GRASSROOTS: It’s my first time voting and I live in Rotherham. What should I do?

18/02/2015, 09:51:44 AM

by Chloe Staniforth

I’m born and bred in Rotherham, your typical working class Northern town with a Labour council since 1933.

Throw into the mix the fact my family are Labour supporters too and it’s pretty obvious who I’m expected to vote for in this year’s general election.

Yet it seems my first time voting isn’t quite as simple as that.

After all, my home town is receiving a lot of attention at the moment for all the wrong reasons.

Professor Alexis Jay was commissioned in November 2013 to lead an independent inquiry into allegations of child sexual exploitation in the town and the local council’s handling of cases.

Her report last August revealed the hidden scale of the problem in Rotherham over a 16-year period.

Now, a follow-up report from local government inspector, Louise Casey, has concluded that the council is “not fit for purpose” and identified some necessary measures for preventing further cases.

In short, Rotherham has become a by-word for negligence, callousness and incompetence. Labour couldn’t have a worse backdrop for their campaign.

I’ve grown up being educated to vote. I appreciate and thank the Suffragettes for their campaigning all of those years ago which allow me this opportunity to vote.

But, I’m afraid, I’m in an impossible position in a town where well over 1,000 females have been abused and abandoned.

I don’t feel I can trust the Labour party to rectify their awful handling of the situation, nor begin to put things right.

Rotherham has since become a major target for UKIP and a hot bed for the far right. Neither of which I would ever want running Rotherham.

So I’m left with the Conservatives – an unprecedented choice for me considering my upbringing. And a vote for the Tories seems awasted vote and would open the door for UKIP.

I feel my only choice is to act like a sulky teenager and spoil my ballot paper, but I really don’t want to lose my first vote.

What should I do?

Chloe is a first time voter

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UNCUT: Is Labour prepared for a second Cameron government?

17/02/2015, 10:16:10 PM

by David Talbot

Such optimism greeted the unveiling of Labour’s grand general election strategy some two years ago. The party would target 106 key seats using techniques borrowed from Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaigns in a “realistic” strategy to install the Labour leader in Downing Street with a majority of 60, the then election supremo Tom Watson announced. Somewhat naturally, given Westminster’s seemingly never-ending penchant for expensive Americans, a thousand community organisers were to be funded simultaneously in the key seats trained by the now adrift Arnie Graf.

The general election had duly begun, we were told, and Labour was set to be a one-term opposition; a feat achieved just once in forty years. According to Watson’s detailed analysis, Labour needed a national swing of just under two per cent to be the largest party at the next election. An average swing of over five per cent would deliver Labour a Commons majority of 20 seats and over six per cent a 60-seat majority. Such was the bullishness of the assessment that all the seats announced were offensive, and such was the hyperbole attached that talk of an 80-seat majority was passed in the same breath. Labour will win, and “win well” Watson confidently asserted.

Such a shame. Three months out from the general election few in the Labour fold would publically repeat such wild talk. But at the time it was easy enough to see where the confidence had come from; the “ominshambles” Budget had handed Labour a large and sustained lead – with the party regularly breaching and holding the magical forty per cent barrier.

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UNCUT: Five predictions for the election and beyond

16/02/2015, 08:26:12 AM

by Jonathan Todd

In FT Weekend, GOD – as Gus O’Donnell was known as head of the civil service 2005-2011 – reports that “by some calculations there are as many as 11 different possible outcomes” to the general election. “These include minority governments, multiparty coalitions, coalitions with side deals, variants in which some MPs do not vote on certain English issues – as well as a vanilla one-party majority”. Here are five observations on this.

1.) Whichever of David Cameron and Ed Miliband has most MPs will be PM

This might seem utterly obvious but The Economist report that as “the Scottish National Party, Greens and struggling Lib Dems (are) all prepared to support a left-leaning government … Miliband (could be in) power even if Labour wins considerably fewer seats and votes than the Tories”.

Seriously? They would make the less than universally popular Miliband PM if he has fewer MPs and votes? I’m doubtful. Equally, Cameron would not stay PM if he has fewer MPs and votes. Most MPs trumps most votes. But being behind on both MPs and votes is unsalvageable.

2.) Majority will be hard won

“We really need,” a senior Lib Dem recently told The Evening Standard, “45 MPs to go into another coalition.” More MPs than polling suggests they will return. “At some point it just becomes a matter of numbers. You have to fill Cabinet positions, junior ministerial positions, select committee chairs — things like that – while also having places for MPs sulking or who don’t want to sit in government.”

If – as Atul Hatwal predicts – they have a number of MPs in the high 30s or very low 40s, they’d fall short of this 45 MP benchmark. Meaning that, irrespective of Nick Clegg’s preferences, another coalition would be difficult for them. Lib Dem strength depends on performance in two heartlands: in the south west, where the Tories threaten, and in rural Scotland, where the SNP do. The SNP are also, of course, seeking to eat into Scottish Labour heartlands.

If the SNP successfully advance on both Labour and Lib Dems, pushing the Lib Dems below 45 MPs, it may be that the SNP is the only route to a coalition for either Labour or the Tories. Iain Anderson and David Torrance caution against concluding an agreement couldn’t be reached between the Tories and the SNP. But it wouldn’t be easy, nor would it be for Miliband if Labour does have most MPs. Nonetheless, the probability of the SNP being in government is higher than any single party forming a majority government. Some form of rapprochement with the likes of Douglas Carswell may also be considered by the Tories.

3.) Strategies for minority government are needed – which, given the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA), may endure

Lack of Lib Dem MPs and the difficulty for unionist parties in finding coalition agreement with the SNP may make minority government the only option. FTPA means that the governing party would need a two-thirds majority of MPs to call an election before May 2020. Favourable polls may make this attractive but facing such polls, the opposition would be unlikely to vote with them. A two-thirds majority may, then, be a bridge too far.

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UNCUT: A little dignity and a little pride from Labour’s MPs would be welcome

12/02/2015, 10:14:30 PM

by Rob Marchant

While Labour has not had a brilliant last couple of weeks in the election campaign – its barely-coherent policy on the NHS being a case in point – the jury is still emphatically out on who will win, thanks largely to this parliament’s highly unusual electoral arithmetic.

With things so tight in the polls, a big part of winning for both main parties is surely about their MPs keeping their heads down and their eyes on the prize. In other words, it is as much about thinking that they will win and convincing others of that fact, as pounding the streets of Britain on the “Labour doorstep”.

So discipline is vital. The Tories, now battle-hardened after “holding the line” through five years of government, seem to be making a reasonable fist of it (even Boris Johnson has had the good sense to absent himself abroad, rather than be a distraction to the Tory campaign).

Labour, well, not so much.

Not only does there seem to be something of a downbeat mood in the PLP but, in some cases, things have moved further.

To wit, there is little less edifying a sight than frontbenchers deliberately putting themselves in the newspapers, as ways not of promoting Labour’s election campaign or manifesto, but themselves. As candidates in a future leadership election, for which a date has not even been set and which may not happen for another five or ten years.

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UNCUT: We can disagree over Iraq but we should stop vilifying Tony Blair

10/02/2015, 09:01:23 PM

by Simon Bartram

Tony Blair was arguably one of the boldest and most talented politicians of the late 20th and early 21st century. Domestically he is widely credited with delivering vast swathes of progressive legislation across the country, introducing the minimum wage, allowing civil partnerships, and strengthening employee rights. Britain’s social values radically changed during his time in office – the values of the older generation were swept away, and a new morality gained greater acceptance.

Whether legislation was the enabler or the consequence of these changes is up for debate. Yet it is Blair’s foreign policy which overshadows what would have been quite a progressive legacy. From being characterised as a saviour by the British press in 1997, Blair’s image as a war criminal was frequently propagated by the press, and, as the coverage on the Chilcot Inquiry reveals, it still endures to this day.

When confronted with media reports of loud, clamouring protests over his foreign policy, it’s easy to forget that more people actively voted for him than his opponents in successive general elections, even after his, and Parliament’s, disastrous decision to enter Iraq (undoubtedly a clumsy and calamitous execution, in hindsight). A silent but substantial number of people voted for him. No doubt a good number of these people had inanimate political views, or would have been more interested in parochial matters, such as their local health services, or were Labour tribalists, or were simply uninspired by a Tory leadership that was more interested in niche topics like Europe than bread-and-butter issues like Education. And yet still, it appears that these people would have been at worst ‘neutral’ on Iraq and, indeed, there would have been people who supported Blair’s intentions in Iraq. We seldom hear about these people.

One of the unique features of opposition is that there is always a platform for the rebel – it is never inappropriate to speak against the status quo, whilst, conversely, supporters of it rarely feel the need to randomly unleash polemics in praise of what’s occurring. There’s no incentive to do so, for a start. Why speak when change is not needed? There are far more opportunities to criticise than to defend.

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INSIDE: Cryer takes chairmanship of PLP as things are about to get bumpy

10/02/2015, 04:36:09 PM

It’s not a reflection on John Cryer’s charisma or ability, but the election of a new chairman of the Parliamentary Labour party is one of those occasions that only registers among the political cognoscenti.

Yet, the role – invariably described as Labour backbenchers’ shop steward – is important for a party about to head into a period of serious turbulence.

Put bluntly, Labour either enters government in May, or it does not.

Let’s take the more optimistic scenario first. If Ed Miliband pips David Cameron to the electoral post he is, most probably, going to be at the helm of coalition government, with all the inherent instability that brings with it.

Crucially, a deal with the Lib Dems – and possibly the Democratic Unionists – will also involve sharing out the ministerial goodies.

We’ve seen how unhappy many overlooked Conservative backbenchers have been throughout this parliament, with their prospects of promotion severely curtailed as a chunk of ministerial jobs – hitherto coming their way – were offered up to their Lib Dem coalition partners.

Cue the inevitable muttering from Labour MPs who are equally observant of the law of Buggin’s turn.

Cryer will now be the person charged with channelling these kinds of frustrations and grievances up to Ed Miliband’s notoriously haphazard private office.

His two immediate predecessors in this parliament, Dave Watts and Tony Lloyd, were the epitome of geniality and courtesy and have had a relatively quiet time of it.

But Cryer faces a tougher watch, especially if Labour loses in May and is plunged into a bout of introspection, and, in all probability, a leadership contest.

Here again, the chairman of the PLP will play a pivotal role in helping provide stability during what might well be a far less collegiate contest than 2010.

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UNCUT: Uncut Review: New Labour’s Old Roots, edited by Patrick Diamond

10/02/2015, 08:36:13 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“This is the culmination of a long period in which the voice of moderate opinion in the Labour Party has been drowned by the clamour of an active and articulate minority”. Reading Atul Hatwal recently on Uncut on the monstering of Blairites and humouring of leftists, this feels a commentary on our times. But it comes from the Campaign for Democratic Socialism’s (CDS) 1962 manifesto.

As Patrick Diamond notes in the newly updated version of New Labour’s Old Roots, which he edits, CDS was “formed in response to the need for a more organised centre-right in the party at parliamentary and constituency level”. This paints CDS as a proto Progress. But I was intrigued to discover from Diamond’s research that CDS was backed by an elderly R. H. Tawney, irreproachable Labour royalty.

If Tawney, who did as much as anyone to have Labour dance to the equality beat, supported CDS then it cannot have been akin to the insubstantial, narrow caste that Progress is sometimes characterised as. Involved with this is the implication, which Diamond challenges, that New Labour has only shallow roots in the party.

“The key argument of the collection,” he writes, “is that New Labour is less of an historical aberration than its critics alleged; rather it is possible to trace a ‘common heritage’ between New Labour and earlier modernising traditions in the party … There was a shared commitment to ‘conscience and reform’, underpinned by the ideal of national renewal and the creation of a ‘New Britain’ which animated Labour’s victories in 1929, 1945, 1964 and 1997; as such, New Labour should be seen as, ‘part of a revisionist thread of British social democratic politics’ (Driver and Martell, 2006: 23).”

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UNCUT: If “never again” is to be more than just a phrase, we cannot let Mein Kampf be a best-seller

09/02/2015, 07:00:42 AM

by Thomas Docherty

Today, a cross-party report on anti-Semitism has been published which has my personal backing and that of our party leader. Anti-Semitism is a societal ill and the 34 recommendations of that report form an important roadmap to recovery. I was particularly concerned to read in the report about the increasing trend towards using Holocaust imagery and inappropriate Nazi comparisons in the context of debate on the Middle East conflict.

As readers might know, my opposition to racism and anti-Semitism is well established. Last month, I wrote on a related matter to the Culture Secretary asking him to consult on the sale of the notorious Mein Kampf, Hitler’s political philosophy which led to the systematic murder of six million Jews and others in the Holocaust.

In recent weeks and specifically following the horrendous Charlie Hebdo attacks the debate over “the right to offend” has served to underline the central importance of free speech in our society and to our democracy. Whilst I appreciate that some will disagree with me, I believe that the sale and distribution of Mein Kampf must be debated as it transcends the limits of acceptable discourse. There is, of course, historical value in its limited distribution and in proper academic study of its contents. However, the ease with which it can be obtained from online and other retailers is profoundly disturbing. Surely, we can’t be expected to believe that it’s ranking as a bestseller for Amazon arises from academic demand for the tome.

From humble beginnings, Hitler’s political design ended in unique horror of holocaust. The seeds sown by Mein Kampf are still inciting racial hatred and fuelling anti-Semitism today and it is no surprise that it has been banned in a number of other countries. The distribution of Mein Kampf twinned with the demeaning and trivialisation of the Holocaust is a very worrying trend. I was struck to read in the All-Party Parliamentary Report into Anti-Semitism during last summer that Hitler, Holocaust and Nazi were among the top 35 key words used on Twitter in relation to Jews. I was equally concerned to see that the term “Hitler was right” had trended across the world.

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UNCUT: Rotherham: a case study in the laws of political mob dynamics

06/02/2015, 10:30:02 PM

by Ian McKenzie

I recently wrote of my terror at the prospect of a mob in full flow. On Wednesday I witnessed one first hand. It wasn’t as terrifying as a gang of religious thugs stoning to death a gay man who’d had the temerity to survive being thrown from a seven-story building, but it was frightening in its own context nonetheless.

Seven decent, honourable people doing righteous public service for very little reward were hounded out of office in Rotherham, by a mob whipped up by a partial government report that has condemned the very people who had finally started to get a grip on the chaos and confusion that has hurt so many in that town.

Over the last 30 years, I suppose it’s possible I’ve met a braver politician with more integrity than Paul Lakin but I can’t recall one and I’ve shaken the hand of Nelson Mandela. If you think that’s hyperbole you’ve never had a friend who suffered sexual abuse from the age of eight and seen her shake uncontrollably at its mere recall many years later, or heard her scream out in her sleep, as I have. If you believe I don’t take sexual abuse seriously enough then stop reading now, I can’t help you and you will learn nothing here.

Paul Lakin and his team rolled up their sleeves when many others headed for the hills, and they were making good progress. Lakin was the leader of Rotherham Borough Council from 10 September 2014 until Wednesday 4 February 2015. It was the interregnum between the Jay report and this week’s Casey report, shall we say? During those 146 days he put his heart, soul and considerable personal capital into serving the people of Rotherham who are today worse off for his absence as their council leader. Among their number are many survivors and victims of child sexual abuse.

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UNCUT: Labour must champion the expansion of the European single market

05/02/2015, 11:02:04 PM

by Callum Anderson

With a new set of European Commissioners, along with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, having taken their posts in Brussels last November, the next five years could prove to be highly decisive Britain’s future within the European Union.

But, besides the ‘British question’, one of the biggest items on the Commission’s agenda will be how to effectively generate and sustain economic growth for its member states, so that they are all in a position to benefit from unimpeded export markets.

The single market has undoubtedly brought greater wealth and prosperity to its member states. Research has shown that the single market has increased EU GDP by at least two or three per cent since 1993, with exports and foreign direct investment receiving a particular boost in this time.

Indeed, lowering or completely removing trade barriers has created cost advantages compared to our international competitors, as well as intensifying competition within the single market itself.

Deutsche Bank has stated that reductions of barriers to intra-EU trade has also made the countries in the EU a more attractive place for investment by foreign firms. There are a whole host of UK-specific examples which illustrate this point.

More recently, the European Commission estimates that the EU’s Services Directive has already led to benefits of €100 billion (0.8 per cent of EU GDP).

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