Ed Miliband lost more than a by-election last night

21/11/2014, 02:49:59 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Labour didn’t just lose a by-election last night, the centre-piece of Ed Miliband’s recovery strategy collapsed.

Rochester and Strood was meant to be a firebreak; the barrier that prevented the flames of a vanishing poll lead and growing internal Labour dissent from enveloping Ed Miliband.

Last week was the Labour leader’s big fight-back speech, this week was meant to be about the Tory by-election defeat to Ukip and next week should have been David Cameron’s Götterdämmerung with new defections to Ukip and the emergence of a letter in the press, signed by dozens of Tory backbenchers, calling for a change in leader.

This was the optimistic scenario mapped out by Ed Miliband’s advisers. Three weeks that would shift the topic of political conversation from Labour turmoil to Tory troubles.

As the Tories tore themselves apart, Labour jitters would subside, the poll lead would return and the path to a narrow victory would, once again, open up.

At least that was the hope. It was always a desperate strategy, entirely reliant on the actions of others: Ukip voters, truculent Tory backbenchers and journalists happy to move onto a new target.

Partially as a result of Emily Thornberry’s master-class in social media self-harm, but largely because the Ukip victory was so much narrower than expected, David Cameron is not facing the backbench meltdown forecast a few weeks ago.

There might be another defection, but the chances of a signed letter becoming public and a leadership challenge have all but disappeared.

Now there is nothing left to reset the political dynamic and Labour is left with a mess because of the type of by-election campaign necessitated by Ed Miliband’s leadership woes.

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Labour must discipline Livingstone

19/11/2014, 10:44:03 AM

by Rob Marchant

Last week, a member of the party’s governing body, the NEC, encouraged a crowd of people to go round to the homes of public servants (£) and “peacefully” demonstrate outside.

Presumably as Unite “peacefully” demonstrated at the homes of Grangemouth oil refinery managers, during last summer’s botched industrial dispute. It is a technique latterly championed by the union, known as “leveraging” (in fact, so excited is it by its novel idea that the union now has created a merged Organising and Leverage Department, to help promote it further).

The reality: when someone’s child dare not go outside to play, or has to ask its parents who the angry crowd of people shouting outside their garden gate are, or it is an unacceptable crossing of the line between legitimate and non-legitimate targets.

It is, needless to say, intimidation, by any other name. It is bullying.

The point is not the unpleasant practice itself: the point is that a member of the party’s NEC should be openly inciting this kind of behaviour. Morally, it would be equally bad if the victims were private sector managers, who are entitled to their privacy like anyone else; but this was worse: it was politically stupid as well.

It was against, let us not forget, public servants doing their duty; the kind of people, in fact, one might traditionally expect to support the Labour Party.

We might also note that the demonstration was in support of a political independent, currently undergoing numerous separate investigations, including by the police. A politician whom this NEC member has repeatedly supported, in opposition to the ranks of his own party’s councillors, including during an election: a clear suspension offence in the party rule-book.

Or his disingenuous backing of the Mayor of Tower Hamlets’ wearily predictable cries of “Islamophobia”, having being investigated himself for improper allocation of public funds and his election still being investigated for alleged electoral fraud.

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What Ed Miliband should have said to Myleene Klass

18/11/2014, 12:14:03 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Myleene Klass is a lucky woman. She went on ITV’s Agenda last night, talked nonsense about taxation and should have been ridiculed.

Comparing taxing a glass of water to higher tax rates for properties worth over £2m is idiotic. But because Myleene was up against a hesitant and tentative Ed Miliband, she has emerged this morning in the press as an anti-tax Boudicca.

In his exchange with Myleene, Ed Miliband failed on two counts: first, to challenge the notion that taxing more expensive properties at a higher rate was somehow arbitrary and second, to highlight the crushing inequity of the current council tax system.

Taxing property is not some on-the-hoof fancy dreamt up by the Labour party. From the Window tax of 1707 onwards, it’s been central to how government raises money as long as the United Kingdom has existed.

The methods might not have been perfect, but as a principle, the progressive taxation of property is anything but arbitrary.

And the reason a mansion tax is being discussed is that the current system of council tax is grotesquely unfair: people with the lowest value properties pay proportionately much, much more than those with more expensive homes.

In Kensington and Chelsea, someone at the upper rate of the lowest council tax band, with a property value of £40,000 pays 17 times more than a householder with a £2m property, as a proportion of their property value.

Even at the start of the highest council tax band, with properties at £320,000, the owner will proportionately pay five times more than someone with a £2m property.

The scale of inequality rises as the value of properties increase.

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Authenticity is the key to Labour defeating the new insurgents

17/11/2014, 11:39:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour is about to throw away a winnable election, according to Phil Collins’ latest fiery column, because its leader cannot fathom that he needs to convince us he will take care of our money. As a consistent Uncut theme, we cannot be accused of not being forthright in stressing this need. We are eager to avoid Labour falling short in public estimation of whether the party is capable of taking the tough decisions on public spending that closing the deficit requires.

While winning economic credibility should remain a Labour priority and I’ve written in the current Progress magazine on how this might be done, it may be that a perceived dearth of authenticity, rather than economic credibility, is the most immediate cause of a heightened risk that Labour will not form the next government. The calculus of this risk is informed by the likelihood of Labour losing votes and seats to the SNP in Scotland, UKIP in the north of England and the Greens across the UK.

These parties all lump Labour together with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and dismiss them as “all the same”. Labour is supposedly another chip off this venal and failing block. The SNP and the Greens unambiguously pitch to the left of Labour and UKIP go after traditional Labour supporters.

All Labourites are appalled by the idea that we are no better than the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and bristle at the suggestion that we have left behind working class communities and left-wing values. But the worrying reality is that the Greens, SNP and UKIP – the new insurgents – successfully trade on these terms. As well as improving opinion poll performance, the new insurgents are all thought to be attracting new members at a rate that other parties appear able only to envy.

This success would not occur if Labour were more widely taken to be an authentic version of what we self-define as: the best vehicle for the advancement of left-wing values and working class interests. Alex Massie recently compared Scottish Labour to Rangers FC. Labour claims, like those of Rangers FC, that We are the People are now not just disbelieved but mocked. UKIP are seeking to inspire a similar kulturkampf among the English working class. They peddle the notion that the party founded to represent this class no longer does, as the Greens propagate the idea that a leader who has explicitly repudiated New Labour throughout his leadership is not really left wing.

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Alpha-male Ed, where have you been?

13/11/2014, 04:12:56 PM

by Kevin Meagher

This was the speech Ed Miliband should have made in Manchester at the party conference a few weeks ago.

Actually, this was the speech Ed Miliband should have been making for the past four years.

This was the speech of a leader. He was good. Straight. Urgent. Passionate. And even authoritative too.

In fact, this was probably the best speech Ed Miliband has made.

Partly through what wasn’t in it.

There was no self-deprecating preamble or any of his weak jokes (his timing stinks).

Tellingly, there were none of his passive physical gestures either. You know, that upturned hand thing he does? (Although there were a few of those long blinks as his turns his head).

There was none of his abstract theorising. This seemed to be a speech written by a press officer rather than a policy wonk.

As for “together”, the anaemic theme of his conference speech, there was not a word.

And, blessedly, there were no more of those toe-curling tales of meeting people on Clapham Common.

This was alpha-male stuff. Black-coffee-and-three-shredded-wheat-for-breakfast-Ed.

He wisely abandoned the parlour trick of memorising his speech (which got him into so much trouble in Manchester when he forgot to mention immigration and the deficit).

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History tells us not to trust GCHQ’s Robert Hannigan

12/11/2014, 09:54:09 AM

by Sam Fowles

When it reopened in March after a £40m revamp the Imperial War Museum was applauded for it’s “judicious choice of […] fascinating, and frequently heartbreaking, exhibits”. So when I visited last week I was looking forward to a nuanced and informative account of Britain’s conflicts since 1914. But I was disappointed. The exhibition, as a whole, often presented a one sided and, at times, inaccurate view of history.

The cards telling the stories of the individual tanks, planes and boats were, themselves, fascinating and informative. What was worrying was the story that the IWM wove around them. Displayed on giant notice boards putting exhibits in context, this was a peculiarly conservative account of history. The exhibit on the early years of the war told us that Britain increased arms production in the late 1930s, but not that the Chamberlain government delayed this despite the repeated warnings of the Labour opposition, military leaders and their own backbenchers. The exhibit on MI5 told us all about the targeting of Communists and Fascists (simple “villains” we can all identify) during the interwar years. But it omitted that the security services had also spied on Trade Unions and the Labour movement and masterminded the Zinoviev letter (a plot to ensure that Labour lost the 1924 general election by implicating them in an – imaginary – communist coup).

The exhibition captures the individual horrors and heroisms of war with aplomb but refuses to acknowledge that war itself is the result of the (often self interested) decisions of those in power.

Why is this important? Surely the notice boards are just there to provide a small amount of information, not to pursue a political agenda?

But it could not be more important. The way we understand our history defines the way we understand ourselves as a nation and our history is under threat. Michael Gove’s attempts to eliminate historical debate from the National Curriculum, use of the bully pulpit to condemn interpretations of history which the government doesn’t like and commemorations of the First World War which eschew analysis for incoherent national “mourning” all teach us to accept a sanitised view of “historical fact”. We should be questioning and debating. Control of history has always been an ambition of despots. It should not be the goal of democratic governments.

Charles De Gaulle rebuilt France after the Second World War with the help of the “resistance myth” – the idea that France as a nation had resisted Nazi occupation, conveniently forgetting the mass collaboration of the Vichy regime. De Gaulle’s willingness to ignore history helped him unite his country. But ultimately deep fissures in French society, based on race, fear and authoritarian leanings, were papered over rather than healed and still divide France today.

This is not just an argument of vague aphorisms. We can’t learn from the mistakes of the past if we allow them to be forgotten. The security services willingness to spy on and sabotage peaceful social movements that challenged the (Conservative) establishment in the 1920s and ’30s could not be more relevant. Last week the director of GCHQ (backed by the Prime Minister) demanded we sacrifice privacy and trust him to protect us from “terrorists”.

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Ed needs to earn the public’s respect

11/11/2014, 04:53:07 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The key to a successful political coup, as Mrs. Beeton would probably have pointed out if she wrote about politics instead of household management, is “first find your assassin”. Labour’s chatterers and plotters are as reluctant as ever to plunge the knife. Hands tremble on the hilt. MPs turn to pacifists when it comes to matters of political murder.

Next, find your replacement. Attempts to press-gang Alan Johnson as an alternative to Ed Miliband amounted to nothing. It was lazy, wishful thinking that he would even entertain the idea. As one of our more human politicians, Johnson knows only too well that you need to be crazy to want to lead a political party and, if you’re not, you’ll soon be driven crazy by trying to lead one.

And, so, here we are. Ed Miliband is weakened by cack-handed internal attacks, but remains in situ – and will do until the result of the 2015 general election is settled. But what has this last week been about?

Unlike most other flare-ups in Labour history, it hasn’t been about policy. Slow and sometimes incoherent, policy development under Ed Miliband has thrown up many interesting ideas and a few genuinely head-turning policies. This is not 1983. Labour is not a lost cause ripping itself apart because of pledges to pull out of Europe, scrap our nukes or nationalise the top 100 companies.

No, this is personal. Miliband’s own performance was the reason for this week’s failed putsch. In moving forward, it is important that he and his team accept this. Many MPs and party figures, spooked by the yawning deficits around leadership and economic credibility, wonder how election victory is possible against such a backdrop.  (Add in jitters about Scotland, UKIP and even the rise of the Greens and the mood quickly becomes febrile). Frankly, he should have been expecting trouble.

Many also cite his inconsistent performances. Again, lessons need to be learned here. How on earth do you make a set-piece conference speech and “forget” to mention immigration and the deficit – the two defining issues of our contemporary political debate? It was unforgivably stupid. (He should have made a second speech closing the party conference and rectified the mistake).

Then there are those who think their leader has a tin ear when it comes to courting swing voters in Middle England. Or those who say the same of him when it comes to working class voters in the party’s heartlands. Others are worried about the lack of support coming from the business community. Or southern voters.  Or even, now, Scots.

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The EU can be a winning card for Labour – but is not without its risks

10/11/2014, 08:11:54 AM

by Jonathan Todd

EU debate is going to get hotter, I warned on Labour Uncut three years ago. And so it has. George Osborne spent the weekend defending the UK’s EU financing. Ed Miliband successfully led at PMQs on the paucity of David Cameron’s progress in renegotiating the UK’s EU membership. He is also expected to major on the issue in a speech to the CBI today.

UKIP’s rise and Cameron’s promised EU referendum, as well as the continued troubles of the Euro and contention about free movement of labour, mean that the EU won’t be as peripheral in UK politics as it has been for much of the UK’s membership. In this context, there are various points that Labour might keep in mind.

The UK government should do what it can to solve problems as they are perceived by the UK people

It might seem utterly obvious that the UK government should seek to serve its electors. But it’s worth reiterating. For example, over the weekend, “a senior Labour MP named as being involved in a plot to oust Ed Miliband,” reported the Daily Mail, demanded, “that the party toughens its stance on immigration”. What Ian Austin is reported as wanting is “a ban on benefit payments to new migrants who have paid nothing into the system, fingerprinting at the Calais border, and up-front payments by foreigners for NHS care”.

In spite of the prominence that ‘welfare and health tourism’ have in UK debate, these measures could be implemented by the UK without contravening EU rules. Eliminating ‘health tourism’, for example, is part of the motivation for the NHS Mutual that Frank Field has argued for on Labour Uncut.

It’s not the Commission that Field looks to for this mutual. It’s a Labour government. Labour should be clear about what we would do with the powers held by the UK government to improve the immigration system. Austin helps us in this direction.

The Eurozone crisis is not going away but the UK should be constructive in seeking solutions (more…)

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The two big myths about Labour’s leadership crisis

07/11/2014, 12:45:18 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s all beginning to feel very 2009. A weakened leader, panicking backbenchers and a febrile media have combined to generate the biggest Labour leadership crisis since the fag end of Gordon Brown’s ailing premiership.

Now, as then, the loyalist response is to perpetuate some easy “myths.” Though that’s the polite term. Here are the two biggest whoppers:

1. This is all the media’s fault

This was the line peddled on morning news shows and has been widespread across Labour’s Twittervist base.

But, as several journalists have pointed out, from the Guardian’s Rafael Behr to the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman, the reason this is being written up as a crisis is that Labour MPs have been privately complaining about Ed Miliband’s leadership to the journalists for months. In some cases, years.

MPs that have been on air in the last 24 hours, mouthing supportive platitudes, are among some of the most well-known serial lobby complainers.

The reality is that putative leadership campaigns have been organising for months. Leadership contenders have been positioning themselves, ready for the expected Labour defeat. Those rumours of an accommodation between Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham on a joint leadership ticket, or some commitment on second preference votes, have been circulating for over a year.

Anyone saying that this is purely a confection by the media, or froth, is being economical with the actualité.

Here’s a test: how many shadow cabinet members have made a specific point of going on air to defend the leader? Not as part of a pre-planned photo-opp where they have no choice but to field questions on the leader, but have sought out the media, even when they had no press events planned, to stand up for Ed Miliband?

By my count, the answer is a big fat zero.

On the Today programme this morning, the best that the loyalists could field was Peter Hain. Not only an ex-cabinet minister, but someone who is standing down at the next election. This tells us all we need to know about the esteem in which the shadow cabinet and shadow ministerial ranks hold their leader.

2. Ed can turn this around, he just needs time

In the last parliament, when a crisis approached the point of no return, Gordon Brown would meet backbenchers and play the listening card.

He’d talk about how he understood their concerns about his leadership, how he valued their opinion and how he would take on board their suggestions. He’d thank them “for all that they did” and commit to being a better Gordon.

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Unite’s reaction to Jim Murphy’s candidacy tells us all we need to know about why it’s important

05/11/2014, 03:20:04 PM

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, after some days of deliberation, Jim Murphy announced his candidacy for the Scottish leadership.

Within hours, Unite had put out a statement:

“Unite’s representative members will soon decide who to nominate on behalf of our union. On the basis of this speech, it is extremely difficult for them to find much to find hope that Jim Murphy is offering the genuine, positive change in Scottish Labour they seek.”

Notice first how Unite members are being given a completely free choice of candidate, and that its leadership is not trying to influence them at all. In fact, this effect of denying a level playing-field to leadership candidates in the union vote – that is, trying to distort the One Member, One Vote (OMOV) process – was one of the main reasons for the Collins reforms.

By Monday they had announced the results of a poll claiming that “working people” (i.e. Unite members: the union sees no irony in considering the two identical) wanted an MSP in the role and not an MP. Oh, wait a minute, which of the declared candidates is not an MSP…?

Why go to such lengths to trash the front-running candidate?

Because, apart from being probably the Shadow Cabinet’s most outspoken centrist, Murphy is widely known as being “his own man”, as Damian McBride describes him. There is little that would put Unite’s nose out of joint more than someone who didn’t play Scottish Labour according to the usual rules.

Scottish Labour, lest we forget, was the political Wild West land through the New Labour years, which survived virtually untouched under the protective gaze of Gordon Brown.

However, McBride’s sympathetic account of the trials of managing the Scottish party also gives away probably the greatest weakness of the Brown administration: its preference for managing genteel decline, rather than attack underlying problems at their root. Its preference for comfortable fiefdoms, where you did as you were told, over a healthy party full of competing ideas; a thousand flowers blooming. Scottish Labour was Brownism writ large.

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