £2 million, despite having previously said they would bring in such a tax.

And it’s not just Nick Clegg. Vince Cable has his own particular brand of duplicity. For Cable, being in government seems to be a sort of a out-of-body experience.  He gives interviews to the New Statesman and makes speeches to Lib Dem fringe meetings about what the government should be doing to bring back growth to the economy, whilst seeming to forget that he is in fact a member of the government.  Presumably Cable remembers that he is the Secretary of State for Business at the end of every month when his ministerial salary drops into his bank account.  But Cable looks increasingly like a joke figure.  As with his after the event claim to have been “sceptical” about the tuition fees policy (legislation that he himself pushed through Parliament), he cannot escape his own record.


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Labour must not be smug about bad economic news

07/03/2013, 07:00:54 AM

by Peter Watt

This time in two weeks we will all be chewing over the chancellor’s budget.  If the mood music is to be believed then we will not be reviewing a dramatic budget replete with economic flourish.  Rather it will basically be a restatement of the deficit reduction plan outlined in the coalition agreement.

There will in all likelihood be the addition of a few targeted tax breaks, some nod to infrastructure spending and some extension of the state backed business bank.  But basically no real change in approach.  However Osborne is no fool, so we can safely say that he will have something up his sleeve that will be the measure that he hopes will define his budget.

Presumably he and his team will do a better job of politically sense checking his budget this year than last!  Team Osborne is under pressure from their own side as MPs can see the possibility of winning the next election slowly becoming less likely.

But Labour will also be under pressure.  Whilst Labour’s economic numbers are improving they are still blamed by much of the electorate for causing the economic woes facing Osborne and the country.   And that is why the tone of their response will really matter.

Generally speaking, if you are held responsible for causing a problem it is not a good idea to appear really pleased that someone who is trying to sort out your mess is struggling!   It certainly won’t convince anyone that you didn’t actually cause the problem in the first place.  It is unlikely to make you look clever; in fact it will probably simply reinforce the idea that the whole thing was your fault anyway, and that you had failed to learn the lessons and were in fact in denial.


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