Archive for October, 2017

In-work benefits and the minimum wage: a story of callous Tory disregard for poverty, and the arrant hypocrisy of Jeremy Corbyn

12/10/2017, 03:57:45 PM

by George Kendall

During the coalition of 2010-2015, when the government was facing a record peacetime deficit, many Conservative cuts to welfare were blocked by the Liberal Democrats. In the 2015 election, the Tories took many Liberal Democrat seats, which gave them a majority. They then passed legislation to implement most of these cuts.

Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader on the back of trenchant opposition to welfare cuts, however, when his team wrote their 2017 manifesto, they chose to continue those that had not yet been implemented. According to the Resolution Foundation, they only allocated £2bn/yr to reduce these welfare cuts, which would leave £7bn/yr in place. There was confusion among Corbyn spokespeople, but, by the end of the campaign, Corbyn’s policy of continuing most of the planned draconian cuts to welfare was confirmed as still in place.

I’ve previously written about this here and here, and the responses I have received from Corbyn supporters have been varied, and contradictory.

  • Some acknowledged that Corbyn’s manifesto didn’t allocate the money to stop these future cuts, but said Corbyn would never implement them. Of course, they never explained which of Corbyn’s campaign promises he would break, in order to fund the gaping hole in his budget
  • Others claimed it was fake news. They dismissed analysis of the Corbyn manifesto by the Resolution Foundation as reported in the Guardianby the IFSin the Independentand the New Statesman, even statements by Barry GardinerJeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry. Their denial of reality is an echo of the supporters of Donald Trump
  • But the most common response was that these cuts would be offset by other Corbyn policies, especially a rise in the minimum wage

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J’accuse

10/10/2017, 10:10:00 PM

by Robert Williams

Almost the entire political class in the UK is a pathetic, cowardly disgrace. I don’t mean the committed Brexiteers, those anti Europeans who hate the idea of co-operation with our closest neighbours, and who fantasise about turning the UK into the 51st state of America, or some sort of low tax, low regulation, low quality, cheaper, nastier and colder version of Singapore.

Neither do I mean the strange group of Labour MPs, including the Dear Leader and his shadow chancellor, Dennis Skinner and Kelvin Hopkins, who believe in a left wing version of Brexit (“Lexit”) because they think the EU is a capitalist club, and they want to deliver “socialism” in one country.

These groups represent nothing but a tiny minority of their parties, and are even less representative of the country. They know this, which is why they scream and shout about the “will of the people”, deliberately ignoring the fact that the “people” amounted to 37% of the electorate voting to leave.

If you believe that leaving the EU will be a disaster, diminishing Britain permanently and wrecking our economy, those you should have real contempt for are the moderates. Some of these pro Europe centrist MPs, the vast majority in the Labour Party, and still making up the majority of conservative MPs, are now meekly and pathetically accepting that we will, in some form or another, indeed leave the EU.

It cannot be stressed enough that the Brexit referendum was utterly flawed and based on nothing but lies and fantasy. Young people between 16 and 17, most affected by the decision, were excluded from the vote. British expats were excluded from the vote. It was a non-binding referendum, won by a flimsy majority, following a campaign based on outright lies, misrepresentation, distortion, funded by extremely dodgy sources and with likely malign influence of American billionaires and Russian cyber bots.

Last year’s referendum was the most shameless example in British history of our democratic deficit.

And this was just the process. As events have developed the never ending stream of bad news about our economy, our credibility, our ability to take control of anything at all should be enough to make a sane and rational MP, to think again.

And yet we have the truly incredible sight of the weakest, most divided and intellectually enfeebled government in modern history, utterly clueless in what sort of Brexit they desire, who show not the slightest understanding of how the EU works, how trade agreements work, who can’t plan, prepare or negotiate, and are fast turning Britain into a banana republic, an international laughing stock.

And this is supported by the Labour Opposition, with the courageous exception of 52 Labour MPs who voted against the Brexit Bill. The rest really should know better.

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How can Labour win in rural seats?

08/10/2017, 11:21:35 PM

by Liam Stokes

This was the question that closed the Countryside Alliance fringe at Labour conference, a panel discussion entitled “How can Labour make Brexit work for the countryside?” based on our Brexit policy document. The question was asked by a frustrated party member from South West Norfolk CLP, a constituency currently represented by Liz Truss.

I happen to believe the answer to the question lies partially within the title of the fringe, which is precisely what I argued during my opening remarks as the first panellist to speak. At this point I think most people accept that the main barrier to Labour progress in rural areas is cultural, the perception and indeed the reality that until recently Labour has treated the countryside with a “polite disinterest”, to repeat the oft-quoted line from Maria Eagle’s report Labour’s Rural Problem.

I argued that Labour can help shed this image by showing some real passion for making Brexit work for the countryside. Everyone is talking about Brexit in great sweeping macro terms, yes or no to the Single Market, yes or no to Freedom of Movement, which is entirely understandable at this stage of the debate. But what the countryside needs to hear, and what I was hoping to hear at our own fringe and at the other rural fringes I attended, was an interest in the details that will matter to rural communities.

This doesn’t necessarily mean farming, but it does mostly mean farming. It’s true that most rural voters aren’t directly involved in agriculture, which only employs around half a million people, but again: Labour’s rural disconnect is cultural. Farming, and other land based industries like fishing and shooting, go right to the heart of rural culture. Land based industries shape the landscapes we look at, influence many of the social events going on in our towns and villages, and drive much of the conversation down the local pub. And I speak from painful experience when I say it is a little disheartening to wear the red rosette when the farmland bordering every road and railway line is festooned with “Vote Conservative” signs.

So putting effort into working for the land based industries could be electorally useful in the countryside, and as my fellow panellists Will Straw and Helen Goodman MP pointed out, it is also of immediate importance. Agriculture should be top of Labour’s policy agenda because farming is so uniquely exposed to Brexit.

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Letter from Barcelona: Labour’s Spanish lessons

03/10/2017, 10:13:45 PM

by Rob Marchant

In between the petty spats of the Tory conference this week or the surreal cult of Labour’s gathering last week, there was a potentially seismic political event for Europe (and Britain) a thousand miles away: Sunday’s referendum for Catalan independence. It is big news: while a major general election campaign was happening in the EU’s most populous country, this little region’s impending vote was stealing the headlines for much of it.

It seems suddenly shocking but, for those of us familiar with Spanish and Catalan politics, it is essentially an event that has been at least a decade in the making, but which has approached Spain’s now largely stable democracy like a relentless iceberg, and which the national government’s general cack-handedness has made it seemingly powerless to stop.

This time, around 90% of the votes have been cast for “Sí”, although the vote is technically illegal and many anti-independence voters have naturally boycotted it. Reasons are many: there is first raw, emotional nationalism; then more rational, economic unfairness (Catalonia is a net contributor to taxes and “subsidises” poorer regions; some may even have voted yes in the (mistaken) belief that Spain’s foreign policy had somehow helped precipitate recent ISIS attacks in Barcelona and an independent Catalonia would instead be safe.

So the result, illegal or otherwise, is hugely important for Catalonia, Spain and Europe. But how did they get here?

For about a quarter-century following the “Transición” (the transition to democracy after Franco’s death), the Catalans had a nationalist party running their regional government, the CiU (Convergéncia i Unión).

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Economics and leadership, as ever, will determine the next election

01/10/2017, 10:51:35 PM

by Jonathan Todd

After Neil Kinnock gained 43 seats to give Labour 271 MPs at the 1992 general election, he resigned and John Smith promised ‘one more heave’ to Labour government.

When Tony Blair succeeded John Smith, he sought to further smooth the path to government. He promised to not increase income tax or reverse the 1980s redrawing of the boundaries between state and market, and would be ‘tough on crime’. Labour, in short, was nothing, especially for swing voters, to be afraid of. Reassurance was the watchword.

After adding 30 seats at this year’s general election to create a PLP of 262 MPs, Jeremy Corbyn has been lauded beyond Kinnock’s wildest dreams.

The biggest cheer of the shadow chancellor’s conference speech was for promising to renationalise rail, water, energy, and the Royal Mail. The construction industry (every builder?!) was also earlier promised. As well as PFI contracts.

“We’re taking them back,” John McDonnell declared. A phrase with a ring of ‘taking back control’. Delivered with the vengeful glee with which President Trump calls for NFL players to be sacked.

Massive, complicated, open-ended commitments. John McDonnell’s speech indicated that they’d be financed by “closing tax loopholes”. Like no one – including, at least to some extent, the incumbent government – has tried that. There was also unconvincing talk of compensating equity holders with government debt.

The CBI warned of “investors running for the hills”. McDonnell speculated about a government in which he’d serve inducing a run on the pound. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

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