Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

Will we ever see the likes of Blair again?

30/07/2014, 09:56:25 AM

by Jonathan Todd

We are now too cynical to entertain the idea of a leader who defeats all, reconciles all and ultimately encompasses all, Janan Ganesh concluded following Tony Blair’s Progress speech. We won’t see his like again. And in their absence, Ganesh observes, Labour seeks a squeaked victory on a left-wing platform, while the Tories devote all campaign resources to 40 seats that they are trying to retain and 40 more that they aspire to gain.

Given the seeming lack of traction for a Blair-like big tent, the two largest parties battle a war of attrition, both closer to their voting and ideological citadels than Blair preferred.

Is the centre ground, which Blair dominated, so drained of potency that neither of the largest parties is best served by squarely holding it?

We might attach personnel or structural explanations for neither Labour nor Tory rushing to do so.

“Tony Blair,” according to a Labour strategist quoted by George Eaton, “was doing an impression of Bill Clinton, and David Cameron was doing an awful impression of Tony Blair. Ed has no interest in doing an impression of David Cameron.” If we conclude that Cameron and Miliband lack the capacities of Blair and Clinton, we might explain their non-centrist strategies in terms of personnel.

There is, however, a British leader seeking to command the same terrain as held by Blair, Nick Clegg, which has led John Rentoul to diagnose the paradox of centrist politics. This is that elections are supposed to be won in the centre ground, but the one party that occupies precisely that territory is facing damnation – meaning to be cut by about half – in next year’s election.

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There is building anger at home and abroad. We need a new big tent

22/07/2014, 10:06:51 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“Today my work is global,” Tony Blair reminded us in his inaugural Philip Gould Lecture. Even when Blair was a mere domestic politician, the forces that he grappled with, as he often noted, were global. Policy Network, the international think-tank, sees these forces as having contributed toward 5-75-20 societies.

The fruits of globalisation have been sweet for the 5 per cent at ‘the top’, enjoying ‘runaway’ rewards from finance and property. They have been bitter for those at ‘the bottom’, seemingly trapped in cycles of low-wage, irregular work. The 75 per cent are the squeezed middle. These ‘new insecure’ have suffered declining wages, feeling the pressures of continued globalisation and automation.

In the NICE – non-inflationary continuous expansion – years of prime minister Blair, the pitch to the middle class emphasised aspiration. If they worked hard and played by the rules, they could aspire to lives at least approximating to the 5 per cent. Now, however, the 75 per cent are more fearful about falling behind.

As in the famous class sketch, featuring John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the middle classes still look up and down. But angrily in both directions. Upward at the 5 per cent, who are increasingly presumed to hold their status due to underhand methods. Downward at the supposed welfare queens of the 20 per cent.

Of course, this is to paint a very broad brush picture. But reconceptualising contemporary society in 5-75-20 form allows us to understand afresh the popularity of both Ed Miliband’s energy price freeze and the vengeful tone of the government’s welfare policy. The former speaks to the frustration of the 75 per cent with the 5 per cent and the latter to the antipathy of the middle for the 20 per cent.

Viva Hate was one of the albums of the 1980s and we risk regression to that decade’s politics of competing antagonisms, so viscerally evident on Morrissey’s record, rather than building upon the big tent optimism of the Blair years that came in between. 5-75-20 is an attempt to revive a big tent. To pitch progressive politics as the solution to the problems of the broad mass. In this endeavour, grounding social security in contribution, which would curb the resentments of the 75 per cent against the 20 per cent, and making capitalism inclusive, which would allow all to share in the success now appearing the preserve of the 5 per cent, are vital. Liam Byrne is doing his bit by forming and unanimously being elected chair of a new APPG on Inclusive Growth. (more…)

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Labour needs new ways of thinking about the Middle East

10/07/2014, 12:35:37 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is argued that the Palestinians have two options: to support Hamas, terror and destruction, or support Abbas, negotiations and statehood. Which may mean Israel also has two options: work with the Palestinians if they back Abbas and frustrate them if they don’t.

It might, however, be thought that they both have third options, which are variants on these options. In the Israeli case, this would be the “do nothing” option, perpetuating a status quo that doesn’t deliver peace but, notwithstanding the recent murders of teenagers and continued rockets from Gaza, largely secures security in an unstable region. For the Palestinians, this third option would be violence beyond the control of Hamas, driven by even more extreme ideology.

Some contend that Hamas is as extreme as they come and that suggestions to the contrary only obscure the responsibilities held by the Palestinian Authority for the maintenance of order. Yet closer scrutiny of Gaza, supposedly under the control of Hamas, reveals possibilities further beyond the pale than them.

As much as the extent to which the Palestinians have options beyond Hamas can be debated, the viability of the status quo as an Israeli option is perilous. The democratic and Jewish character of the state depends upon a two-state solution. Recent discontents increase the plausibility of a third intifada, which would shatter the security that Israelis may have grown complacent in presuming attaches to the status quo. This intifada would be more likely if the Palestinians were to back more extreme options than Hamas, underlining the combustible incapability of the Israeli and Palestinian third options.

Abbas is the crucial pivot for both sides around which a brighter future could form. If the Palestinians could back him in making the painful compromises necessary for negotiations to advance, Israelis support reciprocate in backing their government in making the painful compromises that they too will need to make for negotiations to succeed. Yet, appallingly, it’s hard to disagree with Prospect Editor Bronwen Maddox when she concludes that recent tragedies make this less likely than it already was.

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Miliband’s bridge building with business should be applauded

01/07/2014, 08:15:02 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The case for augmenting Labour’s cost of living campaigning is almost as old as this campaigning. The advantages accruing to Labour from this campaigning are challenged by those that accumulate to the Conservatives from the more general economic improvement. This improvement encourages optimism among businesses, which some feel Labour threatens.

Labour needs to reassure these businesses and the voters who work for them that Labour poses no such threat. That, as Pat McFadden and Alan Milburn have both put it, Labour is as concerned with generating wealth as with distributing it. It is, as Chuka Umunna is quoted in a recent FT article headlined ‘Labour seeks to reposition as pro-business party’, a fairly academic decision how you can cut the pie more fairly if you haven’t increased the size of the pie first.

That Umunna is clearly right, while business fears that this is not understood by Labour, makes the repositioning heralded by the FT welcome. We are now in what The Sunday Times described as “a week long campaign to mend fences with business leaders”. No matter what big policy announcements this week may bring, Labour should not expect that they alone will secure business support.

Fifty small press releases matter more than a big policy announcement, as the ex party adviser Steve Van Riel recently observed. If Labour wants better relations with business, and I’m pleased that we do, we shouldn’t think that these can be cemented in a week, no matter how big our policy announcements. Such relations require diligent cultivation over the long-term. Which the activities of this week should be a staging post on.

It is to be hoped that Ed Miliband and his shadow cabinet are up for this. Because there will be those in our party who will implore them not to be. Similar protestations, as Uncut has noted, have blunted moves to the centre on welfare. Concerted efforts to win business support would be another move to the centre, which is valuable enough that Miliband should be prepared to endure internal criticisms.

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Tory splits offer Labour an opportunity

16/06/2014, 12:57:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The Tories now have a great deal of confidence after Newark, wrote the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman on 6 June. The rebelliousness of their backbenches, especially the 2010 intake, has been one of the features of this parliament. Newark marked the first time in a quarter of a century that they retained a seat in a by-election in government, which followed the local and European elections that indicated they are well placed for 2015 if they can recover those who defected from them to UKIP. The smell of success and bigger success to come, sharpened backbench Tory focus.

As soon as discipline returned to the Tory backbenches, however, it spectacularly deserted their frontbench. The mutually assured damage of public airing of policy differences between Michael Gove and Theresa May makes events inexplicable, not least as they cast a shaft of light on a political terrain that must undermine the Tory general election cause: the world beyond David Cameron. No party wants to face election with a diminished leader and Cameron is now likely to face the question that dogged Tony Blair throughout the 2005 general election: “If elected, will you serve a full term?”

A decade ago, the “buy Blair, get Brown” deal was deemed acceptable – without great enthusiasm but sufficiently palatable to return Labour to a third term in government. While George Osborne harbours hopes of becoming party leader and prime minister in the next parliament, it’s doubtful that he wishes to fight the general election on a similarly joint ticket. The antics of one of his supposed backers, Michael Gove, makes this more likely, however.

Gove has a habit of getting into unnecessary arguments. He first entered my consciousness as a panellist at a debate on the Iraq war in 2003 in Shoreditch Town Hall, organised by the Foreign Policy Centre. My only memory is of him berating an audience member for what he saw as a faulty interpretation of the Glorious Revolution. I also recall Allegra Stratton – now Newsnight’s political editor, then one of the organisers of debate – skipping about the place. I don’t know whether this reveals anything substantive about her character but the cantankerous first impression that Gove left me with does appear telling.

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Progress Annual Conference 2014: Labour slowly faces up to reality

02/06/2014, 09:26:36 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Progress annual conference 2014 was a conversation in slow motion. The political context means there is little point in discussing much besides three questions: Is Labour on track to win next year? If not, why not? Given this, what strategy should Labour adopt?

Peter Kellner drew gasps in answering the first of these questions – even though he said little that he hasn’t elsewhere. Only fleetingly did we get on to two and three. However, being queasy about engaging with reality isn’t an anecdote to Labour’s building fatalism.

My view is that Labour is not doing as well as we might because we haven’t done enough in the past four years to respond to the messages of the 2010 general election. We now have less than 12 months till the next election. This implies a number of approaches to the period between now and then.

Keep going as we are – putting most of our eggs in the cost of living basket. I wrote for Progress magazine at the end of last year about my concern that this campaigning would be overtaken by events in advance of May 2015. I’m also not convinced that such focus on the cost of living does enough to show that Labour can rise to the national challenges that the governing parties are failing.

Another approach would be to attempt to do in one year what we might have done in five. 2010 confirmed that public trust in Labour as responsible custodians of public money has corroded, which undermines Labour’s capacity to win on other issues. In the book that we published for Labour party conference last year, Uncut set out a strategy for recovering this trust and building from this recovery to a credible and compelling Labour alternative.

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The elections weren’t an earthquake but a confirmation of what we already knew

29/05/2014, 08:00:23 AM

by Jonathan Todd

It would, obviously, be wrong to wholly attribute to Nigel Farage responsibility for Nick Clegg’s political predicament. They are largely trading in different parts of the political market and the Oakeshott disaster is a wholly home-grown crisis for the Liberal Democrats.

Instead, Clegg’s low share price derives from decisions – in particular, betraying the platform on which he stood in 2010 – taken long before his debates with Farage.

Clegg isn’t fighting for his political life because of Farage. The blood on Farage’s hands is that of Nick Griffin’s. The real UKIP earthquake didn’t happen in Westminster but beneath the BNP, revealing part of UKIP’s appeal.

As well as taking support from the BNP, half of UKIP voters in the European elections voted Tory in the last general election. It would be a potentially decisive boost to David Cameron’s hopes of remaining in Downing Street to get these voters back. Hoping that this doesn’t happen, and that Lib Dem recovery is also avoided, is perilous for Labour.

There are other factors beyond Labour’s control that help Ed Miliband toward Number 10, such as the vagaries of our constituency boundaries and Cameron’s incomplete Tory decontamination project, which means that mistrust of his party remains more pervasive than it would otherwise be. Rather than speculate as to how low a ceiling this places on Tory support, and whether it is lowest among ethnic minorities, northerners or women, Labour should be seeking to complete the decontamination project that the last general election confirmed we require.

The trouble is that this project has barely begun. Miliband launched his bid for the party leadership talking about immigration. But it’s not clear that Labour are now any more convincing on this contentious topic than when we were ejected from office. Even more damagingly, we also left office with trust corroded in us as responsible custodian’s of public money. In austere times, we seem over keen on spending other people’s money, whether that of taxpayers or private businesses, and disinclined to make savings. While Miliband has spoken more frequently about welfare than fiscal discipline, this is another big negative exposed in 2010 that we’ve failed to recover.

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The Tories have recovered a poll lead exactly when we predicted. Time for Labour’s optimistic alternative

15/05/2014, 07:22:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Last October, Uncut ran a regression on economic sentiment and Labour’s poll lead. This indicated that the Conservatives would start to overhaul Labour in the polls when a quarter of the electorate feel that the economy is “doing well”.

The last two times YouGov asked people whether they think the economy is doing well on 1/2 May and 8/9 May, 24% of them indicated that they think it is. By Monday evening, 12 May, the Guardian was reporting two polls that showed the Tories ahead of Labour.

It could be that between the last YouGov tracker on economic sentiment and the polls reported by the Guardian an extra 1% of the electorate decided that the economy is doing well. It might be that Uncut got something wrong with our regression or our interpretation of it.

But 24% is pretty darn close to 25% in most people’s books. So, while Labour’s slipping lead may have produced surprise in some quarters, what has happened is virtually exactly what Uncut postulated would happen.

The economy is improving. Voters can see this and are rewarding the Conservatives. This has happened sufficiently to give them a poll lead. While this should be placed in political context, Labour would be foolhardy to not recognise the direction of travel and recalibrate accordingly.

The political context is that in both polls in which the Tories led, they were only polling just above a third of the electorate, well below the 40% that they may well need to win an overall majority. Given the economic headwinds now blowing in the Tories favour, this should, however, be scant consolation for Labour.

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Labour’s populism is all about redistributing wealth. Creating it matters too

09/05/2014, 10:47:18 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour forms a majority government, Alan Milburn wrote in the FT on 13 April, when focused as much on creating wealth as distributing it. Pat McFadden used a very similar line when speaking to Newsnight the same week. McFadden used to work with Peter Mandelson as a minister at BIS. Now Chuka Umunna is shadow secretary of state to this department and consciously echoed Mandelson when he recently said: “I don’t have a problem with people making a lot of money, so long as they pay their taxes.”

Similarly, I’ve argued that Labour should focus on growth as well as the cost of living; in other words, making the economic pie bigger, in addition to sharing it more equitably; being a party of increased production, not simply fairer distribution. Whether when Harold Wilson proclaimed ‘the white heat of technology’ or when Tony Blair unrelentingly championed aspiration, Labour has advanced as a party of growth and production. This is not to downplay the redistributive gains that Labour made during these periods. We had our first statutory minimum wage under Blair and got rid of the eleven-plus under Wilson.

These redistributive gains were facilitated by Labour’s strength on production. In crude policy terms, when economic growth is robust, it’s easier to find resources to redistribute to the less well-off. The politics are simpler too. Voters are less likely to withdraw their support from a redistributive party for self-interested reasons if they are reassured that this party is also capable of delivering the growth that will help their back pockets.

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From Margate to Montrose, it’s time for Labour to raise our game

29/04/2014, 08:00:52 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Tony Stockwell, the psychic medium, performs at Margate Winter Gardens on 11 September. Perhaps he’ll reveal whether Nigel Farage, rumoured to be considering standing for parliament locally, will become South Thanet’s MP. Tracey Emin, a renowned daughter of Planet Thanet, “won’t let that happen,” retorted my wife.

Emin, like Johnny Depp, is older than Farage. She is, though, a hipper figure. This didn’t stop her, like South Thanet, voting Tory in 2010. But she thinks Margaret Thatcher “should be tried for crimes against humanity”.

The north of England and Scotland might agree with her about this. This continues to frustrate Tory recovery in the north, where more people agree with the Tories than vote for them. Due to the negative perceptions that Thatcher created and which persist.

As they do in Scotland, where swathes of the population have convinced themselves that UK government can offer only Thatcherism or Thatcherism lite. Labour for Independence “consists of members, voters, supporters, former voters who felt the party left them not the other way around”. Only in an independent Scotland, they contend, can they recover their party.

The voters of South Thanet also feel they’ve lost something. “They may not be able to pinpoint what it is,” Laura Sandys, the incumbent MP, recently told The New Statesman. “But they don’t think they’re getting it back.”

Whatever Farage may promise to recover for these people, he’ll do so on the basis of an affinity with Thatcher. Jonathan Aitken, her unofficial biographer, “cannot believe that a young Margaret Thatcher leaving Oxford today would join the Conservative Party led by David Cameron. I think she’d come and get involved in UKIP.”

While, to many Scots, Cameron personifies what they see as the perpetual Thatcherism of the UK, he’s a pale shadow of the 1980s prime minister, according to her greatest admirers. Another paradox is that Farage is supposedly the keeper of Thatcher’s flame and a challenger to Labour in the north, where she remains a drag on Tory support.

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