Archive for February, 2014

Our politicians are impotent in the face of events they cannot control

12/02/2014, 06:34:14 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It must feel like Groundhog Day in Whitehall. Ministers are now obliged to pay homage to the residents of Somerset on a daily basis. So they come, all wellies and wax jackets, with suitably solemn faces for the now perfunctory photo opportunity.

There they stand, knee deep in stagnant water, to receive their ritual ear-bashing from angry flood victims, unable to offer any reassurances about when normality will resume or even give a guarantee that the same thing will not happen again. As David Cameron put it at his press conference yesterday, these are the worst floods in that part of the country for 250 years. Translation: ‘I’m at the mercy of events, what can I be expected to do?’

But at least David Cameron can venture out to the flooded south-west of England. He dared not visit Scotland to deliver a keynote speech making the case for the Union last Friday, such is the toxicity of the Conservative brand north of the border. Instead, the Prime Minister delivered his call to “save the most extraordinary country in history” from the velodrome of the Olympic Park in London. A place, then, where people whizz round and round but don’t actually get anywhere.

Apt, perhaps, given the impotence of our politicians this week.

Despite their Canute-like assurances, even small changes in our climate pattern quickly overpower both our flood defences – and ministers’ good intentions. Adapting our infrastructure to meet this challenge is horrendously costly, which is why it has never been adequately done.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour needs to get local

12/02/2014, 07:00:29 AM

by Richard Watts

Today Jon Cruddas is set to speak to the New Local Government Network on what could be the answer to the key political question for Labour: how can we change the lives of people in this country with far less money than the last Labour government spent?

All political parties talk a good game on localism in opposition, but haven’t delivered in government. It was one of my criticisms of the last Labour government, and while David Cameron and Eric Pickles have talked about ‘giving power back to the people’ the reality has been a disastrous local government legacy that has seen real term budgets slashed and services up and down the country hanging by a thread. At the same time, ministers like Michael Gove have centralised power in Whitehall at a speed that would have Lenin nodding with approval.

But this time, even if Labour return to power in 2015, things for local government will be very different.  By 2015 my council will have lost over £100 million a year of funding; that’s around 40 percent of our budget. Funding isn’t likely to return to pre-2010 levels and borough’s like mine are being faced with two undeniable trends, a rising demand for services and shrinking budgets. Westminster politicians need to wake up to the fact that council budgets will fall off a cliff in 2015 and 2016 without a change in the way local government is funded.

However Britain wastes public money by spending far too much of it on managing problems through top-down national initiatives that smarter investment could have avoided.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Latest YouGov figures show over 1 in 4 2010 Labour voters have defected. Tories have higher core vote.

11/02/2014, 01:55:07 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Important new analysis from YouGov today. Peter Kellner has looked at all of YouGov’s polls across January – a sample of over 37,000 voters – and crunched the numbers to understand the shifts in voting intention for those who voted in 2010.

This is important because it gives a good idea of the core support for a party and the volatility of the electorate.

For Labour, the common refrain is that our core support is near the level of the vote at the last election. Last year, Marcus Roberts at the Fabians produced an interesting analysis which exemplified this view – he pitched Labour’s core vote at 27.5%.

Around the same time, Uncut commissioned some YouGov polling which found that Labour had lost 26% or just over 1 in 4 of its 2010 vote. Today’s findings from YouGov confirm this figure.

This places Labour’s core vote at 21.5%. The Fabian analysis suggests generational churn (e.g. older Tory voters dying and younger Labour voters coming into the electorate) could add roughly 2% to Labour’s core total, but even allowing for this, a Labour core vote of 23.5% does not set the party up for victory.

In fact, if all other elements of the Fabians analysis were proved to be correct (and this includes a debatable target of attracting an extra 3% of support from the ranks of non-voters ), the absolute maximum Labour could hope for at the next election would be 35.5%.

If this is the ceiling, its not difficult to see a potential, even likely, outcome where Labour posts a result in the low 30s.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Smoking ban brings out Labour’s worst instincts

11/02/2014, 10:19:08 AM

by Kevin Meagher

So how will the new ban on smoking in a car while children are passengers actually work? Will traffic cameras scour the motorway lanes for the odd plume of cigarette smoke? Will there be spot checks on ashtray contents? Will under-18s be expected to give evidence against their nicotine-addicted parents? And why, if smoking in front of your children in a car is now deemed so heinous, does the ban not extend to the home?

Last night, MPs from all parties enthusiastically queued up to vote the measure through by 376 to 107, as they once did to push through legislation banning dangerous dogs and creating the Child Support Agency. That’s how received opinion works.

For Labour, support – unquestioning support – for this measure sends out the signal that big government, primary legislation and encroaching personal freedom remain, all too often, the first, second and third instincts of the party. Labour has, quite frankly – and entirely justifiably – a lousy reputation when it comes to defending personal liberty.

Left to its own devices, the last Labour government would have forced each of us to carry identity cards around to prove we are who we say we are at the whim of every enquiring public official, while allowing the authorities to lock-up someone without charge or trial for up to three months.

Worse, it shows yet again that any gesture cause or pressure group can overwhelm the party’s critical faculties (in this case, in the august shape of the Royal College of Physicians). Whatever happened to persuasion, or good old-fashioned Fabian gradualism as a means to bringing about change?


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The power of Labour’s left means Ed Miliband’s speech on public service reform has already been neutered

10/02/2014, 04:43:34 PM

by Atul Hatwal

This evening Ed Miliband will make speech mentioning Labour’s great unmentionable, a policy area that has been mothballed since Tony Blair’s departure from Number 10: public service reform.

The new left inquisition which dominates much of today’s Labour party views Blairism as the most egregious of all the possible heresies. To openly suggest our public services are in need of reform is dangerously Blairite.

It virtually invites the type of twitter auto-da-fé experienced by those hardy Labour souls who have had the temerity to call for a tougher line on welfare or public spending.

The only criticism of public services permissible in the current orthodoxy is funding: everything would be better if there was more money and the Tory cuts were reversed. All else is doctrinally suspect.

As a result there is some excitement in anticipation of what Labour’s leader will say.

It is also why we know that Ed Miliband’s foray into new territory will only advance Labour’s thinking in the most nugatory manner.

Public service reform has always had two inextricably linked aspects: shifting power from providers to service users and improving efficiency. One leads to another: as power is shifted, and resources allocated to better reflect demand, so cost is driven down and quality, up.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

When is a local candidate not a local candidate?

07/02/2014, 03:35:46 PM

The race to succeed Shaun Woodward as Labour MP for St. Helens South and Whiston is rapidly hotting up, following the decision of the NEC to designate the seat as an all-women shortlist last month.

Candidates are starting to emerge for the plum Labour seat, vying for the chance to inherit Woodward’s 9,309 majority.

But carpetbaggers should beware. A poll in yesterday’s St Helens Star found 74% of readers wanted a candidate with‘strong St. Helens ties.’

Step forward two contrasting ‘local’ candidates.

The first is former Labour council leader Marie Rimmer, who has dominated public life in the town for thirty years. At 66, she is the grand dame of Merseyside Labour politics, but is said to be “energised” by the prospect of running for Parliament.

Although ousted as council leader last year she remains, in the words of local Police Commissioner (and former Labour minister) Jane Kennedy, “one of the most important and influential women on Merseyside and a source of inspiration to me.”

The second ‘local’ is Catherine McDonald, a St. Helens-born former special adviser to employment minister Jim Knight, who is now Southwark Council’s cabinet member in charge of health and social care.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Letter from Wales: This is not the way to show Labour will only spend carefully

07/02/2014, 09:54:12 AM

by Julian Ruck

Cameron’s Tories are for a small government and to hell with the consequences, Ed’s Labour is for a more benevolent government with a steady eye on cost.

Welsh Labour is for an out and out free for all and to hell with cost.

I would ask readers to note that last month BBC Wales reported that the Welsh government has employed 400 extra civil servants in the last two years while the number employed across the UK fell.

The number of civil servants employed by the Scottish government also fell.

So much for Carwyn’s restraint on public spending then. It’s business as usual at the Senate and “Come on boyos, it’s only taxpayers’ dosh and while we’re at it, let’s go and watch some rugby at one of our subsidised boozers in Cardiff Bay!”

So, how does Carwyn and his Team Druid justify yet another manic departure from Westminster Labour policy?

You tell me, but apparently and according to a Welsh government spokesperson it’s all down to “a successful apprenticeship programme which has seen over 150 young people trained for future employment, many of whom have successfully gained permanent employment within the Welsh government.”

In other words there’s no private, engineering or manufacturing sector in Wales because no-one will invest here without being bribed with taxpayers’ money, so we in Cardiff Bay will take up the slack and really make the Welsh public sector the biggest in Europe. Apart from anything else, at least we keep any criticism under wraps because who is going to bite the hand that feeds it? What’s an extra 400 civil servants for some apprenticeships anyway?!


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The real scandal of the tube strike is that we’ve stopped defending the right to strike

06/02/2014, 03:43:50 PM

by Sam Fowles

In my attempts to subvert the south west London blogger stereotype I’ve abandoned my usual method of writing these things (MacBook in Starbucks). Unfortunately I haven’t found anywhere I like quite as much as Starbucks (I know they don’t pay any tax but I just really really love those blueberry muffins) so I’m typing this on my iPhone on Putney Station platform. Essentially I’ve just reduced the size of the Apple device and got colder. Today I am eternally grateful to Bob Crow and the RMT for giving me the extra time to write as, thanks to the tube strike, every train has been full to bursting and I’ve now been sat here for 45 minutes. I’d also like to pass on my sincere thanks for finally providing me with the opportunity to quote The Amateur Transplants in a post. So here goes: “I’m standing here in the pouring rain…” (If you don’t know the rest go listen to the actual song)

Apparently I’m not the only one inconvenienced. David Cameron is calling on everyone from Ed Miliband to the Pope (probably) to condemn the “Union Barons” (TM) who are “holding the capital to ransom”. Boris Johnson apparently refuses to negotiate  with a “gun to his head” and everyone agrees that the Tube is vital to the London economy and thus stopping it working is a terribly bad thing. This argument might seem a little less hollow had the government itself not cut funding for this supposedly vital service by 8.5%.

This isn’t actually going to be a post about the tube strike. Even though it’s vying with the Mutiny on the Bounty and the Spartacus Uprising for title of “Worst Handled Industrial Dispute in History”.The only thing more amateur than the industrial relations of this dispute is the reporting. A strike represents a failure in negotiation of both labour and management. If Johnson and co really think that keeping the tube running is that important then they should have made more effort to negotiate a settlement. I’m just an (increasingly damp) observer but if Bob Crow won’t negotiate until Johnson agrees to postpone the order his proposed changes and Johnson won’t negotiate until Crow postpones the strike can’t they just postpone them both and stop bitching at each other on LBC?

But there’s a wider point to be made here. The tube strike has thrown up all the classic arguments about “holding the country to ransom”, whether the unions control the Labour party and why strikes should be banned. Of course, none of these would pass scrutiny in a sixth form debating society but apparently they’re good enough to be trotted out by the leaders of the land.

That said, for the less analytic minds out there:

1. Accusing Unions of “holding the country to ransom” when they go on strike for two days is incredibly hypocritical when bankers threaten to flee the country permanently and en mass whenever anyone suggests they should pay a fair share of taxes.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

If party reform goes through as advertised, it is a major triumph. But it ain’t over till it’s over

05/02/2014, 01:56:27 PM

by Rob Marchant

It has been a rollercoaster couple of weeks for Labour. It started with Miliband’s ideas on how to change competition in banking, and ran through Balls’ announcement on fiscal probity, of which the only story newspapers wanted to print was about the retention of the 50p tax rate. Indeed, the economic story that they tell is one which could yet be Labour’s undoing.

But let us give credit where it is undoubtedly due. The settlement announced at the weekend was, for the long-term future of the party, an undeniable success. It did not go as far as some of us might have wanted. But given where we are in the electoral cycle and the importance of not facing a general election broke, it was surely about as good as anyone could have hoped for.

If you can secure the fulsome praise of Andrew Rawnsley and John Rentoul – no Miliband cheerleaders they – for reforms which they describe as “bold” and “brave” respectively, you must know that you have done something out of the ordinary.

In summary: move to individual affiliation for union members – tick. Primary in London – tick. End of electoral college in leadership elections – tick. Most importantly, it leaves the door open for further reform. If the London primary is a success, then the argument for using them to select parliamentary candidates could become unstoppable. We didn’t get changes on conference voting, but then no-one expected we would.

Now, let’s assume the best of all worlds, and that this all goes through on the nod. Not a particularly safe assumption, but let’s assume it does.

Is there still a caveat? Of course there is. This is Labour Uncut, and we know how to sit amongst the most churlish of churls, if there is an uncomfortable truth to be told. And to do so, we have to get down into a nerdiness of procedural detail that even respected political journalists might baulk at.

And it is this. What happens if there is a leadership election next year?


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Party reforms hang in the balance as Collins fails to resolve the big question

05/02/2014, 10:37:22 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The NEC has spoken. By a vote of 28 to 2 the Collins report was accepted and will now go to the special conference next month. Much of the reception to the report has been warm, and there is much to commend it, but lurking in the detail of the report is an important unanswered question.

There are to be two separate “opt-ins” for individual trade unionists: the first to give permission for political fund contributions to be used by the union in supporting Labour, and the second for the trade unionist to join Labour as an affiliate member.

The latter would give the right to participate in Labour’s leadership election, though not parliamentary selections. Only trade unionists who have agreed to their political fund contributions being used to support Labour can then opt-in to become an affiliate member of the party.

Underpinning both opt-ins is a single requirement: consent. This is where the problem lies.

What constitutes consent should be easily defined. When Ed Miliband started this process last July, he gave a very clear statement,

”Individual Trade Union members should choose to join Labour through the affiliation fee, not be automatically affiliated.”

To most people, this would mean members of trade unions signing a form to show their choice. In the context of the double opt-in, it would be a form with two boxes to tick – one to say yes to commit political fund contributions to Labour and the other to say yes to join Labour as an affiliate member.

But in the Collins report there is no such definition. Instead, it deliberately avoids clarity.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon