Archive for December, 2012

It’s still the economy, stupid, which is why the two Eds should be worried about 2013

31/12/2012, 08:00:15 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The Christmas break will have been a time for some self-congratulation in Labour leadership circles. A solid poll lead, a divided coalition and high hopes for the coming year.

Ed Miliband had a passage in his stump speech on the circuit of pre-Christmas Westminster receptions where he talked about the unprecedented position of strength Labour is in for a new opposition, with such a lead at this stage in the parliament. He is factually right, but then the competition for most effective new opposition is not terrific. In the past 33 years, there’s a choice of two: either William Hague’s Tories or Michael Foot’s Labour party.

And at this point in Mrs.Thatcher’s first term, two and a half years after the election, even Michael Foot managed an average lead over the Tories of 3% (averaging the four polls in November 1981 – h/t Mark Pack and his magnificent polling spreadsheet).

When considering unprecedented political phenomena, Ed Miliband, and indeed Ed Balls, might want think more carefully about where the party stands with voters on economic competence.

Decades of polling gives a very clear message: no opposition has won an election without a commanding lead on the economy.

In 1979, voters preferred Jim Callaghan to Margaret Thatcher as PM by 50% to 31%, but still elected the Tories who led on economic issues by an average margin of 10%. In 1997, Labour led by 10% on the economy at the election, while in 2010 the Tories led by 8%.

Currently. Labour is 11% behind on economic competence and no opposition has gone on to win the next election when trailing the government on the economy, after two and half years.

Typically, there just isn’t the time left in the parliament to overhaul the government lead and build a sufficient cushion prior to the inevitable narrowing of the polls as election day draws near. Based on the polling facts, a Labour victory in 2015, from this position, would truly be unprecedented.


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Labour should not let Christmas cheer go to our heads

28/12/2012, 02:42:25 PM

by Jonathan Todd

As the Justice Collective were securing the Christmas Number One, a new, BBC comedy, Mr Stink, was portraying an aspirant politician as venal and self-serving. At the same time, Labour people were stressing to anyone who would listen – or at least their twitter streams – that Andrew Mitchell swore at the police.

While he admits doing so, and it is unedifying and disrespectful that he did, it seems likely that Mitchell has also been the victim of police conspiracy and perversion of justice. In which the police has been aided and abetted by a capricious media.

The suffering of Mitchell has been sincere and unjustified. It is, of course, nothing as compared with the pain and injustice visited upon the families of the 96 who died at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989. There are, however, some common themes: distortion of the truth by the police, driven by selfish motives and perpetuated by the industry whose failings Lord Leveson has catalogued in detail.

These themes transcend party politics. They char at the heart of what we are as a country: equal before the law; respectful of truth and justice; fundamentally decent.

It is virtually a truism to observe, as John Stuart Mill did, that the worth of a state, in the long run, is the worth of the individuals composing it. If we do not have police officers that serve justice, a media that seeks truth and politicians that hold police officers and journalists to these tasks then we have a citizenry of diminished worth, failing to uphold the most essential of British values.

To quibble over a misplaced curse in these circumstances is to confuse the crudely tribal woods with the trees that form the bigger picture. It is to give in to the tendencies that characterised the mendacious and superficial candidate on Mr Stink. Nothing would have got in the way of some personal or party advantage, no matter how small, for this sharp-elbowed sort and her equally unattractive party leader.


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Ed’s right on integration and the need to speak English, but we need practical policies to make this a reality

28/12/2012, 10:11:03 AM

by Dan McCurry

Today, Ed Miliband promised that in 2013 we will see some concrete policies that define what being a one nation party means. Good. We need them. There are many areas the detail is necessary, not least on integration.

Before Christmas, Ed made a good speech on the subject. He struck the right notes in a measured manner, acknowledging the benefits migrant communities have brought to Britain while stressing the importance of the basics such as everyone speaking English. So far, so good.

Now we need to explain what this means in practice. For those that can’t speak English, what will we do?

A practical example. In my experience, if I can’t understand my Bangladeshi client, when I’m filling out the legal aid form, then I just pass them the pen and ask them to fill in their own details. In the box marked “place of birth”, quite often, they will write, “London hospital, Whitechapel”.

Born in this country, but with language skills so bad that they cannot be understood when speaking their own name and address, the issue is lack of exposure to the English language, during the early years, before the age of three. Without good English, their life outcome will suffer considerably, yet this someone who was born in this country.

Thankfully, these days it is less and less frequent for younger Bangladeshis to suffer from this problem. They are so surrounded by English speaking aunts and uncles that the issue no longer arises.

However, it is tragic for the Bangladeshi community that it wasn’t until the third generation, that the majority of the community could speak the language of the nation of their birth fluently. And it remains a major issue for many in the first and second generations of the community.

Ed Miliband says that Labour made mistakes by believing that these things will sort themselves out. People used to say that integration will happen naturally with the generation born here. But that was wishful thinking. Many who were born here, were held back before the age of three, by the problem that they were expected to solve by virtue of being born here.


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Labour history uncut: 358 days with George Barnes

27/12/2012, 10:33:51 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

After the January 1910 election, Labour had, if anything, moved slightly backwards. But that was as nothing compared to the disaster the Liberals had experienced.

They had asked the country “who governs this nation: the peers or the people?” The voters of Britain had responded saying, “democracy is nice but ooh, feel that lovely soft ermine and listen to those posh voices. Can we phone a friend?”

This 1910 election poster foolishly pits the Liberals against a coalition of Santas

From 1906, when the Liberals enjoyed a landslide of 397 seats with a majority of more than 130 over all the other parties combined, they had slumped to just 274 seats – smaller than the Tories.

Parliament was hung (not “like a horse” but “like a legislative body where no clear majority exists on any side”) and the Liberal government was now a coalition, with the Liberals reliant on the support of the Irish nationalists to retain a majority in the House of Commons. If they could keep Labour on side too, so much the better.

The inconclusive nature of the election result meant another poll was surely around the corner.

That made for a tough year for Labour, waiting for this inevitable election. It was particularly hard for one George Barnes. He was the man in the hot seat as the new leader of the Labour party, a job that came with few perks and a dress code that included a pair of trousers with “kick here” embroidered on the seat.


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Why does the law become optional when it comes to hunting?

27/12/2012, 02:35:55 PM

by Ian Moss

The traditional Boxing Day argument about fox hunting started yesterday morning. It’s a great argument because it happens every year, on the same day, and that day just happens to be a day when not much else is happening.

For the booze sodden, housebound, tired and emotional journalist it is the Christmas present that keeps giving. Every year just before you knock off for Christmas you can ask the prime minister’s official spokesman, “are you going to repeal the hunting ban?”  The spokesman can say, “we have no plans to” and there you are – that’s your Boxing Day copy phoned in. It basically writes itself, with a quote from the League Against Cruel Sports, a quote from the Countryside Alliance, and it could probably be done by a fancy piece of sentence generating software knocking out 1000 words on the top line message of “people are in favour and people are against and here is a picture of a bloke on a horse”.

With fox hunting I always feel slightly disconnected from the debate, in that I don’t have the strong feelings against hunting that characterise people’s position in support of the ban. However, I am also convinced I don’t have any feelings at all in favour of hunting.

That’s where the cold, hard, rational logic kicks in for me. I can understand totally why people get very worked up against fox hunting. I don’t personally, but I can see why people do. What I can’t understand is why people get worked up in favour of hunting. Try as I might, once it has been pointed out that the pastime involves randomly picking on an animal to chase to have it ripped to death with dogs, I can’t see that as being something a decent person would get very involved in defending.

I have a relative by marriage that would never march for poverty, or unemployment, or war, but will march on London from Stoke on Trent to defend the right to kill foxes with dogs. That seems weird to me. Actually, all marching seems weird to me – I never quite saw the point of it and it was usually cold and often wet – but I digress. The thing is I find everything about hunting odd.

The clothes, the horns, the dogs, the killing all adds up to something I wouldn’t want to do. I even find the phrase, “ride with the hunt” rather curious. It infers some sort of passive activity that reveals a certain inner mania. “Well, I was all dressed up and sitting on my horse, trotting along and suddenly there was a hunt. So I thought, hey I’ll ride along with that”. Mainly I don’t think the phrase describes what is actually happening. It feels to me that you are not “riding with the hunt”, in fact you are part of the hunt.

I was in favour of the legislation when it came in, not an enthusiastic supporter but someone that saw it might be a reasonable thing to do.  I figured those with strong feelings against hunting had a point and so we should get on and ban it and then spend some energy on more difficult questions of the day. Hunting to me is one of those things that once it has been said “you can’t do this anymore” I look at it and think “OK, I understand, you are probably right”.

I think that is basically how other people should view it – it’s wrong, so if you did do it, stop now and move on to something else. Get another hobby. Take up paintballing or polo or, if you need the blood lust, ride round your house on a scooter killing spiders.  Even if you still like the dressing up and riding on a horse in a gang thing it is pretty easy not to break the law – just ride following a scent and lay off the fox-ripped-to-pieces section of the day.


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Sadly, neither party offers much hope for 2013

27/12/2012, 08:00:03 AM

by Peter Watt

This is my final post for 2012 and inevitably I am therefore reflecting on the year just gone.  It has been an incredible year for the country from the euphoria of the jubilee to the emotion and pride of the Olympics and Parlaympics.   Sat in the Olympic park back in early August you could feel the optimism and the pride of all who were there.  You could feel it on the trains and on the buses and in the streets as people enjoyed a sense of something shared that was good.

And it wasn’t just a London thing – I spent super Saturday watching Brazil versus Honduras in a packed St James’ Park and then watching the evening unfold on a giant screen in the heart of Newcastle.  The mood was the same, and it felt great.

Once again across the country, families will have struggled to make sure that they had a good Christmas.  They will have done all that they can to have a good time, to enjoy their time together, to party and to be optimistic.  The queues at the Boxing day sales show that people want to spend if they can and no doubt we will all be hopeful as the clocks countdown to midnight on the 31st.

But sadly, reality will soon kick in.  Because sitting behind all of the hope and optimism of the year are the hard economic truths of a flat-lining economy, flaky export markets, huge economic uncertainty in Europe, a weak financial services sector, and austerity in the public sector.

From early January families on modest incomes will lose child benefit, from April many will see their taxes rise as more are dragged into the 40% bracket.  Other families will see their levels of tax credits fall relative to prices, or the amount of support that they get to help with their disability fall.  Others will lose their jobs or have to reduce their hours.  If you are young and unemployed then your chance of finding work will be slim, not much better if you are over 50.  Fuel prices will continue to rise, food won’t become cheaper.


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A Labour Christmas carol

26/12/2012, 08:00:44 AM

by Rob Marchant

It was Christmas eve, 2012, and Ebenezer Miliband lay in his bed, thinking of how his little hardware shop was faring in the middle of this perniciously cold winter. Business had been difficult, and here was a man generous to a fault. Perhaps too generous, some said. Debt was high everywhere in London that year, and no-one wanted to make promises to anyone, about anything. But Miliband, a decent and honourable man, was always good to his creditors.

He lay and fretted about his little business, and the harsh economic climate, unable to sleep. And, as he lay there, suddenly something very strange happened: it seemed like the bells on all the clocks in the house were sounding, madly, at the same time. Miliband looked around him, startled. What on earth was happening?

And then suddenly, after a few long seconds, they stopped ringing, as abruptly as they had begun, and silence reigned again. As he turned back towards his bed, who should have quietly appeared meanwhile, but the ghost of his mentor and former business partner: Jacob Brown, esq.

Brown had been a faithful friend and backer, but had had mixed success in charge as the shop’s senior partner, before his untimely demise. In his early days, he’d been affectionately known as “Prudence”, a name which people had later stopped using, for reasons which no-one could now quite remember.

Never a man for idle chit-chat, he had obviously come with a purpose and got straight to the point.

“Ebenezer,” he said, glowering a little, “d’you think it’s been a good year?”

The shock of seeing the ghost had not quite hit Miliband yet, and his words came out easily at first. He was also not quite sure what Brown was getting at. “Well, actually, not bad at all, Jacob. Sales are up, and the competition’s had a terrible year. No-one’s buying from them.”

Brown snorted derisively. “I had a honeymoon, too, you know. Much good did it do me. But I mean, do you really think you know where you’re going?”


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Labour history uncut: bye bye uncle Arthur

25/12/2012, 08:00:32 AM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

“Is the parliamentary Labour party a failure?”

This was the upbeat title of a 1908 pamphlet from Ben Tillett. Presumably feeling he’d run out of capitalists to agitate against, he had turned his talents to stirring things up in his own party.

As well as being possibly the first #QTWTAIN in Labour’s political history, it was a cunning title on Tillett’s part. He had only to change the date on the front and he could re-publish it and still find an audience every year from then until, approximately, today.

Tillett’s central moan was that Labour was not doing enough to combat unemployment on account of the fact that its leaders were just re-purposed Liberals.

This was an outrageous accusation. Just because the majority of Labour’s MPs were either former Liberals or ex-union officials with strong Lib Lab sympathies, and just because Arthur Henderson, the new leader of the Labour party was a former Liberal agent and just because the party had actually agreed not to contest elections where a Liberal was standing and… ok, he had a point.

The Arthur Henderson paint-by-numbers kit proved surprisingly popular

There was quite a lot of common ground with the Liberals, but Labour inaction on unemployment was not policy – the truth was that party just didn’t have the votes in parliament to enforce its will.

They had tried. Labour had introduced the “right to work” bill in 1907 establishing every man’s right to employment. If work was not available the bill proposed that it was the responsibility of society to maintain the unemployed.


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Hogan-Howe will go over plebgate

24/12/2012, 07:05:58 AM

Back in October, Uncut made two predictions: that Andrew Mitchell would resign (down to the day he would go) and he would use the CCTV footage of the incident on Downing Street as the basis for an inevitable fightback.

Now a further prediction: the Metropolitan police will be looking for a new commissioner early next year. Bernard Hogan-Howe will resign.

At the moment he still thinks he can survive but this is about to change. As the new police investigation progresses and evidence mounts that key details in the log book were fabricated, the focus will move onto three areas: first, accountability for the mess; second, Hogan-Howe’s judgement over the past fortnight and third, why there wasn’t even a cursory investigation into Andrew Mitchell’s version of events at the time of the original story.

Bernard Hogan-Howe was appointed to bring more hands on, visible leadership to the Met. His reputation in his former bailiwick of Liverpool was as a leader with a grip of the detail on what was happening in his force.

Now on Bernard Hogan-Howe’s watch, it is likely that some of his policemen will have attempted to frame a cabinet minister. This constitutes one of the gravest potential acts of police corruption in recent years.

To think that at least one serving police officer could be charged and convicted in this affair and no senior officer take responsibility is inconceivable. In this context, given Hogan-Howe’s mandate, it is hard for him to abjure ultimate accountability.

Second, his judgement, over the days since Michael Crick’s explosive report, will surely be called into question.


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Sunday Review: my best books of the year

23/12/2012, 08:00:07 AM

by Anthony Painter

A sense of crisis is good for the world of thought it would appear. 2012 has been dominated by a continuing economic crisis – most particularly in Europe. There is not yet a sense that out of the wreckage of the old will emerge the new. And yet, in some of the books that have been published this year – some of which I have reviewed on Labour Uncut – there are fresh approaches that may provide hope.

The worldview of both the centre-left and the centre-right in the UK is astonishingly narrow. In many ways our political culture has become incredibly indulgent: narrow, short-term, parochial, interest driven, transactional and tactical. We only have to look at the debate about our future membership of the European Union to see that – it completely disregards the fact that we are hurtling towards irrelevance. Equally, the debate about our economic future is mired in the politics of the moment. Much of what is dressed-up as economic analysis is simply political positioning.

So it has been with relief that in our increasingly global market in ideas, research and debate, there are new ideas and perspectives if we choose to look for them. Other than fighting all the cuts on the left and fighting the EU on the right – both misguided in their own ways – where is the domestic vision for national recovery? If there is a defining feature of the UK’s politics in 2012, it is that we are embracing smallness and irrelevance with seeming self-righteous glee.

In modern times the political challenges have never been so great and the response from our leaders so poor. Perhaps more than anyone else, this is epitomised by the current chancellor of the exchequer who seems to think that national recovery is a political game. The game-players are not only on the government benches. But he, more than anyone else, symbolises the age of small politics in the midst of great challenges. Unless he and our political leaders shift course decisively then an era of British decline awaits. It is entirely avoidable.

In these books of the year, let’s hope that pathways to a bigger politics present themselves. I hope that Santa brings you enough book tokens to enjoy one or two of the following gems (in no particular order).

1. Why nations fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

The future will be defined by the institutions we build. Acemoglu and Robinson take us a tour of economic development across six continents and unlock the key to development at “critical junctures.”.Breathtaking in scope and consequential.

2. The price of Civilization by Jeffrey Sachs

Sachs has established himself as a leading critic of the new centre-left Keynesian orthodoxy. Good for him – someone has to push back against the use of Keynes to avoid real choices while conveniently ignoring the potential unforeseen consequences of much of what is proposed. But that’s not the strength of the book. The strength of this book is that he actually includes a costed plan for recovery and elimination of the primary deficit while investing in science, education, childcare, infrastructure etc.

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