Archive for July, 2013

Labour history uncut: Splitters! The fall of the second Labour government

31/07/2013, 10:24:04 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

Panic gripped the Bank of England.

By the 7th August 1931, just a week after the publication of the doom-laden May report on Britain’s finances, unhappy foreign investors were selling sterling at a record pace.

The Bank of England reported that its gold and foreign exchange reserves had lost £60m in the past few weeks in its attempt to prop up the value of the nation’s currency and keep Britain on the gold standard.

A first-ever Brexit seemed imminent. Although nobody actually used the word “Brexit” because these were more civilised times.

Only a hastily arranged £50m credit from French and American bankers was keeping the Bank of England solvent. This wouldn’t last long and future loans were in doubt – it’s hard to take a payday loan when you’ve got no payday in sight.

In order to secure more international loans to sustain the currency, a plan to pay down the deficit was needed.

Governor of the bank of England, Montagu Norman talks to Ramsay Macdonald who has chosen, appropriately, to dress as an undertaker for the occasion

The bankers wanted £80m of cuts. So prime minister Ramsay Macdonald and chancellor Philip Snowden put together a programme to deliver them, including a painful reduction of over £40m to unemployment benefit.


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Labour history uncut: How the man from the Pru turned an economic drama into a Labour crisis

30/07/2013, 04:19:25 PM

by Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal

By 1931, prime minister Ramsay Macdonald had made his choice: he was going to cut his way out of Britain’s financial crisis. Austerity beckoned.

But first, as ever, a committee.

The national expenditure committee was set up on February and was due to report in July. So obviously it became known as the May committee. Admittedly this was because the committee chair was Sir George May, recently retired as company secretary at the Prudential, but did they have to make things so confusing?

Sir George May, formerly of Prudential Assurance. “I assure you, the nation is screwed.”

Oswald Mosley, who had been unsuccessfully touting his alternative, spending-based recovery plan around the party, couldn’t take it anymore. In February 1931, he voted with his feet, resigning from the Labour party completely.

Mosley then gathered a handful of his closest MP friends to form a new party. He showed that his new party had the imagination and vision that Labour lacked, by calling it the New party.

The New party betrayed a few hints of what was to come for Mosley by forming its very own militia. This might have been frightening had it not been for their choice of nickname: the “Biff Boys” sounded less a jackbooted menace and more a carefree gay subculture.


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NHS: demotivating workers risks lives

30/07/2013, 02:05:52 PM

by Sarah Rabbitts

On Thursday 11 July, the axe of Jeremy Hunt, the Tory Health Secretary, fell on yet another A&E. In an impromptu announcement to the House, Hunt confirmed cuts to Trafford General Hospital which even took Kate Green MP by surprise. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP), Hunt explained, had finally chosen to downgrade Trafford A&E services to an urgent care centre that will be closed from midnight to 8am everyday.

Labour supporters will always be protective of the NHS. Labour created it in 1946, and it’s one of the most formidable successes of a British Labour government. It’s an even greater success if you look at the backlash Obama faced enforcing public healthcare in the US – despite being popular in his first term.

However, this is not just about protecting something that Labour established. The issue is that reducing the wrong healthcare services puts people’s lives at risk, and no one in Britain really wants to live in a country in which we invoice the under-privileged £150,000 for cancer treatment because they can’t afford healthcare insurance. That’s the reality if we don’t protect the NHS.

Under this government, Lambeth’s funding has been cut by 45% in total. This is damaging local authority provided services, like social care and leisure – the services which help the council keep people healthy and out of hospital. In addition, the government has scrapped minimum nutrition standards in schools leading many “free” schools and academies to feed their pupils junk worsening a health crisis that’s already putting a burden on our NHS.

Lambeth’s NHS specific budget cuts have inevitably lead to longer waits, fewer nurses and midwives. In addition, Hunt approved the closure of Lewisham Hospital’s A&E, despite a passionate local campaign. This is now putting massive pressure on King’s College Hospital in Lambeth, who are accepting more patients.

I have advised a number of companies on employee engagement during periods of organisational change. I’m confident that taking away annual salary increases and intensive training will de-motivate workers and will probably jeopardise employee performance in the NHS, and inevitably patient care. Recent reports, for instance, that Healthcare Assistants are being trained with DVD tutorials are also worrying, especially if it is right that these workers will be expected to take on greater responsibilities.


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In defence of porn (or at least, sensible public policy)

26/07/2013, 03:27:12 PM

by Sam Fowles

“Opting in” to porn is a band aid for a cancer. If our leaders truly care about the next generation they must forget about ineffectual pseudo censorship and tackle the underlying issues: a dearth of proper sex education and a public discourse that treats women as little more than wax models.

Conservatives are migrating home for the summer, or at least returning to political home ground. David Cameron’s “war on porn” is, from this perspective, a PR coup. Convincing his more swivel eyed party members, aghast at the imminent prospect of gay marriage, that he’s just as rooted in the social values of the 1950s as he is the economic values of the 1930s.

But, as so often happens in public policy, in all the cacophony of (male) politicians and (male) tabloid editors reminding us all that they don’t like porn, two important questions have been ignored: What is the problem we’re trying to solve? And: Will our proposed solution be effective?

Unfortunately it seems like the answers are respectively: “Not sure” and “probably not”. There is a problem with sexual morality in this country. One in three girls report inappropriate sexual touching at school, 750 000 children per year witness domestic violence and a third of teenage girls have experienced sexual violence by a partner. However, it’s unclear whether the PM actually wants to tackle this incredibly significant issue or whether he just thinks porn is a bit icky. If it is the latter then he’s about to perpetrate a fairly serious affront to civil liberties in the name of a morality that Elizabeth Bennet would find constricting. If it is the former then his proposed solution just won’t work.

In terms of the practical aspects of how internet filters will actually work, Alex Hern gives a thorough overview of the problems in the New Statesman. In essence, the generation that this measure aims to prevent accessing porn highly internet literate. It’s virtually inevitable that a way around the filters will spread throughout the country in a matter of days.

In addition a significant amount of porn is user generated. This has a more insidious social effect than the stereotypical badly lit, excruciatingly scripted, commercially made porn. While one may make women feel like they must objectify and demean themselves in order to satisfy or get attention from men and men feel like they must demean and objectify the women in their lives in order to “be a man”, the other is the manifestation of that actually happening. Yet an “opt in” porn filter will have absolutely no effect on the social media sites through which this content is shared. Unless David Cameron wants to ban Facebook, Tumblr and Snapchat (in which case he can probably wave a merry goodbye to the Generation Y vote) an “opt in” mechanism for is essentially useless.


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Letter from Wales: Still the establishment evasion goes on

26/07/2013, 09:49:33 AM

by Julian Ruck

Whatever one’s point of view in respect of political malfeasance where Westminster is concerned ,we still have the cleanest political system in Europe. It has its faults but that’s democracy for you, and call me naïve but I still believe that 99% of politicians do not set out to harm the country or voters.

They make mistakes, they are human but it’s so easy to sit an armchair and criticise. I know one thing, I wouldn’t want their job for all the political tea in China!

This being said, there is a profound difference between the political landscape of Westminster and that which obtains in Wales. Whatever else, Westminster enjoys a certain maturity, a certain sophistication of political endeavour and to a large degree, openness – one only has to consider the public accounts committee for evidence of this, not to mention the fact that scandals are at least exposed on a regular basis.

None of this is the case where Wales is concerned.

Allow me to give you just one out of many examples of Welsh political backwardness, immaturity and crude deliberation when faced with a public interest challenge.

A couple of weeks ago you may remember, I requested some interviews and comment from minister’s Edwina Hart (business and economy) and John Griffiths (culture). The former in respect of a £130m private investment in north Wales going AWOL and the latter in respect of millions being wasted on Welsh arts, more particularly book publishing.

After some blatant evasion, Welsh Labour’s head of news finally entered the fray, indeed he is now the only person who is allowed to deal with me, it seems. I suppose I should be rather flattered.

His response to my initial enquiries were, “We do not reply to blogs”, to which I replied as follows:- (more…)

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Sunday review on Thursday: Left Without A Future by Anthony Painter

25/07/2013, 10:56:34 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Breadth. That is the defining characteristic of Anthony’s book. Left Without A Future provides a clear-sighted overview of the forces – economic, societal and cultural – that are re-shaping our politics.

Daily, we see the results of these forces reported in the news, but stripped of context.  Left Without A Future provides the missing link: a narrative that explains what on earth is happening.

Whether it is the global societal changes that have enabled the Arab spring and are destroying how British political parties traditionally operate, or an economic predicament where austerity is not working yet market worries about borrowing prohibit a full-blooded state response, Anthony illuminates the common challenges that politicians across the world are struggling to address.

As the title of the book suggests, nowhere are these challenges being more keenly felt than on the left.  Europe’s leading left wing parties are in varying degrees of turmoil and the right is in the ascendant. Even in France, where Hollande defeated Sarkozy, the polls are bleak and spirits are low.

The failure of the left to understand, let alone appropriately respond to, the changing world we live in, is vividly brought to life. The analysis of Britain’s own tea party left as embodied in groups such as UK Uncut and Occupy – a rambunctious mix of uncompromising idealism and aggressive trade unionism – is as apposite as it is overdue.

Throughout the book, the insight is leavened with references to the key texts that are informing left thought (many of which have been reviewed by Anthony on pages of Uncut over the past three years.)The impression is of a left in ferment.  There is much commonality on the diagnosis but confusion on the prescription.

Left Without A Future contends that the answer lies in new institutions. Institutions  connect theory and practice, policy design and human experience. The right institutions will establish rules and an environment that shapes behaviour to meet policy goals.

It is a case that is made persuasively. Reformed, locally accountable institutions provide the only true joined-up response to an environment where the tidal currents of culture, society and economy merge and crash over our politics.


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Ed saddles up the gift horse

24/07/2013, 01:23:32 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is difficult to be anything less than delighted at Ed Miliband’s announcement on Monday that he will call a special conference next Spring to consider the findings of the Collins review.

With this move, he has simultaneously done several things: he has, critically, kept the political momentum going on the project which has now been irreversibly framed as the acid test of his leadership; he has surprised his critics by his audacious speed of action, now looking to deliver it in time for the election; he has pacified the moaners by increasing the level of democratic consultation; and, perhaps most importantly of all, largely cloned a successful model for such changes – that of clause four in 1995 – to achieve all this.

In addition, the selection of former Millbank staffer and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, who was closely involved in the clause four campaign, for the campaign team is an inspired choice; and that is because he also understands both the party grassroots and the vital importance of the objective.

Despite the usual theories that the use of this model that is proof positive of a Blairite conspiracy to “kidnap” Miliband, it is blindingly obvious that he has not embarked on a policy suite to match.

But he is at least adopting political tactics which can work.

A mere two weeks ago, Miliband was unexpectedly presented with a gift horse which might just put his leadership back on track, not to mention save his party in the long term.

Rightly, without stopping to inspect the state of its teeth, he saddled up and got on.


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A response to Labour’s military interventionists

23/07/2013, 06:51:04 PM

by Lee Butcher

Kirsty McNeill and Andrew Small’s contribution to Progress Online on “the interventionist dilemma” reopens an important but neglected debate within the party. The pre-eminence of the ‘interventionists’ (as they term it) within the Blair and Brown governments were key to how the last government acted out in the world, and the consequences that had for those on the receiving end and for the party’s popularity at home.

The silence on this matter of the party since returning to opposition has seen discussions about the future, or otherwise, of interventionism within the party largely neglected. This is partly due to the convention of opposition parties sticking close by the government on such matters, and partly to avoid reopening the barely healed wounds of Iraq. Such a debate ought to be had before returning government. On this I would agree with McNeill and Small, there however is where my agreement with their analysis ends.

There is an assumption that runs throughout their article that British intervention overseas is not just desirable, but is of critical value to ourselves and to the rest of the world. They make a rather curious assertion that because of American withdrawal from foreign commitments a future Labour government will need to immediately budget for doing so ourselves. Though they do not explicitly say so, one would ask if this would be done on a unilateral basis. This view would seem to be contradicted by an example they cite, Libya, which was done with close co-operation with France. The evidence would strongly suggest that if it is not the Americans we accompany into such pursuits it is our European partners. To believe that the United Kingdom can aspire to going it alone does not take into account the size and strength of our armed forces and what they are capable of achieving. This has been made plainly clear by the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

If McNeill and Small get their way and Prime Minister Miliband instructs Chancellor Balls to budget for increased military spending while critical spending at home is being squeezed, they will quickly find they lack the support of their Labour colleagues in Parliament and vast swathes of the electorate. For all the recent support for the military, spending on wars abroad remains unpopular when schools and hospitals are falling to pieces.


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Revealed: Party bosses open way for big money to dominate parliamentary selections with unlimited candidate mailings

22/07/2013, 07:33:22 AM

by Atul Hatwal

New guidance from party bosses has transformed the basis of Labour’s parliamentary candidate selections. Previously, candidates and their campaign teams had operated on the basis of a strict limit of three mailings to party members during a selection contest.

Now, it seems there is no limit on the number of times a candidate can mail members, as long as the mailings are supplied by endorsers. These endorsers could be unions, businesses, voluntary groups or individuals.

The Labour party’s rules governing parliamentary candidate selection were apparently water tight,

“2.4 Each candidate may produce for general distribution

  • one printed leaflet or letter no larger than A4, delivered plain or in an envelope
  • two items, each no larger than a double sided A3 page. If any item is delivered in an envelope it may consist of (at a maximum) 2 A4 sheets of paper rather than a single A3 sheet.”
  • Third party endorsers were allowed to supply mailings to the candidate for distribution to members, but these were previously thought to count as one of the three candidate mailings.

    However, a clarification from Alan Olive, regional director for the London Labour party reveals that the strict limit on mailings is not so strict after all.

    Queries were raised by candidates in a recent selection on the numbers of mailings allowed, following one candidate sending four mailings.

    Uncut has seen e-mail correspondence with the London Labour regional director which makes clear that the number of mailings is unlimited, as long as they are from an endorser. The key part of Alan Olive’s e-mail states,

    “That’s correct. A third party may produce whatever they like although they don’t have the membership details to enable delivery. Candidates cannot pass membership data on but of course a third party could give you their mailing including stamps, for you to attach membership labels and post.”

    The revelation that candidates can have de facto unlimited mailings would seem to contradict the intent of Ed Miliband’s recent speech on one nation politics. As well as announcing a reform of Labour’s relationship with the unions, Miliband dealt with fairness in the parliamentary candidate selection process, stating,


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    Transparency Mr Cameron? Not when it comes to Lynton Crosby

    20/07/2013, 07:00:16 AM

    by Michael Dugher

    On Wednesday, David Cameron finally unveiled the long-awaited lobbying bill called “Transparency of Lobbying.” The irony of this title has not been lost given that the last week has been dominated by the continued refusal by the prime minister to shed any light on his discussions with the tobacco lobbyist and chief Tory strategist, Lynton Crosby.

    David Cameron has now been asked at least twelve times whether he has ever had a conversation with Mr Crosby about cigarette packaging – and he has refused to give a straight answer every time.

    In a car-crash interview with Channel 4’s Gary Gibbon on Thursday, which was reminiscent of the famous Jeremy Paxman/ Michael Howard interview when Howard refused to answer a straightforward question a total of twelve times in succession, Cameron repeatedly refused to answer the simple question: have you ever had a conversation or had discussions with Mr Crosby about tobacco and plain packaging?

    Each time, Cameron responds with the carefully constructed, legalistic reply: “I have never been lobbied by Mr Crosby on anything”.  This clearly does not answer the question.

    So why is David Cameron being so evasive?  It is instructive to look back at the timeline of events to see how the Prime Minister got to this embarrassing situation.  In November last year, Cameron appointed Mr Crosby as a strategy advisor.  Just a few weeks later, Mr Crosby reportedly met with the prime minister, the chancellor and the prime minister’s chief of staff at Chequers to discuss the contents of the forthcoming queen’s speech.  Then, in the queen’s speech in May, the government dropped its plans for standardised tobacco packaging.

    Last week, it was also revealed that Mr Crosby even chaired a meeting late last year where members of the tobacco industry discussed how to block the government’s plan to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packets

    So what was discussed at the meeting at Chequers and other meetings Cameron had with Mr Crosby before the queen’s speech?  Reports have suggested that Mr Crosby told Cameron to “get the barnacles off the boat” by concentrating on core electoral battlegrounds and abandoning certain legislation.  If Cameron actually never had a conversation about tobacco policy with Mr Crosby, he should simply say so now.


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