Posts Tagged ‘gordon brown’

The No campaign will squeak home, but, really, it shouldn’t have been this close

18/09/2014, 07:00:12 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There are no perfect campaigns and while it’s a tad premature to start the post-mortem, you have to ask why Better Together ends this race wheezing and red-faced.

At the start of August it was leading Yes Scotland by 20 points. Yet despite superior assets in terms of money and foot soldiers, as well as existing relationships with the electorate, the multi-party No campaign has not been able to make these structural advantages count and that lead has melted away.  So it’s not just Gordon Brown biting his nails to the stump.

Majoring on technocratic arguments, Better Together has lacked emotional punch as well as good basic organisation. The evidence? Brown’s last-minute rescue operation promising “devo-max” after postal ballots had been sent to a fifth of the electorate. A panicked move that, to be properly effective, should have come weeks before. (As, indeed, should Brown, who was left on the subs bench for too long. His speech yesterday is described by Steve Richards in The Guardian as “mesmerising”).

So, in a spirit of evaluating why we are where we are and positing why we shouldn’t actually be here, let me offer the following:

1) It should never have been this close. Alistair Darling is fond of saying that he warned people it would go “down to the wire”. If, indeed, Darling was planning for a tight race then he has got this campaign wrong, strategically, from the very start. The aim should have been a thumping victory to close the issue down for good and avoid the so-called “neverendum”. If devolution in 1998 has given nearly half of Scots a taste for full independence just 15 years later, what sort of ratchet effect will “devo max” have on Scottish voters’ identity and sense of otherness in a few years’ time? If as many as 45 per cent of them vote for independence today, the matter will not rest. Make no mistake; we’ll be back here again within a decade.

2) Westminster should have been alive to the danger much earlier. Since 2010, there have been three secretaries of state for Scotland. Each of them, Danny Alexander, Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael are Liberal Democrats. And each of them has been asleep at the wheel. The role should have been used to help counter the SNP’s advance in the Scottish Parliament. (It would be fascinating to see the Secretary of State’s diary entries between 2010 and 2014 because so little of value to this campaign seems to have been achieved in that time). Carmichael, especially, should have been galvanising the Cabinet to tee-up a more considered “devo max” offer much earlier, or, indeed, have that option put on the ballot paper.

3) The Tories have not delivered. Despite David Cameron’s heartfelt please to Scots in recent days, his party’s meltdown in Scotland in recent decades has meant that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has, incongruously, had limited purchase in this debate. That said, despite only having a single MP, half a million Scots still voted Conservative at the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections. Tory strategists should have spent the last few years cultivating this base and their party’s organisation for this very moment. Unfortunately, David Cameron’s detoxification of his party never included a meaningful attempt to regain a foothold in Scotland. (This is presumably why he surrendered the Scottish Office to the Lib Dems). (more…)

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Brownian big numbers don’t persuade anyone, so why does Labour keep announcing them

01/07/2014, 12:59:44 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today, the disconnect between Labour’s approach to political communications and the general public was on full display.

To accompany the launch of the Adonis Growth Review, the topline of Labour’s story was that it would devolve up to £30bn of central government funding to new regional partnerships of local authorities.

The model of regional co-operation that Labour is advocating has had demonstrable results in Greater Manchester, where 7 North West local authorities are working well together. The incentive of greater devolution of funds from central government would surely prompt other areas to follow Greater Manchester’s lead.

As a policy, there is much to recommend today’s announcement. Which is why the way it has been packaged for the media is so depressing.

Gordon Brown was notorious for bludgeoning audiences with lists of gargantuan numbers to demonstrate his commitment to Schools-n-Hospitals. Notorious because, while these types of big numbers have a certain resonance within the Westminster bubble, they are positively off-putting for most voters.

I’m currently conducting a series of focus groups for the day job, looking at how people understand political messages. The topic we’re looking at specifically is immigration, but the findings are applicable to most political issues.

When confronted with a statistic, particularly a Brownian big number, there is typically a two stage response: “I don’t understand your number,” swiftly followed by, “I don’t trust your number.”

Dealing with the first response is comparatively straight-forward. It’s all about context.

Abstract statistics mean very little to voters. Cash numbers in the billions or percentage growth rates lack any practical resonance with peoples’ lives.  They tend to simply fade into the white noise of politicos’ stat chat.

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Its Labour’s fault there’s no-one as good as Salmond

24/04/2014, 10:08:10 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Alastair Darling has many qualities. He was an effective minister, a mainstay throughout Labour’s years in power and as Chancellor, he steered the economy through the worst recession since the 1930s, leaving behind a growing economy in 2010. He is widely respected and admired. But as a campaigner, he makes David Moyes look like Jose Mourinho.

He is so ill-suited to leading the cross-party campaign to galvanise Scots behind the simple proposition that they are “Better Together” with their kith and kin in the rest of the union that the No campaign against Scottish independence looks set to snatch defeat from the jaws of what should, on paper, be an easy victory.

Yet a vote for independence is now a real possibility – with a poll last weekend putting the Yes campaign just three per cent behind the No campaign, a once unthinkable prospect. (To put this in context, a poll last November had the No camp leading by a margin of 29 per cent).

This is a calamitous situation with the polling numbers now starting to reflect what is all too evident to anyone watching this referendum battle unfold: The Westminster class has badly underestimated Alex Salmond.

Frankly, it has paid too little attention to Caledonian affairs in general in recent years, wrongly assuming the devolution settlement of 1998 was the end of the line as far as Scottish nationhood goes. This has left opponents of independence with a strategic problem. There is simply no equivalent Scottish figure now able to make the case for retaining the Union with the same panache Salmond displays in trying to break it up.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the most swivel-eyed pro-Union party in British politics, can barely open his mouth on the subject without sending undecided voters flocking towards the independence camp.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, southern English and middle-class are clearly deemed surplus to requirements and have the good sense to stay out of it. Labour’s Scottish Leader, Johann Lamont, is tough and said to get under Salmond’s skin, but she is a provincial figure in comparison.

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Brown’s call for greater devolution to Scotland should apply to the English regions too

11/03/2014, 02:23:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The only thing better than a five-point plan is, of course, a ten-point plan. However, on this occasion, Gordon Brown can be forgiven for only making it to six with his interesting ideas for modernising the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

In a bid to flesh out what a ‘devo max’ agenda might mean (or perhaps that should be ‘indy lite?’) the former Prime Minister recommends beefing-up the Scottish Parliament’s tax-raising powers, enshrining in law the settlement between Scotland and the UK and establishing a new division of powers that gives Holyrood more clout over employment, regeneration, health and transport.

But why stop at Scotland? So welcome are Brown’s suggestions that they should also be replicated between Westminster and Whitehall (‘WaW’) and the midlands and north of England. This is because the concentration of all major decision-making power in WaW entrenches the asymmetrical way power is exercised in Britain (particularly England) leading to the soaraway success of London and the less certain progress of pretty much everywhere else.

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Osborne’s tank tries to churn up Ed’s lawn

17/01/2014, 08:24:49 AM

by Kevin Meagher

He would bristle at the comparison, but George Osborne’s raid on Labour’s turf – promising to support an above inflation rise in the minimum wage – is straight out of the Gordon Brown book of political tradecraft.

The two most political bean-counters British politics has ever produced are both fans of ‘weaponising’ policy to suit their ends; laying clever traps for their enemies to fall into and using the Treasury’s tanks to churn up the opposition’s lawn.

“I want to make sure we are all in it together” said Osborne yesterday, to a chorus of generally disbelieving gasps. The minimum wage should increase “because the British economy can now afford that.”

The Tories used to be “on the wrong side of the argument” about the merits of the minimum wage, but that was all a misunderstanding. Now it’s a shiny, happy, modern party “in touch with the country,” he added.

ITV’s Chris Ship said the Lib Dems were “spitting tacks” as Osborne had veered over the coalition’s central reservation, cutting them out of the equation on a major good news story.

“He’s effectively endorsing the advice I gave to the Low Pay Commission” said Vince Cable on Newsnight last night, trying to sound nonchalant at the very effrontery of it all. Labour people too were miffed at Osborne’s naked opportunism. How dare a Tory Chancellor say anything positive about the minimum wage!

In a funny sort of way, Ed Miliband should take all this as a compliment. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That Osborne felt compelled to try and spike today’s big speech on the economy and banking reform shows the Tories are irked about headlines proclaiming “I can save the middle class”.

So in the best traditions of “you send one of my guys to the hospital, I’ll send one of yours to the morgue” Osborne’s instinct is to wield his home-made shiv. It’s not pretty, but it is effective.

Gordon would approve.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Forget the black arts, McBride exposes Brown’s wasted potential

23/09/2013, 11:56:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Reading extracts from the intermittent release of Damian McBride’s scabrous and painfully frank account of life at the heart of the Brown political machine, there is an obvious and dispiriting parallel that comes to mind. James Gordon Brown seems to be the closest thing British politics has to Richard Milhous Nixon.

The comparison has been made before, whether it’s at the literal end of the scale – both were brooding and insular – or in what they did in office. The Nixonian paranoia and skulduggery of Brown’s operation that McBride lays bare is depressing to read; and all the more so because it didn’t have to be like this.

If you measure Gordon Brown’s record between 1997 and 2007, he emerges as one of the greatest social democrats of the post-war era, up there with Bevan and Crosland in leaving an enduring mark on reducing inequality.

Yet when you stretch the review period by just three years to include his premiership, Brown, like Nixon, is reduced to a figure despised, discredited and disgraced – or so his political enemies (including those within Labour’s ranks) constantly tell us.

This is certainly hyperbolic; the Brown government was not that bad; and, sure, he was no angel when he was at the Treasury either, running a perennial campaign to usurp Blair, but the real waste is that this didn’t all end when he realised his life’s ambition by becoming prime minister.

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How Osborne is feathering his own nest

27/06/2013, 03:00:06 PM

by Dan McCurry

George Osborne is desperate to have some kind of legacy that he can tell his grandchildren about. Selling the state-owned banks would be that legacy. The only problem is that universal advice tells him that now is not the time.

Stephen Hester had earned great praise for his achievements as boss of RBS, with investors such as Fidelity’s £2.5billion fund manager Sanjeev Shah describing him as “doing a fantastic job.” But look at the reaction from the brokers since Hester announced his departure.

Investec Securities:

The manner of Mr Hester’s departure is deeply unsatisfactory. Since 2008, government inconsistency and mismanagement have hurt shareholder value and, as 81% shareholder, it reaps what it sows.

Espirito Santo:

Mr Hester’s departure was clearly against his wishes and it appears that Mr Osborne had different ideas as to how the bank should be run. The political wrangling has significantly impacted the franchise.

The Economist magazine:

[Osborne] shoved out RBS’s boss Stephen Hester, prompting a sharp fall in the bank’s shares. …It is politics not economics that underpins the government’s decision to privatise the banks.

The share price was 334p on 11th June and is now 275p (27/6/13) and continuing to fall against a rising market. That’s an 18% fall so far. Placed in context, that is roughly a £20 billion loss to the British taxpayer in the space of a couple of weeks. (see footnote)

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3 years on: Is being the “other guy” enough for Ed to win?

30/05/2013, 04:26:50 PM

It’s 3 years since Uncut started so, in a series of pieces, we’re taking stock of what has changed for Labour since 2010. Peter Goddard gives a member’s perspective

I am not immersed in politics. I am not obsessed, absorbed or professionally involved.

For people like me, or as I like to call us, ‘normal people’, politics only consists of the big events.

Three years ago, there were two big events: Labour lost the election and there was a new leader of the Labour Party.

I wasn’t a particular friend or foe of Ed Milliband’s, but what I did know was that he wasn’t the other guy – the disastrous Gordon Brown.

It was a chance, I thought, for a new start. Ed Milliband’s Labour party could be shaped, moulded and presented to the nation afresh.

Three years passed.

Cameron stopped hugging huskies and sharpened his economic scythe. Disability allowances were targeted, tuition fees introduced, a bedroom tax launched.

In response, Labour presented… the same stuff, but not as much of it. And maybe not as fast.

Two years ago, there was another big event: an election took place for Mayor of London. The Tories put forward their wild-haired wild card candidate.

In response Labour presented… that guy from last time.

Last year, a conference happened. Everyone got excited about how Ed Milliband was going to define and shape the party’s future.

Labour presented ‘One Nation’.

So three years on I’m still not sure what Ed Milliband’s Labour party is all about. If it has a story to tell that has just failed to cut through to people like me, or if he is simply keeping things vague in order to remain flexible up to the next election, I don’t know.

But what I do know is that, until someone like me can clearly describe what today’s Labour party is all about, Ed Milliband remains reliant on the same appeal he had on his initial rise to the leadership – simply not being the other guy.

Let’s hope that’s enough.

Peter Goddard is a sales and marketing consultant

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3 years on: The Labour party is allergic to making decisions

30/05/2013, 02:00:22 PM

It’s 3 years since Uncut started so, in a series of pieces, we’re taking stock of what has changed for Labour since 2010. Atul Hatwal looks at how Labour is led

When Gordon Brown departed the Labour leadership, there was a sigh of relief across Westminster on both the left and right of the party. For many, the problem with Gordon hadn’t been the policies, though there was clearly room for improvement, but leadership.

Decisions would sit on his desk for weeks and months, sometimes years. By the time a choice was made, the moment would have passed and after all the haggling and deliberation, those involved felt exhausted.

The advent of a new leader was meant to change that. Regardless of his politics, Ed Miliband’s swift and determined decision to stand against his brother boded well for his style of leadership.

Unfortunately it seems that was the last major decision Labour’s leader made. Stories abound about landmark speeches being constantly rewritten with endless debate in the leader’s court on the correctly nuanced line to take.

Everyone has an opinion and all are heard with the result that little substantive is ever said.

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David Cameron and Ed Miliband are both sons of Gordon Brown

06/05/2013, 09:58:01 AM

by Jonathan Todd

There is probably a significant degree of cross-party agreement that Douglas Carswell is wrong to argue that the present government is a continuation of the last. Even David Cameron’s critics in the Conservative party would claim that he is an improvement on Gordon Brown, while many Labour party members see Cameron as the worst prime minister since Margaret Thatcher or perhaps even worse.

Yet the evidence that Carswell is not entirely wrong was clearly on display during the last PMQs. Cameron and Ed Miliband, in one sense at least, jostled for the crown of heir to Brown. They did so by benchmarking their success against how much they are spending or propose to spend on particular public services.

Given the unpopularity of Brown, this is curious politics. To make a virility symbol of state spending is even worse policy. To assume that more government is necessarily moving us closer to solutions ignores even in the best of times the reality of government failure.

These are far from the best of times. There is immense pressure on public resources. And this will continue, as Patrick Diamond notes: “Actuarial estimates suggest that an ageing population will have a bigger impact on public finances than the catastrophic effects of the financial crisis.”

This context demands a politics capable of deliberating seriously about the effectiveness and efficiency of public spending and which doesn’t simply seek to win arguments with reference to how much money is being spent in certain areas. Yet the very first thing that Cameron said in response to Miliband’s questioning was: “This Government believes in our NHS and are expanding funding in our NHS.”

Ring-fencing the NHS budget is supposed to be a signal that the service is safe in Conservative hands. One consequence of these politics is that average GP salaries are preserved at £110,000, while the welfare payments of the very poorest are cut, as the DWP does not benefit from the same ring-fence as the NHS.

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