Posts Tagged ‘gordon brown’

Labour has a historic opportunity to replace the Tories as the party backed by business

11/10/2021, 10:32:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Backing business should be a sine qua non of politics. Yet we now have a ‘fuck business’ prime minister,[1] who won an 80-seat majority against a Labour Party that the CBI characterised as, ‘proposing the biggest programme of renationalisation this country has ever seen at great cost with uncertain returns to the taxpayer’. As a result, Labour was then seen as being ‘at least as damaging’ as No Deal Brexit.[2]

Two political consequences follow:

  1. Such a prime minister offers Labour a chance to develop closer relations with business than the Conservatives.
  2. Labour’s 2019 manifesto is not the package with which to seize this opportunity.

‘I’m acutely aware that among my first tasks is rebuilding the relationship between the Labour party and business,’ Keir Starmer recently said, much to his credit.[3]

Around the same time as Starmer was saying this, the chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce was writing to the prime minister asking him to give his ‘most urgent and personal attention’ to the ‘damage being done to our economy’ by the prime minister’s Brexit. Two weeks after receiving this letter, the prime minister had still not replied.[4]

Doing counterintuitive things often helps parties in opposition. A pro-business Labour confounds entrenched views of the party and confirms that we are under new management.

What Boris Johnson is getting wrong enlarges this opportunity for Labour. Equally, he is getting something right: optimism.

‘Remember that Barack Obama’s breakthrough owed a lot to the slogan, “yes we can.” The left needs to show that it can somehow improve things,’ writes Chris Dillow. ‘This requires not just policies, but the self-confidence to sell them. Johnson shows that politicians can succeed by not being scared of their own shadow. The left should learn from this.’[5]

Labour needs to articulate an optimism about the UK and a sense of purpose about what we can become.

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British moral strategic leadership: Previewing Rachel Reeves speech to Labour Conference 2021

26/09/2021, 10:35:22 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Economics is about storytelling as much as numbers. If the story persuades, the numbers do too. There is artistry to the dismal science.

Rachel Reeves knows the numbers. A former Bank of England economist, she knows how the economy works. A political realist, she knows what seats will sustain a Labour government.

The Labour sums need to add up. In a new book “Labour’s reset: the path back to power” that Uncut will be launching at Labour conference this week, we make a proposal for how Labour can finance a new set of spending commitments.

But the Shadow Chancellor’s conference speech is not an occasion for a forensic articulation of staying in the black. It is a time to tell the country a new story about itself.

This story might feature improved childcare, better homes, and a new relationship with business – potential building blocks of a Labour proposition that are articulated in the new Uncut book.

We do not pretend that all the ingredients that Reeves needs are in our book. There are two further that she might add: her own moral clarity and memorable phrases. Both of which Gordon Brown excelled in.

Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. Brown coined this resonate couplet from opposition.

The white heat of technology. With this phrase, Keir Starmer’s favourite Labour leader told a new national story from opposition.

Even if the levers of real change are exclusive to government, the language of politics can be shaped from opposition. But now our politics is dominated by government phrases: Levelling Up, Global Britain, Build Back Better.

Levelling Up. The intension and symbolism matter more politically than the outcomes. It is not about hard metrics like the Gini coefficient, it is about showing that the Tories care about the North and the Midlands, with this sentiment often embodied in shiny, new buildings.

Global Britain. In policy terms, even more vapid than Levelling Up. In political terms, it is about backing Britain. Who can be opposed to that?

Build Back Better. I think I heard Ed Miliband say this prior to it being a slogan of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Before it could really become Labour language, it was the title of the government’s growth plan. When the Tories aren’t shaping the language of politics, they are expropriating potential Labour terminology.

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Jack Lesgrin’s week: Labour’s big beasts on manoeuvres

18/05/2021, 03:45:43 PM

by Jack Lesgrin

Even Labourites could support paying former PMs for this…

Last week Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, independently of one another, entered the fray. Labour supporters normally condemn former PMs benefitting financially from the knowledge they gained in office. But how about Tony and Gordon joining together to provide a masterclass to Labour frontbenchers on how to frame a narrative, develop relevant policies to appeal to a winning coalition of voters, and communicate the above? Surely Labour members would happily contribute to the kitty so that everyone’s a winner!

New New Labour?

Tony Blair was on manoeuvres at the end of the week. His New Statesman article identified the urgent need for new thinking and action, given the dire straits Labour is in. Blair is usually very cautious in his interventions as regards the future of the Labour Party. He resiled from direct calls for Corbyn’s resignation and was careful not to be seen to be backing leadership challengers. He was also under or not even on the radar amid the rather lackadaisical and ultimately doomed discussions between ‘players’ from the Blair years and those who backed the Independent Group (TIG)/Change UK, and other attempts at creating a new political force such as United For Change, whose early briefing meetings were impressive, yet which faded quickly.

Although many prefer to comfort themselves with the caricature of Blair as all style, no substance, he has always been as good at the act of politicking and governing as at the art of communication. The tone of his recent writing, and indeed that of other big hitters of his era such as Peter Mandelson, show that (t)he(y) perhaps can no longer resist the lure of active participation.

Lord Andrew Adonis seems to think so, with his almost hourly tweets that it’s “Time for Blair”. It’s one of those down the (re-opened) pub conversations that goes: “I didn’t like what he did on Iraq, but I bet he would wipe the floor with Johnson in a general election.” Like so much pub talk, there is truth in the bluntness. Hitherto, the received wisdom was that Blair was too toxic, that Labour wouldn’t elect him leader again, that this kind of thing ‘just doesn’t happen’ and that he wouldn’t want it anyway.

Taking these in turn: 1) he won a 66-seat majority in 2005, despite the alleged toxicity of Iraq; 2) while this is probably true, his statement last week that Labour “needs total deconstruction and reconstruction” shows his keenness for radical change; 3) as noted in this column, Boris Johnson has shown repeatedly that conventions do not apply anymore; and 4) see 2)!

Northern Rocky (more…)

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If Keir Starmer is serious about equality, Labour must start thinking in constitutional terms once again

14/04/2021, 10:45:56 PM

by Sanjit Nagi

Since his seminal speech ‘A New Chapter for Britain’, Keir Starmer has made clear the fundamental value which drives his politics: equality. Or rather, Labour’s central aim under his leadership is to remedy the severe inequality that has stemmed from eleven years of deregulation, low pay, job insecurity, child poverty, inaccessible education, and health and racial disparities. Because of this, it is completely correct for him to say the very fabric and foundation of our polity has been severely damaged and needs repair.

Thus far Labour have been policy shy. But reading between the lines there has been some indication of how a Labour government would address inequality; all of which broadly hit the right note: better public services, racial parity, investment in skills and training, education reform, affordable homes, a care system that treats old age with dignity, and tackling the climate emergency.

But if Keir Starmer and the Labour Party want to secure Britain’s future and really entrench the value of equality across all walks of life, they have to start thinking in constitutional terms once again. By this, I mean there must be a commitment to a new settlement of socio-economic rights, guarantees, and responsibilities extended to all citizens.

Constitutional change in the form of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998) was a monumental moment in respect of liberty. Thanks to Labour, an era of individual rights began where we the people were entitled and able to enforce fundamental civil and political rights (located in the European Convention on Human Rights) domestically. Despite the Conservatives’ consistent attacks and threats to replace the HRA 1998, it has (so far) stood the test of time and delivered: key victories in areas of privacy and family life, fair trial, right to life, and freedom of religion; a duty on all public bodies to act in a way which is compatible with a person’s human rights; and increased executive accountability via judicial review. This piece of legislation is now so deep-rooted within our constitutional make-up, it is not controversial to say that taking it away from us would result in major political ramifications.

Labour should now commit itself to introducing a second Human Rights Act which guarantees the social and economic needs of citizens. The right to: health and social care, social housing, education, social security, disability protection, safety at work, parity between all genders, and the protection against poverty and social exclusion. It might also recognise and seek to protect the position of unpaid labour within the system e.g. parenting or those in the voluntary sector who are so often overlooked and underappreciated. The European Social Charter provides some indication of what this second Human Rights Act might look like.

The pandemic has shown what socio-economic guarantees we all need to survive. A commitment to codifying these key human interests could shift the constitutional terrain once again, providing for: new fundamental entitlements for citizens, a new duty on the state to meet basic standards, and greater accountability – via judicial review –  of things which are of relevance to us all.

Labour have already committed to a new Race Equality Act to tackle the structural racism present in modern day. Whilst this is most welcome and much needed, it would be even more effective if coupled with an enforceable regime of socio-economic rights. As there can be no real discussion about structural racism without understanding accessibility and discrimination within health, work, education and beyond. This is even more pressing in light of the Conservative government’s Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities downplaying and dismissing the extent of structural racism.

A new piece of constitutionally-significant legislation as described would seriously begin Labour’s task of building a fairer, more equal society. It would also clearly set Labour apart from the Conservatives in terms of narrative and principles: Labour believes in enshrining rights and protecting your interests.

The move towards a second Human Rights Act might be resisted with weak arguments such as its unviability or it skewing policy and resource allocation towards the courts. But like the HRA 1998 ensures greater government accountability whilst resisting judicial overreach, the design of a second Human Rights Act could do the same. A better argument against social and economic rights are their democratic legitimacy. Where new interests are created and affect everybody, everybody should have the greatest equal influence over them. This might be solved via multiple citizen assemblies; bringing together a representative cross-section of society – lay persons and experts – to decide on the shape of the socio-economic guarantees.

Moreover, Labour should supplement this second Human Rights Act by reviving Gordon Brown’s government proposal for an ethical framework of ‘Rights and Responsibilities’. The aim of this bill is to give practical expression to shared community values, foster civic responsibility and tolerance of others. For example, the Green Paper released identified a number of duties that we might all owe one another: respectful treatment of public sector workers i.e. NHS staff et al; civic participation in the form of voting and jury service; respecting our environment for future generations; obeying laws and paying taxes; and protecting the welfare of our children. These duties are not exhaustive and might be expanded on e.g. a greater emphasis on diversity and race or on our environmental obligations. There would be no physical enforcement of these obligations. A supplementary constitutional document of this kind simply seeks to codify the feeling of collective responsibility – that does exist in Britain and has been seen during the pandemic – and help to build a society that is both fairer and more cohesive.

The great social and economic advancements of all Labour governments – Attlee, Wilson, and Blair – were secured through political change and implemented through parliamentary legislation. But there has never been any form of constitutional protection of the NHS, public housing, state education and all the other socio-economic guarantees listed above. Nor has there been any real campaign or drive to do so. But we cannot fool ourselves in thinking these ordinary means are enough. We’ve seen how the Conservatives have left vital services in decay and have reduced access of large sections of society to the absolute basic minimums human beings require to live – causing gross inequality for a generation. We’ve seen how fragile our own lives are when we do not have shelter, are unable to eat or drink, are out of work, or have no support for loved ones who are either ill or elderly.

So, if Keir Starmer and Labour truly wish to rid Britain of its inequalities and insecurity, deep-rooted constitutional change – which will survive future governments – is an essential starting point.

Sanjit Nagi is a PhD Researcher and Visiting Lecturer

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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.

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Starmer placed a bet on Labour wanting to win again. It is time to double down on it

01/02/2021, 11:20:03 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Tom McTague in The Atlantic paints a scenario that should worry Keir Starmer. While Britain’s Covid-19 death toll has risen above 100,000, it may be that a successful vaccine drive leaves a more lasting memory.

After this piece was published, the UK’s vaccine spat with the EU escalated. Poor handling by Brussels leaves the impression that the EU do not like the UK’s vaccine lead, making it easier to spin the UK’s rollout as a Brexit win.

Suddenly, Kate Bingham might seem as likely as anyone else to be the next prime minister. In the meantime, the incumbent has reason to be optimistic about the next 12 months.

While Brexit’s teething problems are painful for those directly impacted, the strong consensus among economic forecasters is that output lost to Brexit in 2021 will be more than offset by gains from lockdown ending and pent up demand being unlocked.

These forecasters have an average UK GDP 2021 projection of 4.4%. Not enough to recover all growth lost in 2020 but our fastest annual rate of growth for over 30 years. Sufficient to make many people feel better about themselves and possibly their government. The resumption of activities now prevented by social distancing – visiting family, drinking with friends, hugging strangers – will also trigger a pervasive positivity in wider senses than the narrowly economic.

Labour should not be complacent about the extent to which the prime minister might make more sense in this context. But – as Dan Pfeiffer often says on Pod Save America – we should worry about everything in politics but panic about none of it.

Now is the time for Starmer to reenergise his leadership’s founding purpose. This is to show that our party has changed from that decisively rejected in 2019 and deserves a mandate to lead our country in a new direction.

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Could Blair have won in 2010?

08/01/2021, 10:40:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘The biggest mistake Tony Blair made as prime minister,’ Andrew Adonis tweeted earlier this week, ‘was to stand down in 2007.

Instead, ‘[h]e should have continued and won the 2010 election, then Britain would be fundamentally better today.’

From the pit of despondency, on the wrong end of a four-nil run of election defeats, we can perhaps excuse his Lordship’s nostalgia. But is there anything in it?

There are three big assertions to unpack here.

The first, is that Blair ‘should have’ or, perhaps, could have stayed on as leader in 2007. Adonis suggests it would have been plain sailing, only it was not.

Blair was not in good shape, politically, at that stage – particularly with the various allegations about cash-for-honours swirling around him – and no shortage of his own MPs trying to manoeuvre him out. There was a sense, particularly after Iraq, that his time had passed.

Granted, Blair won a thumping victory in 2005, two years after the invasion, but it was later, when the full futility of the war became fully apparent, that the damage to his reputation really started to show.

The second question is whether he would have won the 2010 general election. You can cogitate on all kinds of hypotheticals, but it feels that, thirteen years into the job, Tony Blair’s appeal would have seriously eroded by then.

He might still have fared better than Gordon Brown did, but it would have been a case of diminishing returns. Between 1997 and 2005, the party lost 3.9 million voters.

But let us assume he did win in 2010.

For a modernised Conservative party under David Cameron to be stopped dead in its tracks by Labour would have precipitated a major schism in the Tories, who were already under growing threat from UKIP.

Might a fourth term Blair legacy have been the realignment of the Right?

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“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:

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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.

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What became of Gordon Brown’s likely lads?

12/11/2019, 08:31:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Gordon Brown, then chancellor, was travelling on an RAF flight when he found out that Ed Miliband had been selected as Labour’s candidate in Doncaster, according to Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s biography of Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader.

“Brown was seen in a rare moment of real joy, punching the air as if his local football team had just won the FA Cup, and punching it so hard that his hand hit the luggage compartment above his head with a crunch.”

Brown was also pleased when Ian Austin and John Woodcock, like Miliband ex Brown aides, were selected as Labour candidates. Now, after the Tories have reversed the public spending that Brown increased, deepened the poverty that Brown tackled, and sought a Brexit that Brown resisted, Austin and Woodcock advise voting Tory.

After all that the Tories have done, to return them to Downing Street would not just rub salt in the wounds, it would invite their deepening.

Nothing about Boris Johnson’s campaign launch made sense. We were meant to believe that it was in a crowded hall in Birmingham; it was in a half-full one in Solihull. He insists he wants to get Brexit “done”; he will have it drag on, pulling the UK apart, country-by-country, business-by-business, family-by-family. He wants to unleash the UK’s potential; that will be forestalled by the monstrous distraction that he wants to get “done”.

Of course, it is not reverence for Johnson that drives Austin and Woodcock but deep suspicion of Corbyn. Phil Collins, writing speeches for Tony Blair when Brown was punching luggage compartments, last week categorised Labour MPs in The Times based upon their feelings towards Corbyn.

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