Posts Tagged ‘Atul Hatwal’

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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What Ed Miliband should have said to Myleene Klass

18/11/2014, 12:14:03 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Myleene Klass is a lucky woman. She went on ITV’s Agenda last night, talked nonsense about taxation and should have been ridiculed.

Comparing taxing a glass of water to higher tax rates for properties worth over £2m is idiotic. But because Myleene was up against a hesitant and tentative Ed Miliband, she has emerged this morning in the press as an anti-tax Boudicca.

In his exchange with Myleene, Ed Miliband failed on two counts: first, to challenge the notion that taxing more expensive properties at a higher rate was somehow arbitrary and second, to highlight the crushing inequity of the current council tax system.

Taxing property is not some on-the-hoof fancy dreamt up by the Labour party. From the Window tax of 1707 onwards, it’s been central to how government raises money as long as the United Kingdom has existed.

The methods might not have been perfect, but as a principle, the progressive taxation of property is anything but arbitrary.

And the reason a mansion tax is being discussed is that the current system of council tax is grotesquely unfair: people with the lowest value properties pay proportionately much, much more than those with more expensive homes.

In Kensington and Chelsea, someone at the upper rate of the lowest council tax band, with a property value of £40,000 pays 17 times more than a householder with a £2m property, as a proportion of their property value.

Even at the start of the highest council tax band, with properties at £320,000, the owner will proportionately pay five times more than someone with a £2m property.

The scale of inequality rises as the value of properties increase.

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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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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. (more…)

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If Labour were credible on the deficit, Cameron’s speech would have been a disaster

02/10/2014, 11:53:39 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Lucky David Cameron.

Lucky, because the global economic upturn has dealt him a kind hand on the economy, just as the crash dealt Labour a dud.

Lucky, because the lack of serious alternatives within the parliamentary Conservative party has assured his tenure as leader, no matter how jittery or demented his backbenchers have become (imagine how different the situation would have been had there been a Heseltine or Portillo lurking in the Commons’ corridors instead of Adam Afriye.)

And, most of all, lucky because David Cameron faces Ed Miliband’s Labour party.

A party so denuded of economic credibility that the Tories can increase the deficit by £75bn, miss all of their fiscal targets, and still maintain a double digit poll lead over Labour, on who is most trusted to manage the economy.

It’s why David Cameron could make the speech he did yesterday. A speech offering an unfunded £7bn+ tax cut just 48 hours after George Osborne talked up the need for an extra £25bn in cuts.

We have passed through the looking glass and entered a world of Wonderland economics: where tax cuts are all self-funding and public spending cuts have no consequence.

If Labour had done what it needed to four years ago; demonstrated that it understood the public’s anxieties over spending with the last Labour government, and moved to win back public trust, then David Cameron would now be in serious trouble.

The public would be listening as Labour spokespeople point out the political hypocrisy and economic insanity at the heart of David Cameron’s speech.

Years of Tory message discipline on the need for fiscal rectitude would be lying in ruins. Mistrust of the Tories on public spending would be taking off in the polls.

But none of that is happening.

Instead, as far as the public is concerned, Labour remains on mute. Whatever the party says on the economy is tuned out because of the deeply held belief that however bad the Tories are – and there’s lots of evidence that the public have little faith or confidence in Cameron and Osborne’s economic judgement – Labour will be worse.

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If the West is serious about defeating Isil, a deal with Assad is unavoidable

19/08/2014, 11:30:16 AM

by Atul Hatwal

I recall speaking to Syrian friend last summer about the impending parliamentary vote on military intervention.

He had been one of his country’s leading surgeons, and a classical musician, appearing regularly on national TV. Until his dissent against President Assad had become a little too public. Imprisonment and torture by Assad’s secret police were followed by a lucky escape, both from Assad’s jail and a country degenerating into civil war, to seek asylum in Britain.

I’d expected him to be supportive of action against the regime. After all, it had taken everything from him and his family.

But all I found was despondency and, on balance, opposition to military action.

By this time last year, the primary threat to Syria was no longer President Assad. It was the rise of the Islamist militias and the collapse of secular centre in the opposition. We could bomb Assad. We could send him a bouquet of flowers. Both would have been equally relevant to the suffering of the Syrian people.

In summer 2013, the reality of life in Syria was that it was more dangerous to live in territory controlled by the Islamist militias than Assad.

The discussion that my friend saw unfolding in this country was facile and pointless. The knee-jerk opposition of much of the left to any intervention that involved the Americans – who, by coincidence are also the only country that can mount any meaningful humanitarian or military intervention – was borderline offensive.

Yet the position of the interventionists, although motivated by good intentions, was barely better informed.

Targeting President Assad’s military infrastructure with some limited bombing might have made the hawks in London and Washington feel happier, but it wouldn’t have helped Syrians living under Isil, the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Islamic Front or any one of the other dozen or so, hardcore jihadi groups.

And if this potential action had materially degraded the Syrian regime’s military capability, the threat of advances by the Islamist militias would have been all the greater.

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The legacy of Gaza will be a one state solution, with all that entails

05/08/2014, 05:36:17 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The carnage has ceased for the moment in Gaza. The guns are silent. We’ve been here before: the anguish on both sides, the depths of bitterness and the certainty that at some point in the next few years, we’ll be here again.

However, while it has been a visceral and traumatic few weeks, in terms of the underlying politics, Gaza has not fundamentally changed the situation in Israel and the occupied territories. Rather, it has accelerated existing trends and entrenched current positions.

The Israeli public, which has consistently voted for governing coalitions that cannot deliver a two state solution, will be even less likely to countenance the compromises needed. The pain of tens of thousands of settlers being forcibly removed by the Israeli army, in the West Bank, is now inconceivable. No coalition could deliver it, even if somehow enough politicians could be persuaded, because the public do not want it.

The Palestinians will be equally hostile to compromise. The concessions needed to rebuild any confidence within Israel that the first acts of new Palestinian state would not involve more tunnels, rockets and terror, will not be forthcoming from any Palestinian government that wants to hold onto any legitimacy in the eyes of its people.

Gaza has finally killed the two state solution. There can and will only be one state, which raises an existential question for Israel. One for which military superiority alone cannot provide a ready answer: what will be this state’s nature?

Currently in Israel and the occupied territories, there are roughly 12.5m people, just over half are Jewish Israelis, just under half either Arab Israelis or Palestinian.

At the moment, while the vague hope for a two state deal nominally flickers on, the Palestinian population of the occupied territories are not considered part of Israel.

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It’s “not flash, just Gordon” redux. And is likely to be even less successful.

25/07/2014, 01:47:16 PM

by Atul Hatwal

It’s been said that he is the son of Brown and today Ed Miliband made a quintessential Brownite move.

His speech on leadership could have been lifted wholesale from Gordon Brown’s back catalogue. In fact, if it wasn’t quite lifted, it was almost certainly written by some of the same hands that crafted Gordon Brown’s attempt to address his image problem.

Back in 2007, Gordon Brown was struggling against a telegenic Conservative leader. Plus ça change. Brown seemed awkward and uncomfortable in his own skin. The response? “Not flash, just Gordon.” Saatchi & Saatchi designed the poster below and the message was clear: substance over style.

Not flash just Gordon

To bolster Gordon’s credentials as a serious but normal kind of guy, his wife was deployed for media opportunities.  A Mirror headline trumpeted in 2008 that she was to be Labour’s “secret weapon.”

Sound familiar?

Fast forward to today and its Ed’s turn to be self-deprecating about his media talents and attack and the emphasis on “photo-opp politics” in contrast to his own sincerity and conviction. And here’s the Huff Post headline for the Justine Thornton interview from 3 days ago, “Could Ed’s wife turn out to be his secret weapon?”

We’ve been here before and we know how this story ends. In fact, its likely to go even less well for Ed than it did for Gordon, for three reasons.

First, Brown was prime minister. Whatever the shortcomings of the politician, the office bestows authority and Gordon Brown’s experience at the top of British politics meant he did have a certain gravitas. The most successful line his team used in this campaign was “no time for a novice.” Not something Ed Miliband can say.

Second, Twitter was not a factor before the last election. It is now. As Ed Miliband delivered his speech, my timeline filled up with his photo-opps, from the 7,000 mile round trip for a photo with president Obama, to this absolute peach from the pasty tax campaign (h/t James Manning),

Photo opp

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Cameron’s reshuffle reshapes the battlefield to exploit Labour weaknesses

16/07/2014, 01:18:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Forget the breathless minutiae of who’s up and who’s down or biographies of the newly promoted, most analyses of the Tory reshuffle have missed the most important point: this was a reshuffle defined by Labour. Labour’s lines of attack and Labour’s vulnerabilities.

Ed Miliband was the silent witness, standing in the corner, at the back of David Cameron’s mind as the prime minister worked out his new ministerial jigsaw.

In each of the three major changes David Cameron announced – the promotion of women, the demotion of Gove and the installation of Phillip Hammond at FCO –  the same motivation is evident:  to reshape the battlefield with Labour. To make the Tories a smaller target, minimise the potential for distracting internal conflict and focus the national debate on the two areas where David Cameron is confident he has the beating of Ed Miliband: leadership and the economy.

It is debateable whether Labour’s repeated attacks on Cameron for sexism have won over many wavering voters, but they certainly had media resonance and diverted the political conversation away from the Conservatives preferred topics.

Ta Dah! David Cameron now has a defensible position on women’s representation. Labour will continue with its attacks, as was evident at PMQs today, but the traction is gone. Broadcast journalists are notably less opinionated than their newspaper comrades, but these tweets by ITV’s Chris Ship are indicative of the mood among the lobby.


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The Labour leadership’s reaction to Thursday’s strike action is incoherent

08/07/2014, 10:14:26 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Can you hear it? Those creaks and squeaks disrupting the heavy, doleful silence. That’s the sound of people squirming,  uncomfortably in their chairs. And its emanating from the upper echelons of the Labour party.

The cause is what’s happening on Thursday: industrial action on a scale rarely seen. Heallth workers, teachers, local government employees, fire fighters, university staff, civil servants and rail workers are among the groups that will strike.

Their reasons are understandable: real terms pay cuts, deteriorating pensions provision and redundancies. If the unions didn’t strike in these circumstances, there really would be little point to them. They are accountable to their members and their members are mad as hell.

What is less understandable is the reaction of the Labour leadership. There seems to be no collective line to take.

Tristram Hunt was on Marr on Sunday giving his particular rendition of the Sound of Silence. He neither opposed nor supported the teachers’ strike action, casting himself as a rather odd, impotent observer of events. Certainly for someone who aspires to be the secretary of state for education.

Then there was Owen Smith yesterday on the Daily Politics, initially trying to stick to the no-line-to-take-line-to-take but finding himself compelled, by the pressure of his own logic, to back the strikes as the interview unfolded.

In the 44 press releases issued by the Labour party over the past week, not one has addressed Thursday’s action and given an official Labour line.

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