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Jim Murphy needs to be radical to revive Labour in Scotland

18/12/2014, 05:27:18 PM

by Daniel Charelston-Downes

Labour, according to the New Statesman, is now 20 points behind the SNP in Westminster voting intentions. This would see an almost virtual wipeout of Scottish seats for Labour and goes some way to explaining why Nicola Sturgeon was so keen to welcome the new Scottish Labour leadership with words of unity and collaboration. It seems SNP are preparing for, even expecting, coalition partnership.

Jim Murphy’s leadership has come at a crucial time for Scottish Labour. When Lamont talked of her despair at Scottish Labour being treated as a branch office, she hit close to home with all Scottish voters. London-centric politics is killing the main parties in Scotland and will take Labour down leaving the SNP the last man standing.

The moment Tony Blair’s name became sacrilegious in my household growing up was when he abandoned Clause IV. With Murphy using the language of the Clause, he is clearly trying to evoke memories of that kind of reform within the party and the wave of electoral success that brought with it. A rehashed statement of intent for Scotland is an attempt to move Labour into a ‘reformer’ platform.

However what Scottish voters liked about Salmond and continue to appreciate in Sturgeon is their lack of political machinery.

Where Murphy will struggle, and where his use of Blairite language displays a complete lack of understanding, is that he is viewed as the worst kind of career politician. He is straight out of Westminster. He has bounced from education, to the National Union of Students presidency, to think tanks and policy groups and now parliament. He has always seen Scotland through Labour eyes.

If Labour is ever to win a majority again they are going to need to gain Scotland back. The SNP are a much greater threat to the Labour party than UKIP are to anyone, they are doing a much more successful job of converting anti-Westminster sentiment into seats than any other British party.

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Osborne’s new austerity will force local government beyond breaking point

09/12/2014, 08:02:33 PM

by Kieran Quinn

December the 12th is one of my favourite days of the year: I attend the pensioner Christmas party in my ward. It’s an opportunity to mark the contribution that many of our senior citizens have made to Tameside in Greater Manchester. It also gives people the chance to celebrate and socialise with other Tameside pensioners.

With further austerity measures being levelled on local government over the next few years, I fear for the future of events like these, and services that residents have taken for granted.

£142 million will have been taken from our budget by 2017, we are currently consulting on the £38 million of cuts imposed upon our borough over the next two years, and we are now at a tipping point. Put simply, with half of our budget taken away we simply cannot fund the same level of services, and our workforce has halved so far. We are beyond the approach of doing more for less, despite a hardworking, innovative and dedicated workforce.

As the 980 residents that have taken part in our budget consultation will know, nearly two thirds of our budget is spent on safeguarding the very young and the very old. These services are statutory, laid down in law by parliament. With no additional resources put into these services our ability to provide for our most vulnerable citizens will come into question.

While any funding ring-fenced for the NHS is welcome(a one-off figure of £2 billion , not year on year) a more holistic approach to public sector funding is needed. If you cut our budget by £142 million, high spend areas such as Adult Services are not immune from this and the pressure on NHS resources goes up. It is both morally and economically sensible to integrate these budgets, the emphasis must be on early help in the home and community.

Enough really is enough. If the Chancellor genuinely believed “we are all in these challenging financial times together”, he would have responded to the cross party call for a fair approach to local government finances and deliver an even bolder approach to devolution.

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We need to raise aspirations in coast and country

07/12/2014, 11:00:43 PM

by Alex McKerrow

It does not take much for figures on social mobility to astound our conscience. Given one in every six children are still in relative poverty, it seems Britain is still a broadly unequal society. This situation underpins any modern progressive: spurring each of us on in finding solutions to tackle these problems.

Under the last Labour government, unquestionable leaps were taken in education. Whether it be our Education Action Zones or the initial academies programme, we got it right by targeting the most disadvantaged parts of our education system. It is from this that we can celebrate the so-called “London effect”, which reflects the immensity of investment undertaken in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the capital.

However, whilst London and other metropolitan areas have surged, the isolation suffered by many parts of the UK has been ignored. David Bell was quick to warn us of this in 2003, noting that some of our greatest areas of educational disadvantage are located “in towns on the coast or tucked away in a corner of [a] local education authority area”.

Worryingly, this trend has not ceased, as these areas have been unable to reap the benefit of national initiatives which have targeted disadvantaged children in urban areas. Although our attitudes seem to be shifting, particularly through the increasing growth of the outstanding TeachFirst program outside of metropolitan areas, we still lack the capacity to inspire children in isolated areas.

It is in the coastal towns of this country – where I grew up – that children feel the greatest disconnect. Isolated from parts of the country geographically and economically, it is easy for schools to fall into a cycle of mediocrity.

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Tristram Hunt is losing teachers’ votes

26/11/2014, 02:32:25 PM

by Daniel Charleston-Downes

In a recent Labour List poll, Tristram Hunt was voted the least popular shadow cabinet member. Other than himself and Ed Balls, all other shadow cabinet members were gifted a positive rating. Dr Hunt’s rating was the only one in negative double figures.

David Cameron moved Michael Gove out of the Education portfolio to protect the Tories approaching an election year. Since then, Nicky Morgan has done all that she can to placate teachers on the verge of further strikes by asking Ofsted to release clear expectations on workload. The Tories have also shifted education debate on to the only thing that they can win on, fear of Islamic extremism.

Teachers are unlikely to flock to the Conservatives at the general election, but parents might. Parents should be angry that their children have been used by Gove as guinea pigs in untested curriculum experiments and have had their futures pulled from under them by shifting goal posts. They should be concerned that 10 years of movement towards an education of inclusion is being abandoned for tighter definitions of special needs and rigorous and inflexible examinations.

But they aren’t because there is silence from the opposition. From a parental perspective, Hunt is nowhere. He has made one statement about curriculum changes, that being that the AS Levels alterations are ‘confusing’. Other than that he has attempted to position himself next to the Conservatives on family values in schools and battling extremism. Both territories that Labour are not perceived as strong on with undecided voters and that the Labour grassroots will feel uncomfortable with.

And when it comes to teachers, Labour really are in trouble. Strike action has been gaining less and less traction with NUT and NASWUT members who are increasingly concerned that unions are losing parents and alienating staff from school leaders. An appetite for further strikes has been lost by the utter contempt displayed by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and the deafening silence from anyone on the Labour front benches.

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Blue Labour could help Labour get back in the game

24/11/2014, 10:17:01 PM

by Michael Merrick

Throughout the country, beyond particular urban strongholds, Labour is in a perilous position. The natural advantages so long enjoyed in certain areas have made it presumptuous, whilst electoral security has rendered safe constituencies the fiefdoms of (often incoming) architects and guardians of the progressive, liberal- left projectAs such, Labour has become sluggish, but also detached – in all too many places it has failed to hold its voice at the heart of the communities from which it originally sprung.

This presents a problem in the face of the new political realities before us. Put simply, Labour is in no position to fight UKIP in its heartlands. Or even to speak with authenticity to that social and cultural angst from which UKIP is siphoning support.  Our initial reaction, to disregard UKIP as a Tory problem, has left us vulnerable as the roots of revolt have crept into lands once occupied by the left – we did not conceive that we might need to build an alternative offer of our own.

Alas, the penny has dropped, and the response has been typical of a party that does not accept the legitimacy of that which it seeks to combat – when we listen, it has been the job of those who are part of the problem to provide diagnosis and solution; when we speak, it has been in tones of that which is being rejected.

Thus Labour has too easily condemned itself as part of the problem it is claiming to solve. Worse, it often does not have the resources or the rootedness to even imagine that there exists a legitimate alternative. For all our talk of reconnecting with the disaffected, one cannot help but wonder how many in the formal organisation of our party have the capacity to recognise the extent of this cultural deficit – the once rich chorus of the Labour tradition has long turned to a shrill, castigating shriek. At root this is a culture clash, and there has been little sign that those with their hands on the levers are willing to budge.

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You WON’T believe what this article tells you about the people emailing you

22/11/2014, 12:20:04 PM

by Joe Reddington

Let’s talk about click bait.  It’s one of the scourges of the modern internet.  Advertisers pay by the view so the incentives for websites are to get people to click on the page regardless of if the page is relevant or informative. That’s why you see headlines like “You wouldn’t believe what this middle-class mum does for money” rather than “Middle-class mum buys ice-cream van”.   It’s a fundamentally dishonest form of advertising used to drive up some numbers while simultaneously making the world a less truthful place.

Which brings me to the subject lines of the emails that the Labour party sends to members:

mail pic  What’s the problem? The problem is this is so obviously click-bait. If I get an email from an address that seems familiar with the subject line “Thank you” I’m going to assume I did something nice for someone and I click on it half expecting a nice warm glow instead of the deep disappointment that I’ve been tricked into opening a campaign email.

“Telling you first”

You are “telling me first”? I suspect not, I suspect that you are telling millions of people on your email list first, many of whom open your email expecting to be told something useful and urgent only to find that it’s standard political boilerplate.

Do we really want to put obvious and direct untruths into the subject line?  I mention it only because teaching the voters to make a connection between the Labour Party and direct untruths might be, you know, suboptimal…
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Labour cannot allow itself to be pulled into UKIP-centric politics

21/11/2014, 06:51:46 PM

by Daniel Charelston-Downes

It doesn’t feel like there are a lot of positives to take from Rochester and Strood. UKIP claimed the seat and the Tories will feel a majority of just 2,920 is small enough for them to reclaim in the General Election. It will be Labour with just 16.8%, a fall of over 10 points on the 2010 election, that will feel they have lost the most out of a seat that they used to hold.

The UKIP victory in Rochester and Strood is a success that belongs to the media. The press has ensured that UKIP, Farage and Reckless have been pushed to the front of the public consciousness and have kept them there. After the ‘People Powered’ hustings on Tuesday it was clear that many were impressed by the eloquence and ability of the Labour candidate Naushabah Khan and that they were thoroughly underwhelmed by the real-life, live version of the UKIP demagogue Mark Reckless.

The question of how to win seats like Rochester and Strood has to focus on how Labour can both win the attention of the media and steer the debate. On the final days of the by-election the papers, internet and radio were all awash with the he-said, she-said snappings between UKIP and the Tories over who had the most reactionary supporters. You had to look very hard indeed to find anything on Naushabah’s policies and statements on the NHS in light of a local failing hospital or indeed her own views on immigration.

To win, Labour has to be part of a movement that engages in a real debate with UKIP. There is a great deal of petulance, particularly in the form of social media, surrounding criticism of Farage and his party. To brand Farage a Fascist or to say that all UKIP supporters are bigoted nutters misses the most integral issue of the Rochester and Strood by-election, and it was not immigration.

There is definitely a fear of immigration in Rochester and Strood, although the actual immigrant population is relatively low. High unemployment rates, particularly in Strood, and an erosion of British working class culture has led to mass disenfranchisement on a huge scale. Every time that Farage or Reckless say ‘let’s kick that lot out of Westminster, it’s time for real change’ with a pint in one hand and a fag in the other it does look to those marginalised by politics like real change. Crucially this means that when mainstream parties attack UKIP for being bigots or nutters it simply pushes people deeper into their arms.

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Breathe in, breathe out

11/11/2014, 02:03:24 PM

by Mike Amesbury

Unity, discipline, being on message (with a coherent message), self-belief and a vision of hope are essential ingredients of a winning campaign. Over the last week a small and cowardly bunch of Labour MPs seem to be suffering from a collective dose of amnesia.

Take your minds back to the wilderness years of 18 years of opposition, the self-indulgent politics of many in our ranks and our disastrous elections campaigns of the 1980s and early 90s. These were characterised by regular mishaps, media briefings and counter briefings; with shadow ministers contradicting each other and untimely sniping about our own leadership.

Not only were we letting ourselves down, more importantly we let our supporters, potential supporters and nation suffer the consequences of Thatcherism. Please, please, wake up and smell the coffee and don’t do this again.

I, for one, am pretty determined to cheer on every Tory and Lib Dem defeat throughout the night of the 7th May 2015 and the early hours of the 8th. I don’t want to mark the day after my 46th birthday with pictures of this Prime Minister Cameron all over media, I don’t want another four years of him unleashing further hell on our nation.

For all its faults, (and there were quite a few) the Blair years were known for professional and disciplined campaigns – 1997, 2001, and 2005 (give or take the odd punch from John Prescott).

The harsh lessons of the wilderness years became engrained in the DNA of the Labour party. The electorate does not like disunity.  A common joke amongst officials (of which I was one) and front benchers were references to Peter Mandelson instructing us to “breathe in and breathe out”.

Call me old fashioned if you will, but I have always been keen on winning elections in order to implement a Labour manifesto. We won an unprecedented three successive Labour victories, built a record amount of new schools and hospitals, introduced the minimum wage and implemented measures such as tax credits while reducing child poverty.  This discipline combined with staying on a Labour message is needed now more than ever.

A Labour  message that talks about, saving the NHS, building a million new homes, increasing the minimum wage, scrapping the bedroom tax, freezing energy bills and creating a responsible and fair economy for all. These are the only briefings that I want to hear as an activist.

Start breathing it in and out over the coming months, in the media, at public meetings and on the doorstep. Let us fight to be the country we should be, one that is prosperous and fair for all, one that offers my young son better opportunities than I had. For this we need a Labour prime minister making that victory speech on the 8thMay 2015.

Mike Amesbury is a Manchester City Councillor, a National Policy Forum Rep and former Labour North West Regional Official

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Labour can lead on immigration by reforming the asylum system

26/10/2014, 10:05:28 AM

by Jack Tunmore

Ed Miliband’s speech in Rochester and Strood this week provided some welcome clarity on Labour’s immigration policy. It is certainly encouraging that he chose to focus on specific and achievable measures that directly affect millions of people: stopping the exploitation of workers and the undercutting of wages will be both progressive and effective, as will closing loopholes that allow agencies to hire only from abroad. A crackdown on illegal immigration as part of his Immigration Reform Bill will no doubt be popular – but Miliband was also at pains to stress that both he and by-election candidate Naushabah Khan were the children of immigrants and were proud of the contribution they and many like them had made.

These clear and concrete policies contrast well with Cameron’s increasingly alarming drift towards Brexit. They are also particularly timely as the whole political spectrum expresses incredulity that the Prime Minister had supposedly just discovered the UK had been landed with a £1.7 billion EU surcharge – Civitas damningly concluded that “this is all a problem of David Cameron’s making”.

Labour now has an opportunity to inject some nuance and decency into the immigration debate. An important start would be a wholesale reappraisal of our asylum system.

That is not to say that the asylum system will be a major election issue; or that such an appraisal would not be difficult. A report from the Migration Observatory published in July noted that attitudes towards immigration are more negative in the UK than they are in the US and much of Europe, with asylum seekers being held in much lower regard than students or high-skilled migrants. Reform of our asylum system is however a chance for Labour to show that we can lead rather than just follow the immigration debate. A balance of compassion and pragmatism is required.

It would be hugely positive, for example, for Labour to lead strongly on the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration John Vine’s report published last week which examined how asylum claims made on the grounds of sexual orientation are handled by the Home Office. To summarise: they are handled disgracefully, with “intrusive” interviews that sometimes even question the validity of same-sex relationships. Such questioning has no place in our society and Labour should be saying so loud and clear.

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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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