Archive for September, 2013

Clegg’s pitch for the centre falling flat as exclusive Uncut poll reveals 60% of voters think Lib Dem’s headed in wrong direction

15/09/2013, 10:06:57 PM

by Jonathan Todd

There are two core dimensions to the Nick Clegg project. To make the Liberal Democrats both a party of government and of the centre. His external critics probably struggle most with the latter, seeing him as a Conservative in all but name, and his internal ones the former, uncomfortable with the compromises of power.

These loud complaints shouldn’t distract from how close he is to completing his project. The chances of another hung parliament are non-trivial. In anticipation of this, Conservatives and Labourites are keen to be on good terms with him.

How would we regard Clegg if he were to serve in government until 2020? And with which party would he prefer the second half of this period to be served?

After a decade in government, there would be voters who wouldn’t be able to remember the Liberal Democrats in opposition. To serve half of this time with the Conservatives and half with Labour would reinforce their centrist claims. Which is why, if we take these claims seriously, Clegg may favour changing governing partners in two years.

One Liberal Democrat minister has, though, recently claimed: “A Miliband government would be catastrophic.” But his party’s president, Tim Farron, is clearly keener. The ambitious Farron might feel that his own leadership ambitions are assisted by a change in coalition partner.

Labour have synchronised policies with Clegg’s party on a mansion tax, votes at 16 and a 2030 decarbonisation target for electricity, which makes it easier than otherwise for him to make this transition. But Labour should reflect on the polling that YouGov have done for Labour Uncut.

While government with the Liberal Democrats was thought to help detoxify the Tory brand, we find no evidence that government with the Liberal Democrats would strengthen the Labour brand. 37 per cent of voters would trust a majority Labour government to take the right decisions on the economy – 8 per cent more than would trust a Labour-Lib Dem one, as the polls below show.


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Uncut poll reveals public blame last Labour government, not Tories, for today’s benefits bill

12/09/2013, 09:55:29 PM

by Kevin Meagher

In raw political terms, the fact that voters hold Labour accountable by a margin of ten to one for the size of the benefits bill is about as about politically toxic as it gets.

The poll finding, in our forthcoming pamphlet “Labour’s manifesto uncut: How to win in 2015 and why”, shows the scale of Labour’s real challenge, underneath its broad opinion poll lead.

Over half of those who think welfare spending is too high (54 per cent) blame Labour, with only five per cent pointing the finger at the coalition.

Meanwhile 45 per cent trust Cameron to control welfare spending and prevent it rising out of control, compared to 14 per cent who back Ed Miliband.

This gap goes to the heart of Labour’s credibility as a party of government, so narrowing it must be a strategic priority.


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The Russians are stalling on Syria, America must be ready to act

12/09/2013, 01:44:26 PM

by Dan McCurry

Sarin is invisible, odourless and deadly in tiny amounts. If it’s in your surroundings, you’ll soon know; typical symptoms include soiling yourself, and choking to death as your throat muscles contract.

The international convention to ban these chemicals came about following the killing of 5,000 Kurds in Iraq. Apart from a bizarre terrorist incident on the Tokyo subway, sarin hasn’t been used since, so the ban had been effective right up until Syria.

The fact that sarin has now been used, without consequence (so far), must have put ideas into the minds of other dictators. After all, it’s somewhat more effective than CS gas. This stuff can stop a riot in a minute and a revolution in a day. For dictators, possession of sarin ensures security of tenure is guaranteed.

No one disputes that this chemical was created by Assad’s regime.

We’ve now got Putin striding the global stage, negotiating to decommission the weapons. Prior to the negotiations Assad had lied for years claiming that he had no such weapons. Immediately prior to the negotiation Putin was claiming that the rebels had used the sarin on themselves.

Let’s be clear about the veracity of that previous claim. Putin now admits that Assad built the stock pile. Sarin doesn’t have any other use on Earth. It is a weapon. There is no dual purpose. It doesn’t come about by accident. It only exists in order to kill people. If Assad built this arsenal he must have been willing to use it.


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Despite a “concession” the lobbying bill is still a shambles

10/09/2013, 12:45:14 PM

by Wayne David

This afternoon, the house of commons is considering in committee the second part of the so-called lobbying bill. This is the part which puts restraints on the campaigning ability of charities and third sector organisations to campaign in the run-up to general elections.

The government is seeking to get this bill on the statute book as quickly as possible and with as little debate as they can get away with. Their aim is get this restrictive legislative agreed in time for the 2015 General Election.

Even though the bill was only published just before the summer recess, charities and campaigning organisations – from the WI and Oxfam, to the British Legion and Friends of the Earth – responded quickly to the threat which they faced. MPs were inundated with emails from concerned charities and even the impartial Electoral Commission came out strongly and criticised the poorly drafted legislation.

At second reading the government had a ‘bloody nose’ with many Conservatives as well as Labour MPs attacking the Bill. The leader of the house, Andrew Lansley, has indicated that the government will make a ‘concession’ to try to placate the groundswell of opposition. He has said that the government will not now seek to redefine what already exists in legislation with regard to what can be “reasonably” regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success.

This move is welcome, but it only loosens the stranglehold that charities are facing. The concession does not go nearly far enough because the bill is fundamentally flawed and requires a whole host of changes before it can even begin to be considered as acceptable. In short, it is still a shambles. The Electoral Commission has made the very good point that the government should open up an immediate dialogue with all those affected by the bill “before putting amendments before Parliament”.


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Exclusive Uncut poll reveals trade union members overwhelmingly back Ed on reform

08/09/2013, 09:55:24 PM

by Rob Marchant

As delegates gather in Bournemouth for the Trades Union Congress, one subject will surely be a major topic of conversation for delegates from the larger unions: the future of their relationship with the Labour party.

While the relationship between the party leader and the leaders of the main unions has never been easy for either side, it is safe to say that relations are at a turning point in their 113 year-old marriage. As things stand, a smooth and trouble-free conference season seems an increasingly remote prospect.

To recap, the disastrous selection process for Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Falkirk West, where allegations of malpractice triggered the resignation of Tom Watson MP as its election campaign coordinator – and which even now is subject to wildly differing versions of events – has kicked off a wholesale reform programme of everything from party funding to MP candidate selection and conference voting.

Then, last Friday night on the eve of the TUC, the party suddenly accepted that no wrongdoing had taken place. Simultaneously, candidate Karie Murphy – Watson’s office manager and friend of Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union – pulled out, in what seemed almost certain to be some kind of deal, after threats that Unite could boycott the party’s conference later this month.

Although McCluskey, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, accepted the principle of reform of the union link from the outset, one wonders if this stance will continue. And other union leaders have been notably less enthusiastic.

The GMB responded last Monday by announcing a cut in affiliation fees of almost 90%, estimating that only around a tenth of current levy-paying members would sign up.


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Labour history uncut: The day the Labour party nearly died

06/09/2013, 05:03:24 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Parliament dissolved on October 7th 1931 in preparation for an election on the 27th.

It was hard to believe the national government had been formed just six weeks earlier. At that time, Ramsay Macdonald had promised his shocked Labour colleagues that there would be no coupons or pacts when the election came.

Now he slowly opened up his card to reveal… “Bluff.”

The national government resolved to stand as a single unit. Expelled from the Labour party, Macdonald, Philip Snowden, Jimmy Thomas and the other Labour defectors readied themselves for a contest where they would fight the colleagues they had once worked so hard to support.

Ramsay Macdonald’s spoke softly and carried a big stick – for beating off angry Labour voters

Alongside them were the other members of the polyglot coalition. This national government had determined to go into the election asking for a “doctor’s mandate,” a request to be given a free hand to deal with the nation’s ills as they saw fit.

As a pitch, there were some obvious flaws.

The first was that the one significant prescription this national government had offered during the currency crisis, to try to stay on the gold standard at all costs, had proved catastrophically wrong.

But worse, now the gold standard had been abandoned, on the question of the economy, the three squabbling parties could not agree on the nation’s illness, let alone the cure.


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Letter from Wales: the 2013 Motor Sports Association Euroclassic rally

06/09/2013, 12:45:18 PM

by Julian Ruck

And what has all this to do with Labour grassroots I hear all you readers say?

Well the editors have asked me to write a piece about the above, so don’t blame me!

Something to do with the ‘hinterlands’ of columnist personality, they tell me. I hope you can make some sense out of this because I sure as hell can’t?

Anyway, a change from political smarty- pants observation certainly isn’t going to do any harm, so do please indulge me.

My pal, a Pontypryddian socialist GP no less (he is known to swig at the odd bottle of Moet but let’s not hold that against him) and my good self, are off on a classic car rally today. The car?  A Welsh Gilbern Invader MK 3 two door coupe – and yes I know, even the Welsh firm who built ‘em eventually went bust but don’t worry I’m not going to start on non-private sector Wales here.

The rally is intended to take us from Dover to Luxembourg – actually, we’ll be damned lucky to get two miles outside Llanelli before a convoy of obliging  RAC vans and a few tow-trucks are called out, that’s classic cars for you and  believe me I know, the good doctor has been torturing me with ‘em for more than 13 years now, and me with a heart condition, so much for care in the community eh?!

Dr Anthony is the driver and I’m the navigator, that’s a good one, the only thing I can navigate my way around is the The Good Pub Guide!

On a more serious note, production of the Gilbern was started in Llantwit Fadre  Pontypridd, Dr Anthony’s home town, way back in 1959. A Welsh butcher GILes Smith and a German engineer BERNard Friese (thus the name Gilbern) got together to build the first truly Welsh sports car.

Only 212 Gilbern Invader MK 3’ were ever made, and Dr Anthony’s Gilbern still displays the distinctive four Welsh Red Dragon motifs on its bodywork.

It was advertised at the time as ‘Gilbern, the rare breed’ and ‘Drive out the Invader’; well the Welsh doctor and Welsh author will be invading Europe alright, so eat your heart out Owen Glyndwr!

For all you classic car enthusiasts , we’ll be taking part in the 2013 Motor Sports Association Euroclassic Rally from Dover Castle to Luxembourg via France , Belgium and Germany form Fri Sat 6th Sept to Fri 13th Sept. calling in at  various castles (to keep me happy, I’m a history buff, Dr Anthony is a petrol-head), car museums ( Porsche and Mercedes Benz) and some European Motor Racing circuits.

So, here’s to happy motoring – fingers and legs crossed! Before I go, I did draw the line when Dr Anthony tried to name his Gilbern ‘Genevieve’, look what happened there!

Julian Ruck is an author, columnist and Freedom of Information campaigner. He also makes contributions to both Welsh and national broadcasting and media

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Small can be beautiful when it comes to the state

05/09/2013, 01:44:19 PM

by Paul Connell

It’s not meant to be easy being a lefty. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

Being so at the moment is as testing of stamina as ever.  In the face of a global financial crisis that has demonstrated the truth of just about every criticism of capitalism ever made, the alternatives we are offering, or being offered, seem scant.

Ed M and every other European mainstream socialist party leader must be casting nervous glances at France where electoral victory has soured so quickly that le pauvre Hollande has managed to pass from glory to ignominy without passing through indifference. He is paying the price of disappointed expectations, curious as he didn’t actually raise any except not being Sarkozy, on which he has done quite well. There’s that and there is the Mori-Ipsos poll of generation Y which suggests a strong rejection of welfarism in the shape of redistributive tax and benefit policies by the electorate of the future.

Let us leave aside for the moment the question of the contribution of public spending to current economic woes (answer – not much). Let’s just acknowledge that there isn’t going to be the money for a large scale regeneration of state-run services anytime soon and people aren’t going to vote for a party proposing it. Back to the future won’t work. Labour has to plan for government without a commitment to expanding the state.

Of this necessity let us construct a virtue. Where, after all, is it written that socialism means a big state, generous benefits or “something for nothing?” Lots of places, in fact, but let’s leave that as a rhetorical question.

Having spent the best part of the last 30 years working in the UK public sector at local government, civil service and voluntary sector levels, I experienced periods of austerity and spending booms. Clearly, periods of plenty were more enjoyable than the thin years but it wasn’t as simple as big spending= good, low spending = bad.

When Labour got back in in ‘97 and after the brief reign of Queen Prudence, we had an explosion of czars, rollouts and initiatives, followed by a breathless rush to delivery. Delivery of what? Not results but evidence of results.  Local Authority departments became machines for recording performance indicators.

Take one example, school exclusion. It had been well established that children excluded from mainstream schooling were at higher risk of low attainment, early parenthood, criminality and substance misuse. Evidence based policy dictated that kids should not be excluded.  So they weren’t. Some great work went into keeping difficult kids in school and supporting teachers to keep them there. Some, inevitably, were just too difficult. So, many no longer went to school but, with a bit of imagination, could be found another designation for their status and the excluded box didn’t have to be ticked. Success!


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Syria: the hangover

04/09/2013, 12:48:08 PM

by Rob Marchant

If Westminster is often a bubble, on frenzied days like last Thursday it becomes even more so. Everyone is waiting for the latest news. What can easily happen, and what seems to have, is for Parliament to forget about the world outside entirely until it is over.

As the Telegraph reports, some Labour MPs, as they left the parliamentary lobby giddy with unexpected victory, were rudely jolted back to reality by pictures of Syrian victims of incendiary bombs, as a reminder of what had just collectively been achieved by voting down intervention, without necessarily meaning to. The hangover had begun.

It is particularly easy to miss the impact of such things in the wider party, the decent people who organise raffles and knock on doors. Over the weekend, I was in touch with two centre-left colleagues (and no, neither was Dan Hodges), one of whom was seriously considering leaving a party of which he had not only been a member for a generation, but had worked for during more than a decade.

The other would have resigned, but it was Saturday and she couldn’t get through to the membership department. Another typical story from one young member leaving is blogged here.

The consequence of Thursday, it seems, is now a leakage of the very centrist common sense the party so badly needs. Perhaps there would have been even more from the left, should Miliband have opted for intervention. We will never know.

When you make a tough decision on a touchstone issue, there is always the risk that you will lose people to the left or right. That’s politics. Miliband’s apparent instinct is firstly to stake out a position more or less in the political middle of his party and tack slightly from it this way and that, to try and keep the party together. We might argue that perhaps it would be better to stand still, but ok.

But it seems that – unless something happens which truly threatens the party and its leadership, like the battle with Unite – in that last moment when he is finally forced to jump one way or the other, one cannot help but feel the instinct is always to rabbit-run to the left.

And that in itself might be understandable to many, were it not for the way that the jump was made in this case. A last-minute change of mind, after Cameron’s meek acceptance of all Labour’s conditions, led to a breakdown of trust which seems to have torpedoed the idea of intervention altogether, quite probably permanently.

We might be on one side of this debate or the other, but what we cannot pretend is that something minor has just happened. That it is an inflection point in Miliband’s leadership, and in British politics, is undeniable (it is, after all, the first time a vote has been lost on a matter of national defence in over two centuries).


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There’s more to helping Syria than air strikes

02/09/2013, 12:37:09 PM

by Lee Butcher

Parliament has spoken. Cameron’s rushed attempt to convince the nation of the need for intervention in Syria has failed. The reason and culprits will be debated for a long time to come yet. Whether intended or not a signal has been sent out to our international partners that if they want our support they are going to have to provide compelling reasons for doing so; in failing to do so Barack Obama and David Cameron have damaged their cause, for that they only have themselves to blame.

While I will not dwell on the possible reasons for the failure of that vote, the issue of chemical weapons is worth briefly addressing if for no other reason but to question the consensus that something must be done because of their use. The talk of the near century old norm to stop their use rests on rather dubious historical ground. A recent and notable example is Britain’s support for Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran between 1980 and 1988, a period which saw him deploy large scale chemical attacks against the Iranians and against civilians in Halabja.

As cynical as that policy was there is little evidence that it was followed by a sudden outburst of chemical weapons use by other powers because we failed to oppose him. On the moral grounds of action, it is worth questioning a morality which regards being killed by a bullet or a bomb (a cause of death responsible for over 100,000 people) as being better than being gassed. This is something which the supporters of this action will have to address themselves. As far as helping potential chemical victims, an alternative suggestion worth considering can be seen in this opinion piece from the New Scientist magazine.

The Labour party ought to now consider where next for engagement with the Syrian crisis and what Plan B from the government we can support. In seeking a limited response to the use of chemical weapons the government have opened up heartfelt moral concerns about the on-going suffering in Syria. Those who have voiced such concerns must realise last week’s vote, even if won, would not have addressed them. Their concerns inevitably widen our view on the crisis.

The government, Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander should embrace this new found interest in Syria. Now that military options are limited we should see this as an opportunity to focus our minds on what else can be done for the Syrian people. If that occurs last week’s vote may well have a positive outcome for Syria.


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