Archive for June, 2013

Labour history uncut: Labour wins the one to lose in 1929

28/06/2013, 06:40:53 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

The first gusts of a returning wind seemed to be wafting into Ramsay Macdonald’s sails.

After the general strike in 1926 had shattered morale in the Labour movement, the Tories attempted to curtail union power with the 1927 Trade Union Disputes Act. That threat united activists and unions behind the party.

Once again, parliamentary action was the only game in town to stop the Tories.

As the 1927 conference approached, Macdonald wanted to wow the crowd with something big. A grand statement of Labour aims, perhaps. Or a medley of socialist showtunes.

Fortunately for everyone, he chose the former. Macdonald sat down with Labour’s Burt Bacarach, Arthur Henderson, and started scribbling. One montage sequence later, Labour’s new vision was complete.

They took the paper to the executive of the parliamentary Labour party for sign-off and some insincere praise before going to NEC and then conference. It was just a formality.

The PLP then, very formally, said “Ramsay, this is rubbish.” This was quite something coming from a body so pliable it would have declared Viva Forever ‘a tour de force’ had Macdonald produced it.

Hugh Dalton commented that it was “too long and very dully written,” before adding, “But it might sell if you chuck in a sparkly vampire.”

Meanwhile, the executive of the PLP passed a motion. It urged the NEC not to allow the document to be debated at conference because, being in Blackpool, the event was going to be quite boring enough already.

Hugh Dalton: in the opinion of the smartest man in the Labour party, he was the smartest man in the Labour party

Instead, Macdonald ended up part of an NEC sub-committee tasked with a rewrite.


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Ken Loach is marvellous

28/06/2013, 01:32:08 PM

by Kevin Meagher

I’m always puzzled by the contrast between Ken Loach’s politics and his films. In person, Loach is a quiet and modest man with fairly run-of-the-mill and defiantly unreconstructed socialist views, having left the Labour party in the mid-1990s.

In contrast his films, although clearly polemical, are brilliantly nuanced. They take the broad theme of the value of collectivism but Loach’s amazing talent lies in small detail; nailing characters and situations with brilliant realism, simplicity and compassion.

His 2006 Palme D’or-winning film about the Irish War of Independence, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, is one of the finest parables about the clash between the politics of idealism and the politics of pragmatism that you will ever see.

Although his recent documentary, The Spirit of ’45, has been widely talked about before, it was two of his older films, shown this week as part of a Film Four series of Loach classics, that stand out for me.

The first, Riff Raff, was made in 1991 and sees Robert Carlyle’s jailbird, Stephen, an itinerant loner with a mysterious past, finding comradeship working on a London building site and love with a pub singer while squatting in a flat.

When Ricky Tomlinson’s character, Larry, a fellow labourer, complains to the management about the dangerous working conditions the men have to endure, he is sacked. Another man later falls to his death from the same scaffold Larry had been warning about. Given what we now know about the blacklisting of building workers in a notoriously un-unionised industry, the story is particularly poignant.


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Letter from Wales: £400,000 for a man snoring in a telescope!

28/06/2013, 07:00:53 AM

by Julian Ruck

Skint UK? Ed Balls’ scrutinising of every pound? Don’t be daft this is the Arts Council of Wales!

And as if the £400,000 of tax-payers’ money for a Welsh contemporary artist to strut his stuff (no disrespect to said artist) at the Venice Biennale isn’t enough, it took the CEO of the Arts Council of Wales, one Nick Capaldi and six of his ACW cronies to tag along and hold his hand!

But what about the expenses the taxpayer has also forked up for? Following my FoI requests (12,13, 17th June 2013) it turns out we have paid  £260.00 per night for hotels and a damn your eyes to and a brew of Tetley in a Venetian back alley.

Apart from Mr Capaldi’s £1,981.20 (for 4 nights), we have a real beauty: Professor Dai Smith, chair of the ACW not only claimed £1709.49 from the tax-payer for his three day Venetian jolly but his own book “Dream On” (you can say that again!) published last May, was also paid for by the tax-payer. Oh and he doesn’t like “nutters” like me scrutinising his artistic efforts either, I’m told.

Here are the expenses for the rest of ACW’s party-goers:-

David Alston (£1636.77 for his 4 nights) Arts Director ACW;  Louise Wright (£1569.85 for 4 nights) ACW Commissioner for the Biennale no less; Eluned Haf (£1638.51 for 4 nights) ACW Director of Wales Arts International; Sian James (£1,964.77 for 4 nights) ACW Press Officer and not forgetting Osi Rhys Osmond (£1687.16 for 4 nights), an Arts Council Member and Chair of Advisory Committee?

Now you may be thinking why all these people are needed for a quick few second turn on BBC Wales’ Today programme. Jobs for the boys time again perhaps? The usual old suspects again? You would also be forgiven for wondering why it needs 7 people to do the same thing and enjoy an expensive city break at tax-payers’ expense, while they are at it?

Classic devolved Welsh replication of jobs maybe?

CEO Nick Capaldi was quoted as saying about the Venetian visual art extravaganza, “It’s the Formula 1 of the visual arts world, in that a Formula 1 racing car has little in common with the family hatchback other than four wheels and a steering wheel”.

Excuse me? Sorry to disabuse you Nick, but right now many people in this country are struggling to keep a four-wheeled pram on the road and  you’re also dead right about the exhibition having little in common with the family hatchback man in the street – most of them are out there trying to hold on to a job.


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The work programme: improving, but for who?

27/06/2013, 04:28:28 PM

by Bill Davies

The latest figures from the work programme show it is doing, on aggregate, better than it was. Now the programme has been running for 22 months, we are in a better position to consider whether it is achieving its main objective, to reduce unemployment and increase employment amongst all eligible claimant groups.

It is doing better than last time, particularly when you look at newer cohorts to the programme, but little better than the programme it replaced. At this stage of the flexible new deal, 13 week job outcomes as a percentage of eligible starts were 18%, and 26 week outcomes were 12%. The coalition’s work programme, introduced to dismantle the ‘fundamentally flawed’ Flexible New Deal, is at this stage achieving outcomes of 13%. Better than last time, but not brilliant. The statistical release of the department for work & pensions shows that 22 out of the 40 contracts have not met their targets for moving the largest group of job seekers allowance claimants (over 25 year olds) off benefits and into work. The target for this group was 27.5% of starters to move into work, but at this stage, the target has been narrowly missed, at 27.3%.

The most staggering figure is that employment & support allowance, the group for people moving from incapacity benefits gradually back into the labour market had a target of 16.5% of starts to job outcomes, but the actual outcome rate was 5.3%, only a third of the target.

Is the work programme assisting those regions that have the most difficult labour markets? On the basis of current performance, it is still largely reflecting them.


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How Osborne is feathering his own nest

27/06/2013, 03:00:06 PM

by Dan McCurry

George Osborne is desperate to have some kind of legacy that he can tell his grandchildren about. Selling the state-owned banks would be that legacy. The only problem is that universal advice tells him that now is not the time.

Stephen Hester had earned great praise for his achievements as boss of RBS, with investors such as Fidelity’s £2.5billion fund manager Sanjeev Shah describing him as “doing a fantastic job.” But look at the reaction from the brokers since Hester announced his departure.

Investec Securities:

The manner of Mr Hester’s departure is deeply unsatisfactory. Since 2008, government inconsistency and mismanagement have hurt shareholder value and, as 81% shareholder, it reaps what it sows.

Espirito Santo:

Mr Hester’s departure was clearly against his wishes and it appears that Mr Osborne had different ideas as to how the bank should be run. The political wrangling has significantly impacted the franchise.

The Economist magazine:

[Osborne] shoved out RBS’s boss Stephen Hester, prompting a sharp fall in the bank’s shares. …It is politics not economics that underpins the government’s decision to privatise the banks.

The share price was 334p on 11th June and is now 275p (27/6/13) and continuing to fall against a rising market. That’s an 18% fall so far. Placed in context, that is roughly a £20 billion loss to the British taxpayer in the space of a couple of weeks. (see footnote)


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Labour and Unite: a little time-bomb

26/06/2013, 04:51:18 PM

by Rob Marchant

This morning, Uncut reported developments in the Falkirk selection fiasco; Labour’s investigation confirmed that there was an attempt by Unite to recruit additional members in order to fix the selection. For a major union to intervene behind the scenes in the running of a selection may not be unheard of, but the careless and obvious entryist manner in which Labour implies it was carried out was, frankly, breath-taking.

Last weekend, further reports surfaced in the Times and the Mail on Sunday regarding the that Labour advisors Blue State Digital were arm-twisted by “a senior Labour figure” to lean on their employee to pull out and make way for a Unite-backed candidate, or risk losing their contract. Whoever the figure turns out to have been certainly has some very awkward questions to answer.

Essentially in denial over what happened, Unite’s woefully inadequate, “er, it was the Blairites wot did it” rebuttal brings to a head a power struggle which has been simmering ever since Miliband took the party’s reins.

But perhaps just as interesting was a less explosive, but not-entirely-unconnected event which happened last weekend, before all this became public.

The People’s Assembly, a new left project developing the anti-cuts argument to anti-austerity in general, had its debut in central London. Its only front-bench Labour attendance was from Diane Abbott, which gave a good indication of its political leanings.

The demo was largely peopled by the usual suspects from the hard left, who were also – as blogger Stephen Bush, in attendance, tweeted – not exactly representative of the ethnically and culturally diverse British electorate. At the moment the Assembly it is not even a party (although this did happen later with Respect).

As a rule, it is much better that such people develop their political ideas outside the Labour party than infiltrate it, and it seems safe to conclude that the Assembly is pretty much an irrelevance in terms of any direct effect on British politics. As, it seems, is the Left Unity project, triggered by filmmaker Ken Loach’s March call for a new left politics. They are the last in a long line of wildly over-optimistic attempts to realign the left.

What does all this mean for Labour? On the one hand, nothing. There is no “people’s army” about to storm the barricades and take Labour out at the next general election – at most there may be a new far-left grouping which might take some votes away in key marginals (and these would be more likely to take votes away from the now-declining Respect than Labour).


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What can Labour learn from the crisis in Australian Labor?

26/06/2013, 01:39:05 PM

by David Ward

Today Julia Gillard asked her colleagues to yet again decide between her and Kevin Rudd, and was removed in the same way she had removed him several years ago. But the soap opera aside it is worth here in Britain thinking about what the peculiar situation of a centre left party, having led the country through the global crisis in relative prosperity, heading towards an electoral wipeout against a Liberal party promising austerity.

Firstly, it shows the importance of avoiding internal squabbles. The ALP ditched its most successful politician since the 1990’s after only one negative poll. Rudd did not have the friendly relationship with his ALP colleagues, or backing amongst trade unions as Julia Gillard. One of Ed Miliband’s great successes has been to keep the party largely united, however the current troubles with selections in Falkirk and candidates for the European Parliament show there is no room for complacency.

Despite continued economic growth due to demand for Australian coal, uranium and iron ore, there has still been an unwinding of the New Labour style model set by Hawke and Keating in the 80s and 90s. Australian households are the second most indebted in the world after the UK and manufacturing has been weakened by high Australian Dollar. In parallel to our finance sector those who did not work or own shares in mining have seen higher prices while their earnings have not kept pace. Many people feel under pressure and the ALP is not offering a clear vision, often blown off course by media focus on issues like ‘boat people’.

Here Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been talking of ‘pre-distribution’ and how we move beyond sharing the proceeds of growth, while others such as ‘In the Black Labour’ have contributed other ideas. Whatever the answer, it is clear that a narrative for change in the new world is needed. Recent polls showing only 30% trust Labour with the economy are a worry only two years away from a general election.


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Unite found guilty of entryism in Falkirk West, but who within Labour was complicit?

26/06/2013, 07:00:04 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday evening, as politicians and the media prepared for today’s debate on the spending review, Labour’s press office found the ideal time to bury some bad news.

The result of the NEC inquiry into the Falkirk West parliamentary selection was finally announced.

The party has decided that the surge in Unite members joining the local party was sufficiently suspicious to warrant action.

Falkirk West CLP has been placed in “special measures” and members who joined the party after March 12th last year (the date Eric Joyce MP announced he would be stepping down) will now not be eligible to participate in the parliamentary candidate selection, which rules out the new Unite caucus.

Effectively, the party has found Unite guilty of entryism.

It’s a major decision to accuse Labour’s biggest donor of packing a constituency with ringers and trying to subvert a parliamentary selection, but one that was inescapable given the facts.

Uncut understands that in the last three months of 2012, the membership of Falkirk West CLP increased by over half – from 200 members, it grew by 130 to 330.

These weren’t members attracted by the magic of Arnie Graf’s community organising, or an inspirational Ed Miliband speech.

They were shipped in, en masse, by Unite.

In October last year, Labour party HQ started to receive packs of membership forms accompanied by a single cheque, cut by the union, to pay for all of the members’ annual subscriptions.

As the forms piled up at head office in Brewers Green in London, party officials started to get nervous.

Normally, membership applications are processed within days and contact is quickly made by the party with the new member.

Not so for Falkirk West.


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White collar fraud costs us £ billions. Now Labour has a policy to tackle it

25/06/2013, 10:28:04 AM

by Dan McCurry

“When a man steals your wallet, he gets a stretch. When he steals your pension, he gets away with it,” said Emily Thornberry as she launched her policy for Tackling Serious Fraud and White Collar Crime.

In this country, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is considered a bumbling fool, whose work has been cut back so much that last year it only brought a mere 20 trials, on a total budget of only £30m.

To put that in some context, fraud costs the British economy £73billion a year. It was with this thought that the shadow Attorney General travelled to America to see why US prosecutors have such a formidable reputation.

Thornberry arrived in New York and moved on to Washington. In these two cities she found fraud prosecution teams buzzing with the brightest talent. Young lawyers aggressively compete for opportunities in fraud, not because it pays well, but because this is where the big reputations are made.

What a contrast with this country. For years, decades, the SFO has been castigated as a disorganised waste of time and money. Trials collapse, fraudsters walk free, judges criticise, journalists attack, and politicians pour resources into a bottomless pit. Thornberry realised that over all these years of criticism, the focus has been wrong. The problem is not the institution. The problem is the law.

As a simple interpretation of the existing British law, a company can be prosecuted, but a person has to represent that company in the dock. So the directors distance themselves from the crime, and hire lawyers to obstruct the feeble powers of the police investigator. This confuses the situation and allows the company and its directors to wriggle off.


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More trouble in Liverpool Wavertree

24/06/2013, 01:09:39 PM

A new twist in the saga surrounding the suspension of Labour local councillor, Jake Morrison following his fall-out with the Labour MP Luciana Berger. Not happy with being suspended by the party, Jake has struck back: he’s left the party.

The Liverpool Daily Post has the full statement from young Jake, but the key paragraph is this,

“As a working class lad from Liverpool, who is determined to make a positive difference, I have decided to announce today that I will be standing for election in 2015. I will be standing as an independent candidate for Liverpool Wavertree in the upcoming general election.”

So, Luciana will have a rival at the next election, likely fighting from the left and with a substantial local profile. As is clear from his statement, this newly independent councillor will be drawing a strong contrast between “a working class lad from Liverpool,” and the less local, local MP.

Given the Labour majority in Wavertree at the last election was over 7,000, and was one of the few constituencies where Labour actually increased its majority compared to 2005, the challenge will likely prove quixotic.

But it will certainly be unwelcome for Labour and will have the second placed Lib Dems licking their lips in anticipation.

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