Ed’s aides failed him on anti-Ukip strategy

17/12/2014, 06:13:51 PM

by Callum Anderson

Whilst Nigel Farage was throwing back pints of lager and glasses of wine and champagne on Channel 4, Ed Miliband and his closest aides were reeling from yet another awkward episode on immigration.

On a day that was supposed to represent an opportunity for the leader of the opposition to portray himself as the prime minister in-waiting, what instead occurred was a series of deflections by Miliband about that document, culminating in him entirely distancing himself from it.

In short, Miliband’s closest aides failed him.

Yet it wasn’t through actually leaking the 33-page private strategy document that failed him. It was the contents of that document which did.

Whilst the document correctly identifies immigration as the issue people most often cite when explaining support for UKIP, it makes several mistakes insofar as stating that any messaging around immigration should always be done in conjunction with other policy areas, such as health and housing. Doing this, the theory goes, will enable activists and candidates to tilt conversation away from uncomfortable, but frankly needed, exchanges about immigration, in favour of ‘comfort-zone’ topics of conversation.

Or, in other words, activists and candidates should do their best to entirely avoid the concerns of voters, and talk about traditional, safe Labour issues.

This is a dangerous game to play.

It is clear that Labour will always be facing an uphill struggle on immigration. The ultimately flawed policy of allowing the so-called A8 (i.e. the Eastern European countries which joined the EU in 2004) to arrive without any initial border controls has tarnished Labour’s credibility on migration issues.

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Murphy’s push on party rebuilding should not stop at the Tweed

17/12/2014, 12:17:52 PM

by Rob Marchant

Jim Murphy is the new leader of Labour in Scotland. It is hard to see this as other than good news; irrespective of political leanings, he is an experienced, Cabinet-level politician, with the kind of clout and vision that the Scottish party urgently needs. The SNP is sneering as best it can, but it is nervous laughter.

Murphy has, of course, a huge challenge on his hands: to turn around disastrous polling and an inward-looking party; left to its own devices through its hegemonic days under Blair and Brown and the early days of devolution; and later, seemingly taken by surprise by the rise of the SNP.

It was certainly high time that Scottish Labour took a long, hard look in the mirror, rather than give in to the temptation of huffily declaring that it was treated as a “branch office”, as its last leader, Johann Lamont, did. And it has: it has realised both that it needs a radical change and that it does not need to dance to the Nats’ own tune of “MSPs only”.

It has realised that, far from attracting support, trying to compete with the SNP to see who can be the most insular is a game Labour can only lose.

Reaching out to all the party’s talents, in contrast, is a position of strength. The truth is that there is valuable experience and support that Labour colleagues in Westminster or elsewhere can provide, as Murphy has just shown.

As a first step, what refreshingly positive was Monday’s announcement that Murphy would immediately start to reform and rebuild Scottish Labour; that party reform would be at the centre of his plans.

Almost since its inception, Uncut has repeatedly written on the importance of party reform for Labour, including in our manifesto of 2013. While cautious about the party’s commitment to full implementation, we applauded Ed Miliband’s adoption of funding and voting reform this year.

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Introducing the pander test – how to tell if a politician is pandering on immigration

16/12/2014, 02:20:42 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Most mainstream politicians are lying when they talk about immigration, if not by the sin of commission, then by omission.

They all know what would happen if immigration was to be cut precipitously: the depth of extra cuts that would be required without migrants’ net tax contribution, the collapse of the NHS that would ensue if we did not have the skills of migrant health staff, and the destruction of jobs as foreign businesses take their investment to more welcoming shores.

Yet, rarely is any of this mentioned.

When most politicians talk about immigration, they look at one side of the ledger – costs – with little regard for the benefits.

And even then, when focusing exclusively on the negative, often they will simply accept the stereotype underpinning concerns rather than articulate the reality based on the evidence.

This is what pandering looks like in today’s immigration debate: when politicians who know better and have seen the evidence, either wilfully disregard it or misrepresent it, to fit a negative narrative that they know to be false.

For example, Ed Miliband was busy pandering yesterday when launching Labour’s second election pledge.

The first part of the pledge promises a “new law to stop the exploitation which leads to wages and conditions being undercut.”

In principle, no-one could disagree, but the implication of what will be achieved is where the pandering starts.

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If we are all Labour Uncutters now, let’s do this properly

15/12/2014, 10:25:32 AM

by Jonathan Todd

We are all in the black Labourites now, Labour Uncutters and proud. It was In the Black Labour published by Policy Network in 2011 that reminded us that fiscal prudence and social justice are complementary. It was Labour Uncut at conference in 2013 who provided detail in our book on how this might be done, how £34bn of additional savings in 2015/16 could be reallocated to Labour priorities.

Both publications were contentious. They – at least In the Black Labour – are now orthodoxy. Higher debt interest payments, Ed Miliband noted in his speech last week, as In the Black Labour did previously, squeeze out money for public services and for investment in the long-term potential of our country. Following the Miliband speech, Phil Collins observed in the Times that the difference between an old Brownite and an old Blairite is about three years. The dates of Miliband’s speech and In the Black Labour prove him right to the week.

The headline used by Collins’ paper to report the speech – I’ll cut deficit but won’t reveal how, says Miliband – showed, however, that Miliband is yet to go as far as Labour Uncut has gone. In isolating additional cuts we’d support, Labour Uncut created resources to apply to different priorities. In the spirit of Mad Men’s Don Draper, we didn’t like what was being said about Labour (that the party can’t be trusted with public money), so we changed the conversation (by fronting up to enough cuts to create fiscal room for a set of policy priorities distinctly Labour and different from those of the Tory-led government).

Miliband didn’t do the full Draper. Maybe he got as far as a Pete Campbell, another Mad Men character. Moving in the right direction but lacking Draper’s uncompromising edge. Yet Miliband doesn’t need to that audacious to remake himself in Draper form. Carl Emmerson, deputy director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, reckons he has a £50bn target to shoot at. That’s the fiscal room between Conservative plans and Labour’s commitment to balance current spending by 2020.

£50bn is ample to signpost a Labour future. But voters won’t reward what you promise if they conclude you won’t deliver it. The £50bn can play the role played by house building and childcare within the Labour Uncut book; the altered priorities made affordable by identifying sufficient cuts. The political gain that attaches to this £50bn, however, is conditional on demonstrating how we’d balance current spending by 2020.

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Labour’s wants to triangulate on the deficit but has forgotten how

11/12/2014, 02:45:44 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today, Labour remembered the deficit. Good, it’s long over-due. The party senses an opportunity, one last chance to reduce the Tories’ double digit lead on the economy.

The theory is clear. George Osborne’s draconian spending plans are just too apocalyptic for the public. He’s opened up political space for a middle way, for Labour to triangulate and offer a deficit reduction path that does not necessitate taking a meat cleaver to the welfare state but does show a clear route back to a balanced budget.

The polls seem to back this approach. In yesterday’s ComRes poll,  52% agreed with the proposition that “it would be better to slow the rate of spending cuts even if it makes it take longer to get the country’s finances back on track” while just 25% disagreed.

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are both on our screens today promising this middle way, hoping for a route back into the economic debate.

Unfortunately for Labour, and the country’s future, Miliband and Balls are going to be disappointed.

There is a strategic flaw at the heart of the party’s approach: Labour strategists have forgotten how to triangulate.

For triangulation to be effective, three conditions need to be met: there must be defined positions to the left and right on a topic which opens space in the middle, the public need to be dissatisfied with the polarised positions on offer and to trust the party or politician that is triangulating, to deliver on their centrist commitment.

It’s certainly true that George Osborne’s vision of austerity-max has shifted the Conservatives further to the right on the economy than their previous positioning. The much publicised IFS judgement that the cuts would take spending back to 1930s’ levels has resonated, with Osborne’s personal ratings taking a palpable hit – in the aftermath of the Autumn statement, YouGov found his net approval rate dropped from -8 to -11.

But the problem for Ed Miliband is that the left flank is occupied by Unite, most of the union movement and a fair proportion of the PLP, including some shadow cabinet members.

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Miliband only has himself to blame for Osborne’s reckless tax cuts

09/12/2014, 10:56:14 AM

by Samuel Dale

I laughed when I first heard yet slowly but surely the true horror of Ed Miliband’s gaffe has began to sink in.

When our leader forgot to mention the deficit during his 80 minute conference speech in Manchester he handed the Tories a free rein on the economy.

Tory minister has tripped over Tory MP to claim, fairly, that Miliband does not care about the UK’s debt mountain and deficit.

Of course, the gaffe could only gain traction because Labour has failed to rebuild its economic credibility in the last four years.

The lack of a credible alternative on reducing the deficit has allowed the Tories to develop a completely ridiculous and undeserved reputation for sound economic management.

Britain might be splintering into a four or five party system but on the economy it is still a two horse race between potential prime ministers and chancellors. It’s a zero sum game; one party is up, the other is down.

Since 2010, George Osborne has drastically missed his deficit target, lost the UK’s AAA credit rating, increased public debt by trillions and made huge gambles on the tax revenues.

He has also overseen a collapse in living standards, years of stagnant growth and a shameful under-investment in infrastructure.

To give some under-reported examples of his recklessness: Raising the income tax allowance threshold to £10,000 combined with slow wage growth has seen income tax receipts plummet by billions.

In addition, the changes to stamp duty last week and pensions next year create huge tax uncertainties as well, recklessly populist tax cuts in the pursuit of votes.

Then, of course, there are £7.2bn of unfunded income tax cuts for lower and middle earners promised after the election.

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Miliband should learn from Irish Labour’s pains

07/12/2014, 09:10:51 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The dangers of being a junior coalition partner are obvious enough – ask Nick Clegg – but across the Irish Sea, the example is, if anything, even starker.

The Irish Labour party has been the junior coalition partner to Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael since 2011; administering painful austerity measures as Ireland grapples with the horrendous aftermath of its banking and property bubble explosion.

Now, the party has plummeted to just six per cent in the latest poll for the Irish Times, down from a high of 35 per cent in September 2010 before it went into government.

Along the way, Labour has lost one leader, Eamon Gilmore, a former Marxist turned moderate, who resigned as party leader, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and minister for foreign affairs and trade, following disastrous local election results earlier this year, narrowly escaping a no confidence motion from his own grassroots.

In a Sir Humphreyish back-handed compliment, Taoiseach Enda Kenney praised the Labour party for being “courageous” in pushing through painful economic reforms, which now include household water charges. This seems to be the measure that has now galvanised the country against austerity.

So much so, that Labour’s new leader, Joan Burton, was trapped in her car for three hours last month, surrounded by slogan-chanting protestors. In echoes of the poll tax in Britain, today’s opinion poll also shows less than half the Irish public (48 per cent) intend to actually pay the charge.

All this has been grist to the mill for Sinn Fein, topping today’s poll as Ireland’s most popular political party, with Gerry Adams also the most popular politician in the republic. The Shinners are now well-placed to form part of the next government at the 2016 general election.

But the Irish Labour party’s problems are not cyclical. A pincer movement between Sinn Fein and left-wing independents has squeezed the electoral life out of them.  Even the Irish Independent, known for its aggressive propagandising against Sinn Fein, warns today that Labour “continues to struggle to avoid a…meltdown” as it loses ground in all directions.

But as Labour lies dead in the water, its coalition partner, Fine Gael, is still deemed to be the best party for managing Ireland’s relations with the EU, growing the economy and keeping spending under control.

The lesson for Ed Miliband is obvious enough: implementing austerity measures kills centre-left parties. So how does he avoid a similar fate? As he peers beyond May 2015, he needs to take a lesson from Enda Kenny instead.

He is navigating a political course through austerity by managing expectations and being realistic about the scale of the task at hand. By setting the ground early that there are no easy choices to be made, Kenny is showing that amid the howls of protest, it is at least possible to avoid cries of betrayal.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Scrapping RDAs has made Osborne’s task harder

06/12/2014, 07:27:27 PM

By Kevin Meagher

As the Tories’ main political strategist, George Osborne knows only too well that winning the next election means convincing people they’re getting better off, or soon will be. In the next six months, his task is to make sure the warm rays of economic prosperity are felt across all parts of the country.

Yet as the dust settles on the Autumn Statement, recovery remains stubbornly uneven and tackling Britain’s asymmetric economy, split between a galloping London and South East and, at best, a cantering North and Midlands, looks as forlorn a prospect as it has for the past three decades.

Yet the bodies set up by Labour in 1998 to narrow these deep economic disparities – the nine English regional development agencies – were in coalition ministers’ crosshairs from day one. To Conservative eyes, RDAs were quintessentially old Labour. The state getting involved in promoting economic growth.

While the concept of “regions” was an unwelcome affectation, dreamt up by John Prescott in all his pomp running the sprawling Department of Environment, Transport and Regions.

In fact, David Cameron used his first major speech as prime minister to herald a different approach to driving local growth. It mattered little that the boards of the RDAs were private sector-led. Or that there was strong business support for retaining the northern agencies in particular. Or, indeed, that they were actually succeeding in their task of boosting growth. (In 2009, PriceWaterhouse Coopers calculated that the economic value they generated was equivalent to £4.50 for every £1 of public money invested).

But the RDAs fate was sealed because the Lib Dems didn’t think much of them either. Business secretary Vince Cable suggested scrapping them himself in a paper for the Reform think tank before the 2010 election. So when the “bonfire of the quangos” was lit, the English RDAs were the Guy Fawkes effigy placed right at the top of the pyre.

Since then, ministers have created a total of 39 local enterprise partnerships – effectively mini-RDAs but without the budgets – or the experienced staff – to drive local growth. This disjointed, stop-start approach, just as the economy was going through the bumpy 2010-12 period, was one of the more politically indulgent things the government has done.

And, potentially, one of the more politically costly.

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Labour is 16% behind on the economy. So why are so few in the party talking about how to close the gap?

05/12/2014, 06:22:59 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Sixteen percent. According to the latest YouGov poll, this is the lead that David Cameron and George Osborne hold over Ed Miliband and Ed Balls on who the public trust to best manage the economy.

This is after George Osborne has missed every single deficit target, has had to admit the worst of the cuts are yet to come, has downgraded future growth forecasts and has done his best to trash the Conservative’s brand for sound finance by promising £7bn of unfunded tax cuts.

In politics at the moment, the Tories can do anything on the economy, bodge any target, make any ludicrous promise and still Labour will lag far behind.

Why?

This should be the question animating debate within the Labour party. No opposition has won an election while trailing on the economy and leadership. In the past few weeks there has been plentiful if inconclusive discussion over Ed Miliband’s leadership deficit, but comparative silence on the party’s economy deficit.

In place of discussion, there are just tropes about the Tories. Words that have demonstrably failed to have any impact on the public over the past few years.

Understanding the causes for this silence shines a light on the divisions that blight Labour and that will have to be bridged if it is to regain power.

There are broadly four groups within Labour today: what used to be called the Blairite, New Labour right, the traditional right clustered around Ed Balls, the soft left which is Ed Miliband’s core constituency and the hard left which is organised around Unite.

On economics, there is a good deal of unanimity between Blairites and traditional right. Both back a fiscally centrist position, with clear action on the deficit and honesty on the level of cuts that will be required.

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Unite has learned nothing from the Falkirk debacle

03/12/2014, 11:08:36 AM

by Rob Marchant

Last week, we started to see just how much some quarters of the Labour Party do not want Jim Murphy to become their leader in Scotland. It was not so much the carefully-crafted hatchet job from Tom Watson, which followed that of old flat-mate Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, from a few weeks earlier.

No, it was the landing on Scottish Unite members’ doormats of ballot packs from their union.

Of course, under the One Member, One Vote system which has been in place for two decades, union leaders no longer allocate millions of their members’ votes; the members decide freely for themselves, under a ballot organised by the union.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

The reality is that they decide a little less freely than that: some union leaders seem to think freedom, like a number of political leaders before them, is a commodity so valuable that it needs to be rationed.

And so, Scotland’s Sunday Herald reported, the GMB continued to do what it did in the 2010 leadership election for the national party: it put in only the leaflet of its favoured candidate, Neil Findlay, into the voting pack.

But that was nothing compared what Unite got up to: it actually placed a “mock” ballot paper inside the pack alongside the real one, with an X against the box of its favoured candidate. All you had to do was to copy this X onto the real ballot paper in the same place and, hey presto. A more transparent attempt to “help” the voter to vote would be hard to imagine.

It is perfectly legitimate for the leadership to express a preference. What is not acceptable, as standard practice in postal ballots clearly shows, is to express it in the ballot pack.

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