While Labour is wrapped up with its leadership race, the Tories are moving onto the centre ground

29/05/2015, 04:58:28 PM

by Samuel Dale

The tragedy of Ed Miliband is that he shrewdly identified many of the key problems facing Britain today with his responsible capitalism agenda and focus on inequality.

This analysis allowed him to set the political weather at times because he could capture the public mood on booming energy prices or tax avoidance.

But his progress came to a shuddering halt when he outlined his crude solutions. Freezing energy prices and controlling rents were a fundamental misunderstanding of how markets and business works.

He alienated friendly business that would have supported changes and the voters did not believe him. So he failed.

And now to the real tragedy. The victorious Conservative party is stealing his analysis and coming up with their own solutions.

Centrist Tory projects and groupings such as the Good Right and Renewal are seeking to tackle the excesses of private companies and a wealthy elite. A responsible capitalism.

Former Number 10 head of strategy Steve Hilton’s new book More Human could almost have been written by Ed Miliband in its calls for radical change. He criticises big supermarkets, banks and other “private sector bureaucracies” for the way they treat customers, workers and suppliers.

Cameron clearly buys into these ideas too after reclaiming the One Nation mantle on May 8. He has also, significantly, appointed Robert Halfon as deputy chairman.

Halfon is one of the most interesting Conservative MPs with calls for the party to attract trade unionists alongside successful campaigns to cut fuel duty and the way companies treat customers. He has even flirted with renaming the Tories the Workers Party.

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I am a revisionist, not a right-winger

28/05/2015, 05:42:09 PM

by Adrian McMenamin

Eduard Bernstein is not a name heard much in Labour circles today – a social democrat and a communist (he would not have seen these as antithetical) – he shocked and scandalised many more orthodox members of the Social-democratic Party of Germany (SPD) by daring to “revise” Marxist thinking, to account for societal developments, in his “Premises of Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy” in 1899.

Fundamentalists have a tendency to regard their favourite books as unchallengeable eternal truth, rather than human works created in a given society at a particular time. That applies even when these fundamentalists are supposedly the most stringent enemies of superstition or religion – as the SPD’s hard-line Marxists claimed to be. For them the very idea of suggesting that Marx’s works were other than sacred and fixed was unthinkable. No method of theory revision for them, no matter how “scientific” they claimed their socialism was.

“Revisionism” thus quickly became, and remained, a term of abuse on the left – even, as in Mao’s China, a suitable reason to put someone to death: imagine that, a movement ostensibly at the pinnacle of the enlightenment ends up killing people for impure thoughts.

To be a revisionist is to be a traitor, an unbeliever or an apostate.

The Labour leadership election has been a case-in-point: the commonest piece of abuse thrown at Liz Kendall for daring to suggest, for instance, we should not be knee-jerk hostile to parents who want to improve the outcome of the state education system by setting up challenger schools, is that she is a Tory.

There are plainly a lot of Labour party members who think there is no difference between us – the revisionists – and the Tories. Beyond the obvious question of why, if someone really is ”a Tory”, they are wasting their time in an impotent and defeated party, as opposed to exercising power and influence in the real thing, there is the issue of historical experience. For surely it is us revisionists – from Bernstein on – who are those seeking victory for the left most keenly.

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Parliamentary notebook: Cameron’s wafer-thin majority belies the Tories’ Queens Speech triumphalism

27/05/2015, 07:00:08 AM

by Jonathan Ashworth

Today, us MPs will be summoned to the other place to hear Her Majesty’s Gracious Address, the first Queen’s speech by a majority Conservative government for almost 19 years.

Later, in the Commons, jubilant Tory MPs will wave their order papers and cheer the returning triumphant prime minister Cameron to the rafters. His every (lame) gag will be met with guffaws as if he’s now the Tory answer to Peter Kay. Every snide put-down of an opponent will be met with much whooping and exaggerated slapping of thighs.

As the prime minister exits the chamber and heads for his customary glass of claret in the members’ dining room, ambitious Tory MPs will queue up to shake his hand. And let’s face it, given the scale of our defeat who can blame them?

But although our defeat in the country was resounding the parliamentary arithmetic that has consequently been thrown up offers even the most pessimistic Labour Uncut correspondent some hope.

Five years ago when Harriet Harman spoke for the opposition in the Queen’s speech debate she faced government benches with a working majority of 83. Today she will be opposite government benches with a working majority of just 16.

In the last Parliament, government MPs rebelled in 35 per cent of divisions. In those votes where the opposition defeated the government we won often because Tory MPs – many of whom have just been re-elected to the Commons – routinely voted against their own side.

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Labour needs to harden its line on immigration

24/05/2015, 07:56:25 PM

by Robert Williams

Labour’s defeat feels even more crushing a couple of weeks after the election. There have been any number of reason postulated to explain why we lost. Too new, too old Labour, too left wing, too right wing.

Certainly on the right, many believe the reason Labour lost is because its agenda was far too left wing. This argument is summed up by Tony Blair who claimed last year that when “a traditional left-wing party competes with a traditional right-wing party, you get the traditional result”.

Before the election the consensus view was that UKIP would cost Labour votes, and the Tories seats. That was one of many predictions the political class got wrong. Labour’s vote share in seats across the Midlands, seats it should have won, and also in the ones it lost, generally went up slightly or didn’t move. Neither did the Conservative vote share. The LibDems collapsed completely and UKIP saw their vote soar. They are now second in over 100 seats.  Of course, in individual  seats there are different stories, but this is accurate as a trend. We are nowhere near recovering the trust of Middle England and we have lost a large segment of the White working and lower middle class vote.

Why did Labour lose? Ed Miliband was part of it, certainly. Savage attacks in the media over five long years didn’t help, but it is also true that he is part of an Oxbridge metropolitan establishment that has dominated the Labour Party for years, and is absolutely out of touch with voters. We lost because, outside London, we are seen as more out of touch than the privately educated millionaires in a Conservative cabinet. That is no mean feat.

We lost, too, because Labour is still blamed for the unprecedented increase in immigration over the last decade and a half, and for ignoring the concerns of voters.  Whether mocking tweets of “white van man” and his St George flags in Rochester, comments about bigots in Rochdale (yes, memories are long when it comes to insults), all the way up from Kent and along the M1 corridor from Hendon to Leeds, Labour was perceived as elitist, obsessed with identity politics, gay rights, minority rights, rights without responsibilities.

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Camped in our comfort zone, Labour poses no real threat to the Tories

22/05/2015, 05:02:38 PM

by Simon Danczuk

‘Time is running out to save the NHS’. This was the polling-day message thrust through thousands of letterboxes early in the morning by an army of Labour volunteers.

Every Labour MP and member should find one of these leaflets and keep it in a drawer. Forget the Ed stone, these are the real monuments to Labour’s defeat.

It’s a simple rule of politics that the party that wins is the party that owns the future. That’s why Bill Clinton chose Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” as his campaign song.

People want a government that can sell them a vision of a better tomorrow and map out how to get there. The fact that Labour went into the final day relying a scare story about the NHS shows how far we were from offering that positive vision.

Those leaflets are a window into the comfort zone where Labour has been firmly camped for the last five years. For all the seminars and lectures, re-launches and re-brands, we ended up basically where we started; opposing ‘Tory cuts’ and warning of the doom to come if David Cameron was elected.

This is essentially the same message we were pushing in 2010. It’s an argument that warms the hearts of Labour activists, but leaves the public cold.

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Labour needs to stop re-fighting the 2010 election

22/05/2015, 11:05:08 AM

by David Ward

As the leadership candidates set out their stalls, the party’s focus must be on the future, not the past.

Too often in the last five years it’s felt like we’ve been trying to rerun the 2010 election result all over again. Now the people have told us – they prefer 2015. We can’t make the same mistake next time.

Firstly, whether people are feeling the recovery yet is now immaterial, we should assume by 2020 things will feel for many like they are ticking over again. At some point Osborne, tactician to the core, is sure to move away from austerity and use renewed growth to distribute its proceeds. Labour need to be considering how we help people get on in this scenario, avoiding accusations of ‘tax and spend’, and bringing business groups along with us.

Second, things are never quite as bad as they seem when you’re losing. Take sport. In 2013 the Australian cricket team lost the Ashes 3-0 in England and were roundly criticised, while England batsmen like Ian Bell scored 500 runs in the series. At Christmas the same England side faced an only slightly changed  Australia and were comprehensively outplayed 5-0. The Australian players were zeroes then heroes in the space of a few months, but they were only as good as before. So there will be some things we need to salvage.

Ideas like increasing the minimum wage, increasing competition in utilities and other industries, and a focus on social mobility. These are all still good policies, but they can’t be all that voters hear. In our heartlands outside London, and in the seats across the north and midlands we need to win, people want to hear more.

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As usual, the Blairites bring a knife to a gunfight

20/05/2015, 05:44:50 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not fair. That seems to be the message from Blairite veterans at how the nascent Labour leadership contest is shaping up. A seemingly co-ordinated attempt to appeal for offside is underway, with complaints about the leading candidates’ campaigning efforts and the role of the trade unions in the process.

Former health secretary, Alan Milburn, was at it on Newsnight the other day, saying that for “one or two candidates being assumed to be the font of all wisdom in this race is just not right.” He wants an open field, which is code for anyone but Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

Lady Sally Morgan, Tony Blair’s former political secretary, also weighed in, claiming it’s both “arrogant and plain wrong” for there to be only two candidates in the frame.

Barry Sheerman, the Huddersfield sage, has come over all Inspector Renault and is shocked – shocked – that “Unite’s merry men” have the temerity, as an affiliated organisation for the past 100 years, to have their say in the process.

Meanwhile John Hutton, former DWP secretary, is equally sniffy about union involvement, pointing out that only a  ”tiny proportion of the population are in trade unions.” (Not, though, in the Barrow shipyard he used to represent in Parliament, presumably?)

Moaning that Labour MPs – who are free to back whomsoever they wish –  are currently breaking cover in greater numbers for either Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham is like complaining that rain is wet. Indeed, for a wing of the party committed to consumer choice, it’s a strange gripe to have.

The Blairites – if, indeed, such a description still has any coherence – should perhaps have been better prepared for the possibility that Labour might have ended-up having a leadership contest in the latter half of 2015.

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This party has to change

20/05/2015, 02:29:11 PM

by Rob Marchant

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein

The Parliamentary Labour Party’s second-lowest postwar ebb (its 1983-1987 nadir was the only time it has been smaller) is not a time for us to adopt a “steady as she goes” philosophy. We’ve been there, after 2010.

The same economics, literally, because the team behind it was the same. The same poor – or absent – decision-making. The same sense of drift (usually leftwards, because that is the party’s comfort zone).

In many ways, Milibandism was simply Continuity Brownism and we should therefore scarcely be surprised that it achieved a similar result. Worse still, we may not have even reached the bottom yet: the political direction of travel is clearly still downwards and will continue to be, until/unless a big change can be made to happen.

But while we listen to a hundred reasons why Labour lost, most of them perfectly correct, we miss something underlying. Yes, we had the wrong leader. Yes, our scoring on the economy was mostly awful. Yes, our policy offering was a rag-bag of quite-good and not-so-good tactical ideas, which lacked a mission, a coherent and credible overall theme. Yes, Scotland. Yes, UKIP. Yes, yes, yes.

But.

How did we get here? How did we get to doing all those things wrong?

We have to go deeper.

The fundamental building block of parliamentary democracy is the political party. You cannot secure power without one. It is the motor which drives the train. And it is the health of this organic, living, breathing thing which ultimately determines the outcome of the politics.

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If you didn’t see defeat coming, you don’t know how politics works

19/05/2015, 06:24:43 PM

by Ian McKenzie

We lost the 2015 general election in September 2010 and probably also the 2020 one as well. The result was bad for Labour but catastrophic for the millions of people who rely on us to look after their interests.

We let them down, and badly. If the Labour party – a major controlling proportion of it – doesn’t rapidly accept that the only chance to make amends is to stand in the centre ground, shoulder to shoulder with, listening to, working for the British people, and fight and win elections from there, then it will cease to exist and it will deserve to die.

Without the will and the means to win elections we are irrelevant. We might as well be Compass. Or a whelk stall.

As a strong supporter of the first decade of the last Labour government I am not crowing about being right about Ed Miliband; I’m angry and despairing and frightened of the consequences of his disastrous leadership. The whole grisly mess was predictable and predicted and all avoidable.

I can’t count the number of conversations I had with Labour people who agreed that we’d picked the wrong leader not just because he was clearly not up to the job, but also because his chosen strategy was so obviously bonkers.

Reshaping international capitalism in Labour’s image as if in an academic seminar, and simply hoping this newly left leaning British public followed us out to that lunatic fringe, sounded, to sane people, exactly like what it was: palpable nonsense.

It was also a gift to the people who are habitually used to running this country: the Tories, who are wasting no time moving to the right. By 12th September, when we have a new leader, they will have shifted the ground on us yet again.

To so-called anti-Tory luvvies in the Greens, what is left of the liberals, the hard left, the “real” socialists, the stay-at-homes, and spiteful proto-racist narrow nationalists in both Celtic fringes who thought they were going to get a supine minority Labour government to hold to ransom, I say you are wrong. There is a massive difference between the Tories and the Labour party and you are about to discover how different in the most painful way possible.

If the effects weren’t also going to be felt by millions of decent people as well, I’d say you deserve everything you get. But when you feel the effects start to bite you don’t come crying to us, we voted Labour.

The day after Gordon Brown lost us the last election I left a message on Andy Burnham’s mobile phone urging him to stand for leader.

I supported his candidacy because I believed he understood why we had lost, because he was (then, not now!) the most Blairite of all the candidates and because he would be best able to unify the party and appeal to most people across the whole country.

I knew he would be unlikely to win and I put what I assumed would be the eventual winner, David Miliband, at No 2 on my ballot paper and left it at that.

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According to Westminster groupthink, Andy Burnham is favourite for leader. Yet again, it’s wrong

18/05/2015, 06:32:58 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Westminster groupthink, which recently had Ed Miliband walking into Downing street, has a new favourite: Andy Burnham.

Labour MPs talking among themselves and to journalists, journalists talking to each other in Westminster bars and on the conveyor belt of rolling news comment slots, then bouncing off MPs and vocal activists on Twitter – this is the echo chamber that got the result of the general election so badly wrong and has now reconvened to similar effect for the Labour leadership race.

Andy Burnham certainly has support in the PLP, almost half by some accounts, and an active briefing operation shaping journalists’ perceptions. If the leadership election was to be decided among MPs, journalists and Twittervists, he justifiably would be a runaway favourite.

But party members are also involved. Over 220,000 of them. And they do not even vaguely resemble any of the participants in the Westminster groupthink bubble.

Instead, Labour’s members are like the general public.

According to internal party estimates, over 95% do not attend a single party meeting in a year, deliver a leaflet or knock a door. They are not consumed with the minutiae of politics or deeply tribal.

They’ve just made a choice to join Labour, as many people join clubs and societies without any sense that this membership defines their life.

Under Labour’s new leadership election rules, it’s one member one vote. With a membership that reflects the public, the same priorities which so recently decided the general election will similarly shape this race.

Economic competence and the preference for prime minister will be the key criteria against which contenders are to be judged and on both counts Andy Burnham’s candidature is critically flawed.

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