Archive for August, 2010

Mandelson has the right to an opinion, but it’s bad politics to go negative

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Tonight I’m going to a campaign event with the Kinnocks supporting Ed Miliband for leader of the Labour Party. I mention this because I have nothing against party elders taking sides in our leadership election.

On the other hand, I do have a problem with them going negative. If Ed does win this campaign, Mandelson knows that his quote will be dragged out at every opportunity to damage Labour. He used to run our communications, he knows full well how these things work.

So I can only conclude that Mandelson has put the protection of his own legacy above the interests of his party and the electorate they want to serve. Ironically, in so doing, he has only served to further tarnish his own reputation. What was once a caricature he played up to when it suited him has now hollowed him out from the centre leaving nothing but a hapless New Labour shell.


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My Preferences and My Reasons

Friday, August 27th, 2010

So next week ballots will drop onto doorsteps and voting for the Labour leadership will begin. In this post I will outline my rankings of the candidates. I don’t agree with any candidate on all issues – for example I disagree with Ed Miliband on Nuclear power and with Andy Burnham on Crime. But I’m not looking for an idol, but a leader with whom I and the thousands of members like me can work to reshape the Labour Party into the future.

1. Ed Miliband

I have been quite clear that I am supporting Ed Miliband for leader since he announced. I have worked hard on his campaign and been massively inspired by the people I have met (all of whom make me feel ancient). I believethis campaign – though scrappy at times and a little rough around the edges – has been well timed. The slowly increasing tempo of the Ed M drumbeat has been well managed and his layeringof the message of Leftist economics combined with liberal social policies on civil rights and justice has combined with some shrewd analytics not just of where our party is but where our future vote could come from. I’m a lefty at heart, but a political operative in my soul. If I thought Ed’s leadership and direction would be in any way damaging to our ability to win, I would have qualms. They aren’t and I don’t.

2. Andy Burnham

I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing about my second choice. At one point it was David Miliband, but now I find myself choosing between Andy Burnham and Ed Balls, and have opted for Andy. Of course, given the electoral maths, I hope my second choice doesn’t count for much. But it will hopefully send a message.

I disagree with Andy’s stance on crime and justice issues. I think he both wrong in policy terms – we have been too casual with individual liberties – and also wrong politically (those who agree we have been too casual may be looking for an alternative to the coalition, we need to give them a reason to think it’s us). But I have been impressed with the way he has run his campaign as a non-London insurgency. I think basing his campaign out of Manchester was a good decision and his growingsupport has highlighted the need to refocus in winning seats in the North and Midlands and not solely in the South.

He finally won my second preference vote with his support for a Land Value Tax which is an extremely form of taxation.

3. Ed Balls

This is a toughie. I think Ed Balls has had a brilliant campaign – full of blood and fire. But I also don’t think he is the man to unite the Labour Party. He’s been too much at the heart of our divisions for too long. Having said this, I want to see him in a prominent position – perhaps the Chancellorship he has long dreamed of – as he has proved that there is none like him for attacking the coalition, and we need that quality as the cuts get nastier and nastier. We need a leader to show a positive alternative, but we also need a high profile fighter to show the people we are fighting for them.

4. David Miliband

It actually really saddens me that I am puttingDavid so low. I have nothing but respect for his abilities and his intellect. But a leader doesn’t lead alone, and David has very deliberately surrounded himself (apart from Jon Cruddas, and I never really drank the Cruddas KoolAid) with people who completely deny the need to move far, far beyond New Labour. If you can tell a man by the company he keeps, I don’t want to have a leader backed by the New Labour establishment. I want a fresh start. Still, despite all this I wanted to find reasons to back him (and of course whoever wins I will support them as leader while pushingthem to be the best Leader they can be). But his campaign has been poor and it’s tone elitist and chastising. David Miliband is a great thinking and a good politician. He deserved better than he got, but with all the advantages his campaign has, he should have made sure he got it.

5. Diane Abbott

Diane started strongly, fizzled out and now seems to have disappeared. Sadly this seems to be because she doesn’t have much to offer besides a critique of the past. Fine – I agree to a certain extent. But I need a vision, a platform and an offer. I’ve had none of that from Diane, and she has sadly made the mistake of taking her candidacy even less seriously than her critics did.


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Ed Miliband, Lib Dems and Winning Elections

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

I have to say – and of course as an Ed M supporter I am clearly biased – but I think Ed has played a canny game with his recent pronouncements both that let down Lib Dems should look again at Labour, and at the same time predicting their extinction to Kilmarnock Labour Party. And while I doubt that he had anything to do with the Kennedy rumours directly, they won’t have hurt him with his chosen audience either.

Because Ed isn’t really speaking to the Lib Dems. He’s speaking to the Labour members who want to see us take the best of what the Lib Dems might have offered in a Lib Lab coalition – on civil rights for example – but also have a strong belief in the ethos and importance of the public sector and Keynesian economics.

Oh he may be appealing to Lib Dem voters who are waking up to the difference between what they thought they were voting for and what they got. Probably more to voters than to members for now, but that can and will change as the Government implement their vicious cuts.

But what he’s really doing is proving that he know how to win and fight an election. He’s looking at who his electorate are (including the 10,000 recent members previously identified as Lib Dems who will probably vote as newly active members) and what they want and he’s giving it to them in good policy based terms.

Critics say that pandering to the party won’t win the country, but I disagree. Firstly, re-energising the party will build a huge advantage that money can’t buy. It was activists who stopped the last election being the disaster it could have been despite all of Ashcroft’s millions. Keeping them energised for the fight will be essential. Secondly, there is a good electoral strategy coming out of Ed’s thoughts both on where the Labour Party should be, and also on whose votes we should be aiming to win. It’s a winning combination of strategy and good policy that could well push him over the top come September.


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In Defence of Tribalism, Or What Labour Must Learn From Alan Milburn

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I’m not surprised or disappointed that Alan Milburn has agreed to work for the coalition, I’m surprised and disappointed that a man like this ever managed to make his way through the Labour ranks in the first place.

For every Labour Party member who makes it to Parliament, to Government, to leadership, there is an army of people who made this happen. these lucky few aren’t uniquely blessed by God, they were chosen among a number of other suitably qualified candidates and fought for by a determined army. We praise and appreciate their talents, but don’t ever think that doesn’t mean that we aren’t equally aware of their weaknesses. They are there because of us, and while they are elected to serve the country, their first mandate is to do so in the democratic way that we as a party agree is the best way forward. We have different ideas from the other parties, and we know in our hearts that ours are right. They should never, ever forget that they are there as our representatives. They are not bigger than the party, and the way we all know this is that they wouldn’t be elected as an independent.

We don’t work this hard for the betterment of one other person’s career, but because we believe in a better way of organising society. That’s important to us. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need or want  to be challenged. We understand the need to be constantly evaluating what this organisation means and would mean to our modern citizens. It does mean that when we take you on as our representative, this underlying belief is what you are there to represent. That we will only accept a challenge when presented through the prism of our unchanging values.

Having this army of volunteers work for you must feel good. I can understand how a person may come to think that it is their unique talents that is important and not the collective values they are there to represent. My understanding this doesn’t make it right. It isn’t.

Neither does this make our party one of narrow interests. The myriad interpretations of our values always make for interesting policy discussions and debates. But in the end, we do come back to our core values in an understanding that they are what unites us.

The last time I saw Alan Milburn speak, it was at a Fabian Conference. He spoke shallowly, attacking the concept of Social Housing seeing only an outmoded model of community based housing vs an ownership society. His model of Social Mobility is well meaning, but narrow and shallow. His willingness to work with the coalition doesn’t surprise me, as he is exactly the kind of New Labour politician who forgets why he was elevated and what was holding him up. He believed far too much in his own mythology, and I’m sure has taken this position with the coalition is the certain and unswerving belief that he is the only person for the job.

But anyone who shared  in the values of the Labour Party would have no faith that this ideologically manic government would implement the kind of solutions we believe will actually work. And anyone who was willing to implement the kind of small state sticking plasters solutions to the gaping wounds this government is already inflicting could never have shared our values.

Labour must learn that we will only survive while we champion, rather than hide, our values. The New Labour Milburn days are thankfully behind us, but what is to come is still unsure. I hope for the sake of our values and the people we champions (as opposed to the people we choose to lead the championing) that we get this crucial next phase right by basing it on our core values.


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Workplace “Perks”

Friday, August 13th, 2010

I used to work in the private sector. When I did, there was a masseuse who came in regularly, workplace away days, expensively catered staff events and other “perks”.

These things weren’t laid on out of the goodness of their hearts. In fact the chair – one of the most odious people it has even been my misfortune to meet – didn’t seem to have one. It was done because it raised productivity.

I’d bet a pound to a penny the same is true in the Public Sector.

So my question is this: Are the government proposing to treat its staff like indentured serfs, having factored in the loss of productivity or simply because it’s a nice headline grabber as part of their summer of Lying about the Labour Legacy?


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Vapid Distraction or First Shot Across the Electoral Bows?

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

What on Earth was the Chris Huhne/Baroness Warsi press conference this morning about?

General feeling in and around my office/twitter feed is that they are merely trying a desperate, transparent attempt to distract attention from today’s dire announcements from the Bank of England that we’re heading – careening even – towards a double dip recession. The main thrust of today’s meeting seemed to be Labour are horrible and should forgo their severance pay. No look at me I’m dancing like a clown! Don’t look at than boring Mervyn chap with all the long words and complicated graphs! We’re they remotely serious about the severance pay issue, they might have contemplated the (probably small, but you know this is supposed to be the age of austerity)  cost of holding a press conference rather than simply writing (and leaking if you want it public) the letters.

However, some could see this purely political event (not a single policy announcement, nothing but partisan posturing) as the first shot in the next election campaign. This kind of campaigning against the opposition usually happens much closer to an election than 5 years, so either the coalition have decided that the American system of permanent electioneering rather than governing and running on your record is preferable (and given what their record is going to be like, you can see why they might); or the next election is closer than we all think (and if so, the Lib Dems must have been offered a coupon deal to be going along with it after jettisoning such a huge amount of their support).

So which is it, vapid distraction or poisonous campaigning?

*UPDATE* It seems that the event was at least politically funded as well as motivated, so the taxpayer aren’t footing the bill. How wise it is for the Lib Dems to do joint political work with the Tories is up to them.


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An honest question and some well meant advice for the Lib Dems

Friday, August 6th, 2010

I think anyone reading this blog will know that I’m no great fan of the Liberal Democrats and wasn’t before the coalition. I’ve had to campaign against either their right flank or their spiteful and misleading campaign tactics too often.

But they do have a few policies I agree with, and while voting reform wouldn’t be top of my priority list, on balance I think it’s probably a good thing. AV is a terrible reform, and they should have got more out of the negotiations, but it’s where we are.

One thing the Lib Dems always was good at was political calculation. The coalition seems to have rather sent them out of whack.

One of the recurring tropes from Lib Dem commentators around the coalition and it’s forming was that it was their one chance to enact some of their policies – not least to get a referendum on AV. One presumes that the Lib Dems want this referendum to actually pass.

So articles like this and this actually baffle me. Don’t get me wrong; I am very used to and of course expect articles from the Lib Dems attacking Labour. Particularly since going into coalition, their hatred of Labour has intensified and without the Tories to rail against equally, Labour is now the only political target for negative attacks – a long term component of all political blogs. But attacking Labour furiously on this issue is simply counter-productive to achieving your actual aim of a successful referendum.

Let’s break it down clearly: The Tories do not want voting reform. At all. Labour are mostly committed to it (a few backbenchers have dissented, but it was in our manifesto and all our leadership candidates are signed up to at least AV). The Lib Dems are cratering in the polls, and the referendum will be a really easy time for their disaffected voters to give them a bit of a kicking. To avoid this, they will need one of the larger parties campaigning vigorously with them, and t0 make it look really “new politics” it would be great if that were the party of the opposition. Either way it won’t be the Tories.

So here’s my question to the Lib Dems, and I really, really don’t mean this in a negative fashion:

Do you want to win the referendum, or do you want to better cement coalition relations?

Because at the moment there seems to be a whole lot of attention on the latter, at obvious risk to jeopardising the former.

If you do want to pass AV, then I cannot advise you strongly enough to split the bill. It will free labour to vote for the referendum, which will in turn ensure a vigorous Labour presence in the campaign. And for all this week’s talk of “Toxic brand” we are considerably higher in the polls than we were at the election. You need us. Try to remember that before you continue to slag us off just to impress the big boys!


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A Letter of Advice to the Next Leader of the Labour Party

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Dear Andy, David, Diane, Ed & Ed,

As you set of on your hols I thought I’d give you a few thoughts to chew over. I know you’re getting advice from every quarter at the moment, but with all of you expressing a greater commitment to listening and to party democracy, I thought I’d add my twopence worth.

I’m a fairly ordinary Labour Party member. I am probably a bit more active in national bodies than I am locally, but I am not important or influential in the party (hands up who stopped reading at that point), I have no money to donate (still with me?) and no strong faction to bring to the table (hello?!). But I understand the Labour Party and its members. I was born into the Labour Party and my parents – especially my Dad – are the kind of grassroots members who keep us going and whose intervention and shoe leather stopped us falling all the way off our cliff in May.

I live and breath Labour politics. I discuss endlessly with my colleagues,  friends and family how Labour could win again, could be better and could win/win back the support we don’t currently have. From these conversations, and my own observations I offer you the following pieces of advice:

1. Be a leader, not a fighter.

You will have plenty of colleagues who will be able to take the fight to the Tory coalition. You will need to be a figurehead who is see as above that. Yes, attack at PMQs will be important, as will rebuttal. But wherever possible, you must delegate this, and use your platform to inform and inspire. The more you can be seen as a real embodiment of a positive Labour message, the better.

2. Give up some of your power

If you want to have the ultimate authority of becoming Prime Minister, what you really need is a strong team behind you. Not just the bright young Oxbridge Grads that scoot around after you as you go from husting to husting, but the army of Labour members, who may understand they are the foot soldiers, but still want to play a vital role in policy making and in steering the direction of the party. Let them.

Sure, we may end up with a few policies you think will harm us in the Daily Mail, but then we are never, ever going to win over the Daily Mail. We will definitely end up with a considerably more energised and committed party willing to fight and fight hard for a victory they really believe in.

3. Use the resources the Party has ignored for too long.

One way of doing this is to be more sensible about how the Labour Party utilises the resources it has. One great example of this is the Socialist Societies. These are single issue groups full of people who really, really know and understand both their policy areas and the way these impact on the core Labour values of fairness and justice. As the party currently lacks money for research, this vacuum could be filled by these groups, providing not only a wealth of expertise, but also a great way of offering to members a way of getting engaged in the issues they really care about.

4. Ensure CLPs are properly engaging in their communities

I have been banging on for years about the value of changing the CLP meeting structure and getting people out on the streets, cleaning up graffiti and litter or painting dilapidated play spaces or eyesores. I suspect you as leader could be far more influential in changing our meeting culture to that of activism as well as policy engagement.

5. Chill out!

The coalition may well be here to last for 5 years. Relax and stop obsessing over the polls. Be Labour in the face of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express while in opposition, and you will be able to govern with a strong agenda and mandate. Also lead by example with your work life balance. Get a hobby, take holidays and enjoy your families. You need to be a person as well as a politician.

6. But don’t be someone you are not.

When I say get a hobby, don’t – for Gods sake – focus group it. Do something that interests you, not what a clever pollster tells you the public want you to do. If you actually have terrible taste in music, that’s actually OK, no one will vote for you on the strength of your music taste (though I am impressed with your love of the Wedding Present Andy!).

7. Read something you disagree with every day.

It will raise your blood pressure, but will also keep your skills of argument sharp. I make a point of reading Conservative Home and Lib Dem Voice regularly. Knowing what the other side are talking and arguing about can only make you stronger.

8. The “other side” is never your own party except Frank Field.

The Labour Party is a broad church. You won’t agree with everything and they won’t all agree with you. But that’s not the point of leadership. Never attack your own members. But you should cut Frank Field loose. He’s an embarrassment and we need better party discipline from our MPs.

9. Cut out the dead wood.

This will be really difficult, as it is natural to turn to our predecessors for advice, but the following people need to be nowhere near the Labour Party for the sake of cleansing our brand for the foreseeable and indeed distant future: Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, James Purnell, Charles Clarke. The following should be left on the back benches: Jack Straw, Alan Johnson, Hazel Blears, Caroline Flint. I’m sure they are interesting and have much to offer, but the hard political truth, and what they would be advising you were it 20 years ago, is that talent is no match for the stigma they bring.

10. Don’t forget each other’s good ideas

There have been plenty in this leadership campaign. Remember to be both magnanimous and sharing in victory, then coldly pinch all that was the best about your combined talents!

I hope this advice is helpful to you. I promise here and now I will continue to work and fight hard whoever wins, and I hope you all do the same.

Yours in Socialism,



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