Labour must overcome the Terrible Simplifiers

16/09/2014, 09:42:16 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Ben Watt recently won best “difficult” second album at the AIM Independent Music awards. In the chorus to the album’s closing song he sings that “the heart is a mirror where it’s easy to just see yourself”. One of the verses tells of a redundant man undertaking childcare and domestic responsibilities, while his wife is the bread winner. All this man can see in his heart is the pain of redundancy, which distorts his relationship with his wife, causing him to see her as a threat to his sense of himself.
We are awash with pain: the economic pain of unemployment, struggling to get by and dead end jobs; the social pain of loneliness, dislocation and addiction; and much else besides. All of which breeds anger and takes potent form in the politics of grievance.

This fits snugly and powerfully within the essential political narrative. The elements of this narrative are a critique of the status quo, a vision of a better alternative and a route map for moving from the status quo to this alternative, often accompanied by identification and condemnation of those who frustrate this transition.

Grievance politics trades on anger with those supposedly forestalling a better world: the EU that denies the ale sodden, sunny uplands of UKIP; the English oppressors of the Scottish. UKIP and the SNP, though, converge on a shared enemy: Westminster and the political class. The faraway elite chain us to the Brussels cabal; conspire against the Scottish.

These claims are ridiculous and are mocked. Daily Mash reports on a UKIP councillor being proud to announce “that Doncaster will be freed from the yoke of EU membership with immediate effect” and on a film called 12 Years a Scot, “the brutal but uplifting story of Brian Northup, a free man who at no point is forced to work on a plantation”.

When trust in Westminster is at an unprecedented low and the pain of everyday lives feels unending, unendurable and beyond the capacity of these mendacious leaders to eradicate, what is absurd – that the EU is an oppression, that the Scots are oppressed by the UK – gains traction. These kind of all encompassing narratives are not alien to Labour’s history.

Clause 4 socialism, for example, explained all our problems in terms of private ownership and saw all our solutions in its elimination. In the belly of the Labour Party, we always knew that this violated what David Mitchell later proposed as a liberal tenet: the instinct to offer, “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”. Tony Blair’s revision of Clause 4 communicated to the wider electorate recognition of this.

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The fight for the union goes on, whatever happens on the eighteenth

15/09/2014, 12:08:26 PM

by David Butler

“If we fight 100 times and beat him 99 he will be King still, but if he beats us but once, or the last time, we shall be hanged, we shall lose our estates, and our posterities be undone” – Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester

The future of the Union hangs by a thread. A partnership that has lasted three hundred and seven years, and achieved many wonderful things, could be extinguished. Better Together can still win on Thursday and I’m hoping it will. If No does indeed win, there can be no let up in the struggle. The nineteenth of September 2014 must be the first day of the next battle for the future of our country.

The words of the 2nd Earl of Manchester were spoken at the height of the First English Civil War in November 1644. The fate facing opponents of Scottish independence is not death and penury, but the point stands: the SNP must win only once, by a single vote, to separate Scotland from England forever. We must win every time.

Alex Massie, in a recent Spectator piece, charted the increasing acceptability of independence as an idea. As Massie correctly observed, the idea of Scottish nationalism cannot be killed, not now, not after all this time. If 47% of the electorate vote for separation, that is a sizeable bloc who wish to tear apart the existing polity; only a minor swing would be required to make that a majority opinion.

Perhaps the SNP, like Quebec separatists Bloc Quebecois, would eventually collapse and be consigned to a future behind Labour in Scotland. This seems unlikely given their current poll ratings. Even if they were weaker in the polls, it would not be something we could just wait and hope for. Nationalism must be fought and driven back with ideas, policy and organisation. It is worth remembering the remarks of Neil Kinnock that “the victory of political ideals must be organised”.

The SNP would not be a majority party in the Scottish Parliament (and hence able to call a referendum) were it not for the collapse of Labour and the Lib Dems in the 2011 elections and the Tories long-term decline. Patrick Wintour in The Guardian tracked the decline of Scottish Toryism during the Thatcher era and their subsequent failure to reassert themselves during New Labour (unlike in England and Wales). Labour’s decline was, on paper, more sudden and stark. However, it was rooted in the talent exodus to Westminster and SNP positioning themselves as moderate social democrats appealing to a conservatism about the institutions people valued (such as the NHS or universities).

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Scotland: The madness has to stop now

12/09/2014, 08:06:04 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Mental health is said to be a ‘Cinderella’ service, lacking resources. Friedrich Nietzsche maintained, though, that madness is rare in individuals – but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule. He would be unsurprised, therefore, that I’ve received an email from a friend in Scotland who reports the Yes campaign is coming across “like a millennial cult”.

Similarly, Carol Craig has lamented that the approach of Stephen Noon, chief strategist for Yes, “is nationalism laced with a heavy dose of what looks like a whacky personal development philosophy”. Yes vehemently insist that doubts about UK breakup evidence only a lack of belief in the Scottish.

The then European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for Scotland to rejoin the EU after UK breakup. The Royal Bank of Scotland will leave Scotland if the UK breaks up. Given concerns about the currency, Ultimo, the company of the Scottish business woman Michelle Mone, would also follow them south.

Scottish nationalists will insist that the Royal Bank of Scotland doesn’t really believe in Scotland. That Barroso knows nothing of the EU and simply lacks faith in Scots. That Mone is full of it. She probably isn’t actually Scottish. There is no concern that can’t be dismissed if you are a true enough Scot.

Sadly, Mone, born and raised in Glasgow, no longer feels safe in Scotland having been targeted by Siol nan Gaidheal, an ultra-nationalist group that boasts of ‘in-your-face-confrontations’ with Jim Murphy. Friends also tell me of Better Together posters resulting in smashed windows. Sections of the Scottish population have thuggishly moved beyond reason.

The exasperation of Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, speaking earlier in the week was palpable. Currency union in the event of UK breakup would be “incompatible with sovereignty”, he observed, wearily referring to a speech that he’d given earlier in the year. He might as well have said, “I don’t know how many times I have to say this”.

If the treatment of Mone and Murphy is anything to go by, he’ll never be heard by some. Maybe heard but not accepted. Perhaps they think he’s bluffing. Or having a laugh. But this is not a stag party or another occasion for laughs. It’s even less of an occasion for laughs than a general election.

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Tory cuts are gutting policing

11/09/2014, 06:44:53 PM

by Amanda Ramsay

After four years of this dreadful Tory and Lib Dem Coalition, savage austerity cuts have seen hundreds of frontline staff being laid off across police forces, leaving the firm impression of a government hell bent on small state governance at any cost to society and our safety.

Appearing to value the privatisation of the police, probation and even prison service over keeping law and order, statistics are often hard to believe however, due to their notorious unreliability; yet inside sources from with the police report a toxic mix of the lowest number of police officers per capita, with the second highest crime rate in Europe.

In about 1970, crimes reported hit one million and kept rising. At the time this was seen as staggeringly high. By 2005 it reached 5,800,000. In 2006 it reached 6,200,000.

Meanwhile a government minister said recently that crime was going down – that it had been going down year by year for 14 years!

On top of the rising crime is the number of offences not even being recorded by police – credit card fraud for example is not being recorded. Rape is known to be under-reported.

The Home Office was not forthcoming on official statistics re reported crime and police numbers, despite recent written requests in recent years by a researcher colleague of mine, nor have they sent any replies or acknowledgements even. What are they trying to hide?

Additionally, the criminal justice system does not appear to be ‘joined up.’  Courts are thought to not be taking ‘decisive or constructive action’ in dealing with persistent offenders, according to one former police officer.

The UK has the second highest crime rate in Europe. In terms of recorded crimes of violence, the UK wins top place in Europe as having the worst record. Much of this is drink related. Domestic violence appears to also be on the rise, as well as rape, child abuse and human trafficking.

Hampshire police have reportedly had their budget cut by £52 million per annum. They have had to close 14 police stations. Only very large stations are open to the public at night – such as Southampton Central.

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The Rotherham abuse is merely yet another facet of the disastrous biraderi politics Labour has nurtured

11/09/2014, 01:14:44 PM

by Rob Marchant

While Westminster’s attention is distracted by Scotland, it is gradually becoming abundantly clear that the grooming of young, white girls by Pakistani-heritage men goes way beyond Rotherham. Last week Uncut’s Kevin Meagher highlighted the next few likely police targets in Greater Manchester and this Left Foot Forward piece gives a first-hand account of grooming in a town in the South.

The true shock for many was not so much the crimes, horrific though they were. The true shock was the conspiracy of silence around them, both inside the Pakistani community and outside it.

And that is not, one likes to think, because we are intrinsically a nation of racists casting around for a reason to heap abuse on British Pakistanis among us, but mostly for the opposite reason: we didn’t want to believe that there could be a clear link between a particular culture and a particularly nasty crime.

There is a link, of course, but it is not a simplistic one: clearly a small number of Rotherham’s population have not become rapists because of the colour of their skin, or where they worship.

What, then, is that link and why should it be anything to do with Labour?

It’s an uncomfortable question, but it’s also one which we really need to ask.

For a long time, as we highlighted in Labour’s manifesto uncut (Chapter 2, section 2), Labour has had a cosy – too cosy – relationship with some ethnic communities around the country. Not all, but some. A few are Sikh. Most are Muslim, from Pakistan or Bangladesh.

And the deal goes like this: we will scratch your back, and you will scratch ours. We will support you and mute our criticism of the odd dodgy practice, and you will get out the vote in your communities and deliver it for our candidates. This is not particularly difficult when there often exist numerous members of a given extended family who will, either by habit or peer pressure, vote the same way.

A perfect example of this, as has been clocked before at Uncut, is the manipulation of membership lists during parliamentary selections, which has resulted in thirteen CLPs being put in “special measures”. It is admirable that something has been done in these thirteen; not so good that the approach to this ever-worsening problem is to contain it, rather than solve it.

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Send for ‘effing Cameron rather than moribund Miliband

11/09/2014, 09:19:36 AM

by David Talbot

The fightback, declared the Labour leader, would start in Scotland. The newly anointed leader was speaking at the Scottish Labour conference of 2010, five months after a crushing general election defeat, but eight months before the next set of Scottish elections. Miliband was clearly eyeing a return to hegemony for Labour in Scotland. The rot, of course, had set in four years before; Labour historically losing control of Holyrood by one seat, and thereby setting in motion the frantic scenes seen seven days before the vote.

The utter failure of the Labour leaders’ words were laid bare when the SNP duly crushed a ramshackle Scottish Labour in 2011. The Prime Minister, from across the Despatch Box, duly took great delight in taunting the Labour’s  failure, though neither would take much delight in the perilous position for either of their parties in Scotland today.

Both Miliband and Cameron have waxed lyrical about their love of Scotland their passionate desire for it to stay as part of the Union. The Labour leader told the Labour conference of 2012 that the referendum on Scottish independence was of more importance to him than the general election. Whilst Cameron signalled early in his leadership of the Conservative party just how sorry he was for Tory misdemeanours in Scotland, vowing to “never take Scotland for granted”.

But as the referendum has unfolded both have largely taken a secondary role in the Better Together campaign. This is true, in part, because the main antagonists in the debate over Scotland’s independence have to be, of course, the Scots themselves. Labour leadership was originally bequeathed to the admirable and worthy, but seemingly failing, Alistair Darling, with the forlorn figure of Gordon Brown now returning to stomp around frontline politics. Miliband, until very recently, has been remarkable mainly for his absence in the Labour effort.

The situation for Cameron was all the clearer. He wasn’t welcome. The SNP dearly want to turn the referendum into a Scotland versus the English Conservatives vote, and there is only one outcome. The Prime Minister acknowledged as such when he understatedly said earlier on this year that his electoral appeal did not reach into every corner of the Union.

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The shadow of Northern Ireland looms over the last days of the referendum campaign

09/09/2014, 07:55:52 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s a fascinating essay in the current Demos Quarterly that looks at the various ethnicities in modern Scotland and how these cultural identities may impact on next Thursday’s vote on independence.

The study, written by Richard Webber from the Department of Geography at Kings College London and former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Philips, draws particular attention to the reaction of ethnically Irish Catholics in Scotland.

The authors reveal that it was much to their “surprise” that “the strongest majority support for independence was not among ‘pure’ historic Scots, but among people of Irish Catholic descent”.

Given Irish Catholic-heritage voters support Labour “more consistently than any other group in Scotland” why are many of them ignoring the party’s entreaties that we’re “Better Together” and opting for independence? As the authors point out:

“When one considers that electors from the same cultural heritage form the backbone of the Sinn Fein vote in West Belfast, this rejection of Labour’s position can be interpreted as a visceral opposition to the Union, to the Tory establishment and to Westminster. Thus ‘Yes’ voters among this group are likely to have very different motivations and to be expressing very different identities than the typical voter with an English or Welsh name; in fact they are supporting independence for the same reasons that they support Labour, a historic sense of oppression. What is significant is that the appeal of independence is driven more strongly by cultural and political considerations than socio-economic ones.”

Our middle class Westminster political and media elite, so utterly bewildered at the turn of events in recent days, simply don’t understand the power of identity and historical grievance in driving working class politics north of the border. (This is, of course, why none of them cares much about what goes on in Northern Ireland).

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In a dangerous world, the UK prospers together or declines apart

08/09/2014, 02:06:21 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The British have been protected by NATO and grown richer through the EU throughout my life. Soon the breakup of the UK may drain Britain of meaning and Russian troops could be threatening a NATO member, while Martin Wolf of the FT thinks it likely that the Eurozone will remain in a  “bad marriage “, too costly to breakup but so unhappy that its members would not have chosen it knowing what they now do.

Those in the “bad marriage” struggle to find the resources or the will to meet their NATO obligations. They seem ineffectual in the face of both Putin and ISIS. Europeans alternately look to the US to solve these problems and blame them on the US, while offering precious little by way of European solutions. If we remain united, the British can be part of achieving more than this.

David Cameron – pace Owen Jones – is right to compare Putin’s tactics with those of Hitler in the early stages of World War II. He follows Timothy Garton Ash, not noted for hyperbole, in doing so. Robin Lustig, another sober and astute observer, compares events in Iraq and Syria to World War I.

As we stand on the precipice of UK breakup, accurately described by Sir Edward Leigh MP as “a national humiliation of catastrophic proportions” during the last PMQs, we face mounting dangers. This catastrophe would irreversibly weaken us. Instead of possessing a united armed forces which count for something, as David Blair notes, we will have chosen to divide them into two shrunken militaries that would count for very little.

Never again we will we speak with the authority that we possess at international forums, such as the UN, G7/8, G20, and NATO. Significantly, UK breakup is likely to be used as a justification by non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to push for this status to be removed from what remains of the UK. This rump is also more likely to vote to leave the EU if this referendum occurs without Scotland, while those EU members with separatist movements, particularly Spain, will ensure that a post-breakup Scotland is locked out of the EU. British capacity to shape the EU as it evolves in the face of the continued challenges of the Euro will be non-existent.

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Ed Miliband should resign if Scotland votes Yes

08/09/2014, 11:00:27 AM

by Samuel Dale

It’s Friday September 19th, Alex Salmond is walking onto a podium in Edinburgh with Saltires waving all around him.

The autumn sunshine glistens as the camera pans to Nicola Sturgeon’s tears of joy as the lifelong dream of Scottish independence has become a reality.

It was nail-bitingly close but the polls narrowed in the final days.

Labour voters swung it with a 51-49 victory for the Yes campaign.

The UK is in shock. The markets are in turmoil as confusion reigns over currency, the EU, debt, financial regulation, tax and much else.

Next year’s general election has been rendered almost meaningless.

The UK has lost 8 million citizens in one stroke. It’s economic power catastrophically diminished. Already the blame game has begun with many calling for David Cameron to quit.

He has presided over the break-up of the UK and already he is struggling to get a grip on the ensuing chaos.

But what more could he do? Despised in Scotland he had, rightly, kept an arms’ length from the campaign only intervening in a careful, limited way.

So what about Alistair Darling? He led the Better Together campaign, taking part in public debates with Alex Salmond.

He must take some blame for a very winnable campaign that failed.

But the most blame would have to go to one man: Ed Miliband.

It was the hapless Labour campaign for the Scottish Parliament in 2011 that let the SNP in power.
It is a disaster that Miliband oversaw but has never been fully held to account for within Labour circles.

For the SNP to gain a majority required Labour ineptitude on a grand scale.

Ever since, Labour has provided woeful opposition to the SNP in Scotland.

Since the referendum campaign began it has been crystal clear that Labour voters would decide the vote.

Unlike David Cameron, Miliband had a chance to convince his own supporters and turn the referendum.

He did not intervene often enough or effectively in the campaign.

The consequences for Labour are severe. Shadow ministers such as Douglas Alexander and Gregg McClymont will not be MPs for much longer.

Stalwarts such as Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown have no official future in the UK parliament.

Losing dozens of MPs, Labour will find it much, much harder to gain power in the UK. It’s heartlands have been moved to another country.

All this was entirely preventable if the party had kept it’s eye on the ball north of the border.
And if it provided better opposition to the SNP and convinced it’s own supporters during the referendum campaign.

Labour lost this crucial campaign and Ed Miliband should pay the price and resign.

Sam Dale is a financial and political journalist

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Tenacious, principled, and effective, Jim Dobbin fought for the marginalised and forgotten

07/09/2014, 08:36:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Truly, Jim Dobbin was one of Parliament’s nice guys. A quiet and genial man, he was also a principled and effective Member of Parliament and tireless campaigner. His sad death today at 73, while on a Council of Europe trip to Poland, is a huge loss to a range of issues and causes that could always count on Jim as a reliable supporter.

A coal miner’s son from Fife, Jim was a committed Catholic and, as Ed Miliband has noted, his faith informed every aspect of his politics.

As chairman of the all-party pro-life group, Jim nailed his colours firmly to the mast on all the most contentious issues; abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage. He pursued what he believed in tenaciously, but respectfully towards those he disagreed with.

The news section of his website tells its own tale: Gaza, better palliative care, audio-visual facilities on buses for blind and partially-sighted people, better cancer awareness, support for those with dementia, help for the disabled. Jim was pro-life is the very widest sense of the term.

Indeed, like all the best backbenchers, he was an active campaigner on overlooked issues. Whether it was championing better polio immunisation for children in Syria, or calling for an annual Windrush Day to remember the contribution of the first-generation Caribbean community, Jim Dobbin took an interest in the marginalised and forgotten.

As a lobbyist, I dealt with him on many occasions and my abiding impression of him was as a wise, kind and unfailing courteous man. But like all softly-spoken Scots in Labour politics, there was steel there too. Quiet and modest, but tough and wily with it.

I once sat in his constituency office trying to persuade Jim to back a controversial wind farm project. He smiled as he explained why there was no chance of him backing it, but helpfully went through how the scheme could be improved. His advice was gratefully received.

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