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Labour’s BAME manifesto was a missed opportunity

21/04/2015, 05:07:20 PM

The problem with Labour’s ‘BAME manifesto’ – and its approach to understanding minority communities more generally – boils down to this: In the Labour lexicon, BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) is simply a question of skin colour.

The term is exclusively meant to denote non-White groups. It’s an approach that makes as much sense as assuming you need to be a wheelchair user to be a disabled person.

The party shows a poor grasp of the complexity of the UK’s contemporary racial and ethnic mix and the often very specific and nuanced issues they face.

As a result, the document falls back on 1980s norms. Hence, all the photos in the document show group shots of smiling Black and Asian people. So far, so clichéd.

The manifesto shows little understanding of just how fluid it is to be a member of, say, the Afro-Caribbean or Muslim communities these days, while seeming utterly oblivious to the concept that there may be White ethnic minorities out there and they, too, may have needs.

For instance, the numbers of Polish-born people living in the UK have increased 10-fold in a decade, from around 60,000 in 2001 to 580,000 at the time of the 2011 census. To this we can add a further 200,000 ethnically Polish children and grandchildren.

Nearly a million-strong. Yet, the manifesto utters not a single word about their particular needs.

At the very least, the manifesto could have included promises to crackdown on unscrupulous gangmasters and tighten regulation of the casual labour market, an issue that disproportionately affects migrant eastern Europeans coming here in large numbers to work.

Neither is there any mention about Gypsies and Travellers. This is especially remiss given the massive cultural and social disadvantages they face, including a level of overt public ridicule and discrimination for their lifestyles and customs that would (rightly) be beyond the pale if targeted against any other minority group.

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Prime Minister Miliband’s first U-turn: scrapping gender equality around the cabinet table

20/04/2015, 06:48:36 PM

Any coalition deal with the other parties that involves sharing cabinet positions, will inevitably mean the percentage of women sat around Labour’s top table will get smaller.

This is not due to backsliding on Ed Miliband’s part. Far from it. He promised during the Labour leadership contest – and has consistently repeated it since then – that he will deliver 50:50 gender equality around the cabinet table (and has more or less done so with his current shadow team).

It is simply that the stock of female ministers from the other potential coalition partners is extremely low. And despite watery protestations to the contrary, all the current polls indicate that Miliband will need either the SNP or the Lib Dems to join his administration in order to form a stable working majority in the Commons.

Only one of the SNP’s six MPs in the last parliament was female and, although led by a woman, just 36 per cent of their parliamentary candidates are women. (And given Nicola Sturgeon is rather preoccupied serving as Scotland’s First Minister, she would not, presumably, be available herself?)

Similarly, just seven of the Lib Dems’ 57 MPs in the last parliament were women and five of them are likely to lose their seats (although, to be fair, it’s perfectly possible this number will be replenished with newcomers).

But from day one of the next government, there will be precious few women MPs from among either the Lib Dems or SNP experienced enough in frontline politics to be considered for cabinet positions.

The only choice open to Miliband, if he’s serious about honouring his pledge, is to appoint a greater number of Labour women to meet the shortfall. This, in turn, means appointing fewer men who currently sit in the shadow cabinet.

The in-tray of an incoming prime minister is deep enough without creating that kind of explosive row and in the process generating an officer-class of senior, overlooked men who have slogged away on the frontbench for years only to have their careers ripped away from them.

No, look instead for Miliband to pepper the junior and middle ministerial ranks with women as cover for the Labour-led government’s first U-turn.

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Cameron beware: Benefit claimants lose money when they don’t turn up to an interview

16/04/2015, 05:42:54 PM

As the only national political leader taking part in tonight’s “challengers’ debate,” is it a mistake for Ed Miliband to put himself on a par with the nationalists and minnows of British politics?

We’ll soon find out, but assuming he does well enough (in a format that usually favours his softer public style) it will bolster an already confident Labour campaign and throw the spotlight on the absent Prime Minister’s reluctance to defend his own record.

Indeed, Miliband has a neat line on David Cameron’s failure to turn up: “I think if you are applying for the job of Prime Minister, the very least the British people expect is for you to turn up to the interview.”

Such bad form, especially when Employment Minister Esther McVeigh has been very clear on this point: “…jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work. We are ending the something for nothing culture,” she has previously opined.

For the first offence of failing to turn up to an interview, an unemployed benefit claimant faces losing four week’s Job Seekers’ Allowance.

Cameron should beware, the penalties increase with every no-show.

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The Ukip meltdown has begun

15/04/2015, 09:40:27 PM

Long simmering tensions within Ukip are now bubbling into public view. Earlier today, Uncut bumped into an old 1990’s Westminster stalwart who had been involved with the long and difficult development of Ukip’s manifesto. He painted a picture of a house divided, riven by personal and political enmities.

At the root of all of the problems lie Nigel Farage’s personality: a man given to fads and enthusiasms with a notoriously thin skin and a congenital inability to hold his tongue or stick by the rules he sets for others.

Farage’s elision of immigration and race is blamed for toxifying Ukip’s brand by Douglas Carswell who is now operating virtually as an independent.

Mark Reckless is said to feel that Farage doesn’t understand the scale of risk he took in defecting while Raheem Kassam, Farage’s spinner, is regarded by many MEPs and staffers as a poisonous disaster.

Douglas Carswell’s absence from today’s manifesto launch almost did not register. He was absent from Ukip’s general election campaign launch at the end of March and can barely bring himself even to mention Nigel Farage’s name.

A prolific tweeter, Carswell has managed just two tweets in more than 250 over the past fortnight that mention his leader. Probably a record for a candidate in this campaign.

Mark Reckless has always lacked a certain bonhomie, as his former Conservative parliamentary colleagues attest, and has been cut out of the leader’s inner circle. Party resources aren’t flowing into Rochester and Strood to defend the seat as volunteers are being directed to Thanet to fight for Farage and so Reckless too is coming to terms with life as a virtual independent.

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Ashcroft marginals’ polls show Labour’s not ahead enough and now needs the other parties to fail

14/04/2015, 04:45:35 PM

Where would we be without Lord Ashcroft? His metamorphosis from Belize-based Tory financier to philanthropic godfather of British psephology, has bequeathed to the statistical junkies of British politics a treasure trove of polling in marginal seats to chew over.

The latest tranche of data from ten Conservative/Labour marginals shows that the overall race remains tight, with the Tories edging the lead in five, Labour in three, while the parties are tied in the remaining two seats.

These are the kinds of constituencies that the governing party has to win. What the polls reveal is that two serious strategic threats remain for Labour.

The first, is that having successfully squeezed the Lib Dems, Labour can’t realistically harvest any more votes from them. They are down around the 5-7 per cent mark in all of the ten seats. This is rock bottom for them and the only direction they can now head in is back up. Any revival in Lib Dem fortunes during the remainder of the campaign comes at Labour’s expense.

The second, is that the Tories still have ample opportunity to squeeze UKIP. Their support ranges from seven per cent in Finchley and Golders Green, through to 21 per cent in Dover, with their support in the remaining eight seats clustered at around 15 per cent.

This gives the Tories something to target in their own attempt at squeezing their nearest rival, with Cameron’s plea to disaffected Conservative defectors to “come home” a lingering threat as we approach the midway point in this election campaign.

None of this is to discount the hard work done by Labour activists on the ground. On the contrary, these polls clearly show Labour’s ground war having an effect, with Labour’s candidates beating the Tories’ campaigning efforts by 64-47 per cent when voters are asked which campaign has been in touch.

Yet in the increasingly complex arena of British politics, the unmistakable message from these polls is that Labour is not far enough ahead in some of the seats it must win and finds itself reliant on the fortunes of the other parties.

It needs the Lib Dems to stay sunk and for the Tories to fail to peel off support from UKIP. Or to quote Gore Vidal, it is not enough to succeed, others must fail.

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Labour needs to kill-off Clegg

09/04/2015, 07:11:39 PM

He’s unquestionably posh. He went to one of our better public schools. From there, the road to Oxford and a top job as a political adviser to a senior Tory were mere formalities. A safe seat was lined up for him and the leadership of his party wasn’t far behind.

But Nick Clegg, for it is he, has never been attacked for his unquestionable poshness. He’s as worthy of the description as Dave and George, but Labour has never hung this particular millstone around Clegg’s neck.

Neither has he ever come in for much stick for jettisoning the social democratic heritage of his party, or for the alacrity with which he jumped into bed with the Tories at the first opportunity, or for dutifully supporting their programme in exchange for squeezing in a few token policies of his own.

Labour has spent the past five years treating Clegg with kid gloves. His party and his fellow cohort of human shield ministers have come in for regular attack, with poor old Danny Alexander (the “Ginger Rodent” as Harriet Harman called him) usually serving as a proxy. But Labour needs to get personal. The party needs Clegg’s face grinding into the dust over coming weeks, for three essential reasons.

First, the Lib Dems always improve their share of the vote during an election campaign and given Labour’s current position is boosted by Lib Dem defectors, any improvement for Clegg and his party comes at Labour’s expense. Clegg is clearly rehashing the Lib Dems’ favourite “a plague on both their houses” strategy, in the hope of winning support from both. If they claw back a point or two, it will make all the difference between Labour winning and losing this election.

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Blair is wrong. There should be a referendum on the EU – and pro-Europeans can win it

09/04/2015, 11:40:55 AM

“Nationalism is a powerful sentiment” warned Tony Blair on Tuesday. “Let that genie out of the bottle and it is a Herculean task to put it back. Reason alone struggles.”

Thus, the great communicator joins a long line of patrician pro-Europeans in British politics who have baulked at the prospect of holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, ever fearful of relying on the critical faculties of the British public in case they arrive at the ‘wrong’ answer and vote to leave.

It is a dispiriting and reductive view of the electorate’s judgment.

It is also the most glaring example of where a narrow political class has decided what is best for us and cannot – will not – brook further discussion.

But a debate needs to be had. Most obviously, the EU we have today is not the “common market” the public voted for forty years ago in our one and only referendum on the subject. It is not even the EU we had when Blair was Prime Minister.

More recently, the failings of the Eurozone and the unintended consequences from the uncontrolled free movement of people have poisoned the political debate across much of the continent and seen the flames of real nationalism rise amid endless economic gloom and the impact of low-skilled immigration.

In response, the battered consensus in British politics that our membership of the EU is A Good Thing needs refounding from first principles. Europe is still a cause worth fighting for and Blair was spot-on when he said “the objective case for Europe has actually never been stronger”.

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If celebrity endorsers come in for stick, will they put themselves forward in future?

02/04/2015, 04:13:06 PM

Here’s a question. Does the inevitable takedown of a third party endorsement during an election campaign still make the original endorsement worthwhile?

Just look what’s happened this week.

Monday saw Labour’s first election broadcast, fronted by actor Martin Freeman. The Office star subsequently found himself weighed and measured for sending his children to a school “which charges up to £12,669 a year” while rehashing a story about his partner’s bankruptcy, despite Freeman being worth “more than £10million.”

Next came the Tories’ endorsement from 100 business leaders yesterday. Many were accused of being heartless capitalist storm troopers, warding off any threat to their wealth from Labour’s mansion tax or proposed 50p top rate.

Then, last night, Labour put out its own list of endorsers, hours after it ran with its pledge to outlaw zero hours contracts. Cue this morning’s inevitable revelation that some of them have feet of clay, with the designer, Wayne Hemmingway, ‘exposed’ for making use of unpaid interns.

Freeman presumably sees no contradiction between his personal fortune and backing a redistributive Labour party – and probably regards media coverage to the contrary as a noxious invasion of his privacy.

Doubtless, business leaders seeing their motives traduced and financial affairs spread across the newspapers agree.

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We shouldn’t be surprised the Tories ‘phone a business friend’ but the timing shows they’re desperate

01/04/2015, 01:57:50 PM

There’s an air of inevitability about the publication of a letter from business leaders warning against a Labour government in today’s Daily Telegraph.

The Tories can always count on a swathe of blue chip executives to back their cause. (Presumably self-interest plays a part too, as the signatories are classic targets of Labour’s 50p top rate and the mansion tax).

There is is no argument that letters like this work. They are simple to put together, get broadcast follow-up and help frame the day’s coverage. They matter because the grand fromages of the business world represent an important barometer of credibility for any party.

Yet as a tactic, the business leader round-robin was more counter-intuitive – and seemed more effective – when Labour did it in previous elections.

And the timing of today’s letter feels like a reactive move by the Tories – as though party strategists had this pencilled-in for later in the campaign.

To have real purchase, publishing a list of business endorsers nearer to polling day would surely be more effective; showing momentum behind the Tory campaign and contrasting that with Labour’s failure to convince business about its fitness to govern.

Throwing it in during the first week feels like the waste of a valuable asset. Like when contestants on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ phone a friend on one of the easy questions.

As ever in politics, when someone does something unexpected, it’s because they are rattled.

Could it be that Labour’s efforts this week to burnish their business credentials, contrasting the Tories’ pledge of an in/out referendum on the EU with Labour’s solid, if unfashionable, pro-European-ness, have spooked Tory high command?

After all, this is one of the few areas where the Tories “competence versus chaos” line reverses in Labour’s favour.

As David Cameron limbers up for the seven-way leaders’ debate, (after his uncertain performance against Paxman) he needs to project calm, statesmanlike competence. To show that he is a safe bet.

Does he need to wheel out his pin-striped pals this early in the campaign to get that message across?

Perhaps he does.

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Clarkson may be obnoxious, but Cameron’s loyalty to his friends is admirable

12/03/2015, 06:29:26 PM

“I don’t know exactly what happened” says David Cameron about motoring motormouth Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘fracas’ with a Top Gear producer, but “he is a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent.”

Yet again the Prime Minister stands by his friends and allies, even when their backs are against the wall, despite brickbats from his critics and for no discernable short-term advantage to himself.

There’s a pattern here and, in the snake-pit of British politics, something of a curiosity.

Think of the way Cameron kept Andy Coulson under his wing until the bitter end, despite early warnings about his seamy conduct as editor of the News of the World.

The Prime Minister is a reluctant butcher in a business where carving up enemies and allies alike is second nature. Look no further than the way he has kept ministers in cabinet jobs for the full run of this parliament.

It is inconceivable that Iain Duncan-Smith and his, as yet, unfurled universal credit reforms would have been given so much latitude under either Blair or Brown.

Or that Andrew Lansley would have stayed in post long after it was abundantly clear he had made a complete hash of the politics of his NHS reforms.

Or that a figure like Oliver Letwin, the brainy but bumptious ‘Minister of State for Government Policy,’ would become a mainstay of the government frontbench.

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