Archive for September, 2011

What Ed Balls is really saying

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

The Telegraph has an interview with Ed Balls today in which he says he would not run again for leader but would support Yvette, were she to run in the future. Now it is quite, quite clear there is not going to be a leadership contest any time soon. The Party here in Liverpool is pretty united apart from a tiny handful of the usual suspects.

The interview and this declaration is absolutely couched in support for Ed M and his leadership. Balls was asked a direct question – it wasn’t raised by him – but even so, it could easily be read as a challenge or a warning to Ed M. I’m sure to a certain extent, that is there, I’m sure Ed Balls, having given up his own ambitions for leadership, has not given up his wife’s, but I think it is subtler and more clever than that.

I don’t think either Cooper or Balls would challenge Ed M for the leadership. One key reason Balls – despite a bravura performance – couldn’t break the top two in the leadership contest was that he was too closely associated with the plotting and tussling that happened during the transition from Blair to Brown. He was viewed as someone who put loyalty to clique above loyalty to the Party. He and Yvette will be more than aware of this negative in their image, and know that if they are to ever lead, they will need to display loyalty now.

But were the right to start agitating for a leadership contest again, that’s when Balls becomes a key player. By announcing that he wouldn’t run, he not only bolsters Yvette’s chances, but has the absolute opportunity to scupper David M’s chances too. A well timed speech by Balls along the lines of “I’ve run once and I lost by the rules of our contest fair and square” would frankly kill David’s chances of looking like anything other than a sore loser. The right would have to rally round an alternative candidate, who – in all likelihood – would be Scottish a tough place for the wing of the Party most focussed on increasing our appeal with Southern England (essential for winning again, but not the be-all-and-end-all it is sometimes made out to be).

Meanwhile the soft left will coalesce around Cooper, the unions will back her, as will many members who are put out by having another internal contest. Yvette – frankly – would walk it.

Cooper and Balls know that essential to their own success is to be completely loyal. But I’m not convinced the Labour right yet understand what their alternatives really are. Perhaps this interview will help to open their eyes.


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Representation is more complex than just a numbers game

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

There has been plenty of commentary on all sides about the reduction in numbers of MPs and the rather shoddy way in which the counting has taken place. Despite one of the Lib Dems less palatable advocates comment on a previous post, there are plenty of good reasons to oppose the methodology and rationale both behind the reduction of MPs as a whole and aganst the specific way that these numbers have been counted, by focusing only on electors and not constituents.

There are far better ways of discovering who lives in a locality than the electoral roll, especially since new influxes to cities are often more transient and likely to move around from temporary home to temporary home. This is why, in the past, information beyond the electoral roll (such as the Census and registration with GPs) has been used to create a far clearer picture. MPs are not just there to represent those who vote, but those who live in their constituency. No good MP – of any party – would turn away someone resident in their constituency who came to them for help because they were not a registered voter, so why should the system exclude an understanding of this need for representation?

But I wanted to consider a slightly more philosophical question. If we were to find ourselves in a situation with a perfect and accurate electoral roll, would then it be automatically the fair and right thing to do to have constituencies of a similar size?

Of course on the face of it, this seems like a complete no brainer. Of course ideally all votes should count equally and everyone should have equal representation in Parliament. The problem though , is that I am unconvinced that the former automatically leads to the latter.

I have already written about the muddled attitude we have towards MPs and the multitude of roles we expect them to play to our equal satisfaction. We expect them to be equal parts strategists, local champions and expert legislators. Depending on our own personal prejudices and priorities we want them to be far more one of those than the others.

My contention is that it may be, that even despite their own natural talents and preferences, some MPs have little choice over the majority of their focus, and their voters even less.

I haven’t managed to find any research about this, though would be delighted if someone would point me towards some either way, but I’d be willing to bet a pound to a penny that MPs who represent areas with high levels of deprivation have far, far higher loads of more complex casework. So those who live in such areas, whatever their own preference for an MPs priorities, will find their MPs time disproportionately taken up with local – rather than strategic or legislative – issues.

If my contention is the case, that MPs representing seats with high levels of depravation have higher workloads, then others then I contend that project like the Voter Power Index (who primarily complain about safe seats, but also factor in large voter numbers) are missing a significant part of the picture. There may well be a tension in fact between the question of “how much is my vote worth electorally?” and “how much work do I get from my MP proportionately?”.

Equally there are additional democratic disadvantages for Labour. Beyond the numerical difference between electors and constituents, there is the lower percentage of their time that is able to be devoted to national political work, either through strategy or effective legislative work.

In many ways, this reminds me of the tension between those who advocate measures to promote equality of opportunity versus those who promote equality of outcome (or on a smaller scale the liberal measures Vs liberal outcomes debate on representation the Lib Dems are starting to have).

At the moment, everyone is talking about the numbers and how we count them, and not the bigger philosophical questions of what we expect and deserve of our MPs. Once again we might lose the opportunity to challenge and change what is a serious and long term problem with our democracy. We are fighting – rightly – an undemocratic measure but in doing so may well be missing a much larger undemocratic landscape.


A Huge Thank You

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Thanks to everyone who voted for Scarlet Standard in the Total Politics Awards. I am utterly thrilled to have been voted 4th best Labour blog and to be the top single-authored Labour blog! It means a great deal to me so thank you, thank you, thank you!



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Could this be the Lib Dems toughest challenge yet?

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Now as regular readers will know, I don’t always have the greatest amount of time and respect for the Liberal Democrats. I didn’t before the coalition and little that has happened since has changed my mind (more reinforced in steel what I always believed to be true). I say this because what I am discussing below could easily be seen as my putting a partisan gloss on an issue. There are certainly good reasons both in terms of the fairness and the electoral effect of the boundary proposals to make it a clear Labour priority to scupper the Bill by any means possible (and you know, all it really takes is one Scarlet Standard blog post to bring the establishment, trembling, to their knees *ahem*). But actually I hope this is a bit more of a thoughtful blog about the rock and the hard place the Lib Dems find themselves over this issue.

So here’s the problem:

The Lib Dems are – in all likelihood – going to be completely shafted by the boundary review. There are mutterings that several might vote against it. Labour will vote against it. If enough Lib Dem and Tory rebels can be found the Bill could be defeated. Defeat of the Bill suits the Lib Dems in terms of immediate parliamentary arithmetic.

The problem is that they made a very public agreement to support the boundary changes in return for the AV referendum. As Lady Bracknell might have said: “to break one high-profile promise is unfortunate…”. Additionally, this promise is one that the right-wing press is absolutely behind. While Nick Clegg may have passed into popular culture as Britain’s most well known liar (and you just have to look at the recent Shameless trailer to see how pervasive this is) it is not quite yet seen as endemic to the Party. If they go against the Government on boundary changes, you can guarantee that the press goes after Tim Farron and Simon Hughes, after the Lib Dems who might have a chance at giving them a post-coalition future. It will be open warfare on all the Lying Lib Dems. If you think it’s been bad up to now….

Now those of us who were imploring the Lib Dems to split the Bill and make these issues less reliant on each other last year can look on at the car crash that is coming with a certain sense of “I told you so” style satisfaction. And of course, part of me is doing that, because this bind the Lib Dems in is entirely of their own making. The continually slapdash approach of the Lib Dem team to strategy is astonishing by a Party at the level they have reached. But having backed themselves once again into a lose/lose corner, it is impossible not to feel a stirring of pity for them.

Just a tiny bit mind.


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Welcome to political pre-season

Monday, September 5th, 2011

I hear Vince Cable and George Osborne have had a disagreement over banking. Oh and the Lib Dems might rebel over the health vote. Nick Clegg’s talking human rights all of a sudden, while the Tories are all about Broken Britain. Someone is leaking Shaun Woodward’s strategy memos.

Gosh, anyone would think conference season was about to start.

Conferences have primarily become a place where parties can showcase themselves to the nation through a series of set pieces. But in order for those set pieces to be more interesting than the conference around them, some red meat must be thrown to the activists. To ensure you have cheering not jeering (unless – like Labour in the 80s – it is the very image of that jeering that you are desperate for the public to see) you need to have relatively happy delegates. That means making announcements that will please the hall, and lead to plenty of standing ovations the camera can linger on.

But equally, you need to make announcements that will speak to the country more widely. It’s one of your few big chance to set out your stall and to be the salesman for the ideas and themes you hope will win you the next election.

Here are my predictions for some of the things that will happen during conference season this year:

1.     There will be a big, fake fight between the Lib Dems and Tories. The Health and Social Care Bill will pass, but a few Lib Dems will be allowed to vote against it (though, as with tuition fees, not enough to make a difference). Vince Cable will make a good speech at conference denouncing plans to remove the 50p tax rate and promoting a mansion tax.

2.     Osborne will announce a timetable for the removal of the 50p tax rate. It will be very popular in the hall and with newspaper columnists. This will be seen as a tactical win.

3.     The Tories will get a bigger poll bump than Labour and will even go into the lead in the polls for a while. Labour’s Chicken-Licken brigade will not react well. This will probably run for a few months until the next chance Ed has to prove his mettle. This is not a make or break conference.

4.     Ed will make a good speech putting a bit more meat on the bones of his responsibility agenda. But it won’t be a barnstormer. He needs someone to put a few more killer lines in his speeches that aren’t quite there yet. Everyone will find things in the speech to both agree and disagree with. Everyone on the internet and Twitter will focus on what they disagreed with.

5.     There will be some embarrassment at every conference. At Labour’s it will be personnel based (someone will say something they shouldn’t about Ed or the leadership) at the Tories it will be an off-colour gag or reference to the riots. At the Lib Dems it will be because, after a summer of riots and economic crisis, their delegates will be focused on the really important issue: Conference accreditation.

For myself, I’m looking forward to conference as ever for what it really is: A great chance to network, a place to catch up with old friends, and – like a sci-fi convention for people in suits – a place to comfortably geek out among like-minded souls.

See you in Liverpool…


This post first appeared on Labour List


Another post about New Labour

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

There was an intriguing post on Labour List today. I think like the authors he clearly admires (those he directed specific attention to this post included Richard Angell and John Rentoul), the author was clearly enjoying the surety of being a contentious outrider. But to me, the piece seemed like a massively wasted opportunity. I’ve written many posts about New Labour , some more nuanced than others. I’ve generally written from my genuine position of always having been to the left of New Labour, but having a genuine appreciation for the victories of 1997 and 2001 ( as I’ve written before, I don’t think of 2005 as a New Labour win) and several of the policies we were able to enact as a result.There never seems to be a mirror from those who leaned closer to New Labour in its heyday. You don’t see an acceptance of its faults which would – in my opinion – bolster the efforts given to praising its virtues. This is utterly missing from this analysis. It may well take a dispassionate historian far in the future, and far removed from the passions aroused on both sides to truly do the story of New Labour’s rise and fall justice.

The other key problem with Alex’s article is that it offers an entirely false dichotomy. Labour must either be embracing of the monopoly-run utilities or anti-business. Labour must be New Labour as defined and sadly crystallised in 1994 or it is Old Labour as defined and sadly crystallised in 1983. There can be no other path.

During Alex’s wholesale embrace of New Labour, he offers a rather confusing argument where he posits that a hung parliament is extremely likely and that the electorate will do everything they can to avoid that. In doing so, he argues that we need to offer Lib Dem voters a manifesto they will be attracted to. I wholly agree, but feel that doing so would be quite dissimilar from any offer New Labour might have made on issues around security and surveillance.

Most glaringly, Alex completely ignores what was one of the key – and has become the most dated – strand of New Labour thinking, its top-down management of every aspect of the Party machinery.

While this always chafed with the membership, it was for some time accepted as a price worth paying both for moving on from the freak show that had been Labour in the 80s, and for power and the chance to enact a Labour agenda.

While that agenda became ever more diluted, by time and by the lingering fear of ’92, the world changed. Members started expecting a more transactional relationship with the Party. We wanted to be more than mouthpieces, we wanted our say and technology was enabling us to have it.

The collision of New Labour and new technology wasn’t pretty. Message control became a Sisyphean feat, but that didn’t (and doesn’t) stop people attempting it.

Sadly, New Labour got old and lazy. It didn’t learn and it hasn’t adapted. It became a parody of the fresh attitude it once became. To paraphrase, New Labour was the Future once…

Now is the time to keep not simply the best of what worked then, but only the best of what can and will work now. It is not the time to revist 1983, 1994 or 2010, but to look to 2015 and to work towards a new Labour. One fit for purpose, fit for the future and understanding or what that means in terms of the privileged few who will run it and the thousands of us whose shoulders they stand on.




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The views stated are those of Emma Burnell and the other occassional contributors.
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