Monday, 23 August 2010

Labour List article 19.8.10

Click here for the original article Back to power in five years?

How can the Labour Party return to power in five years? What needs to happen for the country to return a Labour Prime Minister to office in 2015? To hope for further economic woe in order to eject the coalition is a little extreme; it does seem likely that Osborne's aggressive dismantling of the state and fierce spending cuts will achieve its aim of cutting the budget deficit, leaving in its wake a Britain stripped of meaningful social welfare for the poorest.
For many, the reduction of the deficit and the inevitable promise of lower taxes in 2015 will be enough to keep the Tories in power for another five years, with or without the Liberal Democrats. The cuts, at least those we have seen so far, have not stung the middle classes or the rich meaning that many voters, especially in the coalition stronghold of the South, will see no reason to complain. As all the Labour leadership candidates have pointed out; in order to win the next election Labour needs to win back a good proportion of the 5 million voters it has lost since 1997. In my view, there are four key areas Labour need to concentrate on to win back the faith and confidence of the majority of the electorate.
Tony Blair impressed the electorate by bringing the Labour Party into the post Thatcherite world. His symbolic rejection of Clause 4 was a huge gamble but one that paid off and allowed the party to break away from the pain of the 1970's and leadership of Michael Foot in the early 1980's. Without question Neil Kinnock and John Smith paved the way for this moment, but Blair was able to seize the day and capture the nations imagination. The new Labour leader cannot make such a decisive ideological statement; in many ways the job is more difficult in 2010 than it was for Blair in 1994.
All candidates are desperately trying to distance themselves from the lexicon of New Labour before we even know how history will judge the era. An obsession with the personalities at the heart of the movement, rather than its actions, has tainted it, perhaps forever. New Labour is now defined as Blair vs Brown, infighting, spin and the Iraq War and the candidates are desperate to leave it behind.
What message can the contenders take to the public in order to inspire them? Many are choosing to return to the core Labour ideals of reducing the gap between rich and poor and creating a fairer, more equal society. Andy Burnham is pushing his National Care Service idea whilst Ed Miliband is pushing out the Living Wage idea beyond London.
These types of ideas are essential but an acknowledgment of the economic instability is also vital. As Alistair Darling pointed out just this week, the deficit needs to be acknowledged and Labour needs to offer it's own solutions. Hiding behind the facts did not help in the election, it certainly won't help in opposition. How can Britain pay for itself whilst maintaining a supportive, progressive society? This is the real question and the next leader has to be able answer it.
Innovative ideas and even radicalism will be embraced by the party and electorate alike but debate needs to be open and honest. The British public are progressive and wish to see a fair Britain but they will not support initiatives without knowing how they can be paid for.
After the conclusion of the leadership battle the PLP will need to regroup and make some firm commitments. Key figures need to ensure that the factionalism of recent times is eradicated and that MPs focus solely on becoming a tight, sharp, well-briefed opposition party with the ability to challenge the coalition on key policy areas. Many Labour MPs have never been in opposition and they should relish the opportunity to scrutinise, analyse and probe every aspect of coalition policy whilst honing their parliamentary and debating skills.
There are murmurs of dissatisfaction across the government from disgruntled right wingers to bewildered leftist Liberal Democrats and a shrewd Labour Party should (and will) continuously highlight these fault lines. Watching Andy Burnham discussing health policy against a bumbling Francis Maude on Question Time was impressive, his inside knowledge and experience of the NHS places him in an incredibly strong position to probe and tear apart proposals both in parliament and in the media. The combined experience of the shadow cabinet and ex-ministers on back benches needs to be maximised to question all government departments.
Labour also has to be prepared to make solid proposals in opposition which move away from the previous government. For example, Ed Miliband has accepted the introduction of ID cards was something that was hugely unpopular and a threat to civil liberties. This is the optimum opportunity for Labour to u-turn on unpopular and weak policy ideas - it needs to be used strategically and effectively.
Membership of the Labour Party has increased by tens of thousands since the election and, as I have argued before, these members need to feel wanted, valued and effective. The leadership of the party need to mobilise these members into small, localised armies working for the Labour Party on the ground. This isn't just delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. This is working within communities for communities wearing their Labour membership like a badge of honour. Labour is the most compassionate, socially minded party in British politics; we know this. Its links to trade unions and cooperatives are vitally important but we can do much more.
We know that the coalition austerity measures will have a negative impact on many community projects and groups and Labour needs to be visible and on the ground with its support, pro-activity and local lobbying; not just voicing anger in Westminster
David Miliband has recognised this with his movement for change programme - inspired by the work of Barack Obama's campaign, but this needs to continue and become a backbone of the organisation.
Local members are the eyes and ears of the party; and need to be listened to. This is of course both obvious and common sense, but one can't help feeling that had the previous government listened harder to public feeling regarding ID cards, immigration and the Iraq War these issues would have been dealt with very differently.
Labour needs its new leader to do many things, but it will not be an easy job. He or she will need to manage the legacy of and be accountable for the previous 13 years in government, give the party a new message and ensure it is stuck to, unite the party - a much harder task in opposition than in government - and be Prime Ministerial material. A tough call.
All the candidates are strong and have a core level of support, but whether we like it or not, the new leader has to appeal to floating, Liberal Democrat and Conservative voters in order for Labour to win the next election. Diane Abbott and Ed Balls do not have that ability. Andy Burnham does not have it, yet. Only a Miliband can engage with the majority of the electorate and set Labour on course for power again. But which one?
David Miliband is without doubt the more accomplished politician and this is apparent in his oratory; he has a solid reputation on the world stage and a strong desire to lead, but for many voters he is just too close to the New Labour project and is by proxy not to be trusted. He has received the backing of many senior ex-cabinet ministers including Alistair Darling, Jack Straw and Alan Johnson, all intrinsically linked to the Blair-Brown years and now elder statesmen of the party.
Ed Miliband can win the contest. He has put forward a clear mandate, and doesn't appear to be afraid of shifting the party through a series of clear and well intended proposals including a national living wage and a high pay commission. He proved to be popular as climate change secretary and is committed to a modern, progressive Britain.
Ed Miliband is in a unique position, as was David Cameron, in that he could use the position of leader of the opposition to fully develop his style and shape his public persona. Not enough is known about him by the public for too many preconceptions to have been drawn, and this could be used very much to Labours advantage and allow the public to warm to him organically as he grows into the role.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ten things that frighten me about the coalition...

Just a quickie from me this week. Traditionally August is a slow news month as MP's take their summer holidays and Whitehall closes down. Not so this year, civil servants are busy preparing for the autumn spending review when the real horror of the coalition cuts will be revealed. We are hearing on an almost daily basis snippets from ministers many of which are quite unbelievable... the end of school milk was even mooted again on Sunday!! What strikes is the arrogant, nonchalant delivery of ministers when they are proposing measures likely to cost many thousands of people their jobs and livelihoods. There are little or no positive proposals which even in a time of austerity is depressing and unnecessary, Cameron's bizarre vision of a Big Society where volunteers are supposed to manage and maintain public services seems to be the only attempt to promote a cohesive and creative Britain.
So in summary and in no particular order, here are my top ten fears and dislikes so far, and yes it was hard restricting it to ten!

  •  Gideon Osborne. How is this man running our economy? I want to cry. 
  • Proposals relating to social housing such as losing homes after 5 years and/or being rehoused in job rich areas. Erm, civil liberties anyone? Anyone getting the feeling that the poor are second class citizens under the Tories? 
  • Every announcement starts with blaming Labour. No doubt this will still be the case as they lead us into record unemployment and a double dip recession?
  • Still no announcements regarding cuts that affect the rich. Banking levy? Pah... 
  • The plan to dismantle the NHS without mandate, consultation or foresight
  • They will create astronomical levels of youth unemployment and have NO Ideas how to curb it
  • No positive action or real plans to grow the private sector, total lack of innnovation or investment  
  • The vilification of civil servants, fearing for their jobs and facing cuts in pensions and redundancy rights as well as pay freezes. Going to work everyday wondering if they'll have jobs in a few months. Utter lack of compassion when making announcements such as closure of Audit Commission, job losses at Ministry of Justice and UK Film Council 
  • Despite the cabinet's personal wealth adding up to more than the total UK arts budget, there are likely to be significant cuts in the arts sector. The disbanding of the UK Film Council without consultation or alternatives is setting a worrying precedent
  • The decimation of great services like Surestart, helping all families to give their children the best start in life.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Link to Labour Uncut Article 9.8.10

Read my article on the threat of Youth Unemployment

The recent media circus surrounding the Raoul Moat case did lead to some interesting discussion about the ‘lost generation’ of working class men who have lost their standing in society as a result of the steady decline in manufacturing since the 1980s.
Numerous commentators discussed fathers and their sons who have spent much of their lives on benefits and with little or no expectation of finding work. This is an issue across the UK, though one more noticeable in the former industrial heartlands of the North, and especially former mining towns that experienced mass unemployment after the pit closures of the Thatcher years.

In the vast majority of these towns, little or no thought was given to the effects of long term unemployment on successive generations, or to the very working of these communities. Small business closures, divorce rates, crime and drug and alcohol addiction all increased in these areas.
As the new coalition continues to talk only of cuts and directing them almost exclusively at the poor, we fear that Cameron will be repeating the mistakes of Margaret Thatcher at her most vile in ignoring the social group which is most likely to suffer in the next five years.
The combination of public service job cuts, a reduction in university places, the abolition of the future jobs fund all point to a bleak future for today’s youth. This is a real life consequence of Osborne’s inflexibility when pushing for spending cuts above and beyond any reasoning. What practical solutions are being offered? None.
To top it off, the Connexions youth careers service has started to downsize as a result of pressure on local government to make spending cuts. This service, which has encountered criticism in the past, does however operate in a vital space dealing with young people not in education, employment or training (‘NEETs’), and there is radio silence from the government in terms of what alternative service will be offered, just when it is needed most.
Last year the Prince’s trust conducted a survey of 2000 young people, which found that the young unemployed were more likely to feel ashamed, rejected, lost, anxious, insecure, down and depressed, isolated and unloved. Many reported having suicidal thoughts. The long term implications of rising youth unemployment are frightening, especially as this recession is affecting graduates as well as school leavers, many of whom are bringing with them the new social burden of huge student debt.
The government owes it to the electorate to offer some hope and practical solution to our young people. It is simply not acceptable to dismantle the structure that has been built to ensure we never return to such horrific youth unemployment as we experienced in the 1980s when over one million youths were registered unemployed – not to mention the two million plus who were not in education or training, causing tension and unrest in Britain’s inner cities.
In 2009, in the middle of the latest recession, the figure approached three-quarters of a million. But the Labour government’s future jobs fund, largely funded by the one-off bankers’ bonus tax, had positive results, with many young people having their 6 month placements extended. The scrapping of this successful scheme points to the short-sightedness of the coalition and the distinct absence of positivity or creativity in Osborne’s fiscal policy.
A new government should be coming to power with ideas and determination to enhance opportunities for youth, not limit them. According to Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s trust, youth unemployment costs the economy £10m a day in lost productivity. We need action, an emphasis on vocational training, opportunities within the green economy and real projects to target areas with severe skills shortages.
Will these vulnerable young adults be left without any support in what will be an increasingly harsh world of lower benefits and housing allowances? What will the government’s reaction be to the inevitable increase in crime and substance abuse that we are likely to see in certain communities? It is here than the policy of across the board cuts once again implodes. Making job cuts, cutting education and training resources as well as reducing benefits creates a black hole for individuals; but concurrently slashing policing and prison budgets signals dramatic consequences for society as a whole. This is an issue that threatens to be a national crisis as headline unemployment seems likely to rise next year.
Labour needs to ensure that we are organised, vocal and dynamic in opposition and have plenty to offer on this subject if we are to engage with the youth. More importantly, we must make sure that we don’t lose what should be our best-educated, most internationally focused and most technologically advanced generation of young people in British history.
We need to work with and support community groups, social enterprises and careers services that will be the only hope for many in a twisted version of Cameron’s Big Society.