Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

Cooper vs Corbyn is our Healey vs Benn

17/08/2015, 10:24:42 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Yvette Cooper versus Jeremy Corbyn is our generation’s Denis Healey against Tony Benn. In September 1981, it wasn’t just the deputy leadership at stake. The party’s future was too, as it is now.

If Benn had won, more Labour MPs, councillors and activists would have joined the SDP, who’d have usurped Labour as the second largest party. If Corbyn wins, he’ll struggle to find enough MPs to serve as his shadow ministers, which isn’t the position of a party on the verge of government.

MPs only demur from advancement, bringing with it PLP disunity that they invariably seek to avoid, when genuine differences exist.

Corbyn says attacks upon him are unedifying “personal attacks”. But the differences that Labour MPs have are not personal. They are not about his sartorial style. Even if it’s a stretch to see this as screaming “prime minister”. The differences are political.

“He has shown,” Ivan Lewis writes, “very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-semitic rhetoric.” “I know,” Liz Kendall notes, “there are many people who have concerns about where Jeremy Corbyn has stood in the past on” Northern Ireland. Not personal, political.

When Anne Applebaum describes Corbyn as “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by NATO,” and when David Aaronovitch reminds us that for Corbyn, “it is always, always, always the West’s fault,” these are not personal criticisms. They are political concerns shared by many Labour MPs, who see in Corbyn’s foreign policy what Healey once saw in Benn’s: “deserting all of our allies at once and then preaching them a sermon”.

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Ten hard truths for Labour

07/08/2015, 12:34:57 PM

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. Here’s Jonathan Todd with his top ten.

1. Most people are not interested in politics. At best they see it as irrelevant to them. At worst they are actively hostile. Most politics, therefore, passes most people by most of the time. They only pay attention when things they hadn’t expected happen.

2. People get that Labour cares. Labour did not lose the election because we were insufficiently stout in our defence of the NHS and other causes typically dear to Labour hearts. Most voters expect Labour to care about the NHS and other institutions – like local schools and Sure Start centres – that tend to (but not always) make the world better. Because they expect this from Labour, noting point 1, they don’t really register Labour providing this.

3. It’s the economy, stupid. Doubts about Labour’s capacity as custodians of the economy and public finances, as well as Labour’s ability to have mutually productive relations with business, contributed toward this year’s defeat.

4. We need to show we’ve changed on business and the economy. If we accept that only counter intuitive political moves gain real public traction and that concerns about Labour’s economic and fiscal management gravely imperil the prospects of Labour government, Labour should be seeking strongly counter intuitive moves that challenge these negative perceptions. This means more than mouthing platitudes about being pro-business or fiscally responsible. It requires actions that show and reshow this to the public. Till the political professionals are bored stiff and the activist class are blue with frustration. Then the public might hear.

5. The case for a reformed EU needs to be made. While voters are paying little attention to UK politics, they are paying even less to EU politics. For the majority of the time that the UK has been in the EU, pro-Europeans have asked Brits to be part of a successful club. The Germans prosper. The French have fast trains. The Italians are well-dressed. Attachment to these successes has been the bedrock of the UK’s EU membership.

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What the Labour right should do now

03/08/2015, 11:10:18 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“Emotional landscapes. They puzzle me. The riddle gets solved and you push me up to this state of emergency. How beautiful to be!”

As the UK confronted emergency in the Scottish referendum, I played the Bjork song Jóga obsessively. There is something in the urgency of Bjork’s voice and the tune’s texture that felt of last September’s zeitgeist. And it was beautiful to be in Trafalgar Square at the Better Together rally when Bob Geldof reminded us:

“Before there was a United Nations, before there was a United States, before there was a united anything, there was a United Kingdom.”

It spoke of all that we have been, all that we could be, and all that Alex Salmond would disregard. Hope rooted in pride, resisting Salmond’s insistence that there was nothing to be proud of.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has pushed my party – Labour – to its own emergency. His geography teacher style, like Salmond’s cheeky chap routine, has a cut through of authenticity amid our over spun times. They proffer simple solutions to complex problems, swallowed by demoralised peoples – Scotland under Tory government, Labour after defeat.

They – or at least their supporters – tell people like me that Labour is not our party. That we are “red Tories”, unfaithful socialists, and collaborators in the misery that they would resolve.

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Chairman Mao lives in the 48 PLP members that rebelled

21/07/2015, 05:32:53 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Chairman Mao lives in 48 PLP members, including 19 elected under Ed Miliband: “We should support whatever the enemy oppose and oppose whatever the enemy supports”.

When the Conservatives cut tax credits in a way that is unnecessary, will increase poverty and reduce work incentives, it is sorely tempting to oppose them.

But George Osborne prefers Sun Tzu to Mao. The Art of War stresses the importance of positioning in military strategy. By delivering his summer budget, setting a trap for Labour and watching much of the opposition walk into it, Osborne will feel that he has secured his desired positioning.

There is a third way. Between Chairman Mao and Sun Tzu. Labour should seek whatever positioning does most harm to the Conservatives and vacate whatever positioning does most harm to ourselves.

Osborne follows the inverse path. He seeks whatever positioning does most harm to Labour and vacates whatever positioning does most harm to the Conservatives – or, at least, him and his prime ministerial ambitions, which become ever more naked.

Janan Ganesh, Osborne’s biographer, recently summarised the core ideas behind the chancellor’s politics in the Financial Times. Ganesh then conceded to John Rentoul, biographer of Tony Blair, that the “Tao of George is also the Tao of Tony”.

In the decade since the last of his three general election victories, Blair has become ever more toxic within Labour, while Osborne has prospered by applying the tenants that Labour discarded in our abandonment of all things Tony. This doesn’t make Osborne a Blairite. The core precepts that they both follow are neither Blairite nor Osbornomics, not left or right. They are more essential than that. Whether we lean left or right, the political world is flat.

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Osborne has laid the most obvious trap for Labour on tax credits. Will the party blunder in?

13/07/2015, 12:21:26 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Ten years since 7/7. Ten years since London won the Olympics. Ten years since Robin Cook was telling Labour party events that he was meeting people whose fortunes have been transformed by tax credits, but who don’t realise that they have the (then Labour) government to thank rather than some obscure administrative change at the Inland Revenue.

While the Labour government did good, Cook argued, it was not credited with having done it, as it was done by stealth. The tax credits architecture that Gordon Brown quietly built, and which helped the UK to an impressively robust employment performance, even after the financial crisis, was loudly dismantled in George Osborne’s Budget.

Where New Labour reassured business, while using state levers to redistribute with minimal fanfare, Ed Miliband was a Labour leader eager to have business do more. Whether Osborne would have found it harder to take an axe to tax credits if Labour had trumpeted them as bullishly as Cook preferred, as well as whether Osborne would have been in the position to do so had Miliband more assiduously courted business, are imponderables.

As Osborne warmly embraced Iain Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms to declare himself the bringer of social justice and adopted a form of the predistribution beloved of Miliband by accompanying his dilution of tax credits with legislation for a claimed living wage, Labour’s attempt to come to terms with these unknowns is complicated by Tory cross-dressing.

In spite of events in Greece, the Budget, unlike in 2010, was pitched less as a bulwark against calamity and more as a staging post to better future. In which we are all invited to share. Reality may struggle to keep pace with the one nation rhetoric. Particularly when a tool for creating an income floor (the statutory minimum wage, which is what Osborne has raised through his supposed living wage) is deployed as a replacement for incentives to additional work (working tax credits).

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If Ed Miliband wants to make a come back, he needs to go away first

06/07/2015, 12:30:19 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Somehow Iain Duncan Smith retains a frontline political role. Tony Blair doesn’t. But, even after the Iraq war, Blair looked set to defeat Duncan Smith so comprehensively that serious, sober people wondered whether we’d see another Tory government. Then Michael Howard steadied their ship and was returned not to government but with honours at the 2005 general election.

As a widely respected figure, who’d just fulfilled his brief by performing better than Duncan Smith was expected to, Howard was well-placed to stay on as leader during the extended leadership election, which, ultimately, resulted in the youthful but arguably more electable David Cameron, not the older but arguably less electable David Davis, emerging victorious.

Uncut will leave it to readers to decide whether the Labour leadership now contains candidates comparable to Cameron and Davis then. But the idea – as proposed by James Forsyth in the Spectator – that Ed Miliband might now be performing a Howard function for Labour, staying on for long enough that the most electable successor wins out, is a false analogy.

The more accurate analogy to Forsyth’s argument is if Duncan Smith had stayed on as Tory leader, leading them to a calamitous defeat, and remained as Tory leader throughout an extended leadership contest. The logic of this is implausible at each step.

Tories junk leaders doomed to defeat, including one as revered as Margaret Thatcher, which is a lesson, having failed to strike two under-performing leaders, Gordon Brown and Miliband, Labour might learn at the third opportunity. Neither party, though, could stomach a long leadership election under a leader who has just led their party to humbling defeat.

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Finding grace in America and Europe

29/06/2015, 05:44:24 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“We as a country,” said President Obama in his first statement on the Charleston shootings, “will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” He spoke with a forlorn resignation that was odd coming from the world’s supposedly most powerful person and realistic, given “the politics in this town foreclose a lot of (gun control) avenues right now”.

In the past week, however, Washington DC has not been the cradle of disappointment that it has for Obama. Through rare bipartisanship, he’s taken a big step towards completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal intended to cover 40 percent of the world economy and an important plank of Obama’s legacy planning. Obamacare and gay marriage, issues upon which the Supreme Court has this week backed him, also feature in this legacy.

Obama’s America, though, is also a place where, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed. It will take, of course, much more than TPP to change this. Only in relation to prison services does black America have better access to public services than white America.

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Yvette Cooper should teach the world to code

15/06/2015, 07:40:07 PM

by Jonathan Todd

James Forsyth recently branded the last Labour leadership election – the one that dragged through a summer, as this one will; the one that allowed the Tories to determine the terms of trade for a parliament, as this one may – “dull, dull, dull“. I don’t recall it being a laugh either. More importantly, it wasn’t a political success. It took an age and strengthened the Tories.

If that was a dreary, drawn-out failure, what is this? Farce springs to mind after the scramble to place Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot, but ultimately he will be irrelevant.

When seconded to the short lived Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), the resignation of James Purnell from the government, while I was on holiday, precipitated the absorption of DIUS into Peter Mandelson’s Department of Business – a reward for keeping the Gordon Brown show on the road – and the DIUS Secretary of State, John Denham, was shuffled across to the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Detached from supportive ministers, it became easier for sceptical officials to conclude my secondment. Nonetheless, something – disappointing in ending my secondment, yet educational in opening my eyes to Whitehall – happened.

On Wednesday, when I’ll be in the air somewhere between Birmingham and New Jersey, as the first televised hustings of the leadership election occur, I hope my absence again coincides with something politically significant. Anything. Because we have a leadership election consumed by the narcissism of small differences between the main candidates who are failing to convince their parliamentary colleagues (Uncut has endured several moans about the calibre of the race) and their party, while leaving the wider public even colder. Dull, dull, duller.

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Why on earth is Labour convening a “truth and reconciliation” commission?

01/06/2015, 10:07:17 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Do we really need the commission that Margaret Beckett is to lead to look “in a forensic way” at the reasons for Labour’s electoral defeat?

Harriet Harman seems to think that a “truth and reconciliation” commission is needed. She used that phrase in her quote in the Observer story and in her media appearances yesterday.

But what don’t we know already?

For years, polling told us that our leader, Ed Miliband, was behind on best prime minister and our party on economics. No party has ever formed a government behind on both these indicators. We were miles behind.

The leadership contenders are not waiting for Beckett’s findings to distance themselves from Miliband. The haste with which they retreat from positions that they recently defended risks inelegance. But it is required and encouraging.

To get out of a hole, you have to stop digging. And the Miliband years dug some massive holes. The collapse of Scottish Labour, the alienation from Labour in the north, and Labour’s failure to win over the south. We are, as Tristram Hunt put it in his lucid Demos speech, “fighting on three fronts. But micro-targeting policy solutions for each will not work”.

1945, 1964, 1997. Labour owned futures that all parts of the UK bought into. At times prior to each of these victories, it seemed Labour would never win again. But we did. And we can again. By re-crafting for our times, the elements that have always characterised Labour victory: unity and optimism grounded on credible economics.

Miliband might have thought that he was deploying these elements. But his spring rally, for example, was a curious cocktail of divisive pessimism and hubristic piety. It was divisive in identifying parts of Britain that deserved cheers and condemned others to boos. Not even those cheered, however, were thought capable of achieving anything under the Tory yoke, which made it bleakly and surreally pessimistic. All would be mended, though, if we only voted Labour. This coated complex problems with hubristic simplicity, taking the electorate for fools, while feigning high principle.

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Big tent Labour is underpinned by liberal Labour

14/05/2015, 09:34:32 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Miliband years were rich in intellectual touchstones, including Blue Labour’s social conservatism and economic statism. As much as improving Labour’s polling on economics and leadership is the absolute precondition of Labour government, Miliband is right that ideas matter.

Just saying aspiration is not an alternative idea to animate the post-Miliband era. There are some terms, like aspiration, with New Labour associations: effective communication, solid economic policy. These are not ideas as much as truisms of political success.

Labour must urgently re-imbibe these truisms. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition of the strongest possible Labour recovery. Sufficiency entails a deeper reassessment of Labour’s ideas. Jeremy Cliffe, one time Chuka Umunna intern and now a writer at The Economist, and Jamie Reed, MP for England’s most remotely accessible constituency from Westminster, which I born and raised in, are making relevant interventions.

Reed is threatening to run for the leadership unless a Blue Labour tinged theme is absorbed by contenders. “The next Labour leader,” argues Reed, “needs to listen to the marginalised, peripheral communities of our country as the United Kingdom ‘balkanises’ in front of us”.

On Thursday at Policy Network, Cliffe, according to the invitation email, “will argue that though UKIP’s rise might suggest otherwise, the electorate is becoming more urban, more educated, more ethnically diverse and (through travel, work and immigration) more used to contact with the outside world”. Winning majorities for Labour, he argues, will be best sought by building “‘cosmopolitan coalitions’ of support”.

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