Posts Tagged ‘Leeds’

Brownian big numbers don’t persuade anyone, so why does Labour keep announcing them

01/07/2014, 12:59:44 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Today, the disconnect between Labour’s approach to political communications and the general public was on full display.

To accompany the launch of the Adonis Growth Review, the topline of Labour’s story was that it would devolve up to £30bn of central government funding to new regional partnerships of local authorities.

The model of regional co-operation that Labour is advocating has had demonstrable results in Greater Manchester, where 7 North West local authorities are working well together. The incentive of greater devolution of funds from central government would surely prompt other areas to follow Greater Manchester’s lead.

As a policy, there is much to recommend today’s announcement. Which is why the way it has been packaged for the media is so depressing.

Gordon Brown was notorious for bludgeoning audiences with lists of gargantuan numbers to demonstrate his commitment to Schools-n-Hospitals. Notorious because, while these types of big numbers have a certain resonance within the Westminster bubble, they are positively off-putting for most voters.

I’m currently conducting a series of focus groups for the day job, looking at how people understand political messages. The topic we’re looking at specifically is immigration, but the findings are applicable to most political issues.

When confronted with a statistic, particularly a Brownian big number, there is typically a two stage response: “I don’t understand your number,” swiftly followed by, “I don’t trust your number.”

Dealing with the first response is comparatively straight-forward. It’s all about context.

Abstract statistics mean very little to voters. Cash numbers in the billions or percentage growth rates lack any practical resonance with peoples’ lives.  They tend to simply fade into the white noise of politicos’ stat chat.


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The proud history of towns like Manchester and Leeds offers Labour a model for practical socialism

28/09/2012, 09:53:53 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Alan Bennett has written that he felt growing up in Leeds in the 1940s can’t have been unlike growing up in a fifteenth-century Italian city state, such was Leeds’ sense of itself. Now Leeds has more councillors over the age of 80 than under the age of 35. It is not ageist to see this, sadly, as a sign of civic decline.

Similarly, the grandeur of Manchester town hall, which will again play host to events at Labour party conference, seems to recall a time when the city was more certainly in command of its future.

Paul Salveson recently published a book that describes and celebrates a distinctive northern socialism that never waited for a hand out or hand up from London. Long before the classic social democracy of Crosland and Hattersley, which saw mechanical reform from the commanding heights of Whitehall as the road to socialism, Salveson’s heroes – such as Hannah Mitchell, Benjamin Rushton and Ben Turner – got on with morally reforming themselves and their communities with a swagger to put the Stone Roses in the shade.

Salveson’s writings uncover a past where active equality, driven by civic pride, was the norm. A pride which brings to mind in a more localised sense a line that Tim Soutphommasane, an inspiration to Jon Cruddas, is said to be fond of: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

This is not the socialism of ambiguous metropolitanism but an urgency to right the wrongs and champion the distinctiveness of the particular and specific place that forms and is formed by its people.

The building blocks of the national rebuilding that Cruddas seeks are to be found in recovering this urgency. The UK will be rebuilt street by street, community by community, city by city, country by country.

Hope does not reside in nebulous, arm-chair discussions on the nature of Britishness, Englishness or Scottishness, but in the practical steps of active equality. Action precedes hope, not the other way around, pace Barack Obama 2008 vintage.

Unsurprisingly, Richard Florida reports that mayors are more popular than other politicians. They are potent vessels of civic pride, which Mitchell, Rushton and Turner would recognise, targeted only upon pragmatic solutions. While Whitehall mandarins fight their turf wars and most politicians fixate on the urgent, mayors knock heads together, cross dress and build allegiances beyond tribal lines as required to secure the important.

Mayors were largely rejected at referendums in England in May. However, as Henry Ford knew, people would have stated a preference for faster horses before knowing what cars are. As far as possible, the attributes of automobiles must now be grafted on to the equine structures that grasp towards leadership of our cities. In other words, we should devolve power to the existing institutions, rather than seeking to have institutional change precede this. Putting rocket boosters under the city deals programme is an obvious way of advancing this.


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Friday News Review

28/05/2010, 08:36:58 AM

Policy posturing

“There was nothing in this week’s Queen’s Speech for hard-working families – except a kick in the teeth if you are young and unemployed or an aspiring student or receiving home help.” – David Miliband, The Mirror

“Bosses earning huge amounts while their employees struggle were branded “immoral” by Labour leadership contender David Miliband last night.” – The Mirror

“Ed Miliband will seek today to stand out from the field of Labour leadership candidates with a campaign for a “living wage”. He will call for Britain’s five million lowest-paid workers to receive at least £7.14 an hour, instead of the current £5.83 minimum wage.” – The Times

“The result is that our conversation with the public broke down. We need to restart it with our most precious asset – our idealism for a better future.” – David Miliband, Tribune

“Ed Miliband will throw his weight behind demands for a “living wage” of more than £7 an hour as he seeks to bolster his bid for the Labour leadership.” – Channel 4 News (more…)

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