Archive for November, 2011

The Euro: no more agonising stages

22/11/2011, 09:58:27 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“If your action must be drastic, do it in one fell swoop, not in agonising stages”.

This was Isaiah Berlin’s interpretation of one of Machiavelli’s maxims. The Euro crisis unfolds in stages; each more agonising than the last.

A couple of weeks ago rapid and drastic action may have created a firewall between Greece and the rest of the Eurozone. Shock and awe of 2008 proportions did not come. The markets remain ahead of the politicians.

Henry Kissinger still wouldn’t know who to call if he wanted to call Europe. If he did get through he’d say: “Why don’t you fix your biggest economic crisis since the 1930s”? (more…)

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Loan sharks: the government’s gonna need a bigger boat

21/11/2011, 01:43:31 PM

by Stella Creasy

For 18 months now, many of us have been trying to sound the alarm about the legal loan sharks who infest Britain’s consumer credit market. These companies now lurk in every high street and across every web banner. Their increasing presence indicates not only the desperation of families who find too much month at the end of their money, but a systemic failure to tackle our financial culture. Britain has always had a credit habit much bigger than our European neighbours. But those who blame our current consumer credit crisis on a public living beyond its means fail to understand the pressures now driving millions into debt – or the importance to our economy of doing something about it.

For more and more Britons, debt is a fact of life, as food, energy and transport costs soar. Aviva has revealed 52% of UK families owe £10,500 on average, on loans, credit cards, overdrafts and other unsecured debts, a figure equal to half the average annual UK household income. The consumer credit counselling service identify 6.2 million households as financially vulnerable. Half of these are already either three months behind with a debt repayment or subject to some form of debt action such as insolvency.

For many, it is that very willingness to borrow for the future that has made them so vulnerable. New analysis of financial services authority figures estimate that the total number of mortgages in arrears, in possession or subject to forbearance is 1.2 million. This equates to nearly 11% of total outstanding loans in some form of financial distress. (more…)

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The lesson of Philip Gould: give your life to Labour

21/11/2011, 09:04:21 AM

by John Woodcock

Much has already been written about the wonderful man that Philip Gould was, and the amazing tributes that his family and friends paid to him at his funeral last week.

I knew Philip late in his life, and comparatively slightly. He was always so kind and encouraging to me, as he seemed to be to everyone – however junior – who played a role in the fight to get Labour re-elected. The iPod he bought me as a reward for a particularly good week as a researcher in the 2005 election campaign has long since bitten the dust, but I hope the infectious joy he brought to the task to which he dedicated his life will remain forever.

Right up to the end, Lord Gould was a recruiting sergeant to the battle for a modern Labour party. His last words to me – as I am sure to many others – were basically just to get stuck in.

So the funeral gathering at All Saints church in London was striking not only for the way it captured people’s love for a very special human being and one of Labour’s most dedicated and important servants. It was a reminder of just how much breadth and depth of talent and experience the Labour party has – talent we need to make sure we fully harness for the battle ahead.


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Sunday review: Attlee memorial lecture by Jon Cruddas; The Labour party in perspective by C R Attlee; and Small man: big world by Michael Young

20/11/2011, 02:33:50 PM

by Anthony Painter

Jon Cruddas has turned the biographical political speech into an art-form. His recent Clement Attlee memorial lecture is no exception. In the last year or so he has tackled three, in many ways forgotten or at least distant, Labour party leaders: Keir Hardie, George Lansbury, and now Clement Attlee. This one on Attlee touched on a fundamental historical divide within Labour in a quite profound way.

Labour is divided between romantics and pragmatists. It’s not about new versus old Labour. It’s not about trade unions versus the party or socialists versus social democrats. There are romantics, who emphasise the ideal, the human, the ethical, the relational and the communitarian. Pragmatists emphasise power, policy, practicality and process.

The former have dominated our emotions as a party; the latter have driven the party’s leadership. As William Morris once said, to that arch-technocrat Sidney Webb, “the world is going your way at present, Webb, but it’s not the right way in the end”. In a single quote that sums up the elegiac history of Labour’s romantic disposition. (more…)

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The Cameron myth is broken

19/11/2011, 12:51:49 PM

by David Talbot

18 months ago an exhausted Conservative leader limped through the famous black door of 10 Downing Street. His rise to power had until then been effortless: Eton and Oxford were followed by political pupillages under Messrs Lamont and Howard. Having skilfully manoeuvred his way to the leadership of his party in late 2005, he had successfully returned his party to power after the first Tory-free decade in modern history. Facing a disintegrating Labour party, and a visibly exhausted, not to mention reviled, Labour prime minister, he had become accustomed to a charmed political life, so much so that his aura permeated almost every inch of the British political domain.

Cameron has been lucky, especially in how little attention has been paid to his record as a leader that is as much about failure as success. His government is now beset by many of the same problems after 18 months that the previous Conservative government suffered after 18 years: the depth of backbench distrust; the re-emergence of rampant Euroscepticism; the lack of an overarching political narrative and the sense that, because of factors beyond its control, this is a government that is in office but not in power.


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Tribute to Alan Keen

19/11/2011, 08:00:26 AM

by Amanda Ramsay

Alan was a very good friend and always found time to meet and to advise, with a wicked sense of humour and wit so dry, it was positively arid. He was always quick to help, without exception. He was a constant support, when deciding to stand as a Councillor in 2002 and then when seeking selection to be a Labour prospective Parliamentary candidate for the 2005 general election.

We shared a love of football and would go to games, my first at the Emirates in fact, which was a big thrill. A former talent scout for Middlesborough FC and life-long fan, he was hugely supportive attending meetings in the House of Commons and offering advice when as a Merton councillor, myself and colleagues on the Labour Group were fighting to support AFC Wimbledon and their search for a ground, attending a match with me in Sutton and doing TV interviews to raise their profile.

Back in May of this year he wrote very warmly via e-mail, expressing great sympathy for my search for full-time paid employment.  It was then he dropped the bombshell, he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer the previous December, after experiencing increased breathlessness while playing football. It was all the more shocking as he’d never smoked and was so vehemently focussed on health and fitness, playing football regularly and being very weight conscious.

Back then, Alan thought it very unlikely that anything else would occur, reporting that his tumour disappeared after just three weeks and head and bone scans were all fine. Six weeks of radiotherapy and his consultant had given him a clean bill of health. I made my blood boil to then hear people deriding his appearance, when he sat on the committee for culture, media and sport and heard the now infamous Rupert Murdoch evidence back in July.

Then last weekend, reading over his last email, reminded of his humour: “when my hair grows again I will be back to normal. I frighten myself when I look in the mirror”. Anyone who knows Alan will almost be able to hear him say this.

Alan always had a smile on his face and did not take life too seriously. He was non-egotistical and well-respected by those who knew him well.

Though not close mates in recent years, I will miss this very softly spoken, gentle man. Rest in peace, Alan and thank you for always finding time for me.

Amanda Ramsay worked alongside Alan Keen in the House of Commons.

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The white collar crunch: unemployment rising fastest for senior execs

18/11/2011, 08:00:52 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The headlines this week were rightly dominated by the dismal news that youth unemployment crossed 1 million. But hidden amid the thousands of statistics released by the government, Uncut has uncovered figures that show a new and unexpected group beginning to feel the impact of the downturn.

Unemployment amongst senior executives has rocketed by 13% in the past year, significantly faster than the overall 7% rise in unemployment and even faster than the 12% rise in youth unemployment.

And while the increased unemployment rate for women has been in the news, in the top “managerial and senior official” category in the labour market figures its men who have been hit hardest.

Over the past year, unemployment amongst male senior executives went up by 14.3% while for women the rise was 10.7%.

At the other end of the job scale, levels of unemployment for unskilled workers rose, but by 4.6%, substantially below the headline average.  In the semi-skilled “process, plant and machine operative” category meanwhile, unemployment actually fell by 18.1% over the year.

Although the rise in absolute numbers of unemployed senior executives is comparatively small at 18,000 and their new unemployment rate of 3.3% is a world away from the 12.3% unemployment rate amongst unskilled workers, it will still potentially have disproportionately significant results.


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Whip’s notebook

17/11/2011, 01:00:13 PM

by Jon Ashworth

It got no publicity, not even in my local paper, but a month ago I joined the front bench as a whip. I never expected it. Indeed, on the day Ed called me I was out shopping with my wife and baby in Leicester’s High Cross Centre. I didn’t notice numerous missed calls on my mobile till much later that afternoon. When offered the job, though flattered, I wasn’t even sure whether I should accept it – after all I’ve only been an MP for five minutes (well 6 months), I’m no expert on Parliamentary procedure and still trying to find my way around the Commons.

But here I am a month or so later: a member of her majesty’s opposition whips office, working with Sadiq Khan’s justice team.  That means not only am I busy reading up on my Erskine May, beginning to understand what a programme motion actually is, I’m also trying to get to grips with the government’s legislation on justice issues.

The other week was my first big moment whipping our side on the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill in the Commons for report stage and third reading (i’m even talking like a whip now). We had three days for debate and scrutiny in the Commons before sending it off to be considered by their Lordships. It ought to have been a reasonable amount of time but the government introduced something called an instruction motion at the start of proceedings, allowing the government to effectively introduce pages and pages of new clauses, new schedules and new amendments – in other words reams of new policy which hadn’t been debated, discussed or seen by anyone previously. Consequently, huge sections of the bill were never properly scrutinised by the House.


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Celebrity stitch-up: the game show coming to a CLP near you

17/11/2011, 07:30:11 AM

by Peter Watt

Hoorah! I am delighted to see that we are well and truly into selection season again. It means that we can expect many more stories of the “it’s a stitch-up” genre.

Because selection stitch-ups are the stuff of activist legend and fantasy. They contain all of the elements that excite: corrupted internal democracy, re-interpretation of rules, officious officials, favours being done for favoured sons and daughters and the rights of the local party being impinged. Lovely. Still, good to see that in Thurrock, at least, the new generation and Ed’s new politics have all come to nothing. Nope, in selections, at least, it all looks like good old fashioned business as usual.

I personally find it all a little bit bizarre. Why don’t we just grow up a bit and either recognise the current system for what it is or if we don’t like it change it.

The current system of selections for parliamentary seats is in theory a model of democracy. Rules and regulations enshrine the rights of local members to select their candidate. But in reality, various powerful factions load the dice in their favour. The leader’s office will have a pool of candidates that it wants selecting. The trade unions another block. There will be groups of candidates that differing factions will see as being broadly okay and will therefore help: all within the rules. And other groups that differing factions will see as broadly not okay, and they will not be helped: all within the rules. Of course not all of the factions will get their way. Not every one of the leader’s candidates will get selected. But proportionately, the impact of the favoured and not favoured will be high. (more…)

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PR summits can’t mask a return to 1980s scale unemployment

16/11/2011, 10:54:07 AM

by Michael Dugher

As expected, figures released today show that unemployment has risen again. It now stands at over 2.6 million – up 129,000 on the quarter and a 17 year high. Aware that more bad figures were on the way, David Cameron has arranged a “business breakfast” to “discuss youth unemployment” at Downing Street. And over at the department for business, innovation and skills, Vince Cable is to hold an “apprenticeship summit” for the TV cameras. But with the economy continuing to flat-line, for the now over 1 million young people out of work, gimmicky breakfasts and PR summits for the media are not enough.

Rising unemployment is an inevitable consequence of the lack of growth in the economy. And as yesterday’s OECD report highlighted, the UK slowdown happened well before the latest crisis in the Euro zone. Today’s jobless numbers mean that more than ever we need a real plan for jobs and growth.

As the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, has set out, there are five clear steps the government can take immediately. First, a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses would fund 100,000 jobs for young people. Second, bringing forward long-term investment projects would help get people back to work and strengthen our economy. Third, reversing January’s damaging VAT rise would help high streets as well as struggling families. Fourth, a one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements would help homeowners and small businesses. And finally, a one year national insurance tax break, for every small firm which takes on extra workers, would help small businesses grow and create jobs. (more…)

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