Archive for November, 2013

Livingstone: still there, still up to his old tricks

18/11/2013, 10:35:00 AM

by Rob Marchant

Now, Labour Uncut has never been a fan of Gordon Brown’s decision to leave the “Golden Rule” behind and stop balancing the books over the economic cycle. He borrowed more than he should have, with the result that Britain was rather caught with its trousers around its ankles when the global financial crisis came.

But it takes a certain kind of front for a politician on his own side to call the former prime minister a coward (although marginally better, one supposes, than asking for him to be tried as war criminal).

Especially if that politician (a) still holds office at national level (albeit on Labour’s NEC and not an office elected by the general public); and (b) wouldn’t know fiscal responsibility if it jumped up and slapped him in the face with a wet kipper.

It really could only be one person, couldn’t it? Step forward, our old friend Ken Livingstone, who told the Labour Assembly Against Austerity last weekend that the raising of debt was “an act of cowardice”.

Now, let’s examine that for a second as an exercise in multiple levels of irony.

First up in the irony stakes is the issue that he was speaking at the Labour Assembly Against Austerity. Yes, the anti-austerity movement. The primary function of this body, as far as anyone can understand, is the economic equivalent of the Flat Earth Society; that of fighting of any cut of any kind.

Now, although Livingstone later implied – disingenuously – in the same speech that he is open to cuts, this goes entirely against the whole ethos of the anti-austerity movement. No-one can possibly seriously buy that argument, least of all from him.

So, the equation is pretty straightforward: if you can’t cut and you can’t raise debt, you have to raise taxes. That is the clear conclusion of this kind of policy and the modus operandi which has followed Livingstone throughout his political life.

And there’s the second irony. You can certainly say that Livingstone has always been consistent about not wanting to raise debt and securing all revenue through tax-raising, but let’s look at the facts on that.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour’s head office in “chaos” as Livermore begins his first day in charge

18/11/2013, 07:00:54 AM

This morning, Spencer Livermore will step across the threshold of Labour’s Brewer’s Green HQ and formally take charge of Labour’s general election preparations.

As we previously reported, Ed Miliband’s personal appointment of the former Gordon Brown protégé as campaign director effectively sidelines the party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, the party’s chief official, who was appointed by the party’s National Executive Committee in 2011.

Ahead of Livermore’s arrival, the atmosphere at Brewer’s Green is tense, with one well-placed insider describing it as “chaos” as the fallout from the botched Falkirk selection continues to play out in the media spotlight.

“There’s a total breakdown of trust between the general secretary’s team and the leader’s office,” says the insider.

“The staff are completely paralysed. It’s like a sitcom being played out before us”.

Yet this is a sideshow compared to the potential calamity next spring as Ed Miliband seeks to drive through his landmark changes to the way affiliated trade unions fund the party.

Miliband is staking everything on getting a new opt-in arrangement where millions of ordinary trade unionists choose to support the party, rather than have union chiefs wielding their chequebooks on their members’ behalf.

Party sources claim that Miliband sleepwalked into announcing the reforms without really understanding their full implications.

“Virtually the entire staff understood you’re ending the collective link but even the most senior advisers to Ed didn’t realise” says one insider.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Letter from Wales: Drakeford’s Etonian telescope

15/11/2013, 11:45:20 AM

by Julian Ruck

Mark Drakeford, Welsh health minister and professor of social policy no less (these days, just about everyone who has attended the Cardiff university Welsh madrassa is a professor of something or other), was spouting forth on the Sunday Politics show last Sunday – the Welsh version, which I assure readers is far more entertaining than Andrew Neil’s London spot.

Whilst ducking and diving in true Welsh government fashion, he seemed to be of the opinion that viewers were privileged to hear his pearls of medicinal wisdom and that indeed they were lucky to see him at all. He did have better things to do than accounting for himself you know. I mean, never mind the fact that the Welsh NHS is receiving less money than the English NHS due to Carwyn’s Bernie ap Madoff accountancy rules and farcical use of taxpayers’ money to generate no hope causes eg billions of European hard earned going AWOL, Carwyn’s Carriers at Cardiff airport, business ‘Techniums’ and bankrupt pubs (I’m not joking, see next column).

He began his justifications with a flogged out, tedious and somewhat pedestrian class war diatribe aimed at Cameron’s “telescopic Etonian” perceptions of right not being might – I wonder who wrote that for him? One cannot help but wonder here, what his views on Fettes College elitism and doctoral graduates of the University of Edinburgh are? Not quite the stuff of a Cardiff madrassa, are they? Maybe he had eaten too many laverbread splattered Welsh cakes for breakfast, who knows?

So, the point of all this?

The interview was a classic example of Carwyn’s government being camera shy and not taking kindly to public scrutiny. The soundings I hear from the Welsh media are all the same: Carwyn’s gegin cabinet (gegin, Welsh for kitchen) are always reluctant to show their faces and take a sound thrashing from their masters, indeed they won’t even advise the Assembly Communications Office of briefing times.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

My generation isn’t apathetic. Telling us we are is an insult to democracy

15/11/2013, 10:09:01 AM

by Sam Fowles

We keep getting told that we’re not interested in “politics”, the reality is we’re just doing it better.

Apparently I don’t give a shit. Or at least my generation doesn’t. The story is we hate “politics”. Or, to use the most popular parlance, we’ve “lost faith” in it. We think “all politicians are the same” so we don’t vote.

Our elders are turning to UKIP in droves. Apparently because Nigel Farage will say things that ordinary politicians, hamstrung by their own bland, focus grouped platitudes, simply can’t.

Well yes, he does. It’s called extremism.

My generation’s collective decision to go home and watch The Inbetweeners again rather than vote for UKIP is possibly the strongest argument there is for putting us in charge of the country as soon as possible.

More importantly though, to say we don’t care about politics is just wrong. My generation may just be the most political in history. With Twitter, Facebook and blogs we’re analysing and commenting on the world around us on a far greater scale than our parents.

We have marched in our thousands against the war in Iraq, tuition fees and for fairer alternatives to the coalition’s economic masochism. Student activism and politics is a growing, not a declining phenomenon. No More Page 3, possibly the most important socio-political movement of the decade, is the brainchild of 20-somethings spread through social media and receiving it’s most decisive support through student unions.

Even outside those activities more overtly labelled “political”, my generation are churning out videos, songs, stories, plays, flashmobs and slutwalks which challenge every cultural dictum, from gender norms to post modernist theory.

So why does the prevailing opinion seem to be that we’re apathetic? Perhaps because people keep telling us we are. This is a story that’s being pedaled primarily by print media, TV and, somewhat paradoxically, politicians themselves.

Why do those most obviously involved in politics seem so desperate to convince us “millenials” that they’re irrelevant to us? That we are not interested in listening to them, debating their ideas or voting for them?


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Behind the scenes, Labour HQ is in tumult

14/11/2013, 04:04:27 PM

More upheaval at Labour HQ. It is barely a month since the latest restructure saw general secretary Iain McNicol supplanted by the new campaigns director, Spencer Livermore, as manager of the party’s seven executive directors. Now comes the news that the director responsible for fundraising, John McCaffrey, is leaving after just over a year in job and that Chris Lennie, former assistant general secretary, will be returning as a “consultant” to work on external relations.

These latest changes might sound like back-room tinkering, but they are the outward manifestation of debilitating instability behind the scenes in Brewer’s Green. Two points are pertinent.

First, John McCaffrey’s departure could barely be more ill-timed. On the day that the latest electoral commission figures revealed Labour to be £12.3m in debt, the party lost its lead fundraiser.

John McCaffrey was only appointed in June 2012 and had already had a significant impact. Between September 2012 (the earliest it’s reasonable to expect McCaffrey to have made a difference) and September 2013, the party raised £3.5m from individuals, companies and limited liability partnerships. In comparison, for the year September 2011 to September 2012, it was £2.1m.

A 67% improvement in a year is hardly trivial and with the party so deep in debt, it is remarkable that the man who helped drive this growth in donations is on his way out.

John McCaffrey’s ongoing  financial importance was underlined in the small print announcing his departure, “John will continue to work with some key supporters for us as a consultant.” Or in other words, some donors won’t give unless McCaffrey is involved, so the party will have to keep paying him.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

When Ed Miliband condemned Unite’s “machine politics” in Falkirk, did he forget his office had signed-off on their tactics?

13/11/2013, 07:14:31 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Times today carried some revelatory new details on Falkirk (£). Strangely, they seemed to miss the real significance of what they’ve got (assuming the Ineos e-mails are as reported and what they say is true).

Their story focuses on a deal agreed between Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, and Len McCluskey to ensure Unite members who were recruited into the party via the old “union join” scheme, where the union pays the first year of subs, were all moved onto direct debit so future payment could be assured.

The prospect of Labour’s general secretary cutting a deal with a union boss is hardly edifying but it’s not the big story. More interesting are the implications of an e-mail  from 21st January this year that is cited in the piece.

The mail is from Steve Hart, Unite’s political director at the time, to Karie Murphy, the Unite candidate and Tom Warnett, Unite’s political co-ordinator.  In it, Hart refers to delays by a sceptical Labour membership department, in processing the mass of new Unite recruits, stating,

“I was advised the week before Xmas that these had all been processed — advised by Jenny Smith [Ed Miliband’s union adviser at the time] and Scott Landon [Iain McNicol’s chief of staff] — but it is for the party to confirm authority, not us.”

Originally, the Sunday Times published the mail, but the names had been redacted. The inclusion of the names tells us that the leader’s office not only knew about Unite’s plans, they agreed them.

Dan Hodges picked up on the real importance of the revelations earlier today when he wrote,

“Back in July he [Ed Miliband] had said: ‘I am here to talk about a different politics, a politics that is open. Transparent. And trusted. Exactly the opposite of the politics we’ve recently seen in Falkirk. A politics that was closed. A politics of the machine. A politics that is rightly hated…’

But all the time his office had been supporting a deal with Len McCluskey to enable him to rig the selection.”

Think about it for a moment.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour history uncut: A party caught in two minds

12/11/2013, 11:53:24 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

By late 1932 the recession had become a depression. Unemployment was stuck at 3 million and more austerity seemed the government’s only answer.

The communists responded through their National Unemployed Workers’ Movement (NUWM), which was like a union for the unemployed, with the slight drawback that when they went on strike, nobody could tell. The NUWM organised hunger marches to highlight the plight of the workless.

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

“Scotland to London, seriously? This is why we need a Scottish government.”

The government reacted by doing some organising of their own, arranging for 70,000 policemen to meet the hunger marchers and welcome them to London.

For its part, the Parliamentary Labour Party organised to stay in that evening with a cup of tea, peeking through the office curtains at the ensuing violence and hoping those nasty communists would just go away.

No such luck.

The deteriorating economic situation had helped membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) surge from 2,300 in 1930 to 9,000 by the end of 1932.

Meanwhile in Germany, the election in January 1933 of new chancellor with a hilarious Charlie Chaplin moustache and a less hilarious set of beliefs, led many on the left to seek common cause with the communists.

Moscow agreed, recognising an opportunity when they saw one.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Israel is like all nations and different from all nations

11/11/2013, 01:56:52 PM

by Jonathan Todd

1 December marks 40 years since the death of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s George Washington. Yitzhak Rabin, its’ would-be Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated 18 years ago last Monday. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, during which Rabin was Chief of Staff to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), Ben-Gurion, by then no longer prime minister, favoured returning all the captured territories apart from East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Mount Hebron as part of a peace agreement.

Peter Beinart last year published The Crisis of Zionism that calls for a revivified Zionism and recalls Ben-Gurion explaining: “Two basic aspirations underlie all our work in this country: to be like all nations, and to be different from all nations.”

Like all nations in providing a state for its people, a Jewish majority and homeland. Unlike all nations, as Beinart observes, in stressing: “Truly realizing the Zionist dream … required modelling various liberal or socialist principles for the world.” These principles led the Israeli constitution to commit to “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

In contrast to Ben-Gurion’s vision, Israel is like and unlike all nations in ways that drive Beinart’s crisis. Like all nations in failing to fully make real these liberal/socialist principles. Unlike all nations in being the occupying force that Ben-Gurion cautioned against.

The Palestinian conflict is entangled with Egyptian instability, Syrian disintegration and Iranian nuclear capability. Iran desperately props up Assad in Syria, partly to maintain supplies to Hezbollah, which now directs 100,000 rockets toward Israel from the north. Iranian supplied weapons may again hit Israel from the south via Hamas in Gaza, if this Sunni body can be reconciled to Shia Iran after seeking an alliance with the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt prior to them being swept from power.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

If copying the German model is as the answer, Labour doesn’t understand the question

11/11/2013, 11:09:16 AM

by David Butler

Jonathan Wilson’s masterpiece on football tactics, Inverting The Pyramid, sets out how success on the pitch regularly came through great managers innovating with formations and strategies. But this success was often fleeting; Alf Ramsey’s “wingless wonders” quickly reached a nadir in failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. Other teams absorbed the successful strategies and modified them, sometimes completely overhauling them. This drove change in the game as teams sought new marginal advantages. Those who sought merely to directly copy and not innovate themselves were left trailing in the dust. This is the danger that deifying a single system brings, from football to economics, and why we should go beyond Germany in thinking about a new capitalism.

Germany acts as a lodestar for those in the vanguard of Milibandism. This is not a new phenomenon on the left; in a speech in 1980, Denis Healey praised the social market as a middle path between Bennism and free market right. For Will Hutton in the mid 1990s, it offered a post-Thatcherite path for Britain. Now, once again, Germany is supposed to point the way towards developing a “supply side of the left” and the transformation of Britain into a European-style social democracy.

Importing individual economic institutions is difficult enough, let alone copying large sets of institutions from a single economic model. In labour-management relations, for example, there are sizeable differences between our island home and the continent. Continental unions are traditionally less adversarial towards management and this enables more consensual institutions to flourish.

The historic conservatism of the labour movement towards their internal structures makes the prospect of Continental-style unionism a dim one. This is not a land without hope; USDAW and Community have been successful in gaining localised victories and engaging (often younger) new members.

Unite have attempted engagement through community organising and launching a credit union. Business too would have to modify its approach towards labour relations. One only needs to look at the behaviour of Ineos and Unite at Grangemouth to see that there is a long path to walk before Britain will achieve more cooperative labour-management relations.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Is the cost of living distracting Labour?

08/11/2013, 03:46:31 PM

by Renie Anjeh

Ed Miliband has finally set the political scene alight and he should be praised for it. It has been several weeks since Miliband announced the energy price freeze policy in his conference’s speech, putting an end to the party’s reticence about future policies.

In spite of attacks from the Tory press (and a recalcitrant New Labour grandee), the policy didn’t look particularly socialist but it became popular.  I am not sure whether an energy price freeze will actually work but the public love it!

80% of the public back the policy leaving the Tories on the backfoot.  Honourable one nation Conservatives, such as Sir John Major and Robert Halfon, have sought to address their party’s problem by calling for a windfall tax on the privatised utilities to fund measures to reduce utility bills (as suggested by Labour’s Manifesto Uncut).  Fortunately for the Labour party, their wise advice has fallen on deaf ears and a coalition split has emerged over green taxes.

However, despite of Ed Miliband’s laudable attempt to shift the debate onto cost of living, the party is still not where it needs to be if it wants to be certain of a majority in 2015.

Labour’s lead is beginning to shrink with just eighteen months to go until the general election.  One poll saw our poll lead over the Tories cut from 11% to 6%, even though the party has announced its new popular policy.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon