Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

Labour’s strategic priority must be to demonstrate how it will lead

23/02/2015, 05:52:03 PM

by Jonathan Todd

At the end of last year, I wrote on three reasons for Labour victory in 2015: brand, economy, and leadership. Let’s revisit them.

Brand

The Good Right - Tim Montgomerie’s campaign – understands the Tories’ brand problems. There has been a 7 per cent rise over the past year to 85 per cent in the proportion of people that see the Tories as being close to the rich. By having the likes of Peter Stringfellow along to a black and white ball and allowing Lord Fink to mishandle Ed Miliband’s questioning of his tax affairs, the Tory campaign appears determined to win over the remaining 15 per cent.

Reckless decisions over this parliament – the bedroom tax, scrapping the 50p income tax rate, and NHS restructuring – wouldn’t have happened if the Tories had been the Good Right throughout. To use the reported language of Miliband, they are “running out of runway” to turn around the perception before the election that they are “the party of the rich”. Given the Tory leads on economy and leadership, we might wonder what keeps them flat-lining at 30 per cent in the polls and the failure to address this perception is a prime candidate.

Economy

What could happen between now and 7 May to eradicate the Tory poll lead on the economy? It’s not hard to imagine scenarios emanating from Greece, the Middle East and Ukraine that have serious negative economic shocks. But would the Tories be blamed? Or the nurse that is held more tightly for fear of something worse?

When looking toward Labour victory, I wrote that George Osborne “overplayed his hand in the Autumn Statement, leaving bombs, unexploded since the 1930s, beneath the Tory campaign”. Have they gone off? Do you discern a widespread anxiety about what Osborne portends for the size and capacities of the state?

If such anxiety were deep enough to overhaul the Tory lead on the economy, we might have expected it to have done so by now. There is an argument – which Uncut has been preeminent in advancing – that if Labour had been clearer about how we’d go far enough on the deficit, the way in which the Tories are going too far would become more apparent and more damaging for them.

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Five predictions for the election and beyond

16/02/2015, 08:26:12 AM

by Jonathan Todd

In FT Weekend, GOD – as Gus O’Donnell was known as head of the civil service 2005-2011 – reports that “by some calculations there are as many as 11 different possible outcomes” to the general election. “These include minority governments, multiparty coalitions, coalitions with side deals, variants in which some MPs do not vote on certain English issues – as well as a vanilla one-party majority”. Here are five observations on this.

1.) Whichever of David Cameron and Ed Miliband has most MPs will be PM

This might seem utterly obvious but The Economist report that as “the Scottish National Party, Greens and struggling Lib Dems (are) all prepared to support a left-leaning government … Miliband (could be in) power even if Labour wins considerably fewer seats and votes than the Tories”.

Seriously? They would make the less than universally popular Miliband PM if he has fewer MPs and votes? I’m doubtful. Equally, Cameron would not stay PM if he has fewer MPs and votes. Most MPs trumps most votes. But being behind on both MPs and votes is unsalvageable.

2.) Majority will be hard won

“We really need,” a senior Lib Dem recently told The Evening Standard, “45 MPs to go into another coalition.” More MPs than polling suggests they will return. “At some point it just becomes a matter of numbers. You have to fill Cabinet positions, junior ministerial positions, select committee chairs — things like that – while also having places for MPs sulking or who don’t want to sit in government.”

If – as Atul Hatwal predicts – they have a number of MPs in the high 30s or very low 40s, they’d fall short of this 45 MP benchmark. Meaning that, irrespective of Nick Clegg’s preferences, another coalition would be difficult for them. Lib Dem strength depends on performance in two heartlands: in the south west, where the Tories threaten, and in rural Scotland, where the SNP do. The SNP are also, of course, seeking to eat into Scottish Labour heartlands.

If the SNP successfully advance on both Labour and Lib Dems, pushing the Lib Dems below 45 MPs, it may be that the SNP is the only route to a coalition for either Labour or the Tories. Iain Anderson and David Torrance caution against concluding an agreement couldn’t be reached between the Tories and the SNP. But it wouldn’t be easy, nor would it be for Miliband if Labour does have most MPs. Nonetheless, the probability of the SNP being in government is higher than any single party forming a majority government. Some form of rapprochement with the likes of Douglas Carswell may also be considered by the Tories.

3.) Strategies for minority government are needed – which, given the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA), may endure

Lack of Lib Dem MPs and the difficulty for unionist parties in finding coalition agreement with the SNP may make minority government the only option. FTPA means that the governing party would need a two-thirds majority of MPs to call an election before May 2020. Favourable polls may make this attractive but facing such polls, the opposition would be unlikely to vote with them. A two-thirds majority may, then, be a bridge too far.

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Uncut Review: New Labour’s Old Roots, edited by Patrick Diamond

10/02/2015, 08:36:13 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“This is the culmination of a long period in which the voice of moderate opinion in the Labour Party has been drowned by the clamour of an active and articulate minority”. Reading Atul Hatwal recently on Uncut on the monstering of Blairites and humouring of leftists, this feels a commentary on our times. But it comes from the Campaign for Democratic Socialism’s (CDS) 1962 manifesto.

As Patrick Diamond notes in the newly updated version of New Labour’s Old Roots, which he edits, CDS was “formed in response to the need for a more organised centre-right in the party at parliamentary and constituency level”. This paints CDS as a proto Progress. But I was intrigued to discover from Diamond’s research that CDS was backed by an elderly R. H. Tawney, irreproachable Labour royalty.

If Tawney, who did as much as anyone to have Labour dance to the equality beat, supported CDS then it cannot have been akin to the insubstantial, narrow caste that Progress is sometimes characterised as. Involved with this is the implication, which Diamond challenges, that New Labour has only shallow roots in the party.

“The key argument of the collection,” he writes, “is that New Labour is less of an historical aberration than its critics alleged; rather it is possible to trace a ‘common heritage’ between New Labour and earlier modernising traditions in the party … There was a shared commitment to ‘conscience and reform’, underpinned by the ideal of national renewal and the creation of a ‘New Britain’ which animated Labour’s victories in 1929, 1945, 1964 and 1997; as such, New Labour should be seen as, ‘part of a revisionist thread of British social democratic politics’ (Driver and Martell, 2006: 23).”

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Optimism and relationships are in Labour’s DNA

03/02/2015, 10:16:14 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The British economy is growing because of the hard work and ingenuity of businesses and workers. Crime remains in a long-term decline. Some public services are improving because of the efforts of public servants like those interviewed by Liz Kendall and Steve Reed in a new Progress publication.

The economy improves in spite of George Osborne, while Theresa May benefits from a trend toward falling crime that predates her time in office. Osborne’s attempted fiscal consolidation has lacked strategic direction: cutting deepest where resistance was thought weakest (local government, welfare), instead of recasting the relationship between public, private and third sectors to secure maximum combined impact. Pockets of public service innovation are, nonetheless, discernible, even if this strategic direction is lacking.

Kendall and Reed delve into these pockets: Frontline, a programme designed to attract some of the country’s highest achieving graduates into social work; Newcastle city council’s response to the government’s ‘troubled families’ programme; Oldham council, experiencing a threefold rise in residents’ satisfaction under Jim McMahon’s leadership; Participle, an organisation that designs and helps to launch projects to demonstrate what the next generation of public services should look like; and the use of personal budgets to empower people to manage their health and wellbeing in ways that best suit their particularities.

“It might be tough for those of us who love politics to face,” as Hopi Sen noted, writing for Progress about a Policy Network pamphlet published at the end of last year, “but politics is primarily a secondary function in society. Real change is being created and developed elsewhere, and politics seeks to manage, regulate, anticipate and ameliorate those changes in the interests of the people”.

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After Charlie Hebdo, we need confident social democrats

21/01/2015, 10:34:20 AM

by Jonathan Todd

It is over 170 years since Karl Marx published On the Jewish Question, which rebutted the argument of fellow Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer that Jews could only achieve political emancipation by relinquishing their particular religious consciousness. While individuals can be spiritually and politically free in the secular state, Marx prefigured his later critiques of capitalism by arguing that economic inequality would constrain freedom in such a state.

Jews are again questioning their place in European society, as are UK Muslim leaders, outraged after Eric Pickles asked followers of Islam to “prove their identity”. Whether or not that makes a Charlie of Pickles is debatable. But the Pope seems not to be. “One cannot provoke,” he claimed last week, “one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”

The ancient questions are back. About the relationship between faith and citizenship that the young Marx addressed in On the Jewish Question. But a concept – alienation – that Marx later developed also seems relevant. I’m not a Marxist but I’ve found myself thinking about alienation after the killings at Charlie Hebdo and in the kosher supermarket. Nor am I a massive fan of Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP, but since the atrocity, I’ve also been impressed by his reaction.

In my fusion of Hannan and Marx, I like to feel that I’ve done better than Jamie Bartlett’s characterisation of much of the Charlie Hebdo reaction, as, conveniently, meaning precisely whatever we were thinking already. But in a sense, I am only revisiting the point I made on Uncut after the London riots of 2011: Can we really only look deep enough into our hearts as to bleat about the same old hobby horses?

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The Labour right does not belong to Tony Blair

12/01/2015, 10:17:30 AM

by Jonathan Todd

There are worthwhile endeavours within the Labour family that are devoutly non-factional. The point of Pragmatic Radicalism, for example, is to get away from left and right labels and to debate the way ahead in this unencumbered and comradely form.

Unsurprisingly, however, Prag Rad has not succeeded in moving our party beyond having groupings within itself. As much as the vibrancy and relevance of Labour depends on not over emphasising internal differences, which are never as substantial as the things that unite us, and interweaving ourselves with the communities that we serve, such groupings fall into that awkward category of thing that we might prefer not to exist but in all likelihood are always going to and which, therefore, we might as well be grown-up about.

To the best of my knowledge, if this is not too ridiculous a segue from talk of being grown-up, the only person who has ever blocked me on Twitter is a notoriously prolific tweeter, squarely on the party’s left. I’ve never exchanged views on Twitter with this person. I’ve never had a face-to-face conversation with them. I’ve never had any direct engagement with them of any sort. But somehow, I’ve upset them. Being Deputy Editor of Uncut is probably “crime” enough.

It’s not personal. It’s political. I know that. Which is why I don’t take it personally (though, it is petty and is not something, I hope, I’d find myself doing). This activist has one view of what Labour should be and I have another. The party is a broad church. In this context, there will always be different views.

In terms of my views, I have written plenty for Uncut that might be broadly associated with a Blairite position: the importance of fiscal credibility; bring pro-EU and reform in the EU; admiration for Jim Murphy; the desirability of big tents; applauding bridges built with business and wealth creation; embracing the contributory principle; and so on.

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What has changed on the deficit since general election 2010?

07/01/2015, 08:31:55 AM

by Jonathan Todd

This is the first of a series of pieces from Uncut on what has changed in respect of key political issues since the last general election. Looking over this timescale, we hope to distinguish the signal from the noise; what really matters from the day-to-day froth.

Liverpool played Burnley away on Boxing Day. The last time that happened was just before the 2010 general election when Rafa Benitez managed Liverpool. Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish both did so between Benitez and the current reign of Brendan Rodgers. Hodgson’s tenure coincided with the near bankruptcy of one of the world’s great sporting institutions. Enter John Henry, deus ex machina. This American has invested in the club stadium and playing squad, including in Luis Suarez, who brought both disgrace and nearly a Premier League title. Life is easier off the pitch and harder on the pitch sans Suarez. Fans yearn to be made to dream again. And will soon have to hope to do so without talisman Steven Gerrard.

In summary, much has happened at Liverpool since the last general election. Soon after which, I wrote my first piece for Uncut on ‘the emerging politics of deficit reduction’. Since when, as much as politics feels like a rollercoaster, these politics have changed remarkably little. Around the time that piece was published, Peter Mandelson was fighting for airtime by launching his memoirs.

We would not convince the country, Mandelson conceded on the deficit, that the Tories were going too far unless we convinced them that we would go far enough. That reflection on the 2010 election exactly parallels the advice that both myself and Samuel Dale have recently given Labour’s current campaign. I called for ‘Don Miliband’ to show himself, Sam for a ‘carpe deficit’ moment. The terminology doesn’t matter, the point is the same. Mandelson returned to the debate before Christmas to make a similar point in a speech to a Progress and Policy Network conference. Labour, Mandelson advised, will only get a hearing on ‘what will the effect be on society and the economy?’ if we are clear on ‘how much must we cut public spending?’

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Three reasons for Labour victory in 2015

31/12/2014, 08:28:22 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Tony Blair might be despondent about Labour’s prospects but all is not lost, there are three reasons for Labour victory in 2015: leadership, economy and brand.

Uncut has consistently warned about the dangers attaching to Labour’s poor polling on leadership and economy. The own goals and gaffes of Conservatives, however, open the door to these improving. Labour enjoys an advantage on brand, which is similarly assisted by Tory missteps.

If David Cameron’s party were a character on Thomas the Tank engine, the Fat Controller would be bellowing at them that they have caused confusion and delay. He’d be saying the same to Labour. Labour is not as popular or convincing as we would like. But Tory error is giving Labour the opportunity, should we seize it, to be marginally and decisively less unpopular and unconvincing.

Labour would be the least unpopular in the unpopularity contest that is this general election. Arriving in government in such circumstances would bring its own challenges. Not least as precipitous demands will be placed on whoever forms the next government by the UK’s fiscal position, underperforming economy and ageing society, as well as looming questions involved with everything from Vladimir Putin’s intentions to Nigel Farage’s staying power about our place in the world.

Someone will have a Labour plan for all of this. Charlie Falconer, perhaps. I think he leads Labour’s preparation for government work. If so, noting his chapter on delivery in the Uncut book, he should call Paul Crowe. The Hollande scenario that troubles Crowe must be averted. One way in which it might become existential for Labour is if UKIP establishes itself as the second party in much of northern England at the general election and then use the frustrations of an administration as disappointing as Hollande’s to further advance.

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If we are all Labour Uncutters now, let’s do this properly

15/12/2014, 10:25:32 AM

by Jonathan Todd

We are all in the black Labourites now, Labour Uncutters and proud. It was In the Black Labour published by Policy Network in 2011 that reminded us that fiscal prudence and social justice are complementary. It was Labour Uncut at conference in 2013 who provided detail in our book on how this might be done, how £34bn of additional savings in 2015/16 could be reallocated to Labour priorities.

Both publications were contentious. They – at least In the Black Labour – are now orthodoxy. Higher debt interest payments, Ed Miliband noted in his speech last week, as In the Black Labour did previously, squeeze out money for public services and for investment in the long-term potential of our country. Following the Miliband speech, Phil Collins observed in the Times that the difference between an old Brownite and an old Blairite is about three years. The dates of Miliband’s speech and In the Black Labour prove him right to the week.

The headline used by Collins’ paper to report the speech – I’ll cut deficit but won’t reveal how, says Miliband – showed, however, that Miliband is yet to go as far as Labour Uncut has gone. In isolating additional cuts we’d support, Labour Uncut created resources to apply to different priorities. In the spirit of Mad Men’s Don Draper, we didn’t like what was being said about Labour (that the party can’t be trusted with public money), so we changed the conversation (by fronting up to enough cuts to create fiscal room for a set of policy priorities distinctly Labour and different from those of the Tory-led government).

Miliband didn’t do the full Draper. Maybe he got as far as a Pete Campbell, another Mad Men character. Moving in the right direction but lacking Draper’s uncompromising edge. Yet Miliband doesn’t need to that audacious to remake himself in Draper form. Carl Emmerson, deputy director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, reckons he has a £50bn target to shoot at. That’s the fiscal room between Conservative plans and Labour’s commitment to balance current spending by 2020.

£50bn is ample to signpost a Labour future. But voters won’t reward what you promise if they conclude you won’t deliver it. The £50bn can play the role played by house building and childcare within the Labour Uncut book; the altered priorities made affordable by identifying sufficient cuts. The political gain that attaches to this £50bn, however, is conditional on demonstrating how we’d balance current spending by 2020.

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George Osborne hasn’t set a trap for Labour. He’s launched a boomerang

01/12/2014, 09:38:06 AM

by Jonathan Todd

George Osborne thinks he is being clever, setting a trap for Labour. But Labour should vote against his proposal, expected to be contained in Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, for a new law requiring that Britain’s structural deficit be eliminated by 2017-18. As it is not a trap, it is a boomerang.

“The duties imposed by the Bill are not accompanied by any corresponding sanctions,” he told MPs, when asked to vote by the then Labour government to put into law the halving of the deficit in two years. As declamatory legislation – an Act of Parliament which no one has any intention of enforcing – Osborne was right to dismiss it as “vacuous and irrelevant”.

Yet Osborne now advances his own declamatory legislation. What will follow as a result of his law from the deficit not being closed by 2017-18? Will the deficit be further extended by the government fining itself? Or will the government be required to learn their lesson in its prisons? It’s all funny money and silly politics.

Such tawdry legislation diminishes us. And if Osborne is going to pass laws making a deficit after 2017-18 illegal, doesn’t he anticipate people enquiring how he’ll make his government legal? Labour will make hay with speculation on what heartless plans he conceals. But his stated intentions are sufficient to damage him.

Under published Conservative plans, the Resolution Foundation “estimate that several government departments would face real-terms budget reductions of one-half or more between 2010-11 and 2018-19”. Budgets for DfID, the NHS and schools are nominally ring fenced, so other departments face a halving of their budgets.

How will the Home Office keep us safe on a shrunken budget? Are we to win ‘the global race’ with an FCO so puny? Will local government be recognisable after ‘the jaws of doom’ close?

Osborne is asking MPs to vote to make the continuation of government as we have known it illegal. While by 2010 there was fat to trim in the public sector, there is now less, so his plans entail a more dramatic state curtailment.

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