Archive for July, 2013

Miliband’s moment of truth

10/07/2013, 07:00:28 AM

by Rob Marchant

The last week or so has undoubtedly set the biggest challenge of Miliband’s leadership, in the aftermath of the Falkirk selection fiasco. It is one to which he has risen.

We can dress it up how we like, but it was difficult to interpret Len McCluskey’s defiant denials – flying in the face of all kinds of inconvenient facts – as anything other an open challenge to his authority as leader.

As ever, it’s not so much what people say, it’s the subtext.

When the leader of Britain’s largest union is moved to tell us that Ed Miliband is leader of the Labour Party, you feel like saying “oh, thanks, Len, just as long as you’re sure. We’ll keep him on, then.” The damaging implication of the statement, of course, is that it might ever have been in question.

Much of the left blogosphere opted to play it down, with the best of intentions; but there is nothing that looks more obvious than a “move along, nothing to see” approach when your house is clearly on fire, and the rest of the world saw it.

Miliband, thankfully, if belatedly, also noticed his house was on fire.

He gave a dreadful, hesitant interview on Friday, where he talked about being “very clear” so often, as John Rentoul observed, that it sounded like what it was, playing for time.

But worse than that were the interventions from Harriet Harman and Owen Smith; which left you shouting “noooooo” at BBC News, because they left such a clear hostage to fortune in implying that “Falkirk was a one-off”.

But despite the poor start, yesterday confounded expectations: it was a political coup de grâce. Tory politicians and commentators were taken by surprise, and overreached in their criticisms, leaving them looking as if they had chewed on the sourest of grapes. And if you can manage to secure broad support from Tony Blair to Len McCluskey on the same day, you’ve clearly done something right.

Symbolism is something gets undervalued in life in general, probably rightly. But in politics, sometimes it’s not only desirable but essential. Clause four was all symbolism, and none the less important for that.

But this was different. The symbolism was not to make a break with the unions, something not even the most rightward-leaning party figures have any real intention of doing.

Indeed, many commentators failed to grasp that this struggle was not about right-left politics at all. The symbolism of yesterday was to make a break with the political equivalent of an abusive relationship, where power and accountability are uneven and twisted. And, as in that case, both partners need to take a step back and put it on a more healthy footing if it is to survive.


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Well done Ed, this is right for the party. Just one thing: make sure you’ve squared off the creditors

09/07/2013, 09:00:01 AM

by Atul Hatwal

This morning Ed Miliband will make a brave and genuinely bold move. Backing a change to the terms of union affiliation, so that individual trade unionists “opt in” to pay towards the party, will revolutionise the party’s relationship with union members.

It will potentially give Labour a direct link to millions of trade unionists and enable the party to focus the funding spotlight on the Tories’ dodgy big money donors.

Others’ have written about the merits of this move, suffice to say it is radical and offers the opportunity to comprehensively modernise Labour’s relations with the unions.

There’s just one thing. And it’s likely that the team at Brewers Green will have already addressed this, but just in case, before Ed Miliband gets up to speak, it’s important that the Labour party has made sure its creditors are comfortable with the changes being proposed.

Why? Because the party has long term loan financing arrangements that are secured against a stable, minimum level of future income.

A few years ago, the party did what many businesses and individuals do: it refinanced its debts. As part of this process, agreements were signed that committed the Labour party to a more manageable  schedule of repayment and debt servicing .

The creditors consented to signing these less stringent agreements because Labour promised to maintain a minimum level of income, out of which a proportion would be dedicated to debt payment and servicing.


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Ed Miliband needs a big win today and Len McLuskey should give it to him

09/07/2013, 06:30:56 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Today, Ed Miliband will set out a series of bold reforms to Labour’s relationship with its affiliated trade unions, in a bid to draw a line under the disastrous fallout from the botched Falkirk selection process.

He will propose an end to affiliation fees from the unions, switching to a system where individual trade unionists “opt in” to pay towards the party. Miliband will argue that trade unionists need to make “a more active individual choice on whether they affiliate to the Labour party”.

Fee income under the current system is said to be worth around £8 million a year to the party. The risk is that many fewer trade unionists choose to opt-in, with some estimates predicting the change could cost the party as much as £5 million in income

Miliband is also set to announce the greater use of primaries to select parliamentary candidates, especially where a local party’s membership is small. The party will also use a primary selection to choose Labour’s candidate for the London mayoralty in 2016.

There will be a new code of conduct for those seeking selection, with stricter spending limits, both on individual candidates and the trade unions and other affiliates backing them.

Miliband will say that Falkirk represented “the death throes of the old politics” and that he wants to build “a better Labour party – and build a better politics for Britain.”

Party reform is a familiar expedient for Labour leaders in opposition. Neil Kinnock’s is best remembered for driving through vital policy and organisational changes which brought Labour back from the brink. Later, John Smith took the gamble of driving through one member, one vote and curbing the union block vote.

And of course Tony Blair scrapped Clause Four of the party’s constitution back in 1995 – with its ambiguous commitment to public ownership – in a bid to “say what we mean and mean what we say.”


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Unite’s confused kulturkampf

08/07/2013, 07:53:52 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Len McCluskey began his article in the Mirror over the weekend by stating:

“If your son or daughter fancies becoming a Labour MP, forget it. They have more chance of cleaning in the Commons than being elected to it.”

Who is he addressing?

The mother who has worked in the NHS all her life and the father who served his time as an electrician? They’ve never been active in politics or known any university besides the Open University. They have no friends in high places, whether in the “posh part of Stockport” or elsewhere.

Or is McCluskey warning off Oxbridge educated, ex-ministerial advisors and Demos associates? The thing is: Those are my parents and this is my life.

Perhaps my background is working class enough to get over the Unite acceptability threshold. But having checked my privilege, I’ve damned myself by having the temerity to get as good an education as I could and make the most of the opportunities this created.

It seems to me ever harder to be sure what class you are. By most measures, I’m probably becoming more middle class as I get older. But life isn’t a bowl of strawberries. Property prices, childcare costs, pension saving. They worry me as much as the next dad to a young family. I believe there is a term for this: the squeezed middle.

I don’t feel that any superior virtue or wisdom attaches to me through membership of the squeezed middle. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, whatever our class. While class membership seems to me more perplexing than ever, all Labour members can agree with the famous Neil Kinnock line: “The real privilege of being strong is to help people who are not strong.” And caring enough about other people to want to help them is a matter of empathy, not class allegiance.


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Labour should support the government’s ministry of justice reforms

08/07/2013, 05:00:18 PM

by Ian Moss

Whisper it quietly but there is a long overdue transformation going on in the ministry of justice and Labour should support some of it. Ignoring the tired idea that parliament is at its worst when it agrees, there are a number of proposals coming from Chris Grayling that, if successful, will help reform the shabby, out of date operations of the justice system and produce efficiencies and positive reforms at the same time.

In my short time in the ministry of justice I ran a few heretical ideas up the flagpole, and it is nice to see some of them fluttering away proudly. From my lofty position within criminal justice strategy I had the luxury of not having to actually deliver anything, but equally I had the benefit of being able to roam across the system and look at the hard numbers and the operational approach.

The departmental budget was a mess, and there was no sophisticated plan to deal with the problem, with senior officials putting all of their eggs in to the basket of “reducing prison numbers” and “cutting legal aid”. When Ken Clarke was appointed as secretary of state one director general in my near view literally leapt up and whooped, punching the air. Said official had palpable relief borne out of the belief that, with Ken, they could roll through their unsophisticated plans for cuts. They had to, as there were no other plans.

Unfortunately letting prisoners out was never going to be politically acceptable and slashing legal aid, as we have seen, is a crude and unjust way of getting the budget numbers in order. Ken Clarke may have been a big beast of old but slept through his time in MoJ without any obvious interest in tackling the questions of reform that were necessary. The reforming zeal on which he built his reputation in the 80s and 90s was not in evidence.

MoJ required a wholesale transformation of its operations to release value and improve the system. I think Grayling has got to this conclusion very quickly.  Policy Exchange has also proposed some sensible measures in its Future Prisons report. Labour should take these proposals seriously and lend its political support to a long overdue overhaul and reform of the ministry’s operations.

Firstly, and importantly, large amounts of value in the department are tied up in assets that are in prime locations. Stand on Southwark bridge and look longingly down the beautiful view of the Thames. On the right bank, within plain sight will be the crude, ugly brick building of Southwark crown court. Look upstream and you will see the unedifying sight of city of lLndon’s coroners court.


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Letter from Wales: Welsh government blows €130m investment in north Wales

08/07/2013, 03:11:03 PM

by Julian Ruck

For a classic example of the Welsh government’s blazing incompetence and reluctance to consider any true private investment (but to be fair, there is no authentic private sector in Wales) that doesn’t involve their profligate dishing out of tax-payers’ money at will to duff so-called commercial enterprises, please consider some correspondence (below) that was recently sent to me by Jeremy Oakley, a businessman.

Mr Oakley’s abridged  letter to first minister Carwyn Jones, on 16.5.13 is as follows –  please note, no response was forthcoming from Mr Jones, neither was there a response from his deputy Rhodri Price, who had put his deputy, one James Price onto it as a matter of urgency.

“It is with deep regret that I must inform you of my decision to pull investment we had planned for north Wales, specifically for the Trawsfynydd power station site.

Over the last 2 years, we have created a green energy project that was specifically designed for Trawsfynydd.

The project was to create 100 full time long term jobs by using new technology to create Bioethanol from the local natural resources of grass, bracken and soft rush.

The annual return to the region would have been c€20m plus the income derived from full time mixed ability jobs created in a high unemployment area.

The capital expenditure for the project would have been 130m EUR of which c60% would have been a local spend.”

That’s right €130m of investment in Wales in exactly the type of green energy project we desperately need, lost without even an explanation. But Wales’ loss is other countries’ gain. Mr. Oakley continues, (more…)

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Labour history uncut: Crash! Bang! Wallop! What an economy

07/07/2013, 11:09:08 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

On 31st May 1929, Ramsay Macdonald departed Darlington for London, cheered by a massed crowd swathed in green and white, Labour’s minty-fresh colours in the north east.

At each stop crowds were gathered at the platform demanding a speech from the election victor. He duly obliged where he could, although thanks to the use of station Tannoys, nobody actually understood any of it.

By the time Macdonald arrived at King Cross station at 11pm there were 12,000 people waiting. This wasn’t simply because of over-running engineering works outside Peterborough, either. The huge crowd was there to herald the return, albeit as a minority administration again, of a Labour government.

No pressure then.

Nobody was impressed by Ramsay Macdonald’s impression of a stamp

The next day Macdonald began the painful process of sulks and tantrums that came with forming a new government.

His first appointment should have been easy. Like last time Macdonald wanted to select an unfailingly loyal foreign secretary – himself.

But Arthur Henderson rather fancied a job where he could visit foreign countries and then invade them. He threatened to boycott the government if he didn’t get the job.


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Unite & Paisley

06/07/2013, 06:48:45 PM

We have withdrawn an article today relating to  Unite and Mr Len McCluskey that contained allegations concerning Unite’s role in nominating Labour MPs with particular reference to Paisley. This withdrawal follows correspondence form Unite’s solicitors to the effect that information contained in the article was false. Pending further enquiries, we have withdrawn the article and request that media outlets do not report further  the information contained in it.

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After Falkirk, it’s time for state funding of political parties

05/07/2013, 06:36:50 PM

by Dan McCurry

When somebody wants to end a relationship, they don’t engage in a rational conversation, they engage in rudeness, spite, and provocation. The end of the end maybe a rational discussion, but the beginning of the end nearly always starts with unpleasantness. The manner of Len McCluskey’s conduct in recent times has been unacceptable. This is not clumsiness, ignorance or accident. It is downright rude, and he knows it.

When the Tories have attacked Labour’s union relationship in the past, it has had little effect. Voters know Labour is fearful of indulging the unions to much, and that the unions support ordinary working people. However, the recent Tory attacks are different. Cameron, at PMQs, was not attacking Len McCluskey, he was attacking Ed Miliband. His allegation was that Miliband is not in control.

My first observation of the power of unions over Labour was at the 2009 Bournemouth conference. I arrived as delegate, excited and empowered with my vote. I wanted to put forward a motion and lobby other delegates to back my ideas. I soon realised that the results are stitched up by the unions beforehand. The delegate vote is window dressing for the membership.

The unions own the Labour Party conference. It is an annual jamboree where they get to take the stage and pontificate before some of the most powerful politicians in the country. There is nothing wrong with this. They paid for the conference so surely they can enjoy it. But when we witness them booing the name of a former leader, Tony Blair, what are we to make of this?

At the time it was dismissed as a one-off silliness, but it didn’t end there. The contempt has continued. Do these people have a respect for the institution of the Labour party, or are they only at conference because they are paymasters and therefore entitled to a good piss-up? If so then it’s an extremely expensive piss-up.

The unions give us millions each year, and they obviously have a duty to question whether these donations are in the interests of their fee paying members. They may also ask whether the high profile funding of Labour serves their image well, taking into account the barrage from the other main party, which must breed hostility in managers. There is a serious question as to whether funding Labour is a liability rather than an asset to the unions.

The alternative to union funding is state funding. If the level of state funding were sufficient then no party would be obliged to a specific interest group. Politics would be less dirty in terms of allegations and suspicions.


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Handing the Falkirk report to the police is a good first step. But more is needed.

05/07/2013, 01:27:50 PM

by Atul Hatwal

So news breaks this lunchtime that the party is handing the report into Falkirk West to the police. Good.

On Wednesday this week, Uncut was first with the news that the Fraud Act had potentially been breached. Yesterday, we broke the news that the party was refusing to commit to handing over evidence of any illegality to the police and relevant authorities.

In the post yesterday, we called for the party ‘s legal advisers to look at the report and asses whether any evidence of law-breaking was uncovered during the course of the NEC inquiry. This morning the Labour party did exactly that and as expected has found it extremely likely that the law has been breached.

The party is making the right moves to clean up this mess. But there is unfinished business. Handing the report to the police will address the potential breach of the Fraud Act.

However, the Data Protection Act has also very likely been breached and this is within the remit of the Information Commissioner rather than the police.

The party inquiry will have found evidence of this breach, not least with the complaints of Unite members who found that they had been signed-up to the Labour party without their knowledge.

To complete the cleansing, the party should handover this is evidence of law-breaking to the Information Commissioner and ask him to investigate.

Only then will the party truly begin to move on from the disaster in Falkirk West.

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