Archive for December, 2013

The big ideas of 2014 and what they mean for Labour: international challenges

31/12/2013, 07:30:45 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Yesterday, we had a look at the Prospect big ideas for 2014 that will impact domestic policy. Today, it’s the turn of international arena; Prospect identify 3 key challenges.

1. Secular stagnation

What if Larry Summers is right? And what if he is wrong?

The global economy has, according to Gavyn Davies’ summary in Prospect of the argument recently made by the former US Treasury Secretary, been grappling with problems of excess savings and under-confidence for well over a decade, raising profound questions about monetary, fiscal and exchange rate policy in the US and the rest of the world.

In lay terms, Summers is saying that this recovery from recession is different and will not kick in as recoveries from previous recessions have done. Gloomy days are here to stay. If he’s right, it will be harder for Osborne to say in May 2015: “Haven’t I done well?” Equally, the obstacles between an incoming Miliband government and securing its economic objectives may be insurmountable. Still, if this is hand that Miliband is dealt, he should reflect how he’d play it.

Secular stagnation is a term usually associated with the 1930s depression and was revived by Summers. His argument that this is caused by a dearth of investment opportunities reminds me of the latest Robert D. Atkinson and Stephen J. Ezell book, which provides an original and convincing analysis of the failings of western capitalism.

But Summers stretches credulity in the incredibly basic sense that the 1930s ended and the post-war boom arrived. It need not take another world war for a similar cycle to occur. The digital revolution and the rise of the rest create tremendous opportunities. While they also pose challenges, their potential and inherently cyclical nature of capitalism makes Summers seem too downbeat. Labour should focus on overcoming these challenges – which may require the slaying of some Labour sacred cows – and not presume that we are stuck in an inescapable secular stagnation.

2. The new Cold War

How does Labour see the future of the Middle East?

Beyond the Arab Spring, it seems ever less likely that we shall arrive at a Middle East of liberal democracies and ever more likely that we’ll confront a region polarised between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. This is the new cold war, which is as hot as hell in Syria. If Labour wants to confront the Middle East as it is, rather than as we would wish it, we need to think through the implications of the ever more encompassing and visceral rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.


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The Uncuts: 2013 political awards

31/12/2013, 03:22:37 PM

Another year slides by. Historic figures shuffled off this mortal coil, the political pendulum swung back, then forth and we end with Labour holding onto a poll lead, albeit halved since last year.

Sorting through the detritus of the year that was, we’ve decided to revive our annual Uncut awards. These beacons of prestige are awarded on the basis of the skill and judgement of the team at Uncut. They represent our opinion, have your say in the comments

Politician of the year: Nelson Mandela

Even in death, Mandela reminded us of the power of politics to achieve great things. Contrary to the rose tinted reminisces for a secular saint that suffused so many obituaries, he was in many ways a typical politician. There’s ample evidence that he harboured the same deeply held personal emnities as most politicians, that in private he was far from the engaging avuncular figure of myth and that his family felt him to be distant.

But what distinguished him was his political judgement.

MandelaMandela knew what needed to be done and ruthlessly pursued it – almost regardless of his personal predilections or the cost.

This is what made him great and what could so easily distinguish so many of our politicians – no need for sainthood, just a bit more conviction, some hard-headed decision-making and a little less focus-grouped tinkering.

Political speech of the year: Ed Miliband at Labour conference

During the autumn of 2007, there was giddy talk of an imminent general election and an increase in Labour’s majority. Then came George Osborne’s speech to Conservative party conference, committing to cut inheritance tax. The waves of Labour excitement quickly turned to fear. This was the closest Gordon Brown ever came to winning a general election and he was fatally weakened thereafter.

Ed Miliband made the political speech of 2013 by delivering the conference speech with the biggest impact since Osborne’s. The steadily improving economy, Falkirk and Tory ascendancy over debates like immigration and welfare had Labour on the back foot throughout the summer.

The energy price freeze reversed fortunes as dramatically as inheritance tax 5 years previously. Back pocket calculations were central to both, as they will be in May 2015. It remains to be seen if Osborne will then be as hobbled as Brown was in May 2010.

Brass neck of the year: Ed Miliband over Falkirk

Chutzpah. Not a quality that immediately leaps to mind when thinking of Ed Miliband, but events in 2013 proved he has an abundance of it.

In July, the Labour party suspended the union join scheme, which had been used by Unite to recruit new members in Falkirk ahead of the parliamentary selection. The party statement claimed,

““In the light of the activities of Unite in Falkirk we will end the ‘union join’ scheme… due to the results of Unite in Falkirk it has become open to abuse but also open to attacks from our opponents that damage Labour.”

Ed Miliband launched his proposals to reform the union link that month, castigating Unite,

“‘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…’

At the time, it seemed a principled stand. But appearances turned out to be deceptive.

Ed Mili


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If Labour really wants more working class MPs, it should insist more candidates are local

31/12/2013, 10:25:05 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The Labour party has always been a strange brew. Intellectual leftists have rubbed up alongside middle-class progressives and gesture politics poseurs. But the party’s strength remains the support it draws from the industrial, urban working-class of the north and midlands.

Yet while the former groups remain heavily in evidence in today’s party, there are now a decreasing number of people on the Labour benches in parliament that look and sound like the majority of working class people who actually vote Labour.

It’s part of a wider problem. A recent report by the Policy Exchange think tank looking into the public appointments system found that “socio-economic background…is neglected by most governmental bodies responsible for public appointments and for equality policies” and recommends addressing the “forgotten dimensions of diversity”.

The report cites the example of magistrates who, as volunteers, “do not need to achieve legal qualifications or a particular career level” before being appointed and yet are still overwhelmingly drawn from a narrow middle-class professional elite. In Manchester and Salford, nearly nine out of ten lay magistrates are from higher managerial and professional backgrounds. Justice, like politics, fails to look like the people it serves.

Plus ça change. The party of working-class heroes Ernest Bevin and Nye Bevan was still led by public schoolboys like Clement Attlee (Haileybury) and Stafford Cripps (Winchester College), Hugh Gaitskell (ditto) and Hugh Dalton (Eton).

At this point it’s important to caveat the whole line of argument about Labour and its diminishing working class-ness (as Eric Joyce recently pointed out). Rather than a single group, ‘working class’ vis-à-vis Labour politics, now has two meanings.

The first definition covers the sons and daughters of manual workers who have gone on to university and if not a career in our most august professions, (which remain defiantly nepotistic) at least had office jobs (often, courtesy of politics) before becoming MPs.


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The big ideas of 2014 and what they mean for Labour: domestic policy

30/12/2013, 06:21:01 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Nothing says Christmas like the Prospect feature on the big ideas of the year ahead. At least in the bedrooms of geeks. Thinking about them, especially when there is turkey to be eaten and mulled wine to be drunk, is the preserve of the pointy-heads.

At the same time, nothing says unprepared like a Labour party that hasn’t thought through the implications of these ideas. Uncut is here to help. The turkey and mulled wine were untouched for long enough for us to identify and discuss the most important question raised for Labour by the pot pourri of ideas.

Prospect’s annual feature is a bit of lugubrious beast, so we deal with them in three posts looking first at domestic challenges, then international issues and finally drawing together the conclusions for Labour next year.

So, first up is domestic policy, where there are 9 big ideas:

1 Rejectionist politics

How will Labour react to UKIP’s likely strong performance in 2014’s European Parliament elections? And the election to this parliament of more nationalists than ever before?

The beltway consensus is that the anti-beltway chief, Farage, will be the big winner of the 2014 European elections. It’s virtually factored into the political stock prices of 2014. The bigger doubt is whether Farage’s stock price can remain high till May 2015.

While my suspicion is that UKIP will be back around 5% by May 2015, their strong performance in the European elections will put pressure on David Cameron, as his strategy for containing UKIP will seem to be failing. Labour should note, though, that Farage is part of a broader rejectionist trend uniting UKIP with both the Tea Party in the US and populist parties of the left and right across the EU.

This trend sees all politicians as being as bad as each other and is expected to result in more nationalists than ever before ending up in the European parliament. The only way for Labour MEPs to defeat them may be to align with Conservative and Liberal MEPs – potential validation of the UKIP charge that they are all the same.

Labour needs a strategy for the EU that is both far-sighted and imbued with popular resonance. What part may be played in this by supporting an EU referendum is a related debate.

2. Beginning of the end of QE

What’s Labour’s view on monetary policy?

Quantitative Easing (QE) is “the biggest monetary policy experiment in the history of the planet,” according to Richard Lambert, a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee. It’s an unfinished experiment of central banks in the US, UK and the rest of the EU. It seems to have averted depression. But if it is withdrawn too quickly, it may trigger recession or worse, while if it is withdrawn too slowly, it may sustain destructive inflation.


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For too many working and middle class voters, Labour doesn’t value aspiration. This needs to change.

30/12/2013, 12:57:12 PM

by Renie Anjeh

Various theories are doing the rounds at the moment about why Labour is not performing as well as it should.  On the left of the party, they bemoan the fact that Labour is not nearly as leftwing as they think it should be.  On the right of the party, there is much concern about the party’s lack of credibility on the economy.   The left-wing Labour Representation Committee would argue that nationalising everything from the energy companies to children’s Christmas presents will deliver a crucial victory in 2015.  Progress would think otherwise (and rightly so).  But I still think that we have not asked a very important question.  Are we really standing up for all working class and middle class people?

During the Mayoral election in 2012, I canvassed a middle aged couple in Ilford who were less than pleased when they saw my ‘vote Labour’ sticker.  They worked hard all their lives and played by the rules but they didn’t think that we were on their side.  They felt that the odds were stacked against them and that we had no answers.  To them, we were completely out of touch with their aspirations and their concerns.

Unfortunately, people like the couple in Ilford have become objects of incomprehension at best, or derision at worst, for too many in our movement.  The idea that we should give them as much focus to as we give to the bedroom tax, is an anathema to some on the Left.

Part of the reason why Labour lost power is that we were seen to be a party exclusively for special interest groups such as public sector workers, single parents, immigrants and benefit claimants not a party for the generality of working class and middle class people.


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It’s time for a rational discussion on immigration

26/12/2013, 11:20:24 AM

by John Stephenson

The divisions within the coalition appear to have widened of recent, as Vince Cable broke rank yet again to denounce the Tory approach to immigration. In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr last week, the business secretary dismissed the proposed 75,000 cap on EU migrants as “illegal”, making reference to Enoch Powell in his assessment of Cameron’s populist style of politics.

Such a move speaks volumes for the quandary and confusion the Conservatives are facing in the run up to 2015 and Labour can now seek to cash in on any discord among the Tory frontbench.

Labour is right to steer clear of the battleground that has seen UKIP dominate the thinking of Tory strategists. Recent victories for the far-right party have arguably led to the prime minister’s tough stance on immigration and it bears a striking similarity to the concern surrounding James Goldsmith’s Referendum party, which went on to have little, in any, impact on the 1997 general election.

Though the Tories are keen to stress the errors of their predecessors for the “mess” they’ve found themselves in, this is not to say that Labour have not acknowledged the error or their ways.

In a speech to the IPPR at the Local Government Association, Chris Bryant admitted that the measures taken by the party when in government had at times been mistaken. A lack of transitional controls on workers from the eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004 saw a disproportionately high volume of workers stream into the UK, while countries like Germany and France (which retained controls until the last possible moment in 2007) were spared such an influx.

Yes, the arrival of around 500,000 migrants between 2002 and 2010 created problems, but if the Conservatives are so willing to play the blame-game then it seems only fair that Labour return the favour. At the start of the Blair years, the government faced a mountain of around 71,000 asylum applications each years; dealt with by just 50 employees. The very position of Immigration Minister was created by the party to deal with the challenge.


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Christmas special: It’s a wonderful Labour life

25/12/2013, 08:00:32 AM

by Rob Marchant

(With apologies to the late Frank Capra)

Christmas Eve, 2013: snow was falling fast in the small town of Leftford Falls, the stores were packing up for Christmas and Edward Bailey – known to his friends as Ed, and his detractors as “Red Ed” – had finished work for the day at his little family savings-and-loan business.

It had been a very difficult year: the business had been established a hundred years before, to provide help to “the many not the few”, as its slogan ran. This Christmas, it was just about keeping its head above water, in troubled economic times.

Meanwhile Lennie M. Potter, the power-hungry boss who owned half of Leftford Falls, was cooking up a plan to secure the one piece of the town he had never yet managed to get hold of – Bailey’s company.

Seeing that the savings-and-loan was in difficulties, Potter had decided to turn the screws further by declining to cooperate in Bailey’s clever new scheme to save his little business. The scheme was a bit complicated to explain, but Bailey’s idea was that the company would get more money, more power would go to ordinary people and less to Potter. Potter, needless to say, disagreed.

In fact, Bailey had never ventured much outside of his neighbourhood of Leftford Falls, because he always had the fear that, when he came back, Potter would have taken over the whole place.

To cap it all, Bailey’s own bank – a co-operative enterprise headed by the clownish “Uncle Billy” Flowers – had just gone bankrupt. Indeed, thanks in part to the foolish actions of uncle Billy, the financial base of the whole savings-and-loan business was now at risk.

So, on that last evening before the holidays, everything had come to a head. There was only one thing for it: he would have to go cap-in-hand to Potter, and beg him for a loan to get his business back on the straight and narrow. Surely Potter would see that ordinary people would be better off that way? He couldn’t see Bailey go to the wall, could he? It was Christmas, after all.


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Letter from Wales: Worried about public service cuts? Never mind, Carwyn’s splashing taxpayer cash on pubs instead

23/12/2013, 09:00:02 PM

by Julian Ruck

You think I’m joking?

According to the Wales Eye investigative website (fronted by former BBC Wales reporter and presenter Phil Parry) Carwyn’s government dished out £700,000 of taxpayers’ hard earned to an up-market boozer, The Cross Foxes, in Dolgellau Gwynedd – which naturally went to the wall. The Welsh government tends to prioritise businesses that are likely to fail.

As if this isn’t bad enough, Carwyn’s Welsh Labour also gave £250,000 of taxpayers’ money to the Fire Island pub in Westgate Street Cardiff while another £189,000 was given to Jolyons, a ‘boutique’ boozer on the city’s Cathedral Road – funnily enough I had a glass or two of wine in Jolyons a couple of months ago. No wonder the prices were top drawer, Carwyn and his Crony Cabinet of Tafia incompetence trying to screw the Welsh again!

I bet it’s freebies all round every time they go in there.

The insanity of it all however doesn’t end here. If you remember my column of a few weeks ago, Carwyn and his team druid has blown £10m on nonsensical health initiatives trying to get the Welsh to stop boozing and scoffing!

Of course the real outrage is the fact that Carwyn is bunging the bucks into wealthy areas of Wales instead of seeing to the areas that actually need it, like the Welsh valleys. For example Wales Eye reminds us that ‘ The Welsh Government spent a further £356,000 persuading food manufacturer Halo to relocate to Newport, one of the wealthiest parts of Wales, when it was formerly in Tywyn, Gwynedd, one of the poorest.’


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If Dave thinks Merkel will ride to his rescue on Europe, he doesn’t understand German politics

23/12/2013, 11:18:25 AM

by Callum Anderson

After three months of intense negotiations, Germany finally has a new government. Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU centre-right party will enter a so-called ‘Grand Coalition’ with the centre-left social democrats, the SPD, after its members ratified the agreement in a vote a week ago.

The arrangement, however, could represent the proverbial ‘spanner in the works’ for David Cameron’s plans to repatriate powers from the European Union to individual member states. Although Mr Cameron does have a natural ally for EU reform in Chancellor Merkel, her coalition partners, the SPD, are likely to prove a substantial stumbling block for any attempt by Ms Merkel to collaborate with the prime minister.

For a start, the Euroscepticism of David Cameron’s Conservative Party is completely at odds with the staunchly pro-EU stance of the SPD. A German government, with SPD involvement, will almost certainly take a dim view of any potential “Europe a la carte” arrangement that the prime minister seeks, especially in regard to social regulations such as the working time directive. Indeed, it is highly likely that it will actively try to block attempts to return EU powers to national governments.

Difficulty also represents itself in the form of the new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who also served in the same capacity in the last ‘Grand Coalition’, between 2005 and 2009. Steinmeier not only frequently scuppered Merkel’s foreign policy plans during that time, but is also considered one of the Social Democrats’ closest links to the French Socialist party. Indeed, Steinmeier is reported to have said in December 2011 that he expected the UK to leave the EU, remarking that, “I fear the decisive step for Great Britain’s exit has already been made. If the regular meetings take the form of a Europe of 26 without Britain, then a process of alienation will become inevitable and irreversible.” It is therefore likely that he will not idly sit by and let Angela Merkel freely negotiate with David Cameron.

The possible ramifications of SPD hostility are obvious. By blocking Angela Merkel’s attempts to work with the UK on a new relationship between the EU and its member states, the SPD will deprive David Cameron of a possible key ally in claiming powers back from Brussels. If Germany is unable or unwilling to work with the UK prime minister, other Northern European states such as the Netherlands and Sweden are also likely to become sceptical. Similarly, any significant strengthening of Franco-German relations could further weaken London’s hand.


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It’s a white man’s world in the lobby

20/12/2013, 10:38:02 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Since 1884 the cosy club of the lobby has shaped political journalism in Britain. With privileged access to MPs in the lobby outside the Commons’ chamber and a remit to report politicians’ views on “lobby terms,” (e.g. without naming the source), their judgement on what merits reporting and how it is written, frames the political debate.

However, for such an influential institution, relatively little is known about its members. For most other parts of Britain’s governing elite, such as MPs or the judiciary, there is a basic level of transparency. The gender balance and proportion from minority communities are a matter of public knowledge and debate.

But not with the lobby.

Uncut has analysed the membership of this august body to see how it measures up. The results paint a depressingly familiar picture.

In all, there are 155 accredited members of the lobby. Out of this total, 33 or 21% are women and just 7 or 5% come from minority communities.

For minorities, the reality is a little worse than even the raw numbers suggest. Only 5 of the 7  lobby journalists are employed by the types of news organisation to which aspirants will routinely apply in the hope of one day receiving the honour of a lobby pass.

Take a bow Rajeev Syal, the Guardian and Observer’s Whitehall correspondent, Samana Haq, ITN’s Westminster news editor, John Piennar, 5 Live’s chief political correspondent, Kiran Stacey political correspondent of the FT and Anne Alexander, Daybreak’s politics producer. You are the lucky ones.

Team diversity is completed by Adel Darwish, a longtime lobby hand now plying his trade for Middle East News, and Ahmed Versi who edits and publishes the Muslim News.

If the lobby looked like the country there would be over double the number of women journalists and three times as many from minority communities.

This institution has the dubious distinction of being about as representative than the House of Commons on which it reports where 23% of the MPs are women and 4% are from an ethnic minority.


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