Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

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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After Reckless, Labour must understand the real message of UKIP

29/09/2014, 07:00:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

When Douglas Carswell joined UKIP, James Kirkup asked, “what is UKIP?” It’s worth revisiting this question now that Mark Reckless has made the same journey. That Carswell and Reckless were both Conservatives seems to support the dominant answer. That UKIP is a dissident Tory faction.

“But there is another explanation for Ukip,” Kirkup wrote, “one that extends the party’s significance beyond the boundaries of the Conservative movement and into the way British politics is done.” He went on:

“In this view, Ukip isn’t about Europe, or immigration, or any other policy. It’s about trust, and its absence. It’s about a political system dominated by politicians who look and sound the same regardless of party, who go to the same universities and follow the same career path to Westminster, where they implement policies that are fundamentally the same.”

If UKIP are a Conservative problem, there must be a Conservative solution. David Cameron’s commitment to an EU referendum was intended to be this. But didn’t stop UKIP winning the European elections and the defection of two Tory MPs to UKIP. It is striking that both Carswell and Reckless put as much focus on issues that they feel undermine trust in domestic politics – the lack of a recall mechanism for MPs, for example – as the EU.

This might suggest that Cameron has been looking for the Conservative solution in the wrong place. If this is the case, if he were to fully deliver on, say, the Zac Goldsmith line on political reform, this would stem the seepage of support from his party. And certainly, in an attempt to limit UKIP mileage and isolate Labour, we will get a strong line from Cameron on one matter of political reform: EVEL.

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The politics of mutualising the NHS and reviving National Insurance offers Labour a big opportunity

25/09/2014, 06:20:52 PM

In the second of an occasional series of posts, from Uncut contributors, that look at the policies and political positioning needed to win the next election, Jonathan Todd reflects on Frank Field’s case for restructuring how the NHS is funded.  

by Jonathan Todd

In March 1992, 22 per cent of voters thought the Conservatives had the best policies on the NHS. 52 per cent thought Labour did. This didn’t stop the Tories winning the general election two months later. This experience should caution us against seeing the lead that Labour currently enjoys on the NHS as sufficient to secure Labour general election victory. Labour’s trust and popularity on this issue is not a passport to election victory. But it is a political asset that might be deployed to create such a passport.

Some perceptions of Labour strength and weakness that are relevant are:

The support Labour enjoys on the NHS is emblematic of the sense that Labour’s heart is in the right place. No one believes that Labour enjoys seeing nurses being made redundant, whereas there is a lingering suspicion, perhaps unfairly, that Conservatives do. Nonetheless, there is also a widespread recognition that government involves taking tough decisions, as well as a sense that the Conservatives are more prepared to take such decisions than Labour. While there are relatively few doubts about Labour’s heart, there may be more about Labour’s judgment and resolve around difficult decisions.

As popular as the NHS is, there is also a recognition that tough choices need to be made on healthcare. Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) consider the NHS to be one of the UK’s greatest achievements. Yet more than four in ten believe the NHS will not survive in its current form to the end of the current decade.

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Milibelievers were thin on the ground at Labour conference

24/09/2014, 02:54:20 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Throughout Ed Miliband’s leadership there have been those at Labour Party conference prepared to mock and criticise him. There have also been Milibelivers. In between these pessimists and optimists have been pragmatists, seeing both positives and weaknesses in Miliband, seeking to accentuate the former and minimise the latter.

Milibelivers felt thin on the ground this week. I made a point of asking everyone I spoke to how they assessed the mood. “Flat,” was the usual response. After Miliband’s speech, I also enquired what they thought of it. The elderly delegate from a Labour constituency in the north east of England who described it as “the icing on the cake of his week” was the exception in speaking wholly warmly about it.

The dearth of Milibelivers had the effect that pragmatists felt less conference peer pressure to align themselves with the optimists and more to mirror the concerns of the pessimists. We entered a spiral of negativity. The conference vibe was much like twitter where the cheerleading tweets of MPs during Miliband’s speech were drowned out by the mirth of others.

The grounds for optimism cited by elected representatives, however, were not always without foundation. One told me of a Labour business breakfast attended by many more businesses and senior business people than in previous years. Public affairs agencies informed me that they were bringing more clients to conference than in recent years and clients were keener to attend.

Business is preparing for Labour government. They are right to do so. After Douglas Carswell’s defection to UKIP, presuming he succeeds in retaining his seat in the upcoming by election, the idea that UKIP will poll something in the order of 10 per cent in 2015 seems plausible. While an effective ground game is likely to secure the Liberal Democrats many more MPs than UKIP, probably somewhere between 30 and 40, their national polling has been on the floor for so long that it also seems plausible that they might poll somewhere in the same 10 per cent region. Both the persistence of UKIP and the non-recovery of the Liberal Democrats favour Labour over the Conservatives. As do the parliamentary boundaries. As does the incomplete nature of David Cameron’s half-baked detoxification of his party.

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What Ed must do in his speech: Respond to EVEL

22/09/2014, 06:30:10 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Quebec came close to voting for independence in the 1990s. It was then granted more powers and support for independence declined. It is to be hoped that Scotland follows the same trajectory. But it should be noted that Canada and Quebec achieved this in the much more economically benign era of the 1990s. When economies are growing and wages are rising, people display less of a tendency to be seduced by the false consolations of nationalism. Therefore, when Ed Balls in his conference speech moved quickly from English votes on English laws (EVEL) to the inequities of zero hour contracts, he was not talking about unrelated issues. But he was talking about distinct issues.

The core insight of Ed Miliband that we need an economy that better works for the broad mass of the population is correct. And while such an economy would diminish the charms of both UK breakup and UKIP, it does not adequately meet the challenge posed by proponents of EVEL. Without going further to address the constitutional implications raised by “the vow” made to the Scottish people and the ways in which EVEL would meet these implications by creating new problems, Miliband risks seeming to be a politician avoiding a simple solution (EVEL) simply because it doesn’t suit his narrow interests. He shouldn’t want to be such a politician and must ensure that he is not in his speech tomorrow.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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Uncut Review: Ed Balls’ speech

22/09/2014, 05:00:28 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Soon after Ed Balls finished speaking to conference, Hopi Sen restated to a Policy Network fringe the core thesis of Into the Black Labour, which he co-authored: social justice and fiscal conservatism are complements. Sen praised the robustness of the fiscal rules that Balls proposes for a Labour government. But feels the party has not gone as far in explaining the practical steps that would be necessary to satisfy these rules. Balls’ speech did not take us greatly forward on this front.

The publication made by Uncut at conference last year, identifying an additional £34bn of public sector savings that might be made and reallocated to Labour priorities, remains one of the most substantive efforts made to explain how Labour might make the sums add up. Politicians like to talk of tough decisions but are often not as quick to make them. Uncut cast some light on how this might be done.

At the Policy Network fringe, Liz Kendall explained that typical doorstep questions are: What are you going to do? How are you going to be able to afford that? The point of the Uncut publication was to answer these explains, convincingly explaining how funds could be found to fund a Labour alternative. If there has been a reluctance to go as far as Uncut did, it is probably explained by Sen lamenting that additional fiscal consolidation “gets very ugly very quickly”.

Lack of engagement with these issues will not, however, make them any prettier. They are not wines that will mature but vinegars that will go off. Kendall reminded Policy Network that the OBR consider the ageing of society to be the biggest threat to fiscal sustainability. The ageing of society isn’t about to stop. The only thing that might change is our preparedness for it. Which requires honestly facing up to the issues sooner rather than later, even if this does quickly take us into ugly territory.

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The questions for #Lab14

22/09/2014, 07:00:06 AM

by Jonathan Todd

In 2010, Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership and started talking about the squeezed middle. The following year he gave us producers and predators. 2012 was the year of One Nation Labour. And last year the energy price freeze was the big thing.

Party conferences, as Kierkegaard might have understood, must be lived forwards but only understood backwards. There are various questions to reflect upon as we think how we might come to look back on this year’s conference:

Will Labour’s line on a constitutional convention hold?

“The vow” jointly made by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband poses questions for Labour. The issues are whether the powers promised to Scotland will be granted and what the implications for the rest of the UK will be if they are. Cameron is clear that Scotland can have these powers but they will need to be accompanied by balancing reforms elsewhere, in particular provisions to ensure that MPs for non-English seats cannot vote on matters only impacting England.

Tom Freeman has explained why English votes on English laws could be destructive of good government and potentially even the UK. He’s also proposed what appears a sensible solution, which responds to concerns raised outside of Scotland by “the vow”, while avoiding the problems associated with English votes on English laws.

Freeman’s solution is not yet Labour’s solution. Labour doesn’t yet have a solution. Labour proposes a constitutional convention to find a solution. Such a slow paced approach is consistent with the preference of Vernon Bogdanor, Cameron’s ex university tutor, for not rushing. It’s not clear, though, that those outside of Scotland will have the patience for this.

Many have seen “the vow” and want to know how their rights and interests can be reconciled with it. Labour can’t tell them. Cameron can. With a response that creates the dangers Freeman flags. If Labour wants our line on a constitutional convention to hold, we might want to stop talking about “two classes of MP”, which we’ve had since 1999, and start talking in the terms of the problems Freeman describes.

How to play the A-Team away from Westminster more often ?

Keeping the UK together was arguably Gordon Brown’s finest honour. Jim Murphy also emerges enhanced. If they’d left the fight to Labour MSPs, Yes might well have won. Alex Salmond was given over a decade to dismantle the B-Team that Labour kept fielding in Scotland. We would be foolish if we think that we can allow Salmond’s successor the same easy ride.

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