Archive for April, 2013

There is no reason why Labour should fear EU renegotiation

30/04/2013, 07:24:45 AM

by John Mills

As a committed Labour supporter who has been immersed in the political and economic arguments over Britain’s place in the European integration project for some forty years  – from my role in overseeing JML expand its business beyond Britain to acting as Secretary of Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign since 1975 – my views have evolved as the European Union has radically changed form.

There is a perception that the question of Europe is a settled one within the Labour party. But as the EU hurtles down the path towards federalism, I am convinced more than ever that this question still has to be subject to much soul-searching and internal review.

As the poll on the in last week’s Guardian demonstrates, trust in the European project is falling across the continent and is now at an all-time low. With the Euro tanking and southern Europe in its current malaise, it’s easy to understand why some people would prefer to be out than in, and many businesses are wondering how life could look outside the EU. Yet, with the prime minister’s speech in January, a clear process has now been put in place to get a better deal for Britain in the EU. Most people in the business world now see the UK’s best interests being served by engaging in substantial renegotiation to turn the EU into the flexible, adaptive structure it needs to become if it is to survive and thrive. To that end, I am delighted to be co-chairing the new Business for Britain campaign aimed at mobilising and better reflecting the interests and opinions of the business community in the great EU debate to secure a better deal for Britain in Europe.


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London Labour party ignored union guidance on selection processes to fix Euro-list

29/04/2013, 02:50:10 PM

Reverberations from the London Labour party’s botched selection process for its European candidates rumble on: last week critical motions were passed at Streatham, Ilford South and Brixton Hill CLPs.

The emerging focus for unhappiness is the opaque selection criteria used by the London Labour party panel in making their decision. Calls for the regional party to explain the criteria were central to the motions passed last week.

Uncut can help out the quizzical CLPs in their quest for the criteria: there wasn’t any. Don’t take our word for it, this was the response from Joy Johnson, a senior member of the selection panel, when Uncut challenged her on how the selections were made:

“Did I discuss the criteria? That is Alan Olive’s domain and the answer is that there isn’t one…”

That’s right, to be an MEP for Labour, the London party had no preference on the type of experience a candidate should have, their track record  or any political achievements. There wasn’t even a mention that being an effective campaigner might be an asset for prospective candidates in a London-wide PR election.

Strange, you might think. For most jobs there is a specific set of criteria against which candidates are scored. Otherwise, where there are several candidates – say, 98 in the case of the London Euro-list selection – how would the panel be able to make a systematic comparison and select the best qualified applicants?

There certainly are detailed criteria for the parliamentary selection process with guidance for constituency selection panels on how to apply them and administer a fair process.


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Poor Ed is stuck between two marauding elephants

29/04/2013, 07:31:39 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s an old African saying that when the elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. If that’s the case, these past couple of weeks have left Labour’s lawn fit for a spot of crown green bowling.

First to start a ruck by waving his proboscis about was Labour’s emeritus leader Tony Blair, chiding via the pages of the New Statesman, that Labour risks settling back “into its old territory of defending the status quo” and blowing the next election.

A couple of weeks of tit-for-tat followed before Len McLuskey, tusks a-gleaming, charged headlong at Tony’s hindquarters also telling the New Statesman this week that if Ed Miliband listens to Blairites in the party he is consigning himself to the “dustbin of history”.

Both hulking mammals have the same motivation; to bruise but not wound Ed Miliband and make it clear their respective herds are not to be taken for granted as we pass the 60% marker for this parliament. They are both concerned about the shape of Labour’s offer to the voters in 2015. McLuskey denounces any prospect of offering “austerity-lite”, claiming it will lead to certain election defeat. Blair, in stark contrast, warns that to “tack left on tax and spending” will lead to “strategic defeat”.

Yes, Labour’s got to be pragmatic in how it approaches the next election (Blair) but it’s got to win for a purpose too (McLuskey). This is the age-old conundrum for the democratic left. It’s one that pits those with a simplistic (and now outdated) assumption that the party can offer the bare minimum to core Labour voters because they have nowhere else to go, with those who are reluctant to countenance the bloody business of compromise at all. Despite the dust that has been kicked up these past couple of weeks, both sides are sketchy about details.

On spending, McLuskey urges Miliband to “create a radical alternative” to austerity in order to remain “the authentic voice of ordinary working people”. Does this mean no cuts? Some cuts? Cuts to bits of public spending we don’t like? (The trouble is that a private sector union like Unite has many members in defence industries and won’t want to see cuts here which other unions might happily countenance).


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Labour history uncut: Labour gets ready for government

28/04/2013, 11:05:37 AM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

On December 9th 1923, the day after the general election, it became clear that civilisation was teetering on the brink of destruction.

Well, that’s what the British establishment seemed to think as the prospect of a Labour government was suddenly a real possibility.

Although the Tories were the largest party with 258 seats, crucially they did not command a majority in the House of Commons and the third place Liberals did not seem willing to sustain them in office.

In the wings, there was Labour, the understudy government breathlessly wondering if tonight was to be their night to take the lead role.

But despite the parliamentary arithmetic, Labour’s turn in the limelight seemed far from certain.

The critics at the Times weren’t happy. The Thunderer called for a coalition between the Liberals and Conservatives in the national interest. The national interest being anyone but Labour.

Some in the Lords favoured a more innovative approach.  The large Labour vote obviously meant democracy was broken, so the logical next step was to create a government of “national trustees”.

This would involve simply jettisoning the whole bothersome democratic process and appointing a government of officials certified as independent, fair-minded and not-Labour.

They even had a man in mind to run it all – Reginald McKenna. Home secretary under Asquith until 1916, McKenna was definitely a decent and trust-worthy chap, as evidenced by his two career choices so far: politician and banker.

Reginald McKenna exuded Englishness with his stiff upper everything

Others were more resigned to the impending cataclysm. Over at the English Review, apparently edited by a proto-Melanie Phillips, their view on a possible Labour government was that “the sun of England seems menaced by final eclipse,” which would at least explain the weather that year.

Winston Churchill chipped in too. At this point a defeated Liberal, he declared in his usual understated manner that a Labour government would be “a national misfortune such as has usually befallen a great state only on the morrow of defeat in war.”


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The Royal College of Nursing has forgotten about the victims in their response to Mid Staffs

25/04/2013, 07:00:15 AM

by Peter Watt

One of the lessons of the Mid Staffs hospital scandal should be that those involved in the delivery of health care should show some humility.  But humility doesn’t seem to be something that the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is familiar with.

Let’s face it, if a single hospital can be found to have between 400 and 1200 deaths caused by poor care between January 2005 and March 2009 then something has gone wrong.  The fact that subsequently a raft of other hospitals are being looked at adds to the strong sense of a system that isn’t working.  As David Cameron rather too eagerly reminded Ed Miliband at PMQs yesterday, this happened under a Labour government at a time of rapid growth in spending on the NHS.  This wasn’t a time of cuts – quite the contrary.

The Francis report was a comprehensive review of what went wrong at Mid Staffs and its conclusions were damning.  Blame was shared across a number of fronts:

  • A bullying culture in the NHS so that those expressing concern were silenced and others were too fearful to speak;
  • A focus on healthy finances rather than the health of patients;
  • Regulators not regulating properly – in fact not noticing that anything was wrong;
  • Managers not managing effectively;
  • The disorganisation of reorganisation after reorganisation.

So there were plenty who should be a little humble from the Labour party itself to the department of health.  But there is another group who need to take a good long hard look at themselves: nurses.  Because one of the other key problems identified was that there were nurses who were not good enough.

Now this obviously does not mean that all nurses are poor or that they do not care about patients. I had a message from a friend the other day who had just finished a 12 hour nursing shift with only a twenty minute break.  So there are thankfully plenty of dedicated, caring and compassionate nurses often working many long hours to ensure that their patients are cared for.

But what is also blindingly obvious is that a report into poor care that causes hundreds of deaths will find that some nurses got things badly wrong.  And they did.  As the Guardian reported of the Francis report:


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Three takeaways from Len McCluskey’s attack

25/04/2013, 05:30:17 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In one sense, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Unite have been absolutely clear about their position and all Len McCluskey did yesterday in his New Statesman interview was to articulate what he and his union have been saying privately for the past two years.

That McCluskey is hostile to Labour centrists (or Blairites as anyone out of sympathy with the 1983 manifesto  is termed these days) is hardly news.

But the directness of the intervention is notable, as are some of the choice details he let slip. Rather inadvertently, Len McCluskey has presented an insight into the current state of the power politics being played out behind the scenes in the Labour party.

Three points are evident: McCluskey is nervous about his influence with Ed Miliband, he thinks Labour is currently headed for defeat at the next election and his real target was Ed Balls.

First, in terms of influence, when Len McCluskey is getting his way he is as quiet as a mouse. Nothing is said to rock the boat, publicly he is a picture of collegiate harmony.

In January 2012, when the two Ed’s dared to back a public sector wage freeze, he snarled into life. At the time, Ed Miliband pushed back but soon after the exchange a strange calm descended. No further comment came from McCluskey in response to the Labour leader’s apparent slap down.

The reason? Both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls had agreed never to let the words “public sector pay freeze” cross their lips again. McCluskey had got his way and it was back to playing happy Labour families.

The Unite general secretary’s intervention yesterday is a sign that he is not hearing what he wants in his private conversations with Labour’s leaders.

The spending review is scheduled for the 26th June and will be the pivotal moment of this parliament. For months Labour has avoided the question of where it stands on spending. Will it stick to Tory spending plans (or something very similar) or reject further austerity on the scale proposed by the Tories and the Lib Dems?

The pressure for Labour to give a clear sense of its direction of travel at the spending review will be enormous.

Anything less than a clear sign that Labour will commit to spending more than the Tories, and above all else, provide a generous pay settlement for McCluskey’s public sector members, will be unacceptable for the union.


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Osborne’s reputation for economic competence is fatally damaged. Labour must now start restoring theirs

23/04/2013, 12:13:09 PM

by Matthew Whittley

Perceptions of economic competence will largely determine who takes power in 2015. It is well-known that Labour has its work cut out to regain trust with the nation’s purse strings, but if anyone needed further proof that the economy isn’t safe in George Osborne’s hands, the need look no further than today’s economic news.

The latest figures tell us that there has been no improvement in underlying borrowing, which is has been running at almost the same level for the past two years. According to OBR forecasts, it will be around the same this year. As a result of the failure to stimulate any growth in the economy, the government is now set to borrow £245 billion more than planned

George Osborne’s main opportunity to do something about the hole he’s dug for the nation, was in March with the budget. But he blew it: the budget amounted to no more than a “do nothing” series of holding measures.

With household budgets squeezed and business lacking confidence to invest, Osborne should have prioritised growth by borrowing to invest in capital projects, rather than borrowing to finance failure as is currently happening. One doesn’t need a PhD in macroeconomics to know that capital spending has a huge multiplier effect on growth.

However, the derisory £2.5bn of capital investment promised in the budget falls way short of what is required to kick-start the economy. To put this figure in context, the Economist, hardly a bastion of Keynesianism, recommended an extra £28bn of infrastructure investment.

It should have become clear by now to him that the debt can’t be reduced in the absence of growth. The UK has grown only 0.7% since the third quarter of 2010. During that time, Japan and Italy are the only major G20 economies to have performed worse than the UK.


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Syria: Where is the International Brigade?

22/04/2013, 04:08:27 PM

by Jonathan Todd

There is much to enjoy and admire in the New Statesman centenary issue. I read of George Orwell taking a bullet through the throat, as he fought in the Spanish civil war. And that John Gray thinks: “For the foreseeable future, no one will rule will world”. The transition from the G7 to the G20 reflected the passing of power to the global south and talk of the G2 denotes the centrality of China and the US but maybe G-zero is more apt in a world without predominant power.

Is the sorrow of Syria a harbinger of a G-zero world that no one, whether reluctantly or otherwise, is willing or able to police? Roosevelt, unlike Hitler and Stalin, was as disinclined to involve his country in the Spanish civil war as Obama has been to date in Syria. Yet Orwell walked towards the bullets. Where are the Orwells of today? If the war in Syria is a war for rights and democracy, why isn’t the International Brigade on the frontline?

The truth is that Syria is sucking in Jihadists who don’t believe in rights and democracy, not liberals prepared to stand up for these values, which is one of various reasons why Syria is not a simple war for rights and democracy. Little is simple in Syria.

Last week Channel 4 showed a documentary by Olly Lambert, who had spent weeks living deep inside Syrian territory – with both government and opposition supporters. Both sides think that the other would exterminate them if they did not fight and that they are opposing the sectarianism of the other. Western liberals, thousands of miles from the frontline, might see their kin in those who have risen up against Assad.

But how confident can the Alawites and other Syrian minorities be that these opposition forces, largely Sunni and increasingly under the influence of Saudi Arabia and Al-Qaeda, will not extract a bloody revenge as soon as they are able? Why wouldn’t these minorities lay down their arms for a future Syria that respected their rights and gave them the vote if this is what the opposition offer?

If the UK were to arm the opposition then we would be risking these arms being used for the persecution of these minorities. Equally, weaponry from Iran and Russia is being used by the Syrian government to persecute their opposition. While such persecution is utterly repellent, it would be to succumb to Bertrand Russell’s fallacy of superior virtue of the oppressed not to be concerned about the sectarian and extremist motives of the opposition.


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Regional VAT, an idea for Ed Balls

22/04/2013, 07:50:07 AM

by Dan McCurry

When I was in Arizona, I kept getting overcharged in the shops. At least I thought I was, until I objected and was told that the extra 7% was the state sales tax. They weren’t including it on the price tickets, because Americans are weird. These days Arizona charges a whopping 9%, compared to Virginia at 5%, and New Hampshire at 0%. There is no strategy between these different rates. This is America. The states just do their own thing.

In the UK we pay 20%, and we call it “Value Added Tax”, because we’re not weird.  Imposed centrally, we apply this tax at a uniform rate across the country, but if we wanted to, we could charge different rates in different regions, while continuing to collect it centrally.

There is a potential serendipity to Labour’s economic policy, when looking at two of the main drivers of stimulating the economy in Labour’s five point plan for jobs and growth: house building and a VAT reduction.

Mass house building is firstly intended to create demand in the economy, but by solving our chronic housing shortage, we reduce our private sector rents, and thereby counter poverty. It all seems so neat that, however, there is a flaw in this strategy.

The area that needs massive house building is London and the South East, but the economy is fairly frothy in this area, so there is not much of a demand problem. Much of the rest of the country doesn’t needs housing, but does have a lack of demand.

So although there are many infrastructure projects in other parts of the country, the stimulus from house building would mostly effect the south east, which is not where it is mostly needed.

The other policy of Ed Balls is to affect consumer spending through a reduction in VAT.

The problem with VAT is that it can be fiddly. When Gordon gave us a 2.5% cut, I don’t think I’m the only one who was irritated at being given coppers in change for my coffee, and it didn’t take long before the coffee price went back up and the vendor pocketed the difference. Retail prices tend to gravitate to round numbers, meaning that VAT cuts need to be substantial to be worthwhile.

If Ed Balls concentrated his VAT cut on the regions that are not getting a house building boost, then he’d probably be able to double the size of the VAT cut. In simple terms, let’s imagine the counties in north of England have their VAT reduced to 10%.


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Labour history uncut: Mac the knife

19/04/2013, 03:31:53 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

“The Liberals must be… destroyed,” declared Ramsay Macdonald, stroking a white cat.

Ok, perhaps not that dramatic, nevertheless it was Ramsay Macdonald’s electoral goal. Labour’s leader had a clear plan of action for 1923. He intended to show the public that Labour was a respectable party, the sort that one day might even make a serene transition into actual, proper government.

To do that, first he had to establish his party as the alternative to the Tories. In a British electoral system that only really had room for two parties, that meant the Liberals had to go.

Oddly, the Liberals didn’t seem to disagree.

They had obliged by splitting into two warring factions under Lloyd George and Asquith. True, there were now moves to broker a reunification under Asquith’s leadership, but rather than a passionate and heartfelt reunion this was an attempt to stay together for the sake of the children. It was all awkward silences and icy stares over dinner.

Margot Asquith reads a scary story for the kids, entitled, "The strange death of Liberal England"

Liberals regularly defied the whip, voting against each other on a range of motions. Meanwhile an aged Asquith seems to have given up trying to lead his party now that sticking it to Lloyd George wasn’t an available option.

It looked like Macdonald couldn’t fail.


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