Government doubles down on boundary review proposals. Labour’s problems just got worse

11/02/2016, 02:13:42 PM

by Greig Baker

Sometimes when my 4yr old gets told off, she misbehaves even more – thinking that if she’s in trouble already, she might as well go the whole hog. The government has taken the same approach in its boundary review for Parliamentary constituencies. The Cabinet Office’s newly published details show the government is not looking to compromise. Instead, it is upping the ante, in the hope that while many of its own backbenchers will be unhappy, the reforms are an even bigger problem for Labour – and one that, perversely, the Labour leadership might be quite happy to have.

The politics to the boundary changes is threefold…

First, the government is sticking with a maximum 5% variance in constituency size, above or below the average, which means a greater number of seats will change. This makes it more likely Cameron will stay on for as long as possible, so that he takes the flack for the reforms and leaves his successor to smooth ruffled Tory feathers. It’s also the reason Corbyn might welcome the review, as it lets his team get cracking with deselecting more of those pesky, voter-friendly, centrist Labour MPs.

Second, and vitally, the reforms will be based on the number of voters actually on the electoral register – not the local population. This is a major disadvantage for Labour and will be one of the government’s sweeteners for angry Conservative MPs.

And the third factor is probably the one the ‘essay crisis’ Prime Minister has paid least attention to – the government admits the boundary reforms will unbalance the cross-community representation in Westminster currently offered by Northern Irish MPs. Without knowing exactly what the new Northern Irish constituencies will look like, the government could be risking its relationship with unionists here, which is no small beer given the precarious nature of a Parliamentary majority that only just scrapes into double figures.

In the next 24 months we’ll find out whether these proposals are workable, or if the government has just consigned itself to the naughty step.

Greig Baker is Chief Executive at The GUIDE Consultancy

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The campaign to keep Britain in the EU is predictable, condescending and by-the-numbers

10/02/2016, 03:27:13 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Those hoping that Britain remains a member of the European Union following June’s expected referendum unquestionably now have a fight on their hands. The polls are jittery, with most showing the country is finely balanced over the question of whether or not to quit the EU. It’s all to play for.

Unfortunately, the campaign to galvanise the country behind the simple proposition that our best bet for a stable and prosperous future is to remain a member of the EU hardly seems equal to the challenge.

Or, to be more specific, the official ‘remain’ campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, is a predictable, condescending, by-the-numbers, flat-pack, top-down, Westminster-standard, one-size-fits-all affair that risks ushering Britain out of the EU due to its all-purpose dreariness.

I enter into evidence its chairman, Lord Stuart Rose. The Tory peer and former CEO of Marks and Spencer was caught out the other week, unable to correctly remember the name of the campaign group he’s supposed to be leading.

All rather embarrassing but hardly surprising given ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ is the kind of instantly forgettable blandishment we have come to expect from the pro-European aisle in British politics.

He may be business class royalty, but Lord Rose has little feel for political campaigning, grandly claiming he is set to win “by a substantial margin” while describing the EU as “maddening…bureaucratic…and sluggish.”

With such a ringing endorsement it’s a good job he used to sell knickers and not holidays.

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Thanks to Corbyn, I might not vote Labour. Here’s how the Tories could win my vote in 2020

05/02/2016, 03:06:31 PM

by Samuel Dale

I have a confession to make. If David Cameron was Conservative leader in 2020 fighting an election against a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour then I would have no choice. I’d vote Conservative for the first time in my life.

I wouldn’t duck the choice with a vote for Tim Farron’s ludicrous Liberal Democrats. Farron has done nothing to build on some of Nick Clegg’s smart, centrist positioning while detoxifying the party from its shambolic U-turns and dreadfully naïve politics when in coalition.

Nope, it’s Tory or Labour at a general election. It’s about choosing a prime minister and there is no doubt that Cameron is better than Corbyn.

We are all familar with how Corbyn has gleefully abandoned Labour moderates and centrists. His pacifism and masochistic foreign policy, opposition to Trident renewal, business policy, monetary policy, income tax levels and much more beside, make him unpalatable to me.

So how can the Tories capitalise. Cameron won’t be leader in 2020 and Corybn may not be either. The real question for Conservatives is, how much do they want my vote and thousands like it. Blairite, pro-EU liberals comfortable with high levels of immigration and capitalism but worried about inequality. Corbyn has opened the space, can they take it?

The Conservatives have made no secret of their desire to (occasionally) pitch to people like me since their May election victory. It’s not easy to prise away Labour tribalists but are making good progress.

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Harry Harpham, a working class hero

05/02/2016, 09:03:23 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Betty Boothroyd famously said she was Labour because she was born with coal dust under her fingernails. It wasn’t a metaphor with Harry Harpham, the Labour MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, who sadly died yesterday.

Harry was a proud former coal miner, an all-too-rare breed in the modern Labour party, and had participated in the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5. An MP for the first time at 61 when he was elected last May, Harry was about as far from the identikit modern Labour MP as it was possible to be.

As a mature student, he graduated from the University of Sheffield and was elected to Sheffield Council in 2004. By the time he stood down last year, he had become one of the city’s civic fathers, ending up as deputy leader of the council.

As the cabinet lead for housing, Harry oversaw the implementation of the £700 million Decent Homes programme in the city, a massive undertaking as Sheffield has twice the national average number of council homes, and successfully brought council housing back under municipal control from an arm’s length company.

Loyal, hard-working and well-liked, Harry was a natural fit to succeed his friend and mentor, David Blunkett, when he stood down from the Commons last May. For Brightside and Hillsborough, the quintessential northern working class constituency, Harry was a round peg in a round hole if ever there was one and his victory was widely welcomed.

The shock of his death is amplified because of the matter-of-fact way he continued working after receiving a diagnosis of cancer shortly after last year’s Labour conference. Harry threw himself into his new responsibilities and most people simply had no idea how poorly he was.

When he did confirm his illness before Christmas, he was typically understated, not wanting to make “a big song and dance about it”. He was full of praise for the NHS treatment he was receiving.

The additional tragedy of his untimely death is that he would have certainly gone on to play a bigger role in the Westminster party. He literally personified the party’s working class roots.

Never forgetting where he came from, or the struggles he and people like him had overcome, Harry was also intensely practical and had quickly been appointed parliamentary private secretary to Lisa Nandy as shadow energy secretary, despite his illness.

Harry died peacefully surrounded by his family and his friend and colleague, Councillor Bob Johnson, described him as a “brave working class man to the end.”

He leaves a wife, Gill, herself a Labour councillor in Sheffield, and children Annie, Kieran, Dan, Emily and Victoria and grand-daughter Layla Grace.

Harry Harpham, Labour MP for Brightside and Hillsborough (21 February 1954 – 4 February 2016)

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The Tories are within 4 points of Scottish Labour. What a time to try to “outflank the SNP from the left”

04/02/2016, 05:03:37 PM

by Rob Marchant

Uncut has not spoken much about Scotland recently but, as the gaze of Britain’s political machine turns briefly northwards, as it does every four years, that will change.

It is right that it will, and this time it should not be brief. This is not just because the Holyrood elections are almost upon us. It is because Labour’s short-to-medium-term success, and perhaps its very survival, depends on a Scottish turnaround.

Why? Let’s just look at the basic electoral arithmetic. As Lewis Baston pointed out in an outstanding analysis at LabourList, because of its wipeout in Scotland, Labour needs a bigger swing than it had in the 1997 general election to win in 2020.

That is, a bigger swing even than its best-ever post-war result.

It would be a tall order for a party even at the height of its popularity and which had not for the last five years neglected swing seats in the South East which it had won in 1997 and needed to win again.

And this was all chasing the frankly imbecilic notion that it could squeeze into power on the back of a leftish “progressive majority”, consisting of discontented Lib Dem and Green voters turning towards Labour.

Now consider a party which, on top of that, has its most unpopular leader since records began.

It is not merely a tall order. It is impossible. It is difficult to overestimate the extent to which Labour’s comfortable hegemony in Scotland has provided Labour’s electoral safety net during its postwar opposition years. We are now living a historical anomaly for Labour.

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No-one wants nukes, but unilateralism remains a naïve and dangerous pipedream

03/02/2016, 09:24:14 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The hashtag meme #earliestpoliticalmemory, doing the rounds on Twitter the other day, got me thinking. Mine was probably my mother taking me on a ‘Women Against the Bomb’ sit-down protest on the steps of Bolton Town Hall when I was five or six.

Since then, I’ve held a pretty mainstream view that abhors the existence of nuclear weapons, but like most political pragmatists, I cleave towards multilateralism as a response; that is to say: ‘We’ll scrap ours when you scrap yours’.

The obvious flaw, of course, is that no-one wants to make the first move. And, so, nearly thirty years after the Cold War ended, nuclear weapons endure.

But if we scrap ours first, will the Russians, Chinese, Americans, Israelis, Pakistanis, Indians and others be equally willing to bash their missiles into ploughshares?

Anyone who thinks they would should reflect on how hard it is to get buy-in from many of the same countries for concerted action on global warming, or dealing with terrorism. The moral clarity with which unilateralists see the issue simply is not shared by the hard men of Russia and China. Gesture politics counts for little alongside realpolitik.

Unilateralism is therefore a well-meant but hopelessly naïve position. A quixotic non-engagement with hard reality.

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Britain’s EU referendum must be fought on the future

02/02/2016, 10:45:36 PM

by Callum Anderson

As David Cameron edges closer to a final agreement with the European Commission and the other 27 Member States, both Leave and Remain campaigns struggle to wrest control and momentum ahead of a possible plebiscite this summer.

Whenever the referendum takes place, Britons will have to make their biggest decision for more than a generation. One that should be definitive and non-reversible. One that will ultimately decide Britain’s place in the twenty-first century.

Opinion polls – if we still trust them – have been highly volatile and are likely to remain so, with challenges such as terrorism and the migrant crisis looming large.

It, of course, goes without saying that Britain Stronger In Europe, backed by organisations such as British Influence and Labour’s In for Britain, must continue to make a positive case for Britain’s membership in the EU and call out the myths spread by the Eurosceptics.

The economic benefits – jobs, trade and investment – must be messages unceasingly repeated to citizens on the doorstep.

Equally, as Jim Murphy articulated superbly last summer, Britons must be reminded that the EU has not only been a free-trade area but also responsible for one of the great moral triumphs of our time: the establishment of democracy and the rule of law in the south and east of Europe.

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We are locked in a Dad’s Army politics of the left and right

02/02/2016, 02:44:44 PM

by Jonathan Todd

As Europe faces its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, our prime minister tours the continent talking tax credits. The puniness of David Cameron next to the magnitude of events, the narrow, inward focus of his preoccupations, means that if he were a film he’d be a Dad’s Army remake.

Why, Peter Bradshaw not unreasonably asks in his Guardian review, do we need this film?

The answer, Uncut suspects, is involved with an observation previously made by Bradshaw’s Guardian colleague, Jonathan Freedland: “We have turned 1939-45 into a kind of creation myth, the noble story of modern Britain’s birth”. Basking in this myth is preferable to the grim reality of Europe’s shared contemporary challenges.

During World War II, Freedland argues, “we were unambiguously on the side of good. That, of course, is a key difference between us and our fellow Europeans, for whom that period is anything but simple or unambiguous.” The war has inculcated a sense of Britain, separate and special. This is reinforced as consistently on the printed pages of the Daily Mail as the Kardashians feature in its digital edition, wildly popular in the US. Soft porn celebrity, soft porn history.

While it is to be hoped that no one invested in Dad’s Army anticipating box office on the continent, some jokes amid the myth do little harm. It is our myth, our humour, our film. Let’s not expect it to pack Berlin cinemas.

Entertainment is one thing; politics is another. Politics ought to be more than myth peddling. But that is what Cameron provides when he claims that tax credit collection by citizens of other EU countries in the UK is the big issue now facing us and the rest of the Europe.

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The Tories are about to swiftboat Sadiq on terror. How he responds will determine the Mayoral result

27/01/2016, 10:16:23 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The conventional Westminster wisdom is that this is Labour’s year in London. Labour thrashed the Tories in the capital at last year’s general election by 44% to 35% and in a recent poll, Sadiq led Goldsmith by seven points.

However, the conventional wisdom is about to be tested.

In the next few weeks, the Tories are going to roll out their main attack on Sadiq Khan: terror.

Lynton Crosby is running Zac Goldsmith’s campaign and he is nothing if not politically obvious.

The Mayoralty is not a role where conventional attacks over economic issues will resonate.

The public, and Crosby, know that the Mayor cannot crash the economy so the Tory line on what Corbyn’s Labour would do to jobs, growth and taxes, will not be effective.

Neither is the Mayor going to make a profound difference to the state of London transport – no-one can wave a wand and create the extra tube lines or rail services that the capital desperately needs.

Identity and personality not policy will determine voters’ choice.

The Mayoralty is overwhelmingly a symbolic and representative role. Who sits in City Hall says something about how Londoners’ see themselves.

As the son of a migrant, from a working class family, who rose to run a high profile legal firm, Sadiq Khan’s biography is London’s story told best.

Sadiq has also moved deftly to buttress the independence of his brand by pitching himself against Jeremy Corbyn with a range of centrist, business-friendly positions.

He is doing all that’s required to pass the Mayoral threshold in an increasingly Labour city.

The Tories need a game-changer. Something that irrevocably redefines Sadiq in the eyes of Londoners and casts him as Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate.

Cue the impending attack over terror.

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Labour’s NEC needs to stop being an echo chamber and stand up for members’ interests

26/01/2016, 09:41:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Labour’s National Executive Committee meets today to discuss, among other things, Margaret Beckett’s anaemic report into why the party lost the last election so comprehensively.

It promises to be a courtly affair, reflecting the rarefied world at the top of Labour politics where there is little, ever, in the way of transparency or plain-speaking.

This is because the NEC serves as a proxy of the leadership, or the unions, or as a symbolic battleground about who controls the party at any one time.

Yet it’s high time it started acting like any other non-executive committee in any other organisation and properly scrutinised how the party is managed and financed.

Take two recent examples.

Last week, the Electoral Commission detailed the general election spending of the main parties. While the Tories spent somewhere in the region of £3.5 million more than Labour, its revealing how and where the parties deployed their limited resources.

While the Tories made canny use of Facebook advertising, Labour relied on planting magic beans.

The party spent a small fortune – of party members’ money – hiring US election guru, David Axelrod, the man who ran Barack Obama’s campaigns, to sprinkle some of his magic dust.

Nearly quarter of a million pounds was spent retaining his services, (which seemed to amount to the odd sojourn to this side of the pond, expounding the bleeding obvious to the slavering US fan-boys that abound in Labour politics) only for him to prove a complete dud.

An NEC doing its job properly would be urging the party’s officers to recoup costs for his manifestly unsuccessful advice.

Then there’s the amount spent on a debating coach for Ed Miliband. The princely sum of £184,609.67 went on yet another US consultant, Michael Sheehan.

Putting aside questions of why a professional politician should need such advice, or, indeed, why perfectly experienced Labour staff couldn’t provide the service, the sheer scale of what was spent is staggering.

It’s enough to make the £7,700 the party spent on Cherie Blair’s hairdresser back in 2005 seem like a good deal.

The NEC needs to stop being either an echo chamber or a gladiatorial arena and concentrate on its more prosaic role in overseeing the management of the party. It could start by ensuring the party leader – any leader – isn’t able to fritter away money like this again.

The cash misspent on US consultants would have paid for an extra dozen party organisers working on the ground for 12 months in marginal seats.

Nearly half a million pounds spent on comfort blanket appointments that contributed nothing to Labour’s chances. Is it any wonder the country didn’t trust the party to run the economy?

Labour’s NEC needs to bare its teeth and stand up for members’ interests – and basic financial probity.

It could start by sinking them into the next US guru that appears in HQ.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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