Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

It is time to start believing – Labour can change Britain

15/05/2024, 09:48:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour and the Tories were both in the mid-30s in the polls at the end of 2021. Briefings that Boris Johnson would govern into the 2030s followed the Hartlepool by-election. Labour government was a two-term project, experienced campaigners insisted.

This seemed too pessimist to me. It was, I wrote, time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election.

Check my working:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019: Far from governing into the next decade, Johnson’s reputation is irredeemably low.
  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit: Neither the Tories (because of Brexit’s failings) nor Labour (due to its enduring sensitivities) want to talk at this election about the only topic of the last.
  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader: Even less after the short, benighted, economically ruinous reign of his successor.
  1. Liberal Democrat revival helps Labour: In a political environment most characterised by antipathy to the Tories, Labour is strengthened by having viable vehicles for the expression of anti-Tory sentiment as widely dispersed as possible, as the byelections of North Shropshire, Tiverton and Honiton, and Somerton and Frome have evidenced.
  1. Labour strength across the UK builds Labour recovery in Scotland: As the probability of PM Starmer has increased, the prospects of Scottish Labour have improved – with polling now pointing to 28 Scottish Labour MPs.

 We should now believe that Labour can not only win the election, but profoundly change Britain.

Liverpool Football Club experienced the power of belief under Jürgen Klopp, who urged fans to move from doubters to believers.

“Given the scale of Labour’s defeat in 2019,” I wrote in December 2021, “the idea that Labour could win in 2024 might be as unlikely as Liverpool overcoming Barcelona after a 3-0 defeat in the Camp Nou. The starting point for that famous victory in May 2019 was that 60,000 believers arrived at Anfield, determined to back their team to the hilt. Even Lionel Messi doubted himself in this context.”

Here we are in our Anfield of 2024: millions of Labour supporters believe that victory awaits; Messi still shines at Inter Miami, while Johnson is washed-up; and Klopp is leaving Liverpool Football Club in a city transformed.

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2024 – Our year of socialism or barbarism

28/12/2023, 10:43:03 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We are entering Rosa Luxemburg’s year. “Capitalist civilization cannot continue,” she wrote a century ago. “We must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.”

A similar contrast was recently drawn by Doyne Farmer, an American scientist and entrepreneur, which was quoted by Alastair Campbell in a fantastic speech: “We are in a race between Armageddon and awesome.”

Farmer’s Armageddon is a brutal Malthusianism of climate chaos: more and more of the world becoming unhabitable for humans, driving hundreds of millions of desperate people towards shrinking islands of habitability, where warm welcomes will not await. Awesome is a world that has taken the steps to avert climate chaos, which will come with an abundance of fresh air, natural habitats, and clean energy.

Lives of Armageddon or awesome await today’s children. With their fates determined by 2024’s decisions.

Change is not linear. Neither the way our climate is changing: “climate tipping points … lead to abrupt, irreversible, and dangerous impacts with serious implications for humanity” (e.g., collapsing ice sheets and rapidly rising sea levels). Nor our trajectory to net zero: “positive tipping points within our social systems (that) help accelerate progress towards a sustainable future” (e.g., take-up of Electric Vehicles rapidly advancing due to steep price reductions).

“Pace is truly what matters in the climate fight,” says the front of Simon Sharpe’s compelling book on how our rate of decarbonisation needs to increase by five times. We either now speed through positive tipping points to a world of awesome or slip beyond negative tipping points to Armageddon.

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3 Bs for Rachel Reeves’ speech: Building; Betting; Bridging

09/10/2023, 02:43:06 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Labour party and the rest of the country want the same thing: big change. The country knows the essential precondition of this: getting the economy right. We look to Rachel Reeves for that.

Jess Philips spoke movingly at political therapy last week at 1000 Trades about the pervasive hopelessness that she encounters among the electorate. The deep struggles in a country where nothing works. The exhausting dysfunction hardwired into many facets of national life.

“People have had enough,” Rachel Reeves told the FT over the weekend. This feeling, while it has grown over the 13 years of Tory misrule, is not new.

It powered the surge towards Yes in Scotland’s 2014 referendum. Breaking up the UK has always seemed to me, among other things, a tremendously risky path: divorces can get messy. Yes appeared much less so for those gripped by hopelessness: with so little stake in the UK, the alternative was a worthwhile gamble.

Almost a decade later, the tide started to go out on the SNP last week in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. But not on the hope for big change that has transformed Scottish politics. Few want a status quo of grinding poverty and thwarted opportunity.

Labour needs to get the UK building to meet this appetite for change. Building houses, life science labs, wind farms: all the infrastructure that the UK needs for coming decades.

Building should be a leitmotif of the Reeves speech. Uncut will count the number of building references.

But building HS2? Reeves, during her FT interview, “hints that Labour will not go into the general election promising to reinstate the northern leg of the line. Fiscal responsibility is one of her mantras.”

It compromises Labour’s focus on building to not keep alive the train line that will give the UK north of Birmingham the transport capacity and connections it needs. We all know the difficulties being created by the government, such as allowing compulsory purchases for HS2 to lapse, but “we can’t because of the Tories” is a line with limited mileage for Labour.

How large-scale change really happens is the subtitle of a book that Rajiv Shah will, coincidentally, publish during party conference. The author – who has helped vaccinate nearly a billion children, lead high-pressure responses to the Haiti earthquake and against Ebola, dramatically expanded American Covid-19 testing at the height of the pandemic – promises to reveal, “the power of the big bet mindset: a belief that seeking to solve problems boldly, rather than settle for incremental improvements, will attract partners with the capacity to achieve transformational change”. (more…)

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The poetry of a better world is beyond Rishi being Rishi

25/09/2023, 11:04:00 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Let Rishi be Rishi, say his advisers. Let him try to set up a dividing line with him and hard-working families on one side and Labour on another. Let him talk gibberish about seven bins and attempt to associate Labour with this. Let him make a solemn speech to the nation from Downing Street, supposedly about tough choices for a shared future, when only a changed government, making different choices, will save our future.

The veneer of competence, which Sunak brought to his office when succeeding Liz Truss, was wearing very thin by the speech’s end. This is the latest phase of his benighted reign. There was the relative calm after the chaos of Truss and Boris Johnson. There were the five priorities for 2023 – which, for Sunak’s misfiring administration, are much more stretching than they initially seemed.

Having not stopped the boots, the role of ULEZ in the Uxbridge byelection appeared as a rubber ring. Many Uxbridge voters who will be unaffected by ULEZ voted Tory in misplaced protest. The latest phase of the Sunak is even more firmly rooted in desperate dishonesty than earlier ones.

The 2030 target for electric cars was achievable – because of investment unlocked by clear and consistent regulation. Instead of applying a similar approach to the 2035 target for boilers, Sunak has watered down both targets. Creating a dividing line between himself and the businesses that, with the right regulatory backing, would make such investment, while claiming to stand-up for hard-pressed households.

What would really help such households is to rapidly push green technologies along the S-curve: “a well-established phenomenon where a successful new technology reaches a certain catalytic tipping point (typically 5-10% market share), and then rapidly reaches a high market share (i.e. 50%+) within just a couple more years once past this tipping point.”

We see market trends in green technologies that align with the S-curve. Wind and solar power generation, for example, is now 12% of the global total from less than 1% a decade ago, growing at 20% per year. By effectively banning onshore wind farms in England for the past eight years and botching a recent auction for a major offshore wind farm, the UK is failing to fully take advantage of this emerging era.

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Looking ahead to a massive political year

25/08/2023, 11:15:52 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk, according to Hegel. He meant, of course, that we won’t know until 2024 who got the worst of 2016: the UK with Brexit or the USA with Trump.

Next year will be a big one on both sides of the pond as Sunak v Starmer and Biden v Trump shape up to produce fireworks, says the blurb on the 1000 Trades website. On 5 September, David Aaronovitch will lead a journey through the political landscape as we approach the foothills of this immense political year.

A Labour general election victory will begin to heal the wounds opened in the UK’s relationship with the EU by Brexit. And much more besides: tackling the deep weaknesses of low skills, productivity, and investment that have bedevilled the UK economy for much longer than we have been outside the EU; repairing a public realm battered by 14 years of Conservative government; and seizing the opportunities of the major waves of change, such as Net Zero and Artificial Intelligence, that are reshaping the global economy.

A Conservative win will do the opposite. No reset in our relations with the EU. No change of national direction. No end to our self-harm.

There’s a lot riding on our next general election. But even more on the next US presidential election. The global consequences of the presidential election dwarf our general election.

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Staying engaged without getting enraged with Rafael Behr at 1000 Trades

01/05/2023, 10:27:53 PM

by Jonathan Todd

People sometimes ask why I co-founded a pub. I don’t know what to say. I can’t immediately retrace the confluence of motives and circumstance. At least not in a way that I want to say out loud.

I think it is for nights like the 23 May when Rafael Behr will join us to talk about his book. For Birmingham Jazz, Birmingham !mprov, and Maker Monday. The pub as a hub of what makes life worth living.

We found the pub game at the bottom of the political greasy pole. My friend and co-founder, John Stapleton, discovered he preferred pulling pints to being a special adviser in the last Labour government. My efforts to become the first Labour MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale were praised by John Harris in The Guardian – but were much less warmly received by voters.

“In the communist regimes of Eastern Europe,” Behr writes, “political dissidents would talk about ‘internal emigration’. Denied the freedom to travel abroad, they would find sanctuary in the private recess of the mind. They would disengage from the external world of politics, inhabiting it only as a performance of themselves because that was what the regime demanded.”

1000 Trades began as a kind of internal emigration – only existing in our heads, usually on nights out. Bringing it into reality was a way to be the change that we wanted to see in the world that did not depend on politics. We did not get a CLP to select us. We did not win a vote in parliament. We just did it.

But politics kept intruding. “Brexit is killing the hospitality industry, with the number of venue closures rising sixfold in just a year,” recently reported The Independent. Covid-19 was not great for business either – we continue to pay back the government loan that we were grateful for. We fought and won a campaign against the ambitions of a developer to convert offices next door into flats.

We were forced to confront the central theme of Behr’s book: staying engaged without being enraged. “It is an essential task, because the repulsion of an engaged audience – the inducement of hopelessness and doubt that Britain will be governed better – gives succour to those who would make politics worse.”

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward truth: to juxtapose Martin Luther King Jr and one of Behr’s arguments, which asks us to resist perennial gloom by recognising the reasons for optimism over longer time horizons.

“Imagine a newspaper that is published once every 50 years. On that cycle, the news looks a lot rosier than it does when churned out daily, or hourly, or every second on Twitter. Items in the most recent edition might include drastic rises in global living standards (around 1 in 10 people on earth live in poverty compared to 6 in 10 in the middle of twentieth century); the elimination of smallpox; the availability of food and education to billions of people who used to lack both.”

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Labour needs to battle through Long Corbyn to overcome Long Thatcherism

06/02/2023, 10:44:58 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The most common symptoms of Long Covid, according to the NHS website, include extreme tiredness, loss of smell, and muscle aches. It is Zoonotic: transmitting between species and from animals to humans. It also moves from the medical to the political.

“In 82 opinion polls since January,” lamented Denis MacShane on The Article in October 2020, “the Labour Party has only been ahead in one of them”. Despite Keir Starmer outperforming the then prime minister, Boris Johnson, “in terms of competence and coherence.”

“The party,” diagnosed MacShane, “is suffering with symptoms of “Long Corbyn” … The virus of hard leftist unelectability is not easy to eradicate.”

Liverpool had not won the league in 25 years when Jürgen Klopp was appointed manager in 2015. Past glories felt unlikely to be recaptured. Klopp urged doubters to be believers. His Liverpool became the first British team to hold the European Cup, European Super Cup, Club World Cup, and league titles simultaneously.

Three months after MacShane’s article, I paraphrased Klopp to argue that Labour doubters should become believers. The symptoms of Long Corbyn were at their height: extreme tiredness (years of Labour doorstep with little to show for it), misplaced sense of political smell (failing to sniff the weaknesses that clung to Johnson even at the height of his powers), our muscles ached from the strife and disappointment under Corbyn.

This context made eccentric my prediction of Labour victory. Things have dramatically turned.

All who doubted Labour now believe. Once tired activists, bouncing back from Long Corbyn, stride purposefully towards power. The whiff of Labour government permeates all corners of national life. My reasons for optimism have come to pass – and then some.

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Labour conference 2022: The Mersey wind of change

28/09/2022, 11:08:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The turbulence around Labour conference was much more than the Mersey wind. Sterling hitting an all-time low versus the dollar. 900 mortgage deals pulled by banks and building societies. Criticism of last Friday’s “mini budget” from the IMF.

The collapse in sterling means rising inflation, higher interest rates, and more pain for already suffering households. Government capacity to ameliorate this is limited by higher borrowing costs than Greece and Italy.

Dramatic changes in the UK’s economic fortunes are often driven by global events. It was OPEC and the oil price in the 1970s. American subprime mortgages and collateralised debt obligations in the 2000s. It takes a special kind of budget to crash the economy outside of global events – such as Nigel Lawson’s tax cuts in 1988 that overheated the economy and precipitated the 1990s recession.

The Tories will try to blame our economic problems on global events (Covid-19 and Putin’s war in Ukraine). “Global financial markets,” said the Treasury’s statement in response to new purchases of government debt by the Bank of England, “have seen significant volatility in recent days.” That the Bank of England acted after the “mini budget” reveals blame much closer to home.

“Panics do not destroy capital,” according to John Stuart Mill, “they merely reveal the extent to which it has been previously destroyed by its betrayal into hopelessly unproductive works.”

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It is the economy, stupid – but Labour needs a story of economic change

12/08/2022, 11:07:17 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Remember when the war on woke was going to keep the Tories in government till 2030s?

We used to hear more of this claim, a year or so ago. Lee Anderson was banning himself from watching the England men’s team nearly win the Euros. Tortoise was profiling anti-woke, power couple Munira Mirza and Dougie Smith. Brexit was an identity issue and others – such as, Anderson thought, taking the knee – would be stoked to retain the 2019 Tory coalition.

Since then, the economic challenges of Brexit (ask a trucker or holidaymaker queueing at Dover if Brexit is an identity issue) and the longer-term economic impacts of Covid-19 have crystallised.

Vaccine rollout powered a Tory victory in the Hartlepool byelection in May 2021 and a post-lockdown household spending surge. Meeting this demand has not always been easy. Long Covid diminished the UK workforce and global supply chains cannot be smoothly switched off and on – especially with China persisting with a damaging zero-Covid strategy.

These problems have been turbocharged by the war in Ukraine and associated energy sanctions on Russia – rapidly increasing UK inflation, now forecast to hit 13% during 2022.

Getting on top of the cost-of-living crisis – inflation outstripping wage growth, reducing the ability of households to afford their way of life – requires a restructuring of the UK economy much bigger than Tory imaginations.

Tax cuts and fracking is how putative PM Liz Truss says she will reduce energy bills. It is not much of an answer. Gordon Brown has some better ideas.

Truss has been critical of the Bank of England. The Bank is responsible for controlling inflation – but monetary policy in the UK is inadequate to seismic events in China and Ukraine.

Being a political teacher with a skill for explanation and making sense of complex issues is an essential qualification of successful PMs, according to Steve Richards’ engaging book on recent holders of this office.

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Whatever happens, Keir Starmer has put Labour on track for government

09/05/2022, 09:43:34 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The local elections showed that Keir Starmer has put Labour on a trajectory to form the next government, irrespective of whether a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) prevents him making it to Downing Street.

I offered 5 reasons for Labour optimism at the end of last year. Each has strengthened.

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019

The unique circumstances of the 2019 general election will never be repeated. They were unusually favourable to Johnson.

Now he is one of the least popular prime ministers ever and blamed by his party for larger than expected losses in the local elections.

There is little sunlight on Johnson’s horizon. Cost of living crisis. Record NHS waiting lists. Northern Irish unrest bound up with his Brexit deal.

Many leaders suffer midterm challenges and recover. Johnson may be another. But he confronts big problems, which will not create a context as hospitable as December 2019.

  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit

We – as I wrote last December – are tired of Brexit. We do not want to refight old battles. We just want things to work properly.

But things are not working properly. In Northern Ireland. At our borders. With our exports. These problems all follow from Johnson’s Brexit.

If only these were the only failures of 12 years of Tory government. The rot of austerity and endemic poverty goes deep.

We see this all around us: homelessness and food banks; whenever we try to access NHS services; when we work long hours to not meet ever rising bills. These Tory failures hobble our civic life and economic performance.

We cannot sustain the growth needed to pay for the public services that we need. The Tory response is to further weigh us down with taxes. They are, as Rachel Reeves has said, a party of high taxes because they are a party of low growth.

The right approach is to liberate our potential. We are so much better than they have allowed us to believe. We can thrive with proper backing.

The next election won’t be about ‘getting Brexit done’ but getting Britain started. It is a turn the page election. The next Tory page is ‘Brexit opportunities’ and ‘levelling up’.

Labour needs messages and messengers to own the future much more convincingly.

  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader

In the morning of his 1997 defeat, John Major drew warm applause from Tory activists for saying that they could look back with pride on what they had achieved in government. Applause in equivalent circumstances in 2024 will be entirely hollow.

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