Posts Tagged ‘New Labour’

The cult of Ed Balls tells you everything you need to know about the hole that Labour moderates are in

29/04/2017, 09:45:09 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Nothing is more revealing of the emotional and political lacuna at the heart of the non-Corbyn Labour party than the veneration of Ed Balls.

It’s not just Ed Balls day. On its own that’s transitory Twitter fluff. More problematic is the way he’s viewed by so many moderates as this huge Labour presence. A lost sage, sprinkled with sparkly Strictly stardust.

His interventions are treated by MPs, former advisers, journalists and swathes of the Labour Twitterati as if he some extraordinary combination of Attlee and the Fonz. You can almost hear the giggling in the tweets gushing over him.

Labour’s problems with Jeremy Corbyn are well documented but less aired is the dire state of the alternative. In Michael Dugher’s valedictory interview with the New Statesman, explaining his reasons for standing down as an MP he said it was, “no good moderates blaming Corbyn. Labour members were lured to Corbyn out of desperation. What we offered didn’t inspire, it wasn’t radical, it was more of the same.”

Dugher is right and his long-time friend, Ed Balls, is a case study why moderates failed.

Balls was a very good economic adviser to Gordon Brown, an average performer in parliament on a good day (sometimes, as with his response to the Autumn Statement in 2014, he was atrocious), patchy on broadcast and an absolutely dreadful political strategist.

When he became shadow chancellor in early 2011, he set a benchmark for success as getting ahead of the Tories on the economy. Labour went into the 2015 election almost twenty points behind. That’s his responsibility.

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Labour’s problems didn’t start with Corbyn but New Labour’s arrogance in power

22/04/2017, 07:29:42 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The failure of the New Labour project, measured in its ability to blow the victory of 1997 by 2010 at the latest, has an eerie similarity to the failure of Trump to know that pride goes before a fall. Not the current President of the USA, but Judd Trump, the snooker player. As someone who plays the game but very badly, I am in awe of Trump who was the youngest player ever to make a maximum 147 break an will one day win the world championship. But not this year.

He was knocked out by an unknown 46 year old qualifier last week, Rory McLeod, in the first round on April 19th. He came into the Championships as world ranked Number 2 and joint champion, and made the fatal error of saying the rating did not worry him. He should have been worried. Like many super talented people, he underestimated his opponent and suffers from the pride of arrogance. Like some politicians I can think of. David Cameron thought the Brexiteers were ‘swivel eyed loons’ and lost the 2016 referendum. The 1945 general election result led to some Labour people saying “We are the masters now”. But while Judd Trump was so upset he could not make his post-match TV interview, he should look at the current Labour Party and think he got away lightly.

While the Labour Party recovered after losing in 1951, and Cameron’s party looks like it is doing well, whether the arrogance of New Labour will see a recovery will be in the lap of the gods. And no one should blame Corbyn for the current crisis, which he makes worse but did not create. Blair destroyed his own credibility with the working class core voter even before the Iraq war. While the 2001 seats tally was much the same as the 1997 landslide, in key areas like Stoke the working class voter had already started to slip away. By 2005 Blair could only muster 37% of the vote, enough to win, but also to give Michael Howard’s Tories the scent of a failing project. It is a matter of history that Brown and Miliband could get nowhere near even the 2005 election result.

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At Open Labour, Ed Miliband backed the Corbyn-Starmer line on Brexit. A line that leaves Theresa May calling the shots

13/03/2017, 10:40:48 PM

by Trevor Fisher

The first Open Labour conference on March 11th was a successful launch of the project. In a school hall, 230 attendees took part for an afternoon of discussion.  Not all were members, but when a tight vote on an amendment led to tellers counting, 104 members had voted. This was a respectable number. I had sympathy with the colleague who asked “have we not decided this?”, not so as this was a first event, but OL was understandably treading a familiar path at this early stage. It will be for the perspectives conference in June to decide what the Unique Selling Point of OL will be.

The attendees seemed to be drawn from the Miliband cadre who had come to hear their leader. The age profile was around half over 50, about the same under 30. Anyone in their 30s or 40s and joined during the New Labour years seem not to warm to Open Labour so both the pre- New Labour and post New Labour cohorts seem to be the people attracted to Open Labour. However whether Open Labour can confront the failures of the Miliband era as well as those of earlier years is an open question – and very much open after Ed Miliband spoke to end the conference,

Miliband rightly focused almost entirely on Brexit in his 15 minute contribution, correctly as this is the defining issue of the current period, and supported the current Corbyn-Starmer line. This is to accept Brexit and the 2016 referendum but to seek a soft Brexit with concessions, none of which are on offer – certainly not EU citizens’ rights and access to the single market, currently dominating the debate. It is a fact that none of the amendments Labour put to the Article 50 bill were accepted, and the Tories did not accept any of the Lords amendments.  Labour is not likely to propose a constitutional crisis by using the Lords to overturn the rights of the Commons as the last thing an unpopular Labour Party can do is use the unelected Lords to block the decisions of the elected chamber. Certainly not to challenge the referendum result, which gave the government the mandate to trigger Article 50.

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The problem with the Labour Right

13/02/2017, 10:25:09 PM

In a pair of short essays on the state of the party, Kevin Meagher casts a critical eye over the state of both the Labour Right and the Labour Left. First the Right.

Let me start with a counterfactual. The basic problem with the Labour Right is that there isn’t really a ‘Labour Right,’ per se.

What I mean is there are several tribes on the right of the party – and the bad news is they have less and less in common. For a long time, they overlapped, with the glue of winning elections and holding office binding them together.

There are big differences between those on what we usually refer to as the moderate side of the party, and the radicals on the left. But we need to appreciate there are also differences within these agglomerated wings.

So those on Labour Right may broadly agree on a sensible, moderate approach to politics, but the various strands of opinion within it still have different aspirations and priorities.

First, we have the neo-Blairites clustered around their ginger group, Progress. They pine for a return to the certainties of New Labour. Tony ‘n’ triangulation, so to speak. They are happy with winning for the sake of winning.

That perhaps sounds dismissive. It isn’t meant to be. Clearly, any successful political project requires electoral victory and the progressives, or neo-Blairites, have things to say that are worth hearing.

But there’s a self-satisfaction about their view of the New Labour era which is quite unjustified. Of course, many positive changes were made during the Blair-Brown years of 1997-2010, notably managing a gently revving economy for a decent period and investing a huge amount in frontline public services.

But for too many people, New Labour simply did not change the weather.

Steel works, coal mines and factories did not reopen. Perhaps none of that was realistic, but it was, however, emblematic of a bigger problem: The types of decently-paid industrial jobs that sustained the British working class simply never returned and New Labour had no response to that.

It is a failing that is now killing British social democracy. All the other welcome policy interventions come to naught if working people cannot earn enough to buy a home, bring up their kids and enjoy life.

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Labour’s much changed leadership rules are a case study in the law of unintended consequences

29/07/2016, 01:43:19 PM

by Trevor Fisher

Lenin once said that some months only contain a week’s worth of action. While some weeks contain many months of activity. Currently the Labour party is living through years of action in a few weeks, but the last weeks of July saw particularly significant developments.

Firstly, during the 48 hours 18th to 20th June, the NEC devised window for upgrading £3 supporter subs to £25 to buy a place in the leadership ballot passed. Astonishingly, even in the Corbyn era, the Labour party gained 133,000 registered supporters in a matter of hours. One third of the selectorate was now registered supporters. By 28th July the BBC – Shaun Ley – was reporting the figure was 183,500. Where the extra members had come from is part of the current mystery.

We will not know till September who this benefits But it is very clear that a politically savvy cohort of some size now exists, understanding deadlines and able to spend £25 without blinking an eyelid to vote for the leader. And the Labour party has effectively no way of knowing who they might be – even if local parties tried to check the validity of the applications, they do not have enough time to do so. Ley reported that in HQ a mere 15 people are trying to check social media for unacceptable attitudes. But the problems are not about classical entryism.

Labour leadership elections are increasingly randomised, a marked contrast with the Tories who carried out a selection process which secured the choice of the M Ps. Labour’s M Ps have not just lost control of the process – which they did under the Miliband reforms – but have demonstrated this by launching a coup which seems to have relied on Corbyn not being on the ballot paper.

The NEC allowed him on, which lead to Michael Foster, ex- Labour PPC, launching a legal challenge which is the second major development. But before considering this, a few background points on the assumptions going for a dubious revolt, rather than a sensible redrafting of the rules for a mid-term election. This is increasingly necessary as the party fragments and shows the failure of the core theory of New Labour.

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This polarised leadership contest is ignoring the key lessons from our general election defeat

06/08/2015, 05:52:39 PM

by Daniel Charleston Downes

A common complaint made by public service workers about governments is that the manner in which decisions and policies made are is entirely hegemonic. The secretary of state for health, education or defence rarely has first-hand experience of those sectors they represent and if they do it was often a while ago. Added to which, politics is placed above pragmatism and the experience and knowledge of workers at the coal-face that could give a detailed account of what the problems really are.

In any analysis of the 2015 general election defeat it would follow logically that the best accounts could be given by those that fought and lost marginal seats. Thankfully this is exactly what the Fabians have done in their collected essays Never Again edited by Sally Keeble and Will Straw. This collection gives accounts of seven regions around England where Labour underperformed. It gives insight into what the successes were of CLPs directly involved in their communities and the issues that national policy and leadership were giving candidates on the doorstep.

Whilst the existence of the document itself is cause for much cheer, it appears as if the leadership contenders are coming to the wider debate about the future of the Labour party with their direction already established. Corbyn for example has in his analysis inevitably come to the conclusion that Labour were too right wing and did not provide clear opposition to austerity. This seems counter to all evidence, the near 80% of the electorate that supported a pro-austerity party and the experience of many accounts on the doorsteps. Further it completely ignores the conclusions of the Trades Union Congress survey that showed Labour were generally perceived to have been too soft on both welfare and immigration.

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Labour must use the next five years to modernise

13/05/2015, 05:52:13 PM

by Callum Anderson

Labour’s defeat has undoubtedly kicked off the most significant period of soul-searching within the party for a generation.

The general election saw a clear and total rejection of ‘Prime Minister Miliband’ and a Labour government led by him. Indeed, the defeat was so clear that we have lost our would-be chancellor and foreign secretary.

But whilst the finger pointing and blame loading is, in some ways, the nature direction of a party that has suffered losses across all three parts of Great Britain, it is essential that rather than this, we, as a party, dust ourselves off and begin to consider how we modernise and rebuild for the years that lie immediately ahead.

The first step will be to truly come to terms with not only with the election defeat itself (particularly why swing voters ended up siding with the Conservatives), but, actually, with the entire period of 2008-2015.

By far the largest error of this time was allow the macroeconomic argument to be led and defined by the Conservatives (and, partly, by the Liberal Democrats). This ultimately resulted fixing the whole concept of ‘Labour spending too much’ as the public’s mainstream view, which reared its head in the final Leader’s Question Time on 30 April.

Thus, the most pressing and overwhelming challenge facing the next Labour leader and shadow chancellor will be in devising a compelling economic narrative of progressive fiscal responsibility, whilst resolutely holding on to our core principles of self-improvement, fairness and equality of opportunity.

Equally, the Labour mainstream must also face the reality that it has fallen entirely out of sync with voters north of the border, which has resulted in the SNP being the standard bearers of Scottish voters. With Cameron likely to further stir up English nationalism that will lead to more of the Scotland vs the rest that we saw too much of in the last Parliament, Labour must be the vehicle of fair and sensible constitutional change.

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Why is Miliband struggling where Kinnock prospered?

04/11/2014, 04:40:09 PM

by Jonathan Todd

On 4 February 1975, Margaret Thatcher defeated Edward Heath in a leadership ballot among Conservative MPs. The Spectator showed the way the wind was blowing four months earlier. It would seem to be of the first importance; it reported on 2 November 1974, that Mr Heath’s successor should be someone who is not ashamed of being a Conservative.

Similarly, during summer 2010, it was felt of the first importance that Mr Brown’s successor should be someone not ashamed of being Labour – except Brown has rarely been so ashamed. He was invariably more unashamedly Labour than his predecessor, Tony Blair. The ex partner that the Labour lover wanted to get out of its system had been playing the international field for three years by the time the opportunity came around to do so.

When Neil Kinnock reacted to Ed Miliband’s election as leader by saying, “we’ve got our party back”, we might presume that Blair was the primary kidnapper. But Miliband was himself a minister under Blair and new Labour was not an imposition on an unwilling party but something that grew out of its belly. As no kidnapping occurred, Kinnock was confused.

Nonetheless, reflecting on who the “our” in “our party” are may tell us something still relevant. In the view of David Marquand, Kinnock’s “skill in manipulating the symbols of tribal loyalty made him leader”. We might speculate, therefore, that “our” are those who recognise and value in these symbols.

“Labour needs its soul back,” I was told in 2010 by someone now working for Miliband. Kinnock connected with this soul via the second of the two dimensions that, as Marquand recalled, Henry Drucker saw as forming the ideology of the British Labour movement: ‘doctrine’ and ‘ethos’. “That ethos,” Marquand observed, “is almost indefinable … Perhaps Richard Hoggart caught it best with his famous evocation of the world of ‘them’ as seen from the point of view of ‘us’”: (more…)

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Why does Paul Kenny hate wine bars so much?

04/03/2014, 06:33:01 PM

by Stephen Bush

At the beginning of the twentieth century I would have been a mongrel, in the middle I would have been half-caste. Now I’m mixed-race; and it is not a coincidence that there has never been a better time to be mixed-race in Britain than today. Language, George Orwell once wrote, “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish”. Foolish language, though, makes it all the easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Perhaps that’s why, at Labour’s special conference, I found myself shaking with anger. Political discourse is full of foolish words designed to excuse the lack of an argument; the word “neoliberal”, say, or worse still, “metropolitan”. Eighty percent of the British population lives in an urban area, so, with the exception of badger culling, you can throw the word “metropolitan” at pretty much any argument you don’t like. “Only ethnic minorities and economists think Labour got it right on immigration,” is an embarrassing sentence for political weathervanes, but the word “metropolitan” hides all number of sins.

What we say matters: the phrase “one man, one vote” reflects that the Labour Party is still a boy’s club; the phrase “one member, one vote” suggests that it doesn’t always have to be. The words that we use, and the way we use them: they shape the kind of party we are, and the world we’re trying to create.

So what kind of party is Paul Kenny, the General Secretary of the GMB, shaping when he warns Labour delegates against engaging in “wine bar gossip”?

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Labour has a foreign policy vacuum. It needs to be filled.

10/01/2014, 12:39:13 PM

by Nathan Jones

Ed Miliband and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander have given little away of their plan for Britain on the international stage. While it is not traditionally at the centre of election debate, foreign policy holds a special significance for Labour today because, despite Ed Miliband’s professed belief that it was ‘wrong to take Britain to war’ in 2003, public trust in Labour remains inextricably bound to Iraq. It is perhaps for this reason that Mr. Miliband has chosen to remain largely silent on what Labour’s foreign policy priorities would be in 2015.

Despite the many achievements of the last Labour government, Iraq still defines its legacy in many ways. Leaving the debate over legitimacy aside for now, it is clear that a lack of transparency on the road to war generated a huge deficit of trust. Blair’s popularity waned in the ensuing scandal, and was further eroded by a series of gradual, incremental revelations and inquiries which undermined New Labour’s new-found legitimacy.

Therefore it was not Sure Start, the minimum wage or a New Deal for Young People that became the party’s new epithet, but Iraq. If Labour is to win in 2015, a clear statement of international intent would go a long way to restoring public trust in a Miliband government’s ability to take the country forward.

Although policy remains patchy, there are some clues as to what Labour’s international intentions after 2015 will be. The vote on Syria stands out, when Labour forced an almost unprecedented change in government foreign policy from opposition. The decision to oppose what seemed like the inevitable move to intervention drew plaudits from the party’s leftist, anti-war support, but led others to question whether political concerns had taken precedence over the fate of the Syrian people.

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