Posts Tagged ‘David Talbot’

Keir Starmer’s task is to show how the Tories’ choices left Britain so exposed to the ravages of the crisis. Just like David Cameron did to Labour in 2008

06/04/2021, 10:35:20 PM

by David Talbot

When Gordon Brown took to the despatch box for Prime Minister Questions in late 2008, his slip of the tongue – that he had “saved the world” – was, of course, mercilessly mocked by his many detractors. Brown’s handling of the financial crisis, both actual and perceived, went on to form the nucleus of the Conservatives’ electoral strategy for the election two years later – and to dominate British politics for the next decade.

History has since judged the efforts of Gordon Brown to recapitalise the world economy in a rather more favourable light. Indeed, a rather noted economist may even agree with his assessment. But it provided a perfect wedge opportunity for the then opposition Conservative party who, as history has also rather forgotten, had hitherto pledged to match Labour’s spending plans.

The Conservatives’ ruthless exploitation of the global recession, and its central accusation that Labour’s profligacy had largely caused it, was the platform on which it fought the 2010 and 2015 elections. It was a conscious and potent choice to blame Gordon Brown and the Labour Party as being solely responsible for the recession and to continually fuel fears that the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. ‘Borrowing’ became the bogey word in British politics and the deficit the fulcrum in which all political decisions were taken. In a perfect illustration of how it is the victors that write history, the budget deficit today is exactly double what David Cameron and George Osborne were apparently so apoplectic about in 2010.

What, then, are the lessons to be applied to today’s, COVID-dominated, politics? Sir Keir Starmer marked his year in post with a missive in the organ of the left, the Observer, stating that the Prime Minister’s “slowness to act at crucial moments cost many lives and jobs”. It was possibly Starmer’s most damning assessment to date of the government’s handling of the pandemic, but it was mentioned only in fleeting, and not as a central thread of an event that, as the Prime Minister himself has admitted, the country will be dealing with for a lifetime.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The latest government NHS reorganisation is an unprecedented admission of the failure of the Lansley reforms. Labour needs to be careful in its response

10/02/2021, 08:45:46 AM

by David Talbot

In a grey side-room at the Royal College of Nursing conference in early 2011, a grey-looking Andrew Lansley attempted to defend his controversial reforms of the NHS. In what was surely an unintended ‘Nicola Murray moment’, the then Health Secretary, in the moments after the Congress had unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in him, uttered: “I am sorry if what it is I am setting out to do has not communicated itself”.

It was a gift to Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. It repeatedly called on the reforms to be scrapped, with the now King of the North, Andy Burnham, burnishing his credentials as Labour’s saviour of the NHS. It wasn’t just politicking, though, with healthcare professionals labelling it as “the wrong reform, not just now but at any time in the future”. The bill’s passage didn’t get a smoother time in Parliament either. The House of Lords alone tabled 374 amendments and it was debated for over 14 months with with 50 days of parliamentary debate, in what was – and still is – the most scrutiny that any bill has had in the history of Parliament.

Lansley was sacked less than a year and a half after his nuanced apology in Liverpool. His ambition to reconfigure the NHS, nine years in the making, had derailed the coalition, stultified and appalled vast swathes of the NHS and, ultimately, cost him his job. He left a toxic legacy within the NHS profession towards the Conservative-led coalition, with the more affable Jeremy Hunt moved into place with the (sole) brief to dampen the NHS as an election issue.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Ignore the teenage scribblers on the left, Keir Starmer has got this

23/12/2020, 10:36:38 PM

by David Talbot

As dusk falls on the most punishing of years, the political fortunes of the Government has oscillated from “a fantastic year for Britain” to Christmas being cancelled across a country decimated by COVID-19, economic collapse at home, ostracisation abroad and uniform exhaustion at life being halted as we know it.

For the Prime Minister, who ushered in the New Year with what can now rightly be seen as one of the most macabre of reassurances, his bombastic optimistic, jingoism and bravado – which were all either once lauded or played significantly to his base – have become his wickeder traits as reality finally catches up with his fantasies and self-obsession.

For the Labour Party, the direction of travel has been diametrically opposed but no less difficult.
Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on the Labour Party had been profound. Corbyn, and Corbynism, was ushered into a party rootless after 13 years of power and the failure of Ed Miliband to carve out distinct ground to the left of his predecessors, whilst still appeasing a membership and trade union base yearning for “transformative” policies. The 2019 election result was the final sorry denouement to that particular thought exercise.

Labour has now been out of power for 10 years, half of that time under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The hegemony that he held over the party, particularly post the 2017 general election defeat, has now been ceded.

One of the many early tasks for the new Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, was to establish himself before anyone else could define him.

The Conservatives’ inability to define and sustain a line of attack on the Labour leader is self-evident; he most obviously is not, for one, a far-left sympathiser of Jeremy Corbyn, nor is he – as has been highlighted to no great joy – Captain Hindsight.

Starmer rightly recognised early on in his leadership that he needed to earn the trust of the British public to be listened to again. It involves a long-term commitment to listening to and understanding why communities moved away from a party historically created to represent them.

Policies are, of course, important in politics. But so are people. Labour presented a dazzling array of policies at the general election last year which, whilst collectively popular, were holed by a complete lack of credibility and competence by those espousing them.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Corbyn’s toxic legacy lingers on in Unite

08/10/2020, 10:43:56 PM

by David Talbot

The seeds of Unite the Union’s recent act of self-immolation were sown in early 2018. In an article for the New Statesman, Len McCluskey opined that Labour MPs who were hostile to Jeremy Corbyn’s then leadership were using antisemitism as part of a “sustained smearing” campaign against the embattled Labour leader. Praising “the great advances” made in the previous year’s general election, the party’s third historic defeat in a row, he vowed that Corbyn’s critics would have to face the consequences.

The following morning the then shadow Brexit Secretary, and now leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, popped up on the Today programme to disavow the party of the General Secretary’s comments. It was “obvious” the party had a sustained problem with antisemitism, Starmer said, and that “denying the problem is part of the problem.”

McCluskey, for all his written word to the contrary, has a repeated history of lashing out against opponents of antisemitism in the Labour Party. A longstanding Jewish Labour Member of Parliament, Margaret Hodge, was “disgraceful and despicable”, British Jewish leaders demonstrated “truculent hostility” and he was “disappointed” in the Jewish Labour Movement when it published a dossier full of testimonies of antisemitism in the party, noting rather darkly that it “doesn’t support Jeremy Corbyn”.

McCluskey had his rematch with Starmer over Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking from the Shadow Cabinet in June, calling the left’s fallen protégé sacking “an unnecessary overreaction to a confected row”.

In August, the Unite leader laid the foundations for this week’s announcement telling the Observer that he was infuriated with the Labour leader’s decision to pay substantial damages to seven former party staff who had appeared in the BBC’s Panorama documentary. As the Board of Deputies has rightly noted, it is both ironic and deeply shameful that the leader of a trade union should so disparage and attack party workers for the treatment they endured at the hands of their employers.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour must beware the Tories’ ‘Miliband minority’ attack line – it worked before, it could work again

30/09/2020, 10:53:48 PM

By David Talbot

The country has become rather used to going to the polls. Three times in four years, no less. The hattrick of recent elections ushered in a Conservative majority for the first time in 23 years. The Conservatives were successful in turning the 2015 election into a de facto referendum on a minority Labour government. The attacks on Labour’s supposed dependence on the SNP gained wider resonance because of voters’ deeper suspicion of its leader and the party he led, but the Conservatives’ campaign created a palpable fear of a minority Miliband.

Fast forward two elections and Brexit has created a remarkable Conservative alliance. By making people’s identity, and the values they hold, the central tenet of the past four years of British politics, the Conservative party has fundamentally reinvented itself from Cameron’s modish liberalism.

From its traditional affluent, Shire-dwelling support to ripping through the Red Wall, it has taken the party to the highwater mark of British politics: 14 million votes. This is in and around the number of votes the Labour Party must achieve if it is to win the 2024 election.

The government’s electoral coalition, although mighty, is unstable. That is why it will continue to focus on socially conservative signalling and policies on law and order, national security and cack-handed attempts to reheat Brexit’s culture wars.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

“Incompetence” is the most dangerous word in politics. Boris beware

20/08/2020, 10:45:53 PM

by David Talbot

In the Autumn of 2007, a resurgent Labour Party, galvanised by Gordon Brown’s elevation to Number Ten, met in Bournemouth buoyant at the prospect of an early general election. Under the banner ‘The strength to succeed’ Brown had spent the first few months of his ultimately doomed premiership reassuring the nation. From donning his wellies in flooded, predominantly Conservative-dwelling, shires, to soothing the nation following terrorist attacks in Glasgow and London, Brown’s early brand was based on solidity and, most of all, competence.

The problem of creeping incompetence usually arises towards the end of a government’s life, when Ministers are tired and a smell of decay whiffs through the air. But this government has developed a competence problem after merely a year in office.

COVID-19 was not, of course, the design of Boris Johnson’s government but its response to it has been lamentable and incompetent in the extreme. It squandered two precious months to prepare the nation, its much vaunted “world beating” track and trace system is a disgrace, it failed to protect frontline NHS staff through the heat of the pandemic, and it turned the nation’s care homes into breeding grounds for a disease whose mortality is intertwined with those aged 65 years and above.

From surcharges for migrant NHS workers, school meal vouchers for the nation’s most vulnerable schoolchildren to levelling down students’ futures, this government has exuded wanton incompetence in every nuance of an increasingly desperate defences. Even on its flagship raison d’être, Brexit, its “oven ready” deal has been strangely aloof since it was lauded every day for two months late last year.

Johnson’s limitations have been well-known and widespread for years; his disorganisation, his lack of attention to detail, his bluster and bumbling incompetence. In politics, if you take an ideological stance it will always mean you lose someone. But develop a reputation for incompetence, and you lose everybody.

And it is on this ground that Sir Keir Starmer has staked his early strategy. Through demonstrating competence, severely lacking for years under the previous administration, Labour has at last emerged as a serious party determined on seeking power. It is easy to see why this attribute is so important to Labour, not only as a core prerequisite for any party seeking power, but through polling – such as the Observer last month on the perceptions of the two party’s leaders:

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Covid has put the NHS front and centre. But Labour needs to beware, 2019 showed that support for the NHS does not equal votes for Labour

12/06/2020, 09:45:56 PM

by David Talbot

On the morning after consigning the Labour Party to a fourth and devastating general election defeat, the Prime Minister addressed the nation from the steps of Downing Street. In the early glow of election victory, Boris Johnson informed the party faithful and, more importantly, the millions of converted Labour voters that the “NHS is this One Nation government’s top priority”.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party had tried awfully hard during the preceding six weeks to make the NHS the central focus of the election. Chants of “not for sale!” reverberated around campaign rallies as a dossier exposing the “secret agenda” to sell off the NHS to US corporations was thrust into the heart of the campaign.

It was easy to understand Labour’s desire to move the debate from the Conservatives’ favoured ground of Brexit, and its pithy slogan, to the one policy area the party led on. Indeed, at the start of the campaign, the NHS was cited by more (60%) of the population than Brexit (56%) as the most important issue facing the nation. 68% of Labour’s 2017 voters also named the NHS as their number one priority, and Labour retained a lead, albeit small, on the party best placed to protect the health service.

The NHS was not only an important election issue, but it united a party which was allergic about talking about Brexit and acted as a galvanising vehicle for activists to campaign upon, whilst gnawing at the Conservative’s traditional Achilles’ heel.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Starmer seeks to cheer miserabilist Labour

14/05/2020, 10:26:53 PM

by David Talbot

One of the many dangers for Labour following its devastating 2019 general election defeat was that, if the pattern from the previous three election defeats were a guide, rather than learning the wrong lessons, it would learn no lessons at all.

The seemingly one constant for the Labour Party since 2010, though, has been its unerring miserabilism. It has relentlessly lectured the country that its future is bleak, its prospects poor and its decision to return four Conservative-led governments wretched.

“The trouble with Ed [Miliband] is that he is just too miserable” so uttered a Shadow Cabinet member in 2015, shortly before the party went down to a second resounding defeat. Miliband had much to say about the travails of the previous five years, attacking austerity, most notably, but his introspection, subdued and ultimately quite gloomy outlook was bettered by Cameron’s innate optimism.

Jeremy Corbyn’s torrent of miserabilism sums up the party’s recent woes. Labour has won, all too rarely in its history, when it has been optimistic about the country it seeks to govern, when it inspires people, understands and enables their aspiration, and when it projects confidence both for now and the future.

The hectoring over austerity, the sheer angst and self-pitying on Brexit, this miserabilist tendency that exudes from the party’s rhetoric, tone and policies has whittled it down to its core. If now is not the time to ask whether this doom-laden strategy has been effective or not, then surely when is?

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

10 years ago Gordon Brown launched Labour’s general election campaign in the home counties. Keir Starmer’s job is to make that realistic again

10/04/2020, 08:30:17 AM

by David Talbot

Ten years ago this week, in a break with tradition, Gordon Brown strode out from No 10 with his Cabinet lined up behind him and addressed the nation. The then worse kept secret in politics, that the country would go to the polls on May 6, was announced and Brown immediately sped off to the home counties – back when Labour held such seats – to begin his campaign for a fourth Labour term.

Labour’s clear intention that day was to portray the strength of the party’s top team, compared to that of the perceived lightweight Conservatives.

Prime Ministers usually like to claim all the spotlight when calling an election, and the Conservatives, quite rightly in riposte, pointed out that the tactic highlighted how, unlike most leaders, Gordon Brown was clearly not seen nor portrayed by Labour as their strongest card.

Ten years on, and three leaders later, Labour’s latest leadership contest was long on process and short on suspense. The commanding victory for Sir Keir Starmer, which avoided the razor-thin margin of 2010, or the factionalism of 2015 and 2017, provides stability at the top of the party arguably not seen since the halcyon days of 2007 when the prospect of an early election closed Labour’s ranks.

Starmer has already brought some much-needed dignity to his position. The early strokes of his leadership are at once encouraging, but when pitted against such a pitiful predecessor, objective analysis becomes ever more difficult. He has been bequeathed a party left in appalling health; not just electorally, but exhausted, riddled with division, tormented over its past and unsure of its future.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

With each passing week, McDonnell becomes more like Brown to Corbyn’s Blair

07/01/2019, 10:41:33 PM

by David Talbot

In September 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, was finishing his first speech to the party faithful. Embracing the mandate for change, Corbyn, with a wry nod halfway through, noted that “things can – and they will – change”. In the preceding three years, via an internal challenge and a general election, the nature of the Labour Party has been transformed in his image. Corbyn was of course in part elected, twice, as Labour leader precisely because he represented a riposte to the previous Labour governments and to, of course, the loathed Tony Blair. However, an aspect of the duopoly which so dominated the party throughout its years in government is set to be replicated, ironically, by those who have dedicated the most to repudiating him, his image and his governments.

John McDonnell was not a universally welcomed appointment when Corbyn gave his longstanding comrade the position of Shadow Chancellor over three years ago. The antipathy reached its peak during the botched leadership challenge to Corbyn during 2016, when murmurs reached a crescendo that his departure was desperately needed to restore some semblance of party unity. The fiery, left-wing firebrand made enemies in his own party as easily as amongst the Conservatives, his reputation as a deeply divisive and electorally poisonous figure seemingly cemented.

The scepticism extended as far as Corbyn’s innermost circle, who grew to distrust the Shadow Chancellor – an opinion also widely held amongst the trade unions who had dealt with him for decades. In his early throes he actively coveted controversy and attrition, from his ‘communist salute’ at the 2015 party conference to labelling Labour moderates “fucking useless” in their cack-handed attempts to dispose the new Labour leader. Since then, a transition has begun as ambitious and calculated as the work of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to transform the electoral prospects of a moribund party in the mid-1990s.

And it is to these two towering figures of the last chapter of the Labour Party that is becoming ever more prevalent for the new, Corbyn-led, chapter. The rivalry and trench warfare, often for the sheer sake of it, that came to characterise the then Labour leader and his Chancellor is fracturing into the open between Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor. Over the summer, when Labour descended into a bitter dispute over anti-Semitism, it was the Shadow Chancellor, through the pages of the Times no less, that organ of the establishment, who made it known that he disapproved of Corbyn’s handling of the sorry saga. As to with the terrorist incident in Salisbury, where McDonnell, not Corbyn, voiced support for the security services and stated unequivocally it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon