Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

How to think about the next ten years for Labour

09/10/2015, 04:59:41 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We have transitioned from a summer of hard truths to an autumn that painfully strains credulity. On BBC Question Time, we’ve had everything from John McDonnell’s non-apology apology for IRA comments to Chris Bryant’s self-depreciating “aww shucks” routine when Labour is reduced to mirth; from Stephen Kinnock’s failure to make anything straight from the crooked timber of Labour on the nuclear deterrence to Lisa Nandy’s struggle to disassociate Labour with violence at the Conservative Party conference.

At the time, I thought we’d reached the bottom of the market for the Labour currency on 7 May 2015. That the cycle would move in our favour from that point. Things could only get better. Actually, we’ve not only continued to fall, we have debased our stock. And debasing money, as Zero Hedge notes, debases trust.

Parties win general elections, as Uncut has long observed, when their leader is most trusted to best execute the functions of prime minister and their capacity for economic decision making holds the trust of the electorate. Electing the most unpopular new opposition leader in the history of polling does not seem the way to build these forms of trust.

The breakdown in relations between Labour and the country is such that we can arrive at another hard truth: It is unlikely that Labour will form a government after the next general election, expected in May 2020.


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What to expect from Tim Farron

23/09/2015, 10:20:10 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Commenting on Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats on BBC Daily Politics on Monday, Kelvin MacKenzie claimed, “it’s like that line about the Pope. How many divisions has he got?” He meant, “he doesn’t have enough MPs to matter”. But if MacKenzie reflected on the origin of the quotation, he might come to a different conclusion.

While Stalin asked this question of the Pope in 1935, the Catholic Church remains and the Soviet Union does not. If all that mattered were divisions, this would not be so. Ideas matter too. Ultimately, more than divisions. The ideas of the Soviet Union weren’t strong enough for their divisions to sustain it.

During this Liberal Democrat conference week, the question ought to be: Do they have compelling enough ideas to avoid the Soviet Union’s fate?

It’s easy to mock their dearth of divisions – even MacKenzie can do it. It’s harder, yet more important, to assess the force of the ideas that sustain them.

The idea that Farron is selling is “social justice and economic credibility”. Listen to him on TV and radio this week, he keeps coming back to this very New Labour couplet. He’ll do so again – and probably again – in today’s speech.

It ill behoves me to comment on Farron without acknowledging the crushing defeat that he inflicted on me as Labour’s candidate in Westmorland and Lonsdale in 2010. I was road kill on Farron’s ruthlessly efficient transformation of a safe Conservative seat into that now very rare thing, a Liberal Democrat citadel.

“The trouble with Michael is that he had to buy all his furniture”. Michael Jopling may be best remembered on the national political scene for being reported in the Alan Clark diaries as saying this about Michael Heseltine. In Westmorland, he is better remembered for consistently riding on the back of truck at the County Show and making sure that everyone knew he was there. Vehicle aided, this could be quickly accomplished, a good lunch doubtless earned. His successor, Tim Collins, is said to have later spent more time at the show but lingered uncomfortably throughout in the shadows of the Tory tent. Accustomed to Jopling’s routine, voters enquired, “where is our MP?”

They’ve never had cause to ask this of Farron since he defeated Collins in 2005, a campaign in which Collins maintained all shadow ministerial commitments across the country, confident that Westmorland would remain blue. Tireless pavement politics put Farron into parliament and allowed him to spectacularly grow his majority five years later.


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Anger is an energy in politics and football

14/09/2015, 09:04:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Anger is an energy, John Lydon told us. I hope so after Saturday. IKEA is blood pressure raising, especially when your visit coincides with Jeremy Corbyn winning big. Liverpool’s tame defeat at Old Trafford later in the day did not reduce the steam bellowing from my ears.

Labour have elected a leader that even his supporters do not see as prime minister, which runs contrary to the basic function of opposition. We have, therefore, abdicated the status of an aspirant party of government, rendering us pretty pointless.

Ed Miliband sometimes ran the party as if it were a pressure group. Corbyn completes that journey. Labour should always believe in itself enough to be more than that.

Liverpool players should always believe in themselves enough to play on the front foot. To aggressively dominate with and without the ball. Give the opponents the run around when in possession. Press high and hard when not. Particularly against a team as poor as the current Manchester United.

David Cameron and Louis Van Gaal, the United manager, are paper tigers. Yes, Cameron recently won a general election and holds formidable advantages. Yes, Van Gaal’s team has had many millions spent on it and trips to Old Trafford are invariably challenging.

But both Cameron and Van Gaal preside over unhappy camps. Cameron is in constant conflict with his backbenches over Europe. Van Gaal imposes training methods on unwilling players who often reward him with stifled performances. The weaknesses of Cameron and Van Gaal would be exploited by a Labour and a Liverpool with the confidence that should come as standard.

As Europe should be pulling together to tackle its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, we have a prime minister pulling it apart with narrowly self-interested demands. Instead of setting out why this is wrong and how we’d do things differently, Corbyn equivocated over Europe, even absorbing the erroneous criticisms of the EU that Putin has made on the Ukrainian calamity.


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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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