Archive for July, 2014

Sorry Harriet, you weren’t entitled to become Deputy PM

09/07/2014, 07:05:44 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Was Gordon Brown a sexist for not making Harriet Harman deputy prime minister? Harriet seems to think so.  Last night, in a well-trailed speech about sexism in Westminster,she said:

“The truth is that even getting to the top of the political structures is no guarantee of equality. Imagine my surprise when having won a hard-fought election to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour party, I discovered that I was not to succeed him as deputy prime minister.

“If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened? Would they have put up with it?”

It’s hard for this line of argument not to sound self-serving – and indeed it is. However way you stack it up, this is a case of special pleading.

There is no constitutional convention or Labour party rule that means the deputy leader of the party should automatically become deputy prime minister. Indeed, Harriet Harman was not even serving as a cabinet minister before she became deputy leader.

Would it not have been wiser, therefore, for her to have focused her speech on the lack of working-class and ethnic minority women among Labour’s ranks and offer some practical remedy? There was precious little of that in the sections of her speech she leaked to the press yesterday.

Jon Cruddas, the first round ballot winner in the 2007 deputy leadership contest (and who, under first past the post, would currently serve as deputy leader, not Harman) actually stood on a platform of rejecting a cabinet seat so he could instead devote his time to party development.

Of Labour’s sixteen deputy leaders since the role was created in 1922, only two, Herbert Morrison and John Prescott, have actually become deputy prime minister. Prescott is instructive because he is the precedent that Harman cites.

But the comparison is unwarranted.

Prescott had a Unique Selling Point, bringing balance to Labour’s top team as a working-class Northener to Tony Blair’s middle-class Southener. Between them, they provided, respectively, an offer to Labour’s heartland voters and the Middle England ‘enemy territory’ the party needed to occupy in order to win.

It is less clear who Harman represents. Clearly her gender adds some balance to the higher echelons of politics which are still male-dominated. But as the privately-educated daughter of a Harley Street consultant and niece of a hereditary peer, she hardly came up the hard way.

So it wasn’t sexism. The reason Harriet wasn’t made deputy PM is that, unlike Prescott, she simply didn’t serve a useful enough purpose.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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The Labour leadership’s reaction to Thursday’s strike action is incoherent

08/07/2014, 10:14:26 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Can you hear it? Those creaks and squeaks disrupting the heavy, doleful silence. That’s the sound of people squirming,  uncomfortably in their chairs. And its emanating from the upper echelons of the Labour party.

The cause is what’s happening on Thursday: industrial action on a scale rarely seen. Heallth workers, teachers, local government employees, fire fighters, university staff, civil servants and rail workers are among the groups that will strike.

Their reasons are understandable: real terms pay cuts, deteriorating pensions provision and redundancies. If the unions didn’t strike in these circumstances, there really would be little point to them. They are accountable to their members and their members are mad as hell.

What is less understandable is the reaction of the Labour leadership. There seems to be no collective line to take.

Tristram Hunt was on Marr on Sunday giving his particular rendition of the Sound of Silence. He neither opposed nor supported the teachers’ strike action, casting himself as a rather odd, impotent observer of events. Certainly for someone who aspires to be the secretary of state for education.

Then there was Owen Smith yesterday on the Daily Politics, initially trying to stick to the no-line-to-take-line-to-take but finding himself compelled, by the pressure of his own logic, to back the strikes as the interview unfolded.

In the 44 press releases issued by the Labour party over the past week, not one has addressed Thursday’s action and given an official Labour line.


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Letter from Wales: How the Welsh press is in hock to the Welsh government

06/07/2014, 03:05:30 PM

by Julian Ruck

Readers will know that I’ve had my run-ins with the Western Mail. Their reluctance to expose profligacy by the Welsh government has been perplexing. Until now.

Some digging on the Western Mail has revealed the following:

John Humphries, its former editor, deputy editor and news editor has written a taxpayer subsidised book titled ‘Freedom Fighters’, a treatise on the cause of Welsh language nationalism.

Meic Stephens, a writer for the Western Mail who has authored, edited more than 200 Welsh books (I gave up on counting the number paid for by the taxpayer). Former Literature editor at the Arts Council Wales and retired Professor of Welsh writing at the University of Glamorgan.

Mario Basini ( a recipient of a £1,686 taxpayer hand out to stay at home and scribble), was literary editor at the Western Mail for 4 years, the gentleman has been a presenter for BBC Wales and Radio Wales – as if one would ever expect anything less?

It gets better.

Please note the following FoI data:

In the last financial year, 2012-13, the amount of money the Welsh Government spent on advertising in a) The Western Mail b) The Daily Post c) all Trinity Mirror publications.

The information that you requested is provided below.  Please note that the figure shown for all Trinity Mirror publications excludes figures for the Western Mail and Daily Post.

PublicationAdvertising Expenditure 2012-13
The Western Mail£209,313.99
The Daily Post£190,770.11
All Trinity Mirror publications£193,319.18

Here are two responses to the above, one from Mr Martin Shipton (Chief Reporter at the Western Mail, whose book was paid for by the taxpayer as noted in my last Letter), and Rupert Smith, Head of Communications at Trinity Mirror, Mr Shipton’s master’s: (more…)

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Advantage Alexander in Labour’s campaign team reshuffle

04/07/2014, 08:02:33 AM

Three new faces join Labour’s campaign team as deputies to Labour’s chair of campaign strategy, Douglas Alexander: Gloria de Piero, Toby Perkins and Jon Ashworth to improve broadcast coverage, field operations and work with candidates. Cue warm fraternal regards from all and sundry on Twitter, nothing to see here, all just run of the mill announcements.

Except of course, they aren’t.

The essential background is that Michael Dugher – responsible for campaign communications – and Douglas Alexander, are not on speaking terms. We know because of this. Quite possibly the most extraordinary example of red on red briefing since the low point of the TB-GBs a decade ago.

The overlapping nature of their briefs was always likely to cause friction, a function of Ed Miliband’s reluctance to pick a single campaign boss. Now, the Alexander-Dugher antipathy has become so entrenched that even by Labour’s dysfunctional standards (see recent comments by J Cruddas about unreconciled camps), something had to be done.

Rather than fix the original mistake and unambiguously choose a single campaign lead, Ed Miliband has opted for a fudge.

The primary role of the new appointments is to form a human shield between Alexander and Dugher.

In the original campaign structure, Dugher and Alexander had an executive function: their role was to discuss the recommendations from the staff team and make decisions. But in a world where the two aren’t talking, and the leader refuses to choose between them, a buffer was needed.

Enter the new deputies.

It’s notable that on the Tory side of the fence, there is no comparable proliferation of MPs in campaign roles. They have a single official at the helm, Lynton Crosby, who is accountable to Cameron and Osborne and that’s it. Everyone else does as they are told.


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Labour must take the lead on extending competition in the banking sector

02/07/2014, 07:23:59 PM

by Callum Anderson

With a little under a year until the 2015 general election, Labour is marginally ahead of the Conservatives in most polls, yet Ed Miliband continues to trail the prime minister on the issue of leadership and the two Eds still lag behind the prime minister and the chancellor on who people trust to run the economy and, in particular, who will best secure the public finances.

Indeed, as is agreed by most people, it is the economy, and how the two main parties intend on developing it over the next five years, that will dominate the political discourse over the next twelve months.

Now, whilst the public finances are quite reasonably the fundamental dividing lines between Labour and the coalition government, it is essential that other issues surrounding the cost of living crisis are also not ignored: rising energy prices, the shortage of affordable housing, to name just a few examples.

But there is another strand of this debate that is sometimes overlooked: the provision of basic financial products –a bank account, access to fair and affordable credit –that are, quite simply vital to everyone across the country if they are to participate fully in the UK economy.

The Community Investment Coalition (CIC) this month launched its Community Banking Charter states these basic financial products that every adult, household and business in the UK should have access to the following:

  • A basic transactional bank account;
  • A savings scheme;
  • Credit;
  • Physical access to branch banking facilities;
  • Insurance; and
  • Independent money management advice.

Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, will agree that these six elements are not excessive. Without access to these basic products, millions are been prevented them from participating fully in the economy. Add this grim reality to the coalition government’s calamitous rolling out of Universal Credit, and you have a situation where it is extremely difficult for people to escape poverty.


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Continuity Miliband: Why it’s likely Ed Miliband will fight on if Labour lose next year

02/07/2014, 10:54:17 AM

by Rob Marchant

It’s a rollercoaster ride, this one. On the one hand, we continue to have a recovering economy, a relentlessly-downward-trending poll lead and pretty horrific personal polling for the Labour leader. The head of the policy review says “interesting ideas and remedies are not going to emerge through Labour’s policy review”. A well-meant piece on LabourList tries to argue “Why Miliband still matters”. Senior party figures, sensing a possible future leadership contest, are clearly on manoeuvres. The impression of disarray in Labour ranks is hard to avoid.

On the other, we have Michael Ashcroft’s analysis which shows that, surprisingly, Labour is still ahead in the marginals, where it counts. Incumbent parties do not generally increase their vote-share, either (although neither have we had a coalition for 70 years, so who knows).

Wiser heads realise that this is because the election really is still too close to call, ten months out. We can but set out the possible scenarios, without any real idea which will prevail. Whatever the result, the one thing we can say with a reasonable probability is that no-one is going to get a landslide. And this one thing that we can say, the relative closeness of it all, brings its own consequences.

So, those scenarios.

One: Labour has won a majority. Theoretically possible and should always be the public aim but, at this point, surely more prayer than probability.

Two: Labour in minority government or coalition. Whilst not an ideal situation, it is possible to conceive a government that could go the full five years. And it’s better than being in opposition. Risk: “Hollande syndrome”. Government perceived as weak, we promise a bunch of things that we can’t deliver and end up out of government, quite probably for a long time. Note that this syndrome might also happen in scenario one, but the parliamentary arithmetic here makes it worse.

Three: Labour has lost, Miliband resigns. We explored that in another Uncut piece here. It’s not pretty: whether or not the Unite-PCS merger goes ahead, or Len McCluskey carries out his threat to disaffiliate from Labour, a much messier transition than 2010 seems certain and a battle for the heart and soul of the Labour Party quite a real possibility. All in the context of a not-yet-bedded-down set of rule changes over who gets to vote for the new leader. Not for the faint-hearted.

Four: Labour has lost, Miliband looks to stay on. This is a scenario which has been the subject of much speculation over recent days. While we must take the Daily Mail’s stirring on this with a pinch of salt, and it is easy to view such things as the feverish imaginings of over-ambitious colleagues with their eyes on the prize, Uncut’s intelligence indicates that it is, on the contrary, a real possibility.

Now think about why.


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Brownian big numbers don’t persuade anyone, so why does Labour keep announcing them

01/07/2014, 12:59:44 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today, the disconnect between Labour’s approach to political communications and the general public was on full display.

To accompany the launch of the Adonis Growth Review, the topline of Labour’s story was that it would devolve up to £30bn of central government funding to new regional partnerships of local authorities.

The model of regional co-operation that Labour is advocating has had demonstrable results in Greater Manchester, where 7 North West local authorities are working well together. The incentive of greater devolution of funds from central government would surely prompt other areas to follow Greater Manchester’s lead.

As a policy, there is much to recommend today’s announcement. Which is why the way it has been packaged for the media is so depressing.

Gordon Brown was notorious for bludgeoning audiences with lists of gargantuan numbers to demonstrate his commitment to Schools-n-Hospitals. Notorious because, while these types of big numbers have a certain resonance within the Westminster bubble, they are positively off-putting for most voters.

I’m currently conducting a series of focus groups for the day job, looking at how people understand political messages. The topic we’re looking at specifically is immigration, but the findings are applicable to most political issues.

When confronted with a statistic, particularly a Brownian big number, there is typically a two stage response: “I don’t understand your number,” swiftly followed by, “I don’t trust your number.”

Dealing with the first response is comparatively straight-forward. It’s all about context.

Abstract statistics mean very little to voters. Cash numbers in the billions or percentage growth rates lack any practical resonance with peoples’ lives.  They tend to simply fade into the white noise of politicos’ stat chat.


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Miliband’s bridge building with business should be applauded

01/07/2014, 08:15:02 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The case for augmenting Labour’s cost of living campaigning is almost as old as this campaigning. The advantages accruing to Labour from this campaigning are challenged by those that accumulate to the Conservatives from the more general economic improvement. This improvement encourages optimism among businesses, which some feel Labour threatens.

Labour needs to reassure these businesses and the voters who work for them that Labour poses no such threat. That, as Pat McFadden and Alan Milburn have both put it, Labour is as concerned with generating wealth as with distributing it. It is, as Chuka Umunna is quoted in a recent FT article headlined ‘Labour seeks to reposition as pro-business party’, a fairly academic decision how you can cut the pie more fairly if you haven’t increased the size of the pie first.

That Umunna is clearly right, while business fears that this is not understood by Labour, makes the repositioning heralded by the FT welcome. We are now in what The Sunday Times described as “a week long campaign to mend fences with business leaders”. No matter what big policy announcements this week may bring, Labour should not expect that they alone will secure business support.

Fifty small press releases matter more than a big policy announcement, as the ex party adviser Steve Van Riel recently observed. If Labour wants better relations with business, and I’m pleased that we do, we shouldn’t think that these can be cemented in a week, no matter how big our policy announcements. Such relations require diligent cultivation over the long-term. Which the activities of this week should be a staging post on.

It is to be hoped that Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet are up for this. Because there will be those in our party who will implore them not to be. Similar protestations, as Uncut has noted, have blunted moves to the centre on welfare. Concerted efforts to win business support would be another move to the centre, which is valuable enough that Miliband should be prepared to endure internal criticisms.


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