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The rise of UKIP is a symptom of Westminster’s failure. Now is the time for our great cities to halt the country’s political decline

24/10/2014, 04:30:27 PM

by Ben Garratt

Immigration has become an electoral and symbolic issue, not because Brits are less tolerant of foreigners, but because immigration highlights the growing gulf in experience between Westminster politicians and communities across the country. Trying to out-UKIP UKIP is therefore not the answer.

YouGov’s poll for the Sunday Times earlier this month found that, when people are asked which political leader they trust most on immigration, 26% said “none of them” and a further 13% said “don’t know”. Nigel Farage was considered twice as trust worthy as Labour, but even he could only equal “none of them.” But this challenge does not end at immigration. 40% of respondents said they don’t trust any of the party leaders, on anything at all. As Peter Kellner wrote in June, voters are simply unwilling to believe what the political classes tell us.

How can we understand and halt this decline? When a parent tells you what to do, it might be frustrating but often there will be a niggling feeling that they know what they are talking about. When a successful boss tells you to do something seemingly inexplicable, you instinctively know they have a point. Why? Because of shared experience. They have been there. But, it seems that when a government minister speaks, there is little trust. Why? Because of a lack of shared experience.

From the EU to skills, the environment, immigration and the economy, what national politicians are saying seems less and less grounded in anything socially or economically tangible to our everyday lives, and it is not in Ed Miliband’s or David Cameron’s gift to fix this. This isn’t a failure of speech writers, charisma or the traditional skills of the Westminster class, but a result of the collapse of social, cultural and economic structures which used to connect us to each other and connect our politicians to us. It is a lack of shared experience.

This gap is growing, which is a major problem for our democracy and for getting anything done. Only by reconnecting communities and political leadership can we tackle challenge and, to do this, we need our city regions and communities to take the lead. In a world where traditional class definitions mean less and less, our cities and regions – built on businesses, communities, politicians and more – are the closest spaces of decision-making to our everyday lives. By working together in our regions, we can therefore build on our shared experiences, shifting the debate on immigration, and numerous other intangible long-term issues, away from homogenous headline numbers, and towards credible solutions built on aspiration and investment.

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Three key lessons for the Left from the Scottish referendum

19/10/2014, 11:20:15 AM

by Ranjit Sidhu

It has been just over a month since the Scottish referendum, but it could have an eon ago. With the Heywood by-election now concentrating political minds of the Left, it would be a missed opportunity if Labour, in particular, did not learn from what was an astonishing 15% rise in a matter of months for the Yes campaign in the Scottish referendum.

From the good natured debate on every high street to children asking you to do a referendum based questionnaire on the train, it was the kind of invigorating and surprising political debate I  thought had left the UK years ago.

And it’s resonance is still being felt. Last weekend, as was de-rigueur pre-referendum, on the local high street was a SNP table with a picture of Gordon Brown in a dunce cap and a queue preparing to sign up to them. So it was no surprise to me that the SNP has recruited 75,00 new members since the referendum. They may have lost the referendum, but they have picked themselves up and refocused in an instant.

Labour’s reaction has been somewhat the opposite: in denial would be the best phrase to use, but also something else, something that came across whilst the referendum was in full swing: a lethargy. As if the referendum was an unwanted insurrection that was put down, but whose soldiers, who had no real appetite for the fight, were happy to escape straight after back to familiar lands.

If lessons are not learnt the fear is not only will Labour be 20 Scottish MPs lighter come May, putting into prospective how Labour has got itself in such a tizzy about losing a possible 5 seats to Ukip, but have also missed the opportunity to learn some important lessons that could have reset Labour politics to a more positive paradigm.

So here are three interlinked, basic and positive lessons Labour can learn:

  1. The vision thing can still be a positive social agenda

The genius of the Yes campaign was how they were able to tie in the minds of the voters the independence of Scotland with that of a new vision of society for Scotland.  When ask what were the two or three most important issues for voting yes many did , indeed, mention disaffection with Westminster politics, but also NHS, public welfare and spending and better jobs were also high up.

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Clacton is a warning: unless Labour gives hope to all of Britain, the politics of fear will grow unchecked

10/10/2014, 12:30:57 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

Although Mr Carswell in victory this morning stated that UKIP must be “for all Britain and all Britons: first and second generation as much as every other,“ those who actually voted for Mr Carswell made it very clear their vote was not just a general protest vote; they voted UKIP because it had the “best policies on the particular issues they care about” and foremost amongst those was immigration.

“I like their policies of getting rid of all our immigrants. They’re coming over here and we’re keeping them,” says one

Mr Denham a supporter of the Mr Carswell and UKIP mentioned he moved to Clacton to get “out of the East End”, stating:

“There are lots of people like me here who moved to Clacton for that reason. I wouldn’t want to suggest we should eradicate everyone with brown skin, but this is our country.”

That the UKIP policy on migration control is centred around the “white” East European immigration shows that the UKIP rise is opening up a dormant, ugly wound in British society which many of us had hoped was ancient history.

“We’ve voted Labour before, then swayed towards the Tories, but immigration is becoming a problem in Clacton,” says Mr Slogget

In the 2011 census of the 85,359 who are residents of the Clacton constituency 97.4% (83,176) were white with 95.4% white and British (81,272), with 30 from Pakistani heritage and 35 from an Arabic  background.

The almost total homogenous nature of Clacton is even clearer when looking at the country of birth of the Clacton residents, with 95.7% born in the UK and 93.9% in England itself.  With 589, or 0.7 of one percent coming from the recently joined EU countries surely UKIP’s warning of unfettered immigration from these countries would seem like the least relevant policy for these residents?

So what is going on?

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The Fabians are wrong. Labour’s policy on immigration must be about principle, not just doorstep tactics

05/10/2014, 04:58:57 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

The Fabian society recently released Revolt on the Left, a document that professionally and exhaustively went through the reason why UKIP was a threat to Labour and what the practical responses should be.

That the Fabian Society, home once to the thinkers that shaped modern society, would create a document on “saleable doorstep policy” to reassure voters that Labour, like UKIP, would be hard on immigration and immigrants getting housing, instead of ideologically battling with the frankly racist lies that UKIP pedal to demonise a disenfranchised groups in society,  is a sad bellwether of how Labour has changed: Labour’s very soul, it’s very DNA, since the nineteenth century was to stand up for these demonised and voiceless groups.

The facts on immigration show clearly that it has an overall positive effect on our economy. However, we know it is the perception of immigration being out of control that needs to be combated and that by its nature is a battle of ideas. As the Fabian report so clearly illustrates it is a battle Labour seems prepared to lose when faced with the anti-immigrant populism that currently pervades our country.

That immigration is an issue of perception was again proven in the recent EU elections, where UKIP gains were highest where immigration was low and lowest in areas of high immigration.  This further proved the point made by an Migration Observation study  when it asked if people thought the UK had a “very big problem” with immigration and whether they thought their own community had a “very big problem” with immigration. Over five times as many people (38 per cent to 7 per cent) thought the UK generally had a problem but not their own community. By accepting the narrative of UKIP, our country loses Labour as the bulwark against the politics of fear –  the bogyman of immigration is allowed to grow unchallenged.

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Gordon Brown is wrong. We need to scrap Barnett and allocate funding based on need

19/09/2014, 10:51:13 AM

by David Lindsay

There is no West Lothian Question. The Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country. It never need do so and the point would still stand, since what matters is purely that it has that power in principle, which no one disputes that it has.

The grievance of England, and especially of Northern and Western England, concerns cold, hard cash. What, then, of those who bellow for an English Parliament to bartenders who cannot follow everyone else and leave the room? They fall into two categories. There are the Home Counties Home Rulers. And there are those wishing to live under the Raj of the Home Counties Home Rulers.

On the one hand are those from the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Their definition of England is the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Give them something for that, and they would be perfectly happy, at least until the votes started to be tallied up. Everyone gets a vote. Even the people whom they have bawled out.

On the other hand are those from everywhere else. Their definition of England is also the South East, Essex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, or at least a certain idea of that area. Although they are often professionally “local” to elsewhere, especially in Yorkshire but also in pockets of other parts of the country, the basis of their political position has always been that they were a cut above their neighbours.

That made them Conservatives until recently, and it increasingly makes them UKIP supporters. That is who the UKIP supporters in the North and elsewhere are. They were never Labour. That is also the context for the fact that there has been a UKIP MEP in Wales for some years and that there is now a UKIP MEP in Scotland, too.

They may never have elected an MP or even a councillor in their lives, or they may live in the only ward or constituency for miles around where their votes ever elected anyone. But enough MPs were returned from elsewhere to make the Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister. That suited them down to the ground.

Quite wrongly, since it would be run by Labour as often as not, they see an English Parliament in the same terms. Their more numerous and concentrated brethren elsewhere would deliver them from the rule of their neighbours. It is very funny indeed that those brethren think that they are those neighbours.

In 1993, 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht, far more than the number of Conservatives who did so. Yet there were far more Conservative than Labour MPs at the time. Of those 66, at least three campaigned for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum, including that campaign’s chairman, Dennis Canavan.

While it is true that several of those from Wales went on to be among the strongest opponents of devolution, the 66 also included the late John McWilliam, one of the first campaigners for a North East regional assembly.

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There is a problem in the British Pakistani community and it needs to be fixed

03/09/2014, 08:17:45 AM

by Mohammed Seedat

The word “culture” is used often when discussing the horrific Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham: within the Police, amongst Rotherham’s Pakistani community, within the council, in Labour group and of course of the victims.

The BBC Asian network morning phone-in show always provides a raw glimpse in to the notoriously politically-incorrect and diverse British Asian zeitgeist.

On Wednesday’s show there was more denialism from an alarming number of British Pakistani callers about the role of a certain type of violent misogynistic culture that’s developed and become acceptable in too many Pakistani social circles.

The link between the Pakistani culture of the majority of the men convicted in Rotherham and their white targets isn’t new – Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said the same in 2012, so has Trevor Philips.

Rotherham will not recover easily. Perversely the Police’s reluctance to be labelled racist has resulted in increased community tensions. As the Alexis Jay report outlines there were multiple agency failures in a community with deep rooted cultural issues. Unfortunately only Pakistanis within these communities can fix the cultural issues that have no place in any modern society. The cancerous core of community leaders, imported imams and violent paternalism is rotten.

There is no “magic-bullet” campaign that can change the nasty strain of misogyny that has infected parts of the Pakistani community. A community wide change in consciousness is required and only then can this disease be treated – a task that will likely fall on the younger generation rather than upon impotent “community leaders” who have proved so ineffective.

That does not mean the council has no role to play. The Jay Report is damning of the council: “Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so”. This was suppression of justice from the very top – and the report explains how the council could get away with it because “in Rotherham the local Asian community are reported to rarely speak about them [the perpetrators]. The subject was taboo..” (Section 11.4).

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Ukip could make Miliband prime minister but he’s not ready

29/08/2014, 02:17:48 PM

by Samuel Dale

Douglas Carswell’s defection to Ukip has brought parliament back with a bang.

The independent-minded Conservative MP is fighting a September by-election in Clacton as a Ukip candidate. He is odds-on favourite to win.

The Daily Mail claims eight more Tory MPs are in talks to defect.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has told us to brace ourselves for more Tory and Labour MP defections.

The right is splintering as we head towards a tight election and it means only one thing: Ed Miliband is more likely to be in Downing Street next year.

Farage and Ukip want to pretend they have a broad base beyond the Conservatives but it is illusory.

Its northern presence is only in Labour bastions where the best they can hope for is to make up the opposition in a general election.

It is a party that has made a name for itself by collecting disillusioned ex-Tories and will continue to do so.

Neil Hamilton, Stuart Wheeler, Roger Helmer, Carswell and even Farage. Ex-Tories are their primary currency.

Carswell’s defection underlines that Ukip votes could stop enough Tory MPs being elected to seriously damage David Cameron.

Ed Miliband could be prime minister within months. That fact is more likely today than last week.

But our dear leader is still acting like a student politician. He needs to get serious about governing.

Bashing bankers, Murdoch and anyone wealthy is not an agenda for government.

What is Miliband’s foreign policy? How would he tackle the an emboldened Russia or rampant Isis?

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Carswell’s defection is good for Ukip, bad for the Tories but could be best of all for Labour

29/08/2014, 09:30:05 AM

by Joe Coyne

I wonder if we’ll look back on Douglas Carswell’s resignation as the moment Labour won the general election.

His constituency is ripe Ukip territory. Old, white, not particularly well off.

If he gets in – and the bookies have made him odds on – it will show prospective Ukip voters that a vote for them is not necessarily a wasted vote. As a result we could be looking at a subtle but significant shift in the way  voters perceive Ukip.

While they’ve racked up plenty of support in recent local and European elections, the reality is that people tend to take their vote more seriously when they’re electing the next Prime Minister, rather than their local councillor.

But a breakthrough in Clacton could give them huge momentum and convince sympathisers that Ukip really are a serious option when it all gets serious next May and show a Ukip vote may well give you a Ukip MP.

Ukip have still got to win, and a lot can happen between now and polling day. Much will depend on Tory strategy but recent evidence suggests they’ll get it wrong and their tactics will make a Ukip victory more, rather than less likely.

What the Tories should do is position themselves as the anti-UKIP alliance; select a moderate, mildly Eurosceptic candidate and attack Ukip’s extremism and their competence by exposing the shallowness of their policies. That way they could draw in voters from other parties.

There’s no reason why the Tories can’t echo Labour’s warnings about the unfairness of a flat tax or the danger they pose to the NHS.

However, what I suspect they will do is foolishly play the game squarely on Ukip’s territory. Nigel Farage will want the by-election to be about Europe, immigration and welfare and the Tories will probably select a candidate and trumpet policies that they think will ‘appeal’ to Ukip voters, not realising that it’s a political dead end.

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Labour is dangerously complacent about winning back London post-Boris

14/08/2014, 11:32:25 AM

by Samuel Dale

It was the worst kept secret in Westminster but Boris is finally on his way back.

After years burnishing his profile as Mayor of London, he is looking for a Commons seat next year.

Inevitably the focus has been on the implications for Cameron, Osborne and the battle for the Tory leadership.

But it also confirms – almost certainly – that Johnson will not run again as Mayor of London in 2016.

This is leading to a dangerous complacency from Labour.

The theory goes like this: London is a Labour voting city that has been twice charmed by the charismatic Boris but when he goes the mayoralty will slip back to its rightful owners, Labour.

This belief is fuelled by electoral successes.

Labour did surprisingly well in London in the 2010 general election, costing the Tories a majority.

In the intervening years, it has also won back control of councils and had record breaking results in areas such as Camden in May.

But the mayoralty is different. In their own ways Ken Livingstone and Boris have made the Mayor Of London a big job.

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Labour needs to make common cause with left-wing Lib Dem supporters to win in 2015

29/07/2014, 02:46:20 PM

by Robin Thorpe

Politics, especially party politics, requires compromise. Political parties are necessarily a broad church, so it is little wonder than history is littered with tales of disagreements, splits and reunions. The latest twist in the tale that began with the Gang of Four leaving the Labour Party may this time help rather than hinder a Labour election campaign.

Recent speeches by David Laws and Tim Farron highlight the wide disparity in ideological approach present within the Liberal Democrats. The internal debates within the Liberal Democrat party may not be of huge concern to the Labour supporters, particularly as they are likely to haemorrhage seats at the next election. But they currently represent a significant caucus of the population, the support of whom Labour will need to ensure a majority next year.

The David Laws speech was given at the Orange Book 10 year conference on the 24th June 2014 and considers the question “where next for the liberal agenda?”  He rather predictably revels in his own self-importance but also goes onto present ideas that could have been said by almost all of the coalition front bench. He argues  that

“A liberal state must continue to invest in first class education and health services, even as it seeks to contain the share of GDP consumed by the state…the level of tax rates likely peaked over the last 30 years, and liberals will want both to decline further over time…state spending at 40% of GDP should not be necessary or desirable over the medium and longer term as we reform welfare, raise employment rates, reduce crime and are able to shrink the share of GDP committed to defence and – eventually as developing countries develop – overseas development assistance.”

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