Archive for November, 2017

We need a Budget for jobs, housing and stability

22/11/2017, 07:00:00 AM

by Joe Anderson

This is the eighth winter of Tory austerity and it must be the last.

The legacy of a decade’s worth of Tory public service cuts and rampant economic inequality is right there on our high streets for all to see.

Food banks, credit unions and pawn shops.

The poor have been abandoned in the clamour to clear up the mess left behind by the bankers and George Osborne’s ideological obsession with cuts.

His successor, Philip Hammond, didn’t even know the unemployment figures when he was asked on television on Sunday morning.

All of us dealing with the fallout of his disastrous austerity policies know only too well that we have 1.4 million people unemployed and as many again working in the ‘gig economy’ of insecure, part-time and short-term work.

Against such a backdrop, it’s no wonder that young people cannot get a foothold on the housing ladder.

Councils like mine are doing everything possible as a council to work with housing associations and developers to build homes that are so desperately needed, but we are doing so in the face of sheer indifference from ministers about the scale of the crisis.

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Scottish Labour needed to reinvent itself to survive. But not like this

21/11/2017, 09:32:23 PM

by Rob Marchant

The election of Richard Leonard has, inevitably, provoked jubilation on the Party’s left and despair in the rest of the party. While despair is certainly the more appropriate reaction, there has been some misreading on both sides.

First, let’s deal with the left. Yes, Scottish Labour really needed to reinvent itself, faced with a hegemonic SNP and falling into third place – yes, third, in a country which had previously been solidly Labour as long as anyone could remember – in the 2016 and 2017 elections. But not like this.

Jim Murphy and, later, Kezia Dugdale tried and failed to carry out that reinvention. But the truth is that they were both up against an atrophied Scottish party, made soft and flabby by years of Brown-era coddling.

The history of the last couple of decades is this. Blair’s people kept out of Scotland: meanwhile Brown’s people let things drift. In particular, it allowed radical-dominated unions to take hold of various local parties until they were converted into one-horse-town fiefdoms such as Falkirk CLP, dominated by Unite’s Grangemouth oil refinery operation.

Later, the farrago of a parliamentary selection there in 2013 became the trigger for a radical rewriting of leadership election rules, the use (and abuse) of which helped secure Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader. Meanwhile, the Scottish party itself bumbled into irrelevance, leaving the way clear for the SNP to run Scotland.

Now, instead of coming up with a program which could appeal to the apparent majority of Scots who did not want independence, and rebuilding the trust of their traditional base, the party has now opted for a definitively Corbynite leader in Scotland who merely reinforces the protest-party impotence of Labour north of the border. In other words, an attempt to outflank the SNP to the left: a party which has years of experience of cannily acting left, while delivering in the political centre.

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For local government scrutiny to match Westminster, Westminster must fund, empower and trust councils to do it

19/11/2017, 11:19:34 PM

by Mike Amesbury

For years, councillors, and local government as an institution has been rightly fed up. Fed up of being  told by Whitehall mandarins, policy wonks, and sections of the media that central government knows best, and that local government can’t be trusted to spend money efficiently and effectively.

When local councils feature in the national media it is more likely to be a report of an unfortunate, or context-free story about the odd daft parking ticket or litter enforcement notice, than any detailed coverage of innovative service delivery or agenda setting leadership.

National government – including disappointingly Labour in government, all too often saw local authorities as a funnel for delivering national policy, rather than trusted bodies able and capable of making their own decisions on spending and priorities. Of course, in comparison with the cuts councils currently face, a return to that 1997-2010 period would be hugely welcome. The unprecedented level of localised funding was positive and necessary – it was the constraints and control attached that were less so.

I know this, because for many years I was a councillor in Manchester, and when it comes to the assumption “Westminster knows best”, the reality is usually anything but. Recent LGA research showed that 72% of people trusted their local council more than central government to make decisions about their area. Satisfaction remains high and consistent – despite years of cuts and contraction in services. No local politician of any colour will look at Universal Credit, and accept that Whitehall knows how to deliver services locally.

So as a new member of the Communities and Local Government Select committee I’m clear that the approach I’ll take is to be local government’s voice in Westminster, not the other way round. I’m sure that my committee colleagues will do similar, with many of them bringing significant experience and expertise of local government to the House of Commons.

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The Monday column: When will Momentum strike?

13/11/2017, 10:00:44 PM

There was a good reason why the Roman Senate forbade the army from entering the city. Armies have a single purpose: to dominate and control. That’s what armies do: They march forward and vanquish enemies. Or there’s not really much point in having one.

From the grand events of antiquity to the humdrum affairs of Labour’s internal politics.

Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn’s Praetorian Guard, was created out of the remarkable insurgency that propelled him to the Labour leadership back in 2015.

It made sense for the Corbnyintes to try and bottle that enthusiasm and organisation, but Momentum was, from the very beginning, created as a standing army outside of the party’s control.

A back-up plan. If Corbyn was usurped by his internal opponents, Momentum could rely on hundreds of thousands of members and graduate into a new left-wing political party.

But June’s general election result has made Corbyn unassailable. His critics have withered. There is no realistic threat to his position, which begs the question: What is Momentum now for? Does it find itself without a purpose, or is it preparing the cross the Rubicon and seize control of Labour’s internal workings?

There have been skirmishes over the past few months, with local branches and constituencies across the country falling under the hard left’s influence. Meanwhile, Momentum’s founder, Jon Lansman, is currently running for a seat on the party’s National Executive Committee.

And while it’s likely that a swathe of moderate councillors will be replaced by Momentum supporters next year, robust local government regulations will prevent the hard left from being able to force through illegal budgets and the like.

But Momentum has bigger ambitions and the mandatory reselection of MPs remains the Holy Grail.

So far, Jeremy Corbyn has been incredibly cautious about triggering a full-on civil war with his MPs over this, but if Theresa May presses ahead with the parliamentary boundary changes for the next election, Labour MPs will, de facto, face mandatory reselection.

Indeed, if she wants to bequeath a once-in-a-generation advantage to her party on the way out of Number Ten, Theresa May will allow the Boundary Commission to proceed with its work of cutting the number of constituencies from 650 to 600.

A full-on offensive to replace moderates with true-believing Corbynites will be too great for Momentum to resist. The resulting schism with the party’s moderate wing will cripple the British centre-left for a generation.

Can Momentum resist the urge to dominate and control?

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Animal rights and conservation aren’t the same thing. Labour needs to understand that to win in rural areas

09/11/2017, 06:07:08 PM

by Liam Stokes

Labour’s ability to reach out to rural communities is about to be seriously tested, not in theoretical policy discussion but out in the real world.

I have often written that any journey to a future Labour majority has to pass through the country lanes of rural England and Wales. Too many of Labour’s target seats are designated to some degree as rural for there to be any alternative route. The cultural gulf that has opened up between our rural communities and the Labour Party simply must be bridged, and the only way to do that is with a serious policy offer.

Labour’s shadow Defra team were at pains to ensure the rural community who turned up to Conference that they were in “listening mode”, but unfortunately it isn’t as straightforward as simply pulling together a distinctive set of policies. Labour rural policy has become increasingly synonymous with animal rights, a cul-de-sac from which the party will need to extricate itself if it is to be given a fair hearing by rural voters. Labour has actually developed some really fine proposals for the countryside in the past, but the animal rights lobby is so noisy that these policies get drowned out by fixations on the badger cull or propping up the Hunting Act. These are issues that influence the votes of a minute number of people, and mustn’t be allowed to be the extent of the party’s rural offer.

A great test of Labour’s ability to dig itself out of its direct association with the animal rights movement has emerged in West Yorkshire. Ilkley Moor is the last remaining council-owned moor on which grouse shooting and all its associated management continues, and in early 2018 the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council will be voting on whether to renew the shooting lease that has been held by the Bingley Moor Partnership since 2008. The council has a Labour administration, and the decision as to whether or not to renew will be taken by the 49 members of the council’s Labour Group.

The fact at the heart of this debate is this: moorland only exists with management. Our beautiful, much-loved uplands are the result of centuries of human effort, working in concert with nature. Heather moorland cannot exist if left to its own devices, and we have both a national and international obligation to conserve it. So who should manage Ilkley Moor?

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The Monday column: British politics has been reduced to farce

06/11/2017, 10:00:14 PM

It used to be said that a week was a long time in politics.

Not this past seven days, they have gone in a blur.

Every day, fresh revelations about our priapic politicians – ranging from the sordid to the pathetic to the downright dangerous – have filled column inches and clogged the airwaves. In the process, British politics has been reduced to farce.

It started with a Tory MP sending his secretary to purchase dildos. It ends with rape allegations and a trickle of MPs being suspended or referring themselves to their party’s hastily beefed-up disciplinary committees.

Forty Tory MPs are said to be on a list of miscreants, with the whips office being reduced to a chaperone service, ‘man-marking’ sozzled sex pests.

A defence secretary, forced to resign after a string of moments of madness.

A government whip, Chris Pincher, is also gone after allegations he made a pass at a young man.

Theresa May’s closest Cabinet ally, the first Secretary, Damian Green, left fighting for his political life after allegations ‘extreme’ pornography was found on his computer (an allegation, to be fair, he flatly denies).

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has had to plead with the Iranians to disregard his words after a criminally loose-lipped Commons performance blithely cut across the case of a British citizen locked up in Iranian custody while Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, the most junior occupant at the Cabinet table, has been exposed as dissembling about meeting foreign leaders without her bosses’ knowledge.

Not to be outdone, Labour has its own list of six MPs who are thought to erred from the path virtue. Two MPs, Jared O’Mara and Kelvin Hopkins, are suspended. Others will follow.

As this farrago of drunken lust and stupidity continues to unfurl in all its ignominy, Brexit has dropped out of the headlines.

Some will be thankful for the relief; but we should not be so easily distracted. Critical issues about our country’s future are being side-lined.

Interest rates are creeping up, even though the economy remains in a precarious state.

While no-one is watching, the Government floats the suggestion it could cough up £53 billion in an EU divorce settlement.

Centrist politics remains demoralised and leaderless as ideologues from the left and right dominate.

The NHS is spluttering to a standstill, starved of investment.

Housing remains in short supply and unaffordable for millions.

Living standards and wage growth remains flat, despite a record number of people in work.

Yet our parliamentary system has found no time to discuss any of these burning injustices.

British politics has been brought into disrepute this week. Not just because of the salacious stupidity of our elected representatives and what they have done.

Rather it’s because of what they are not doing.

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Stopping Brexit is a race against time. Labour MPs are in pole position

01/11/2017, 10:27:42 PM

by Rob Marchant

Perhaps, just perhaps, historians might look back at this week and say, that is the week that the tide started to turn against populist politics and at least some parts of the world managed to save themselves from it.

Probably for some states, Turkey, Hungary, Russia and perhaps Poland, from where I write, it is too late. But some with longer-established democratic traditions still may have the will and the mechanisms to turn it around, in time to prevent lasting damage.

It has been the week of two signal events: the first indictments in Trump/Russia, which may yet lead to the early collapse of an ignominious presidency; and a poll showing that public opinion may finally have twigged that Brexit negotiations are headed down a blind alley with no good result for Britain.

The first is the tip of an immense iceberg which is as yet far too early to call. But the second we can project a little into the future. So, when a YouGov poll says 53% of voters think we were wrong to leave the EU and 47% right, it is worth reflecting on. First, it could be a mere blip, an outlier. Second, this does not mean the Remainers in that poll think that we can even try and leave, as YouGov themselves argue here.

But let’s suppose that 53% were to become 60%, or even 70%. At what point does public opinion become strong enough that politicians have to sit up and think about remedial action? Clearly that point exists, if you can push the percentage high enough. Public opinion can be a fickle thing: but when it starts to decide something unequivocally, it cannot be ignored.

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