Archive for May, 2010

5 Questions for all the candidates

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

1. Will you restore the vote to conference, and if so, what measures beyond this would you take to make our party more democratic?

2. What will you do to ensure that the Labour Party Leadership and cabinet reflect the diversity of our membership and of Britain?

3. How should  a left-of-centre party, in opposition to a Right-of-Centre coalition conduct itself in opposition?

4. If you were forced in this contest to be defined by one key policy proposal, what would it be?

5. How do we articulate a progressive and (small l) liberal vision of an active and pro-active state?

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Effective Opposition – Politics and Parliament

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I absolutely applaud Harriet Harman’s brilliant response to the Queen’s speech, and the understanding that Labour cannot and must not oppose everything the new Government propose to do. We want to be an effective opposition, and to do so means supporting those measure we can see value in. So first of all, I applaud the moves to remove ID cards, an expensive and damaging misadventure and an issue Labour should close the book on once and for all by not opposing this bill. I applaud the linking of state pensions with earnings. This will make the lives of the elderly easier and reward them better for their service.

But effective opposition must be opposition. And there is plenty in the coalition document and the queen’s speech not just to oppose, but to counter.

Firstly David Cameron’s description of the new Government as “Liberal Conservative” is about right. Certainly they would have a hard time at the moment claiming the other word from the Lib Dems moniker,  given current moves to gerrymander Parliament with the 55% rule, the stuffing of the House of Lords and The craven behaviour over Short money.

Let’s examine those issues one at a time.

55% Rule and Fixed Term Parliaments: I think fixed term Parliaments are – on balance – a good thing. I agree that a Prime Minister shouldn’t have the right to call an election at a time that is politically convenient to their party. There are of course problems with fixed term parliament, and we would move to a permanent campaign. It wouldn’t stop the problem of pre-general election spending by Government, just formalise the time-table. However, on balance I am in favour of putting into law a fixed four year term of office to bring a bit more stability to our electoral cycle.

However, the 55% rule is unnecessary and undemocratic. One of the main arguments employed for the forming of this coalition is that it provides “stable Government” in such a way that no other combination would have done. But it is only stable so long as the Lib Dems remain in the coalition. If they bail, the Government becomes a failing Government, limping on without the trust of Parliament because the vote percentages were stitched up to keep the Lib Dems from having the power to bring the Government down. If the 55% rule is brought in without a sunset clause, it will also be a rule for this Parliamentary circumstances that affects all Parliaments for years to come. That’s not good law making.

My modest proposal – thrashed out in my office (and not first proposed by me but by my Tory colleague) would be to bring in a law that stated a new Government has to stipulate by law on arrival in the Comons after every general election, the date of the next election which will be precisely 4 years hence (give or take the few days difference it would need to make it happen on the correct day or days). This only exception to this rule would be if a Government failed sooner than 4 years, and a dissolution of Parliament were voted on with a majority of 50% + 1 as now, a General Election would be held. However, the new Government would not be permitted to overrule the set date of the election, and could only govern between the interm General Election and that date. This would stop the benefit to bringing down an unpopular government of gaining the opposition parties a full Government term, but would also mean that a failed Government could be properly removed if that were the will of the people.

Gerrymandering the Lords: The Coalition Agreement has this to say about the House of Lords:

 ”We will establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motion by December 2010. It is likely that this will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely that there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

This is complete Gerrymandering. The Lords are an important part of political scrutiny, and were essential in curbing some of Labour’s excesses (for example on 42 day detention). Labour were defeated in the Lords over 400 times. If the ConDems pack the Lords to “reflect the share of the vote” it will give them a massive majority, meaning far less scrutiny of Government legislation. That’s just not good for democracy. The other concern is that these new Peers will all be grandfathered through, stacking the upper chamber not just for this Parliament, but for years and years to come. I am 100% in favour of a fully elected House of Lords – and don’t want to see a place for the Lords Spiritual or the Law Lords in the legislature. But it must be a fair House of Lords, with all current peers abolished and those who wish to return running for election. Grandfathering should not be on the table, and neither should stacking the Lords in the coalition’s favour before any election is held. There were no Lords candidates on my ballot on May 6th.

Short Money: The Lib Dems trying to claim Short money is an utter, utter disgrace. Short money is there for parties in opposition to pay for the support they don’t get from the Civil Service. There are 21 Lib Dem Ministers in Government before we even begin to count PPSs’ and there are only 57 Lib Dem MPs altogether (in the interests of fairness, I should point out that 4 of the Lib Dem ministers are Lords).  A huge proportion of the Lib Dem Party is now supported by the Civil Service. Far more so than – for example – the Tories who aren’t trying to claim Short Money, or Labour in 1997 who got no Short money either. An argument I have heard from Lib Dems is that you shouldn’t have to pay to go into power, but you aren’t. It’s a facetious argument. You are receiving a certain amount of support from the state, but in a different way. You also have power. All parties who go into Government lose this money. What make the Lib Dems different? Other than the vast imbalance between their representation and the civil service support they are getting through going into the coalition.

This coalition is going to have to learn it can’t have things both ways. It can’t have the benefits of being a coalition (power, the ability to junk the inconvenient bits of your manifesto etc) and none of the more difficult things that come with it. If they are even remotely serious about “new politics” they will have to rethink all these areas. If they aren’t and this is as silly a strap line as “New Labour” then I suspect it will become just as much of a millstone as that phrase did for the Labour Party – but perhaps far quicker.

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Two Lollipops!

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I have a couple of longish posts I need more time to think through properly and I’m off to the seaside this weekend.

So in that spirit, I offer to buy a big “Kiss Me Quick” lollypop for anyone who asks any of the Leadership candidates Adam Buxton’s ultimate interview questions:

1. What do you do?
2. Who do you do?
3. Faves?
4. Worsties?
5. Jedward?
Byeeee

(the Byeeee is essential btw).

And I hereby offer any candidate who makes a reasonable stab at answering them two “Kiss Me Quick” lollypops. How can you resist!?!

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If Diane Abbott is Who the Left Has She Should go Forward

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I have known Diane Abbott for a very, very long time. She wouldn’t be my chosen standard bearer of the left of the party. She can be a divisive figure, not simply politically; in her manner and conduct she seems to relish making enemies. In this way she is an epitome of the old struggles of the left in the ’80s when she was first elected.

But the left wing of our left-of-centre party deserve to be represented, and if Diane looks like the most likely candidate, then Diane it should be. There’s a lot of talk of trust in the Labour Party at the moment. Talk about losing the trust of our voters and talk about trusting our activists. But at the moment, whether we get to have a debate with that voice represented is purely up to our MPs. I hope enough of them have the courage to ensure that Diane goes through to the next round, and that that tradition of the left is represented in our debates.

I won’t be voting for Diane. I’m one of the many people she has had confrontation with. I also don’t think she can win, the AV system works against her as she is unlikely to garner many 2nd preference votes. But her presence in the debates should remind us of how plural a party we are, what a spectrum of views we represent and how important that coalition is.

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Welcoming New Members Is Essential – As is Making them Feel At Home

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Becoming a new member of a political party can and should be a really exciting experience. It’s a chance to make new friends, get involved in local and national politics and make a difference to the world we live in.

But it can also be a strange and bewildering experience, with a language and set of rules all of it’s own. I believe if Labour are to give our 12,000 new members the best experience possible we need to be there to help each other – after all, that’s what the Labour party is all about!

To this end, I have launched a new Facebook group. This group is for people new to the party to connect with people who have been in the party for a while,  for old members to get the chance to offer friendship, camaraderie and tips on how to get the most from Labour Party membership, and for new members to get some support through the process of becoming a Labour activist.

This group is completely unofficial and will stay that way. It is for grassroots members to talk to each other and – particularly as we elect a new leader – help those who are unsure of our internal processes though their first steps in the party. This group is designed to ensure that all new members don’t feel overwhelmed, and have a place to ask questions about everything and anything Labour. We can’t guarantee we will know the answers, but we can invite a friend who might to join!

So if you’re a new member, and you don’t know your CLP from you EC, your AGM from your NPF,  DON’T PANIC! Join this group and we’ll try and help you though it. And if you’re an old hand, come and lend your advice and offer the hand of friendship to our new members.

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Scorched Earth and other Fairy Tales

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Do you remember the stories that came out of the Whitehouse in 2000 about vandalism, theft of property and other misdemeanors of the outgoing Clinton Government? Turned out to be complete tosh of course.

How about Boris’s claims that Ken had splashed out on a cellar full of expensive wine? Utter nonsense again.

So forgive me if I take the “Scorched Earth” line as so much spin (yes Lib Dems, you do it too, oh and negative and permanent campaigning). Especially since the thing they seem to be holding up in evidence, is a clearly well-intentioned jokey letter.

So much for new politics.

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I’m supporting Ed Miliband, But Here Are 5 Questions for All the Candidates

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

I was at the Fabian’s Next Left conference on Saturday, and anyone who saw me there will know that I am supporting Ed Miliband for the leadership of our party. I think he is an ideal candidate, warm and engaging, thoughtful and not afraid to push back on a question – or to say I don’t know, but then make sure he does find out. I thought the speech he gave was inspiring and principled (I actually welled up to hear a Labour politician talking thoughtfully about class, something we have tried to ignore for too long). Ed’s record at DECC was exemplary, and through my work with SERA and my interest in climate change issues I am aware of how far he brought us and the passion he has for taking Britain into a new era in a compassionate, fair and progressive way.

The issues that arose at the Fabian conference got me thinking about what we need in a leader and what I would want the whole slate to commit to or think about.

So here are some questions all our candidates should answer, some specific, some on direction and principle, that will help to focus the debate, and the answers and discussion of then would help us to renew as a party, a movement and as an electoral force.

1. Will you restore the vote to conference, and if so, what measures beyond this would you take to make our party more democratic?

2. What will you do to ensure that never again will we have a position where there are no female candidates in the contest for the Labour Party Leadership?

3. How should  a left-of-centre party, in opposition to a Right-of-Centre coalition conduct itself in opposition?

4. If you were forced in this contest to be defined by one key policy proposal, what would it be?

5. How do we articulate a progressive and (small l) liberal vision of an active and pro-active state?

For me I think these cover the areas of vision and leadership, without tying them down to policy specifics that they may decide would be best discussed through conference and other bodies.

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What’s Next?

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Let me be very clear, as I said in my post about why we should vote Labour, I don’t look forward to a stint out of office because vulnerable people are going to suffer under this Government. But we are where we are, and now we have to take this situation and run with it.

Long term, this situation has tremendous strategic advantages. We have a chance to renew the Labour Party and we can once again be the natural home of Left of Centre voters, who now know that in most places (more on the Green Vote at a later date) Labour really is the only alternative to Tory Government.

The Liberal Democrats will have a hard time for a very, very long time – possibly ever again – making the case that they are to the left of Labour. They aren’t, and never have been. Their version “fairness” was always a raising of the middle at the expense of the Top leaving the poor ever further behind. They have agreed to early, damaging cuts in areas like the Child Trust Fund and Tax Credits. There will  be tax cuts for the middle, paid for at the expense of the services on which the most vulnerable in our society rely.

Another meme the Lib Dems ran with, was that they aren’t “politics as usual”. Well it’s true that this is an unusual set up, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough to detract from the fact that they are in Government – with ministers in every department – and so will be held to account for all the decisions of that Government, whether they be ones they actively vote for, or those they just facilitate by abstaining on (a very cowardly deal indeed on the insidious – and deeply illiberal Marriage Tax Allowance).

Frankly, for the next few years Labour’s campaign materials write themselves. And the Lib Dems will never again be able to use the line “only the Lib Dems can stop the Tories in XXX”. God alone knows what they’ll put on their leaflets now. Certainly the one I got through my door during this election has proved to be a laughable lie.

The Lib Dems seem to have gained so much from this coalition. As they did from the debates. As with the debates, I think these gains will be fleeting. Unlike the debates I think they will do serious long term damage to their prospects. The Lib Dems have to make this work – the Tories do not. The Tories can push their agenda far, far harder than the Lib Dems currently realise, and – particularly this side of any referendum on AV – the Lib Dems will have to go along with them. They need to prove that coalition government works, the Tories – who will campaign against voting reform  – do not. Look at how close the Tories are hugging the Lib Dems – full coalition and a seat in every department. The Lib Dems underperformed in the election (as did the Tories) and weren’t in a strong enough position to earn all that, and their obvious bluff of “talks” with Labour wouldn’t have earned them alone. The Tories aren’t unastute politically, and must realise that the closer they tie the Lib Dems into this Government, the harder it will be to break that stranglehold, or that image int eh minds of the electorate.

So how do Labour respond? Well one fo the reasons I have focused more on the Lib Dems in this post than the Tories, is because I believe this election has shown Labour the way forward, and the gift of the Lib Dems going in with the Tories make this easier. Our future is not in fighting the Tories for third of the electorate who support them no matter how bad, but attracting progressive voters from all constituencies.

Labour must keep fighting for it’s poverty reduction policies. They are the best of all that we have done. We must continue to fight for union and workers rights – they are a part of what defines us . But we need to completely revisit our attitude to civil liberties. We should not oppose any attempt to remove compulsory ID cards, extended detention etc. and should attack the ConDem Government on their vicious and arbitrary immigration cap and their Marriage Tax .

We need to not just rely on those who left Labour for the Lib Dems over issues like Iraq to come back because they have no other place to go, but give them a positive reason to come back to Labour. We also need to attract Lib Dem voters who never voted Labour before, but who are dismayed at the direction their party has taken. We can do this by stopping trying to woo floating Tory voters with misguided post 9/11 security measures and playing a weak hand on regulation. We are no longer in a post 9/11 world – or a post 1992 world for that matter, but a Post Credit Crunch world where regulation is no longer seen by a majority of the public as intrusive.We have the opportunity to be “New Labour” no longer, but become the progressive liberal Labour movement some foolishly dreamed would be possible with Clegg and his Liberal Tories. If we do so, we can create the strong progressive movement the 21st Century deserves.

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In Praise of Gordon Brown

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I haven’t posted since the election as I haven’t really known what to say. There’s so much sound and fury about all the negotiations, and frankly, no one knows a damn thing, I didn’t want to add my lack of knowledge into that swirling pot, and was waiting for cooler times to prevail to write what I thought about it all.

But now something has happened that does deserve comment.

Gordon Brown has  announced that he will step down as leader of the Labour Party and make way for an orderly transition. His speech was dignified and statesmanlike and warmly received from all party members – those who supported him and those who felt it was time – or past time – for him to step down.

Gordon Brown has not bee a popular Prime Minister, at least not in the UK. He is far better liked and respected on the international stage, where the work he put in to rescuing us from the abyss of financial meltdown is often recognised. He’s a serious man, perhaps too serious for our times, and he over thought strategic decisions, which often only work when they come quickly and naturally. His instincts were so often right, but his lack of belief in them let him – and us down too often. However, I strongly believe history will be far kinder to Gordon than we are now, and while he has absolutely made the right decision today, he will in time come to be recognised as one of the  great politicians of our age, both as Chancellor and as PM. I credit Labour’s focus on poverty reduction – here and abroad – to Gordon, and I believe that he will continue this work in some form or another for the rest of his life.

So for child tax credits, for debt relief, for transforming public services, for the Climate Change Act, for the Marine Act, for making Britain world leader in off-shore wind energy, for the Equalities Act, for Sure Start and the minimum wage and for countless other things that have made our nation so much better and so much fairer, I thank you Gordon from the bottom of my heart.

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Why We Must Vote Labour

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Every thing I ever have  read before every election I can remember tells you that this is the most important election ever. So I’m not going to do that here. I do however, see that this is the most unknowable election of my voting life. There really is all to play for and with a landslide majority unlikely for anyone, what happens at this election could affect our democracy and elections for years to come.

Labour aren’t perfect. I know that. I’ve been an internal critic of some decisions for years, ranging from Iraq to ID cards. We’re tired, and we sometimes forget how to do what we are here to do. If re-electing Labour were all about the party alone, I’m sure some activists would welcome a break and a chance to regroup.

I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t because I know that that would let down the people Labour is here to serve. Individual MPs may have let them down before, but we, Labour, must not and will not let them down. If we are at our best when we are at our boldness, we are at our boldest when tilting at the windmills of poverty. Dreaming what once seemed an impossible dream of it’s eradication, now brought so much closer to reality by our actions here and abroad.

The narrative of this election has been that of mending our broken politics. I celebrate that narrative and agree that and end to the first-past-the-post system would be a laudable achievement. But I ask us not to forget that democracy is not just about how we vote, but what we vote for.  At this time of economic crisis, when cuts will have to be made, I – much as I may personally benefit – don’t want to be rewarded for my middle class life, but pay fair taxes to help those who will be worst hit – first and deepest – to stop those cuts taking us backwards in poverty reduction.

I could use this post to lay out how bad I think a Tory government would be, but far better writers than me – Particularly Johann Hari  - have already done so with breathtaking clarity. But I’d rather talk about why, at this time and in this election, we should vote Labour. Int he Guardian endorsement of the Lib Dems, their analysis included this line: “Labour’s record on poverty remains unmatched “. Now I understand the seduction of the “Liberal moment”, I too want a shift back on civil liberties and reform of the voting system. But not at the expense of the party “umbilically linked to the poor” at a time when both other main parties are offering deep and swingeing cuts, and routinely attacking the kind of public sector services, tax credits and benefits that the poorest in society rely on. It is too high a price for me. I hope – as I have outlined previously - that Labour take from the rise of the Lib Dems lessons on these issues and a greater understanding of their electoral significance for a core part of their electorate. I can’t however, offer up deep and devastating cuts by an unconcerned government as a price worth paying. 

So I will fight for Labour to be in Government – protecting their core principles and fighting for the poor. In coalition if it comes to it – alone if we need to, we must never forget what Labour is for and why we fight. Our poverty reduction measures may be unfinished, but they remain – undiminished – a beacon of hope and a vision for a better world.

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