Archive for June, 2013

Labour is losing the fight for the political narrative

12/06/2013, 04:38:45 PM

by Sam Fowles

Ed Miliband’s “party of work” rhetoric may have stuck an important blow in the battle with the Conservatives but he’s lost a march in the war.

At first glance last weeks economic policy speeches from the Eds (Balls and Miliband)  set out sensible policy and may even go some way to helping Labour win back our lost “credibility” on the economy. But only at first glance. While the desire to remove Cameron and co from office at the earliest possible opportunity (and by any means short of a military coup) is understandable, it’s mistaken. Miliband’s speech was an attempt to gain economic credibility on Tory terms. And, as any good general knows, you never fight a war on the ground your enemy chooses. Ask anyone who’s invaded Russia.

By buying into the Conservative’s narrative Miliband risks creating a situation where economic credibility only ever means one thing. And, worse, leaving the Conservatives to decide what that thing is. He’s surrendered control of the narrative and that is political suicide, perhaps not for himself, but certainly for his party.

This Conservative party has pursued two distinct and important narratives.

The first is that economic credibility means cutting in the short term. It doesn’t matter that this policy has actually failed in its stated goal of bringing down the deficit, what matters is the electorate believes that cuts = responsibility.

The second narrative is a classic tale of the “internal enemy”. In this case there are two: the unemployed and immigrants. Again, it doesn’t matter if either of these actually are a threat to the “hard working people of Britain”. What matters is that the electorate believes they are and thus turns to their friendly neighborhood Tories for protection. Putting immigrants aside for the moment (and how I wish the press would), by trailing their economic policy by telling us what they’d cut and defining themselves against those “who refuse to work” the Eds have indirectly bolstered both of those Tory narratives.

And the thing about a Tory narrative is: it’s always going to make the Tories look best.

Allowing one side of the political spectrum to dominate the narrative means the political debate becomes about perception rather than truth. Margaret Thatcher is talked of as a model of fiscal responsibility by both the left and right. Yet she squandered billions in North Sea oil revenues on a short term tax cut rather than securing the long term economic strength of the country by investing it.

Why is she not ridiculed for so dramatically putting ideology before country? Because her party told us that cutting spending equals fiscal responsibility and she cut spending. Then they kept telling us the same thing in the face of all contrary evidence and eventually Labour stopped arguing.

The internal enemy narrative is a classic ploy for right wing parties. When we feel threatened by forces within our own community we look to protect ourselves and our families in the short term and thus turn to conservative parties.


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It’s not the despair Ed, it’s the hope

12/06/2013, 10:20:06 AM

by Rob Marchant

So, a week in which, to the great surprise of practically everyone, last week the two Eds came up with a set of policy announcements – or at least, position statements – to “get their retaliation in first” in advance of the government’s spending review. U-turning on a range of issues which they previously stood up for since January 2010 when they first formed their leadership tag team. This could just have been the week when history will remember that it all changed.

Could, not necessarily will, as we shall see.

But good things: child benefit, for example, where Balls has finally accepted the self-evident reality that if he does grant it to rich people, he will have to find a couple of billion from somewhere else, something which will hurt much more. Or the pretty-much-confirmation, by Ed Balls to Andrew Neil, of adherence to Tory spending limits, something which, ahem, Labour Uncut suggested two years ago.

The thing is, we should all be delighted. At the very least, it looks like Labour are finally getting serious about winning, they have paid attention to the polls showing that it’s not where it needs to be, as well as the election results which backed them up. It would, really, be entirely churlish to be critical at this point.

So, as regards the rest of this piece, the nice people can go home and you others, this one’s for you: all you churls out there.

One criticism is that, although the symbolism of the change is hugely important, the change itself doesn’t necessarily go far enough and is flawed in places (such as the house-building programme, as John Rentoul argues here). There are plenty more areas where things need to change.

But, fair enough, it’s a start. As the veteran MP – and welfare specialist – Frank Field brilliantly put it: “Today Ed Miliband said ‘I’m in a hole and I’ve stopped digging’. He’s now got to get us out the hole.”

The second is simple: that this may just be too little, too late. If this is the turning point, it comes more than two-and-a-half years into a parliamentary term. In other words, we now have less time to spend changing people’s perceptions than the time we have already spent letting them form the wrong ones. It will be hard. But it is possible.

The third is: do they really believe in this stuff, or are they just saying it because they think it’s what people want to hear? If they don’t truly believe it, they’ll convince no-one in the long run. Hopi Sen generously extends his belief metaphor to include the coalition as well, but it’s clear who’s the least likely to be believed:

“…with the best will in the world…any British politician standing up and swearing fiscal responsibility is, at best, like a reformed alcoholic declaring teetotalism. Even if you believe their sincerity, you don’t want to give them the key to the drinks cabinet, just in case.”


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Time for policy in the pub with Chuka Umunna

11/06/2013, 03:48:36 PM

You like pubs? You like policy? Ok, are mildly interested in policy? Well, good news. Back by public demand is policy in the pub. Tonight it’s all about business with the shadow secretary of state for business, Chuka Umunna.

So, if you want to know how a Labour government should support start-ups, entrepreneurs and small businesses, get yourself down to the Barley Mow pub on Horseferry Road SW1P 2EE this evening. The fun kicks off at 1900 and runs till 2100.

For those that haven’t been to one of these Pragmatic Radicalism events before, it’s a quick fire format with 90 seconds for speakers to present a policy idea, 2 minutes for questions and answers and then a vote at the end on the best policy.

There’s even free food and drink, so what’s not to like?

See you in pub.

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Disunity at Unite means trouble for Labour

11/06/2013, 02:05:43 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday’s sudden departure of Unite’s long standing national political director, Steve Hart, was enough to make head’s turn in Labour leadership circles. That he then followed up with a tweet (now deleted) saying he was told that he was “too close to Labour,” will have set alarm bells ringing.

Given the apparent reason for Hart’s ejection, his replacement, Jennie Formby, seems an odd choice. Unlike Hart she sits on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee. In terms of Labour’s structures, it’s difficult to be any closer to the party.

However, the organisation chart does not tell the real story of what has happened.

Three factors seem to have been pivotal in Steve Hart’s downfall: clashes at the top of Unite over the union’s proximity to Labour, Ed Balls’ speech last week and the fall-out from Unite’s ham fisted attempts at fixing candidate selections, particularly in London for the European elections.

Steve Hart has been at the heart of London Labour politics for over a decade, having forged close relations with Ken Livingstone’s mayoral administration. When Livingstone’s former chief of staff, Simon Fletcher moved in to a senior position at the London Labour party before the last election, Hart’s influence increased.

When the continuity Kennites took control of key positions in the London Labour party after the general election, Steve Hart’s role in London Labour grew.

And when Simon Fletcher joined Ed Miliband’s office with responsibility for union liaison, earlier this year, Hart’s personal connections extended right to the top of the party.

But unions are jealous, internecine places. Their internal politics are largely masked to the outside world but as with all large organisations, the competition and back stabbing are vicious.

Steve Hart’s increasing influence would not have been welcome, particularly to those on the left of the union vying for control of Unite’s political direction.


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At last, some Labour pains

10/06/2013, 07:37:34 AM

by David Talbot

Labour might still easily lose, in 2015, an election it really ought to win. If that is indeed what happens, the reason, as so often with the Labour party, is that it will have operated in the world it so dearly wishes it to be, rather than the cold, rather more sobering, reality.

It will be because it didn’t understand what voters told it in 2010. It will be because unveiling daft posters, available, incidentally, at the not very One Nation price of £35, and talking of the “same old Tories”, lamenting their cuts and their rich friends, is far easier than undertaking a soul-searching examination of why the party was so comprehensively buried in 2010. It will be because it preferred to spend time in the seminar room, talking to nobody but itself, pontificating wildly on the politics of Neverland. This will be, as always, most soothing for the Labour movement. It will have its high-mindedness, and its piety, and it will lose.

The Labour party cannot win in this state of deluded comfort, revelling in the opportunities for moral indignation that austerity affords, whilst simultaneously saying nothing of note to the nation.

If there was a pain-free option, the Labour party would, of course, take it. In this make-believe world of Labour thinking, when, not if, Labour are elected in 2015 the party will have to impose no cuts, spending will be allowed to increase on nice things like the health service, and grateful voters will at last acknowledge they made a dreadful mistake in 2010 by voting for those ghastly Tories. This inability to face the truth is deeply worrying for those, which now include, seemingly, the Labour leadership, who believe the party has spent the past three years either saying the wrong thing or nothing at all.

On the great issues of the day too often there has come has come either silence from the Labour party or scorn from the labour movement. By wallowing in the trough of political invective, the Labour party doesn’t seem to have realised that it long ago lost the argument.


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Selection round-up

09/06/2013, 04:51:21 PM

We’ve looked at results in City of Chester and Weaver Vale, but there were four other results in yesterday:

Jeff Smith (Manchester Withington) won on the second ballot, beating Unison official Angela Rayner followed by Josie Teublet and local councillor Andrew Simcock.

Born and bred in the constituency and a local councillor since 1997, Smith is now executive member for finance on Manchester City Council and was the local favourite to win.

His first electoral success in the constituency came as a ten year-old schoolboy in a mock election at Old Moat Primary School in Withington (he won).

Despite being at the Labourish end of the Liberal Democrats, current MP John Leech is something of a hate figure among Labour campaigners locally, having first defeated former government deputy chief whip, Keith Bradley, back in 2005, by claiming the Labour government was set to close Withington Hospital (it wasn’t).

Lucy Powell ran Leech close in 2010, but this time the Lib Dems will pay for being in government, with Smith’s task in overturning Leech’s small 1,894 majority seemingly a cake walk.

Karin Smyth (Bristol South), a local NHS manager, inherits a 4,734 majority from former Treasury minister Dawn Primarolo who is retiring in 2015 after serving her current term as Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. She beat Uncut columnist Amanda Ramsay into second place.

Although the seat saw a sharp 10 per cent drop in Labour’s vote in 2010, it split evenly between the second placed Lib Dems and third placed Tories making it a much safer bet for Smyth in future.

Todd Foreman (NE Somerset) has a harder task in overturning the 4,914 majority of Tory curiosity Jacob Rees-Mogg. Yet the US-born solicitor is also a Westminster City Councillor, so will relish a challenge in ‘enemy’ territory.

Finally councillor Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) has been selected to fight Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems Simon Hughes.

Coyle, the director of policy at campaign group Disability Alliance beat a strong field which included Gavin Edwards, Stephanie Cryan, Prem Goyal and Richard Livingstone.

Hughes had an 8,530 majority in 2015.

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Wine buff has nose for victory

08/06/2013, 02:58:02 PM

Julia Tickridge has this afternoon been selected as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Weaver Vale.

The Cheshire West and Chester borough councillor beat off a strong challenge from party organiser Lauren Cassidy, with solicitor Rebecca Long-Baliey coming third. North West Party Board Chair, Sue Pugh was the fourth shortlisted candidate.

The final run off saw Tickridge beat Cassidy by 66 votes to 61.

Tickridge is a languages graduate and formerly worked for chemicals giant ICI in Germany. She also has a background in further education and is a qualified International Wine Challenge judge.

It is believed that just twelve candidates applied for the seat, designated an All-Women Shortlist (AWS) by the party’s National Executive Committee.

However this is the second AWS selection process in the area where relatively few women candidates applied. Nearby Wirral West saw NHS campaigner Margaret Greenwood selected from a field of just a dozen candidates.

The Weaver Vale seat is currently held by Conservative Graham Evans with a majority of just 991.

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Party veteran wins nomination for home seat in Chester

08/06/2013, 11:40:55 AM

Chris Matheson was last night selected as Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the City of Chester constituency.

A veteran of the North West party board, Matheson works for Unite the union as an industrial officer and lives in the constituency. He based his campaign on combining “local roots and national experience.”

He beat development economist Peter D’Souza into second place, with local councillor Sam Dixon coming third. Matheson won on the third ballot.

In a leaflet distributed in the final few days of campaigning, Matheson outlined his vision of ‘Chester 2020’, promising if elected to galvanise businesses and the local university behind a drive for to improve local skills and bring in new investment.

Although Chester is usually regarded as one of the most affluent boroughs in the North West, the Campaign to End Child Poverty (a collection of anti-poverty groups) found that 17% of children in the City of Chester constituency are currently living in poverty.

Also, the Chester and Ellesmere Port foodbank, set up last November, has recently seen the number of people it helps treble.

Sitting Conservative MP Stephen Moseley has a majority of 2,583.

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Letter from Wales: Let’s see if the Welsh gravy train survives a collision with Ed Balls’ fiscal reality

07/06/2013, 11:34:11 AM

by Julian Ruck

The other day Ed Balls said, “We need to look ruthlessly at how every pound is spent.”

He obviously has yet to travel on the Welsh express gravy train.

Devolution has allowed the ancient Labour enthusiasm for small-town political monopoly and personal fiefdom to run riot – for the impotence of democratic principle and challenge, look no further than Wales with its happy coteries, self-serving cabals and “all the usual suspects” political foxhole mentality.

Like the rest of the UK, there are three sectors in Wales. The public, the private sectors and  of course the third Sector which is not for profit and seeks to help citizens in varying and various ways eg health charities, CAB’s etc.

As alluded to in previous “Letters,” Wales is a tax-payer junky, it cannot and will not move away from the divine right of tax-payer subsidy in all things – as least Westminster subsidy that is.

Wales is small, many in Westminster may even think insignificant, its population not even  half of London’s. But should this smallness negate any scrutiny by its paymasters? Any accountability?

In Wales, criticism of the ruling party is viewed with suspicion and superior arrogance. The elite potentates of Old Labour carte blanche carry on with a 90 year mandate as if Blair never existed and the unions still rule the ghostly memories of coal and steel grandeur.

London must and always will, pay up.

Dissent is for the birds. Outspoken truth to be sneered at and discredited wherever possible. The Welsh will always vote old Labour.

So why don’t even a minority of the Welsh speak up? The answer is simple. All three sectors are in the tax-payer pocket, in some way or another. Even the private sector relies heavily on public subsidy, although it is debateable whether there is a Welsh private sector at all. To get on in Wales one has to be Old Labour, one has to toe an outdated and defunct Clause IV line and ignore what is going on in the rest of the world.


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John Mills, tax and dishonesty

07/06/2013, 08:41:55 AM

by Dan McCurry

On the issue of taxation abuse, we need to move on from the oversimplified distinction between legal avoidance and illegal evasion.

At the moment some avoidance has shocked people, while other avoidance, such as my tax free savings, is not an abuse. In order to sort out the difference between good and bad avoidance, I suggest people concern themselves with whether the avoidance was dishonest or not.

In the case of George Osborne’s complaint about a Labour donation, we need to ask, was John Mills dishonest in his method of avoiding tax in this donation? If he was, then Labour is in trouble, if he wasn’t then we are not. Mr Mills chose not to sell the £1.5m of shares and give the cash to Labour, as that would have been taxed as a capital gain. By giving Labour the shares, then Labour will be taxed on the dividends, but only liable to the capital gains if they are sold.

I have some of my savings in an ISA as a tax efficient method of building a pension. I can invest £11,250 per year in my ISA and this will be exempt from taxation both on the dividends and on the capital gains. The same applies to a donation I might give to charity that can be given with “Gift Aid” so that the tax paid amount is passed on to the charity. Is that dishonest? No.

This is quite different from the case of Jimmy Carr who passed his money to an Isle of Man, company who then provided him with same amount back but called it a loan. A loan isn’t taxable, so he avoided tax. Now, any sensible person would describe that as completely dishonest, but because tax law is based on a set of rules, he wasn’t prosecuted.

Criminal law is a different set of law and can take precedence if policy makers wish it to. If the authorities wished to prosecute him for fraud, they could have done so, but if they had, then they would probably have to prosecute everyone else who has done similar, and that is a prospect that can be frightening to the people who run this country.

Fraud is when someone commits a dishonest act which makes a gain for himself, or a loss to another.

The other problem that exists with tax is that countries tend to have bilateral treaties with each other.


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