Archive for November, 2013

Sunday review on Thursday: The not-the-London-Labour-mayor hustings

28/11/2013, 01:14:49 PM

by David Butler

When is a husting not a husting? When it is a Progress Campaign for a Labour Majority event on winning in London. That all the invited panellists, including the curiously absent Sadiq Khan, are considered potential nominees for Mayor of London was just pure coincidence.

The event was less a tale of two Londons (or One London Labour or whatever today’s vogue is) but of two de Blasios. David Lammy and Diane Abbott sought this mantle both through reference to New York’s Mayor-elect and through the language and policies on offer. Lammy provide a toned down version of de Blasio’s message, whilst Abbott raised the rhetorical and policy stakes, offering a clear left-populist platform. This, and her potential support from the remnants of Ken’s old machine, makes her a serious contender within a party and electorate to the left of the national norm. Even Andrew Adonis and Tessa Jowell, neither of whom particularly fit the de Blasio mould, referenced “two cities” and “One London” respectively.

However, in many ways, it felt like a London housing policy seminar that happened to have a different title. Both Abbott and Lammy announced support rent regulation, albeit with Lammy obfuscating by calling for “fair rents”. Lammy subsequently redeemed himself with an eminently sensible proposal to build housing on the Green Belt. Jowell warned about the impact of the mansion tax on “asset rich but cash poor” families, a rather surprising move in the circumstances; worrying about those who do well out Britain’s over-inflated housing market should not be high up her priority list. As expected, Adonis had the more innovative ideas proposing to explore shared equity schemes and a “housing bank” to take a stake in future developments in order to prevent land banking.


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Two impressions of Policy Exchange

28/11/2013, 07:50:03 AM

by Jonathan Todd

My two visits to Policy Exchange bookend the Tory modernisation project. Early in David Cameron’s leadership, I heard Daniel Finkelstein and Siôn Simon debate what this endeavour might learn from Labour’s own modernisation. Nick Boles, then director of the think-tank, dressed in suit jacket and vest, gave Simon some cheese as thanks for passing into centre-right territory.

Simon came not to praise Cameron’s efforts and Boles recently buried them. So hopeless is the Tory modernisers task that Boles, Cameron’s planning minister, now claims it cannot be accomplished within their own party. A more hospitable adjunct is required.

Perhaps things would have turned out differently had Tory modernisers heeded the insight that Simon gave them. He argued, essentially, that Tory modernisers were taking the wrong lessons from Labour modernisers. The Tories saw Alastair Campbell and thought that modernisation meant slick communication. Actually, it requires much more. What Campbell himself has called “heavy lifting”. Thinking through how traditional values can be applied in a contemporary context.

The values are the end, their policy application is the means, the heavy lifting builds new means to achieve timeless ends. This approach updated the revisionisms of earlier Labour pioneers, like Tony Crosland and Hugh Gaitskell. Cameron’s only fixed end, however, was to become prime minister. His lack of an animating purpose has left him seeming inauthentic and his administration bereft of ballast, easily knocked off its stride.


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The real reason why the Co-op saga is bad news for Labour

27/11/2013, 07:01:39 AM

by Rob Marchant

First, let’s get a few things straight. The Co-op Bank is not the Co-op Group, and is not the Co-op Party, a separate political party which sponsors MPs, among other things. Problems for one does not necessarily mean disaster for all three.

And there are two further stories currently being bandied around, both fallacies. And a third story, which no-one seems to be telling, which is the truth.

Fallacy one: the Labour Party is tainted with the scandal of Paul Flowers. Tosh.

It is no more Ed Miliband’s fault that his banker was found to have dodgy personal habits and was not apparently a very competent chairman, than it is any of the thousands of business or charitable customers of the bank who were similarly disappointed. No, the attempt to link Flowers to Labour is a rather desperate attempt by the Tories and right-leaning newspapers to succeed where they have largely failed in getting the public’s attention over Falkirk; a matter over which, in stark contrast to the Co-op, the party’s behaviour is open to serious question.

Fallacy two: the Labour Party will be broke because of the loss of donations from the Co-op. Wrong. There are currently 32 MPs sponsored by the Co-op Party who have been told, according to the Guardian, that they might face a 30% cut in funding. What is the worst that can happen to them? Well, it’s that they might have to do what other MPs do: raise funds themselves to fund their constituency offices. So what?

A bit of a back-of-the-envelope calculation: funding of the Labour Party during the first ten months of 2013, above the minimum donation threshold, from organisations containing the word “Co-operative”, amounted to the princely sum of £17,478.25 (by all means check my calculation at the Electoral Commission here). Even allowing for a margin for error, compare that to the millions the party receives annually from trade unions and you can see how ludicrous it is to think the party’s funding will be seriously hit.

The third point is not a fallacy, sadly, but it is the one no-one seems to be focusing on.


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The real reason Labour will never publish the Falkirk report

25/11/2013, 09:40:30 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday Labour members in Falkirk gathered for their annual general meeting. They elected a new party chairman, Gray Allan, and once again the party attempted to move on from the disastrous parliamentary selection process. The new chair’s first statement clearly frames the date for the new selection vote as the point where the party will try to claim closure,

“On 8 December, in Falkirk, we will select a candidate to fight this seat for the next general election. The priority for us is to work to regain the trust of the people of Falkirk so that we can be confident of a victory in this constituency.”

But no matter how much the party wants the Falkirk farrago to go away, there is a problem.

The constituency remains in special measures, Labour HQ is running the selection process and no CLP member who joined later than March 12th 2012 can participate in the vote. All of this despite the official party line being that no group or individual has been found to have broken any rules.

This contradiction is the reason the questions keep coming. The missing link is the unpublished report into the selection process conducted by Labour officials.

The report was the basis for the action taken in Falkrik and sets out the detail of what went wrong. The allegations contained in it ignited civil war within the Labour movement between the party leadership and Unite and have driven media coverage so catastrophic that Gray Allan was moved to talk about regaining “the trust of the people of Falkirk” if Labour is to win again in what should be a rock solid Labour seat.

Until the report is published, it will be impossible for Labour to successfully move on.


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Letter from Wales: Welsh Labour is damaging Ed

22/11/2013, 10:12:21 AM

by Julian Ruck

The search lights of accountability and scrutiny will always make Welsh Labour dive for the blacked out sanctuary of its pleasure cruisers bobbing up and down in Cardiff Bay. For 98 years Welsh Labour has been able to wallow in a take for granted mandate that enjoys the unchallenged absolutism of a House of Saud princeling.

Almost every day in Wales, some political scandal or other hits the Welsh headlines, be it financial, be it authoritarian or be it just plain blazing incompetence. Wales has one of the lowest performing economies in Europe, it’s education system is cheating its young folk on a grand scale and awarding them qualifications that would shame a Zimbabwean Sunday school class and not to mention that only this week the Wales Audit Office has announced that the Welsh government has blundered (yet again!) over its financial projections on reduced student fees resulting in its populist flagship now being nothing better than a clapped out rowing boat.

And of course, its health service is worse than England’s on a good day – which really is saying something!

And what does First Minister Carwyn Jones say at the September Labour conference? That he leads a government that is ‘a living, breathing example” of what the party can achieve in in power!! How on earth Ed kept a straight face on hearing this startlingly complacent, Chamberlain letter waving delusion and swansong of profound idiocy is utterly beyond the keyboard of this humble Uncut scribbler.

The question then is this: Can Ed rely on the historical Welsh Labour mandates of the past? Hegel remarked that ‘governments never learn from history, or act on principles derived from it.’ The lessons of Welsh political history would instruct Ed to take the Labour vote for granted in Wales thus proving Hegel wrong but since when, like economic forecasts, do philosophical meanderings always get things right?

There is a view that our young are politically indifferent. This may well be true up to a point, but they are still a force to be reckoned with – technological whizz and bangs notwithstanding –  and cannot be ignored. Welsh Labour can no longer rely on the generational ‘My dad voted Labour so I’m going to do the same,’ or indeed the oft quoted ‘Stick a Labour donkey up in Swansea and it will still get the vote.’


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Jeremy Hunt’s response to Francis will penalise patients while protecting the bureaucrats who cover up abuses

21/11/2013, 03:20:56 PM

by Sam Fowles

I really miss the days when the worst we thought Jeremy Hunt could do to the NHS was privatise it. At least you knew what you were getting with privatisation. But what Mr Hunt is doing, incredibly, manages to be worse. It is an act of legislative contortion which would have done credit to Mitt Romney on his most pliable days: In an (apparent) attempt to “get tough” on standards and ensure the high quality of the NHS, Mr Hunt has made certain that it cannot possibly offer anything but a substandard service.

At least one can see a logical argument of privatising the NHS. It may be exceptionally wrongheaded, but the case has a logical progression: Competing providers will force standards up as a result of their competition for consumers. The problem with this is, of course, that demand for healthcare is inherently almost completely elastic. As such, the impact of market forces on quality and price of provision will only ever be exceptionally limited, leading to monopolistic tendencies and, inevitably, substandard service. But at least there is a justification based on some sort of reasoned analysis.

Mr Hunt’s response to the Francis Report is a masterclass in irrationality.

One of the central issues in the report was poor patient care. Beds were not changed, patients were not fed; essentially the care and attention necessary for a decent quality of existence were absent. Unless the nurses at Mid Staffs spent their days playing scrabble and watching repeats of Monarch of the Glen (in my experience, pretty much the only thing on hospital television) one might perhaps assume that neglect is a function of understaffing. Stunningly this was also one of the conclusions of the Francis review.

Much of the review focused on governance issues, particularly regarding oversight organisations and community engagement (which Mr Hunt’s substantive proposals have singularly failed to address). Those sections which concentrated on the day to day running of wards recommended a more labour and resource intensive model. This is hardly surprising. One doesn’t have to be an expert in healthcare management to realise that if, as a patient, you get more focused attention more of the time, you’re going to have a better experience. The logical corollary of this is that, if everyone is to have more focused attention more of the time then the hospital might need to employ more people to provide it.


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Chile not Venezuela shows the way for the left in Latin America

20/11/2013, 05:21:12 PM

by David Butler

It is a rather remarkable sign of a country’s recovery that the daughter of a victim of the former military regime and the daughter of a member of the former military regime can face off against each other in a peace, fair and free election.

So it was in Chile on Sunday. As the votes were came in, the centre-left candidate for president, former president Michele Bachelet was brought to be brink of victory with 47% of the vote. She will face Evelyn Matthei, who got 25%, in the second round but this is little more than a formality at this stage. Her Nueva Mayoria (New Majority) coalition have won 65 seats in the lower house (with 95% of the vote counted) on the brink of the four-sevenths majority need to enact major policy reforms. This electoral victory and the progress that occurred under twenty years of centre-left rule by Concertacion are worth celebrating.

Chile’s GDP per capita was both higher and grew quicker than the Latin American average for the most of the period of between 1990 and 2010. Obviously not all responsibility belongs to the centre-left government, but they proved themselves good stewards of the economy and invested in areas neglected by the Pinochet dictatorship. Chile was not badly affected the wave of recessions sweeping the world in the late 2000s, thanks to measures taken by Ms Bachelet.

The unemployment rate under Concertacion varied between 6 and 9% for most of the period. Whilst the recession saw a spike up to 11%, the rate has dropped rapidly to its current level of 6%. Inflation has generally remained within the central bank’s target range of 2-4%, ensuring that people enjoy price stability. Yet, there are challenges that remain: the weakness of physical infrastructure and the need for economic diversification away from the copper exports as a fuel of growth are headaches that need to be soothed in the medium-term.

As noted above, the Chilean economy is relatively dependent upon copper, which make up three-quarter of their exports. A sharp fall in the price in 2008 caused this sector to shrink in values. However, the centre-left government had invested in assets using revenues from the cooper boom in the early 2000s and were able to moderate the impact of the downturn. A truly counter-cycle fiscal policy almost unique amongst commodity exporting countries, according professor Jeffrey Frankel of Harvard university. This is has ensure that Chile’s public debt remains at a manageable 9.5% of GDP. Bachelet herself introduced a fiscal responsibility bill in 2006 to further enshrine principles on which this prudence was based. Despite this fiscal conservatism, the governments of Concertacion were able to raise spending on social security and education.


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Unfortunately, no-one in British politics is serious about social mobility

20/11/2013, 07:00:20 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Everyone in British politics is interested in ending world hunger. Everyone is interested in saving the environment. And everyone, it seems, is interested in improving social mobility.

Barely a week goes by without someone sounding off about its importance. Ed Miliband makes weighty speeches about it. So does Nick Clegg. Michael Gove. David Cameron. Et cetera, et cetera.

But being interested in something is not the same as not being serious about it. Simply wanting to narrow the gap between the circumstances of someone’s birth and what they subsequently get to make of their life is hopelessly, pathetically, inadequate.

Especially when the scale of the problem is so daunting. Labour grandee Alan Milburn, the Chair of the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, describes social mobility as “the new holy grail of public policy”.

In a speech to the Resolution Foundation last week, he set out the dizzying scale of the challenge facing his commission:

“We conclude that the statutory goal of ending child poverty by 2020 will in all likelihood be missed by a considerable margin, perhaps by as many as 3 million children. We conclude too that the economic recovery…is unlikely to halt the trend of the last decade, where the top part of society prospers and the bottom part stagnates. If that happens social inequality will widen and the rungs of the social ladder will grow further apart. Poverty will rise. At best, mobility will stall. At worst, it will reverse.”

Unfortunately, no-one – absolutely no-one – in British politics is really serious about backing-up their pious invocations with practical action. An intermittent harrumph of indignation is followed well, by, nothing.


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Britain needs to have a grown-up debate on immigration

19/11/2013, 06:50:50 PM

by Callum Anderson

Marks & Spencer. Selfridges. EasyJet. Tesco. Know what these iconic British brands have in common? That’s right, they were all established by immigrants. Immigration has always been one of those issues that has never quite completely left the consciousness of British politics. However, over the last ten years, the issue of immigration has become more nuanced: unfortunately the standard of debate has not.

One Nation Labour must begin to not only tackle the right of the Conservative party and the reactionary media (I think you know who I mean), but also the legitimate concerns of citizens, some of who have become concerned with the scale of immigration. There are two vitally important elements that we, as a country, must consider: the first is to decouple race from the immigration debate, and secondly, that economic and social considerations must both be taken into account when devising policy.

But first, let’s take a look at the facts. Britain has undoubtedly benefited from immigration. Almost all Brits, regardless of background, glowed with pride at the country’s diversity displayed during the opening ceremony at the London Olympics. Whether it be through literature, cuisine, music or sport, Britain continues to lead the way in welcoming, and assimilating (although sometimes slowly) new immigrants. And the evidence shows that immigrants more than pay their way.

Recent research by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) has showed that between 2001 and 2011, European Economic Area (EEA) immigrants made a net fiscal contribution of £22.1 billion to the UK public finances, whilst non-EEA immigrants made a net contribution of £2.9 billion. In other words, immigrants contributed far more in taxes and economic output than they took back in benefits. This is to be compared to us natives, who cost £624.1 billion during the same period.


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New revelations expose contradictions in the Labour leadership’s story on Falkirk

19/11/2013, 01:36:38 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Another week and yet more twists in the Falkirk story.

Over the weekend, Unite’s response to the Labour party’s internal report on Falkirk was published by the Sunday Times (£). It sheds more light on Labour HQ’s involvement in the affair as well as revealing an important new allegation of malpractice.

To understand what happened, we need to wind the clock back to last December.

Unite had sent large batches of new Falkirk membership applications to Labour head office for approval. The bulk of these were Unite members joining the party under the terms of the now defunct “union join” scheme. This allowed Unite, or any union, to pay the first year’s membership subscription for any of their members who wanted to join Labour, as long as the application included the new recruits’ direct debit details to cover future years’ subscriptions.

Rapid processing of these applications was required if these new members were to be eligible to participate in the selection. According to party rules, new members can only take part in picking the prospective parliamentary candidate if they have “six months continuous membership of the Labour party (any constituency) at the freeze date.”

The freeze date is the point at which the selection process is declared open. Given the Falkirk selection was expected to take place in May or June, timing was tight for Unite’s surge of new recruits from November and December 2012 to have built up “six months continuous membership”.

There was almost no margin for delay.

But delay is exactly what happened. Suspicious party officials flagged several applications, worrying that party processes were being manipulated and because direct debit details were frequently missing.

This presented two challenges for Unite and Labour.

First, adding the missing direct debits would have been very time consuming, significantly delaying registration of the new members.

Second, even if these memberships could be somehow quickly readied to be put on the system, late January would have been too late to qualify if the contest was held in the first half of the year.

Labour HQ’s role in fixing these problems reveals the depth of the party’s involvement in backing Unite’s strategy in Falkirk.


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