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Labour should use the language of social justice and ambition to connect with voters

30/05/2014, 12:51:29 PM

by Glenn Edwards

It’s less than a year till the general election and there’s been a lot of talk about Labour alienating itself from business interests and lurching too far to the left. But even if Labour hasn’t been effective in courting corporate leaders this doesn’t mean that it is anti-ambition. Current policies actually seem to have a lot in common with Tony Blair’s once cherished idea of combining social justice with ambition, even if they differ from the ‘third way’ in practice. We just need to start thinking about ambition in a much broader light and therein could lie a key part of the Party’s message over the next year.

Labour is pursuing a political approach that views everyone as potential success stories and not just winners or losers, as people pursuing their own human development and not just static stereotypes and as having a stake in this economy rather than just being compensated for their loss. We need a country that doesn’t wield clout in the world simply through a privileged elite in London but on the backs of a vast army of clever and confident people. Labour’s aim to redirect the economy towards high-skill jobs and create a world-class workforce is a policy example par excellence.

There is a feeling that many politicians, particularly on the right, are pandering to the short term interests of a wealthy few at the expense of the long term prosperity of the nation. In no clearer way is this expressed than the political divide over the treatment of the banks. Labour’s policy of taxing banker’s bonuses in order to create jobs for the long term unemployed isn’t a tax on ambition, it’s a tax on greed. It’s a sensible way of bringing back confidence and self esteem to those who lost it so long ago whilst simultaneously helping expand business.

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Negative campaigning works. But on the issues not the personalities

12/05/2014, 11:02:07 AM

by Pete Heskett

Labour’s task for May 2015 is complex. Clearly the party needs a powerful narrative that gives people positive reasons to vote Labour. However, history also shows that in many instances the electorate vote the incumbents out as much as the vote a new party in – Mrs Thatcher’s victory in 1979 was to a large extent a rejection of Labour, unemployment and the three-day-week, Tony Blair’s victory in 1997 was boosted by a rejection of sleaze, and John Major’s benign under-panted leadership.

If Labour’s recent party political broadcast is anything to go by then we seem to be asking the electorate to get rid of the coalition because Nick Clegg is shallow and weak and the Tories a bunch of mean toffs. Now I’m sure there are many Labour loyalists who agree with this character assessment. However, it’s communication that speaks to the prejudices of those already converted not the broad-based liberal coalition that Jonathan Todd rightly identifies as the target Labour needs to attract to form a government in 2015.

For me this raises an important strategic point for Labour’s communications team. Negative campaigning in the UK at least tends to be most effective when it makes a political point rather than when it tries to make a personal point. Or to use a gender-biased footballing analogy, Labour is now looking guilty of playing the man and not the ball.

Let’s look at some of the most effective political ads in UK history. “Labour isn’t working” was a poster that helped bring Thatcher to power. It didn’t attack Jim Callaghan as a person – wise as he was generally rightly perceived as nice guy – but it linked the Labour government with unemployment. A strategic masterstroke that hit straight at the heart of Labour’s credibility – how could a party of ‘labour’ be responsible for extending the dole queue? Mrs Thatcher rose to power with a greater proportion of working class votes than even the worst nightmares of the Labour leadership would have thought possible.

Labour working not

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UKIP are nothing but useful idiots for capitalism’s ugliest forces

01/05/2014, 01:15:21 PM

by Jon Bounds

It’s easy to laugh at the racists and fruitcakes that make up the UK Independence Party roster of election candidates and councillors. Like clichéd children they do say the funniest things. But like kids they don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions. UKIP exists for no other reason than to pull the country’s political discourse dangerously to the right and that’s so worrying because voters, members and even candidates and MEPs don’t realise.

UKIP members can’t be striving to take power to carry out their manifesto, because there is no coherent UKIP policy on anything to get behind. Poster boy Nigel Farage doesn’t know, care, or agree with the manifesto. He dismissed the plans with a comment about how he’d, “never read that. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.” And that’s seemingly okay in a media environment that berates Labour for not having detailed spending plans years in advance.

Treasurer Stuart Wheeler has given the party £514, 957 since 2001 and he doesn’t know what their policies are either. Interviewed at a lunch for Eddie Mair’s PM he blustered, called for more wine, and had very little idea what was going on.

“We’ll launch it [the manifesto] after the European elections,” Farage says. After the election. And you thought only the Lib Dems could make up policy so much on the fly.

Essentially though, it doesn’t matter what UKIP’s policies are —they have an almost zero chance of getting into any sort of power, which is one thing for which we might have to thank the failure of the electoral reform referendum to bring in PR. That means that can say absolutely anything: from “repainting all trains in traditional colours” to “sending the buggers back” if it will keep them in the media’s eye. There’s been more coverage of Farage not standing in a by-election than then has been of the Green Party’s whole European election campaign—making simple ideas like not condemning us all to climate chaos seem more ‘out there’ than a flat 30% tax rate.

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Why Labour should fear the blowback from its war on business

15/04/2014, 11:22:40 AM

by Samuel Dale

During his doomed leadership contest David Miliband said Labour could not afford to go into the 2015 general election with no business support.

One year ahead that election and that is exactly what is happening. Labour is at open war with business with signs it is about to step up the offensive rather than build bridges.

The list of proposed interventions into industry is dizzying with almost every major sector targeted.

I’m told Labour is planning a policy blitz on no fewer than eight sectors ahead of party conference later this year. It is part of an ambitious agenda to significantly boost consumer rights and hand power back to consumers and away from huge corporations. 

Ed Miliband positions himself as US President Teddy Roosevelt breaking up monopolies and boosting competition. His modern incarnation has been called many names from pre-distribution to progressive austerity or socialism with no money. In 21st Century Britain let’s see what Miliband is actually proposing in your crucial industries.

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Where now for Labour on pensions?

11/04/2014, 11:12:39 AM

by Samuel Dale

It has been a chastening month for Britain’s pensions industry as regulators and the government have finally cracked the whip on its excesses.

In a series of policy announcements the government has launched a self-proclaimed “full frontal assault” on the industry. Pensions providers have entered the realm of banks, energy firms and politicians with a special place of distain in British hearts.

To tackle the problems, the government has ripped up the existing rules on annuities in the Budget sending insurers’ share prices south. It has imposed a 0.75 per cent cap on pension charges from next April and imposed full transparency of all costs.

And in a further blow to the sector the Financial Conduct Authority is launching a review into close-book pension funds to make sure savers are being treated fairly. Again, this sent insurers’ share prices tumbling.

No one can seriously accuse the government of bowing to vested interests in the pensions industry. They are at open war.

Former chancellor Nigel Lawson tells me the pensions industry is “the most powerful in the land” and he found it difficult to take on so this is no mean feat.

For Labour this creates a major political headache. Shadow pensions minister Gregg McClymont has been one of the most effective opposition ministers. He has a superb command of his brief and has made the political weather on pensions regularly.

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Respect for Tony Benn is right, completely rewriting history is not

10/04/2014, 02:00:16 PM

by Kevin Feeney

When any controversial public figure dies, it is both normal and entirely natural for their followers and those inspired by them to whitewash their image a little in an effort to smooth out their rough edges.

Like most of those within the Labour Party who were rather less enamoured of the legacy of the late Tony Benn than other colleagues, I was entirely prepared to overlook the rather telling gaps in his more sympathetic obituaries. It was fine that they passed over his views on Mao, fine that they ignored his practical impact on Labour’s electability in the 1980s, fine that they left unquestioned his own claims as a tribune of democracy.

These were eulogies in the heat of the moment after a figure who they admired had passed on; the time for full and balanced reflections was later. Equally fine were those seemingly obligatory lists of “Issues where they were right” which we expect with any such figure; Benn certainly many of those, from Mandela to gay rights.

Except after a while, I started noticing something else creeping into that last list in Benn’s friendly obituaries. Owen Jones celebrated him not only for all of the above but also for ‘calling for peace talks when it was controversial to do so’ in Northern Ireland; praise he has reiterated in more than one place. It may be no surprise for Jones to rewrite history in such a manner, but less stridently left-wing voices have done so too; the editor of one prominent Labour website claimed that the presence of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness at Benn’s funeral was a ‘reminder of the difference he made’ as though this were a positive thing.

Indeed, “Northern Ireland” has begun inexplicably to seep into several lists of the man’s positive contributions. These claims cannot be allowed to endure unchallenged; nor can they be allowed to become part of that acceptable list of “good things” we all agree Benn stood for.

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Budget 2014 preview: Increasing the personal allowance is the wrong priority for low earners

19/03/2014, 10:00:11 AM

by Simon Bartram

Today we can expect a lot of boasting from Conservatives and Lib Dems about how they have raised the personal allowance, as if that is a faultless defence against any accusation that the poorest are being hit the hardest.

For the 2013/14 tax year, individuals earning less than £100,000 did not pay tax on the first £9,440. This personal allowance is set to rise to £10,000 for 2014/15, saving basic rate tax payers £112 (20% of £560), and Nick Clegg is pushing for the allowance to be raised still further to £10,500 for 2015/16. The extra £500 increase, this is estimated to cost the Treasury £1 billion.

Since personal allowances have rocketed from £6,475 to potentially £10,500, this must surely be one of the most recognisable changes that the coalition has enacted, and it is a one which they ceaselessly flaunt to demonstrate their egalitarian credentials.

Yet this is a very inefficient way of targeting the lowest earners in our society, given that everyone earning up to £100,000 gains from having a personal allowance (above £100,000 your personal allowance decreases gradually to zero), and, of course, households with two earners will prosper more than single occupant households. Some of those households would already be benefiting from the tax breaks for married couples where £1,000 of the personal allowance can be transferred to a spouse.

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Tony Benn and the power of “Utopia”

18/03/2014, 01:39:29 PM

by Glenn Edwards

Last week, the country lost one of its few great conviction politicians. Tony Benn, aged 88, has served as an enduring inspiration for those on the far Left who remain disillusioned with the gradual drift of UK politics towards a neo-liberal consensus. Ever the most ferocious critic of capitalism, his view of Britain as a country surrendering itself with increasing pace to destructive market forces is familiar to most.

Unfortunately I did not have the privilege of personally meeting Benn. But I did once get an opportunity to hear him speak at the Peterhouse Politics Society in Cambridge. I wanted to ask him a question relating to an essay I was writing at the time about Utopianism in political life, and luckily I got my chance. I asked him “What does Utopia mean to you?”, a rather gentle question I thought, considering he’d just taken a bit of an onslaught from several conservative-minded students in the room.

Following on from a very heated discussion about financial incentives, my question was met with unsurprising laughter from all round- but Benn’s answer drew the most inviolable of silences.

He said that “Utopia” is often used as a dirty word to denounce ambitious and courageous thinking in politics. He said that it had become a sort of trump card against all ideas not sufficiently steeped in reality or cynicism towards human behaviour. A catch-all term to “put down progressive forces” of all shapes and colours. But, crucially, he said that it is always Utopian and idealistic thinking that “rallies people against injustice”, paradoxically bringing about the change that was previously thought impossible.

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Bullying, intimidation and walkouts – A review of Young Labour and Labour Students’ conferences

03/03/2014, 05:12:12 PM

by Cameron Beavan-King

The Labour Students conference began the Friday before last with a co-ordinated effort by several clubs, threatening disaffiliation over the issue of One Member One Vote (OMOV) for elections to the Labour Students National Committee.

In the run-up to conference, the clubs had sent a letter protesting the decision by Steering and the National Committee to block three motions asking for a further debate on OMOV at conference. However, as delegates had already voted on this issue at National Council and agreed not to discuss it until after 2015, the three motions were blocked.

This tension continued into the conference with a mass walkout by several clubs over this issue and a poorly worded motion in favour of stopping censorship and inference from National Council. The motion as a whole would have done nothing to progress their aims and was rightly voted down by the remaining delegates after the walkout.

It is important to note that the walkout was bound up in the politics of Labour students – it was led by supporters of Tom Phipps for National Secretary, though Tom did not walk out himself.

To be brutally honest, I cannot see what the walkout or the whole disaffiliation threat will achieve at all, other than dividing us in the crucial run-up to 2015.

I cannot understand what we will achieve as a divided organisation. On the back of our membership cards, it said “Through our common endeavours we achieve more than we achieve alone.”

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Was the “loony left” right?

20/02/2014, 04:46:21 PM

by Eliot Henderson

While researching the Southwark and Lambeth Labour parties of the 1970s and 1980s, I was struck by the importance of that generation of activists’ contribution to British political history. Dismissed as the ‘loony left’ by the media at the time, today the political priorities of those activists are firmly entrenched as mainstream vote winners: equal rights and representation for women, ethnic minorities, young people and the LGBT community. My findings illuminate how much public attitudes have changed in the last thirty years thanks to the interventions of those activists in the 1970s and 1980s, and help to challenge the assumption that the Labour party needs to warmly embrace neo-liberalism and pander to the popular press to win elections.

The new urban left that emerged in Lambeth and Southwark in the 1970s were political graduates of the social movements of the late 1960s and 1970s: CND members, anti-apartheid activists, feminists, Vietnam war protesters and racial equality campaigners. Events in Southwark and Lambeth in the 1980s highlight the beginning of a process that could hold the key to a Labour majority in 2015: the combination of Labour’s traditional politics of class with one of race, gender and sexuality – an old and a new politics of identity – to construct a new, inclusive political base for the party.

In Lambeth, this new urban left coordinated a vibrant local and national opposition to a Conservative cuts agenda under the leadership of the controversial but charismatic council leader, Ted Knight. Policies targeting inequality, poverty, racism and sexism through investment and positive discrimination united the large immigrant communities in the centre of the borough with the predominantly white working-class north, along with some sections of more affluent Norwood and Dulwich to the south. With no support from the Labour party leadership and the intense scrutiny of an antagonistic press to deal with, the rate-capping struggle of the 1980s was a rough and ready affair for the Lambeth left. One council meeting in July 1985 even had to be adjourned for 20 minutes after Conservative councillor “Dicky” Bird put Labour councillor Terry Rich in a headlock. Yet despite the overwhelmingly negative publicity, Lambeth residents nonetheless voted to increase the number of Labour councillors from 32 to 40 in the local elections of 1986, proving that a manifesto based on concepts like social justice, investment in deprived areas and positive action to end discrimination and redress inequality could unite voters in a diverse constituency.

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