Posts Tagged ‘David Talbot’

Labour’s on its knees and the left’s interminable marches against austerity are part of the problem

25/06/2015, 04:30:04 PM

by David Talbot

After a second successive heavy electoral defeat, Labour finds itself in the familiar phase of conducting a leadership election. In 2010, after thirteen years of a Labour government, and the ill-fated reign of Gordon Brown, there was a widely-held sentiment that a new leader would breathe life into a visibly tired and, in parts of the country, reviled party.

It was a job of regrouping, reuniting and then combatting the unheralded coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There was a high hope, even expectation, that a return to power after five years was all but inevitable. After all, who didn’t despise the Tories and their sell-out collaborators, the Liberal Democrats?

This was an election that Labour could have won but ultimately chose not to. The litany of excuses is already being offered up early by a clearly stupefied left. The fight to define election defeat is well under way.

It is, of course, the fault of everyone but the left.

Stunned, it has returned to its ideological redoubt. What was its first major contribution to the post-election British political landscape? To march, of course. And so they did, hundreds of thousands, or tens of thousands, depending on whom you believed, marching against austerity. Just as they had done, multiple times, to no obvious affect, since 2010.

It was a return to the purity of their comfort zone; to rail against the Tories and their cuts. One could almost feel their collective relief that Labour had lost the election and they could thus continue the struggle. The left, clearly, has learnt little over the course of two devastating election defeats.

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Whatever the question, Andy Burnham is not the answer

12/05/2015, 09:00:08 AM

by David Talbot

In the end, Ed Miliband was just a better-dressed Michael Foot. An apocalyptic result in 2010 was turned into a near-existential one five years later. The coming post mortem must be detailed and clinical. A complete overhaul of the party, of its policies, ethos, outlook and thereby electoral appeal is now a necessity. There can be no nostalgia, ingratitude, mistrust, and even downright bitterness, which, sadly, has already been witnessed, of the electorate and the verdict it delivered last Thursday. The Labour party is, as my Uncut colleague Atul Hatwal has already noted, the sole signatory of its own downfall. Only it can pick itself up and offer itself to the nation anew come 2020.

The scale of the defeat must now be fully absorbed, understood and then acted upon. It is obvious to note given the scale of the defeat, but this was a process almost entirely lacking in the leadership election of 2010. The wrong conclusion was reached. The party had chosen to be comforted rather than challenged, and we witnessed its sorry aftermath on Friday morning. The electoral landscape as it now currently is, with Labour 99 seats behind the Conservatives, means that being out of office for twenty years is a very real possibility. The importance of whom the party chooses next as its leader is now central and vital to its fortunes.

Leadership contenders will be positioning themselves in the coming weeks, with Andy Burnham an early front-runner. But for the very reason that he is the epitome of a Labour figure who would rather pander to the party’s base then reach out to the nation, he must not succeed. Merely repeating “the NHS” is not – as we have just painfully witnessed – a successful election strategy. Burnham was at the heart of this. Candle-lit vigils, people’s marches, nonagenarians deployed at party conference – Burnham descended into the politics of demagoguery over the NHS. All wistful, nostalgia nonsense that fired up our base but was ultimately ignored by the electorate.

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Labour obsesses over London while Scotland burns

09/04/2015, 07:00:28 AM

by David Talbot

Returning home over the Easter weekend, the rolling English shires are about as far removed from the London metropolis as can be imagined. In political terms, my hometown, Stratford upon Avon, is a fortress of Conservative blue. The next door constituency to the south east is the prime minister’s of Witney, but to the north lie the Labour behemoth cities of Birmingham and Coventry, ringed by marginals that defined the Labour party’s return to government in 1997.

Redditch, Warwick and Leamington Spa and Worcester symbolised Labour’s deep raid into traditionally Tory lands – with the latter even spawning the stereotypical voter that gave Labour a long look again after 18 years in the wilderness. But the difference between the attention Labour will give these seats and those in London is stark, and potentially come to symbolise its failure on election night.

A week before the Easter break an ITV poll detailed Labour’s sweeping gains in the capital, with the party nudging to nearly fifty per cent of the vote and set to take six seats off the Conservatives. London, Sadiq Khan explained, held the key to Downing Street. To reinforce the point, an Evening Standard poll the next day showed Labour holding an eleven point lead. This, in a national election that is on a knife-edge, was impressive and encouraging for Labour. As part of its general election coverage the Standard ran coverage of the closest race in London, that of Hampstead and Kilburn. But buried beneath the prose of a tight election was a key, and damning, statistic.

Two out of the four million much-fabled conversations Labour are set to have in this election are to take place in London. This is a gross distortion of manpower in already safe Labour seats and, at best, for gains that will barely scratch the surface towards a majority.

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Is Labour prepared for a second Cameron government?

17/02/2015, 10:16:10 PM

by David Talbot

Such optimism greeted the unveiling of Labour’s grand general election strategy some two years ago. The party would target 106 key seats using techniques borrowed from Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaigns in a “realistic” strategy to install the Labour leader in Downing Street with a majority of 60, the then election supremo Tom Watson announced. Somewhat naturally, given Westminster’s seemingly never-ending penchant for expensive Americans, a thousand community organisers were to be funded simultaneously in the key seats trained by the now adrift Arnie Graf.

The general election had duly begun, we were told, and Labour was set to be a one-term opposition; a feat achieved just once in forty years. According to Watson’s detailed analysis, Labour needed a national swing of just under two per cent to be the largest party at the next election. An average swing of over five per cent would deliver Labour a Commons majority of 20 seats and over six per cent a 60-seat majority. Such was the bullishness of the assessment that all the seats announced were offensive, and such was the hyperbole attached that talk of an 80-seat majority was passed in the same breath. Labour will win, and “win well” Watson confidently asserted.

Such a shame. Three months out from the general election few in the Labour fold would publically repeat such wild talk. But at the time it was easy enough to see where the confidence had come from; the “ominshambles” Budget had handed Labour a large and sustained lead – with the party regularly breaching and holding the magical forty per cent barrier.

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Back to the future – Labour set to rerun the 2010 election campaign

05/01/2015, 08:07:31 AM

by David Talbot

Labour, said Douglas Alexander, the party’s general election supremo, would tap in to voters’ “submerged optimism”. The coming election battle would be a “word of mouth” election fought street by street. Traditional mainstays of the election campaign – posters, leaflets and election broadcasts – would be usurped by the surge of digital campaigning. While the party would be heavily outspent by the Conservatives, Labour would instead focus on “community organisation and peer-to-peer communication”.

Announcing that the party had learnt heavily from the Obama campaign, Labour’s use of digital media would pioneer real-time defence against the opposition as well as digital attack ads, raising funds and recruiting volunteers. This was in comparison to the Conservatives  who would spend their considerable war chest on “posters and paid distribution”. Labour’s campaign wouldn’t spend flashy millions and would win not through “one-way communication, but one-to-one communication”. Labour’s approach could be summarised by Alexander’s view that “traditional methods of communication are just inappropriate”.

Sound familiar? Last week Douglas Alexander unveiled Labour’s central campaigning themes for the 2015 general election. But the quotes and context above are all taken from Douglas Alexander’s comments made in February, 2010. The similarity between what Alexander said in 2010, when Labour was to fall to its second worse electoral defeat in its history, and his comments last Friday, are striking. The comments are, in certain passages, in fact almost identical.

In this election Labour will, according to Alexander, engage with “the anger felt by so many in the only way a progressive party can.” In 2010 Labour would deal with “anxiety and anger over bankers’ bonuses, expenses and the recession, a general sense of grumpiness” in, infamously, a “future fair for all.” Labour will “fight this election conversation by conversation, doorstep by doorstep, community by community” whilst in 2010, borrowing from Obama, naturally, it would be “regular people briefing Labour’s message to their neighbours, serving as our ambassadors, block by block, throughout the battleground seats”.

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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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