Posts Tagged ‘John Woodcock’

Message to the gathered comrades: West Wing was a fiction, not a documentary

26/09/2011, 08:13:21 AM

by John Woodcock

In this time of iconoclasm on the centre-left, there is one political leader who remains untouched.

We may have signalled the need to move on from Blair and Brown and highlighted lessons from the days of New Labour in government. But there is a continued, unquestioning reverence for a small band of smart, dedicated change-makers gathered around a charismatic leader who shone a beacon for progressive values, no matter how hostile the political landscape. Mulling
over intractable problems, a surprising number of political types have been known openly to make reference to the tactics and strategy that these people deployed in government. And even if they don’t say it out loud, you know that many are thinking about the example they set as they work out what to do.

I am talking, of course, about the Bartlet White House. It is time to cut down to size the influence of the West Wing on the British Labour party.

Stating this instantly runs the risk both of permanently alienating the many West Wing nuts and leaving everyone else wondering why an American drama series that ended in 2006 is remotely relevant to Labour conference this week.

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BskyB vote: time to put your money where your mouth is

11/07/2011, 07:00:54 AM

by John Woodcock

After Ed Miliband made the running last week, members of parliament from all parties have said sensible things about the need for a new relationship between politicians and the press.

But the test of whether we understand the gravity of the current situation will come on Wednesday when the house of commons votes on Labour’s motion to delay the BSkyB takeover bid until the current criminal investigation into News International has concluded. I hope MPs on the government benches will put aside their differences and vote with us. They will have spent the weekend listening to constituents who simply will not understand if they talk a good game but fail to act.

Ed has been bold and astute. Over the past week he understood and communicated just how much changed with the revelation that this activity systematically targeted the public not just the famous. But of all the calls he has made, the most important may ultimately prove to be the way he has positioned Labour as champion of a continuing free press in Britain. (more…)

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You can’t cherry pick solidarity

27/06/2011, 07:20:00 AM

by John Woodcock

All of us need to address how we change to meet Ed Miliband’s critically important challenge to reach out rather than look inwards.

His call to action is rightly pitched to all parts of our diverse Labour and Co-operative movement – constituency activists, MPs, frontbenchers, members of affiliated groups and trade unionists alike. As we seek to do more to talk to the public rather than just talk amongst ourselves, we need to remember that most of us need to combine more than one of those roles simultaneously; we know we cannot be at our best as Labour MPs serving the public unless we remain committed local campaigners and trade union members.

There will rightly be difficult and spirited debates about how a more open party should operate and how its structures should change. But we should keep in mind our leader’s other message of recent weeks – that united parties win and divided parties lose.

The relationship between the Labour party and Britain’s trade unions should remain as strong and vibrant through the twenty-first century as it was in the last century in which the party was founded. When functioning well as part of a broad and progressive coalition of support, the trade union link is a sign that Labour at its best can govern for the whole country in a way that can never be achieved by the Tories, whose basic antipathy to unions continues to colour all they do.

That is why I will have no truck with anyone who suggests breaking the link. And it is also why I was disappointed to hear one general secretary, Dave Prentis, suggesting last week that his Labour-affiliated union would start cherry picking which Labour candidates were worth supporting and which were not.

I was delighted when Unison supported me in the Barrow and Furness selection race before the last general election. In the year since I have been elected I have been proud to help lead a high profile local campaign to get a fairer deal for Cumbria teaching assistants, many of whom are Unison members.

I hope we will often campaign together, just as I know there will often be times when Dave and Labour’s frontbenchers will disagree. We cannot accept, for example, that the direction of public service reform set by the last Labour government was wrong because it apparently provided a bridge for the Tories to march over and inflict the chaos that is now blighting key areas. We will remain proud of New Labour’s record in government: in 13 years, during which we reversed decades of under-investment, improved the quality and scope of services and employed many more public servants. By 2010, the British people were being served by 85,000 more nurses, 36,000 more teachers, and 274,000 more support staff and teaching assistants.

Through all those arguments, we should keep in mind that there never has been a time when the Labour party was completely in line with any one group who supports it – nor will there ever be. But it has always been the case, and always will be, that a Labour government is better for those who rely on public services and those who work in them than its Conservative opponents.

And whatever views any supporter may have about an individual candidate at a general election, each one stands on a shared platform with an agreed manifesto. We all share the values that Labour-affiliated unions stand for.  Basic maths tells us that the more Labour candidates that win, the better chance we have of forming a government and implementing that manifesto.

So an organisation that wants Labour to win but refuses to support some of the candidates surely risks shooting itself in the foot. And, to extend the metaphor, it risks shooting in the foot the millions of working people it represents.

There will be many differences of view as we seek to create a more open, more responsive party that is a credible force for the many who rely on a Labour government to stand up for them. There may even be the odd blazing row.

But we are stronger together. Whatever happens, let’s remember that.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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Let’s stop fighting non-existent plots and let the leader lead

13/06/2011, 07:00:19 AM

by John Woodcock

The past has its part to play in politics, but the future is the only thing that really matters. This is our chance to show we get that far more than the people who want Labour to fail.

Working for then welfare secretary, John Hutton, I was passionate about Tony Blair’s drive to change the UK’s welfare and pension systems at a time when reform was difficult to sell. I gave my all when Gordon Brown asked me to work for him in Number Ten. I was a vocal supporter of David Miliband in the leadership contest. And before all that I walked David Blunkett’s dog when he was leader of Sheffield City Council and I was the son of one of his more left wing Labour councillors.

All of that helps to inform what I think today. But it is all history. Like so many thousands who want to change the world around them, we remain proud of the myriad of past allegiances developed over the years campaigning for Labour. But we are not defined by them.

Now, we are all part of a party focussed in its determination to support Ed Miliband, renew Labour’s offer to the British people and stand up for those suffering at the sharp end of aConservative economic policy that is selling future generations down the river.

I may not have put Ed first on the ballot paper in the leadership contest, but I am sure of one thing: he won a mandate to lead, and he is going to lead us as a united party into the next election.

Without plotters, wind-up stories about plots will not succeed (so long as people on our side do not fall into the trap of fighting phantoms – mounting a counter-attack against threats that just aren’t there).

So let’s all take responsibility for doing better; as Jim Murphy said yesterday, let’s roll up our sleeves, listen to our changing country, and work harder to think up the new ideas that will re-earn Labour’s right to claim and shape the centre ground of British politics.

Ed has already rightly identified the people any Labour party worthy of the name needs to speak up for: families in the middle who work hard, want to get on, and don’t want to see others get a free ride at their expense – whether at the top or the bottom of the income scale.

His speech today on that subject is important. We should do everything we can to enable it to get the hearing it deserves and give our leader the support he needs to follow it through. That focus on the future is our best bet to ensure the ambitions people have for their own lives are reflected in the ambitions for Britain we put forward at the next election.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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Making the progressive case for Israel

16/05/2011, 08:13:38 AM

By John Woodcock

It is not every day that one of the best speeches you have ever read drops into your lap and you are asked to deliver it in front of a packed, appreciative audience.

If I had known that Making the progressive case for Israel was going to be the last thing that its brilliant author would ever write, I would have been barely able to get the words out.

So many moving tributes have already been made to David Cairns by people who knew that kind, effervescent and compellingly passionate man far better than me.

But David’s absence from the excellent and important We Believe in Israel conference in London yesterday, where again I had the sad honour of deputising for him, highlighted that a lasting and fitting tribute would be for us to advance the campaign he crafted as the chair of Labour friends of Israel.

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Cameron’s doomed attempt to be a Labour moderniser

02/05/2011, 07:58:07 AM

by John Woodcock

Has anyone noticed how David Cameron has been talking more about Labour “modernisers” in recent days?

On Marr yesterday, the prime minister insisted it had been appropriate to share a platform on AV with John Reid because he had been “an effective minister… a moderniser”.

And in PMQs last week, Cameron responded to my question about why NHS waiting times were going up by protesting that I was “meant to be a moderniser” – so why was I criticising his reform plans?

Apart from obviously being flattered that our country’s leader has taken the time to keep abreast of the political leanings of this Parliamentary newbie (he must be a secret Labour Uncut reader), there are a number of striking things about this.

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Spare a thought for the poor Tory MPs

18/04/2011, 10:02:00 AM

by John Woodcock

Will someone please spare a thought for those poor Conservative MPs? The Liberal Democrats have been so unruly over the last week that the Tories are looking positively collegiate in comparison.

Back when their coalition was formed, Conservative whips no doubt insisted that making nice with a party they despise was a small price to pay for getting the chance to implement a governing programme that remained unmistakably Tory.

And for a while, being civil was made easier by the sight of their new partners soaking up public outrage as the government got on with implementing cuts that “Thatcher only dreamed of”. Not only were the Liberal Democrats locked in the boot of the ministerial Jag (just imagine, if you can, opening a boot and finding an angry Sarah Teather and Julian Huppert inside), but Nick Clegg was gallantly offering to pose as the little statue on its bonnet.

So the vast majority of Tories – many of whom have been denied ministerial office to make way for a Liberal – have spent a whole year biting their tongues and trying to play nice with their new friends.

Then they pop off back to the constituency for the Easter recess and find that the agreement to keep mutual contempt under wraps has been unilaterally cast aside by their junior partners.

Make no mistake, Vince Cable’s open criticism of the prime minister went way beyond the boundary of what would normally be considered acceptable by someone bound by collective responsibility.

It is a statement of the bleeding obvious that Labour’s time in government was not always a model of harmony between ministers. Clare Short repeatedly acted up towards the end. The Eds, Balls and Miliband, are absolutely right to pledge never to go back to the madness of the Blair-Brown squabbles that regularly spilled over into the press.

But even at the height of the bad feeling, no minister openly defied the prime minister like Vince Cable did last week and kept their job. And he was not acting in isolatation. Cable’s salvo came just days after a Liberal assault on the government’s health policy that was triggered by Clegg himself.

It is unclear where the Liberal Democrats go from here, and even whether they will ultimately stick together as a party.

But one thing is clear: Conservative MPs on their return to Westminster are going to be less willing to play the role of happy, Scandinavian-style coalition builders.

If Tory MPs ensconced in their constituencies are prepared to tell the likes of me how fizzing they are about the way the Lib Dems are flouting the coalition agreement, their anger when they get back to the bosom of the 1922 committee will be something to behold.

There is a real danger that the disgruntled Tory right flank may well start demanding the imposition of even more true blue policies to make up for this misbehaviour. The consequences of that for families and businesses across the country could be grim.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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We learnt from our mistakes. The Tories are set to emulate them.

04/04/2011, 12:11:44 PM

by John Woodcock

The mythical cost free, universally popular, radical ideas box has been mentioned in this column before.

Though it was coined by Thick of It scriptwriters satirising the last Labour government, the box is enjoying a new lease of life under the new Conservative-led regime.

Iain Duncan Smith whipped it out live on Sky yesterday morning when discussing his proposals to merge the basic and state second pensions, due to be set out in the House of Commons today. (As an aside, I am not sure Labour in government was ever able to get away with quite the level of blatant pre-announcing to the media that ministers now routinely carry out before Parliamentary statements). (more…)

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In other news…Labour launches transport review

21/03/2011, 01:00:56 PM

by John Woodcock

In other news, Labour is launching a transport policy review today.

Something tells me that global events may deprive the review, Britain Better Connected, of the attention it would otherwise merit.

But the questions it is asking nevertheless remain important:

·         for families facing a cost-of-living squeeze exacerbated by Conservative decisions to impose a VAT hike on fuel and allow an inflation-busting increase on train fares;

·         for the next generation of high-skilled workers essential to our economy, whose future is being put at risk by widespread local decisions to abolish help with travel to college, forced by the scale of the cuts imposed on local authorities;

·         for older people angry that their free bus pass is of little use when the service they rely on has been axed;

·         for motorists who want to drive more greenly and have more public transport options but who, no matter how much the government whacks up duty on fuel, are never going to swap their car keys for a bus timetable or push bike;

·         and for a country that must examine how its transport infrastructure should change over the next decade to deliver the basic objective of sustainable growth in a world where global competition gets ever more fierce and our environmental targets ever more pressing.

We got a hell of a lot right in the major transport decisions we made during our time in government. Improvements in train lines substantially reduced journey times and improved links between towns like mine and larger centres of economic growth (in fact I am benefiting from one such improvement, the west coast main line, as I write this on the way down to London, thanking my lucky stars that I got a seat). Investment to increase the uptake of low emission vehicles like electric cars was an important step in the process of ensuring motoring can meet its environmental obligations in future decades. And we understood that UK businesses and jobs would lose, with no overall gain for the environment, if Britain sent elsewhere the global aviation growth made inevitable by the economic rise of the east.

But in the Labour government’s early years, we should recognise that we did not do enough to combat the wholly inaccurate impression that we were evangelists, determined to force people to travel more greenly rather than making it easier for them to do so. That zeal of the first term has left a lasting impression on many who now suspect that every new transport strategy, from whatever side, is something bad that to be imposed on them, rather than a measure designed to help them.

As well as dispelling that notion for good, the programme we devise for the next decade must be prepared to equip our already straining rail network to accommodate the predicted passenger demand in future years. And, crucially, it must understand the limits of price as a mechanism to change people’s behaviour. Most people have little option but to pay increased charges, be they from higher rail fares or more expensive fuel, increasing the risk that each new hike primarily just makes people poorer rather than reducing carbon emissions.

That is why shadow secretary of state, Maria Eagle, is focussing our review on affordability, on the steps we need to take to make transport more sustainable without pricing those on low and middle incomes out of the travel they need to make the best of their lives. And it is why I will be considering the steps needed ultimately to put a low emission vehicle within reach of the majority of car owners, not just the early adopters with sufficient means to pay the premium.

None of this will compete for space in the news agenda with the momentous and distressing events in Libya and Japan – rightly so. But the transport decisions we take over the next decade will have at least as great an impact on people’s daily lives. Do get involved and have your say.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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Cameron’s brave boasts ring hollow: the Tories are failing to back British business.

07/03/2011, 09:17:34 AM

by John Woocock

David Cameron has faltered abroad of late because under him Britain lacks a coherent foreign policy to guide it, as Douglas Alexander cogently set out in the Observer yesterday.

But yesterday the prime minister’s incoherence spread to the home front. Cameron’s speech to the Conservative spring conference highlighted a weakness in his leadership and the government’s economic position that is worth dwelling on, beyond the two lines of rebuttal to which such orations are usually treated.

The foreign policy section of the speech bad enough. Was there really a single true blue activist in the Cardiff hall, never mind anyone in the rest of the country, convinced by the notion that the key difference between Labour and the Conservatives in foreign affairs is that we do “dodgy deals with dictators” while they are primarily interested in volunteering to build schools in Africa? And if any Cameroon speechwriters read Labour Uncut (They do – Ed.) let me help you out: if you are going to force that kind of absurd contrast on your audience, don’t then segue into a eulogy of Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy principles. Some would say she ended up being a teeny bit too close to a dodgy regime or two herself, as her friendship with General Pinochet and reluctance to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa showed (which latter Mr Cameron himself adversely criticised back in the days that he wished to project himself as a break from Tory tradition). (more…)

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