Posts Tagged ‘Labour Party’

The real impact of the budget on the public

22/03/2012, 07:00:14 AM

by Peter Watt

The thing about big political events is that they generally aren’t big events in the same way that, say big sporting events or a royal wedding are.  The latter are things that most people are aware of and that get people talking.  Big political events generally do neither.  But they certainly feel like really big events if you are a political junkie or you are working inside the political world.

I can remember when Labour Party HQ used to buy all of the staff ice-creams on budget day; it was a bit of a tradition.  In the weeks building up to the day itself there would be mounting excitement.  Briefings were prepared and printers were primed to start printing materials within minutes of the end of the budget so that local campaigners were ready for their weekends work. Because the point was that budgets were big, game-changing, or game re-enforcing events.

Except looking back, they generally weren’t, and very little actually changed.  The polls might blip but they soon blipped back to where they were before.

And I was reminded of this yesterday; because I, along with every other political obsessive, had enjoyed this last week.  The NHS Bill skirmishes and the budget briefing.  Both had left us all with plenty to read, discuss and tweet about.


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The flaws at the heart of the Labour party’s reorganisation

15/03/2012, 07:00:22 AM

by Peter Watt

I have decided to write something about Labour party governance.  Now wait; before you stop reading simply because you assume that any article about governance must be aimed at anoraks give me a moment as it really is an important issue.

The Labour party is governed by the National Executive Committee (NEC) who act in the same way as a board of directors or trustees do.  In other words, they are responsible for ensuring that the party manages its finances well; delivers on its primary objective of securing elected Labour representation and other subsidiary objectives like better representation of women.  And also for ensuring that the party complies with its legal responsibilities.  They also oversee, but do not direct, day-to-day operations of the party.  The day-to-day work is managed by the party’s chief executive the general secretary.

Traditionally the arrangement has not been a particularly good one in the Labour party with good governance being secondary to other political pressures.  The result was that the party became horrifically in debt and no one on the NEC seemed to notice.

The reasons for this are twofold.

Firstly the NEC itself was much more interested in politics than governance.  In other words they got elected or appointed by virtue of fighting for position or votes in internal elections on the back of taking positions politically.

They were experts in lots of things to do with politics, trade unions and so on.  But that didn’t make them experts in governance, asking the right questions, finances and the like.  Whilst other organisations could undertake a skills audit of their boards and appoint non-execs or other trustees to plug the skills gap – the NEC had elections to its various stakeholder sections.

And secondly the party management team saw it as their job to keep the NEC out of decision making.  What they didn’t know couldn’t hurt and anyway the NEC really weren’t that interested, or so the argument went.

It was just easier to set up NEC committees and structures that provided more confusion than transparency.  Plus there was always a third source of power that party managers had to worry about – the leader’s office.  The leader’s office always wanted to be in charge of everything but knew that the key to managing the weird and byzantine world of the NEC was the general secretary and their team.


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Labour’s identity problems go much deeper than all women shortlists

13/03/2012, 12:20:04 PM

by Ben Cobley

In Life and Fate, his epic novel of family, Stalingrad and totalitarianism, the Soviet-era journalist Vasily Grossman wrote:

“Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to these peculiarities.”

Grossman maybe stretches his point a little too far. Nevertheless his polemic makes a powerful and important point: that groups can become forces of oppression, not just against other groups but against individuality and humanity itself.

This happens when they becomes ends in themselves, when they take on a life of their own and become self-sustaining. In Grossman’s Soviet Union this is what happened to the Communist identity – once it became a pre-requisite for career advancement and entry to nomenklatura, it lost its idealistic elements and became a malign force.

On 2nd March, Uncut published an article of mine about contemporary liberal-left identity politics, in which I questioned the continuing existence of All Women Shortlists (AWS) and other forms of positive discrimination in Labour Party processes. The article provoked a (generally) considered response on LabourList from Luke Akehurst of the NEC, plus plenty of other lively responses on comment threads and elsewhere.

The background to what I was arguing in the piece was summed up in this sentence: “Institutionalising separate identities as we do is a road to nowhere and nothingness.”

So what does this really mean? After all, when we talk about identity problems we normally mean lack of identity: for example that Ed Miliband lacks identity, or that the Labour Party could do with more identity.

My own interpretation is that identity itself is often the problem.


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Vive la résistance la rue Victoria!

12/03/2012, 07:00:33 AM

That’s the mood brewing in Labour’s Victoria street headquarters.

On Friday, the long planned internal Labour party restructure was finally announced: new departments, new directors, more effective party. Or at least that’s the official line.

While the changes do make some welcome technocratic adjustments, they are  ultimately driven by hard politics.

Labour HQ has long been regarded with suspicion by Ed Miliband’s team. During the leadership election it was virtually united in its backing for David.

Since then the relationship between Victoria street and casa Ed in Norman Shaw south has been frosty at best. One leadership loyalist recently described Victoria street as, “a vipers’ nest”.

The restructure is team Ed’s move to bring headquarters to heel. Despite the job advertisements and apparently open selection process, the big three appointments at communications, strategy and policy all have something in common: their previous employer, one E Miliband.

Bob Roberts, Greg Beales and Torsten Bell will seamlessly move a few hundred yards down the road from the leader’s Westminster office to impose direct rule on Victoria street.

Needless to say, the changes haven’t gone down well with a staff team that regards the Ed Miliband’s team with barely concealed derision.

One staffer whispered late on Friday, “Set aside the politics for a moment, what sort of job have this lot done for Ed? Do we want that to happen to the party operation? “

It wasn’t an isolated comment.

But it’s not just personnel that are being changed. Perhaps the biggest change is structural. The way the party is managed has been fundamentally redrawn with the creation of a new executive board.

The board brings together the executive directors, the general secretary with the leader’s chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. It will be the new decision-making heart of the Labour party machine.

The organisational independence of the Labour party from the leader’s office is now a thing of the past. For many, even amongst Ed sceptics, it’s a common sense step. A large gap between leader and machine is hardly conducive to effective campaigning.

But, as ever when power shifts like this, there are winners and losers, and the big loser here is the well-liked and respected general secretary Iain McNicol.

He wasn’t the leader’s choice for general secretary, but McNicol has been loyal and tried to ensure headquarters and the leader’s office worked together more smoothly in the few months since he took office in September.

Now with executive board, the dynamics at the top of the party are very different.

If an executive director, who nominally reports to the general secretary, has a difference of opinion about what should be done, the executive board not the general secretary will decide.

And what are the chances that some of the new executive directors might just decide to pick up the phone to their old chums in the leader’s office before executive board meetings to make sure they get the right decision, regardless of what the general secretary might think?

In the words of one staffer on Friday, “Iain is basically now a glorified head of HR”.

Over the weekend, as the scale of the changes were being digested by the Labour HQ team, two camps were emerging.

One group was dusting down CVs. It’s a tough market out there for Labour apparatchiks, but for many, even unemployment might be preferable to this brave new world.

The other was talking about resistance.

The signs of rebellion were evident even as the changes were being announced. Before the full staff team had been briefed, details were being leaked to Guido Fawkes, hardly team Ed’s greatest friend.

And then when Iain Mcnicol sent an e-mail to staff about the leaking, that was leaked to Guido as well.

For the rebels, it’s just the start. Over the coming weeks expect to see more signs of the Victoria street maquis. Team Ed has moved decisively to take control of the party operation. But lurking in the sandwich bars and watering holes of Victoria street, the resistance is plotting.

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The Labour party’s double standards on all women short-lists

06/03/2012, 07:00:01 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Last week Ben Cobley wrote for Uncut about all women shortlists. It wasn’t a reactionary rant. He wasn’t dressed in a batman costume, sitting at the top of Big Ben when he wrote it. The tone was measured and the points reasoned.

While most comment, on both sides of the discussion was similarly nuanced, some of the responses were pavlovian, at best. Little effort to engage with what had been written, just a standard rehearsal of long established positions.

Yesterday, Luke Akehurst gave us one of the better versions of the conventional case for AWS over at Labour List.

In theory, I should support what Luke is saying.

I believe in all women shortlists. I see the logic of why AWS is needed – a second best solution in a third best world. And not enough has been achieved to achieve greater women’s representation. 81 female Labour MPs out of a parliamentary Labour party of 258 still leaves Labour nearly 50 MPs short of achieving equality.

But Luke and similar defenders of AWS lose me.

In his piece, Ben raises the rhetorical question – why only shortlists for women? Surely the same logic could be applied to other groups?

He’s right.

Ben is consistent in the way he draws his conclusions. All types of discrimination are wrong, therefore preferential shortlists should be ended.

If only the official party line, which backs positive action to tackle inequality, were similarly rigorous.

For of all those who manned (so to speak) the barricades in defence of AWS, equality seems to stop at gender.  Zero discussion about ethnic minority or disabled communities. Equality is a principle worth fighting for, but not worth applying equally.


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Where is Labour’s Steve Hilton?

29/02/2012, 01:20:18 PM

by Peter Goddard

“We need a new brand.”

It’s a question marketers often dread from a customer. This is because, nine times out of ten, what they are really asking for is a new logo, a strapline and a colour scheme.

This is not a brand. Marty Neumeier in The Brand Gap defines a brand as “A person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company,” which is as good a definition as any.

Because the brand is, in fact, this relationship with the customer, it is vastly more likely to be the defined by a customer’s experience with your organisation than by your “look and feel”.

Of course, your logo is part of this. If your brand is your personality, your logos and straplines can be likened to your clothing. An outfit may be useful for forming a first impression, but eventually you will be judged by your actions.

This is something clearly understood by Steve Hilton, the nearest politics currently has to a new master of the dark arts since Peter Mandelson’s glide back into the shadows.

Hilton managed to turn around the popular view of the Conservatives as the nasty party and re-invent David Cameron as an electable prime minister. Whether it was hugging a hoodie, doing aid work in Africa or talking about “voting blue and going green”, something worked.

Enough voters changed their gut feeling about this Tory leader to put David Cameron in number ten.


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Police Commissioner deadline extended as candidates start to emerge

20/02/2012, 03:53:46 PM

Labour Uncut has learned that party officials have extended the deadline for applications for Labour candidates hoping to become Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

Originally, potential candidates had until 17 February (last Friday) to submit applications for the 40 new roles which cover existing force areas. Now, the party is saying that it will “accept applications from interested individuals until the end of February”.

The two-week deadline extension hints at a shortage of potential candidates. One possible reason is that candidates must actually live in the force area they wish to stand in. A panel of Labour’s National Executive Committee is expected to meet in early March to begin shortlisting in each area.

The most high-profile candidate to emerge so far remains John Prescott in Humberside. Last week Labour leader Ed Miliband came close to backing him, saying he was an  “unstoppable force and I’m sure he’d be a great police commissioner.” Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair also praised the former deputy prime minister, saying he would do an “extraordinarily good job.”

Sitting MPs hoping to become police commissioners include current Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Tony Lloyd, who is hoping to become Labour’s candidate in Greater Manchester and former Welsh First Minister, Alun Michael, who is hoping to stand in South Wales. By-elections for their Westminster seats will be triggered if either wins.

Perhaps the most closely fought contest will be in Merseyside where two former Labour ministers are set to go head-to-head. Jane Kennedy and Peter Kilfoyle, who both stood down at the last general election, will compete for the Labour nomination.

Other former Labour ministers who have announced their candidacies include Paddy Tipping, a former deputy leader of the house (Nottinghamshire) and former DWP minister James Plaskitt (Warwickshire).

In South Yorkshire, former Chief Constable Med Hughes has announced he is standing for the Labour nomination – just four months after retiring from the force. He previously claimed politicians were not “of the right calibre” to be police commissioners.

Police and crime commissioners will set strategic priorities for their force, while chief constables will lead on operational matters. Elections will be held on Thursday 15 November, the same day earmarked for elections for any city that chooses to have a directly elected mayor in May’s referendum.

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Does Labour have the courage to stand up for the workers?

29/07/2011, 02:20:27 PM

by Tom Harris

Every elected Labour official has the same experience: hard-working constituents regale us with tales of how they receive no help from the state, whereas the plights of others, usually described as “immigrants” and almost always “unemployed” and “benefit claimants” receive the most attention.

The problem for my party is that such grievances have a dangerous amount of validity.

One parliamentary colleague describes how his father, having worked all his adult life, raised a family in their council house and never failed to pay his rent on time, was philosophical about the fact that his modest request for a new home, closer to relatives, would remain at the bottom of the priorities list. Why? Because he had worked all his adult life and never failed to pay his rent on time.

The government’s various panic-stricken maneuverings over council house tenures reveals that the multi-millionaire, privately educated members of the Cabinet (and I use none of those descriptions in a pejorative sense) are finding it just as hard to get a grip on this aspiration thing as many members of my own party.

The Tories and their Lib Dem partners seem to see council housing as a sign of failure, almost a punishment for not having worked hard enough at school. Their “solution” to the housing shortage is to force those living in such estates to bugger off as soon as they find a job and start to enjoy the fruits of their labour. In a sea of inept initiatives from this government, this is probably the most bonkers of them all: reserve council estates exclusively for those who can’t or won’t work, and remove all the successful, aspirational tenants, often against their will.

Where does that leave young people living in such estates? Where are the role models that teach them that hard work is rewarding? I’ll tell you where: nowhere near you, mate! (more…)

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Reflections on the obvious

25/07/2011, 02:16:20 PM

by Pat McFadden

The woman doing the newspaper review summed up the predicament of the newspapers following the killings in Norway.  “How to make sense of the senseless” she said.  And in truth, it is hard to know where to begin.

I was struck by the motivations of the young people at the summer camp.  600 or so in a small country of a few million people, all dedicated to making their world a better place.  Debate, learning, sport and doing them all not alone but together with your friends.  What a contrast with the killer.

The papers at first assumed it was an act of Islamic extremism.  They were wrong.  Given the record of Islamic extremism in killing innocent people, you could see why the assumption had been reached for.  But no, this was a figure of the far right.  He was in fact a hater both of Islam and of any political force, like Labour, that tries to preach solidarity between peoples and tries to thrash out how we can all live together.

They have something in common, killers who hold either a warped version of Islam and have in recent years bombed underground trains, blown up marketplaces in the middle east and the far right.  This hatred of the “other”, this demonising of those who won’t follow the one truth, and the blaming of others for whatever grievance they nurse.

This is a great contrast with the motivations of the young people who had gathered for the Labour party summer camp.

Labour parties around the world try to match economic strength with the just society.  We stand against the notion that your lot in life will be dictated by the hand you were dealt at birth.  And we use the power of government to get the barriers out of the way.  We understand that there is little meaning to freedom if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or you have no educational opportunity to put yourself in a position to use freedom.  So for us it is about making freedom real and about standing against that which holds people back.

We don’t always get it right in terms of how we do this.  Sometimes we get the balance wrong between our desire for the just society and how much money we ought to leave in people’s own pockets, to spend as they choose.  Sometimes we cling to policies that have outlived their use.  Sometimes our belief in the basic worth of every person has made us reluctant to spell out the need for a society with rules where people contribute as well as take out. Sometimes we have failed to appreciate that what we believe may be good for people may not be what they believe themselves.

And yet some version of this, how you match prosperity with compassion for our fellow human beings, is still what Labour parties all around the world have in common. And the key to success is to match this basic belief to the ever changing times.

By its nature, this is not an extreme idea.  It is unlikely to inspire zealots who seek the one truth.  But it is an idea worth cherishing and defending against those who hate it.

Labour parties operate in democracies, where mandates are given, but are by their nature limited.  “We are the masters now” is a poor lesson to learn from any election victory.  Election winners are given a mandate, but it is limited, both by the presence of those who didn’t vote for it and by the notion that a new mandate will have to be sought in a few years.

This is not an argument for a mushy relativism where every idea or opinion is thought equally valid.  But it is an argument for contested truths, where politics will always be debated, certainties always challenged and where a case has to be argued and won.

In one way or another, that is what was being taught at the Norwegian Labour party summer camp.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East.

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That high risk economic policy again: ours

13/04/2011, 12:00:11 PM

by Rob Marchant

Recess. Time for us all to reflect on where we’re at before the elections are upon us. And what will people be wanting to hear on the doorstep this month? That the cuts are awful, and that we’re with them. Right?


The idea that we might be taking a risk with this line seems particularly wrong-headed, as the Tories are wrong and we are right on the pure economics of the cuts. KrugmanStiglitz, and other luminaries agree (hmmm, which should we trust, two Nobel prize winners or George Osborne? Let’s think). The trouble is, we are taking a risk. As I have observed before, it is often not so much the economic policy itself, which is essentially right, but our positioning on that policy – the politics – which is risky.

Our approach is risky, perhaps as much as the Tories’, in its way, because it is predicated on the potential for economic disaster from cutting too far, too fast. And, of course, that disaster may not happen or worse, may happen, but not in a way which we can prove. It may be a little early to assume, as Liberal Conspiracy’s Sunny Hundal seems to, that we will be incontrovertibly proved right.

By allowing the two sides of the cuts narrative to dominate our thinking – the negative effect on people on the one hand, and on growth on the other – we miss the future impact. We forget that, while the first is undeniable, it will pass, and that the second may turn out be difficult to prove. And, when faced with the fait accompliof the policy, what then?

Two golden rules of politics, or any struggle for that matter: choose your battles carefully and play for the long-term, not the short.

One problem with opposition is that you campaign heavily against something, which later comes to pass. And, after a short while, it is as if things had always been that way, as the Tories found to their cost. They campaigned against everything: gay rights, an independent bank of England and devolution. Things that nowadays no sensible Tory would dream of trying to reverse, but for which dire consequences were nonetheless predicted. They were then faced with the gritted-teeth reality of looking on, impotent, as these policies were comfortably put in place. They were the perceived losers of the argument. And the dire consequences, of course, never materialised.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, opposition. (more…)

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