Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Painter’

Ten hard truths for Labour

20/07/2015, 10:52:10 PM

by David Butler

Labour looks like it is coming apart at the seams.  A big Labour rebellion on welfare, a leadership contest that is dragging the party ever further from the centre ground and George Osborne busily moving the Tories onto the territory vacated by Labour – this is the backdrop to Labour’s long hot summer.

Just over a week ago, Tristram Hunt called for a summer of hard truths.  Anthony Painter gave an excellent starter for ten. Here are ten more:

1. The state can be just as oppressive, destructive and amoral as market forces. This manifests itself in actions from the harsh sanctioningof benefit claimants to NHS staff behaving in an unpleasant, uncaring and unaccountable manner.

2. Power in the modern world is more fragmentedthan in the past. This reduces the governments to impose change from above.

3. Labour has offered no convincing answer to the challenges posed by secular stagnationand the UK’s productivity puzzle.

4. The idea that Labour loses elections because it is insufficiently left-wing has no basis and is a myth that should not be indulged.

5. The public are not interested in the talk of bold, radical plans so beloved of certain sections of the party. In a post-election poll by GQR Research on behalf of the TUC, when asked to choose between parties offering “concrete plans for sensible changes in this country” and parties promising “a big vision for radical change in this country”, the public overwhelming preferred the former. This result was replicated across social grade, country, 2015 vote, gender and age group.


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In the wake of McBride, we need an OBR style independent regulator for political conduct

23/09/2013, 01:54:06 PM

by Anthony Painter

This morning’s announcement that Labour is going to seek OBR audit of its fiscal plans in 2015 is a smart one. Tactically, it deflects the sort of ‘black hole’ attack from the Conservatives that we have seen over the weekend. The Tories are terrified by this- hence their rejection of the idea. Has there been a more shoddy piece of work coming out of HM Treasury than its ‘analysis’ published over the weekend? Secondly, it will mean that Labour will have to be meticulous in the preparation of its plans. This may help rebuild trust in Labour’s ability to manage public finances.

And thirdly, crucially, it may help to restore some faith in politics. If that takes external audit then so be it.

There will be much scoffing at this point. In a Today programme interview this morning, Ed Balls was also asked about Damian McBride and his own role in the Gordon Brown political operation. These seems like separate issues. However, trust in fiscal policy, politics, competence, fairness are all connected. The question is how can trust be restored- not just in Labour but politics more widely.

Poor behaviour can have an institutional check. Whether it is over-spending, under-taxing, setting interest rates, regulating industry or the personal destruction of political rivals.

Now, I’m not proposing that we give the OBR responsibility for political conduct. However, the principles of monitoring and audit could apply. Instead of brushing the McBride revelations under the carpet and pretending it’s all in the past when we know that either it isn’t or has the potential to occur again, Labour could act decisively instead. It could establish mechanisms of monitoring and sanction.


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Sunday review on Thursday: Left Without A Future by Anthony Painter

25/07/2013, 10:56:34 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Breadth. That is the defining characteristic of Anthony’s book. Left Without A Future provides a clear-sighted overview of the forces – economic, societal and cultural – that are re-shaping our politics.

Daily, we see the results of these forces reported in the news, but stripped of context.  Left Without A Future provides the missing link: a narrative that explains what on earth is happening.

Whether it is the global societal changes that have enabled the Arab spring and are destroying how British political parties traditionally operate, or an economic predicament where austerity is not working yet market worries about borrowing prohibit a full-blooded state response, Anthony illuminates the common challenges that politicians across the world are struggling to address.

As the title of the book suggests, nowhere are these challenges being more keenly felt than on the left.  Europe’s leading left wing parties are in varying degrees of turmoil and the right is in the ascendant. Even in France, where Hollande defeated Sarkozy, the polls are bleak and spirits are low.

The failure of the left to understand, let alone appropriately respond to, the changing world we live in, is vividly brought to life. The analysis of Britain’s own tea party left as embodied in groups such as UK Uncut and Occupy – a rambunctious mix of uncompromising idealism and aggressive trade unionism – is as apposite as it is overdue.

Throughout the book, the insight is leavened with references to the key texts that are informing left thought (many of which have been reviewed by Anthony on pages of Uncut over the past three years.)The impression is of a left in ferment.  There is much commonality on the diagnosis but confusion on the prescription.

Left Without A Future contends that the answer lies in new institutions. Institutions  connect theory and practice, policy design and human experience. The right institutions will establish rules and an environment that shapes behaviour to meet policy goals.

It is a case that is made persuasively. Reformed, locally accountable institutions provide the only true joined-up response to an environment where the tidal currents of culture, society and economy merge and crash over our politics.


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Labour is fighting the wrong campaign

05/05/2013, 09:16:02 AM

by Anthony Painter

Since 1993, Labour performance in county council elections on a national equivalent basis is as follows: 39%, 44%, 42%, 36%, 22% and 29%. Thursday was better than the absolutely disastrous 2009 result that came a year before its second worst defeat in the modern political era. But it was a performance significantly worse than a party expecting to be winning a majority in two years’ time should have had.

The comfortable thing to do now is focus on the Tories’ travails and UKIP’s surge. But for anyone who wants to see a Labour Government in 2015, the far more sensible thing is to focus on Labour for a while. It is very difficult to write a piece cautioning the party about its current direction when so many new councillors have just been elected and so many local campaigns were so effective. That tremendous work absolutely needs to be acknowledged. Unfortunately though, the overall picture is extremely worrying. There has been a spooky silence on this fact since Thursday and that ultimately won’t help Labour win the majority it should in 2015.

Labour’s strategy isn’t working and it needs to reassess radically the approach that it is taking. Labour has decided to adopt Obama 2008-style “hopey-change” as a strategy. The problem is that next election doesn’t have a hopey-change feel to it. People want change but it is a desire for change that is sceptical and grounded in perception of what will be effective rather than wispy visions.

The 2015 election has a “please spare us from George Osborne but don’t be silly” feel to it. If it were an American election it would be 1992 rather than 2008. It’s the economy, stupid but that doesn’t mean anything goes. It’s just as winnable for Ed Miliband’s Labour as it was for Bill Clinton’s Democrats (UKIP as the Ross Perot of the UK anyone?) and Neil Kinnock’s Labour in 1992. One won and one lost and in that tale lies the strategy that can take Miliband to Downing Street.

There is time to correct what has gone wrong over the last few weeks. Moreover, Ed Miliband has come back from set-backs before – stronger, wiser, more effective. His conference speeches in 2011 and 2012 barely merit comparison; the latter was vastly superior which got across a similar message.

Labour’s campaign came to abrupt halt in a down-the-line interview on BBC Radio 4’s World at One. It was the moment when its strategic weakness was completely exposed. Hopey-change met stark reality in what was simply a series of very straightforward questions that any opposition hopeful of winning power should be able to take in its stride.

Miliband’s problem is not one bad interview. It’s what lay behind that interview. And the biggest concern is the policy weakness.


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For Labour, the hard work on immigration starts now

11/03/2013, 08:12:28 AM

by Anthony Painter

Why is Labour obsessing about immigration? Try the fact that – according to a recent Lord Ashcroft poll – two of the top three most salient issues are welfare dependency and controlling immigration. 32% and 20% of Labour supporters respectively favour the Conservative positions on these issues. No party that seriously expects to compete for office can fail to respond to public anxiety on these issues. Welfare and immigration are tightly linked in concern about the failures of the modern state.

Reponses to this have fallen into two camps: there’s not really a problem and there is problem and it requires a response. Ed Miliband falls into the latter camp.

The mistake the former camp makes is that it thinks that it can win the argument with numbers when this is an instinctive, cultural and emotional set of issues. So the fact that there is a net contribution by migrants to the public purse or that few migrants come here with the purpose of claiming benefits or free-riding on the NHS simply doesn’t cut through. Nor will it. The issue is not the quantum of free-riding but that the system allows it. There is also a broader sense that welfare has become simultaneously marginal so it benefits the few, out of control in terms of cost and fosters dependency. It is about fundamental institutional logic and many people see the welfare state – with the exception of child benefit and pensions – as something for other people at an exorbitant cost which we collectively shoulder.

More specifically on immigration, trust has broken down in our ability to control the flow of migration – particularly at the lower skill level. The fact that this may be to our broad economic benefit, improve public services, or better finance an ageing society or the national debt do not seem to counter-balance the anxiety over loss of control.

If your immigration and welfare systems do not have wide public legitimacy then you have a problem. That is the situation.


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The Sunday review: Lincoln

03/02/2013, 08:00:25 AM

by Anthony Painter

As a director, how can you possibly cope with a figure such as Abraham Lincoln on screen? The most logical projection is to mesh civil war grotesqueness with the oratorical adeptness. Perhaps one could place him in a battle of wills and minds with his confederacy adversary, Jefferson Davis: a man of history doing battle with a man of corrupted vested interests. Some none too subtle allusions to the later pioneers of racial equality could be sprinkled in along the way – maybe the distant voices of a Luther King or even a Barack Obama could be dropped in. The gruesome life of a slave could be depicted and reminders that America’s third president – Thomas Jefferson – took a slave concubine (his late wife’s half sister) could be referenced.

To be perfectly honest, all of this is exactly what was to be expected once Steven Spielberg took on the challenge of re-introducing us to America’s most brilliant yet enigmatic president – post founding fathers that is. And somehow, despite himself, Spielberg mostly avoids the obvious pitfalls. Spielberg is a director who does schmaltzy and effect-heavy kids films with a certain panache and treats adults as if they are kids- with honourable exceptions such as Schlinder’s List. Not this time.

Instead, Spielberg focuses our gaze on the character of the man himself. For that to work would require a method actor of sublime capacity. You’d need someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. That is precisely who Spielberg persuaded to do the role. The brilliance of this biopic is that from the outset the director draws us simultaneously into the world of wartime political intrigue and the character of the man who found it his responsibility to navigate the republic through civil war with its union intact and slavery abolished. Everything I have ever read about the character of Lincoln was there in this on-screen play- for that is what it is.


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Sunday Review: the EU phantom menace

20/01/2013, 08:00:22 AM

by Anthony Painter

In the space of three years, the prime minister has moved Britain from the EU’s cautious awkward customer to the self-destructively preposterous. Let’s be clear, this has absolutely nothing to do with some irresistible popular clamour for a referendum on our membership of the EU. It is entirely self-inflicted. Realpolitik has been ditched in favour of pusillanimous capitulation. This whole thing is about the neuroses of the Conservative party. This is not leadership; it is fear – of a phantom menace.

In fact, there are three phantoms that appear in this whole sorry saga. The first is a speech – a phantom speech. It’s has been long in the gestation and from the unconfirmed sightings that have been reported, it is an utterly vacuous statement of the bleeding obvious about jobs, growth, competitiveness, and the democratic deficit .

So the EU has to change. We are very lucky to have this pointed out – who knew? Douglas Alexander had it absolutely right in his speech at Chatham House this week when he argued:

So significant are the potential consequences of this speech that it is tempting, indeed reassuring, to presume a degree of strategic thought or high public purpose in its preparation. The truth, I fear, is both more prosaic and more worrying. This speech is about politics much more than it is about policy. And its origins lie in weakness, not in strength.

The second phantom, is the monstrous ghoul that is the federal super-state waiting to sink its teeth into these poor defenceless northern European islanders. This is the one that has Tory eurosceptics waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. Their problem though, if you look at the argument in its elements, is more with the “state” element than anything else. Tory eurosceptics believe the alternative to EU regulation is no regulation. On this, like so much else they are entirely wrong.

Regulation would in fact just carry over, as we would still need to access the European markets. To gain access to the EU on a free trade basis, anything we imported or produced for the domestic market would have to be EU regulation compliant. And why would business want two regulatory standards?

Even if we decided not to trade freely with the EU, then we would still need to ensure clean beaches, toys without toxic chemicals, workplace safety, fisheries that weren’t over fished, proper information for consumers, farming subsidies, and fresh water standards. A world without regulation of the eurosceptic’s dreams is an apparition. Even if it could be achieved it wouldn’t last the first scandal over food poisoning, cod shortages, lead poisoning, horsemeat in burgers, or horrific increase in deaths in the workplace.


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Sunday Review: “the Victory Lab: the secret science of winning campaigns” by Sasha Issenberg

06/01/2013, 08:00:52 AM

by Anthony Painter

Sometimes you find yourself picking up a book with a degree of scepticism and ambivalence. This was one such occasion. Issenberg’s pacy Moneyball-style look at the evolving statistical and psychological science of winning campaigns had potential for ‘overstatement of case’ written all over it. It didn’t help matters when the final sentence of the introduction argued that this new application of science had enabled campaigns to ‘start treating voters like people again.’

And yet, I ended up convinced by Issenberg’s argument against my own expectations. The techniques and approaches he outlines within the Victory Lab, if applied with imagination, have the potential to re-engage millions in democracy – up to a point. His core contention is that voting is a behavioural act. As he eloquently puts it:

“What if voting wasn’t only a political act, but a social one that took place in a liminal space between the public and private that had never been well-defined to citizens? What if toying with those expectations was key to turning a person into a voter? What if elections were less about shaping people’s opinions than changing their behaviours.”

There is an old rational choice puzzle that all undergraduate students of political science are presented with. Why do people vote when, from an instrumental point of view with a low chance of influencing the outcome, it’s an irrational act? Rationalistic models of human behaviour have shown themselves in economics, politics and in psychology to be completely inadequate. Issenberg reaches instead for the behavioural science of the likes of Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, Robert Cialdini, and Richard Thaler  – all names that will be familiar to those who have been following these debates.

The answer to the rational choice puzzle is, of course, because human beings aren’t just instrumental calculating machines. Any (political) science that can’t cope with that insight is for the birds.


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Sunday Review: my best books of the year

23/12/2012, 08:00:07 AM

by Anthony Painter

A sense of crisis is good for the world of thought it would appear. 2012 has been dominated by a continuing economic crisis – most particularly in Europe. There is not yet a sense that out of the wreckage of the old will emerge the new. And yet, in some of the books that have been published this year – some of which I have reviewed on Labour Uncut – there are fresh approaches that may provide hope.

The worldview of both the centre-left and the centre-right in the UK is astonishingly narrow. In many ways our political culture has become incredibly indulgent: narrow, short-term, parochial, interest driven, transactional and tactical. We only have to look at the debate about our future membership of the European Union to see that – it completely disregards the fact that we are hurtling towards irrelevance. Equally, the debate about our economic future is mired in the politics of the moment. Much of what is dressed-up as economic analysis is simply political positioning.

So it has been with relief that in our increasingly global market in ideas, research and debate, there are new ideas and perspectives if we choose to look for them. Other than fighting all the cuts on the left and fighting the EU on the right – both misguided in their own ways – where is the domestic vision for national recovery? If there is a defining feature of the UK’s politics in 2012, it is that we are embracing smallness and irrelevance with seeming self-righteous glee.

In modern times the political challenges have never been so great and the response from our leaders so poor. Perhaps more than anyone else, this is epitomised by the current chancellor of the exchequer who seems to think that national recovery is a political game. The game-players are not only on the government benches. But he, more than anyone else, symbolises the age of small politics in the midst of great challenges. Unless he and our political leaders shift course decisively then an era of British decline awaits. It is entirely avoidable.

In these books of the year, let’s hope that pathways to a bigger politics present themselves. I hope that Santa brings you enough book tokens to enjoy one or two of the following gems (in no particular order).

1. Why nations fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

The future will be defined by the institutions we build. Acemoglu and Robinson take us a tour of economic development across six continents and unlock the key to development at “critical junctures.”.Breathtaking in scope and consequential.

2. The price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs

Sachs has established himself as a leading critic of the new centre-left Keynesian orthodoxy. Good for him – someone has to push back against the use of Keynes to avoid real choices while conveniently ignoring the potential unforeseen consequences of much of what is proposed. But that’s not the strength of the book. The strength of this book is that he actually includes a costed plan for recovery and elimination of the primary deficit while investing in science, education, childcare, infrastructure etc.

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The Sunday review: Starbucks

09/12/2012, 08:00:58 AM

by Anthony Painter

I imagine the first Starbucks store that opened in Pike Place market in Seattle was quite an exciting affair. The coffee was probably great. It must have been a remarkable local institution. Four decades later, Starbucks is now synonymous with corporate greed. What a few weeks it’s had – a long way from Pike Place.

What has taken place shows that direct action works. No, not UK Uncut. But that of MPs. Step forward Margaret Hodge, a name mostly associated with New Labour. Who’d have thought it? But when a special report appeared on Reuters in the middle of October, it was the House of Commons public accounts committee that reacted. A few weeks later and Starbucks is £20 million out of pocket. Investigative journalism and a backbench House of Commons committee – it doesn’t get much more old politics than that but it did the trick.

Starbucks seem pretty par for the course when it comes to multinational tax avoidance. In this case, moral outrage seems to have done the trick as thousands turned away from Starbucks, helped by campaigns such as 38 Degrees (UK Uncut have a habit of putting people off rather than encouraging them to join their campaigns – whatever the claims of the direct action left or paranoid right). But moral outrage only goes so far. Starbucks will be hoping it’s all died down in a couple of years and then get back to business as usual.


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