Archive for June, 2014

If you don’t support religious freedom, then you don’t support freedom

16/06/2014, 04:29:31 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Given we’re constantly told we live in an age of evidence-based policy-making, the reaction to the so-called Trojan Horse case in Birmingham owes more to Medieval peasant superstition.

What has warranted the blanket media coverage of recent weeks? No organised conspiracy to ‘Islamify’ state schools in Birmingham has been uncovered. No evidence of criminality has been produced. No charges are pending.

All that has happened so far, despite almost daily media attention and a series of top-level investigations, is that a handful of schools in one if the poorest parts of the city are to be placed in special measures at the behest of schools inspectors.

Yes, there are suspicions about what might have gone on, however much of the reporting has been little more than conjecture – more heat than light – blackening the reputation of Birmingham’s Muslim community in the process.

But that didn’t stop yesterday’s Observer. With no substantive news from Birmingham to report, the paper fell back on the old tactic of producing an opinion poll which showed:

“70% [of the public] said the taxpayer should not be funding the promotion of religion in schools, 60% said such schools promoted division and segregation, and 41% said they were contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society.”

Of course it’s worth pointing out, for the avoidance of doubt, that parents who want to send their children to faith schools are still taxpayers. Just as it’s worth noting that none of the schools involved in the Trojan Horse ‘scandal’ are, in fact, faith schools at all.

Nevertheless, shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, was enjoined to comment. He thought the case “raised questions” about “how we manage potential tensions” around “faith, multiculturalism and state education”.


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Tory splits offer Labour an opportunity

16/06/2014, 12:57:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The Tories now have a great deal of confidence after Newark, wrote the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman on 6 June. The rebelliousness of their backbenches, especially the 2010 intake, has been one of the features of this parliament. Newark marked the first time in a quarter of a century that they retained a seat in a by-election in government, which followed the local and European elections that indicated they are well placed for 2015 if they can recover those who defected from them to UKIP. The smell of success and bigger success to come, sharpened backbench Tory focus.

As soon as discipline returned to the Tory backbenches, however, it spectacularly deserted their frontbench. The mutually assured damage of public airing of policy differences between Michael Gove and Theresa May makes events inexplicable, not least as they cast a shaft of light on a political terrain that must undermine the Tory general election cause: the world beyond David Cameron. No party wants to face election with a diminished leader and Cameron is now likely to face the question that dogged Tony Blair throughout the 2005 general election: “If elected, will you serve a full term?”

A decade ago, the “buy Blair, get Brown” deal was deemed acceptable – without great enthusiasm but sufficiently palatable to return Labour to a third term in government. While George Osborne harbours hopes of becoming party leader and prime minister in the next parliament, it’s doubtful that he wishes to fight the general election on a similarly joint ticket. The antics of one of his supposed backers, Michael Gove, makes this more likely, however.

Gove has a habit of getting into unnecessary arguments. He first entered my consciousness as a panellist at a debate on the Iraq war in 2003 in Shoreditch Town Hall, organised by the Foreign Policy Centre. My only memory is of him berating an audience member for what he saw as a faulty interpretation of the Glorious Revolution. I also recall Allegra Stratton – now Newsnight’s political editor, then one of the organisers of debate – skipping about the place. I don’t know whether this reveals anything substantive about her character but the cantankerous first impression that Gove left me with does appear telling.


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The Sun photo-opp farce shows how Labour’s activist tail wags the party dog

13/06/2014, 05:15:29 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Only in today’s Labour party, with this Labour leader, could a photo-opp for Britain’s most popular newspaper, degenerate into such utter farce.

Set aside for a moment the inexplicable political judgement in agreeing to the picture in the first place. The judgement that a leader who has defined himself as the iconoclastic scourge of Rupert Murdoch, could credibly pitch-in to help the Sun’s World Cup promotion, without harming his brand.  Difficult as it might be, set that aside.

Because once the decision to take part had been made, that should have been it. Yes there was going to be criticism and yes the picture was gormless, but this should have just been an afternoon’s amusement for the Twitterati.

Instead, Ed Miliiband’s response to his party critics has turned a minor Twitter storm into a running news sore where, yet again, his leadership is in question. Today’s quasi-apology is as disingenuous as it is unbelievable:

“Ed Miliband was promoting England’s bid to win the World Cup and is proud to do so.

But he understands the anger that is felt towards the Sun over Hillsborough by many people in Merseyside and he is sorry to those who feel offended.”

First, to pretend that the photo-opp was about England and the World Cup takes the viewing public to be imbeciles. It’s quite clearly a promotion for the Sun. The clue is in the copy of the Sun that Ed Miliband is holding up.

Second, the unquestioning capitulation in the face of protests from Liverpool’s Labour activists and MPs is worrying.


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A lesson from football: Labour needs to temper its regulatory reflex

13/06/2014, 11:04:06 AM

by David Butler

A few weeks ago, the first set of Financial Fair Play (FFP) fines landed upon the desks of the owners of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and a host of other football clubs. UEFA’s new system is meant to make European football fairer, limiting the ability of clubs to generate losses in search of better league places in search of European glory/a group stage exit in the Champions League. Critics have accused the reform of strengthening the power of the big clubs. These critiques of FFP offer important insights for politicians looking to intervene in markets.

There is a convincing claim that FFP embeds oligopoly. Its structure strengthens clubs like Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern Munich whose historic hegemonic position in their respective leagues means they are major profit-making bodies. Clubs who wish to compete with them need to make significant investments to be able to match the transfer kitty, wage offers, and footballing status offer by the big teams.  Relative insurgents like Manchester City or AS Monaco rely on owners who are able to invest a sum close to the GDP of a small African nation. These investments are overwhelming loss-making, at least initially, due to the huge cost of building a squad capable of challenging consistently for Champions League places. FFP means that fewer clubs will be able to pay the sunk costs often needed to enter the market for Champions League places within their respective nation. Bad regulation may well sustain the wealthy clubs and stymie greater competition.


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Letter from Wales: Arts Council of Wales referred to Welsh Audit Office

12/06/2014, 09:41:28 AM

by Julian Ruck

BBC Wales, whilst usually being keen to report on the minutiae of its director, Rhodri Talfan Davies’ day, is apparently not so enthusiastic about broadcasting the culture of endemic greed that seethes through its nationalist hallowed corridors at Head Office, Llandaff.

On Monday, I attended the press conference at the Senate and not being inclined to exercise the habitual mealy-mouthed and pretty syntax of Welsh media sycophancy and deferential hero-worship, I well and truly went for it.

Naming and shaming BBC Wales presenters and staffers was the name of the game, exposing their taxpayer bungs and making sure certain matters were finally rubbed in to the Welsh political scene was the intention, and not to mention openly exposing all those Dick ap Turpins of artistic impersonation and poetic delusion at the Arts Council of Wales.

Mission accomplished.

Welsh politicos have already filed a report on the Arts Council of Wales with the Wales Audit Office, and if there is no satisfaction here I’m told, a Public Accounts Committee may well be the next step.

About time too!

And did any of the spineless Welsh media platforms report any of this? Like hell they did. What? Bring the Crachach into disrepute, can’t have that now can we? We’ve all got season tickets on the Taffia Express gravy train too!

So much for democratic accountability.

So much for democratic scrutiny.

This is Wales.

Wake up Ed, for God’s sake wake up and see what Welsh Labour is doing.

PS I am persona non grata (which is putting it somewhat mildly!) where the Welsh Labour press office is concerned, but on Monday sneaky serendipity struck. Whilst enjoying a cup of coffee in Cardiff Bay, who should be sitting at another table but the Welsh Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths.

An approach was naturally irresistible, so I duly buttonholed the gentleman and having appraised him of the ACW and BBC Wales’ profligate abuse of the taxpayer I received three words, and I mean three,“ There are procedures.”

That was it.

Welsh Labour’s ethos of accountability at its best, mind you Mr Griffiths didn’t seem too happy about my approach in the first place. There was nowhere to hide and a Welsh media hack I am certainly not!

Julian Ruck is a novelist, broadcaster and columnist. His most recent novel is ‘The Silver Songsters’ (pub. April 2014).  

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Labour history uncut: Labour says “no but, yeah but, no but” to a Popular Front

10/06/2014, 09:19:27 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

1937 might have seen the death of efforts to forge Labour, the Communists and Independent Labour Party into a leftist Unity Front, but the idea of Labour joining forces with other political groups had not gone away.

In fact, on the more moderate end of things, there was still plenty of support for a Liberal alliance, which the Lib-Labs called a Popular Front, because Lib-Labs sounded like a brand of penny sweet.

The electoral potential from a new dose of Lib-Labbery was demonstrated in campaigns such as the Fulham West by-election of April 1938 where Labour’s Edith Summerskill reaped the benefits of a Popular Front.

An ardent feminist and anti-fascist, Summerskill was pretty much the living embodiment of a scary lefty for the likes of the Daily Mail. Nevertheless, thanks to the support of Liberal activists, and absence of a Liberal candidate, she secured a 7.3% swing to overturn the Tory majority.

Edith Summerskill’s ability to levitate always drew a crowd on the campaign trail

Edith Summerskill’s ability to levitate always drew a crowd on the campaign trail

Summerskill subsequently took her seat in the House of Commons under her maiden name. This was scandalous behaviour for the time as it made it confusing for the gentlemen of the Commons to know whether or not they were allowed to goose her in the canteen.


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Cameron wants to junk Juncker. He’s right and Miliband should support him

09/06/2014, 10:48:46 AM

by Renie Anjeh

In spite of his party’s victory in the Newark by-election, Cameron has been embroiled in yet another fight with his fellow European leaders. This time, it is over who becomes the next president of the European Commission.  Strangely enough, on this particular issue, Cameron is on the right side of the argument: Jean Claude Juncker is the wrong choice to become president and Ed Miliband should support Cameron in his efforts to block him from the presidency.

A fortnight ago, millions of voters across Europe voted for populist and far-right parties, something which should be of great concern to  all pro-Europeans and progressives. As Tony Blair told the CBI recently, the election results should serve as a “wake up call” for Europe and shows the need for pro-Europeans to press for reform.

To be fair, there have been other European politicians who have tried to come to terms with the results of the Euro elections, but Juncker is not one of them. Instead, he has arrogantly claimed that ‘entitled’ to become president of the Commission and that he is ‘more confident than ever’ that he’ll be the next president.

He is also the politician who told a group of finance ministers that politicians should ‘have to lie’ when economic situations become serious. His attacks on Britain in recent days, because of the Prime Minister’s opposition to his candidature, show that he is not serious about keeping the European Union together.

Juncker embodies the idea that the European Union by an out-of-touch, arrogant elite.  It may be an unfair perception but it is part of the reason why many voters have become disenfranchised. If European leaders appoint Juncker as the next Commission president, it would not just be a rejection of Blair’s sagacious advice but it would embolden extremists and populists such as Ukip and the Front National. That is not something that Europe can afford.


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Letter from Wales: A Welsh Bonfire of Vanities

08/06/2014, 02:59:45 AM

by Julian Ruck

£300m of taxpayers’ money over the last 10 years for Welsh arts and Wales has some of the lowest literacy and numeracy standards in Europe!

Tom Wolfe has railed against the excessive and greedy vanities of New York society.

One cannot help but wonder what he would make of the flapping, arrogant, self-indulgent squawks and bloated vanities of the Welsh arts scene, full to the brim as it is, with taxpayer largesse and unable to write one word, bend one piece of metal, stretch one sweaty leotard or paint one plate without ‘financial assistance’ being attached.

Allow me to give you some recent examples:

This year’s ‘Creative Wales Awards’, courtesy of those jet setters at the Arts Council of Wales, airline tickets paid by Carwyn’s Team Druid of course (note the Biennale farce reported in previous columns):

£264,779 (FOI) ie 12 awards of £25,000 a pop to allow, and I quote, ‘an individual artist’s vision to be explored, tested and re-imagined without the need to create a ‘final’ performance or exhibition’. Indeed one recipient, a Welsh poet, has received his £25,000 of taxpayers’ money to go to America to improve his lyrical expertise – madness, and a profound abuse of the hard-pressed taxpayer.

The real beauty however must be Gareth Clark, who has been awarded £24,894 ‘to remove himself from everyday comforts and conventions of life and put himself in a place to contemplate and reflect’!!! Well he could do this at his local Job Centre, much cheaper, and I can’t quite see £24,894 forcing him to hawk the Big Issue on street corners either (readers should go to: to observe more of these ridiculous but supremely insulting taxpayer hand outs).

Over the years these Welsh Creative Awards have cost the taxpayer millions and what exactly do most of them achieve?


No exhibitions, no sales and an audience equivalent to the footfall at a garden centre flogging Japanese knotweed.

Creative Wales Awards? Gold plated dole more like, for Welsh artists and writers to stay at home and ‘re-imagine’ their artistic genius. Perish the thought, that like most writers and artists they should have to work to support their ‘art’ or achieve some kind of commercial success.


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We’ve passed peak Ukip but Labour has yet to hit rock bottom

06/06/2014, 11:57:55 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Two lessons are clear from the Newark by-election result, one for Ukip and one for Labour.

First, we’ve passed peak Ukip. Despite the blitz of media around the European elections and the dutiful trotting out of tropes about “political earthquakes” by the likes of the BBC, Ukip failed in Newark.

They weren’t even close. Forget earthquake. Losing by almost 20% to an unpopular incumbent government doesn’t count as a tremor or even an HGV rumbling down the road.

Newark has exposed Ukip’s hopeless lack of ground organisation and the extent to which their brand was toxified in the recent European election campaign.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Ukip’s momentum was clearly reversed during the Euro-campaign; from a poll high of 31% before the racism furore, to 27.5% in the European election itself. And from a starting point of 23% equivalent national vote share in last year’s local elections, they fell to 17% in this year’s contests.

Despite the breathless media coverage that greeted Ukip’s results, their direction of travel was down at the point voters went to the polls. The Newark result confirms that they are still on this trajectory.

The enormous disparity between male and female voters in Survation’s final constituency poll – 36.8% of men backed Ukip versus 16.8% of women – illustrates the extent to which Ukip has a major problem with women and is indicative of how they are now seen as an angry, boorish, prejudiced party.

For the 80% of Britons who live in cities, for young people, for women and for anyone from a minority community – be it religious, ethnic or LGBT – Ukip are increasingly electoral poison.

At the general election next year, Ukip will discover that there simply aren’t enough old, angry white men for them to break through.

But in a sense, this was always going to happen. Ukip were and remain in large part, a media construct. When voters go to the polls at elections where they expect something from their representatives – as opposed to the European elections – time and time again, they have shown that they do not trust Ukip.


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New analysis of post-election PLP erodes Yvette’s leadership front-runner status

05/06/2014, 05:29:20 PM

Signs that preparations are being made in earnest for a future leadership campaign. The talk at the fringes of the Progress conference last Saturday was of succession and as John Rentoul has noted, the likely Chuka versus Yvette contest, if Labour loses the next election. The universal consensus is that the one racing certainty is that the next leader will not be an A.W.M. – Another White Male.

Now, Uncut has seen a detailed analysis compiled by consultants involved in the last leadership election, but unaffiliated at this stage for 2015, which suggests that one of Yvette’s big advantages might not be quite so advantageous after all. While Chuka leads on almost all poll measures with voters and non-activist members, Yvette has been assumed to hold a commanding lead in the PLP.

Partially, this is a consequence of the residual strength of the Brownite machine and partially the time Yvette has had to lobby and persuade her parliamentary peers. As a member of the 1997 intake she has had far longer to build a personal base of support in the PLP than Chuka.

However, according to this new analysis, the likely influx of new MPs will erode some of this advantage. If Labour does not become the largest party, but still does make some progress – as is flagged the most likely scenario in the analysis – the party will likely win between 270 and 290 seats (it currently holds 257 seats). This is based on various permutations of Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative performance.

It would entail Labour gaining 13 to 33 new seats. Added to the 82 Labour MPs elected in 2010 or after this would mean 95 to 115 MPs were from Chuka’s intake or later. On this basis there would still be a significant pre-2010 PLP majority of 175 MPs.

But these figures do not incorporate the large numbers of Labour MPs who have either confirmed they will stand down, or are currently considering their position. At the next election 64 Labour MPs will have been in service for over twenty years with 30 or more current MPs expected to stand down.


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