Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Todd’

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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Has Ed Miliband’s moment arrived?

01/06/2020, 08:05:47 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“In 2008-09,” Gordon Brown recently told New Statesman, “we tried to persuade people that it made sense to run a deficit and it was not a problem in the long term if debt rose in the short term. We failed to persuade people. If anything contributed to the return of the Conservatives to power, it was their ability to scare people about the deficit and debt.”

After succeeding Brown as Labour leader, Ed Miliband attempted to become prime minister by positioning Labour to the left of New Labour. This strategy was thought to be justified as the financial crisis of 2008-09 had enlarged public appetite for stronger regulation and an expanded economic role for the state.

In 2015, Labour and the rest of the country moved in opposite directions. Labour’s general election defeat brought into doubt the extent of the appeal of Miliband’s more muscular state. Jeremy Corbyn’s ascent indicated that Labour considered Miliband’s offer too tepid.

“Now,” Brown continued in his New Statesman interview, “the fiscal orthodoxy has changed. What we were criticised for in 2009-10 is understood to be the best way of dealing with a crisis. We’ve got to understand that the only way that you can replace spending power and economic activity when the private sector fails to be able to invest, and consumers are not spending and people are not able to work, is that the government steps in.”

It must be hoped that Brown is right about the fiscal orthodoxy. Yet Jo Harding reminded Uncut, “local authorities are facing a £10 billion black hole due to coronavirus.”

This is despite Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick telling 300 English council leaders and sector bodies in a conference call on 16 March that the government would do “whatever is necessary” to help them tackle coronavirus.

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Five questions to determine the next general election

16/05/2020, 10:48:56 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is not a sprint to the next general election. Nor a marathon. It is more like 800 metres.

You cannot win it in the opening straight, but you can lose it. Every step counts. And – as Covid-19 has painfully illustrated – new obstacles can appear from nowhere.

Here are five questions to help comprehend this 800-metre random assault course:

1) What will the UK economy be like in 2023/2024?

Sir Charles Bean, a member of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), has referred to it being “not implausible” that for as long as the lockdown is in force, economic activity will be reduced “by somewhere between a quarter and a third”, and that a three-month lockdown “would knock something like 6-8 percentage points off annual GDP”.

Two months into the lockdown, however, it does not seem likely that all economic activity will return to pre-lockdown levels a month from now. Therefore, the annual contraction in GDP seems likely to exceed 8%.

Perhaps significantly so if a second wave necessitates a return to lockdown and/or the government fail to deliver a track, trace, and isolate system effective enough to enable more economic activity alongside suppression of a second wave.

Even after two months of lockdown, there are still thought to be around 3500 new cases each day. But where are these? Who have they interacted with? Are the sufferers and all of those that they have interacted with in isolation?

It is a massive task to constantly stay on top of these questions. More so than challenges that the government have struggled to overcome, e.g. delivering adequate PPE and tests.

2020 brings depression-era economics, an ongoing and uncontrolled public health crisis, and the rupturing of around 40 trade agreements with over 70 countries. All of which will create a big hole in public finances.

If the Tories respond to this with the “medicine” of the past decade (austerity), our economic and social problems will deepen. There have been worrying signs that this may be where we are headed.

A dozen years after the global financial crisis, we still live in a world of very low interest rates. Instead of austerity, government must listen to this market signal and seize this opportunity.

2) How will the government be perceived to have performed on the economy?

While the economy recovered after our exit from the ERM, the then Tory government’s reputation for economic competence did not.

Even if today’s government were to leverage very low interest rates to drive an investment boom, their standing on economic competence may be poor if they are blamed – as was the case with the ERM – for having caused the calamity from which we are recovering.

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We have wasted a decade. We cannot afford to waste another

20/04/2020, 10:30:57 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We have wasted a decade.

All my son’s life, twice my daughter’s life, a quarter of my life. Lived since the last Labour prime minister – as David Talbot has recalled for Uncut – launched a general election campaign in a Labour seat in the home counties, which now has a 17,000 Tory majority.

Wasted by Labour, the UK, the world.

We are all in this together. I want to believe it now when I see it on the t-shirts of Tesco workers. I never did from David Cameron.

Fixing the roof when the sun is shining. That is what the Conservatives said Labour did not do.

The Sunday Times casts severe doubt on the extent to which Boris Johnson was on top of NHS capacity and pandemic preparedness. Sadly, this is not the only roof unfixed in our decade of austerity.

“The world is on fire, from the Amazon to California, from Australia to the Siberian Artic,” begin Christina Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac in their book on our climate crisis, as its impacts begin to ominously manifest. “The red wall” submerges under Tory MPs and flood waters.

As Prospect illustrate, child poverty in the UK, after falling under the last Labour government, has returned to a similar level to what it was two decades ago, when Tony Blair said it would be eliminated in 20 years.

Austerity, we were told, was the price to be paid to ease the burden on future generations. Trapped in poverty and destined to confront catastrophic climate change do not expect gratitude.

There are footballers whose transfer value rises when they are injured. What they bring to their teams becomes more apparent in their absence. Gordon Brown is that footballer in the politics of the last decade.

Brown’s defiant listing of Labour achievements at conference 2009 is now proudly replayed. It can be forgotten that the prime minister went into that conference under threat of potential challenge from David Miliband. To whom the camera cuts half-way through Brown’s listing, as if to say, who are you trying to kid?

As today’s world leaders fall short of the coordination that Brown helped to bring about in the 2008/9 financial crisis, we ask the same of them.

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The first step on a long road for Labour

05/04/2020, 10:25:35 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Saturday was a tremendous day for Labour. Having been knighted for services to law and criminal justice, Keir Starmer brings more impressive professional experience than perhaps any previous Labour leader. He is a serious figure for serious times. Winning on the first round with over 56% of the vote gives him a strong personal mandate.

Angela Rayner has great potential as the new deputy leader. Other deputy and leadership candidates – Lisa Nandy, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Ian Murray – emerge with credit and higher profiles. The many talents on the Labour backbenches will be brought to the frontbenches.

Candidates backed by Progress and Labour First swept the board in the NEC elections – congratulations to Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan. The party machine can be remade in Starmer’s image.

But challenges confronting Labour remain vast: fewer MPs than at any time since 1935 and an unprecedented context of national peril.

When shortages of tests, PPE and ventilators mean people die, the new political currency is thought to be competency. Less than a week after testing positive for Covid-19, Matt Hancock appeared in public to open an emergency health facility with many people around him not observing social distancing rules. While Hancock is considered one of the government’s more competent members, this visual communicates something else.

Whereas competency might imply a politics of cool rationality, we live in a country where 5G towers are set on fire. Because, deaf to the protestations of those that told us we’d had enough of experts, they are somehow supposed to spread Covid-19.

With emotions running high, the ability to mould how people feel remains politically central. Competency means using Gantt charts to get the right stuff in the right place at the right time. That is politically necessary but insufficient. We also now seek connection with newly treasured emotions: reassurance, reliability and hope.

Speaking to the nation on Sunday evening, the Queen summons these feelings for many much more effectively than Keir Starmer – who, for all his attributes, is the leader of a deeply mistrusted party. While Starmer enjoys a reputation for competency, he confronts the formidable challenge of moving Labour beyond associations with extremism and anti-British sentiments to find new emotional connection with an anxious public.

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Meticulous Starmer needs to plan for unknown futures

09/03/2020, 10:33:19 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Other characteristics [Keir Starmer] brought to [his legal career] have remained with him to this day,” Martin Kettle writes in Prospect. “He was meticulous. He has integrity. He looked at the detail. He planned things out. He was extremely orderly. He was very good at spotting the winning point in a case.”

The known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld put it, create a vast spectrum of possibilities between now and the next general election. In this uncertain context, it will be challenging for Starmer, likely to soon be Labour leader, to plan a course to Labour general election victory.

Winning general election pitches typically promise to resolve the zeitgeist’s issue. For example, with their “long-term economic plan” in 2015, the Conservatives committed to maintaining a focus upon deficit reduction and economic recovery. Ed Miliband’s Labour did not sufficiently junk a reputation for profligacy to disrupt this message. More recently, Boris Johnson told us that he would “get Brexit done”. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour lacked equivalent clarity or a credible method for addressing the dominant issue of Brexit.

Whether Brexit will again be central to this parliament and how smoothly Johnson can get it done are known unknowns. When the Labour leadership election began, coronavirus was an unknown unknown. Now it threatens to usurp Brexit as the overriding political issue. If these issues were to combine (e.g. a no deal Brexit atop supply chains undermined by coronavirus), they would be even more significant.

There’s plenty of time for more unknown unknowns to emerge before the next general election. The aggressive style of the Johnson government – not content with renegotiating all our trade relationships, it is on a war footing with the civil service, BBC and judiciary – means that unintended consequences are a major known unknown.

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Keir Starmer is Labour’s last best hope

28/01/2020, 11:13:25 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Bookmakers have Keir Starmer as the 7/19 favourite to be the next Labour leader – a 73% probability. In a party whose membership was swollen by Jeremy Corbyn, and which was largely loyal to him, Starmer did not enter the race as Corbyn’s presumed heir apparent. With early personal branding, Rebecca Long-Bailey carried this torch.

“No surrender, a 4-day week, and a 3-day bender,” proclaimed her supporters. Dancing on the political graves of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Zarah Sultana derided “40 years of Thatcherism” in her maiden speech in the Commons. Long-Bailey said “no surrender” by having Sultana speak at her campaign launch a few days later. It takes the same defiance to think a 4-day week a sensible policy commitment from Labour – from the perspective of hard-pressed workers, it challenged free broadband as the most otherworldly of Labour’s 2019 pledges.

You’d need a 3-day bender for this continuity Corbynism to make sense. After which, the breweries will be nationalised, and the beer will be free. Or, at least, Labour might commit for it to be so. But incredible commitments from opposition change little. They might get some in opposition more drunk, but the real effect is to help keep the Tories in government in perpetuity.

Such folly should, therefore, be debarred by rule 3 of our rule book (“promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process”). But the extent to which the membership has an appetite for continuity Corbynism remains unclear. If that appetite remains unsatiated, it will carry Long-Bailey, now benefitting from the formidable endorsement of Unite, to the leadership.

We cannot consistently criticise both Long-Bailey for making insufficient accommodation with the electorate and Starmer for being too accommodating of the membership. Yet there are those who see Starmer’s campaign launch video as overly tailored to traditional Labour themes. This would be a valid criticism if this were a general election and he were seeking to convince the general public. Starmer is calibrating his message to his audience – precisely what the uncompromising Corbyn was criticised for not doing and the “no surrender” mindset threatens to maintain.

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What kind of country elects Boris Johnson as its prime minister?

09/12/2019, 09:59:48 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The Italians and Berlusconi, the Israelis and Netanyahu, the Americans and Trump. Why, we wondered, did countries subject themselves to bunga bunga leadership?

It couldn’t happen here, we used to think. Now, however, we seem set to elect as prime minister, “a compulsive liar who,” according to Nick Boles, “has betrayed every single person he has ever had any dealings with: every woman who has ever loved him, every member of his family, every friend, every colleague, every employee, every constituent.”

It is civic self-abuse to return to office those responsible for this decade’s indignities: from the hostile environment to universal credit, from the bedroom tax to 320,000 homeless, from the longest pay freeze in 200 years to the tragedy of Dickensian poverty depicted by Dispatches.

The Supreme Court annulled Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of parliament. They can’t make him face Andrew Neil. If convenient, any convention can be bent, any truth elided.

“Will Northern Irish businesses,” asked Andrew Marr in an interview that he deigned to, “have to fulfil customs declarations to trade with the rest of the UK?” Johnson insists not – contradicting his Brexit secretary.

“Is the NHS,” Labour has asked, “for sale?” No, says Johnson. But the US, especially big pharma, one of the most influential lobbies in Washington DC, will require otherwise.

“Can he,” we should wonder, “get Brexit done?” No trade deal on the scale of that Johnson seeks with the EU has been concluded on the timescale that he imposes.

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What became of Gordon Brown’s likely lads?

12/11/2019, 08:31:11 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Gordon Brown, then chancellor, was travelling on an RAF flight when he found out that Ed Miliband had been selected as Labour’s candidate in Doncaster, according to Mehdi Hasan and James Macintyre’s biography of Jeremy Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader.

“Brown was seen in a rare moment of real joy, punching the air as if his local football team had just won the FA Cup, and punching it so hard that his hand hit the luggage compartment above his head with a crunch.”

Brown was also pleased when Ian Austin and John Woodcock, like Miliband ex Brown aides, were selected as Labour candidates. Now, after the Tories have reversed the public spending that Brown increased, deepened the poverty that Brown tackled, and sought a Brexit that Brown resisted, Austin and Woodcock advise voting Tory.

After all that the Tories have done, to return them to Downing Street would not just rub salt in the wounds, it would invite their deepening.

Nothing about Boris Johnson’s campaign launch made sense. We were meant to believe that it was in a crowded hall in Birmingham; it was in a half-full one in Solihull. He insists he wants to get Brexit “done”; he will have it drag on, pulling the UK apart, country-by-country, business-by-business, family-by-family. He wants to unleash the UK’s potential; that will be forestalled by the monstrous distraction that he wants to get “done”.

Of course, it is not reverence for Johnson that drives Austin and Woodcock but deep suspicion of Corbyn. Phil Collins, writing speeches for Tony Blair when Brown was punching luggage compartments, last week categorised Labour MPs in The Times based upon their feelings towards Corbyn.

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This election is about stopping Boris Johnson

30/10/2019, 01:03:00 PM

by Jonathan Todd

“Politics,” as JK Galbraith sagely put it, “consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

While Jeremy Corbyn’s approval ratings indicate that some find him unpalatable, there is no doubt that Boris Johnson is disastrous.

“Who governs?” asked Edward Heath. “Not you,” came the general election verdict. “Get Brexit done,” Johnson says. “No, thanks,” must be the response.

Done, in the Johnson lexicon, means endless debates about our relationship with the EU sucking the oxygen out of our country for years. The end of the beginning of Brexit’s joyless revolution. A decisive threshold, depriving us of hard-won rights to live and work across our continent, but only an appetiser.

The main course propels Northern Ireland towards a united Ireland, Scotland out of the UK, and the bedraggled remains of the UK on a desperate trajectory towards a US president who finds so much to dislike in a European Union founded on the rule of law, committed to tackling climate change, and acting together to have more clout.

The UK best endures, only remains recognisably what we have known it to be, by remaining in the EU. We only stay in the EU via the confirmatory referendum that the 2017 parliament has denied us.

Of course, it would have been better to have had that referendum and then this election. Labour should have offered to support Johnson’s withdrawal agreement in exchange for that referendum.

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