UNCUT: Miller’s gone but expenses are still toxic. What’s Labour’s plan?

09/04/2014, 11:18:59 AM

by Atul Hatwal

So Maria Miller has resigned and Sajid Javid has replaced her, meh. Contrary to some of the over-heated reports, Miller’s particular passing will have little lasting impact.

True, there’s one less woman in the cabinet, but Javid is from a minority community, an area where the Tories and Liberals are even less representative of Britain – let’s not forget that while there were previously 4 women in the full cabinet of 22 Ministers, there was no-one from a minority community.

The circus will soon  move on and there will be another crisis over which politicians and media can hyper-ventilate.

However, while Maria Miller’s political demise is ultimately unremarkable, there is a legacy from the affair; one that will persist regardless of whether she had stayed, resigned, or did the hokey-cokey daily on College Green.

The expenses issue is back as a fixture in British politics.

It won’t be as toxic as in 2009 (how could it be?), but as Andrew Lansley suggested on Newsnight last night, there are likely to be other Miller-type transgressions which come to light, that predate the new expenses regime.

And just as with Miller, each time the parliamentary standards committee (which is dominated by MPs) waters down or even changes the punctuation in a ruling by the parliamentary standards commissioner, the same battle-lines pitching media against politicians will be drawn.

The press will be in full cry and the most resonant soundbite to emerge in the past week will be repeatedly trotted out: “politicians should not be allowed to mark their own homework.”

The outrage of the fourth estate is understandable: a variant on this line was central to defining the public’s perception of the Leveson debate. In that case, it was the media who were not to be allowed to mark their own homework. 

Then, as now on expenses, the line also happens to be true.

Self-regulation doesn’t work. The experience across financial services, politics, media and schools everywhere is quite clear: teacher needs to mark the homework.

So politicians from all parties face a quandry.

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UNCUT: Devolving £20bn is a big deal. Is Labour sure local councils can handle it? Really?

08/04/2014, 01:08:30 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Implicit in Ed Miliband’s big devolution speech today was a very, very large assumption.

When he promised that a Labour government would devolve £20bn of funding to partnerships of local authorities in the English regions, the Labour leader was assuming that local authorities are the best vehicles to distribute and administer the new funds.

This is far from proven.

It’s notable that the speech was made in Birmingham and marks the interim stage in Lord Adonis’ growth review. 

The track record of Birmingham council in typifies the sorts of problems that can occur when regional revival is left to traditional local authorities. Here’s none other than Lord Adonis on the subject, from earlier in this parliament,

“Let me give you my frank opinion, as one who has dealt with Birmingham City Council a good deal in recent years. The city needs to raise its game significantly in terms of leadership, performance and strategy…the city council has had…Weak strategic leadership alongside average (at best) improvement in the public services under its direct control.

Take education, which I know only too well from constant interaction with the city council…promoting reform to secondary education in the city has been like pulling teeth.”

Lord Adonis made these comments in a speech to the Lunar Society in March 2011, as Birmingham was preparing for a referendum on whether to move to a Mayoral system of local government.

Although the referendum was lost, the points made by Lord Adonis in favour of reforming the current system of local government still stand; all the more so if Labour is considering devolving such substantial amounts of funding to groups of local authorities.

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UNCUT: A referendum on Europe would undermine our constitution (and yes, we do have a constitution)

07/04/2014, 01:11:01 PM

by Sam Fowles

By now tens of thousands of words have been written about the Nick Clegg vs Nigel Farage debates but I think you can sum them up in just three: They were rubbish. While no one was expecting either man to be an Obama (or even a Romney) we deserved a higher standard than what was essentially a playground spat.  The sheer absence of analysis, reasoned argument or basic factual accuracy was just embarrassing.

Nowhere was this more true than on the question of a referendum. Most commentators agreed that this was where Farage really scored points arguing “you (meaning the amorphous political/business/academic elite – i.e. anyone who happens to disagree with Farage) don’t want a referendum because you’re afraid of the ‘wrong answer’”. They’re right, Clegg couldn’t answer it. But that’s probably because the answer involves engaging with big, complex ideas like constitutional law and democracy. (Incidentally Nigel shouting “all the foreigners are making decisions for us” and Nick shouting back “they’ll take more if we leave the EU” doesn’t count as an adult debate about democracy).

Contrary to popular belief, we do have a constitution in the UK. It’s even written down (mostly). It’s just not all written down in one place. In the first instance the referendum debate isn’t about giving people a say it’s about being true to the constitution. Helpfully, if we are true to our constitution then, in the bigger picture, individuals will have much more of a say than they otherwise would. our constitution isn’t perfect but it has achieved a rare quality in constitutional law: It’s being mostly right most of the time.

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UNCUT: Embracing the contributory principle for public services is how Labour’s offer can be big, bold and affordable

07/04/2014, 08:27:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

In early January, Uncut reported on Andy Burnham’s “defining vision for health … pooling central government health budgets with local authority social care budgets to offer a joined-up approach to looking after our elderly. It makes eminent sense but carries with it a big uncosted price tag”.

Given that Ed Balls is responsible for making Labour’s sums add up, we speculated that this tag would prevent him from supporting this vision; a view subsequently affirmed by those who speak for the shadow chancellor and Labour leader.

There is a growing clamour for Labour to be big and bold. These calls, though, lack specifics. As was the case when leading thinkers wrote to the Guardian recently. Integrating health and social care, as in Burnham’s vision, is a specific example of bigness and boldness.

Balls’ nervousness about its’ price tag, however, is typical of the concerns of those who wish to “shrink Labour’s offer”. It’s thought that advocates of this strategy wish to minimise the risks that may attach to voting Labour, anticipating that if voting Labour becomes as riskless as possible, the unpopularity of the Tory-led government will secure Labour general election victory. An important source of political risk for Labour being the extent to which Labour creates opportunities for Tories to have justification in saying things like, “Labour policies are an uncosted risk to the government’s long term economic plan.”

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UNCUT: Labour history uncut: The Communists come knocking

06/04/2014, 05:35:57 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

In November 1935, a letter flopped onto the Labour party doormat.  It was from Harry Pollitt, boss of the Communist Party of Great Britain, wondering if the time was right for a left-wing super team-up.

In the application to affiliate his party to Labour, Pollitt stated the Communists were prepared to work, “honestly and sincerely,” as part of Labour, “not as a manoeuvre or for any concealed aims.”

NPG Ax136094; Harry Pollitt by Howard Coster

Harry Pollitt – Communist leader and G-man

He was half right – he certainly wasn’t concealing his aims. The following week Pollitt made a speech saying that the Communists wanted to join the Labour party to “transform it into a real broad federal organisation in spite of the intentions of the most reactionary Labour leaders.”

“The most reactionary Labour leaders,” turned out to be basically all of them. The NEC responded to Pollitt curtly with a missive that included the twin sentiments of “off” and “sod”, not necessarily in that order.  

Pollitt wasn’t so easily discouraged though and set a target of forcing a vote on affiliation at Labour’s conference in October 1936.

He had some grounds for optimism. While Labour’s leaders were implacably opposed to mucking in with commies, the grassroots were not so sure.

Fascism was on the march on the continent and Labour’s response was hardly a model of vigour.

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UNCUT: Letter from Wales: Last week’s Welsh Labour conference was an exercise in denial

06/04/2014, 12:28:41 PM

by Julian Ruck

Ever since the last Prince of Wales lost his head back in the thirteenth century the Welsh have tended to feel somewhat persecuted by their English brothers, if not a trifle inferiority complexed. And Druid Carwyn is no exception, albeit that we are now in the twenty first century.

At the Welsh Labour conference last weekend he had a good old rant against the ‘Fleet Street’ press for attacking Wales and trashing its reputation, the horrible Tories also came in for some passionate English bashing too – a bit of shooting the messengers here if you ask me and hardly what one might call constructive and razor sharp politicking?

Of course, if there had been any political back bone and honesty he should have been asking conference: why is Wales taking such a battering in the national press??

Carwyn’s words of, “We’ve achieved a huge amount….we’ve delivered, and we will not allow another generation of our youth to be sold down the river,” left me utterly speechless.

To quote Hywel Williams, historian and columnist, on the Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement (30.3.14) “Welsh health stats are appalling and Welsh education stats are appalling.” Mr Williams went on, “There is a political and administrative elite that is narrow in perspective and in particular is not prepared to recognise the nature of this socio-economic tragedy that Wales has on its hands…..an elite that is not a particularly clever one. The assumptions are Public Sector Wales and this is the problem.”

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UNCUT: Labour needs to talk about the NHS

04/04/2014, 03:28:17 PM

by Renie Anjeh

Lord Warner, the former Labour health minister, hit the headlines earlier this week by calling for a £10-per-month charge for the NHS as part of his report for the think tank Reform.  The reaction from his fellow “comrades” was unsurprising. Some expressed their vehement disdain for the peer by launching a petition calling for his resignation from the party.  Others edited his Wikipedia page so that it included insults and untruths.

Like most party members, I am strong supporter of the NHS and I cherish the principle of free healthcare at the point of use.  However, supporting the NHS is not an excuse for refusing to face up to reality.  The uncomfortable truth, especially for Labour supporters, is that the health service’s finances are not on a sustainable footing.

It is inevitable that due to a rising ageing population and increasing numbers of people suffering from chronic conditions, against the backdrop of tight spending constraint, the funding gap will increase to £54bn by 2020.

As Alan Milburn said in 2012, “the era of big spending is over, fiscal conservatism is order of the day”.  Whoever is in government next year, will undoubtedly have to confront this problem.  Unfortunately, Lord Warner’s report just shows that the Labour party – the party of the NHS – is not sufficiently psychologically prepared for this challenge.  It is important to remember that the monthly NHS charge is one idea amongst many that Warner proposed in his report but the Labour party seemed to reject the report in its entirety.

Rather than braying for his blood, the party should have commended him for thinking seriously about this issue and should have adopted his issues on integrating budgets, investing in community services and efficiency.

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UNCUT: When it comes to Britain’s EU membership, it really is the economy, stupid

04/04/2014, 08:50:40 AM

by Callum Anderson

In less than a couple of months, UK voters will go to the polls to elect their representatives in Brussels. In the event of a strong UKIP performance, it is likely to put yet more emphasis on the potential referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

And that’s in addition to the exposure the issue has received as a result of the debates between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage.

As I have already argued, it is my strong belief that the UK needs to play at the heart of a reformed EU and resist the temptation to ‘pull up the draw bridge’.  As was teed up by the Budget a couple of weeks ago, the economy is the issue that concerns the vast majority of voters: jobs, real terms wages and taxes will be the particular battlegrounds. Like it or not, Britain’s ability to build a strong and resilient economy lies in its ability to form and maintain relationships with other nations. None of this is more evident than the relationship with the EU.

Now, I know Nigel Farage and his fellow Eurosceptics can sometimes be a little short on facts, but let me shed some light.

Let me start off with trade.

Business for New Europe recently found that the growth in free trade within the EU has generated as much as 6 per cent for every British household, equivalent to £3,500 every year. A not too insignificant figure. This is clearly because UK businesses have access to the richest and biggest single market in the world. And it’s not just that. The UK benefits from the EU conducting free trade deals on its behalf, and undoubtedly obtaining deals on better terms than if it negotiated alone.

For instance, the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement has benefitted UK businesses to the tune of £500 million a year. The Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) has also found that a EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could boost UK national income by up to £10 billion a year, with our automotive industry benefiting most, thus creating the manufacturing jobs that Britain has needed for a generation.

So, what effect does this have on jobs?

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INSIDE: Are Nick Clegg’s pants indeed on fire?

03/04/2014, 06:00:22 PM

In their television ding-dong last night, Nigel Farage accused Nick Clegg of “wilfully lying” about Europe when the Lib Dem Leader claimed just seven per cent of UK laws are in fact made in Brussels.

But he wasn’t the only one accusing Clegg of being economical with the facts yesterday.

He is also in hot water after berating his local council in Sheffield for not being willing to take in its share of Syrian refugees.

Clegg accused council chiefs of “tarnishing” the city’s reputation as a “city of sanctuary” after refusing to be part of the Home Office’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation (VPR) programme.

In a piece of chest-puffing hyperbole, he claimed the Labour Leader of Sheffield City Council, Julie Dore, had “decided to shut the door on some of the most vulnerable people in the world”.

Dore hit back, saying it was “outrageous” of Clegg to claim the council had refused to take in Syrian refugees and accused him of “not telling the truth”.

She in fact wrote to ministers last month “making it clear” the council would do so, providing the government would guarantee funding for longer than 12 months.

The refugees are expected to need to stay for up to five years, with many having complex health and social care needs.

Hull and Manchester are also said to have asked the government for further funding guarantees before taking any refugees.

Unfortunately, Clegg has form. Last year exasperated council chiefs had to formally write to him to ask him to stop misrepresenting the council’s budget, claiming the council was spending £2 million renovating council meeting rooms.

In fact, the council was spending £600,000 on essential maintenance to the Grade II listed Town Hall and making improvements to increase the number of income-generating civil ceremonies.

In accusing Farage of being an isolationist last night, Clegg mocked his Billy-No-Mates approach.

Still, better than being Billy Liar?

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INSIDE: Merseyside row overshadows Combined Authority launch

03/04/2014, 04:10:25 PM

Word reaches us of a serious family squabble on Merseyside.

This issue of contention is over who should chair Merseyside’s new Combined Authority -designed to pool responsibility among local councils over transport, economic development and regeneration and receive new powers from Whitehall.

Liverpool is clear it should be Mayor Joe Anderson. Most of the other councils disagree, citing the example of Greater Manchester, where Wigan’s council leader rather than Manchester’s chairs the body, avoiding the impression of Mancunian dominance.

Matters came to a head on Monday at a meeting of the six Merseyside leaders representing Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley, Wirral, Halton and St Helens. With rumours that Anderson and Sefton’s leader, Peter Dowd, were boycotting the meeting in protest at the job not going to Anderson, a vote was taken by the remaining leaders and Wirral Council Leader Phil Davies was duly appointed.

Anderson and Dowd then turned up after the vote had been taken. The mood, say insiders, was sub-Arctic.

There are two structural problems being played out here. First, there has long been a debate about what exactly constitutes ‘Merseyside’. Scousers argue that it’s really nothing more than Liverpool plus satellite areas and therefore it makes sense to play their strongest card.

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