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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.

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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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Unite leverage squads turn attention to private sector providers in the NHS

19/08/2014, 05:54:39 PM

Last year, Unite’s leverage department generated a storm of publicity with its actions during the Grangemouth dispute. Directors of the employer, Ineos, were targeted in their homes, with one executive calling the police after a leverage squad of 25 protesters arrived on his road, complete with banners and a giant, inflatable rat.

Now, word reaches Uncut that the union’s leverage squads will be turning their attention to private sector involvement in the NHS.

In a letter sent to union members, Unite leader Len McCluskey states,

“Our Leverage Department has now turned its efforts towards protecting our NHS…Unite will not stand by as the vested interest groups carve up the NHS for private gain and our Leverage Department has begun work to protect accident and emergency wards in your community, to protect hospitals and GP centres under threat in your community, and to expose and prevent the vested interest groups who tender for NHS work, those groups who have profit before patient care.”

On the Unite website, the work of the leverage department is described as,

“…a process whereby the Union commits resources and time to making all interested parties aware of the treatment received by Unite members at the hands of an employer. Those interested parties may include shareholders of the employer; competitors of the employer; communities within which the employer operates; customers of the employer and the market place of the employer…”

This latest move seems to represent an escalation of leverage activities. While in previous cases, leverage squads were deployed in industrial disputes like Grangemouth, it appears that ideological battles – such as the role of the private sector in delivering health services –  will now be fought using these same tactics.

While many on the left in the Labour movement would support Unite’s expansion in the use of leverage, it is likely to cause the Labour leadership a headache in the run up to the general election.

The inevitable question that will be asked of Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham will be whether they back Unite’s decision to deploy leverage squads over the NHS.

If they condemn it, the story will be about another Labour-Unite spat. If they do not, then the old headlines about Labour being in the pocket of Unite and trade union militancy, will be recycled.

Either way, Labour is about to be put on the defensive.

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Flowers’ scandal casts shadow over Co-op party

16/07/2014, 03:58:18 PM

The welter of awful headlines that have greeted revelations about the Co-op Bank and its colourful former Chairman, Paul Flowers, in recent months seems to have left behind something of a ‘brand contamination’ problem for the Co-operative Party.

So much so that it’s General-Secretary, Karin Christiansen, has just written out to its members asking for donations to help fund a “scaling up” of the party’s media work because “too many journalists are getting their facts wrong”.

The aim is to raise £10,000 through small donations to help with efforts to target journalists and commentators and improve understanding of how the party “fit[s] into the wider movement.”

Christiansen adds: “Recent media coverage has misrepresented the Party, and confused our relationship with the Labour Party and the Co-operative Group. It’s incredibly frustrating, and leaves too much of our good work unnoticed.”

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Complaints over shortlist in Salford

14/07/2014, 04:48:05 PM

The race to succeed Hazel Blears as the Labour candidate for Salford and Eccles has run into controversy following last weekend’s shortlisting meeting.

Complaints have been made to the party’s North West regional office after the unusual decision was made to shortlist just two candidates, despite other applicants having multiple branch nominations.

Yet, unsuccessful candidates have been told by local officials there is no appeals procedure and no feedback has been given about the decision to proceed with such a small shortlist.

Sarah Brookes, a senior manager for Manchester Airport Group, who was born and actually lives in the seat, had four branch nominations. This would normally ensure a place on the final shortlist.

Meanwhile Sara Hyde, who works as a mentor for young women in the prison system, received two branch nominations.

Under Labour’s internal system of preferential voting, it is usual that at least three candidates are shortlisted for a parliamentary selection.

Instead, members now face a choice at next month’s hustings meeting of either Cheshire solicitor Rebecca Long-Bailey or Salford City Councillor Sue Pugh, chair of the party’s North West regional board and partner of NEC member Peter Wheeler.

At the 2010 General Election, Hazel Blears had a majority of 5,725.

Update: 10:05 15/07/14

Sophie Taylor has also been shortlisted. However we understand she only had a single nomination, raising questions about how Brookes and Hyde could possibly be left off the shortlist.

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