Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

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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Liverpool must back Rodgers and Labour must back Miliband

24/11/2014, 01:10:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

I’ve supported Liverpool FC since the 1986 FA Cup final, the first match I saw on TV. Because red was the colour for my six year old self. Not because, or so I’ve told myself, Liverpool won. My Dad probably also encouraged me, having debarred me from wearing the Manchester United shirt that my Mum had previously bought for me, and before long we were on the M6 to Anfield from Cumbria.

My parents did less to bring me to politics. They are no more interested than the average voter. I choose the political team in red for myself. I was willing Labour on from a young age. Labour and Liverpool have expended much of my emotional and mental energy.

Now both are in a hole. Some say that Ed Miliband should be sacked. Others that Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, should be. While Labour and Liverpool are struggling to meet expectations, I am not among either of these groups.

When I said at the start of this football season that I’d be pleased with Liverpool being in the Champions League after Christmas and in the competition next season, this was relatively low on ambition by the standards of fans whose expectations had been raised by nearly winning the league. These ambitions today are definitely optimistic.

At the start of last year, when Uncut was looking ahead to how Labour might approach another hung parliament, Labourites felt this lacking ambition. Last week, Conor Pope, the Labour List writer, tweeted the results of a survey of party members and professed amazement that anyone envisages a Labour majority. I have transitioned from being a relative pessimist about Liverpool’s prospects for this season and Labour’s chances at the general election to being a mild optimist.

It’s frustrating that Liverpool’s summer signings have not had the impact of Diego Costa and Cesc Fàbergas at Chelsea but the stumbling form of Arsenal, Manchester United and Spurs just about leaves open the possibility of Liverpool finishing in the top four and again qualifying for the Champions League, a competition that they will retain interest in into the second half of this season with wins against teams, FC Basel and Ludo Razgd, that they were widely expected to defeat when the draw was made.

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Authenticity is the key to Labour defeating the new insurgents

17/11/2014, 11:39:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour is about to throw away a winnable election, according to Phil Collins’ latest fiery column, because its leader cannot fathom that he needs to convince us he will take care of our money. As a consistent Uncut theme, we cannot be accused of not being forthright in stressing this need. We are eager to avoid Labour falling short in public estimation of whether the party is capable of taking the tough decisions on public spending that closing the deficit requires.

While winning economic credibility should remain a Labour priority and I’ve written in the current Progress magazine on how this might be done, it may be that a perceived dearth of authenticity, rather than economic credibility, is the most immediate cause of a heightened risk that Labour will not form the next government. The calculus of this risk is informed by the likelihood of Labour losing votes and seats to the SNP in Scotland, UKIP in the north of England and the Greens across the UK.

These parties all lump Labour together with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and dismiss them as “all the same”. Labour is supposedly another chip off this venal and failing block. The SNP and the Greens unambiguously pitch to the left of Labour and UKIP go after traditional Labour supporters.

All Labourites are appalled by the idea that we are no better than the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and bristle at the suggestion that we have left behind working class communities and left-wing values. But the worrying reality is that the Greens, SNP and UKIP – the new insurgents – successfully trade on these terms. As well as improving opinion poll performance, the new insurgents are all thought to be attracting new members at a rate that other parties appear able only to envy.

This success would not occur if Labour were more widely taken to be an authentic version of what we self-define as: the best vehicle for the advancement of left-wing values and working class interests. Alex Massie recently compared Scottish Labour to Rangers FC. Labour claims, like those of Rangers FC, that We are the People are now not just disbelieved but mocked. UKIP are seeking to inspire a similar kulturkampf among the English working class. They peddle the notion that the party founded to represent this class no longer does, as the Greens propagate the idea that a leader who has explicitly repudiated New Labour throughout his leadership is not really left wing.

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The EU can be a winning card for Labour – but is not without its risks

10/11/2014, 08:11:54 AM

by Jonathan Todd

EU debate is going to get hotter, I warned on Labour Uncut three years ago. And so it has. George Osborne spent the weekend defending the UK’s EU financing. Ed Miliband successfully led at PMQs on the paucity of David Cameron’s progress in renegotiating the UK’s EU membership. He is also expected to major on the issue in a speech to the CBI today.

UKIP’s rise and Cameron’s promised EU referendum, as well as the continued troubles of the Euro and contention about free movement of labour, mean that the EU won’t be as peripheral in UK politics as it has been for much of the UK’s membership. In this context, there are various points that Labour might keep in mind.

The UK government should do what it can to solve problems as they are perceived by the UK people

It might seem utterly obvious that the UK government should seek to serve its electors. But it’s worth reiterating. For example, over the weekend, “a senior Labour MP named as being involved in a plot to oust Ed Miliband,” reported the Daily Mail, demanded, “that the party toughens its stance on immigration”. What Ian Austin is reported as wanting is “a ban on benefit payments to new migrants who have paid nothing into the system, fingerprinting at the Calais border, and up-front payments by foreigners for NHS care”.

In spite of the prominence that ‘welfare and health tourism’ have in UK debate, these measures could be implemented by the UK without contravening EU rules. Eliminating ‘health tourism’, for example, is part of the motivation for the NHS Mutual that Frank Field has argued for on Labour Uncut.

It’s not the Commission that Field looks to for this mutual. It’s a Labour government. Labour should be clear about what we would do with the powers held by the UK government to improve the immigration system. Austin helps us in this direction.

The Eurozone crisis is not going away but the UK should be constructive in seeking solutions (more…)

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Why is Miliband struggling where Kinnock prospered?

04/11/2014, 04:40:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

On 4 February 1975, Margaret Thatcher defeated Edward Heath in a leadership ballot among Conservative MPs. The Spectator showed the way the wind was blowing four months earlier. It would seem to be of the first importance; it reported on 2 November 1974, that Mr Heath’s successor should be someone who is not ashamed of being a Conservative.

Similarly, during summer 2010, it was felt of the first importance that Mr Brown’s successor should be someone not ashamed of being Labour – except Brown has rarely been so ashamed. He was invariably more unashamedly Labour than his predecessor, Tony Blair. The ex partner that the Labour lover wanted to get out of its system had been playing the international field for three years by the time the opportunity came around to do so.

When Neil Kinnock reacted to Ed Miliband’s election as leader by saying, “we’ve got our party back”, we might presume that Blair was the primary kidnapper. But Miliband was himself a minister under Blair and new Labour was not an imposition on an unwilling party but something that grew out of its belly. As no kidnapping occurred, Kinnock was confused.

Nonetheless, reflecting on who the “our” in “our party” are may tell us something still relevant. In the view of David Marquand, Kinnock’s “skill in manipulating the symbols of tribal loyalty made him leader”. We might speculate, therefore, that “our” are those who recognise and value in these symbols.

“Labour needs its soul back,” I was told in 2010 by someone now working for Miliband. Kinnock connected with this soul via the second of the two dimensions that, as Marquand recalled, Henry Drucker saw as forming the ideology of the British Labour movement: ‘doctrine’ and ‘ethos’. “That ethos,” Marquand observed, “is almost indefinable … Perhaps Richard Hoggart caught it best with his famous evocation of the world of ‘them’ as seen from the point of view of ‘us’”: (more…)

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Five things we learnt from Tristram Hunt

29/10/2014, 04:49:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Having derided Ed Miliband as “a vulture” in his column, David Aaronovitch is not an uncritical Labour observer. Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, was last night brave enough to sit down for an hour of conversation with him at a Progress #InConvo14 event.

We can only wonder what an hour of conversation between Miliband and Aaronovitch would tell us. But five things to take away from last night’s event were:

Labour loves teachers

Blowing smoke up the bottoms of teachers is a Hunt speciality. The policy chat was of lessons to be learnt from Finland and Singapore where a focus on teacher quality has driven improvement in school performance. The political pitch was also clear: for the support of teachers bruised by Michael Gove. Where Gove sought to bend them to his will, Hunt wants to put them on a pedestal. And if the Finnish and Singaporean experiences can be replicated, children and parents will thank Hunt.

Labour doesn’t love faith schools as much – but isn’t going to abolish them

Parental choice and school diversity become Labour virtues under Tony Blair. Last night, though, we debated what kind of divided society we might become if this choice is exercised to create a diversity of schools centred on different faiths and ethnicities.

Hunt recognised the concern but argued that school challenge and collaboration can overcome it. He claimed that these characteristics were present in the successful London Challenge, while their absence goes some way to explaining recent problems in Birmingham schools. A diversity of faith schools, on this argument, is unproblematic if they are challenged by Ofsted and integrated into local networks of both accountability and collaboration.

Labour wants to make a big play out of being pro-EU

“The thing,” according to Chuka Umunna’s recent GQ interview, “business fears most is exit from the EU, not a Labour government”. Umunna made this argument when it was put to him that Labour is anti-business. Hunt did the same last night when similarly pressed. Labour cannot be anti-business, so the story goes, because business values the UK’s EU membership and Labour government guarantees this membership, whereas Tory government doesn’t. Having cast around for business pitch, it appears that Labour has disembarked on what it thinks is a winner. (more…)

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Where will we be in May 2015?

13/10/2014, 07:07:21 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Amid the fierce urgency of now, I look at possibilities beyond next May.

Labour majority

“Politics in Britain today,” according to a statement from Neal Lawson, Compass chair, “is not really about UKIP but about the failure of Labour in particular to present a coherent, desirable and feasible alternative to the Tories.” This was broadly the argument made by Atul Hatwal after the European elections and Ranjit Sidhu after the recent by-elections. As Sidhu was writing, John McTernan was bemoaning our politics’ lack of “lift, hope, ambition and above all life”. After the European election results, he told us that they meant Ed Miliband would be prime minister, while after recent by-elections, he laments that Labour is “in deep, deep trouble”.

McTernan’s seeming evolving view might denote the diminishing possibility of a Labour majority, while the repeated references to a lack of hope – straddling all from Compass to Progress – reminds us that many see little prospect of their lives improving. The major parties also suffer deficits of authenticity – widely presumed to be insincere and ineffectual – and public money – the fiscal position constrains resources to build hope where it is most lacking.

To secure a Labour majority, the deficits in hope, authenticity and public money must be overcome to not lose traditional supporters in Scotland to the SNP and in the north of England to UKIP, while gaining Conservative inclined voters in marginal seats in the south. Labour majority depends upon sufficient numbers of these disparate groups seeing the party as the bridge to a better tomorrow.

Reading Luke Akehurst suggests we seem reluctant to even sketch this bridge in Rochester and Strood, and does little to dispel Mark Wallace’s charge that Labour is “soft-pedalling” there. “Our mentality this close to general election ought to be that we are an unstoppable force,” Akehurst correctly notes, “not a party too scared of Nigel Farage to take him on in a seat we held until the last election”. As dispiriting as Labour appear in Rochester and Strood, Wallace is right that this by-election and Heywood and Middleton prompt resource challenges.

Does Labour have the capacity to successfully defend northern seats that UKIP will target and to robustly challenge for marginal seats in the south?

A recent article in the New York Times suggests that Labour fundraising may be improved by learning from ActBlue, an organisation raising funds for Democratic candidates. Whether this advance and others that Labour require comes quickly enough to secure a majority remains to be seen.

Labour as largest party in hung parliament

Martin Kettle reports that Labour has “a hard core of backbenchers [who] would … regard a coalition [with the Liberal Democrats] as a betrayal and would work against it”. Equally, he quotes a senior Labour source, “we haven’t thought [minority government] through”. Even short of coalition, such a government would probably require a supply and confidence arrangement with the Liberal Democrats – an option which Uncut’s sources say the Liberal Democrats are disinclined toward, seeing it as carrying all the costs of coalition without the benefits, posing another headache for Miliband.

Conservative majority   (more…)

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We must recover our capacity for shared sacrifice

06/10/2014, 10:08:03 AM

by Jonathan Todd

I’ve got taxis to Eccles. I stayed there for a Labour Party conference. In a B&B where a Christmas card signed by the Ron Atkinson era Manchester United squad was framed. This wasn’t vintage chic. It just hadn’t been decorated since 1984. Which was weird. But the Eccles streets weren’t. They were resolutely normal.

Morrissey’s autobiography begins with him describing his childhood as “streets upon streets upon streets”. The unexceptional Eccles streets were part of this youth’s tapestry. Streets like so many other streets. As a taxi driver from Eccles, Alan Henning undertook an unremarkable occupation on unremarkable streets. He died seeking to do something remarkable: relieving Syria’s stricken.

I felt the most powerful words in Ed Miliband’s conference speech concerned “someone from just down the road from here”. Henning was an everyman figure, in circumstances beyond comprehension. I’d have liked Miliband to move from this strong opening to a detailed account of how ISIL should be countered and an appraisal of Britain’s place in the world. How the man who would be King sees us amid ISIL, Putin and China. Instead he concluded a brief section on ISIL by deferring to UN, effectively granting Russia and China a veto over us even as they refuse to be checked by the UN.

Little is easy about defeating ISIL. Or bringing wider Middle East peace. Or order to a world showing signs not so much of a liberal happy ever after, as anticipated by Francis Fukuyama in 1992’s The End of History, but political decay, as he rightly worries about in his newly published tome. In this context, only a fool would deny the wisdom of J. K. Galbraith’s dictum that politics consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. But Miliband should at least communicate how he discerns them.

Miliband invariably seems to be saying that he’d identify the little man and the big man and line up behind the little man. Except he wouldn’t be so boorish as to cast the choice in such gender loaded terms. On occasion, like when defending the victims of phone hacking, this posture has worked. But it risks absurdity when overdone.

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