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Balls for chop in future Labour/SNP coalition deal

26/02/2015, 09:52:58 PM

Ed Ball’s will be the sacrifice that seals a coalition deal between Labour and the SNP, if senior members of Ed Miliband’s inner circle have their way.

As private debate within Labour circles intensifies on the terms of a potential deal with the SNP, Uncut has learned that some of Ed Miliband’s closest advisers are plotting to sack Ed Balls in a bid to secure Ed Miliband’s tenure in Number 10, in the event of a hung parliament where Labour is not the largest party.

Insiders familiar with these discussions over the past few weeks describe a scenario where Labour would have to “reset its economic standing with the public” and demonstrate to the SNP that it would not be “wedded to austerity-lite.”

For some of Ed Miliband’s closest and oldest advisers, removing Ed Balls would achieve both objectives as well as ridding them of a potentially truculent and obstructive Chancellor.

The animosity between Ed Miliband’s inner circle and Ed Balls is well known. Last year Uncut revealed how team Miliband had plotted to sack Ed Balls in the Autumn reshuffle only to be thwarted by the Labour leader’s weakness coming out of conference season. And just last week the Sunday Times reported on the depth of the recurring tensions between Miliband and Balls.

The recent bitter negotiations between the shadow Chancellor and Labour leader on how to fund Ed Miliband’s cherished cut in tuition fees, are said to have hardened views within Miliband’s circle.

Now this enmity is centre-stage in Labour’s developing psycho-drama over whether to strike a coalition deal with the SNP.

A sizeable section of the parliamentary party, not to mention Labour’s newly elected leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, would be bitterly opposed to treating with the Scottish nationalists.

However, Murphy’s rage at any potential deal with the SNP only sweetens the prospect of a coalition agreement with the SNP for some of Ed Miliband’s advisers, as well as a section of MPs close to the unions, who would be pivotal to bolstering PM Miliband’s position within the parliamentary party.

As one disillusioned shadow cabinet adviser put it to Uncut, when describing the way the disparate coterie around Ed Miliband viewed a deal with the SNP,

“Half of them want to shaft Balls, half of them want to get Murphy and most of all, they all want to keep their jobs and not be out on their ears as failures. Most will say yes to a deal enthusiastically, no-one is going to say no.”

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The smaller parties are niche vehicles for protest voters. They shouldn’t try to be coherent

24/02/2015, 02:51:50 PM

Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument” observed William Gladstone. “The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic.

Natalie Bennett has experienced that chill touch in what has inevitably been dubbed a “car crash” interview with Nick Ferrrari on LBC this morning.

Amid long, deathly pauses, the Greens’ leader couldn’t explain how she would fund the 500,000 new social houses the party is committed to building.

Commendably short on spin, she later described her performance as “absolutely excruciating”.

Her strategic mistake was to even try.

Although the Greens, like UKIP, have no realistic prospect of forming a majority government in May, they have fallen into the trap of accepting the burden of proof expected of the main parties who do hope to.

So Bennett shoots for financial credibility and misses. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage cracks down on UKIP’s red-trousered eccentrics for saying the ‘wrong’ outrageous things. They shouldn’t bother. They are succeeding despite their obvious flaws.

We may expect ministers and their shadows to have detailed policy on everything from agriculture to youth services, but is there anyone considering voting UKIP or Green because of their views on apprentices, or business support grants?

They are what we used to call single-issue parties, representing, to borrow Aneurin Bevan’s phrase, “an emotional spasm”. People aren’t voting for them because of their realism.

They are a release valve for those who are either terminally disenchanted with the mainstream or are well-off enough to avoid the appeal of pocket-book politics and let their cross on the ballot paper reflect their “post-material values”.

UKIP is home for those who rail against the dying of the light as Johnny Foreigner’s jackboot looms over this scepter’d isle. By embracing low-fi political correctness and reacting to media stories about the endless gaffes from its candidates, UKIP undermines its essential raison d’etre.

Similarly, the Greens’ anti-growth, anti-car, hemp-shirted idealism chimes with well-educated urban trendies who don’t like Labour and are turned-off the Lib Dems. Their appeal is not going to grow because Natalie Bennett suddenly embraces fiscal rectitude.

The smaller parties are niche vehicles for protest voters. They are not going to sweep the country in May. The best they can hope for is to localise their support in enough places to make a bridgehead.

The danger for them is that by playing to the big boys’ rules, our smaller, newer, woolier insurgents will get found out in the intense glare of a general election campaign. They need to keep their offer simple.

What Natalie Bennett should have said this morning is that the Greens want a law compelling central and local government to work in partnership to plan and provide enough social housing to meet need.

Simple, rhetorical and internally coherent enough to bluster through a radio interview.

“Yurts for all,” so to speak.

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Cryer takes chairmanship of PLP as things are about to get bumpy

10/02/2015, 04:36:09 PM

It’s not a reflection on John Cryer’s charisma or ability, but the election of a new chairman of the Parliamentary Labour party is one of those occasions that only registers among the political cognoscenti.

Yet, the role – invariably described as Labour backbenchers’ shop steward – is important for a party about to head into a period of serious turbulence.

Put bluntly, Labour either enters government in May, or it does not.

Let’s take the more optimistic scenario first. If Ed Miliband pips David Cameron to the electoral post he is, most probably, going to be at the helm of coalition government, with all the inherent instability that brings with it.

Crucially, a deal with the Lib Dems – and possibly the Democratic Unionists – will also involve sharing out the ministerial goodies.

We’ve seen how unhappy many overlooked Conservative backbenchers have been throughout this parliament, with their prospects of promotion severely curtailed as a chunk of ministerial jobs – hitherto coming their way – were offered up to their Lib Dem coalition partners.

Cue the inevitable muttering from Labour MPs who are equally observant of the law of Buggin’s turn.

Cryer will now be the person charged with channelling these kinds of frustrations and grievances up to Ed Miliband’s notoriously haphazard private office.

His two immediate predecessors in this parliament, Dave Watts and Tony Lloyd, were the epitome of geniality and courtesy and have had a relatively quiet time of it.

But Cryer faces a tougher watch, especially if Labour loses in May and is plunged into a bout of introspection, and, in all probability, a leadership contest.

Here again, the chairman of the PLP will play a pivotal role in helping provide stability during what might well be a far less collegiate contest than 2010.

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Are we seeing a reverse squeeze?

22/01/2015, 10:26:11 AM

One of the underlying assumptions of polling behaviour is that, like homing pigeons, voters always return from whence they came when general elections come around.

Yes, they enjoy their freedom as they stretch their wings and soar about all over the political landscape, but when it comes to deciding who actually runs the country, they fly back to their familiar coup.

Judging by current polls, however, they’re cutting it fine.

Tuesday’s ICM poll showed a fifth of voters are still saying they will vote for UKIP (11 per cent) or the Greens (9 per cent).

So what happens if the Tories don’t manage to squeeze UKIP and convince a big chunk of disgruntled former Conservatives to return to the fold?

What if all the media beastings of Nigel Farage and his troops in recent weeks end up having little effect? Indeed, what if UKIP’s insurgency is a symptom of a structural change taking place in British politics rather than a cyclical blip?

For Labour, there are two windpipes to choke. Ed Miliband needs to retain those Lib Dem voters who have abandoned Nick Clegg since 2010 as well as stopping the Greens from becoming a permanent fixture on the party’s left flank. The Greens current polling is their best performance in 20 years.

We are at that point in the political cycle where people have started referring to the looming election in terms of weeks, not months. Admittedly there is still time for things to change, but what usually happens during the short campaign is the Lib Dems rise a few points, a result of voter frustration with Labour and Tory to-ing and fro-ing.

What is to stop something similar happening in May, only with UKIP and the Greens (not forgetting the SNP) benefiting instead of the shop-soiled Lib Dems? Indeed, what if reports of Nick Clegg’s demise are exaggerated and the Lib Dems improve their position too? This would put a very big hole in Ed Miliband’s electoral bucket.

All of which is to reinforce the self-evident fact that British politics is now in a highly volatile state. (Hence the proliferation of question marks in this piece).

So much so, that 2015 may well be remembered as the first election where it was the main parties who were squeezed by the political fringe, not the other way around.

 

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Unite-PCS merger back on. Unite exit from Labour draws nearer

16/01/2015, 05:46:14 PM

The attention of the Labour party might be focused on the general election campaign, but in the background, changes that will fundamentally restructure the Labour movement are in motion. Uncut has learned from PCS sources that the stalled merger with Unite is very much back on the agenda, and with it, Unite’s ultimate disaffiliation from Labour.

The merger ran into the sand following PCS’ conference last year when delegates rejected the leadership motion to continue unconditional negotiations with Unite. However, recent manoeuvres by the PCS leadership suggest that merger wheels are once again rolling.

PCS has been wracked by well documented financial problems. The sale of the union HQ, which was agreed at the union’s national executive meeting at the start of December, was meant to have placed PCS on a more sustainable financial footing.  But just days later, an emergency executive meeting was called for the 18th December.

With one hour’s notice before the meeting, executive members were given papers that included a proposal to suspend next year’s internal election. The reasoning was that the £600,000 cost would sink the union and delaying it by upto year would help enable PCS’ survival. The motion was passed but with no wider debate across the membership.

PCS insiders have taken this as the clearest sign that merger plans are being revived.

Few believe their leadership’s explanation that this is about cost. Why wasn’t suspending the election discussed as an option along side sale of the HQ? What changed in the week following the scheduled NEC meeting in early December? Many view the emergency meeting as a means to railroad the suspension of internal democracy, which in turn allows the core leadership to fast-track negotiations with Unite, unencumbered by the accountability of elections in 2015.

(more…)

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Why is it ok for Sajid Javid to attack Muslims?

11/01/2015, 05:02:38 PM

Sajid Javid sums up everything the Conservative party would like to believe about itself.  The son of a bus driver who dragged himself up by his bootstraps to get to university, before embarking on a dazzling career in the City and a seat in the Cabinet.

But Javid’s tale of social mobility and hard work is all the more compelling because of his ethnicity. Specifically, his Pakistani-Muslim heritage. For a party that barely has a toe-hold into Britain’s ethnic minority communities, he is a powerful emblem.

But here’s the problem. Javid isn’t religious. In his own words he is “not practicing”. Nevertheless, he felt able this morning to weigh into the dubious debate about the culpability of all Muslims for countering Jihadi terror, telling BBC Radio 5 Live that:

“All communities can do more to try and help and deal with terrorists, try and help track them down, but I think it is absolutely fair to say that there is a special burden on Muslim communities…”

Contrast this with what Rupert Murdoch posted yesterday on Twitter:

“Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.”

Or when Nigel Farage claimed the other day that there was now a “fifth column” of Muslims who “hate us”.

Twitter exploded in indignation against Murdoch, while Home Secretary Theresa May called Farage “irresponsible”, and Nick Clegg accused him of making “political points”.

So why does Javid, the non-Muslim, get away with claiming there is a “special burden” on Muslims for dealing with Jihadi terror?

Surely, by opting out of the faith of his father, Javid has no more right to make the same, inelegant argument than fellow affluent non-Muslim men like Murdoch and Farage?

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Party chiefs will hope Lamont’s resignation gives them a fresh start in Scotland

25/10/2014, 12:10:39 PM

The resignation of Scottish Labour party leader, Johann Lamont, has plunged the Scottish party back into one of its periodic bouts of crisis.

Lamont, long an advocate for greater devolution for the Scottish Parliament and more autonomy for the Scottish party, was said to be furious that national chiefs treated Scotland like a “branch office”.

The final straw came earlier this week with the enforced departure of the Scottish party’s general secretary, Ian Price.

Recruited last year to lead its referendum campaign and drive forward efforts to reform the fractious party, he was already sidelined by July, when the party’s respected former North West regional director, Sheila Murphy, was asked by Ed Miliband to step in and manage the campaign instead.

The view from London is that Labour cannot take the chance that a resurgent SNP will burrow into its vote and put seats at next year’s general election in jeopardy.

However it was clear from the result of the referendum, with places like Glasgow voting for independence, that Labour’s support base in working-class Scotland has been shaken.

The party’s indelicate treatment of Lamont and Price reflects the fact it does not want to have to spend time and precious resources campaigning in seats that Labour should easily win.

In her resignation interview with the Daily Record, Lamont warns her colleagues that “the focus of Scottish politics is now Holyrood, not Westminster” and that too many of them, both in Scotland and London “do not understand the politics they are facing”.

That may be so, but the party’s focus is holding on to what it currently has next May and many will be privately relieved at the chance of a fresh start.

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The inside story of the Labour reshuffle that never was

15/10/2014, 08:18:32 PM

Interesting rumours have been trickling out of the PLP and Labour HQ over the past fortnight about the seemingly imminent reshuffle. Uncut has pieced together various accounts to give a view of just what has been going on.

Earlier this month, amid the fall-out from the Scottish referendum and Labour conference, as MPs’ discontent with Ed Miliband bubbled up into the press, a plan was hatched by the leader’s inner circle.  A move so bold that it would reset the political clock, seize the attention of the journalists and demonstrate Ed Miliband’s leadership credentials.

The long awaited reshuffle was overdue and its centre-piece was to be Ed Balls’ ejection from his brief as shadow chancellor.

The tensions between the leader’s office and Ed Balls’ team have been well-documented. Ed Balls was not Ed Miliband’s first choice as shadow chancellor – that was Alan Johnson – and from the leaked e-mails last year, where Ed Balls was described as a “nightmare,” by Ed Miliband’s advisers, to  the two Eds’ splits over whether to retain the 50p rate of tax and their widely aired disagreement on whether to back or bin HS2, the relationship has always been uneasy.

With Labour trailing the Tories by twenty points on the economy and discontent on the left and right of the party with Labour’s economic offer, the rationale for action was obvious.

Balls’ potential destination was unclear. One option canvassed was foreign secretary with Douglas Alexander becoming a full time general election co-ordinator. However, the preferred choice was a switch to home affairs, with his wife, Yvette Cooper, becoming shadow chancellor.

Come what may, Ed Balls would have been furious, but to cause trouble in the run-up to the general election would have been difficult. All the more so,if his wife was the shadow chancellor, a role it would have been difficult for Cooper to turn down, especially given her own ambitions to lead if Labour is defeated next year.

(more…)

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Conference diary

24/09/2014, 04:09:45 PM

How big has the Labour conference been this year? With the party looking to form a government next May this was the last chance for the usual retinue of lobbyists and influence peddlers to ply their trade to shadow ministers who just might be making actual decisions in a few months’ time.

Certainly the ring of steel surrounding the conference centre here in Manchester seemed smaller than in recent years and the security was noticeably less oppressive.

But how do you measure the size of a conference and whether you’re attracting the movers and shakers? Square footage of steel fencing? Numbers queuing at the Midland Hotel bar?

“Young women” says a journalist at one of the better newspapers. “That’s how you tell if you’re winning, how many young women are attending.”
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Metaphor of the week: Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Mary Creagh, describing buses as a “Cinderella service”. But didn’t Cinders prefer to travel by coach and horse?

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Conference hall Kremlinology. Former Countryfile presenter, Miriam O’Reilly, who successfully sued the BBC over ageism, was in action on Tuesday, chairing a session of conference.

A favourite of Harriet Harman, O’Reilly was shortlisted for the Heywood and Middleton by-election, despite having no obvious connection to the area. This led to a peasants’ revolt against and an effort to back eventual winner Liz McInnes.

But O’Reilly is nothing if not tenacious and her appearance on the platform guarantees we haven’t seen the last of her.

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One of the undoubted benefits of holding political conferences in cities is the range of pubs and restaurants available.

One of the downsides is that delegates disperse to the four winds leaving many evening fringe events and the main conference hotel bars half empty – until they return in the wee small hours because its the only place left open.

Welcome competition this year came from a food and drink festival in St Peter’s Square which became a favourite of conference-goers.

And the top tipple for a party once committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament and slashing defence spending? ’13 Guns.’
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Who says Labour can’t identify any cuts. Over at the New Statesman, the enterprising Harry Lambert has calculated that frontbench speeches were on average just 1,200 words long, with rumours of a word count to corral any windy shadow ministers.

Tough on boilerplate rhetoric, tough on the cause of boilerplate rhetoric? We approve.

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Race begins to find Blunkett’s successor

05/09/2014, 07:24:52 AM

The process to select a successor to David Blunkett as Labour Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough is about to get underway, with the constituency party this week agreeing a process to select his replacement.

Nominations are set to open this weekend with a final hustings meeting will be held on October 25.

With a majority in 2010 of 13,632 and 55 per cent of the vote, the seat is a classic ‘safe’ urban redoubt for Labour.

However the area hit the headlines recently with growing tensions in the Page Hall area of the seat between local residents and Slovakian Roma migrants who have moved into the area.

In a hard-hitting assessment of the situation, David Blunkett has warned there is a need to “change the behaviour and the culture” of Roma community, warning there was going to be an “explosion” otherwise.

Tellingly, the BNP got more than 3,000 votes here in 2010.

Candidates for the nomination have yet to emerge, however the deputy leader of Sheffield City Council, Harry Harpham, is regarded locally as a front-runner.

Harpham, a well-liked ex-miner, is also the council’s cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods. With twice the national average number of council homes, housing is a major issue in the city and Harpham led the council’s successful Decent Homes programme.

Movement for Change community organiser Mike Buckley is another name in the frame and has already been seen out and about in the seat.

It’s likely that a number of other Sheffield councillors will throw their hats in the ring, conscious that the city has a tradition of selecting local candidates.  In fact each of the city’s five Labour MPs has strong local connections.

London interloper Nick Clegg in leafy Sheffield Hallam is the only exception to that rule.

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