Archive for October, 2013

If the Mail was wrong on Ed Miliband’s dad, then Unite are wrong to target Ineos managers’ families. And Labour needs to say so

31/10/2013, 12:20:02 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Another day and yet more revelations from Grangemouth. This morning’s Daily Mail carried details of how Unite targeted Ineos executives at home as part of a strategy called “leverage campaigning.” While most members of the Labour movement will read anything in the Mail about unions with a level of scepticism, on this occasion the basic facts seem to be incontrovertible.

The Mail reports that as part of “leverage campaigning” 30 Unite members descended on the home of an Ineos executive during the school holidays to stage a protest on his drive. In response, Unite haven’t denied any details of what happened, but have defended the actions as “legitimate in the context of an industrial dispute.” On their website there is a section that describes “leverage campaigning,”

“Leverage is a process whereby the Union commits resources and time to making all interested parties aware of the treatment received by Unite members at the hands of an employer. Those interested parties may include shareholders of the employer; competitors of the employer; communities within which the employer operates; customers of the employer and the market place of the employer.”

Many in the Labour movement will simply shrug and think “so what.” But that’s not good enough. Its time for a bit of consistency.

If the Daily Mail was wrong to go after Ed Miliband’s father, then its wrong for Unite to target senior managers’ families.

It was despicable of the Daily Mail to attack Ralph Miliband to hurt his son. It’s equally disgraceful to harass peoples’ families and neighbours simply because they happen to be managers at a firm in an industrial dispute.

The outrage from the Labour party on the Daily Mail’s piece on Ralph Miliband was voluble and justified. Silence on Unite’s antics now will abrogate any moral authority the party had in criticising the Mail. Morality isn’t a one-way street. Principles don’t apply selectively. Either everyone connected with an adversary is fair game, or they’re not.

Labour needs to decide whether it believes in total war, where the families and friends or political opponents are justified targets. Or if it still holds to the values so loudly declared over the Ralph Miliband article, where they are off limits.

If it is the former, then the fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, friends and neighbours of Labour politicians should make sure they have never done anything that might merit a news story.

But, if it is the latter, then the Labour party should condemn Unite’s tactics.

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The web we have woven in Falkirk

30/10/2013, 09:38:10 AM

by Rob Marchant

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave

When first we practise to deceive.”

–          Sir Walter Scott, Marmion

Ah, Falkirk. We drew a line under it, didn’t we? Only we didn’t.

A couple of months ago Uncut noted that the Falkirk debacle was unfinished business. But even we didn’t expect there to be quite such a spectacular unravelling, as happened last weekend.

For the uninitiated, the story went like this: the Falkirk West selection process was suspended amidst accusations that Unite were fixing the selection process for Karie Murphy, Tom Watson’s office manager and friend of Len McCluskey. Unite cried “foul” and hinted that Labour had exaggerated on purpose for their own ends; local witnesses suddenly, fortuitously, withdrew testimonies; and by party conference an uneasy truce was in place between Labour and Unite, both saying “move along, nothing to see”.

A sprinkling of chutzpah was even brought into play: McCluskey’s old friend Tom Watson, who ended up resigning over the fallout, said Miliband should apologise. Further, BBC Radio 4 even made an extraordinarily wrong-headed documentary about how this had all been a storm in a tea-cup, in which the chief defence witness was none other than far-left journalist Seumas Milne. Unite and the Labour Party, it seemed, had pulled it off.

The trouble was that no-one really believed them. Conference was full of stories about what had actually happened. The word was, in fact, that the press stories about membership abuses had all been true, and worse. That the complainants had been influenced and cajoled into withdrawing.

But the line held. It was all going well…until Grangemouth.

The chemical plant, whose employees’ pay packets help fuel the local economy in Falkirk, had been brought to the point of closure after a summer of discontent.


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The realpolitik behind Labour’s energy price freeze

29/10/2013, 03:04:11 PM

by Atul Hatwal

In the run up to Labour conference, a new policy to tackle rising energy costs was widely anticipated. After a summer of atrocious headlines, and with an Autumn of fuel price hikes in prospect, Ed Miliband needed a rabbit to pull out of his policy hat at conference.

For many within Labour, the natural solution seemed to be a new windfall tax on the utilities. It had worked well in the 1990s, when Labour was last in opposition, forcing the Tories to defend the largesse of the fat cats while generating funds to help tackle youth unemployment.

So when Ed Miliband announced the energy price freeze it was a genuinely striking political moment. There had been no pre-briefing or preparation and media and party alike were stunned.

While the media have subsequently focused on the mechanics and implications of a price freeze, from an internal Labour party perspective, politically the more interesting question is: why was a windfall tax rejected?

After all, it draws the same dividing line as the price freeze without any connotations of a 1970s style price control policy and given the windfall tax’s previous successful implementation, the public would be more likely to believe it would be enforced (the ComRes poll today found that 52% of the public do not think Labour will enact the price freeze, with 41% believing it will).

Even centrist Tories like John Major and Rob Halfon think a windfall tax would be justified.

The answer is to be found in the deteriorating relationship between Labour’s leader and his shadow chancellor, a dysfunction which is increasingly defining policy-making within the party.


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Schapps is wrong about its anti-Tory bias, but right that the BBC is too big, costly and unaccountable

28/10/2013, 12:30:50 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Why should the BBC be immune from public spending cuts? This is the question Grant Schapps should have raised in his interview with yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph.

But instead the Conservative party chairman fell back on the familiar trope that the Corporation is some haven of left-wing zealotry and anti-Tory bias.

It’s of course a silly argument to prosecute when you consider the Corporation’s Political Editor, Nick Robinson, is a former activist in the Young Conservatives, its main political interviewer, Andrew Neil, is an adent Thatcherite and its chairman, Lord Chris Patten, is a predecessor of Schapps’ as Tory chairman.

The BBC does indeed have a bias, but it’s towards a metro-centric liberalism that despises traditional right-wing and left-wing politics and any opinion not originating from within its rarefied cloister.

The real issue with the BBC remains its humungous cost. The £3.6 billion a year that the BBC spends is seemingly immune from the harsh economising facing every other inch of the British public sector.

Auntie’s annual budget dwarfs the £3.5 billion to be spent on affordable housing over the next four years. And over the five years between 2010 and 2015, the BBC’s total domestic budget will have been £22 billion – half the proposed cost of HS2.

Schapps was on sounder footing, though, in criticising the BBC’s culture of exceptionalism. His calls to see the BBC fully comply with Freedom of Information requests and to open its accounts to the National Audit Office are perfectly in order. As is publication of all expenditure over £500 – a move already commplace in local and central government.

“They have ended up working in this culture which is buried in the last century, which is ‘we are the BBC, we do what we like, we don’t have to be too accountable’,” he rightly pointed out.


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How long before the Tories overtake Labour in the polls?

28/10/2013, 07:00:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Conservative Home recently highlighted an analysis by YouGov that shows a shortening of Labour’s lead over the Conservatives.

In parallel, the economy has continued its improvement. It grew by 0.8% in the third quarter of this year, building upon 0.7% in the second quarter and 0.4% in the first quarter.

Are the two connected? Logic would suggest so.

The trend identified by YouGov reminded me of one that I have spotted myself in one of the trackers that they run.

Roughly once a week YouGov ask voters whether they think the British economy is doing good, bad or neither. Until 25 July, never more than 10% of the electorate answered good in 2013. Since then, never less than 10% have done.

I resolved to bring some econometrics to Uncut to look more deeply into this.

I put together two time series over 2013: one on the Conservatives lead over Labour, which was my dependent variable, and another on the proportion of the electorate who think the economy is doing well, which was my independent variable. When the dependent was regressed on the independent, the co-efficient on the independent variable was just under 0.6. The p-test indicated that the regression was accurate with more than 99% certainty.

This is telling us that for every 1% increase in the proportion of the electorate that think the economy is doing well, there should be a 0.6% increase in the Conservatives lead over Labour.


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The omnishambles is back

26/10/2013, 03:20:32 PM

by Michael Dugher

Across a wide-ranging front, just a cursory glance through this weekend’s newspapers suggest that so many of the government’s policies look to be in real trouble. The omnishambles is back.  This time it’s coupled with a planned modernisation which is being rolled back at a pace. It has been clear for a long time that Cameron is hopelessly out of touch. But his government looks increasingly like it is out of answers to the big challenges facing Britain.  On so many of the policies which were meant to define David Cameron’s government, the wheels have come off.

Let’s start with education. We already know that there is a crisis of a lack of school places in many parts of the country and that class sizes above 30 are making a big comeback.  But David Cameron’s centrepiece reform was the introduction of free schools, yet in the last two weeks we have had two deeply concerning examples of the danger they pose if increased freedoms are not complemented by checks and balances as Labour proposes.

The Islamic al Medinah free school in Derby was described by a scathing Ofsted report as not being “adequately monitored or supported” and for having inexperienced teachers who had not been provided with proper training.  It was branded “in chaos” and “dysfunctional”, with pupils being segregated and given the same work regardless of ability.  On Friday we had reports that Michael Gove’s department sat for months on a report alleging financial irregularities worth more than £80,000 at flagship Kings Academy in Bradford.


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Letter from Wales: the Welsh language is in emergency measures

25/10/2013, 12:36:02 PM

by Julian Ruck

The Western Mail recently reported (4.10.13) that a group of Welsh educationalists, chaired by one Professor Sioned Davies, have composed a report for the Welsh government recommending that the teaching of Welsh in English medium schools should be extended and made compulsory. Needless to say the Welsh Language Society has now jumped on the extremist bandwagon (BBC News 5.10.13) and declared open warfare on English speakers too – and there’s me saying how moderate they were on this very site a few weeks ago?!

Alinskyite trauma and direct action are apparently to be the name of the game from now on – as if it has ever been otherwise? “Welsh medium education for all and ‘fair’ funding toward the language from the Welsh government” appear to be the straplines of the latest minority push for an RS Thomas Welsh speaking Elysium, where sheep dipping and haystack procreation are the only forces for Welsh economic regeneration. No doubt it will be a year zero calendar for the Welsh too.

More children wearing Harry Potter wizard hats being bunged into corners for not asking for the lavatory in Welsh and other children being placed in a Welsh style Coventry for speaking dastardly English along the corridors of youthful learning during school hours seems to be the name of the game. Nothing new here then.

Consider the following points:

1 Professor Davies as one would expect, is a fully paid up member of the Welsh speaking  Crachach, who bluster around the boutique coffee shops of Cardiff Bay searching for anyone under 25 who will listen (so much for objectivity and independence?), and an alumni of the fully taxpayer funded Welsh literati – she has written yet another couple of subsidised translations of the Mabinogion, subtitled “Overkill.”

The Cardiff university chair of Welsh (one would never have guessed), is presently researching a project entitled “Performing from the Pulpit” about “dramatic preaching in 19th and 20th century Wales.” You English readers really must wonder sometimes whether I am making all this up. I am not, I assure you.

One would have to be a devout disciple of X Factor optimism to expect anything less from the de-souling dysentery of intellectual fascism, sly social engineering and minority diktat that the good professor espouses. Naturally, where the Crachach are concerned, the shining beacons of reality are as elusive as the bones of Owen Glendower.


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Is the average Labour party salary really £43k per year?

24/10/2013, 02:34:20 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Last week Uncut carried news of another restructure at Labour HQ, with the party’s executive directors now reporting to Spencer Livermore instead of general secretary, Iain McNicol. It prompted one member of the team at Brewer’s Green to get in touch and draw our attention to something very peculiar: the strange case of the Labour party wage bill.

Normally a political party’s wage bill rises in the run-up to a general election as new staff are taken-on to gear up for battle. It then falls immediately following the contest, with parties’ reverting to their core staff team, until the election drum-beat sounds again later in the new electoral cycle.

Or, at least that’s how things used to be. Since 2010, Labour has taken a very different path.

After the general election, rather than the numbers in the staff team falling, they went up. In 2010, according to the Labour party accounts it employed an average of 247 full time equivalent employees (assuming part-time staff are 0.5 of a full time equivalent or fte). One year later, the number had risen to 288 fte with the party wage bill rising from £12.2m in 2010 to £13.1m in 2011.

Partially this was a result of moving from government to opposition, with large numbers of advisers moving from the civil service payroll onto the Labour party’s books. But even then, it was quite striking for numbers and costs to rise so steeply.

By way of comparison, in 2010, according to the Conservative party accounts, the average number of staff employed was 221 at a cost of £11.7m.

This means in 2011, at the point in the electoral cycle when costs should have been at their lowest, Labour was employing 67 more staff than the Tories had had to fight the general election and spending £1.4m more on its wage bill.


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Labour history uncut: All change! Labour gets a new set of factions

22/10/2013, 10:27:30 AM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

In the run up to the 1932 Labour party conference in Leicester, memories of the previous year’s electoral wipe-out were still raw, not to mention the festering resentment at Ramsay Macdonald’s betrayal.

Everyone was in the mood for change.

But just how that change might end up looking remained to be seen. Was the party Clark Kent striding into a phone booth, or Leslie Ash popping into the lip clinic?

One prominent change had already occurred on the left. The ILP had recently decided to disaffiliate from Labour and remain, in the words of Aneurin Bevan, “pure, but impotent.”

This meant there was no rebellious left wing to cause friction and everything at conference was going to run nice and smoothly.

Ha! Just kidding.

In fact a selection of ILP members had opted to remain with the Labour party, allowing the ILP to drift off into irrelevance without them. Their opting for impure potency meant that they were still in the party, but that didn’t mean they’d suddenly changed their socialist beliefs.

Understandably, these ex-ILP socialists under Frank Wise decided that, with the ILP gone, they ought to get organised. And perhaps find some new friends in the process.

Frank Wise – the only man in the party whose name consisted solely of adjectives

Flowers and chocolates were despatched to the somewhat sinister-sounding Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda (SSIP). This socialist pressure group was known by founder GDH Cole as the Zip – presumably because nobody wanted to get their policies caught in it.

The SSIP’s aims were, on the face of it, identical to those of the ILP leftovers. So, after the briefest of courtships, on the eve of Labour’s 1932 conference, a new faction was born- the Socialist League.


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If Labour adopts the proposals of the Fabian spending commission, it will pay the price at the next election

21/10/2013, 11:11:21 AM

by Jonathan Todd

David Cameron – as, for some reason, he is always quick to do – taunted Labour thus in PMQs last week: “More spending, more borrowing, more debt. It is the same old Labour.” On the same day, a Fabian Society commission on the future of public spending reported that Labour could spend £20bn more in 2017-18 than the government currently plans.

If Labour were to adopt the recommendations of the Fabians, then the reaction of the prime minister is all too obvious. What is, though, more important to Labour’s 2015 chances is how the voters would react.

Polling by YouGov to support the book published by Labour Uncut at party conference gives us some indication.

This polling found that if Labour were to promise to keep most of the present government’s spending plans, but to borrow more specifically for public works such as building more homes, those who say this would make them more likely to vote Labour outnumber those who say it would make them less likely by 4% (17% more likely versus 13% less likely).

In contrast, a net 4% of voters say they would be less likely to vote Labour (12% more likely versus 16% less likely) if the party rejected any public spending cuts and instead allowed borrowing to rise.

The difference between these two strategies could be the difference between Labour winning and losing the election.

The Fabian proposal seems to fall somewhere between these two strategies. It doesn’t reject entirely spending cuts – a position that our polling indicates would be likely to cost Labour the election. Nor does it only go beyond the government’s plan exclusively for certain forms of investment – a strategy that our polling sees as compatible with Labour victory.


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