Posts Tagged ‘David Talbot’

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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Labour needs to be straight about its plans for the NHS

24/10/2014, 01:38:13 PM

by David Talbot

“The NHS is on the ballot paper in May” declared the Labour leader at Prime Minister’s Questions as he sought to solidify his party’s clear advantage on this most important, and emotive, of issues. That the NHS is set to be centre stage at the forthcoming general election is partly due to naked politicking, and partly due to the dire forecasts for our health service. Both main combatants are well aware of the financial and demographic peril the NHS is in, but both continue to besmirch the debate with clichéd attacks on how the Tories can’t be trusted on the NHS or, a new variant of the same line, Labour are ruining the NHS in Wales.

It is essential that politicians are honest with the public about the scale of the challenges facing the NHS. This is particularly true of the Labour party who are prone to nostalgia and playing on sentiment, invoking the spirit of Nye Bevan and having a nonagenarian address party conference, for instance, but specifically because the party is making pledges which, deep down, it must know will be difficult or nigh on impossible to deliver. The NHS matters too much for short term electoral considerations; it is better that the party is frank, and dare say unpopular, with the public now rather than risk alienation, anger and a disintegrating NHS later.

Ed Miliband’s flagship announcement at the party conference last month was an eye-catching commitment to establish a new £2.5 billion ‘Time to Care Fund’. This unravelled not long after some fairly rudimentary scrutiny; it will be not be implemented in full until 2017/18 and Labour would need to first pass a Budget and then enact legislation before the mansion tax, levy on tobacco firms and tax avoidance levies would yield any income. And even then there are serious doubts the revenue raised would come anywhere near the £2.5 billion quoted.

It is not to say that the party is not coming up with a better vision for the NHS. Labour’s plan for a combined health and care service is unquestionably the right direction of travel, but it is not a cost or pain-free option. Andy Burnham may deny that there will be large-scale reorganisation, but unavoidably, and undoubtedly, there would be heavy financial and structural costs. A messy structural reorganisation of the administration of healthcare would clearly get in the way of healthcare delivery. What is important, what the public should not be fed, is the idea that it is not a reorganisation. It is exactly that.

The King’s Fund Barker report estimated that even after introducing a combined health and care service, spending would need to rise to around 11% of GDP to meet demand. This would still leave our health spending trailing the highest European spenders – but it would require double the spending increase that Labour is currently proposing.

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Send for ‘effing Cameron rather than moribund Miliband

11/09/2014, 09:19:36 AM

by David Talbot

The fightback, declared the Labour leader, would start in Scotland. The newly anointed leader was speaking at the Scottish Labour conference of 2010, five months after a crushing general election defeat, but eight months before the next set of Scottish elections. Miliband was clearly eyeing a return to hegemony for Labour in Scotland. The rot, of course, had set in four years before; Labour historically losing control of Holyrood by one seat, and thereby setting in motion the frantic scenes seen seven days before the vote.

The utter failure of the Labour leaders’ words were laid bare when the SNP duly crushed a ramshackle Scottish Labour in 2011. The Prime Minister, from across the Despatch Box, duly took great delight in taunting the Labour’s  failure, though neither would take much delight in the perilous position for either of their parties in Scotland today.

Both Miliband and Cameron have waxed lyrical about their love of Scotland their passionate desire for it to stay as part of the Union. The Labour leader told the Labour conference of 2012 that the referendum on Scottish independence was of more importance to him than the general election. Whilst Cameron signalled early in his leadership of the Conservative party just how sorry he was for Tory misdemeanours in Scotland, vowing to “never take Scotland for granted”.

But as the referendum has unfolded both have largely taken a secondary role in the Better Together campaign. This is true, in part, because the main antagonists in the debate over Scotland’s independence have to be, of course, the Scots themselves. Labour leadership was originally bequeathed to the admirable and worthy, but seemingly failing, Alistair Darling, with the forlorn figure of Gordon Brown now returning to stomp around frontline politics. Miliband, until very recently, has been remarkable mainly for his absence in the Labour effort.

The situation for Cameron was all the clearer. He wasn’t welcome. The SNP dearly want to turn the referendum into a Scotland versus the English Conservatives vote, and there is only one outcome. The Prime Minister acknowledged as such when he understatedly said earlier on this year that his electoral appeal did not reach into every corner of the Union.

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If Yvette wants to be leader she needs to tell us what she stands for

12/08/2014, 08:10:46 AM

by David Talbot

What else is there to do in the long summer months than speculate on the next leader of the Labour party? Last summer, of course, events in Falkirk consumed the body politic. This year, with nowhere near as much excitement to hold the nerve during the month of news-austerity that is August, commentators have turned their eye to much more familiar ground; leadership speculation. As Boris Johnson confirms that he had been fibbing all this time and is positively squeaking with ambition to become the next Conservative leader, so too the next roll-call of Labour leadership hopefuls is being sized up. This is predicated, of course, on a Labour loss next year. But that argument is for another day.

Step forward one D Hodges, formerly of the Uncut parish, and now musing from his perch at the Telegraph. Hodges has written a blog suggesting that Rachel Reeves has utilised her ‘boring snoring’ credentials to propel herself into the position of a credible contender for future leadership of the Labour party. Reeves , we are told, for no one actually noticed at the time, launched the latest salvo in Labour’s “the choice” summer campaign last week. Reeves no doubt has a serious and illustrious career ahead of her in the Labour party and, when she genuinely is not being quite so boring, could one day make leader. But the secondary, and all the more intriguing, observation was the slow demise of Yvette Cooper.

Cooper has long been seen as the one serious contender to take on the might of the Umunna machine. Her abstention during the last Labour leadership contest, with the announcement that it wasn’t “the right time”, was rightly seen as the barely-disguised motions of someone who given the chance would run for leader. The reasons for her prominence are well known, and her CV reads like so many of her current Labour contemporaries; First Class degree in PPE at Oxford, Harvard, Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, Harriet Harman’s office via the Independent and emerging as Labour’s Member of Parliament for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford.

Her rise through the ministerial ranks was systematic and impressive; from underling at the Department of Health to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Given New Labour’s obsession with reshuffles, Cooper was a member of the government in no less than 6 departments holding 8 positions. The depth and breadth of her experience is enviable. As shadow Home Secretary she has at times forensically dissected the arguments and machinations of her government counterpart, Theresa May, who is widely regarded as one of the Conservative’s best performers and strongly tipped for their throne.

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Enough is enough. Labour should kick out Ken Livingstone

08/05/2014, 03:44:44 PM

by David Talbot

In January 2004 a controversial member of the Labour family was readmitted to the fold. Ken Livingstone, the hitherto independent Mayor of London, had submitted his application before Labour’s NEC in order to run as the official Labour candidate in the forthcoming second London-wide ballot.

Livingstone had been expelled from party membership for five years in 2000 when, having been blocked by the party’s hierarchy from running as its official candidate for Mayor, he stood as an independent. Labour’s gerrymandering of the selection procedure, coupled with its heavy-handedness in throwing out the longstanding MP, merely resulted in Livingstone beating Labour’s official candidate into a humiliating fourth place.

Upon his return to the Labour column a jubilant Livingstone described it all as an unfortunate misunderstanding and of a marriage that had temporarily broken down. It is near long-forgotten that this fiercely independent firebrand lobbied extensively for his readmission to the party. But since then Livingstone has abused this “marriage of convenience” with the Labour party to the point where many right-minded Labourites can no longer willingly tolerant his membership of their party.

He has taken all he could from the relationship, and given scant in return. The charge sheet of abuse, varying in seriousness, is so extensive and so oft-repeated it is barely worth the bandwidth to detail further; campaigning against an official Labour candidate in 2010, admitting that he never voted Labour under Tony Blair’s leadership, whilst throwing in the customary charge that he should be tried for war crimes; his tax avoidance, his penchant for the mullahs of Tehran, telling the Reuben brothers to go “back where they came from”, likening a journalist to a concentration camp guard – even after he knew he was Jewish, his distaste for the Jewish community in general, and his patronage of Shaykh Yusuf Al Qaradaw, who denies the Holocaust, promotes female genital mutilation, and urges the throwing of homosexuals from rooftops as a punishment for their sin.

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Axelrod won’t make a difference as long as Zombie Labour marches on

18/04/2014, 01:33:10 PM

by David Talbot

The charge was made infamous by Unite’s Len McCluskey who, in typically robust style, refuted comments made by the Labour MP and former Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson.

That the former general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union had the audacity to attack the trade union movement in the organ that they most despise, Progress, ensured that this former comrade had joined the dead roll-call of “Blairite zombies”. Indeed, the moniker is seemingly used to tar anyone who is either proud of the work of three successive Labour governments, or who is not an instant adherent of whatever ‘One Nation’ Labour purports to be.

The imagery is powerful, as those who deploy it clearly acknowledge, and the connotations serious. It is used a weapon of instant dismissal, not on the merits of the argument being put forward but on the political relevance, or not, of the person articulating them.

For we know that happens when movements, parties or politicians continue to stagger forward, limp-like, dead behind the eyes. They become “zombies”. Unable to articulate any coherent political thought they mindlessly harp back to better days, presumably when they were at least alive, and stick cult-like to their dogma.

For the left of the party, who have monopolised this attack on the perceived wickedness of the Labour right, this interpretation allows them to, at a stroke, blame them for all the party’s woes. It is the swivel-eyed, walking-dead platoon of Blairite ultras holding Labour back, so the argument goes.

The living dead in the Labour party are, though, not the target often cited. With their clammy dead hands it is not the Blairites who have a zombie grip on the direction on the Labour party. The political lobotomies belong solely to the left of the party who, with the recklessness of those about to die, have realised they could do everything they ever dared for.

When deciding whether to sign on the dotted line, its unlikely that Labour’s newest guru, David Axelrod, had full sight of these legions on the undead left. But as he gets to work, he will soon understand their power.

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Nick Clegg has changed British politics and Labour would do well to understand that

19/02/2014, 07:26:32 AM

by David Talbot

Moments after the close of the first debate of the 2010 general election, Lib Dem officials were breathlessly rushing around the Granada studios in Manchester. They were hailing their leader’s performance as a potential “game-changer” in an election that had seemingly been thrown wide open. Nick Clegg, the political messiah, had arrived.

It was his best, and worst, moment.

Lauded to the skies as a return to Churchill, as another Obama, as the new kingmaker, he surely knew it must be as good as it gets. And how it turned out so. Burning effigies scarred the land, his party sunk to historic lows, lost deposits and pitiful results abounded. The great irony, however, is that come 2015 he will once again take centre stage.

Any fool can kick Nick Clegg. The Labour party, so often by far the most sanctimonious of the main political parties, has reduced this to a sorry art-form. When Clegg entered the coalition government with the Conservatives, the Labour party, always quick to feel betrayed, duly howled blue murder. It was treason of a high order. If there is one thing the Labour party does well it is hatred, and hate we did.

A more nuanced view would rightly ask what else was the leader of the Liberal Democrats meant to do? The only other option open to Clegg was to stand aloof, tolerating a minority Tory government and most likely precipitating another early election. The country, having just gone through the toils of a general election, would not have taken kindly to such short-sightedness. An alliance with Labour, who had just been decimated in the polls, would have been simply incredible. And were another election called, Labour, leader-less, penny-less, would have been destroyed. But for some in the party this is the utopia that could and should have happened until that bastard Clegg came along.

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How does Labour secure a majority in 2015? The centrists must keep the faith

03/02/2014, 03:58:00 PM

In the run up to tonight’s Progress event , we have been publishing a series of pieces on what is required for Labour to secure a majority in 2015. Here, David Talbot sees the political pendulum swinging back to the centre of the Labour party.

Something strange happened in New York in November 1783. It was a fundamental change of order; the collapse of an established Empire. Mounted on a grey horse, George Washington marched down Manhattan at the head of his victorious army. At the same time, British redcoats headed frantically in the opposite direction. When they reached the southernmost tip of the island, they clambered into longboats and rowed out to the remaining Royal Navy ships waiting in the harbour.

For a while it looked as if this might be a blow from which the Empire would never recover. A similar, though mercifully less bloody, scenario befell Manchester in 2010. Mounting the aptly red-soaked stage, Ed Miliband had emerged victorious as the new leader of the Labour party. Looking across the massed banks of his newly-acquired army he pointedly declared the ushering in of a “new generation”. At a stroke the old order fell. The equivalent of the British redcoats, let’s call them Blairites, beat a hasty retreat.

Much like the British army, who didn’t actually formally leave the United States until 1815, a small redoubt of those clinging to the old order within the Labour party have remained resolute. Flying the flag for a forgotten creed this militia are tough on the deficit, restrained on public spending, open to union and party reform, and unremittingly wedded to a centrist, fiscally credible, Labour party. Much like the thousands of loyalists who were left as the last Royal Navy ship left the New York shore, they have been ostracised from and punished by the triumphant forces.

But with the polls forever narrowing and the general election emerging through the midst the Labour party can go one of two ways. It can have its marches and rail against the cuts; it can take fifty per cent of your income; it can promise to cut your energy bill, build your home, and keep your press pure. But without economic credibility it is nothing.

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Labour is winning the economic argument? Pull the other one.

18/12/2013, 09:20:15 PM

by David Talbot

When the shadow chancellor declared on Sky’s Dermot Murnaghan programme that Labour was winning the economic argument, one can be forgiven for thinking that not even he believed the words he had just uttered.

He certainly hadn’t convinced the Commons the Thursday before, standing up to a wall of noise the previously iron-clad shadow chancellor delivered a puce-faced riposte that fell flat in the chamber and barely reverberated outside. Osborne, grinning and preening himself like his newly purchased cat, luxuriated in his adversary’s obvious discomfort – recognising not only the personal but the political challenges the shadow chancellor has to slay.

And, earlier today, at the year’s final PMQs, the sight of rows of silent, doleful Labour MPs, arms folded, as the prime minister ran through his stand-up repartee at Ed Balls’ expense, told its own story.

After three years of stagnation, the economy is showing tentative signs of recovery. Growth may be unbalanced and anaemic, but the threat of returning recession has been averted. A change of mood is altering the terms of political argument in British politics, and with it Labour’s much-heralded ‘cost of living’ campaign appears increasingly redundant.

To say the least, it remains highly questionable as to whether the living standards argument will enable Labour to make incursions into the electorate where the party’s appeal has so far been rather limited. The voters Labour have to win over to achieve outright victory in 2015 appear far less persuaded about its core arguments on the ‘cost of living crisis’, and are increasingly optimistic about the general state of the economy.

Labour has done nowhere near enough to address the basic charge of economic mismanagement; from the ludicrously long leadership hustings, which allowed the coalition government an unrivalled opportunity to set the political narrative for four whole months, to Balls’ stupid delight in his ‘flat-lining’ gesture, the damage has been done and is yet to be repaired. Voters may have been prepared to rethink some now entrenched assumptions about Labour’s responsibility for the economic crisis, but only if the party showed that it too was rethinking and reflecting, including being humble about its own failings.

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Please, no more “zen socialism”

17/09/2013, 09:45:39 AM

by David Talbot

August, clearly, was not quite the sojourn the Labour leader no doubt dearly wished it to be. The hitherto unheard of George Mudie, apparently the MP for Leeds East, initiated the dreadful barrage that was to be directed at the Labour leader over a fearsome few weeks.

Pilloried from left to right, upon his return Miliband was attacked in a different form when a disgruntled bystander threw an egg as he sauntered round a south London market. Amongst the many reactions was the question of “why?” – it was in itself a surprise to many that a member of the public had formed a sufficient enough opinion of Miliband as to be angry.

For the Labour’s leader’s strategy has been personified by that of the forever being the tortoise, and certainly not the hare, on the path to 2015. It has been eloquently articulated as “zen socialism” and, astonishingly, really is the only “-ism” one can apply to Miliband nearly three years into his leadership.

“Zen socialism” first troubled the English language in the aftermath of Labour’s bloody leadership election. In those troubled days the strategy had an ounce of sense; Labour had just been crushed in the general election and had subjected itself to a ridiculously long internal election that had split the party in two.

A sustained period of quiet reflection seemed imminently sensible. The electorate were neither listening nor cared about what the Labour party was saying or doing. Polls reflected comfortable Labour leads that were more a referendum on the coalition than anything the Labour party was doing. A safety first approach seemed attractive and sensible; time to rebuild, heal and fight renewed.

At some point in every parliament, though, the cycle of politics ceases to be a referendum about the government and turns into a choice between parties. When that point comes, as it now surely has, Labour really ought to look like a plausible party of government offering a coherent, costed and attractive prospectus. The party is, to put it politely, some way off that. Members of the public are categorically not telling pollsters and canvassers that they wish Ed Miliband would just take that little bit longer to define himself and outline concrete policies.

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