Archive for May, 2013

Is Labour doing well enough?

29/05/2013, 03:52:42 PM

by Rob Marchant

Having had a couple of months which have not, frankly, been pretty for Labour, this is the question its leaders must surely be asking themselves in the wake of the local elections.

The question is, will they ask it of robust friends who might level with them? Or others who might well-meaningly equivocate, in the name of keeping them motivated?

First, it is easy to base our hopes of success on this or that transitory effect, but that seems rather like building one’s house on sand. There may be a UKIP effect come the election, but history has shown that such things are not usually that big. Yes, there may just have been a fundamental realignment, but things may just as easily go against Labour (Tory voters returning and narrowing the gap) as for Labour (remaining UKIP voters splitting the right-wing vote and letting Labour in). And, in any event, it is a fool who bases his strategy on the failure of others. Stop it. If there is a boost from UKIP, that’s a bonus.

Second, Labour’s poll lead is anyway soft and has been for some time, as Atul Hatwal has shown here at Uncut. Most exasperatingly, many seem to be still extrapolating that poll lead out to 2015 at the same level, when history has shown, time and again, that polls will narrow, as I wrote here, based on the fine time-series research of Leo Barasi. You cannot, and should not, judge polling on week-to-week changes, which are meaningless, but over long periods you can see trends and these are worth looking at.

Although many have compared its current situation with 1992 – when, of course, Labour lost – even that seems rather an optimistic reading; its current polling gap is also comparable with that of Labour’s in 1981, which is not exactly encouraging news, when you think how Labour was destroyed in 1983. By the way, Tory hegemony was by no means consolidated in 1981, many viewed Thatcher’s leadership as shaky and Labour maintained a respectable poll lead all through that year.

Third, the softness of the party’s positive polling in historical context becomes more deeply worrying when we look at our leadership polling in historical context. And no, before you start, this is not an agitation for a challenge to Miliband, which would be of no help whatsoever to Labour. But the worryingly low polling he is experiencing is not a help either and we should not pretend otherwise.


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Revealed: Unite about to be investigated by the information commissioner for Falkirk fix

29/05/2013, 07:00:31 AM

by Atul Hatwal

This week, the Labour party report into irregularities in the selection process for Falkirk West’s prospective parliamentary candidate, will be published. The selection procedure was suspended two weeks ago following allegations that Unite was fixing the contest in favour of its candidate – Karie Murphy.

The party had hoped to draw a line under the affair with the publication of the report. But, regardless of the findings of the inquiry, the row is likely to rumble on with the government’s privacy watchdog, the information commissioner, set to be called in.

The suspension of the selection was prompted by two main charges: that Unite members were signed-up for Labour party membership, with their subscription paid, without being told; and Unite and Murphy had privileged access to the local Labour party membership list.

Last week in the Herald, details of a letter of complaint sent to the Scottish party emerged. In it, a Unite member, living in Falkirk West wrote,

“Myself and two family members have been enrolled by Unite…I or my family did not fill in or sign any forms and wish to know what information the party holds about my family.”

Further allegations have been made that Karie Murphy and Unite have used the Falkirk West membership list to contact CLP members without members’ permission on at least two occasions.

If either of these claims is found to be true, Unite will have significantly breached the Data Protection Act.

Under the terms of the Act, each individual must have agreed before their personal details are passed to a different organisation. The law could not be clearer: point 1 of schedule 2 of the Act, which governs the conditions for personal data being used or “processed” by an organisation, states

“The data subject has given his consent to the processing”

At the point where Unite members’ personal details were registered with the Labour party, without their consent being first granted, the law would have been broken.

At the point where Falkirk West Labour party members had their details passed to Unite, without their prior consent, the law would, once again, have been broken.


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Sally Bercow and the slaughter in Woolwich shows why we can’t put social media back in a box

28/05/2013, 02:36:58 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Citizen journalism is perhaps a rather grand term to describe a person with a smartphone capable of pressing an ‘app’ and pointing it at a commotion, however its effect has now revolutionised the visual media, as we saw in all too stark terms last week.

The heinous murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich and its aftermath was quickly whizzing round cyberspace allowing us to see, graphically, the tale of horror that was being cautiously relayed by the mainstream media.

The term ‘media’ never used to need this caveat. The term was exclusively reserved for newspapers and broadcasters. Now, the technical utility of a smartphone allows everyone to publish and broadcast. We are all the media.

It may be shaky and grainy, but we are getting used to unexpurgated and contemporaneous footage undercutting broadcasters and newspapers’ monopoly in telling us the truth. It is utterly changing our understanding and reaction to major events.

Now, we decide for ourselves. Uploaded to YouTube, this unshackled truth is, to paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, up and halfway around the world before the context gets its boots on.

This is the challenge facing modern editors and news outlets, judging how far to go in matching its pace. Sit too long on these first-eye accounts and the readers will simply find them elsewhere on the web. Edit their usage and stand accused of censorship or bias. Use them and stand accused of sensationalism or in that hoary old term, giving terrorists the oxygen of publicity.

In a piece for the New Statesman last week, Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank exploring issues of identity and integration, said it was ‘a shame’ that no newspaper front pages the day after the killing of Drummer Rigby ‘inverted the lens’.


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Labour must look forward, not back, to win in 2015

28/05/2013, 09:51:49 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Peter Kellner reminded us in his recent hard hitting analysis for Progress that the Tories’ central message in 1992 was that Neil Kinnock was a dangerous man who would lead Britain down the road to ruin. He also recalled that the same trick completely failed in 1997. This was because, he argued, Tony Blair had reassured voters that their jobs, homes, pay and savings would be safe with him.

The “Demon Eyes” poster just seemed daft next to the reassurance that Blair had provided. Labour’s “Demon Eyes” football team, founded in 1997, plays on, but the need for reassurance from Labour has returned. Ed Miliband is, according to the Tories, the menace that Kinnock once posed. He must convince that his sums add up on the big challenges facing the country: the economy, welfare, immigration, public services and the cost of living.

While Miliband must seek to reassure, his capacity to do so is not entirely in his control. It can be argued that the tentative economic recovery of 1992 was a harder context in which for Kinnock to provide reassurance than the more upbeat economy in which Blair campaigned in 1997.

Taking a chance on an opposition party seems less of a risk in a stronger economy. Which is why a tepid recovery by 2015 may be the best backdrop to David Cameron’s “don’t let Labour ruin it” message.

Labour’s opposing message, of course, will be “it’s time for a change”. But why? We might say that it’s time for a change because if too far, too fast cuts had not been implemented then we’d now be better off. Unfortunately, this invites the Tories to remind the country why they deemed the cuts necessary: Labour’s profligacy. And there is evidence that this argument increasingly convinces the public.

As the opposition party, Labour has to argue for change in 2015 but this should be an argument about the change that could be achieved from 2015 under Labour, not the change that might have been achieved had Labour been in office from 2010. This might seem obvious but placing an attack on the depth and speed of the government’s cuts at the centre of our economic argument has us looking back to 2010.

Labour can only win with a positive argument for how things will be better from 2015. Yet not only is our main economic argument backward looking but it is backward looking in a tonally negative way. The implicit message of much of our rhetoric is fearful: the government shrinks and the economy collapses; the immigrants arrive and society implodes.


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Why seeing is believing on life for the Palestinians

27/05/2013, 10:20:20 AM

by Lee Butcher

A delegation of Labour party members returned last week from a five day tour of the Palestinian West Bank. The campaign group Labour2Palestine have now sent 100 party members to the troubled country to see for themselves the on-going hardships faced daily by the Palestinians.

It is a fair question to ask why party members should choose to do so, and why it is important for the Labour party to have informed members that can speak knowledgeably from firsthand experience on this subject.

The party’s attitude to this ever recurring topic has been largely unchanged since a weary Labour government in 1947 left the country to their own devices with more than a sigh of relief. Since then the left of Nye Bevan has moved from enthusiastic support for Israel to a commitment to Palestinian solidarity, and the right of Bevin and Attlee has moved from Arab sympathy to enthusiastic Israeli support. Entrenched ideology runs deep within our party on this matter.

The 5 days I experienced in Palestine demonstrated to me that the realities of hardship and persecution faced by the Palestinians ought not to be abstracted as we done over our history. The realities cannot be fully realised in the briefing papers of international bodies, government departments or spun by campaign groups. They have to be witnessed to be understood.

Military occupation is a sensory experience; twenty foot high walls, observation tours, ever present armed soldiers, the intimidation of questioning by a teenager holding a gun, cages that serve as “checkpoints”, the acrid smell of Israeli tear gas that pours over unarmed protestors; all of this I and my fellow Labour party members witnessed in the West Bank.

Emotion is difficult to escape when you visit refugee camps, established in 1948, where the residents tell you of having access to water once a month from a single communal pump as very young children play in the streets festooned with uncollected rubbish. Where a young man tells you of the night when armed soldiers, arriving at 2am, seized him and his younger brother (only 15 years old) after which they faced military interrogation for days, without access to lawyers or their parents, eventually being convicted of throwing stones by a military court and spending four years in jail as a result.


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A return to growth may answer some of Labour’s tricky questions

25/05/2013, 03:17:52 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Confirmation from the Office of National Statistics that growth was indeed 0.3% in the first three months of this year – avoiding a triple dip recession – is good news for the economy – and potentially for Labour too.

Conventional wisdom has it that a return to growth is politically damaging for the opposition. At a stroke attacks on the government’s economic ineptitude lose their purchase. The gloom lifts. The Chancellor can puff out his chest and tell us the pain was worth it, the worst is past. Let, if not quite the good times, then certainly the better times roll.

But what if the opposite is true? What if rather than restoring the government’s fortunes the economy returning to growth is actually helpful for Labour?

After all we saw exactly this pattern through the mid-1990s when a reviving economy did little to refloat John Major’s political fortunes. In fact a return to growth may help Labour deal with its three big problems on the economy.

The first two are related to spending. Labour is committed to a temporary fiscal boost to kickstart the economy and knows it has little spare cash to meet its wider social democratic priorities. It remains elliptical about what it will do on either score and polls consistently shows the party simply isn’t trusted yet to run the economy, its third big problem.

Indeed, Ed Miliband’s reluctance to spell out how that stimulus would be paid for came glaringly unstuck during his interview with Martha Kearney on Radio Four’s World at One programme a few weeks ago.

Asked repeatedly if Labour’s approach would require an increase in short-term borrowing, he employed that classic Tony Benn tactic of answering a different question, maintaining debt would be lower in the long-term with Labour’s approach.

A spin of the news cycle later, Miliband was in safer environs on the Daybreak breakfast sofa conceding that, yes, short-term borrowing would increase as a necessary means of driving growth with in turn reduces longer term debt.


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Labour history uncut: TFI its Red Friday

24/05/2013, 06:03:34 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

“Every day they were in led us further from socialism.” Thus spake a disappointed Jimmy Maxton of the first, and brief, Labour government which had flopped out of power at the end of 1924 and was now back where it was most familiar, on the opposition benches.

Bitterness and recrimination reverberated across the Labour movement. Both the left and the right agreed that maybe it was time to replace Ramsay Macdonald as leader.

Philip Snowden, former resident of 11 Downing Street, tried to annoy his onetime prime ministerial neighbour by agitating for Arthur Henderson to challenge for the leadership, as well as mowing his lawn really early on Sundays.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Maxton and the red Clydesiders sounded out George Lansbury for similar purposes (the leadership, that is, not the lawn mowing).

The unions were busy grumbling too. The Labour government had proved just as happy to threaten them with the emergency powers act as the Tories and Ernest Bevin, leader of the T&G and one of politics’ all-time great haters, led the angry backlash from the brothers.

He had not forgiven Macdonald for the Labour government’s handling of the docks and tramway strikes in early 1924, telling all and sundry that he’d be happy with anyone but Macdonald as leader.

Bevin wasn’t alone either. They unions had shifted decisively left during the Labour government, partially as a result of their older leaders like Margaret Bondfield and dockers’ leader Harry Gosling, being made ministers in said government, clearing the way for more radical voices to take the reins.

Unfortunately for the serried ranks of the discontented though, they were to be disappointed. In line with the long PLP tradition of factional infighting, the only person each group of MPs disliked more than the current leader was the alternative favoured by the other lot.


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The folly of defeatism

24/05/2013, 12:06:56 PM

by Alex Shattock

Whenever we talk about Labour’s chances of winning the next election, there is always an elephant in the room that nobody wants to speak about. We thought it would go away, sort itself out. It hasn’t. Frankly, we can’t ignore it anymore, because it’s beginning to hurt our chances of success in a very visible way.

The elephant is the vocal minority in the Labour party who don’t believe we can win with Ed Miliband as our leader. It’s time to talk about the problems their defeatism is causing, and why it is misguided.

The MPs in our diverse shadow cabinet have done an admirable job in maintaining party unity. Their success is not, however, reflected by everyone in the party. The vocal minority who don’t believe in Ed Miliband are making their presence known, whether it is an unnecessary intervention by a former leader, or a (not so) subtle swipe at a pressure group conference. Their murmurings are becoming louder, and the media is starting to hear.

Their main criticism is that Ed has a “charisma” problem: but we all saw Ed’s fantastic One Nation speech. He can give a great performance when it counts. I suspect their discomfort runs a little deeper than that. The charisma problem is really an ideological problem: We’re not polling better because of the direction Ed is taking us.

It sounds to me like the defeatists don’t believe a centre-left platform can ever win a UK election. Perhaps they don’t believe it ever should. “Labour just isn’t connecting with business”, someone told me last week. “I mean, look at Ed’s speech about predators… He isn’t showing businessmen he wants to help them make money.”

Well, good.

The Labour party wasn’t created to help businessmen make money. There is a place for business in Labour’s vision, of course there is: but our primary concern should be building a better society.

Labour politics is about businesses as employers, the poor as deserving, inequality as a problem. We should not sacrifice our beliefs on the easy altar of populism. We should make the case for our beliefs in the public domain.


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As a piece of policy-making, same sex marriage sets a bad precedent

24/05/2013, 07:00:40 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Putting aside the question of whether same sex marriage is a modest extension of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples or the handcart society will be pushed to hell in – and judged purely as an exercise in policy-making – this week has been a disaster.

The refrain that the measure was not in any party’s manifesto at the last election and didn’t even make it into the coalition’s programme for government is no less important given the frequency with which it’s cited as a grievance by opponents of the bill.

Neither, for that matter, was there a green paper to allow proper deliberation; just a rushed public consultation, which saw a significant majority of respondents strongly opposed to the idea.  And as it now stands, the legislation is lopsided with the failure to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples.

Moreover, the law of unintended consequences means most religious communities who opposed the encroachment of the state into their affairs are left with threadbare assurances they will be unaffected by the change. Case law will in due course ensure that they are.

The church hall test will see priests and vicars forced to defend a policy of letting heterosexual couples use their premises while barring gays and lesbians. Meanwhile the charitable status of religious organisations who do not readily accept this new definition of equality will be endlessly challenged. The culture war will rage long after this week passes.


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Letter from Wales: Welsh education is in the corner with its thumb in its mouth

23/05/2013, 04:00:41 PM

by Julian Ruck

Did you hear the one about the Welsh education system?

The Estyn Report of 2012 concluded that 40% of Welsh children entering secondary education are going to schools that are barely “adequate.”

Carwyn Jones, admitted that indeed “more work needs to be done”. His education minister, Leighton Andrews, followed this up with an insistence that Wales was not going to follow the English with a new ‘O’ Level type exam that is more rigorous and demanding than the present GCSE.

Can’t have that now can we?

Mustn’t upset the Welsh medium schools with some heinous British deliverance must we? Never mind the fact that Welsh children will be burdened with a third class education, as if their future isn’t grim enough.

Standards? They can go hang. No, the problem is all about money, we are told. It’s all Barnett’s fault. Westminster just isn’t dishing out enough money to Wales, you see.

It’s alright for 10 Welsh poets to enjoy a 10 day little jolly at the Smithsonian in Washington, all expenses paid plus a £100 a day pocket money.

It’s alright to give £4.4m to Welsh publishers to publish 10 books on Welsh place names and DIY manuals on how to fry a Welshcake (I jest not).

It’s alright to give millions of tax-payers’ money to a tiny number of people to write the 100th learned tome on the fanciful Mabinogion, What the hell, there’s no such thing as an ebook in Wales? Stop the tax-payer gravy train? You must be joking!


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