UNCUT: The EU can be a winning card for Labour – but is not without its risks

10/11/2014, 08:11:54 AM

by Jonathan Todd

EU debate is going to get hotter, I warned on Labour Uncut three years ago. And so it has. George Osborne spent the weekend defending the UK’s EU financing. Ed Miliband successfully led at PMQs on the paucity of David Cameron’s progress in renegotiating the UK’s EU membership. He is also expected to major on the issue in a speech to the CBI today.

UKIP’s rise and Cameron’s promised EU referendum, as well as the continued troubles of the Euro and contention about free movement of labour, mean that the EU won’t be as peripheral in UK politics as it has been for much of the UK’s membership. In this context, there are various points that Labour might keep in mind.

The UK government should do what it can to solve problems as they are perceived by the UK people

It might seem utterly obvious that the UK government should seek to serve its electors. But it’s worth reiterating. For example, over the weekend, “a senior Labour MP named as being involved in a plot to oust Ed Miliband,” reported the Daily Mail, demanded, “that the party toughens its stance on immigration”. What Ian Austin is reported as wanting is “a ban on benefit payments to new migrants who have paid nothing into the system, fingerprinting at the Calais border, and up-front payments by foreigners for NHS care”.

In spite of the prominence that ‘welfare and health tourism’ have in UK debate, these measures could be implemented by the UK without contravening EU rules. Eliminating ‘health tourism’, for example, is part of the motivation for the NHS Mutual that Frank Field has argued for on Labour Uncut.

It’s not the Commission that Field looks to for this mutual. It’s a Labour government. Labour should be clear about what we would do with the powers held by the UK government to improve the immigration system. Austin helps us in this direction.

The Eurozone crisis is not going away but the UK should be constructive in seeking solutions Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: The two big myths about Labour’s leadership crisis

07/11/2014, 12:45:18 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s all beginning to feel very 2009. A weakened leader, panicking backbenchers and a febrile media have combined to generate the biggest Labour leadership crisis since the fag end of Gordon Brown’s ailing premiership.

Now, as then, the loyalist response is to perpetuate some easy “myths.” Though that’s the polite term. Here are the two biggest whoppers:

1. This is all the media’s fault

This was the line peddled on morning news shows and has been widespread across Labour’s Twittervist base.

But, as several journalists have pointed out, from the Guardian’s Rafael Behr to the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman, the reason this is being written up as a crisis is that Labour MPs have been privately complaining about Ed Miliband’s leadership to the journalists for months. In some cases, years.

MPs that have been on air in the last 24 hours, mouthing supportive platitudes, are among some of the most well-known serial lobby complainers.

The reality is that putative leadership campaigns have been organising for months. Leadership contenders have been positioning themselves, ready for the expected Labour defeat. Those rumours of an accommodation between Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham on a joint leadership ticket, or some commitment on second preference votes, have been circulating for over a year.

Anyone saying that this is purely a confection by the media, or froth, is being economical with the actualité.

Here’s a test: how many shadow cabinet members have made a specific point of going on air to defend the leader? Not as part of a pre-planned photo-opp where they have no choice but to field questions on the leader, but have sought out the media, even when they had no press events planned, to stand up for Ed Miliband?

By my count, the answer is a big fat zero.

On the Today programme this morning, the best that the loyalists could field was Peter Hain. Not only an ex-cabinet minister, but someone who is standing down at the next election. This tells us all we need to know about the esteem in which the shadow cabinet and shadow ministerial ranks hold their leader.

2. Ed can turn this around, he just needs time

In the last parliament, when a crisis approached the point of no return, Gordon Brown would meet backbenchers and play the listening card.

He’d talk about how he understood their concerns about his leadership, how he valued their opinion and how he would take on board their suggestions. He’d thank them “for all that they did” and commit to being a better Gordon.

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UNCUT: Unite’s reaction to Jim Murphy’s candidacy tells us all we need to know about why it’s important

05/11/2014, 03:20:04 PM

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, after some days of deliberation, Jim Murphy announced his candidacy for the Scottish leadership.

Within hours, Unite had put out a statement:

“Unite’s representative members will soon decide who to nominate on behalf of our union. On the basis of this speech, it is extremely difficult for them to find much to find hope that Jim Murphy is offering the genuine, positive change in Scottish Labour they seek.”

Notice first how Unite members are being given a completely free choice of candidate, and that its leadership is not trying to influence them at all. In fact, this effect of denying a level playing-field to leadership candidates in the union vote – that is, trying to distort the One Member, One Vote (OMOV) process – was one of the main reasons for the Collins reforms.

By Monday they had announced the results of a poll claiming that “working people” (i.e. Unite members: the union sees no irony in considering the two identical) wanted an MSP in the role and not an MP. Oh, wait a minute, which of the declared candidates is not an MSP…?

Why go to such lengths to trash the front-running candidate?

Because, apart from being probably the Shadow Cabinet’s most outspoken centrist, Murphy is widely known as being “his own man”, as Damian McBride describes him. There is little that would put Unite’s nose out of joint more than someone who didn’t play Scottish Labour according to the usual rules.

Scottish Labour, lest we forget, was the political Wild West land through the New Labour years, which survived virtually untouched under the protective gaze of Gordon Brown.

However, McBride’s sympathetic account of the trials of managing the Scottish party also gives away probably the greatest weakness of the Brown administration: its preference for managing genteel decline, rather than attack underlying problems at their root. Its preference for comfortable fiefdoms, where you did as you were told, over a healthy party full of competing ideas; a thousand flowers blooming. Scottish Labour was Brownism writ large.

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UNCUT: Why is Miliband struggling where Kinnock prospered?

04/11/2014, 04:40:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

On 4 February 1975, Margaret Thatcher defeated Edward Heath in a leadership ballot among Conservative MPs. The Spectator showed the way the wind was blowing four months earlier. It would seem to be of the first importance; it reported on 2 November 1974, that Mr Heath’s successor should be someone who is not ashamed of being a Conservative.

Similarly, during summer 2010, it was felt of the first importance that Mr Brown’s successor should be someone not ashamed of being Labour – except Brown has rarely been so ashamed. He was invariably more unashamedly Labour than his predecessor, Tony Blair. The ex partner that the Labour lover wanted to get out of its system had been playing the international field for three years by the time the opportunity came around to do so.

When Neil Kinnock reacted to Ed Miliband’s election as leader by saying, “we’ve got our party back”, we might presume that Blair was the primary kidnapper. But Miliband was himself a minister under Blair and new Labour was not an imposition on an unwilling party but something that grew out of its belly. As no kidnapping occurred, Kinnock was confused.

Nonetheless, reflecting on who the “our” in “our party” are may tell us something still relevant. In the view of David Marquand, Kinnock’s “skill in manipulating the symbols of tribal loyalty made him leader”. We might speculate, therefore, that “our” are those who recognise and value in these symbols.

“Labour needs its soul back,” I was told in 2010 by someone now working for Miliband. Kinnock connected with this soul via the second of the two dimensions that, as Marquand recalled, Henry Drucker saw as forming the ideology of the British Labour movement: ‘doctrine’ and ‘ethos’. “That ethos,” Marquand observed, “is almost indefinable … Perhaps Richard Hoggart caught it best with his famous evocation of the world of ‘them’ as seen from the point of view of ‘us’”: Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: It’s time for Miliband to take a stand and hug an immigrant

04/11/2014, 09:48:43 AM

by Samuel Dale

Ed Miliband likes to remind us that he takes on vested interests.

Barely a speech goes by without mentioning how he took on Murdoch, the Daily Mail and the energy companies.

Hero Miliband standing up to the strong. Except it’s not true.

This isn’t strong leadership, it’s populism masquerading as strength.

Look at the crass and ridiculous attack on ex-Labour minister Lord Freud for his comments on helping disabled people find work below the minimum wage.

Or the pathetic Harriet Harman stunt, sanctioned by Miliband, to wear a ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt at PMQs.

No wonder Britain doesn’t see Miliband as prime ministerial because these are not the actions of a man who is an aspiring national leader.

The latest polling puts his leadership ratings as lower than even Nick Clegg, Mr Tuition Fees.

Has there been any area where Miliband has actually led his party or the public?

The energy price freeze was clever politics but it was heavily polled and known to be popular.

It was a classic of the Miliband genre: followship not leadership.

His clear electoral strategy of left wing populism and a so-called 35 per cent strategy is despicable.

It’s laughable to call himself One Nation Labour. And such cynicism is deservedly backfiring with votes being haemorrhaged to the Greens, Ukip and the SNP.

But there is one issue crying out for real national leadership and alternative positive politics: immigration.

The rise of Ukip and capitulation of the Tories has led to toxic nasty rhetoric on immigration and the EU.

It is turning off global businesses and threatening the UK’s international reputation for openness.

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UNCUT: A strong Scotland needs a strong Jim Murphy

03/11/2014, 12:38:57 PM

by David Talbot

Good riddance Johann Lamont. That, truthfully, has to be the main reaction to the announcement last week from the former Scottish Labour leader. Unheard of before the referendum and anonymous during it, the fact that Lamont only ever raised an eyebrow when she resigned says everything about a spectacularly underwhelming, and failed, political leader. It was never clear that Lamont actually deserved the leadership, but when it came to relinquishing, it was done in the bitterest of fashions. She is clearly a decent woman, tired of political abuse and ostracization, but that she ever led Scottish Labour is slightly less surprising than she ultimately did a pretty poor job of it.

Her closing remarks were deliberately incendiary and unacceptable.  To descend into the language of the SNP, of us versus them, of Scotland and London, was the admission of her own weakness as well as final parting shot across the party’s bows. It ensures that whoever takes up the poisoned chalice of Scottish Labour leader will truly start from rock bottom.

Once leading the party north of the border ensured time in executive power. Not so now. Since a narrow defeat in 2007, Scottish Labour has been reeling since annihilation in 2011. Bitter infighting, verging on mafioso intensity, insipid leadership, tepid policies, bewilderment and stupefaction at the rise of the SNP has ensured that the party is now verging on irrelevance. Shock polls indicate electoral wipeout next May at the Westminster elections.

Even without the apocalyptic polls depicted in recent days, anything other than retaining, or stemming to but a very few losses, the seats Labour held in Scotland in 2010 will halt Ed Miliband’s raise to Downing Street long before the votes are counted in any English marginal.

For the national Labour leader it will matter who leads Scottish Labour a very great deal. It is a scenario, as Andrew Rawnsley dryly noted, of delicious irony. Jim Murphy owes Ed Miliband absolutely nothing. He inferred as such when he did not bother to mention the Labour leader once in his campaign launch at the weekend. But it is to Murphy that Scottish Labour, and indeed Scotland, must now turn.

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UNCUT: We need a fair pay revolution to re-balance the economy

01/11/2014, 10:55:58 AM

by Amanda Ramsay

The UK needs a wages-led recovery. According to poverty campaigners and researchers at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation the cost of living has gone up by 28% in the last six years, while wages have only gone up by 9%.

This cost of living crisis means bills are rising, often debts too, as many households fight a daily battle to make ends meet, with less and less cloth to cut from each month.

Following the global financial crash, food costs have soared in the UK   with price rises, since the recession started in 2007, ranging from 24%-55%, according to government figures.

Of course, it’s not tough for everybody right now. Statistics from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) show top chief executives earned 45 times the average wage back in 1998, now it is a massive 185 times as much. Such companies’ appear to be able to afford to pay the Living Wage.

It is a false economy for the current government to sit back and stomach low pay, as small disposable income levels suck demand out of our economy, with less money to spend in retail. As Kevin Slocombe of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) told me: ‘The TUC as well as countless economists believe a wages-led recovery is the only logical financial show in town.

“What we need is a new government, with an agenda for change. In May 2015, we have the ballot. We need a Labour government committed to national renewal and regeneration, with well-costed and convincing plans to re-balance the economy.”

Meanwhile, anti-politics messages resonate in a vacuum from the likes of UKIP, with trust in politicians and politics at an all-time low. A MORI survey in 2011 showed startling figures, of only 14% of the public believing politicians to tell the truth. 80% – that’s four in every five people – actively said politicians do not tell the truth.

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UNCUT: Five things we learnt from Tristram Hunt

29/10/2014, 04:49:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Having derided Ed Miliband as “a vulture” in his column, David Aaronovitch is not an uncritical Labour observer. Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, was last night brave enough to sit down for an hour of conversation with him at a Progress #InConvo14 event.

We can only wonder what an hour of conversation between Miliband and Aaronovitch would tell us. But five things to take away from last night’s event were:

Labour loves teachers

Blowing smoke up the bottoms of teachers is a Hunt speciality. The policy chat was of lessons to be learnt from Finland and Singapore where a focus on teacher quality has driven improvement in school performance. The political pitch was also clear: for the support of teachers bruised by Michael Gove. Where Gove sought to bend them to his will, Hunt wants to put them on a pedestal. And if the Finnish and Singaporean experiences can be replicated, children and parents will thank Hunt.

Labour doesn’t love faith schools as much – but isn’t going to abolish them

Parental choice and school diversity become Labour virtues under Tony Blair. Last night, though, we debated what kind of divided society we might become if this choice is exercised to create a diversity of schools centred on different faiths and ethnicities.

Hunt recognised the concern but argued that school challenge and collaboration can overcome it. He claimed that these characteristics were present in the successful London Challenge, while their absence goes some way to explaining recent problems in Birmingham schools. A diversity of faith schools, on this argument, is unproblematic if they are challenged by Ofsted and integrated into local networks of both accountability and collaboration.

Labour wants to make a big play out of being pro-EU

“The thing,” according to Chuka Umunna’s recent GQ interview, “business fears most is exit from the EU, not a Labour government”. Umunna made this argument when it was put to him that Labour is anti-business. Hunt did the same last night when similarly pressed. Labour cannot be anti-business, so the story goes, because business values the UK’s EU membership and Labour government guarantees this membership, whereas Tory government doesn’t. Having cast around for business pitch, it appears that Labour has disembarked on what it thinks is a winner. Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: Ed Miliband’s position on immigration is incoherent and will hand Labour votes to Ukip

29/10/2014, 02:26:39 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Is Ed Miliband a Ukip sleeper agent?

At PMQs today, the Labour leader parroted Ukip’s lines on immigration at David Cameron: broken pledges to cut numbers, a system out of control, the need to be tougher; it was a miracle Miliband didn’t rehash talk of being swamped.

All the while, the Labour leader seemed blissfully unaware of the staggering, juddering, dissonant incoherence at the heart of the case he was bellowing, across the despatch box, at the prime minister.

Here are some basic facts: out of total net annual migration of 243,000 into the UK, 131,000 came from the European Union. That’s a significant chunk and represents a rise of almost 40% in the past year.

Europeans can come to the UK because freedom of movement across the EU’s member states is a central pillar of the union.

If Ed Miliband is going to make cutting immigration a centre-piece of Labour’s electoral offer, he will need to cut EU migration and that means either a change to freedom of movement or accept that Brexit is inevitable.

We can discount the former, because here’s what the new President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, had to say on the matter last week,

“We have a treaty. Freedom of movement since the Fifties is the basic principle of the European way of co-operating. These rules will not be changed.”

So presumably, Ed Miliband is about to announce that Labour is prepared to leave the EU?

Er, not so much. Here’s what the Labour leader had to say on British membership of the EU in March this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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UNCUT: Could Labour lose the South Yorkshire police commissioner by-election?

29/10/2014, 10:58:25 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Tomorrow, Labour faces a massive electoral test that hasn’t, so far, garnered much publicity. Forget Heywood and Middleton, if Labour loses the by-election for a new Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire, deepest red Labour territory and the political backyard of Ed Miliband and a swathe of the shadow cabinet, the fallout will be immense.

Twelve months ago, the concept of Labour faring badly here would have been unthinkable. In the 2012 Rotherham by-election, caused by the resignation of Denis MacShane for fiddling his expenses, Labour held on comfortably, with more than double the share of the vote of second-placed UKIP.

That was then. Now, with the Rotherham child grooming scandal still reverberating – in all its three-dimensional awfulness – bookies have UKIP hot on Labour’s heels as we enter the last day of campaigning.

As I wrote at the time, the party’s initial response to the Rotherham scandal was slow and uncertain. Not much has changed since. Indeed, there have not been, as far as I am aware, any visits by Ed Miliband to reassure people there that this bleak episode in the party’s management of the town will not be repeated. Contrition has been thin on the ground.

Let’s be clear: the systematic abuse of children and young girls by gangs of Pakistani-heritage men in the town was unforgivable. Girls in care were thrown to the wolves by inept council officials who put political correctness ahead of decency and common sense. Grooming was seen as girls making “informed choices”. The police couldn’t have cared less. There is no other way of dressing it up. There is no missing context. This was a vile episode. Some heads have rolled – and deservedly so. Others should follow.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report made clear that there were at least 1,400 victims. This is her conservative estimate, as young Pakistani girls and boys were also abused, but are less like to report it for cultural reasons.

And the shame for it rests squarely at Labour’s door. The ‘wicked’ Tories weren’t to blame. Neither were the Lib Dems or UKIP. Between them, a Labour council and Labour-controlled police force created this mess. Meanwhile, the town’s MPs were apparently blissfully unaware.

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