Archive for November, 2010

National Policy Forum: First Impressions

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Yesterday I attended my first ever National Policy Forum. I’m sure there were plenty there who have been old hands on the Forum who will have more to compare the day to, but my impression of the day was a combination of real optimism, and a strong sense of the need to build a narrative of opposition.

Ed’s speech was well received in the hall, and the Q & A was policy focused with questions on how we fight the ConDems and their cuts while also building a sense of what Labour would do differently. There was a strong sense that we need answers for the doorsteps in time for the May election – not fleshed out policies, but an understanding of direction. Ed’s speech had a certain amount of that in it, but this will need to be fleshed out over the next few weeks.

The forum itself spent its time equally divided between discussing policy and discussing how to make policy in a modern Labour movement.

There were five policy sessions overall of which each delegate attended two. I attended the economy and the welfare reform sessions. At both there was a real senses of discipline from the shadow ministers that they were there to listen, not to tell us the answers. This – I understand – is quite a change from previous times, and one which most delegates found welcome, though again they were pushing for a sense of the parameters. The format still needs some work, because while each delegate was able to say their piece, this happened in the round, and it was not as discursive – and therefore not as in depth – as it should be. I discussed this with others and there was a general sense that this would come as we delved more into the detail of policy.

Key themes coming out of the economy session was a strong sense that Labour needed to be stronger on a sense of managing the economy. That we can’t be anti-business, but neither should we pander and that getting that balance right was essential.

From welfare reform the main thrust was that there was a general level of support both from the attendant Shadow Minister and the group for the idea of a simplified universal benefit, and that the support of the party would be in pushing to ensure it was done right, not that it was just done. The other key theme delegates returned to over and over again was housing and the importance of fighting the incredibly regressive ConDem measures on cuts to housing benefit. There was a real sense that this could be our first win over the government, as the measures – especially the 10% cut in housing benefit after being on job seekers allowance for a year – were just so unjustifiable, not least at a time of high unemployment.

While we tried to set out early narratives on these important issues, the real thing we were discussing at this meeting was how to make policy. The root and branch reform of our policy making processes was generally welcomed, and Liam Byrne and Peter Hain did as good a job as possible of convincing the cynics that it was going to be a real process. The real danger here is that people are so cynical after many years of top down policy imposition, that they won’t feed into the process. If they don’t, the process will then only hear from the people who favour the status quo – so I urge ordinary members to get involved. To make your voices heard. If it helps, I can be a right old cynic, and I was convinced yesterday that they really are listening.

Overall it was a day of two quite conflicting feelings that I think probably reflect the feelings of the wider Labour Party at the moment. Firstly that the idea of the members having a real say in policy making was long overdue and highly welcome and secondly that we need some parameters set now to give us clear messages for the doorstep. That’s a tightrope Ed and his team are going to have to walk over the coming weeks. But most people I spoke to were realistic about the task the party faces but optimistic about our ability to do so.


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Sports: Activity and Proactivity

Friday, November 26th, 2010

I’ve been thinking for some time now, that the Minister for Sport is in the wrong department, and that this is symbolic of the way we think of sport in this country. This is btw no reflection on  or any individual minister, it’s about ideas not personalities (remember that concept!!??).

Culture and Media are largely passive activities – though a few of us get involved occasionally (let’s face it – we’ve all “Put a band together” or acted in a school play or some such) culture and media – from Coriolanus to Coronation Street – are primarily about passive intake. 

Having sport also be part of this department of passive enjoyment is symptomatic of the way sport is seen as something done by professionals for our entertainment, rather than something done by us for our enjoyment and health benefits. the only real reason to have sport as part of the DCMS is to look at TV rights, which could be equally dealt with by the media side of the ministry. 

I believe that the sports minister should be moved to the Department for Health. For too long the DoH has been seen as almost entirely reactive – about hospitals and GPs and treatments. There should be far more work done though on prevention and intervention. Sport is a great way of keeping and getting fit, and if it becomes part of the DoH we can stop focusing on the needs of those at the top, and put our energies into encouraging a much broader uptake of sport.



What Ed Should Say Next Week

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Ed Miliband is making a speech t0 the National Policy Forum next week. I’ve been thinking a fair bit about what he should say, what his messages should be, how he should play it. My feeling is that we need to take on a bit of that old Devil Karl Rove’s style. I’ve seen it before in British politics, and it worked pretty well for the Tories. Ashcroft is still there after all.

At the moment, the thing thrown endlessly in Labour’s face is the “what would you do” or “you have no plan” defence. I think we need to take this perceived weakness and show it as a strength. Here’s how we start:

“My friends, as we know we lost the last election. The fact that the Tories failed to win it, should not stop us from accepting and acknowledging that fact. Our manifest had many parts of which we can rightly be proud of, I know because I wrote it. But I must also be humble and take my share in the blame for that loss. That manifesto is no longer a living breathing document but the starting point from which we must now travel to achieve a new policy prospectus that is fit for 21st century living. That will offer the electorate an optimistic but realistic alternative to the Tories, and that will stand as a way of rebuilding our nation after the devastation of the cuts to once again stand tall and proud of our world beating public services.

We know from watching this government flail about that policy making is at it’s worst when it is done too fast, with no understanding of the implications and outcomes – only a shallow single purpose – cut, cut, cut. We only have to look at the catastrophe that has been the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future Programme to see that rushed policy is rash policy, botched and bad policy.

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. Under my leadership we will not rush policy through so we have something to announce on the evening news. We will take our time and get it right. We will talk to our members, all of them including the 35,000 new ones about what they want. We all have a say in the policies we will be fighting on the doorsteps for.

But we will do more. We will consult with the people of Britain who will be affected by our policies when we return to power.

  • We will talk to Doct0rs, Nurses and – yes – vital hospital administrators about how to put the national back into the NHS after the wrecking ball of Andrew Lansley’s reforms. We will also talk to them about how to make this changes in ways that energise not marginalise them. This will take time.
  • We will talk to teachers and parents, teaching assistants, lecturers schoolchildren and students about how to build a system that equips them for all of life, not just the hours between 9-5 Monday to Friday.
  • We will talk to business and industrialists, management and workers about how to be a free democracy in the 21st Century while also rebuilding a balanced and manageable economy, not overly reliant on one sector for tax revenues.
  • We will talk to diplomats and generals and soldiers and our allies about how to build a progressive liberal foreign policy that is unafraid to intervene where we should, but cautious enough to know where we shouldn’t.

We will do all this as we continue to talk to our members and to the British public at every stage. So that when we do put a manifesto in front of them, it will be detailed, it will be costed, it will be ambitious, it will be realistic and above all it will be theirs.

So no, Mr Cameron, I’m not going to pre-emt that conversation with my party and with the public.  It’s too important to do so simple to have an answer for you, as you are evading my questions over the dispatch box.

Unlike you I want a mandate from my party and the public at every stage, not at none.

I will go to them with the values of fairness and fraternity that we share and ask for their help – humble enough to know I need it.

I will go to them with our understanding of equality and even handedness – strong enough in my belief in them that it will be reciprocated.

I will work with them to rebuild this country out of your 19th century inspired cuts and into the 21st century they deserve.


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Why Are You Labour?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

I’ve been a member of the party since I was 15 years old. I have stuck with it, as I have the sense to understand that it is when the left splinters that the right wins. I also know that it’s not about political parties winning and losing a giant chess game, but about the people the parties represent and the competing visions for Britain that our parties  – at their best – represent.

I stuck with Labour in Government, through Iraq, through arms sales to Tanzania, through control orders and 90 day detention, through ID cards and being extremely relaxed about the rich” because I knew that on balance we were doing good. I was critical internally but loyal to the party, because i know that a civil war in the Labour Party will only hurt the people we are supposed to protect.

There are people int he party who differ from me. They do see the whole thing as a game, and there is definitely more than one opponent. They are playing games with the stability of the party, threatening war, rather than engaging in conversation. As Labour goes into a long process of policy making, they don’t want to stick around supporting the party through the result. They see how far we are from a General Election and, hooked on the adrenaline and testerone they overdosed on during first the election campaign and then the leadership, they can’t stop campaigning. They have decided to wage an addled permanent war with anyone who might make the Labour Party look vaguely different from the mould they set in 1994. They are also, to be charitable, scared. There are other kids playing with the toys they used to claim were theirs alone. They are worried about where they fit in a post New Labour future. Where once they were kings, now they are members.

Red Ed is – in reality – anything but. He’s a social democrat with some considered and nuanced positions on civil liberties that move the party beyond the Blair years, but he’s not Michael Foot. What Eed seems to be intent on doing, if having a conversation with the party, the unions, the Socialist Societies about how we develop a new raft of policy. He’ll get some of that wrong (and we’ll all disagree on exactly what he gets wrong, as we will all have our own ideas) but if he really listens to the whole party, he’ll also get a lot of it right.

The Milburnite Militant Faction will have to learn that their role is to be like the rest of us. Not better, not worse. We are here not to beat you but to converse, convince and hopefully convert you. Convert you back to being a democratic socialist who understands that

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. That it believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

Every time you lash out, you wound not the leader but the party. Every time you engage in constructive dialogue, you convince a few more people. Sometimes we will convince you. Sometimes you will convince us. But you will not convince me or anyone that your sniping and backbiting is done for the good of the Party and more importantly for the good a country cowering under the treat of horrendous Tory cuts.

The Party is at a good place in the polls. We are ready for a coherent policy process alongside a demonstrable fightback against this coalition. We have a leader and we aren’t going to have another contest anytime soon. Do you want Labour to win the next election? If so, and if you really think we’re going so badly wrong, get into the process, have your voice heard. But if you continue to brief against the party, knowing that it will lead to electoral defeat, you are the new Militant, and your nihilistic destructiveness will not be forgiven. Not by the party and not by the voters.

Grow up.



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Business and Pleasure – Why it is Right (For the Moment) For Labour to Go After the Lib Dems

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

There’s an age old Labour Party Joke:

Question: if you could push a Tory or a Lib Dem off the edge of a cliff, who would you choose first?

Answer: the Tory, business before pleasure!

There is a growing momentum within the Party, that our current strategy of calling out the Lib Dems is wrong, and is allowing the Tories to get away with the cuts Scot free. I disagree. It’s time too push the Lib Dems off the cliff.

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t – at some point – be an entente cordiale between Labour and the Social Democrat wing of the Lib Dems. It may well be the case that coalitions are more likely to happen again in future, and so to completely dismiss any and all relations would be stupid and would be likely to lock Labour further out of power.

But we need to be looking for two things from such a relationship. Firstly, we need to have a strong Labour hand. Secondly, and probably more important strategically, we need that wing of the party to be much, much stronger than they are at present. There are signs of this resurgence, as the leadership are increasingly getting the blame with their all-in-together attitude to coalition policy for the Lib Dems poll slump. But to really give the social democratic wing proper traction to build a post (current) coalition future for the Lib Dems, the party needs to see how much their current direction is hurting them.

So it may sound counter-intuitive, but I believe that in order for there to be a Lib Dem party Labour can work with the future, We need to show them how bad it is when they are so opposed to us. We need to hit them where it hurts. And where it hurts for Lib Dems is in Local Government. If we can make significant gains next May, on the back of a Lib Dem collapse (and all the signs are that we can) we will be strengthened as a party. We will also have weakened the link between the Lib Dem leadership and membership, giving their more sensible, less Orange Book wing the chance to asses the damage and rebuild from within.

This doesn’t mean that a future Lib/Lab coalition is wholly desirable or even possible under any circumstances. That will be up to voters and if needed, the party negotiators. But what is obvious is that such a coalition would need different Lib Dem leadership than we have now. Just as Brown going was a pre-requisite even for talks this time around, so we should make clear that for Labour, there are Lib Dems and there are Lib Dems.

So for now, I say keep the pressure on. Once the cuts start to bite, the Tories will be recognised as their architects. There will be plenty of time for us to tie them to the damage their Chicago School economics will do to society and people’s lives. But the Lib Dems are culpable too, and they need to know that the electorate know that.


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What Labour Can Learn From the Liberal Democrats

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

The Labour Party are in the long running process of reviewing it’s Partnership into Power process, the way in which policy is decided by the party as a whole, by the National Policy Forum and by members. This will be a long and exhaustive process, and at the end of it, we will need to have a robust process where policy is discussed and debated and that we see our ability to do so as a credit to us, not a discomfiture to the leadership.

Many Lib Dems I know are rightly pleased with their internal policy making process, feeling a real democratic buy in. Sadly this is now being stretched to the limit by the difference between Lib Dem policy, and the actions taken by Lib Dem ministers and MPs in Government. There seems to be little point in having policies you won’t enact. The public simply won’t believe you if you campaign on them having done the opposite in Government.

So Labour need to find a way to square these tensions. That way cannot be the top down policy imposition of the past, but neither can it be the case that policy cannot change as circumstances do. We need to learn both the positive and negative from the Lib Dems current circumstances.

My own idea would involve both expanding and strengthening the National Policy Forum (disclosure: I have recently been elected for the first time to the NPF). At present, I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that the NPF is not taken very seriously by the Party machine, and this needs to change. It is the voice of the members in policy making and needs to be given the status that deserves.

But the NPF needs to be a more able body to make that kind of policy. It needs far greater representation from all parts of the party and debates need to be facilitated online between the sporadic meetings. There ought to be special conferences of the NPF called when the leadership feel the need to change policy from the decided course and – like the coalition agreement was to the Lib Dem members – the membership must decide if it is the right course. I have a great deal of faith in our current leadership to be persuasive if a change is required.

I want us to be an attractive party for both form Lib Dem voters and activists (we can teach them how bar charts work), and in order to do so, we need to give them what they thought they had in the Lib Dems until sold out by their leadership.

More than this though, I want us to be a mass membership party with a voice in every community. We won’t do this until the voices we have are being heard at all levels of the party.


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Worst blog Post of the Week 12/11/10

Friday, November 12th, 2010

This week a special treat! This one is a recommendation from a reader (yes I have one).

It’s a post of such astounding ostrichicidal tendencies that it feels almost cruel to burst the gossamer bubble in which the blogger seems to live.

The problem can be summed up in two quotes: “We have, very successfully, kept most of these tendencies under control by being part of the Coalition and we should celebrate that. Imagine what the Tories would’ve done without us.” – see the problem mate is that most of us are imagining that, and we simply can’t think what would be different.

and my personal favourite: “It’s time for us to stand up and remind people that if they don’t like what the Coalition is doing, there is another way: vote Liberal Democrat next time!” Yes kids, if you don’t like this Government – vote for it!

Don’t get me wrong, there are some excellent Lib Dem blogs out there (This guy is lovely for example – but a bit Bracknell-centric for the blog roll). This is not one of them.


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Colaition Regulation Policy – The Insanity of the Ostensibly Reasonable

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Following discussion with Mark on this post I was reminded of the section in the coalition agreement covering “red tape”.

We will cut red tape by introducing a ‘one-in, one-out’ rule whereby no new regulation is brought in without other regulation being cut by a greater amount.

Sounds reasonable on the surface doesn’t it? No one wants too much regulation. We all want organisations to be able to focus on their primary purpose and not take more time than is necessary over paperwork.

But the key point there is “necessary”. Because if the coalition believe there is any regulation that is unnecessary why aren’t they abolishing it immediately. I may disagree with them over it’s necessity (I suspect that half the things they will abolish around health and safety will lead to a far greater threat to workforces and so would fight them on the abolition) but that’s not the point. I’m not in Government, and sadly don’t get to set the agenda. They do.

So , will we see an immediate abolition of all “unnecessary” regulation? Or will this wait until other regulation is introduced? If all the “unnecessary” regulation is abolished, what then will be abolished when new regulation is brought in?

This kind of political rhetoric is the kind of thing that looks sensible on the surface, but just completely falls apart under any reasonable scrutiny. Sadly, too much of our politics is now about crowd pleasing rhetoric, and not about having policies that will stick once the more difficult job of governing takes over.


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Worst Blog Post of the Week 5/11/10

Friday, November 5th, 2010

So the long awaited second installment of what will soon, I’m sure, be the nation’s favourite regularish blog feature!

Before I reveal the final winner, a word or two about two blogs that didn’t make it. Firstly this from Nadine Dorries. The problem being, that if I start giving this award to Nadine, it will never, ever stop. Also this award is aimed at factual blogs so that disqualifies her.

More seriously, I considered this piece on Liberal Conspiracy, which appears to blame Stephen Timms for his own stabbing. In the end I reconsidered, as this is a lighthearted piece for the end of the week, and there is a better and much longer and more serious point to be made (though probably by a better writer, but you’re stuck with me) about the discomfort I get from being considered a fellow traveller of the extreme end of the Stop the War coalition, simply because I disagreed with the war in Iraq.

So without further ado, the winner is this delightfully insane attack in new MP Lisa Nandy by Iain Dale. His beef with her essentially seems to be she has beliefs that match her party and her voters. Dreadful, I know!


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84% of the Cabinet Have Socially Useless Educations (According To Their Own Criteria)

Friday, November 5th, 2010

Following an interesting idea on twitter from @edjeff linked to this post from Left Foot Forward, I thought it might be quite interesting to see exactly how many of the Cabinet have degrees or higher qualifications from faculties that fall outside of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics deemed socially useful enough to continue to receive funding. All other degrees will from now on not be funded by teaching grants but by student fees. Therefore this Government deems these degrees to be of no wider social use.

So here is a list of Cabinet members, their degrees and the faculties they fall under:

  1. David Cameron – Politics, Philosophy & Economics – Social Sciences
  2. Nick Clegg – MA in Anthropology – Humanities & Social Science
  3. William Hague – Politics, Philosophy & Economics – Social Sciences
  4. George Osborn – MA in Modern History – Humanities
  5. Ken Clarke – Law – Humanities & Social Sciences
  6. Theresa May – Geography – Social Sciences
  7. Liam Fox – Medicine – Medicine
  8. Vince Cable – Natural Science and Economics – Science/Arts
  9. Ian Duncan Smith – attended Sandhurst
  10. Chris Huhne – Politics, Philosophy & Economics – Social Sciences
  11. Andrew Lansley – Politics -Social Sciences
  12. Michael Gove – English – Humanities
  13. Eric Pickles – Law Society Qualifications – Business & Law
  14. Philip Hammond – MA Politics, Philosophy & Economics – Social Sciences
  15. Caroline Spelman – European Studies – Humanities & Social Sciences
  16. Andrew Mitchell – History – Humanities & Social Sciences
  17. Owen Paterson – History – Humanities & Social Sciences
  18. Danny Alexander – Politics, Philosophy & Economics – Social Sciences
  19. Cheryl Gillan – College of Law – Law
  20. Jeremy Hunt – Politics, Philosophy & Economics – Social Sciences
  21. Michael Moore – Politics & Modern History – Humanities & Social Sciences
  22. Baroness Warsi – Law – Education, Social Sciences & Law
  23. Francis Maude – History – Humanities & Social Science
  24. Oliver Letwin – Degree from Trinity not listed.

Being generous in the cases of Oliver Letwin and Iain Duncan Smith, I make that 20.5 out of 24 or 84%.



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