GRASSROOTS: We need to raise aspirations in coast and country

07/12/2014, 11:00:43 PM

by Alex McKerrow

It does not take much for figures on social mobility to astound our conscience. Given one in every six children are still in relative poverty, it seems Britain is still a broadly unequal society. This situation underpins any modern progressive: spurring each of us on in finding solutions to tackle these problems.

Under the last Labour government, unquestionable leaps were taken in education. Whether it be our Education Action Zones or the initial academies programme, we got it right by targeting the most disadvantaged parts of our education system. It is from this that we can celebrate the so-called “London effect”, which reflects the immensity of investment undertaken in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the capital.

However, whilst London and other metropolitan areas have surged, the isolation suffered by many parts of the UK has been ignored. David Bell was quick to warn us of this in 2003, noting that some of our greatest areas of educational disadvantage are located “in towns on the coast or tucked away in a corner of [a] local education authority area”.

Worryingly, this trend has not ceased, as these areas have been unable to reap the benefit of national initiatives which have targeted disadvantaged children in urban areas. Although our attitudes seem to be shifting, particularly through the increasing growth of the outstanding TeachFirst program outside of metropolitan areas, we still lack the capacity to inspire children in isolated areas.

It is in the coastal towns of this country – where I grew up – that children feel the greatest disconnect. Isolated from parts of the country geographically and economically, it is easy for schools to fall into a cycle of mediocrity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Miliband should learn from Irish Labour’s pains

07/12/2014, 09:10:51 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The dangers of being a junior coalition partner are obvious enough – ask Nick Clegg – but across the Irish Sea, the example is, if anything, even starker.

The Irish Labour party has been the junior coalition partner to Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael since 2011; administering painful austerity measures as Ireland grapples with the horrendous aftermath of its banking and property bubble explosion.

Now, the party has plummeted to just six per cent in the latest poll for the Irish Times, down from a high of 35 per cent in September 2010 before it went into government.

Along the way, Labour has lost one leader, Eamon Gilmore, a former Marxist turned moderate, who resigned as party leader, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and minister for foreign affairs and trade, following disastrous local election results earlier this year, narrowly escaping a no confidence motion from his own grassroots.

In a Sir Humphreyish back-handed compliment, Taoiseach Enda Kenney praised the Labour party for being “courageous” in pushing through painful economic reforms, which now include household water charges. This seems to be the measure that has now galvanised the country against austerity.

So much so, that Labour’s new leader, Joan Burton, was trapped in her car for three hours last month, surrounded by slogan-chanting protestors. In echoes of the poll tax in Britain, today’s opinion poll also shows less than half the Irish public (48 per cent) intend to actually pay the charge.

All this has been grist to the mill for Sinn Fein, topping today’s poll as Ireland’s most popular political party, with Gerry Adams also the most popular politician in the republic. The Shinners are now well-placed to form part of the next government at the 2016 general election.

But the Irish Labour party’s problems are not cyclical. A pincer movement between Sinn Fein and left-wing independents has squeezed the electoral life out of them.  Even the Irish Independent, known for its aggressive propagandising against Sinn Fein, warns today that Labour “continues to struggle to avoid a…meltdown” as it loses ground in all directions.

But as Labour lies dead in the water, its coalition partner, Fine Gael, is still deemed to be the best party for managing Ireland’s relations with the EU, growing the economy and keeping spending under control.

The lesson for Ed Miliband is obvious enough: implementing austerity measures kills centre-left parties. So how does he avoid a similar fate? As he peers beyond May 2015, he needs to take a lesson from Enda Kenny instead.

He is navigating a political course through austerity by managing expectations and being realistic about the scale of the task at hand. By setting the ground early that there are no easy choices to be made, Kenny is showing that amid the howls of protest, it is at least possible to avoid cries of betrayal.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Scrapping RDAs has made Osborne’s task harder

06/12/2014, 07:27:27 PM

By Kevin Meagher

As the Tories’ main political strategist, George Osborne knows only too well that winning the next election means convincing people they’re getting better off, or soon will be. In the next six months, his task is to make sure the warm rays of economic prosperity are felt across all parts of the country.

Yet as the dust settles on the Autumn Statement, recovery remains stubbornly uneven and tackling Britain’s asymmetric economy, split between a galloping London and South East and, at best, a cantering North and Midlands, looks as forlorn a prospect as it has for the past three decades.

Yet the bodies set up by Labour in 1998 to narrow these deep economic disparities – the nine English regional development agencies – were in coalition ministers’ crosshairs from day one. To Conservative eyes, RDAs were quintessentially old Labour. The state getting involved in promoting economic growth.

While the concept of “regions” was an unwelcome affectation, dreamt up by John Prescott in all his pomp running the sprawling Department of Environment, Transport and Regions.

In fact, David Cameron used his first major speech as prime minister to herald a different approach to driving local growth. It mattered little that the boards of the RDAs were private sector-led. Or that there was strong business support for retaining the northern agencies in particular. Or, indeed, that they were actually succeeding in their task of boosting growth. (In 2009, PriceWaterhouse Coopers calculated that the economic value they generated was equivalent to £4.50 for every £1 of public money invested).

But the RDAs fate was sealed because the Lib Dems didn’t think much of them either. Business secretary Vince Cable suggested scrapping them himself in a paper for the Reform think tank before the 2010 election. So when the “bonfire of the quangos” was lit, the English RDAs were the Guy Fawkes effigy placed right at the top of the pyre.

Since then, ministers have created a total of 39 local enterprise partnerships – effectively mini-RDAs but without the budgets – or the experienced staff – to drive local growth. This disjointed, stop-start approach, just as the economy was going through the bumpy 2010-12 period, was one of the more politically indulgent things the government has done.

And, potentially, one of the more politically costly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Labour is 16% behind on the economy. So why are so few in the party talking about how to close the gap?

05/12/2014, 06:22:59 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Sixteen percent. According to the latest YouGov poll, this is the lead that David Cameron and George Osborne hold over Ed Miliband and Ed Balls on who the public trust to best manage the economy.

This is after George Osborne has missed every single deficit target, has had to admit the worst of the cuts are yet to come, has downgraded future growth forecasts and has done his best to trash the Conservative’s brand for sound finance by promising £7bn of unfunded tax cuts.

In politics at the moment, the Tories can do anything on the economy, bodge any target, make any ludicrous promise and still Labour will lag far behind.

Why?

This should be the question animating debate within the Labour party. No opposition has won an election while trailing on the economy and leadership. In the past few weeks there has been plentiful if inconclusive discussion over Ed Miliband’s leadership deficit, but comparative silence on the party’s economy deficit.

In place of discussion, there are just tropes about the Tories. Words that have demonstrably failed to have any impact on the public over the past few years.

Understanding the causes for this silence shines a light on the divisions that blight Labour and that will have to be bridged if it is to regain power.

There are broadly four groups within Labour today: what used to be called the Blairite, New Labour right, the traditional right clustered around Ed Balls, the soft left which is Ed Miliband’s core constituency and the hard left which is organised around Unite.

On economics, there is a good deal of unanimity between Blairites and traditional right. Both back a fiscally centrist position, with clear action on the deficit and honesty on the level of cuts that will be required.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Unite has learned nothing from the Falkirk debacle

03/12/2014, 11:08:36 AM

by Rob Marchant

Last week, we started to see just how much some quarters of the Labour Party do not want Jim Murphy to become their leader in Scotland. It was not so much the carefully-crafted hatchet job from Tom Watson, which followed that of old flat-mate Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, from a few weeks earlier.

No, it was the landing on Scottish Unite members’ doormats of ballot packs from their union.

Of course, under the One Member, One Vote system which has been in place for two decades, union leaders no longer allocate millions of their members’ votes; the members decide freely for themselves, under a ballot organised by the union.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

The reality is that they decide a little less freely than that: some union leaders seem to think freedom, like a number of political leaders before them, is a commodity so valuable that it needs to be rationed.

And so, Scotland’s Sunday Herald reported, the GMB continued to do what it did in the 2010 leadership election for the national party: it put in only the leaflet of its favoured candidate, Neil Findlay, into the voting pack.

But that was nothing compared what Unite got up to: it actually placed a “mock” ballot paper inside the pack alongside the real one, with an X against the box of its favoured candidate. All you had to do was to copy this X onto the real ballot paper in the same place and, hey presto. A more transparent attempt to “help” the voter to vote would be hard to imagine.

It is perfectly legitimate for the leadership to express a preference. What is not acceptable, as standard practice in postal ballots clearly shows, is to express it in the ballot pack.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Revealed: Identity of Miliband advisers who helped frame report calling for shadow cabinet members to be sacked

02/12/2014, 05:56:14 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Stewart Wood, Jonathan Rutherford, Marc Stears and Peter Hain MP are just some of the Miliband loyalists whose views shaped an academic report from Aston University’s Professor John Gaffney on Ed Miliband’s leadership, which called for members of the shadow cabinet to be sacked if they do not improve their performance.

The report garnered headlines this morning because of its stark conclusions about the troubles facing Ed Miliband and the need for decisive action, but only now have the names of key contributors emerged.

Steward Wood was ennobled by Ed Miliband and plays a pivotal role in knitting together the disparate factions within the leader’s office while Marc Stears and Jonathan Rutherford, old college friends of Miliband’s, are central to shaping his ideological approach and the content of his speeches.

Peter Hain, meanwhile, led the first major party initiative under Ed Miliband, Refounding Labour, and at the height of the recent PLP wobbles over Ed Miliband’s leadership, was the loyalist voice on the Today programme urging unity behind the leader.

In one of the most striking passages, the report states that Miliband must have a team that do not, “simply mumble their support whenever party plot rumours surface.”

These words echo frequent press briefings to the effect that the shadow team is not pulling its weight and the identity of the report’s Milibandite contributors will only serve to exacerbate tensions between the shadow cabinet and the leader’s office.

Several of the report’s recommendations have been greeted with suspicion by shadow cabinet members, wary of an attempt by Ed Miliband’s office to shift responsibility for Labour’s poll woes onto them. One proposal, that shadow ministers produce a “five point crib sheet for each policy,” was greeted with particular incredulity. A shadow ministerial adviser retorted,

“If we were ever allowed to do anything, of course we’d have a bloody crib sheet.”

The report was compiled following interviews with 30 Westminster players, ranging from those close to Ed Miliband to those more sceptical about his leadership.  Its central contention is that, “Miliband fails to inspire his followers because he is not getting the narrative of leadership right.”

For an impartial academic such as Professor Gaffney to come to this conclusion, even with the full contribution of those who are seen as Ed Miliband’s praetorian guard, will be taken as a sign of the level of gloom permeating the Labour leader’s inner circle about his position within the party and prospects for the next election.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Saint and sinner. Genius and villain. The many aspects of Gordon Brown

02/12/2014, 02:35:22 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Much has and will be written about Gordon Brown and about how he divides opinion both in British politics and, not least, in the party he once led. The many contradictions of his complex personality are already well chronicled.

A “moral compass” awkwardly spliced with low cunning. Big-hearted compassion for the poor matched with unrelenting brutality towards opponents. An expansive intellect married to occasional political stupidity.

At the root of it all, however, he was an outstanding social democrat, one of a select few Labour ministers – Bevan and Crosland spring to mind – who have left an indelible mark on British society.

He was undoubtedly Labour’s finest chancellor, using the role to rehydrate key public services, trebling spending on the NHS and doubling it for education. This alone will see his impact echo. But he also, for a time, brought about full employment and presided over the longest continuous period of growth since records began in the late 18th Century. Even his later failings to manage spending, against the vortex of the global banking crisis, will pale against his many achievements.

He was certainly our most political chancellor, using the office to pursue an unrelenting social democratic agenda in a way none of his Labour predecessors ever managed. Snowden, Dalton, Cripps, Gaitskell, Callaghan, Jenkins and Healy. Each of them found themselves at the mercy of events, implementing austerity measures in failing governments, dashing dreams and triggering internecine feuding in the process. Brown, for a good while at least, seemed to have mastered political alchemy.

“No more boom and bust” may seem a hollow boast now, but not when he used to make it. He made the whole of British politics believe it too. His intellectual dominance was, for most of his decade-long tenure as Chancellor, total. This explains why his Conservative opponents hated him so intensely, while admiring Blair.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: George Osborne hasn’t set a trap for Labour. He’s launched a boomerang

01/12/2014, 09:38:06 AM

by Jonathan Todd

George Osborne thinks he is being clever, setting a trap for Labour. But Labour should vote against his proposal, expected to be contained in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, for a new law requiring that Britain’s structural deficit be eliminated by 2017-18. As it is not a trap, it is a boomerang.

“The duties imposed by the Bill are not accompanied by any corresponding sanctions,” he told MPs, when asked to vote by the then Labour government to put into law the halving of the deficit in two years. As declamatory legislation – an Act of Parliament which no one has any intention of enforcing – Osborne was right to dismiss it as “vacuous and irrelevant”.

Yet Osborne now advances his own declamatory legislation. What will follow as a result of his law from the deficit not being closed by 2017-18? Will the deficit be further extended by the government fining itself? Or will the government be required to learn their lesson in its prisons? It’s all funny money and silly politics.

Such tawdry legislation diminishes us. And if Osborne is going to pass laws making a deficit after 2017-18 illegal, doesn’t he anticipate people enquiring how he’ll make his government legal? Labour will make hay with speculation on what heartless plans he conceals. But his stated intentions are sufficient to damage him.

Under published Conservative plans, the Resolution Foundation “estimate that several government departments would face real-terms budget reductions of one-half or more between 2010-11 and 2018-19”. Budgets for DfID, the NHS and schools are nominally ring fenced, so other departments face a halving of their budgets.

How will the Home Office keep us safe on a shrunken budget? Are we to win ‘the global race’ with an FCO so puny? Will local government be recognisable after ‘the jaws of doom’ close?

Osborne is asking MPs to vote to make the continuation of government as we have known it illegal. While by 2010 there was fat to trim in the public sector, there is now less, so his plans entail a more dramatic state curtailment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: David Cameron still doesn’t get it on immigration

28/11/2014, 05:26:40 PM

by Atul Hatwal

There he goes again. David Cameron’s attempts to relaunch his policy on immigration are becoming ever more regular. Doubtless he’ll be back in January for another go because this speech will soon be forgotten and trouble from his backbenchers will drag him back to the podium.

Although the PM’s tone was better than recent efforts, and certainly better than the pre-briefings to the media, it repeated the strategic mistakes of every past peroration.

The fundamental question defining the current immigration debate is about numbers, specifically how can numbers be cut?

Yet again, Cameron accepted this as the problem to be tackled and yet again he failed to announce anything that would directly impact it.

Rather than demonstrate how he could control immigration from the EU, Cameron talked about benefits and the incentives to migrate to the UK.

According to research from the LSE, barely 1% of EU migrants fit the term “benefit tourists” and even if the latest fixation with removing in-work benefits from migrants were to be somehow legally implemented, it would only have a nugatory impact on numbers.

If migrants looked at the detail of benefits, and even average wages, they wouldn’t head to the UK, they would go to other EU countries.

For example, in Denmark the average wage is 20% higher than in the UK and the welfare system is considerably more generous. Yet net migration to Denmark is almost twenty times lower than to Britain.

Migrants come to this country for more than just the narrow economism of the pounds and pence in their pay packet; they come because of a wider sense of Britain as a place of opportunity. Where they will have a chance to work hard, get on and be accepted, where their hopes can be fulfilled.

Britain’s economic recovery has served to underpin and reinforce this view. Nothing David Cameron said in his speech will make any difference to this broader image of hope that Britain offers to migrants.

Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

UNCUT: Sorry Emily, you had to go

28/11/2014, 12:05:00 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Emily Thornberry is a week late with her spin.

In an interview with the Islington Tribune, her “truck-driving, builder brother,” Ben, refutes accusations that his sister is a snob after infamously tweeting a photograph of a house displaying England flags with a white van in the drive, blaming her demise on “cut-throat and dirty politics”.

Really, when in a hole, stop digging.

Now she has brought her brother into the equation, Ms Thornberry has given license to any national newspaper to crawl around and see if, indeed, Ben Thornberry, is a tradesman (implied but not actually stated in the piece). “Builder” can cover anything from semi-skilled scaffolder, through to millionaire property developer. Expect to find out more in the Mail on Sunday or The Sun.

But none if this alters the fact most people aren’t ex-barristers living in three million pound houses married to high court judges with honorary titles. Moreover, unlike Lady Nugee, most people’s dads don’t go on to become the assistant secretary-general of the United Nations.  She should have known better than to sneer at the voters for her lofty perch.

So, Ed Miliband was entirely right to be furious with her for that stupid tweet. It allowed the government to wriggle off the hook on the day it lost a safe seat in a by-election. It should have been open season on David Cameron. Instead, Labour spent three days defending its credentials as the party of hard-working people.

Emily Thornberry made an unforced error and in this age of political professionalism it was right she got the sack for making it.

The lesson for other Labour MPs is that they should try knocking on doors rather than photographing them.

And if you’re going to display your proletarian credentials, better make sure they’re fireproof.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon