Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

Labour should put the Lib Dems out of their misery

14/04/2014, 11:07:36 AM

by Jonathan Todd

When was the last time a Labour leader uncompromisingly made the pro-EU case in a head-to-head dual with Nigel Farage? Or floated licensing “head shops” for the sale of drugs? Or offered free sex to everyone in the former Yugoslavia?

It’s the Liberal Democrats, not Labour, that have reached out to liberal left voters on these issues. Their desperation to recover some of these voters, lost to Labour since forming a government with the Conservatives, has not extended to sexual favours. I just have a memory of Chris Morris “reporting” that Bono Vox, as he called the U2 singer, had made this proposition to the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. And I wonder whether the Liberal Democrats will get to that stage.

Because, while their tactics are getting more exotic, their poll ratings steadfastly refuse to get off the floor – in fact, the latest Comres poll sees them at 7 per cent, falling below the floor. Paradoxically, the polls also indicate that there is a decent chance that they’ll be in government in the next parliament. It can be debated whether Labour or the Tories are most likely to win the largest number of seats. But they both face a steep challenge to win a majority.

The battlefield is akin to World War I. Lions slogging it out on #labourdoorstep and the like. Donkeys unable to break out of their cultural and political citadels. Unless Labour can convince enough voters, predominantly in the south, that we have the competence to govern or the Tories can persuade sufficient, particularly in the north, that they have the heart to do so fairly, then neither will hold a majority. And the largest party in such a hung parliament may be tempted to come to an arrangement with the Liberal Democrats, creating the likelihood of them being in government for a decade.

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Embracing the contributory principle for public services is how Labour’s offer can be big, bold and affordable

07/04/2014, 08:27:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

In early January, Uncut reported on Andy Burnham’s “defining vision for health … pooling central government health budgets with local authority social care budgets to offer a joined-up approach to looking after our elderly. It makes eminent sense but carries with it a big uncosted price tag”.

Given that Ed Balls is responsible for making Labour’s sums add up, we speculated that this tag would prevent him from supporting this vision; a view subsequently affirmed by those who speak for the shadow chancellor and Labour leader.

There is a growing clamour for Labour to be big and bold. These calls, though, lack specifics. As was the case when leading thinkers wrote to the Guardian recently. Integrating health and social care, as in Burnham’s vision, is a specific example of bigness and boldness.

Balls’ nervousness about its’ price tag, however, is typical of the concerns of those who wish to “shrink Labour’s offer”. It’s thought that advocates of this strategy wish to minimise the risks that may attach to voting Labour, anticipating that if voting Labour becomes as riskless as possible, the unpopularity of the Tory-led government will secure Labour general election victory. An important source of political risk for Labour being the extent to which Labour creates opportunities for Tories to have justification in saying things like, “Labour policies are an uncosted risk to the government’s long term economic plan.”

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Helen Hayes: A star is born in Dulwich and West Norwood

31/03/2014, 09:48:14 AM

by Jonathan Todd

It wasn’t quite a warm summer day spent indoors writing frightening verse, as the Smiths song goes but it was a warm day, spent indoors, in a school hall with large windows. We could see the sunshine but we weren’t in it. We were inside, stewing.

When we re-emerged, Helen Hayes had been selected to fight Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) for Labour at the general election. Tessa Jowell has represented the seat since its creation in 1997, having won the previous Dulwich seat from the Conservatives with a slender majority 5 years earlier. Favourable boundary changes and Jowell’s assiduous cultivation of support across a constituency with pockets of affluence and poverty mean that she bequeaths a much more substantial majority of over 9000 to Hayes.

The seat may have transitioned from being perceived as marginal to safe under Jowell but some parts of it conform to the characteristics of seats that Lewis Baston deems ‘gentrifying inner London’. He sees changes in them that may benefit the Conservatives – “old working class traditional Labour households in terraced areas have been replaced by upwardly mobile and high paid couples and families”. The East Dulwich ward in DaWN, for example, is much less blue-collar than when Jowell worked in it as a social worker in the 1970s. Foxtons, Caffè Nero and various gastro pubs have arrived in the 8 years that I’ve lived in the ward.

Hayes will need Jowell’s capacity to build a big tent of support across different groups to keep the seat as safe as it has become. Douglas Alexander, Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna saw sufficient evidence of Hayes’ talent to endorse her candidacy. In addition, Frank Dobson, Patrick Diamond and – declaring an interest – myself did so. While it’s unusual for someone seeking to become a Labour PPC to secure the support of three members of the shadow cabinet, Hayes was not alone among the candidates in getting top level backing.

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Class-based jibes are not an effective attack on Osborne’s feel-good budget pitch

24/03/2014, 03:52:00 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Tories neck and neck with Labour,” reported The Sunday Times. Revisiting the questions that Uncut posed for George Osborne prior to the Autumn Statement allows us to assess how the landscape is evolving.

1.) Has the relationship between economic and Tory recovery broken?

Last October Uncut ran a regression to analyse the relationship between economic sentiment and Labour’s poll lead. This indicated that for every 1% increase in the proportion of the electorate reporting the economy as doing well, the Tories would close on Labour by 0.6% – ‘the Todd thesis’, as Lewis Baston christened it. The table below, which uses figures from YouGov, shows how these variables have evolved since then.

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The upward trend in economic sentiment is clear. Labour’s lead over the Tories, though, remains much the same now (5.6%) as last October (5.7%). This is the stuff of the ‘voteless recovery‘ that Tories fear.

Digging deeper into these numbers, however, raises some challenges for Labour. The table shows that Labour’s lead was largest during November and December. This might be explained by the popularity of Labour’s price freeze commitment made at party conference. As this commitment has featured less prominently in political debate, Labour’s lead has withered.

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How does Labour get its economic message across?

17/03/2014, 04:35:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The last Labour government,” The Times front page last Friday reported Ed Balls as saying, “didn’t regulate the financial services in a tough enough way.” They reported this as “the closest to an acknowledgement of personal responsibility” for the 2008 financial crisis. Yet, given that Balls has said similar things in the past and is silent on whether the last government spent too much, it seems a relatively mild contrition.

Apparently, there are a range of views within the party as to how Labour should address a central Tory attack: “Why hand the keys back to the guy who crashed the car?” “Senior figures close to Tony Blair have been urging a more aggressive rebuttal”, The Times report. “Ed Miliband’s allies want to focus voters’ attention on the future.”

If Blair is advocating an aggressive rebuttal, I imagine he means on behalf of the 1997 to 2007 government, rather than the Gordon Brown administration. It’s a stretch to imagine Balls running on a “Tony was right, Gordon was wrong” campaign.

The debate over how Labour wins the economic argument was also considered in the book that Uncut launched at party conference. “We might change the conversation,” I wrote, “in which the Tories present us as addicted to spending by changing what people think of our past (“It was the banks, not us”) or what people think we think about our past (“It was partly us but we’ve learned our lesson”) or what people think about our future (“Here’s why it will be different next time”).”

Thus, Balls seems to want to say “It was partly us but we’ve learned our lesson”, while Miliband appears to want to argue “Here’s why it will be different next time”. In these terms, the approach advocated by Uncut is closest to that of Milband. “Because there is a limit to how much repositioning Labour can credibly make this side of the general election, we focus on the future.”

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Labour Digital: Welcome to the Brave New World

10/03/2014, 11:03:44 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The internet, claims the opening sentence of The New Digital Age, the bestseller by Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, is among the few things that humans have built that they don’t truly understand. Labour has, however, resolved to learn and act accordingly.

That is the goal of Labour Digital, launched last week at Google Campus. The crossbencher Martha Lane Fox and Labour’s Parry Mitchell, the digital entrepreneurs of the upper house, spoke, as did John McTernan, who will gather digital policy ideas for the next Labour manifesto.

Lane Fox and Mitchell both focused on the digital divide – unequal access to digital technologies. Some are highly digitally literate, many are not, denying them tremendous benefits. As an egalitarian party, correcting this should be a Labour priority.

For 20 years, Labour spokespeople have stressed the need for adaptation to globalisation. Yet, in a seminal mid-1990s paper, Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist, attributed more importance to technological change in determining the wages of the low skilled than international trade. Labour spokespeople, however, have less frequently highlighted the importance of adaptation to technological change.

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How Labour could improve on the Youth Contract

03/03/2014, 11:55:27 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The plan for Labour general election victory launched by Uncut at Labour party conference last year included identifying how to fund a radical Labour alternative. Making deeper cuts in certain areas to free funds to spend elsewhere. We identified £34bn of additional cuts to pay for free, universal childcare, 1 million new jobs in areas that need them most through a revived, regionalised Future Jobs Fund, and 1 million new homes.

Last week, Demos published a report in which I argue that this strategy of reallocating public resources from where they are having least impact to where they could have most has the potential to increase the number of apprenticeships delivered. The failings of the Youth Contract have been well documented. In contrast, other schemes – such as the Creative Employment Programme – have much more rapidly increased apprenticeships.

The solution is as simple as it is potentially powerful: reroute funding from the Youth Contract to schemes like the Creative Employment Programme. If we look closely at these schemes, it’s clear why one is performing well and one isn’t.

Since April 2013 the Community Employment Programme has committed funding to create 634 apprenticeships, and 655 paid internships across 491 employers. Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of these positions have been created through ‘consortiums’, whereby a lead applicant such as a local authority, LEP, trade body, or larger employer stepped forward to make an application on behalf of a number of employers who might not otherwise understand how to create apprenticeships or what combination of the myriad of funding they may be eligible for.

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The UK is staying together. But on what terms?

24/02/2014, 09:29:26 AM

by Jonathan Todd

David Bowie has supposedly waded into Scottish politics. How very dare he. He’d only been awarded a Brit. The ensuing furore may have missed this obvious point of context. Bowie may want the UK to stay together, at least in part, so that his award maintains a meaningful title.

What would we call the Brit Awards after Scottish independence? It’s hard to think of something equally snappy that captures the remnants of the UK. “Not even the most devoted unionist would claim” that the clear poll lead enjoyed by the Better Together campaign “is down to any tearful, emotional attachment to Britain and Britishness”, Chris Deerin has observed. Yet Bowie’s intervention underlines the self-evident point that breaking up the UK would be a needless destruction of something whose value, while immense, is sometimes so implicit as to be overlooked.

After Scottish independence, we wouldn’t know what to call the Brit Awards because we wouldn’t know who or what we’d become. To see what is in front of one’s nose, as George Orwell knew, needs a constant struggle. And sometimes it takes a supermodel dressed in the clothes of a 1970s pop star speaking the words of a contemporary cultural icon to remind us. It’s not that Bowie has gone political. It’s certainly not – pace cybernats – that Bowie is inserting himself where he shouldn’t. It’s just that Bowie is retelling us who we are.

The four words related to Scotland spoken by Kate Moss on behalf of Bowie were a concise version of the message of David Cameron’s speech at the Olympic park recently. The British remain a family – albeit, to again recall Orwell, with the wrong members in charge, though, of course, Cameron didn’t present familial relations in quite such terms. Nonetheless, to file for divorce, to metaphorically and almost literally reduce ourselves to arguing over our CD collection, would be a monumental self-harm. An absurd pettiness in a world of incredible opportunity.

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The right attack on Cameron’s handling of the floods isn’t about cuts or climate change, but competence

18/02/2014, 09:22:27 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Number 10 has long wished to minimise media coverage of backbench rebellions to maximise airtime on economic recovery. Hence, Cameron’s concessions to his backbenches. But members of the government have needlessly distracted media focus from economic recovery. For example, Michael Gove picking another fight with Ofsted and the failure of government whips to have any women on the frontbench for PMQs.

These own goals confirm that Labour is not up against a crack operation. The floods, in contrast, are a crisis that Cameron’s government would have had to confront even if he’d run a tighter ship. They are, obviously, a crisis for the people whose homes are underwater. The nature of the political crisis that they represent for Cameron and what they reveal about his government is more contested.

By announcing that ‘money is no object’, according to Jonathan Freedland, the prime minister has performed the last rites on the notion of inevitable austerity. The prime minister’s words constitute an incredible hostage to fortune and a risk that he didn’t need to take. The careless political slips of his government begin at the top.

Reflecting on his time near the top of the last government, Patrick Diamond recently noted: “Policy is increasingly about resolving trade-offs accentuated by financial constraints and fiscal austerity”. Cameron, though, leaves no room for trade-offs. No matter how bad the floods get, irrespective of whatever ill-considered building decisions may have been made, in spite of whomever may be at fault, public money is still supposedly no object.

In a world of scarcity, as this world inevitably is, the prime minister’s remark is vulgarly illogical. It’s not – pace Freedland – that there is money when Cameron previously said there isn’t. It’s that this money has limits. Resources are finite. Governments must, consequently, decide how to allocate these resources to best effect. In this sense, trade-offs are even more fundamental than Diamond argues.

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How does Labour secure a majority in 2015? Reheat the “white heat of technology”

03/02/2014, 11:13:29 AM

In the run up to tonight’s Progress event , we have been publishing a series of pieces on what is required for Labour to secure a majority in 2015. Here, Jonathan Todd looks at how Labour can re-calibrate it’s economic message to reflect the changing times.

Back in October, Uncut noted the trends over 2013 for a narrowing of Labour’s poll lead and rising economic optimism. We ran regressions on these trends that indicated the Conservatives would take a poll lead when a quarter of the electorate described the economy as doing well.

On 9/10 January, 15% of voters reported the economy as doing well. A small rise on the 14% that had done so in the last three polls of 2013. Then 18% gave this verdict on 16/17 January. This reached 20% by 23/24 January.

At the same time, Labour’s polling lead has further narrowed. Three out of four polls reported in the YouGov tracker between 22/23 January and 28/29 January gave Labour a poll lead of 3%. Less than it has tended to be throughout this parliament.

Looking at the trend toward rising economic optimism and Labour’s further diminishing poll lead, it seems plausible that another bump in the optimism tracker to 25% would secure the Conservatives a poll lead. Consistent with this, the regressions implied that for every 1% increase in the proportion of the electorate that think the economy is doing well, the Conservatives would close on Labour by 0.6%.

Sadly, therefore, things are playing out as the Todd thesis – as Lewis Baston called the regressions – indicated. Labour has two options. First, hope that the trend toward increasing economic optimism abates. Second, act to prevent this trend translating into a shrinking Labour poll lead.

The first approach is a “something will turn up” strategy. It rarely does. And even if it does, it – persistent economic gloominess – is not something we should be hoping for. Instead, Labour should appreciate the context in which we now operate – one of rising economic optimism – and adopt an approach that allows us to get on the front foot.

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