Posts Tagged ‘Atul Hatwal’

Labour’s campaign is a mess. So much wrong, so little right

27/02/2015, 09:39:29 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Labour has achieved something remarkable this year. In the space of eight weeks the party has managed to focus the national debate on some of its strongest issues – the NHS, equalities and tax avoidance – and yet still failed to land a blow. The average of this week’s YouGov polls is a very small Conservative lead.

The NHS should be a campaign winner, every time for Labour. But when Andy Burnham decided to use the rise in NHS spending outsourced to the private sector, as his key evidence to prove the Tories’ privatising intent, he turned political gold to base metal.

Given two-thirds of the rise in outsourcing happened under Labour, with the rate of increase actually slowing under the Tories, it doesn’t take David Axelrod to work out why Labour was on the back foot almost immediately.

Then there was Harriet Harman’s pink battlebus. There’s nothing wrong with the bus being pink and the issues raised by the women’s tour are important, but when Labour frontbenchers have been campaigning vociferously that equating the colour pink with girls is sexist then, once again, who couldn’t have predicted disastrous headlines?

Most recently there has been Ed Miliband’s offensive on tax avoidance. It’s difficult to think of territory more uncomfortable for David Cameron. Yet by broadening the Labour attack onto the principle of tax avoidance, rather than the narrow specifics of the jaw-dropping appointment of HSBC’s Stephen Green as a Minister, even when government officials knew all about HSBC’s illicit activities, Ed Miliband blew it.

Cue embarrassing questions about whether shadow ministers collected receipts for every odd job or window cleaned and the circumstances in which Ed Miliband’s mother seems to have avoided tax on the house in which he now lives.

Individually, these incidents seem like discrete gaffes but a common thread runs through each failure.

Andy Burnham, Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband all walked into such eminently predictable elephant traps because their moral certitude blinded them to the politically obvious.
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Labour’s rhetorical ratchet is destroying the party’s electoral hopes

29/01/2015, 09:18:26 AM

by Atul Hatwal

When Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour party, a rhetorical ratchet was installed in the machinery of Labour politics. Since then, the only direction of travel permissible for Labour’s public statements has been to the left. The only criticism of the leadership allowed has been from the left.

Now, as the party’s poll lead dissolves, the consequences of this ratchet for Labour’s electoral chances are becoming increasingly clear. Two incidents from the past week – one on policy and one on process – exemplify the depth of the party’s problems.

First, on policy, there was Andy Burnham’s performance on Newsnight.

Labour has a perfectly defensible and reasonable policy on the use of private healthcare in the NHS: it can only be used to supplement rather than replace public provision. In practice, it means that the private sector would only be used to clear backlogs. It’s how the last Labour government operated.

But, faced with the need to demonstrate how Labour policy has progressed since 2010, the ratchet has forced Andy Burnham to the left, beyond the point of incoherence.

Because of the ratchet, a centrist dividing line on health based on Labour competence versus Tory incompetence is impossible. Instead, Labour has opted for an ideological frame of public good versus private bad with Labour promising to roll back the private.

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Some gloomy general election predictions

06/01/2015, 08:55:06 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The next election is not too close to call. Neither is it a contest where the current party system is under threat nor one where voter volatility renders meaningful predictions impossible.

There are excuses wheeled out by pundits and pollsters who are frit. Here are my predictions.

The Conservatives are going to repeat their 2010 performance and secure 36% of the vote while suffering a small fall in their number of seats to the range 290 to 300.

Labour will struggle to 32%, boosting its seats by 20-25 to the high 270s or low 280s and the Lib Dems will exceed their current polling to get to 16% with seats in the high 30s or very low 40s.

Ukip will under-perform their current poll rating to achieve 7% with one seat (Douglas Carswell) while the SNP will lose to Labour in Scotland. However, they will make some progress, boosting their representation by taking 6-10 Labour seats and reducing the majorities for most of Labour’s Scottish MPs.

This is why.

As May 7th draws near, three shifts will take place in the way that the voting public go about their choice that will move the current polling.

These changes happen in every electoral cycle and are the reason that decades of forecasts of new settlements, moulds being broken and unprecedented uncertainty are usually wrong.

They relate to the nature of the decision that voters are making, the criteria they use to make it and how they judge the parties meet that criteria.

First, the way most voters perceive their choice fundamentally changes in the run up to a general election.

For the majority of the parliament, when pollsters (or indeed friends and family) ask about voting preference, the question is taken as a referendum on the government.

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Revealed: The SNP’s terms for supporting a minority Miliband government

29/12/2014, 07:00:11 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Christmas might be a time when most of politics takes a break, but from the late night festive carousing comes word of the potential deal that Ed Miliband will be offered by the SNP, to sustain a minority Labour government in office.

Uncut has heard from SNP advisers that their MPs in Westminster could be prepared to “do whatever it takes to keep Labour in office,” if Ed Miliband accedes to one request.

No, it’s not a new date for another independence referendum. Well, not quite.

The SNP MPs would support every aspect of a Labour programme, voting with the Labour whip, even on England only issues, if Ed Miliband commits his new government to “accept the will of the Scottish people” were Scotland to demonstrate a desire for a new independence referendum.

The test of this will would come in 2016 at the Holyrood elections where the central plank of the SNP platform will be a call for another referendum.

Even though Alex Salmond said that the 2014 vote was a once in a generation opportunity, the SNP will cite the unheralded depth of new cuts and the ever more virulently anti-European position of the Conservative party, as the basis for revisiting the choice.

With PM Ed Miliband facing a choice of deep cuts or steep tax rises or big hikes in borrowing, or some combination of all three – none of which any Westminster party will have acknowledged in the election campaign – the SNP case will be that the unionists lied to the Scottish public, about the UK’s economic position, when the original independence vote was taken in 2014.

And if David Cameron loses the election, he will soon be ejected from the leadership of his party, with his replacement likely to be forced to adopt an even more Eurosceptic policy, if not an outright commitment to leave the EU. The SNP position will be that the threat of a future Conservative administration (which drew its MPs almost entirely from England) taking the UK out of the EU, despite Scotland’s desire to remain in Europe, would mean an early referendum, before the 2020 election, was essential.

If the SNP retained a majority at Holyrood in 2016 then Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond would cash-in their IOU from Ed Miliband and set a date for the new referendum.

This is not a certain route to independence for the SNP, but nationalist opinion is coalescing around it as the best one available.

It is politically impossible for Ed Miliband to simply accept a new independence referendum in return for SNP votes. That would be seen as too craven. Making a new independence vote contingent on the 2016 Scottish elections is the next best option.

And come what may, the SNP will need to have a majority government at Holyrood to re-open the independence question; under the terms of this deal, if they achieve that, then the UK government will allow them to confirm the date.

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Introducing the pander test – how to tell if a politician is pandering on immigration

16/12/2014, 02:20:42 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Most mainstream politicians are lying when they talk about immigration, if not by the sin of commission, then by omission.

They all know what would happen if immigration was to be cut precipitously: the depth of extra cuts that would be required without migrants’ net tax contribution, the collapse of the NHS that would ensue if we did not have the skills of migrant health staff, and the destruction of jobs as foreign businesses take their investment to more welcoming shores.

Yet, rarely is any of this mentioned.

When most politicians talk about immigration, they look at one side of the ledger – costs – with little regard for the benefits.

And even then, when focusing exclusively on the negative, often they will simply accept the stereotype underpinning concerns rather than articulate the reality based on the evidence.

This is what pandering looks like in today’s immigration debate: when politicians who know better and have seen the evidence, either wilfully disregard it or misrepresent it, to fit a negative narrative that they know to be false.

For example, Ed Miliband was busy pandering yesterday when launching Labour’s second election pledge.

The first part of the pledge promises a “new law to stop the exploitation which leads to wages and conditions being undercut.”

In principle, no-one could disagree, but the implication of what will be achieved is where the pandering starts.

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Labour’s wants to triangulate on the deficit but has forgotten how

11/12/2014, 02:45:44 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today, Labour remembered the deficit. Good, it’s long over-due. The party senses an opportunity, one last chance to reduce the Tories’ double digit lead on the economy.

The theory is clear. George Osborne’s draconian spending plans are just too apocalyptic for the public. He’s opened up political space for a middle way, for Labour to triangulate and offer a deficit reduction path that does not necessitate taking a meat cleaver to the welfare state but does show a clear route back to a balanced budget.

The polls seem to back this approach. In yesterday’s ComRes poll,  52% agreed with the proposition that “it would be better to slow the rate of spending cuts even if it makes it take longer to get the country’s finances back on track” while just 25% disagreed.

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are both on our screens today promising this middle way, hoping for a route back into the economic debate.

Unfortunately for Labour, and the country’s future, Miliband and Balls are going to be disappointed.

There is a strategic flaw at the heart of the party’s approach: Labour strategists have forgotten how to triangulate.

For triangulation to be effective, three conditions need to be met: there must be defined positions to the left and right on a topic which opens space in the middle, the public need to be dissatisfied with the polarised positions on offer and to trust the party or politician that is triangulating, to deliver on their centrist commitment.

It’s certainly true that George Osborne’s vision of austerity-max has shifted the Conservatives further to the right on the economy than their previous positioning. The much publicised IFS judgement that the cuts would take spending back to 1930s’ levels has resonated, with Osborne’s personal ratings taking a palpable hit – in the aftermath of the Autumn statement, YouGov found his net approval rate dropped from -8 to -11.

But the problem for Ed Miliband is that the left flank is occupied by Unite, most of the union movement and a fair proportion of the PLP, including some shadow cabinet members.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Ed Miliband lost more than a by-election last night

21/11/2014, 02:49:59 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Labour didn’t just lose a by-election last night, the centre-piece of Ed Miliband’s recovery strategy collapsed.

Rochester and Strood was meant to be a firebreak; the barrier that prevented the flames of a vanishing poll lead and growing internal Labour dissent from enveloping Ed Miliband.

Last week was the Labour leader’s big fight-back speech, this week was meant to be about the Tory by-election defeat to Ukip and next week should have been David Cameron’s Götterdämmerung with new defections to Ukip and the emergence of a letter in the press, signed by dozens of Tory backbenchers, calling for a change in leader.

This was the optimistic scenario mapped out by Ed Miliband’s advisers. Three weeks that would shift the topic of political conversation from Labour turmoil to Tory troubles.

As the Tories tore themselves apart, Labour jitters would subside, the poll lead would return and the path to a narrow victory would, once again, open up.

At least that was the hope. It was always a desperate strategy, entirely reliant on the actions of others: Ukip voters, truculent Tory backbenchers and journalists happy to move onto a new target.

Partially as a result of Emily Thornberry’s master-class in social media self-harm, but largely because the Ukip victory was so much narrower than expected, David Cameron is not facing the backbench meltdown forecast a few weeks ago.

There might be another defection, but the chances of a signed letter becoming public and a leadership challenge have all but disappeared.

Now there is nothing left to reset the political dynamic and Labour is left with a mess because of the type of by-election campaign necessitated by Ed Miliband’s leadership woes.

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