Thursday, 22 July 2010

Link to LabourList article 16.7.10

Read original article here

Since the general election the membership of the Labour Party has increased by thousands, albeit from an historically low base at the end of the last government. These new members do include some disaffected Liberal Democrats but there are also a huge number of brand new members - people feeling inspired and motivated for the very first time to get involved in politics and attempt to make a difference.
This surge in membership is a direct result of the horror at the new coalition and their determination to attack the poor with their policies on benefits cuts, tax rises and attacking civil servants, schools and massacring the NHS. The large numbers of younger members could also be inspired by the yes we can political attitude of the Barack Obama campaign in 2008, with the electorate in the UK now seeing a political struggle ahead and wanting to use their youth and dynamism to get things done. It would be arrogant of Labour to try and take credit; we are leaderless, largely policy-less and local parties do not, frankly, have the best reputation in terms of accessibility and openness. On the back of Labour's worst electoral result since 1931 meltdown and deep depression within the grassroots party would be a more predictable outcome, but there is a real feeling of hope and energy as a result of the new membership.
There is no doubt there is a real opportunity for the Labour party to rebuild from the grassroots upwards and to create an effective movement to support the opposition parliamentary party across the UK. The challenge now is to absolutely ensure that new members and activists are kept enthused and fully engaged in the long period between the leadership battle and the next election. We need to keep talking, listening and ensuring that the Labour Party is the diverse, hardworking organisation it needs to be in order to win the next election.
To capitalise on the new energy each local party needs to adapt and make sure that new members are not bogged down in acronyms, fustiness and cliques and that we become as visible as possible within the community. We can do this by offering ourselves as a community service; whether we're educating people of what the budget means to them, which school programmes are under threat, or just listening to their concerns. How do we do that? Door knocking yes, newsletters, yes but we also need to be out and about talking in more 'natural' environments, the more members a CLP has, then the more subtle campaigning is going on every single day in cafes, bars, libraries, playgroups and schools. As well as this we also need to be a community force, use our local website to hold vital community information, make sure we have a presence at every event, let us have a friendly, open, face that enables us to be a vital part of every area, not just a distant Westminster force. We need to find our new message and deliver it with our new voices. Our fight starts now in every constituency in Britain. Or, in the words of a brand new member, Rachel Reid:
"...we need to focus on getting back our voters..and for them to believe once again that Labour is the party to make this country one that we can ALL be proud to be part of..."

Are we nearly there yet?

As end of term in parliament approaches one gets the impression that the coalition will relish their summer break before all hell breaks loose with the Autumn Spending Review.
Michael Gove has been converted from a cool, sharp ex journalist to an paranoid ranter during his appearance on Today with Sarah Montague; weeks of Ed Balls crawling all over him seem to have taken their toll. He is currently fighting on two fronts after the terrible way that the Building Future Schools project was scrapped with unclear and badly prepared information along with widespread criticism from the opposition, back-benchers and teachers to the speed in which the Academies Bill is being rushed through the house for September. No one can understand why they are being pushed through, particularly when so many points are still so unclear and the time to debate them is running out.
Vince Cable is likely to appear even more ashen than in recent weeks following the news that his Graduate Tax proposals which were launched with much fanfare last week in London are now likely to be shelved in favour of a more direct transaction between graduates and their educational institutions. And, as discussed on the blog last week....
Andrew Lansley's NHS proposals have not had a positive reaction from the public; there is the feeling that the reorganisation is unnecessary and a thinly veiled attempt from the Tories to move the NHS towards denationalisation. Ahem, we certainly didn't vote for that Mr Lansley....
Nick Clegg managed to make such a hash of PMQ's (see previous post) that Number 10 was forced to clarify what he was trying to say, as well as no doubt giving him a ticking off for his assertion that the Iraq War was 'illegal'. Dave won't be leaving him in charge for a while....
And lets not forget Cameron himself who made a crazy claim that the UK was a junior partner in 1940 in the fight against the Nazi's. That's a junior partner to the USA, who didn't enter the war until 1941. Oh dear Dave...are you trying to upset everyone?

Clegg's Clangers

Can anyone tolerate Nick Clegg anymore? How did he fool so many? Watching him this week as he covered PMQ's for David Cameron was an uncomfortable experience. Granted, Jack Straw did go on a bit and his questions were rather long winded but Clegg's performance was arrogant, waffling and evasive; he attempted humour with a couple of gags about Straw's age but this did nothing to enhance his first appearance at PMQ's. He gave the impression of someone who was a little over excited to be there, and couldn't resist the opportunity to attack the previous government, even though the vast majority of his points were so irrelevant that the speaker had to put him back on course. Straw's six questions focused on Afghanistan and the Sheffield Forgemasters loan.
On Afghanistan Clegg clarified the coalition decision that UK forces in Afghanistan will be withdrawn from combat by 2015. This is after General Sir Mike Jackson said he was “wary” about setting down dates before Afghan troops were ready to take over the job of securing their country.  Given the unpredictable and fragile situation in Afghanistan, it does seem ill advised to set anything in stone and one can't help wondering if this is a box to be ticked prior to the next scheduled General Election in 2015, cynical but I can picture it now....celebrations and elation as the last troops arrive home from what will surely be by 2015 the bloodiest war in a generation, followed weeks later by polling day.

Clegg did not take the opportunity to be so clear on the continuing issue of Sheffield Forgemasters following the the challenge to his reasoning for cancelling the loan. Clegg had told the house that the loan was cancelled because the company's directors were unwilling to dilute their shareholding in the firm; however in a letter leaked since Clegg actually acknowledges that the directors were willing to do this. The issue was raised as a point of order on Tuesday in the House and the Speaker, John Bercow, advised that these issues should be dealt with in front of MP's. However, Clegg failed to use the opportunity to make an apology or even admit his error- instead he followed in his boss's footsteps when there is a tough question to be answered, and simply reminded us about the deficit; and then claimed that this was the reason for cancelling the loan. This issue is one that Labour will not let go of; it is especially sensitive for Clegg given it affects those in his constituency, Sheffield Hallam. His approach to the issue was rather disinterested; at no point did he acknowledge that this was a blow to the organisation or that this was a loan, rather than a grant. There is of course no chance of a U turn on this issue, but it is certainly one that has captured Labour's imagination and for that reason it won't go away....
Number 10 was then forced to make a statement that Clegg was voicing his own opinion when he described the Iraq War as illegal, a fair point but a bizarre choice of statement during PMQ's when you have a bunch of Tories behind you, all but 15 of which voted for the war! And was that George Osborne nodding along as Nick made this gaffe? Says it all really...
So all in all a bad PMQ's for the coalition and for Clegg in what could of been his opportunity to shine. The Labour Party were always going to go on the attack, but he really didn't help himself either.


Friday, 16 July 2010

The mask is slipping....

It was only a matter of time; after a regressive budget and numerous announcements relating to cuts affecting the poorest the ConDem coalition has finally touched Britain's rawest nerve - the NHS. After campaigning on the promise of ring-fencing the budget and no further 'top down re-organisation' the government published their NHS White Paper on Monday leaving Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham by his own admission, close to tears. Andrew Lansley defended the paper in the Commons on Monday, but it was left to a struggling Francis Maude to confront Burnham and the hecklers of Bexhill-on-Sea on Question Time. The public are finally beginning to question the coalition and their actions; Lansley's proposals will cost a staggering £1.7bn at a time when the NHS and the electorate would rather that all money is directed towards front line services. The proposals aim to rid the NHS of a costly bureaucracy by scrapping Primary Care Trusts (PCT's) and instead placing budgets in the care of GP's, a new NHS Commissioning Board and Local Authorities. The biggest shake up will be for GP's who will have to form consortia and will be responsible for buying services for their patients from 2013. This will add a new dimension to the role of many GP's who will, in many cases, lack the skills and expertise to perform these accounting roles. For those who fear for the long term future of the NHS itself there is an extra dimension of concern. Private health care providers will now be able to offer their services to GP's, meaning that companies could effectively undercut the NHS in order to 'win business'. Anyone fancy a Virgin branded brain scan? Its no wonder that Kingsley Manning, business development director at Tribal, welcomed moves which the firm said "could lead to the denationalisation of healthcare services in England". For those of us who have a fundamental fear of mixing healthcare with profit this is a worrying statement.
There is further muddy water surrounding the core principles of the coalition when it comes to the NHS. Whilst they are keeping their election promise to ring-fence spending there is concern that the resulting severe cuts in local government could have a detrimental effect on the NHS; without effective social services, social care and elderly care it will struggle to exist and safely discharge vulnerable patients. Furthermore their insistence that the targets put in place by Labour are ineffective and bureaucratic means that we could lose the two week cancer promise and the 48 hour GP appointment guarantee; measures which are popular with the electorate.
And let us remember, these are reforms that nobody voted for - they were not mentioned in any manifesto or the coalition agreement- and thus the government has no mandate to carry them out. NHS staff and their unions will be watching closely as the debate rages on; but we can be assured that the coalition will not be able to sneak through such radical reforms without a fight.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Labour Uncut Article - Posted 9.7.10

Link to original article
In 1997 my entire family voted for Tony Blair. We were genuinely thrilled as we celebrated the landslide. I was 21 and optimistic after a lifetime of Conservative government.
Fast forward to 2010 and only half of us still gave Labour our vote, with my mother making it very clear that this was their last chance. Interestingly, of the Labour voters, two of us are now members. We both got involved in the election campaign and felt passionately that Labour was the right party, on policy across the board and particularly to get us out of the recession.
But what about the rest of my family; what went wrong?

I should explain what sort of family we are. We are working class, although arguably we have moved to a more middle class existence. Within the family we have diverse careers and salaries. We have had a fair and moral upbringing. We live within our means and aren’t greedy. Here are the things that I believe defined and changed our politics, and those of other families, in the past 13 years.
1. The Iraq war. This led to me leaving the Labour party for 4 years and it was the final nail in Tony Blair’s coffin for my parents. This was an illegal war, without the backing of the British public and the first and only time I saw my mother get politicised (she even considered coming to London for the march). It felt as though Blair had completely lost interest in Britain and our domestic issues and that he was already cosying up to statesmen all over the world and getting into America’s back pocket in preparation for his post-politics millionaire lifestyle. This is history, and cannot be altered; but it was still not forgotten by the electorate in 2010.
2. Gordon Brown. Three of us were fans of Brown, cut to two after the Gillian Duffy affair. Despite the disappointment and frustration of all with the Blair spin years we discovered we didn’t want the alternative either. Brown unfortunately proved that you can’t be a 21st century PM unless you can act up for the media, smile naturally and play Mr Nice Guy. Substance, it seems doesn’t win you votes. People, and it would appear my family included, prefer someone with more charm and gloss to lead the country. There is no doubt that Labour has learned its lesson. All the leadership candidates are more media savvy, friendly and malleable than the former prime minister
3. Immigration. We are not a racist family. Nevertheless, my parents – like millions of other Labour and ex-Labour voters – are from the Duffy school of thought. When I ask them what negative experiences of immigration they have personally experienced they don’t have any answers. It is a perceived issue and their evidence includes: random stories from the Daily Mail, increased parking and traffic problems, Latvian neighbours (whom they very much like) and a lack of English spoken in a nearby High Street.
Yet both work closely with foreigners and are interested in and respectful of other cultures. Pretty depressing, but unfortunately their reasoning is far from unique amongst working class Britons. The leadership candidates have all agreed that complaints about immigration are often a smokescreen for other social issues such as housing, transport, poor town planning and run down areas. We all know that cultural diversity adds to our society, but that doesn’t appease people who see their immediate geography changing and link it with immigration almost by default.
Andy Burnham seems to be the only candidate speaking with an understanding of the average working class person and their concerns on this issue. It is not an easy subject, and some might argue that Labour were in the process of tackling it with their points based system, but this simply wasn’t communicated well enough. Clearly, we are in the EU and we can’t change history with regard to the east European immigrants, many of whom are no longer in the UK. The solution? Continue to educate and do not be afraid to celebrate the benefits of our society while listening to what the electorate actually wants, and maintaining an open, mature debate.
4. The Media. My family got scared. They read about the deficit and decided it was a big, dark monster that was going to get us if Labour got back in. They didn’t read complex economic analysis or read articles by leading economists. They heard a figure and it had the desired effect on them. They also saw how the media only printed pictures of Gordon Brown grimacing, frowning, mouth agape or in an equally unflattering pose. They believed that most of the people on benefits were lazy, undermotivated layabouts sponging off the government. They thought that all teenagers in baggy clothes talking ‘street’ were trouble. In essence they believed that Britain is broken.
It is too soon for the press to fall in back in love with Labour. But who knows – as things turn sour for the ConDem coalition maybe the nation will embrace an Ed, a Miliband, an Andy or Diane. The country nearly always leans to the left when a Tory government is in power, and surely this pattern will be replicated, especially given the regressive politics of this government.
On the positive side: what made me and my sister get involved and continue to do so post-election? We believe in right and wrong. We simply don’t think it is right to take away benefits from the poorest, cut spending in areas where the most vulnerable need support and let the rich continue to get richer. We don’t mind paying our taxes if it makes Britain a better country. We will happily pay our fair share and more if necessary.
We want to see the gap between rich and poor reduced, we want each child to have an equal start in life, we want to celebrate the tolerant and diverse Britain that we live in. Our lives improved between 1997 and 2010. We bought homes; we travelled; we have never been unemployed; our gay friends don’t encounter prejudices; we don’t experience sexism and we live in a fair tolerant society that we all helped to create. Our job for the next five years is to ensure that as life in Britain becomes harder, tougher and more unequal we are fighting for a fairer country as part of the Labour party.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The sun is shining..everywhere but Westminster

PMQs was a drab and somber affair today. Harriet Harman used her questions to tackle home office cuts resulting in pointless ping pong across the dispatch box over whether the number of police will be cut, with Cameron refusing to answer; surely the electorate have the right to know the truth, we aren't interested in smart one liners on issues like this. Cameron is becoming increasingly cocky during PMQ's, perhaps as he gets more comfortable his arrogance will be harder to hide?

Another week has passed, and no one can accuse the coalition of being inactive; we are getting daily updates of cuts, planned legislation changes and policy ideas all of which seem to follow their increasingly concerning pattern of cutting wherever possible and with little regard for the outcome.

We are also starting to see the first PR disasters coming out of the government; this week Sir Alan Budd's hasty resignation from the newly formed OBR caused some discomfort and Michael Gove made an unforgivable error in the Commons on Monday night when he read out the wrong list of schools to be scrapped.
As if the building of 700 new schools being stopped wasn't enough, many projects were thought to be safe until lists printed yesterday by the DofE told them otherwise; a further 25 are affected. The education policy is looking increasingly bizarre - we've now seen the encouragement of academies and free schools everywhere; scrapping of free school meals for the needy, cutting new, needed projects and all the while the government is still protecting the charitable status of private schools. 
Meanwhile in the yellow corner Nick Clegg is busy setting up websites asking us which laws we'd like to change and getting excited about a potential electoral reform that he has previously rejected and that is seemingly an academic system that is not being used for national elections anywhere in the world. The irony being that this little backhander to Clegg will cost the country c£80m; exactly the same amount that the cancelled loan to the Sheffield Forgemasters was projected to be...Despite his position in government and the fact that 25% of LibDem MP's hold ministerial positions on many levels things couldn't be worse for them. Clegg has gone from the man everyone agreed with to the biggest sell out since Iggy Pop did insurance ad's; the latest YouGov poll puts LibDem support at a reduced 15% and Danny Alexander the Treasury man from nowhere still looks like a rabbit in headlights stammering over questions related to the slashing of public services as he tried to defend the Finance Bill on Tuesday. He, and the rest of us are wondering how on earth he got to be on the front benches defending cuts on behalf of George Osborne.

And things are still getting worse for our public servants; not only will many have to contend with a pay freeze at best, and redundancy at worse but they will also have to deal with reduced pensions and more than likely reductions in their redundancy payouts should the government squeeze through legislation. Francis Maude another Tory old timer wheeled out to wield the axe said the measures were 'an inevitable consequence of current economic circumstances'. Of course they are.
Surely we are in for a winter of discontent post October if the coalition persist with these measures; trade unions are already predicting strike action; and who can blame them - many civil servants must be wondering what they will have to lose? And it doesn't stop there; after happily accepting front line troops' cheers as he increased their daily allowances David Cameron used the comfort of Westminster for his altogether less jolly announcement that they too will have their basic pay frozen, for a squaddie this means his salary will remain at £21k for the next 2 years.

So once again a harsh week for all bar the rich, the bankers and big business. Despite the urgency with which these cuts are taking place, it is worth noting that the Treasury will receive exactly £0 from the banking levy this year. The evidence seems to be stacking up that this governments regressive actions are not solely for the purpose of cutting the budget deficit, but to play out a long held belief in a smaller state leaving many without much needed jobs and support.