Posts Tagged ‘Pat McFadden’

A question of competence

19/04/2012, 10:00:21 AM

by Pat Mcfadden

For most of the period since the election, the government has been pretty successful at setting the agenda, particularly around the central question of tax and spend.

The spending cuts they have put through, they argue, are done more in sorrow than in anger and although these are tough decisions it’s really all Labour’s fault for letting things get out of hand.  This has been the dominant narrative.  Labour’s counter argument that the growth of the deficit was a necessary (and internationally replicated) step to stop recession turning into depression has struggled to be heard.

That was the framework of UK politics until recently.  But something has changed.  I don’t believe this is the politics of specific measures like the granny tax or the pasty tax.  There have been plenty other individual measures people have disliked in the past two years but they have been largely accepted because of the acceptance of the dominant political narrative.

What has changed is the public’s judgement about the government’s competence.  In other words, the key change is no single measure but rather the different lens through which the government is now seen.  Put bluntly, people will forgive a government a lot of unpopular measures if they think the government knows’ what it’s doing.  They will be a lot less forgiving if they think they don’t.

The key break point was petrol.

Whatever the outcome of the current negotiations in the drivers’ dispute, the queues outside filling stations a couple of weeks ago were unnecessary and dangerous.  I don’t know if the government whipped this up because they wanted a strike story or because of “genuine” incompetence but it doesn’t really matter.  The public know that the government screwed up.

There was no need to tell people to rush to the filling station, and certainly no need for the stuff about jerry cans.  No strike had been called and seven days’ notice is required anyway.  Petrol delivery and use is a very delicate just-in-time process.  We are highly dependent on it and essentially, the nation’s fuel stock is in the tanks of our cars.  Any unnecessary upset in that system is irresponsible and dangerous.  Better and safer advice would have been to store stamps in jerry cans.

This petrol screw up has changed the way the public are looking at other decisions.  The government is losing the benefit of the doubt on the budget issues around pensioners’ taxes and VAT on hot food.  Suddenly they look more vulnerable.  For the first time in two years, Labour has an opening.  Of course it remains to be seen whether we can take advantage of it, but the opening is there.

The importance of this competence question should not be underestimated.  People are less ideological than most politicians think.  They will often believe in some things advocated traditionally by one party and some other things advocated traditionally by another.  Of course in the end it’s a choice on a package of these.  But whatever the ideology of a government, the voting public expects them to know what they’re doing.  For the first time since the election, that is now in doubt.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East.

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The week Uncut

31/07/2011, 10:00:07 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Rachel Reeves on Osborne, bad excuses and growth (or lack of)

Patt McFadden on Norway, and what it means to be Labour

Atul Hatwal’s end of season review of the shadow cabinet championship

Peter Watt’s take on refounding Labour

Matt Cavanagh reports on the latest Tory attack on troop numbers

Tom Harris on the far right, the far left and jihadism

Kevin Meagher says Gideon is letting the side down

… and Dan Hodges abandons his post and goes to Lord’s

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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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Economic slow-down: it’s not the snow, it’s confidence

25/01/2011, 04:00:02 PM

by Pat McFadden

When this government was elected they decided to cut public spending sharply and ditch Labour’s industrial strategy at the same time. The first obviously got the lion’s share of the headlines, but two events in recent days have highlighted the folly of their second decision.

First, Sir Richard Lambert chose his final speech yesterday as director general of the CBI to bemoan the lack of vision from the government on what the future UK economy might look like, or any plan for the future. He talked of politics triumphing over sensible policy on a range of issues from aviation policy to the immigration cap to the cash starved local enterprise partnerships, which are being set up in place of regional development agencies. As Sir Richard pointed out, “it’s not enough just to slam on the spending brakes. Measures that cut spending but killed demand would actually make matters worse”.

Second, this morning’s GDP figures came as a shock to markets. And George Osborne’s attempt to blame the snow will fool no one. The really worrying thing about today’s figures is that they come before the impact of the VAT rise and the spending cuts which will kick in from March. Rather than snow, I suspect the real impact has been on confidence, which is why responsibility must lie at the door of the government. (more…)

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The Tories can’t have the Irish crisis both ways

23/11/2010, 03:00:55 PM

by Pat McFadden

The UK government has been determined to paint our economic situation as a domestic one, blaming the Labour government for the deficit and thus for their response to it in terms of the spending cuts set out in the CSR. This politically-led approach to the crisis also requires them to play down or ignore the international nature of it. After all, the more they talk about common problems being faced by countries across the world, the more threadbare their case against the previous government becomes. It can’t all be Labour’s fault if a number of countries are going through the same difficulties.

You could see this approach reflected at the recent G20 summit. Instead of shaping the agenda as Britain did when Gordon Brown chaired the G20 summit in London last year, we appeared to play a marginal role, with little to say about how countries should work together, or what the response should be to the exchange rate tensions and the discussion of trade imbalances that dominated the summit. When the prime minister was asked what he had been doing at the summit, he said that he had been lobbying for England to host the 2018 world cup – a good goal to aim for but not the reason he was there.

Enter Ireland, with a flight of deposits causing a crisis of confidence in the country’s economy – and this after the country has implemented the kind of austerity programme the UK government is setting out on. Yet when government ministers talk of the Irish economy’s problems, they don’t want to talk about the Irish government’s fiscal policies. No. They insist that In Ireland the issue is all about banks, not the actions of the government.

This contradictory stance exposes their political strategy in the UK. How can it be all about banks in Ireland but all about Labour government profligacy in the UK? The truth is that the last few years has seen the unfolding of a banking crisis across the world to which governments of all stripes have had to respond. In the UK, the Labour government responded in a way that was determined not to let recession turn into depression. That’s the reason for the deficit, not government profligacy. And in the same way, it is a banking crisis that lies at the core of Ireland’s economic problems.

I hope the Irish economy recovers. It is true that as neighbours and trading partners, it is in the UK’s interests to have a healthy and stable Irish economy. But it does no one any good for our government to offer one version of events when it comes to talking about our own economy and another one entirely when talking about others.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East and a former BIS minister.

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We’ve had dissent and discipline, it’s time for debate and dialogue

05/11/2010, 03:00:08 PM

by Jessica Asato

This week I did something 99.9% of the population didn’t. I took part in a Labour party branch discussion about reform of partnership in power (PiP) – the party’s policy-making process introduced in 1997.

Liam Byrne has been put in charge of leading the review process which will conclude in June next year and changes to policy arrangements will be agreed by party conference. As Pat McFadden states at the start of the consultation document, “now, in opposition, the time is right to have a fundamental review of our policy making process”. Actually, I don’t quite agree with that. We should have reviewed and improved policy making when we knew the top of the party was failing to communicate with the membership and nipped it in the bud. If your footsoldiers are unhappy about the direction of the top brass they will be less willing to do their best in the fight on the ground.

In fact, a number of things about the document don’t quite make the grade. It states “Partnership in Power has in most people’s eyes been considered a success”. What, seriously? No one at my branch meeting seemed to think it had. Even its assertion that PiP helped to “deliver election winning manifestos in 2001 and 2005” is pushing it a bit far when a) most of the new policy in those manifestos were formulated in the Downing St policy unit and b) PiP also helped to procure an election losing manifesto in 2010. (more…)

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The week Uncut

17/10/2010, 04:04:00 PM

George and Liam have been fighting again. And it looks like the defence secretary is claiming victory on this one. Other departments are likely to be less lucky as the Chancellor sharpens his knife ready for the spending review on Wednesday.

But this week was all about Ed. He entered the chamber as the young pretender. The media waited for the slick PR machine that is the PM to swat him aside. Ed stood up, a little shaky at first, and then, very slowly but surely he started hitting him. And he didn’t stop.

Yes it was only his first PMQs, and there are plenty of rounds to go, but he did something very important. He gave the Labour benches something to really cheer – for the first time in a long time.  Cameron now knows what he is going to face week in week out. The game has changed – the new boy knows the rules, and can play rough too.

In case you missed them, here are Uncut’s best read pieces of the last seven days:

Dan Hodges interviews Ed Miliband’s consigliere, Peter Hain

Tom Watson promises the new boss that he’ll stop behaving like a child

Siôn Simon gives his verdict on Ed’s first PMQs

Jessica Asato makes the case for the Oxbridge wonks

Pat McFadden offers a sensible review of the Browne report

Anthony Painter kicks off a debate on the role of the state

James Watkins says Labour mustn’t leave the countryside to the Tories

Uncut looks at the new generation front bench

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Pat McFadden on the Browne report

14/10/2010, 04:05:16 PM

Student finance always combines policy with highly combustible politics. And so it is with the parties treading round the Browne Review as if it was an unexploded land mine, accompanied by headlines about degree costs running into tens of thousands which alarm students and their parents alike.

But first, step back. Many similar headlines were around in 2004 when legislation increased fees to £3,000. Since then participation has continued to rise, including from low income groups, confounding predictions that fear of debt would put off prospective students. Upfront fees were abolished, making higher education free at the point of use for students. Graduates paid but only when they were earning. And safeguards were built in to write off debt if graduates took time out of the labour market to have children or had low lifetime earnings.

There were also less welcome consequences of the 2004 changes. Charging no real rate of interest on loans had the unintended side effect of limiting student numbers because it costs the state more to borrow the money for the loans than it gets back in repayments. So although participation has gone up, universities are still held back from taking on as many students as they would wish because it is too expensive for the government. (more…)

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Shadow cabinet: vote for Pat

21/09/2010, 04:58:32 PM


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Don’t go to war over the deficit, says Dan Hodges

29/07/2010, 09:35:19 AM

Compare and contrast. First, Ed Balls, on why he’s battling to win the leadership race:

“I will carry on fighting to stop unfair tax rises and the withdrawal of essential benefits, I will carry on fighting to defeat a coalition hell-bent on cutting public services, putting up VAT, cancelling new schools and turning recovery into a double-dip recession.”

Next, Pat McFadden’s speech to the Fabian Society:

“Had we won the general election there would still have been difficult decisions to come. Unless we absorb that, I believe there is a danger of being tuned out by the electorate. By contrast, acknowledging it increases the chance of our fight against what the government is doing being heard. ‘Fight the cuts’ is a tempting slogan in opposition, and there are indeed some that must be fought. But if that is all we are saying the conclusion will be drawn that we are wishing the problem away.”

Two statements, two weeks apart, highlighting one very big problem facing the party. Just what is our policy (or, come to think of it, our line), on the deficit? (more…)

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