Posts Tagged ‘Tom Harris’

Week 5 of the campaign: the good, the bad and the ugly

03/05/2015, 12:20:13 PM

Uncut’s weekly review of the campaign looks back at the events of week 5.

The good

Labour’s sharpened up its act in Scotland

Labour nationally finally focuses on the SNP threat, and zeroes in on the exactly right message against nationalism: its fundamental pettiness.

As Tom Harris MP, sometime of this parish, put it:

While the best line of the Glasgow rally from Miliband reflected the same theme: “Nationalism never built a school”. A genuinely superb encapsulation of all that’s wrong with the SNP.

New arrivals

Uncut sends our congratulations to Lisa Nandy, Labour’s candidate in Wigan, and her partner Andy Collis on the birth this week of their son, Otis. A Wigan party spokesman has said that the shadow minister for civil society, “is incredibly grateful to the NHS staff in Wigan for their amazing care and dedication. Lisa would also like to thank people across Wigan for their kind words and support during a very busy time.”

For better or worse, Otis won’t generate the same volume of media coverage as the Royal baby. Whether this torrent of national and international reporting will have any impact on the 2015 election remains to be seen but at least Labour should (hopefully) have a future voter in Wigan, ready for the 2035 election.

Celebrities for Labour

Labour is winning the celebrity war. Where the Tories have Katie Hopkins, Labour has Stephen Hawking. Tom Watson will be taking Steve Coogan campaigning in Battersea, Croydon Central, Bermondsey & Old Southwark, Brentford & Isleworth, Harrow East, Ealing Central & Acton and Hornsey & Wood Green on Monday and Tuesday. I’m sure Coogan used to mock Ross Kemp as part of his stand-up routine but that didn’t stop Kemp giving Wes Streeting’s campaign to re-take Ilford North for Labour a boost.

The celebrity intervention to generate most headlines was, of course, Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband. As Brand reflected on the compatibility of capitalism and democracy, Miliband’s mind might have wondered back to discussions around the kitchen table as he was growing up. Nonetheless, he seemed more at ease in a video released by the Labour Party akin to something from Question of Sport. Simon Hattenstone painted Miliband well in a Guardian interview in March, which revealed Miliband’s eagerness to converse with Ronnie O’Sullivan. The video shows that Miliband has not only had his chat with O’Sullivan but used it to win him over to Labour.

It may be that Labour needs snookers to get back into government. In which case, Miliband could have uncovered a new guru at a most opportune moment.

The Bad (more…)

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The party machines might not know it yet but political parties are dying

13/12/2012, 07:00:31 AM

by Peter Watt

Political parties are strange constructs where by necessity a coalition of views is encapsulated under one brand.  So you have the campaign group and Progress all sharing the Labour banner or left leaning Lib Dems sharing a party with the orange bookers and so on.

To put it even more colourfully, it means that Frank Field and Jeremy Corbyn can share the same political colours!  While there will be some shared world views of course and certainly a degree of shared culture and history, actually it is often more of a case of “vive la difference” or “damn your principles and stand by your party” depending on your view or current mood!  And the reason for this is that it is important for two very good reasons.

Firstly, when it comes to elections voters are offered a relatively easy to consume and unified approach from a small group of potential political alternatives.  Debates around the direction of travel and then the detail of policy happen within the parties in order that common policy stances can be offered to the public.

And secondly, that there is a reasonable chance of a stable administration being formed after the votes are counted.

There are other benefits of course.  Political parties have been excellent institutions at identifying and developing potential future political representatives.   They also allow a forum and focus for the discussion and development of policy positions as the wider environment changes.  All of this relies on party discipline and a desire for unity to work; and the system has generally served the country well for many years.  And at election times people have voted for their preferred party rather than their preferred candidate.

But slowly such certainties are changing.


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In Alex we trust

21/02/2012, 01:10:41 PM

by Tom Harris

When I launched LabourHame in June last year, I thought it would be fun to initiate a semi-regular column entitled “Questions To Which The Answer Is Er…'”

The point was simply to expose some of the more glaring inconsistencies in nationalists’ arguments and to poke a bit of fun at them in the process.

So, for example, we asked “Why are the SNP so reluctant to re-regulate the bus industry?” “Does the largest party in a hung parliament always have a right to form a government?” And  “Would the euro be good for Scotland?

Each of these questions is aimed at a particular Achilles heel in the nationalists’ armoury: their receipt of a million pounds from Stagecoach owner Sir Brian Souter; the SNP’s insistence that in 2007 Alex Salmond had the exclusive moral right to lead a government but in 2010 David Cameron didn’t; the party’s long-established (and continuing) support for ditching sterling in favour of the euro.

What was remarkable was the response from nationalist readers of, and contributors to, LabourHame. Was there even a hint of defensiveness or disagreement about their party’s inconsistencies, as there is in every other party? Not a bit of it.


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Sunday Review on Monday: The Iron Lady

09/01/2012, 08:00:44 AM

by Tom Harris

Margaret Thatcher is an interesting person. Hers is a fascinating story, crammed full of controversy and drama. The first woman ever to become British prime minister, she destroyed the miners, defeated Galtieri, defied the IRA, presided over record levels of unemployment, poverty and social unrest while enjoying unprecedented electoral success. Her dramatic rise to the top of the Tory party and her ruthless dispatch after nearly a dozen years at Number 10 is the stuff of Shakespeare.

So it was inevitable that her story would, at some point, be captured on celluloid, the former PM herself being portrayed by a noted and established actress. Whether you consider Thatcher the heroine or the villain of the story, her biopic was one that everyone with even a passing interest in British politics or social history would queue to see.

What a pity, then, that they made The Iron Lady instead.

It’s quite legitimate, of course, to use the device of an ageing woman succumbing to the early stages of alzheimer’s in order to tell a back story through flash backs. Unfortunately – and frustratingly – they seem to have done it the other way around. The Iron Lady is primarily about using a few very brief glimpses of Thatcher’s premiership in order to tell the fictionalised story of her loneliness and her imaginary arguments with her late husband, portrayed (unfairly) by Jim Broadbent as an intensely irritating individual.


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Tom Harris’s election email to Scottish Labour members

29/11/2011, 01:00:35 PM

As leadership ballot papers arrive through members’ letterboxes, I want to remind you of the task Scottish Labour now faces.

Political recovery starts with acceptance: not just acceptance that we lost, or even acceptance of the reasons why we lost. But acceptance that we deserved to lose, that the electorate is never wrong.

Too often, Labour gives into its instinct to blame the electorate for our failings and we spend the next four years telling the voters that it was they, not us, who got it wrong. And when we do that, we lose again. And deservedly.

And if it wasn’t the voters who got it wrong, then we blame the leadership. They ignored the wider party, says received wisdom, and produced a manifesto that the grassroots had no say in. An easy excuse, but just that: an excuse, with very little truth to support it.

The fact is that May 2011 was a rejection, not of a manifesto or of a leadership: but a rejection of our party. A party so set in its ways, so convinced that it and only it has the answers to the challenges facing Scotland, that it stopped saying anything interesting or relevant to the Scottish people years before that cataclysmic election defeat six months ago. The seeds of our 2011 defeat were sown many years earlier, not in the few weeks of the campaign.

There persists a myth – and it is a myth – that Scottish Labour rejected New Labour and Blairism because we were too socialist. Wrong. Scottish Labour rejected Blairism and New Labour because we were too conservative.

The ability to change has never been one of our strong suits. That’s why we’re in this mess now.


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Tom Harris’ speech launching his campaign to be Labour’s candidate for first minister

03/11/2011, 11:55:17 AM

This contest must be decided on the qualities that matter

by Tom Harris

Two months ago, I became the first person to announce I wanted to stand – not as a candidate for the leadership of Scottish Labour, but as Labour’s candidate for first minister. I made that announcement because nearly four months after our dreadful result in May, there still had been precious little debate about the future direction of our party and how we could restore our electoral fortunes. There had been precious little debate, either, about the challenge of nationalism and the threat posed to Scotland through the break-up of the United Kingdom.

So, in the absence of virtually anyone else making the case for Labour or against the nationalists, I stepped forward.

Since then, I have led the debate on the future of our party and our nation.

In September I proposed the setting up of a standing commission on devolution, modelled on the successful Calman commission, so that decisions about which powers should in future rest with Westminster or with Holyrood could be decided on an rolling basis and, crucially, be evidence-based. (more…)

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Politics – at least it keeps the weirdos off the streets

18/10/2011, 07:30:13 AM

by Tom Harris

As with many previous political scandals, it was my wife who offered a sane perspective.

“When you were a minister, you went on foreign trips, didn’t you”?

“A couple, yes”.

“Well, if you’d told me that you were taking our best man with you on one of them, I would have thought that was nice. But if you’d taken him on 14 of them, I would have asked if I could come instead on at least one of them”.

Which pretty much sums up how odd “Foxgate” (do we really have to call it that)? actually is. And how odd its main protagonist is.

Not that Liam Fox is any weirder than your average high-flying minister, because there’s something of the oddball in anyone who reckons that a career in politics is an acceptable way for a grown up to earn a living. (more…)

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How the mighty are fallen

03/10/2011, 09:10:35 AM

by Tom Harris

Annabel Goldie is a nice woman. She is intelligent, likeable and formidable in almost perfect proportion. And it is a cruel irony that only in a pre-devolution era could Annabel ever have been considered as a serious candidate for the post of Scotland’s first minister.

In the week when she delivers her swan song as Scottish Tory leader to her party conference, she will have cause to reflect on the past and future of the party she has led since 2005. And to consider whether or not it actually has a future.

And as my own party continues to come to terms with our defeat in our heartlands and whether or not we have a future, we might feel a twinge of sympathy with Annabel.

A feeling common to us both is frustration. There are capable, principled people in both our parties who continue to be denied ministerial office. In our case we hold out hope that the drought might end in four years’ time. For the Tories things are even worse; barring some unprecedented political earthquake or extinction-level event such as a collision with a stray asteroid, they are doomed to be neither the largest party in Holyrood nor the preferred coalition partner of any other party – even the Scottish Lib Dems wouldn’t be seen talking to them publicly. Things in the playground are rough indeed when even the weird kid who eats stuff for money won’t play with you.

The frustration of opposition is part and parcel of democratic politics, but we’re the Scottish Labour Party, for crying out loud. Scotland is where we weighed votes, went the old (and wrong) received wisdom. Annabel’s frustration has the same root: hers is the only party ever to win an actual majority of the popular vote in Scotland (50.1 per cent in 1955, for the anoraks among you). And now? (more…)

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Three little words: why Tom Harris is serious about being first minister

13/09/2011, 01:00:18 PM

by Tom Harris

Ah, the working class disease!

A couple of weeks ago a radio interviewer asked me if I was serious about being a candidate to succeed Iain Gray as leader of the Scottish Labour party. Ever mindful of the tendency of Scots to mutter, “I kent his faither” – in other words, “Who does he think he is?” – I mumbled something about only wishing to smoke out Westminster’s “big beasts”, Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander.

Understandably, the SNP issued a gleeful press release stating that I was my own third choice for leader. Only ten minutes into my campaign and I had already made a rookie mistake. You have to want the position you’re going for. You have to want it bad.

And I do.

When, in 2007, Labour lost power at Holyrood by the slimmest of electoral margins possible, I realised that Labour’s position as the traditional repository of working class votes was going the same way as our briefly-held reputation as a safe haven for middle class voters – down the tubes. I felt strongly then that I could do more good for my country/countries and my party by relocating from Westminster to Holyrood at the first available opportunity. I talked it over with some journalist friends, all of whom were entirely encouraging. I also talked it over with my closest political confidante at the time, David Cairns. He was less encouraging. I’ll leave further details of our many conversations at that for the time being.


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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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