Posts Tagged ‘New Labour’

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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For Labour, the “cost of living” debate is dead

17/12/2013, 09:53:44 AM

by Alex Chalmers

A month ago, the next election was going to be decided by “the cost of living crisis”; the electorate would see through the economic growth figures, feel the pinch, and elevate Ed Miliband, scourge of the energy fat-cats, to Downing Street. The government’s response to the energy price freeze was inconsistent and unintelligible, the public seemed to love the policy, and for a moment, the opposition looked like it had a leader. Yet within a few weeks, Labour’s poll resurgence had turned into full-on retreat. Today, YouGov has Labour’s lead down to 2 points.

So what went wrong? On a very simplistic level, elections are not won or lost on one policy. An idea, even a popular one, cannot hold media or public attention for more than a fairly short period of time. Unless it is part of a broader theme or narrative, and is followed by a series of other well-timed announcements, it will quickly become buried under a tide of other news stories. Labour cannot agree on one policy and prepare to collect the keys to Number 10. The public liked the sound of it, some other things happened, and then they moved on. If Miliband truly wishes to define the next election in terms of the cost of living, then he has to say a lot more about it.

Unfortunately, this is something of a recurring theme. At the height of the NHS reorganisation fiasco, the next election was going to be about that, but once the reforms started to be implemented, the party suddenly quietened down. A limp half-hearted campaign based on the Twitter hashtag #dropthebill unsurprisingly made little impact. Retweeting to the converted does not an election win. Nothing was made of the collapsing patient satisfaction ratings, whilst the attempts to focus on staffing levels were wrought with statistical errors and easily batted away by the government. The NHS is now in the headlines again, but Labour appears to be making no effort to communicate its message. In the days of New Labour, the media operation would have been ruthlessly hammering five key pledges home, trying to make sure the issue caught the public imagination. Ed Miliband’s “Zen-like calm” interspersed with cries of, “same old Tories” is simply no substitute.

The party’s strategy of choosing a key issue and promptly forgetting it is going to cost it dear come the next election. For the vast majority of its term in office, the coalition has managed to frame the main debates. It has managed to paint Labour as the public spending bingers and the friends of the scroungers.


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Small can be beautiful when it comes to the state

05/09/2013, 01:44:19 PM

by Paul Connell

It’s not meant to be easy being a lefty. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

Being so at the moment is as testing of stamina as ever.  In the face of a global financial crisis that has demonstrated the truth of just about every criticism of capitalism ever made, the alternatives we are offering, or being offered, seem scant.

Ed M and every other European mainstream socialist party leader must be casting nervous glances at France where electoral victory has soured so quickly that le pauvre Hollande has managed to pass from glory to ignominy without passing through indifference. He is paying the price of disappointed expectations, curious as he didn’t actually raise any except not being Sarkozy, on which he has done quite well. There’s that and there is the Mori-Ipsos poll of generation Y which suggests a strong rejection of welfarism in the shape of redistributive tax and benefit policies by the electorate of the future.

Let us leave aside for the moment the question of the contribution of public spending to current economic woes (answer – not much). Let’s just acknowledge that there isn’t going to be the money for a large scale regeneration of state-run services anytime soon and people aren’t going to vote for a party proposing it. Back to the future won’t work. Labour has to plan for government without a commitment to expanding the state.

Of this necessity let us construct a virtue. Where, after all, is it written that socialism means a big state, generous benefits or “something for nothing?” Lots of places, in fact, but let’s leave that as a rhetorical question.

Having spent the best part of the last 30 years working in the UK public sector at local government, civil service and voluntary sector levels, I experienced periods of austerity and spending booms. Clearly, periods of plenty were more enjoyable than the thin years but it wasn’t as simple as big spending= good, low spending = bad.

When Labour got back in in ‘97 and after the brief reign of Queen Prudence, we had an explosion of czars, rollouts and initiatives, followed by a breathless rush to delivery. Delivery of what? Not results but evidence of results.  Local Authority departments became machines for recording performance indicators.

Take one example, school exclusion. It had been well established that children excluded from mainstream schooling were at higher risk of low attainment, early parenthood, criminality and substance misuse. Evidence based policy dictated that kids should not be excluded.  So they weren’t. Some great work went into keeping difficult kids in school and supporting teachers to keep them there. Some, inevitably, were just too difficult. So, many no longer went to school but, with a bit of imagination, could be found another designation for their status and the excluded box didn’t have to be ticked. Success!


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The Tories are creating a Mid Staffs of the criminal justice system

01/05/2013, 04:18:10 PM

by Dan McCurry

The government’s reputation for incompetence shows no signs of abating, as they mimic the management ethos of Mid Staffs hospital and apply it to the criminal defence service.

These are government proposals which are to be applied to solicitors’ firms providing advice in police stations and courts. They propose the removal of choice of solicitor from the service user, in order to create a greater economy of scale and drive down costs. But, by doing so they will remove the competition which drives up standards and establish a local monopoly, rarely the most effective model to promote efficiency.

Consider this scenario. Your son has been arrested after his friend got into a fight. Your son was there when the fight happened, but wasn’t a part of it. However, he then prefers to say nothing to the police, because he doesn’t want to get his mates in trouble. The police interview will be much quicker if the lad makes no comment. The solicitor advises him to speak, but he doesn’t push the issue when the lad objects. As a result, your son refuses to answer police questions and this leads to a £10k trial where the young man is acquitted after he gives his account at court.

In the above scenario, the legal adviser gets paid regardless and cannot be criticised, on paper. He or she has also generated a fee from a trial. Your son’s A level results are effected by the several months of stress and distraction. You and your son cannot influence whether this solicitor gets more work or not, since there is no longer any personal recommendation. There is no competition.


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Ed needs to be clearer about what one nation Labour is not

18/02/2013, 07:57:43 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“‘You know something? It’s really quite satisfying when you help people to fulfil their dreams like that.’ ‘Christ, you fucking fascist,’ Tim said.”

This exchange between Malcolm Glover, a 1980s building society manager, and his son, Tim, features in Philip Hensher’s sweeping The Northern Clemency and comes after Malcolm helps a couple buy their council house. The formalities of this sale conclude thus:

“‘Goodbye, Mr Glover,’ the husband said, shaking his hand, ‘and thank you.’ He let go and, turning, took his wife’s beloved hand, and together they walked down the stairs. Malcolm watched them go with pleasure.”

The positive content of new Labour sought to appeal to voters like the grateful couple: attentive to their aspirations and eager to serve them. Notwithstanding this positive content, new Labour was immediately vivid because it clear about what it was not: the old Labour, the no-compromise-with-the-electorate vehemence of Tim.

New Labour connected with aspirant voters by relentlessly showing itself to be different from a Labour party that would deem it “fascist” to sell a council house to its tenants. It was new Labour because it was not old Labour.

Of course, this old Labour was always a caricature. The Labour party of Clement Attlee, Barbara Castle and Neil Kinnock was never as indulgent and disconnected as Tim Glover. The right to buy, for one thing, was a Labour policy before it was a Tory policy.

The sense, however, that Tony Blair’s election as party leader marked a year zero was reinforced early in his leadership by painting the past as an old Labour wasteland. Blair was the change that the country needed because he had the strength to move his party beyond the likes of Tim Glover.

The longer Blair was leader the less well this crude and simplistic contrast served him. What had cast him in broad strokes as a new leader came to motivate suspicion about him in the party later in his premiership.


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Labour’s swing voter problem

02/07/2012, 07:00:22 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Over the past 2 years a myth has taken hold within the Labour party: the fable of the lost 4 million working class votes. Votes that Tony Blair secured in 1997 which Labour had lost by 2010. The Unite political strategy mentions it and this factoid has been a staple at the union conferences this summer.

The implication being  that Labour needs to recast its platform to attract these missing supporters rather than chase after pesky, centrist swing voters. It is the core vote strategy, reborn.

For those that can remember Labour in the early 1980s it is all eerily familiar, right down to the same wilful ignorance on the evidence.

At the last election, YouGov’s eve of vote poll – which successfully predicted Labour and Tory vote share to within 1% – identified the Tories as the most popular party among working class voters: 32% of the social demographic C2DE backed the Tories, 31% Labour and 26% Lib Dem.

Given that the Tories were the preference for working class voters, it seems fantastical to believe that moving further to the left will magically win a majority of this group.

But evidence and logic do not seem to be highly regarded qualities among Labour’s myth-makers. The story has taken hold and the absence of voices challenging such nonsense is tantamount to intellectual self-harm.

The renewed emphasis on the core vote seems to be driving a decidedly half-hearted attitude to swing voters for Labour. The mood music from the party’s leaders continually reiterates the desire to move on from triangulation, emphasis on the centre ground and New Labour’s campaigning approach.

It might sound good at the podium, and even feel good in the warmth of the applause. But outside of Labour audiences, in the real world of voters, the electoral damage is already becoming evident.  It might seem strange to say this given the polls, but when looking at actual votes in real elections the danger signs are already apparent. The recent London elections shine a light on Labour’s lack of progress in winning back territory held by the Tories.

London provides a unique electoral laboratory because it held local elections on the same day as the general election in 2010, and then mayoral and assembly elections this year. In both cases, the ward level data is available which enables a unique comparison of how millions of voters have shifted their views over the past two years based on real elections rather than snapshot polls.

Labour’s current lead in the opinion polls is stable at almost 10% and the party needs a swing from the Tories of roughly 5% to form a government.

For Labour to be on track to move into government, in the London election, the party should have won a comfortable clean sweep of Tory wards where a swing of 5% was required. Ideally Labour would have won wards requiring a swing of upto 8% to come near to the current poll lead and ensure a solid working majority.

But it didn’t.

In London, research by Uncut reveals that there were 61 wards held by the Tories vulnerable to a Labour swing of 5%. Taking the assembly elections as the best comparator to 2010 (rather than the mayoral election which was more driven by the personalities of the candidates), Labour managed to win in 31 wards.

This means that Labour failed to take 49% of the marginal wards it should have.

Granted, London does not define the position around the country, and there are specific regional factors, but this result does provide an indication of what is likely to be happening elsewhere.

Despite the government’s omnishambles, Leveson, the recession and the budget, Labour missed out on half of its ward targets against the Tories.

In comparison, in wards already held by Labour, the party went from strength to strength. The average increase in Labour vote in Labour wards was 13%. Lots of votes there.  Shame none of them are worth much under first past the post.

If anything comparable were replicated at a general election, despite the current poll lead, Labour would fall substantially short of government.

This is the true result of the myth that has taken hold in the Labour party. Large national poll leads and an incompetent government cosset the party and keep us happy in our comfort zone. But when voters go to the polls in real elections, swing voters aren’t swinging.

The base is motivated. It’s turning out and small Labour majorities are becoming landslide leads. But marginal Tory wards are staying just that. Tory.

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut

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The return of toytown politics

08/05/2012, 05:36:41 PM

by Ian R. Stewart

Back in 1990, with thirteen million people refusing to pay the poll tax and the country in uproar, Neil Kinnock lambasted the unsavoury collection of Trotskyites in the SWP and Militant (now the Socialist Party; TUSC; Respect; Left List; take your pick) as being “toytown revolutionaries”.

He was right, as very few of them had ever been willing to take responsibility for their actions, or seriously made the kind of hard choices that even Liberal Democrats are willing to make these days.

Put simply, these people refuse to accept the reality of the world around them.

Yet toytown politics is not dead, in fact it is thriving, don’t just take my word for it, watch “The Wright Stuff” on Channel Five, or “The Daily Politics” on BBC2.

Or, closer to home, just read the blogs, tweets and articles of various hoary old “New” Labour hacks online or in the press.

Toytown has relocated to the media & Westminster village, where today we hear the nonsensical calls from some for Ed Miliband to stand down after a massive victory in England and Wales, spanning from Cardiff to Great Yarmouth.


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Cumbria was always New and Blue Labour

21/12/2011, 04:04:15 PM

by Jonathan Todd

No less an authority than Lord Mandelson has declared New Labour dead. Dan Hodges has called time on blue Labour. But the revisionist principles driving New Labour long predate it and will surely outlast it. They stretch back to Eduard Bernstein via Tony Crosland and are timeless. As Lord Mandelson certainly knows, they cannot die. And the quest for belonging in a globalised age that underpins blue Labour shows no signs of losing its resonance as we continue to live through globalisation’s biggest economic crisis since the 1930s.

If the revisionist principles of New Labour are un-dead and blue Labour retains significance, perhaps Labour’s future, as both David Miliband and James Purnell have postulated, lies in some fusion of New and Blue Labour.

Labour’s future, in other words, is Cumbrian.

New Labour made Labour’s peace with business; reconciling Labour’s values of social justice with a pro-business attitude at ease with globalisation. Little could be more open for business than a national park which welcomes around 12 million visitors annually, the largest concentration of nuclear expertise in Europe and a vital production facility for BAE Systems, the third-largest defence manufacturer in the world. If New Labour means being pro-business, then New Labour is Cumbrian.


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