Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

It is time to start believing – Labour can win the next general election

28/12/2021, 10:32:27 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Labour doubters should become believers about our general election prospects. Here are five reasons for optimism:

  1. Boris Johnson will never again be the political force that he was in December 2019

Labour misfired in enabling the December 2019 election and in the campaign, proving that something (Get Brexit Done) beats nothing (Labour’s implausible Brexit policy).

Johnson was fortunate in his opponents but ruthless in seizing the opportunities that they afforded him. He will never be so lucky or commanding again.

“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.”

Patrick Radden Keefe opens his bestselling book about Northern Ireland with this quote from Viet Thanh Nguyen.

We have all fought on the battlefields of Covid. These painful memories now meet the troubling reality that our sacrifices were not matched in Downing Street.

Johnson secured this residence by telling a battle-weary country that he would end the Brexit wars. Now Lord Frost has resigned from his government because Brexit is not done.

  1. The next general election will not be about Brexit

Liz Truss has added Lord Frost’s Brexit responsibilities to her Foreign Policy portfolio. She might come to the same conclusion that Johnson came to when holding that office: the best way to promotion is to resign and attack the prime minister from the right on Brexit.

This manoeuvre might work for Truss with the Conservative Party. It won’t work with the rest of the country.

We are tired of Brexit. We do not want to refight old battles. We just want things to work properly.

Covid is now, of course, the biggest barrier to normal life and Johnson’s inability to meet this challenge is central to his diminishment. It remains to be seen whether Covid will be the core issue of the next general election. Hopefully, because we will have decisively moved beyond Covid’s pandemic phase, not.

But Brexit, the issue that galvanised the Conservatives 2019 voting coalition, won’t be.

  1. Johnson’s kingdom of sand bequeaths little to the next Tory leader

John Major could take the rough edges off Thatcherism and win in 1992. There are plenty of rough edges for a Tory successor to Johnson to polish. But little coherent mission.

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Labour has a historic opportunity to replace the Tories as the party backed by business

11/10/2021, 10:32:39 PM

by Jonathan Todd

This piece is part of a new book “Labour’s Reset: The Path Back to Power”. Click here to download it. The book looks at the barriers for voters in picking Labour, what the party can do in opposition to tackle these issues and the type of policy platform that would attract switchers to Labour at the election

Backing business should be a sine qua non of politics. Yet we now have a ‘fuck business’ prime minister,[1] who won an 80-seat majority against a Labour Party that the CBI characterised as, ‘proposing the biggest programme of renationalisation this country has ever seen at great cost with uncertain returns to the taxpayer’. As a result, Labour was then seen as being ‘at least as damaging’ as No Deal Brexit.[2]

Two political consequences follow:

  1. Such a prime minister offers Labour a chance to develop closer relations with business than the Conservatives.
  2. Labour’s 2019 manifesto is not the package with which to seize this opportunity.

‘I’m acutely aware that among my first tasks is rebuilding the relationship between the Labour party and business,’ Keir Starmer recently said, much to his credit.[3]

Around the same time as Starmer was saying this, the chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce was writing to the prime minister asking him to give his ‘most urgent and personal attention’ to the ‘damage being done to our economy’ by the prime minister’s Brexit. Two weeks after receiving this letter, the prime minister had still not replied.[4]

Doing counterintuitive things often helps parties in opposition. A pro-business Labour confounds entrenched views of the party and confirms that we are under new management.

What Boris Johnson is getting wrong enlarges this opportunity for Labour. Equally, he is getting something right: optimism.

‘Remember that Barack Obama’s breakthrough owed a lot to the slogan, “yes we can.” The left needs to show that it can somehow improve things,’ writes Chris Dillow. ‘This requires not just policies, but the self-confidence to sell them. Johnson shows that politicians can succeed by not being scared of their own shadow. The left should learn from this.’[5]

Labour needs to articulate an optimism about the UK and a sense of purpose about what we can become.

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British moral strategic leadership: Previewing Rachel Reeves speech to Labour Conference 2021

26/09/2021, 10:35:22 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Economics is about storytelling as much as numbers. If the story persuades, the numbers do too. There is artistry to the dismal science.

Rachel Reeves knows the numbers. A former Bank of England economist, she knows how the economy works. A political realist, she knows what seats will sustain a Labour government.

The Labour sums need to add up. In a new book “Labour’s reset: the path back to power” that Uncut will be launching at Labour conference this week, we make a proposal for how Labour can finance a new set of spending commitments.

But the Shadow Chancellor’s conference speech is not an occasion for a forensic articulation of staying in the black. It is a time to tell the country a new story about itself.

This story might feature improved childcare, better homes, and a new relationship with business – potential building blocks of a Labour proposition that are articulated in the new Uncut book.

We do not pretend that all the ingredients that Reeves needs are in our book. There are two further that she might add: her own moral clarity and memorable phrases. Both of which Gordon Brown excelled in.

Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. Brown coined this resonate couplet from opposition.

The white heat of technology. With this phrase, Keir Starmer’s favourite Labour leader told a new national story from opposition.

Even if the levers of real change are exclusive to government, the language of politics can be shaped from opposition. But now our politics is dominated by government phrases: Levelling Up, Global Britain, Build Back Better.

Levelling Up. The intension and symbolism matter more politically than the outcomes. It is not about hard metrics like the Gini coefficient, it is about showing that the Tories care about the North and the Midlands, with this sentiment often embodied in shiny, new buildings.

Global Britain. In policy terms, even more vapid than Levelling Up. In political terms, it is about backing Britain. Who can be opposed to that?

Build Back Better. I think I heard Ed Miliband say this prior to it being a slogan of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Before it could really become Labour language, it was the title of the government’s growth plan. When the Tories aren’t shaping the language of politics, they are expropriating potential Labour terminology.

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The west is dead, long live the west!

23/08/2021, 10:32:16 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“The ground under the German town of Erftstadt is torn apart like tissue paper by flood waters; Lytton in British Columbia is burned from the map just a day after setting a freakishly high temperature record; cars float like dead fish through the streets-turned-canals in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou.

“The most terrible thing,” according to a Leader in The Economist a month ago, “about the spectacular scenes of destruction that have played out around the world over the past weeks is that there is no safe place from which to observe them.”

In the intervening period, safety has deteriorated, for different reasons, in Afghanistan. The US could have acted to prevent this. Other NATO members could have better supported the US toward this end.

But even if Taliban recapture of the country had been prevented (or, at least, delayed), we would still be awaiting a durable settlement between Afghanistan’s warring factions. In the world we are in, we hope for the same.

In both scenarios, we wait for a reconciliation that has been illusive for decades. One comes with more deaths for NATO soldiers. The other with more refugees for NATO countries. There are no perfect options.

We arrived with the option that we did because the US, the indispensable nation, decided that it is dispensable. Or, more precisely, American interests are less dispensable than non-American interests.

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Labour should be excited about President Biden demonstrating that another future is possible

19/04/2021, 10:28:47 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“I’ve been hired to solve problems, not create division,” President Biden told a press conference at the end of March. This contrasts with his antagonistic predecessor and imposes his interpretation on a mandate gained with 81 million presidential votes.

When Barack Obama won the presidency with a then record-breaking 69 million votes, no one imagined that his vice president would go nearly 12 million votes better 12 years hence. Even more absurd would have been the idea that the 2020 election would also see Donald Trump beat Obama’s 2008 tally by 5 million votes.

Trump’s appeal may have been strong enough to secure victory without Covid-19 – which raised the stakes of the election. If profiting from division was all that mattered, we would be in Trump’s second term.

As performative patriotism abounds and blame for Brexit’s shortcomings is heaped on the EU, we do not need to look across the Atlantic to know that manipulation of division can seem a route to political dividend.

Labour’s challenge – like Biden’s – is to make a politics of solutions more compelling than that of division. The former is about tangible optimism, the latter stoking grievance.

The historically unprecedented speed with which Covid-19 vaccines have been developed is testament to humanity’s enduring capacity to think our way to reasons for cheerfulness. But now is not the time to stop thinking.

We need to vaccinate the world more quickly than the virus can mutate to evade our vaccines. To not do so risks global economic and social calamity.

We need to tackle climate change with the same innovative intensity as produced the vaccines. The alternative is disaster to dwarf Covid-19.

We face tremendous challenges that evade borders. What happens in Brazil, for example, does not stay in Brazil. The more Covid-19 skyrockets in south America’s most populous country, the more likely we are to suffer a vaccine-resistant mutation. The more the Amazon is destroyed, the harder it will be for us to limit climate change.

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Starmer placed a bet on Labour wanting to win again. It is time to double down on it

01/02/2021, 11:20:03 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Tom McTague in The Atlantic paints a scenario that should worry Keir Starmer. While Britain’s Covid-19 death toll has risen above 100,000, it may be that a successful vaccine drive leaves a more lasting memory.

After this piece was published, the UK’s vaccine spat with the EU escalated. Poor handling by Brussels leaves the impression that the EU do not like the UK’s vaccine lead, making it easier to spin the UK’s rollout as a Brexit win.

Suddenly, Kate Bingham might seem as likely as anyone else to be the next prime minister. In the meantime, the incumbent has reason to be optimistic about the next 12 months.

While Brexit’s teething problems are painful for those directly impacted, the strong consensus among economic forecasters is that output lost to Brexit in 2021 will be more than offset by gains from lockdown ending and pent up demand being unlocked.

These forecasters have an average UK GDP 2021 projection of 4.4%. Not enough to recover all growth lost in 2020 but our fastest annual rate of growth for over 30 years. Sufficient to make many people feel better about themselves and possibly their government. The resumption of activities now prevented by social distancing – visiting family, drinking with friends, hugging strangers – will also trigger a pervasive positivity in wider senses than the narrowly economic.

Labour should not be complacent about the extent to which the prime minister might make more sense in this context. But – as Dan Pfeiffer often says on Pod Save America – we should worry about everything in politics but panic about none of it.

Now is the time for Starmer to reenergise his leadership’s founding purpose. This is to show that our party has changed from that decisively rejected in 2019 and deserves a mandate to lead our country in a new direction.

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President Biden: a great victory for America, the world, and the left

08/11/2020, 10:39:13 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel for longer than anyone else in the history of the state. Vladimir Putin is Russia’s longest-serving leader since Stalin. Silvio Berlusconi served as prime minister of Italy for longer than anyone since World War II.

America has done well to rid itself of its right-wing populist president in only four years – especially when set against the infrequency of one-term US presidents and the advantages bestowed on the Republicans by the Electoral College.

It seems, more than anything else, his shambolic handling of a pandemic that has now killed approaching 240,000 Americans undermined President Trump. The departing president has had an uneasy relationship with scientists, like Dr Anthony Fauci, that advise on Covid-19.

Rather than being beheaded, as Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, suggested, Fauci will be empowered under President Biden. While no heads appeared on pikes outside the Trump White House, he went further than any other US president to normalise violence as a political tool – recently, for example, failing to condemn his supporters who blocked Biden’s campaign bus.

The transition to Biden is a step away from aggression and grievance, towards compassion and reason. America has turned a page. With more votes than other candidate in American history and the highest vote share of any challenger since FDR in 1932, Biden will win the popular vote by more than four million.

Polls prior to the election indicated that the Democrats would win the presidency, Senate and House so decisively that Biden would enjoy the latitude to introduce a programme of reform as ambitious as that introduced by FDR with relative ease. Sadly, America did not quite so comprehensively turn the page. But Biden enters the White House with the need for such transformative legislation much more widely recognised – including, it might be suspected, by the incoming president himself – than when his most immediate Democratic predecessors, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, did so.

Having campaigned in poetry, there is a desperate need for Biden prose big enough to meet America’s deep problems. However, notwithstanding the opportunity afforded in January by two elections in Georgia to salvage Democratic control of the Senate, such ambitions likely depend upon Republican Senate votes.

Biden represents change, the persistent importance of Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, continuity. Perhaps, given the sand that McConnell threw in Obama’s wheels, bitterly so.

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What story has Starmer come to tell Britain?

21/09/2020, 08:15:07 AM

by Jonathan Todd

At a recent meeting of the PLP, Kevin Brennan congratulated Keir Starmer on, “getting us from the carousel at Katmandu airport to base camp at Everest, in good shape for the long climb ahead.”

While Labour party conference should digitally pat itself on the back for six months of progress under Starmer, the challenges ahead remain daunting.

Harold Wilson won four general elections. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both won three. Absorbing what these different characters had in common might help Starmer.

“At their peak,” writes Steve Richards in his wonderful study of modern prime ministers, “they were all political teachers. They sought to make sense of what they were doing or what was happening around them. This was especially the case with Thatcher and Blair. Thatcher was an instinctive teacher, making complex ideas and contentious policies become reassuringly accessible.”

Thatcher came along at about the same time as Reagan, as Blair overlapped with Clinton, and Johnson with Trump. As if there is some Atlantic ideological synchronicity.

“In the competition with the USSR,” which Reagan won with the support of Thatcher, “it was above all the visible superiority of the western model that eventually destroyed Soviet communism from within,” writes Anatol Lieven in October’s Prospect magazine. “Today, the superiority of the western model to the Chinese model is not nearly so evident to most of the world’s population; and it is on successful western domestic reform that victory in the competition with China will depend.”

The global sense that quality of life was greatest in the west, which the Reagan and Thatcher era exuded, morphed into a hubris that left weaknesses within the west unaddressed during the Clinton and Blair epoch, so much so that the focus of the magazine in which Lieven writes is whether democracy can survive the Trump and Johnson years.

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Labour needs a clear, distinctive, and credible economic message

23/07/2020, 08:00:31 AM

by Jonathan Todd

More people than not think that Keir Starmer looks like a prime minister in waiting (38% versus 34% in a YouGov poll conducted in early July), while more than twice as many think Labour is not ready for government than think Labour is (54% versus 23% in the same poll).

Other polling reveals that voters now think that Starmer would make a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.

Yet Labour trail the Tories by somewhere between 6 and 10 points on voting intention – with Survation putting it at the lower end of that range, Kantar being at the higher end, and Opinium in-between.

These deficits cannot be explained in terms of Starmer. It is the rest of the party that holds us back.

“Labour is under new management,” said Starmer at PMQs. Where Labour previously made commitments that voters struggled to believe, Labour now needs credible answers. Yet big enough to meet the UK’s challenges.

These do not come any bigger than the economy. The number of people aged 18-24 claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance doubled in the last three months. Unfortunately, with furlough ending, demand not recovered to pre-Covid levels, and the risk of a second wave, our economic struggles are likely to persist.

With respondents being allowed to tick up three options, YouGov asked: Which of the following do you think are the most important issues facing the country at this time?

Health and the economy came joint top on 57%. Far ahead of the next most important issues: Britain leaving the EU (43%); the environment (24%).

It is noteworthy that over four-in-ten of the public do not see Brexit as “oven ready” and unsurprising that health is a concern amid a global pandemic – which will further rise if there is a second wave. But, as we learn more about Covid-19, improve our systems for containing it, and advance towards a vaccine, the economy will likely usurp health as the public’s biggest worry.

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Get ready for the winter of discontent, 2020/21

02/07/2020, 10:30:20 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We have reached the mid-point of the longest year. Football’s back, pubs and shops are open, the sun shines. The government are eager for consumers to spend the economy back to health. But our winter of discontent looms.

Only the rich and/or complacent are secure in their incomes. Fear of Covid-19 remains – while not always deadly, especially among the young, it can induce long-term health complications. It is hard to be confident that all children, many out of school since March, will be in class in September.

“Open unemployment,” warns Professor Paul Gregg, “is likely to rise from 4 to 14% without further policy intervention.” Over 4 million on the dole, before the possible economic tsunami of no-deal Brexit.

“Currently the government’s drive to open up as quickly as possible bears a risk of another increase in infections,” fears Professor Devi Sridhar, “similar to what is being experienced in several US states such as Florida, Arizona and Texas, and in Iran.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, recently said: “The NEU is of course in favour of all children being back in school, but even with a one-metre rule that will need more teachers and more spaces.” It remains to be seen if the plans announced by Gavin Williamson will deliver upon this.

Ignore these people if you have had enough of experts. The rest of us might conclude:

We need more testing and tracing, with much better data sharing and collaboration with local authorities, to contain the virus. We need more physical and human resources to reopen schools. Without decent public health and education, attempts to build, build, build rest on the shakiest foundations.

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