Archive for December, 2011

My predictions fo 2011 – How did I do?

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

This time last year, I wrote a post with 11 predictions for 2011. One of the joys of blogging for me is the chance to reflect and grow. To see where I’ve called it right and where I haven’t and to learn from both of these. For example, I believed there would be a Cabinet reshuffle in the early summer. Olly Grender called me on it, and she was right to do so.

So here is an examination of the predictions I made. For those of you who believe that politics has right and wrong answers, I’ll give them a right or wrong score. For those – like me – who believe that the really interesting parts of life live in the grey areas, I’ve given myself a mark out of 10 for each and an explanation of that mark. Please, please feel free to tell me how you think I’ve done – and be as harsh as you think is fair!

1. Ed will still be leader of the Labour Party. Of course he will, we don’t have the money, the stomach or the suicidal insanity to re-fight that fight. That won’t stop the bitching or the briefing but as what most people know becomes ever clear to those who can’t quite see it yet, these will subside.

Right.

Score: 8/10. I was of course right that Ed would still be leader. Even at the worst that Ed has faced, his most vocal opponents have realised the brink they were standing on and blinked first. I was also right that the bitching and briefing wouldn’t stop. Points lost for believing it would subside. Certainly the nervy Labour right don’t believe in downplaying Tory “achievements” like the Euro “veto” and it’s consequent bounce.

2. Labour will remain – in aggregate – ahead in the polls. There will be times when we are quite far ahead, and times when the Tories spike. We should treat these imposters both the same. We are a nose ahead and should fight accordingly.

Right.

Score: 9/10. Pretty much spot on. I’ve lost a point to reflect the end of year dip, and the fact that we don’t yet know if the current contraction is a Tory spike (as it looks like) or a longer term narrowing. Either way, we remain ahead on aggregate but by a tiny margin.

3. Labour will win Oldham East & Saddleworth, but it will be close. In the end, not enough Tories will switch to compensate for the loss of Lib Dem voters to push the Lib Dems over the line. The Libs could possibly have won this with a different candidate, but that we will never know.

Right.

Score: 8/10. Again, pretty spot on both on the ultimate result and the reasons behind it. The only problem was that in the end it wasn’t actually close.

4. Labour and the Greens will be the big winners in the local elections, both increasing their numbers significantly at the expense of the Lib Dems.

Wrong.

Score: 5/10. I think if I’ve only scored myself at half, I should say I’ve called it wrong. However, I wasn’t wrong about Labour who did very well gaining 857 councillors. However, the Greens failed to capitalise at all, and the Tories also gained at the expense of their doomed coalition partners.

5. The AV referendum will be closer than I once thought it would be, but it will be lost. I just don’t think enough of the public care enough. I know I don’t – I’m a hack and I don’t even know which way I’ll vote.

Right.

Score: 7/10. In the end, it wasn’t even remotely close.

6. The coalition will hold, but will falter briefly as after the AV & local election losses, Lib Dems see their polling number increase to about 12-15%. There will be some agitation from the left of the Lib Dems that that’s as good as it’s going to get and they should take that opportunity to leave. The leadership will tough it out. They will succeed in doing so as unless there is a new war, the totemic issues for the left have already been capitulated on.

Right.

Score: 3/10. Wow. Ultimately I was right about the coalition holding so that’s the three points, but other than that how wrong could you be. The Lib Dems started to mutter about a new way of dealing with the coalition, which seemed to involve slightly less bending over. Hmmm… can’t see I’ve noticed them getting the Tories to do their own Newsnight appearances, the most visible display of their subservience. They also whipped the European referendum vote which was a further slap in the face for their activists. Oh and a war seemed to have no impact whatsoever.

7. This will strengthen the Tory right and Cameron will have to give them something. It probably won’t be hunting as the polling and imagery is too bad, it probably can’t be Europe, so I suspect there will be something on either tax cuts or immigration or both.

Right.

Score: 6/10. Right, except that it was Europe. Though there have been noises on all the other issues, they’ve mostly been just noises (Theresa’s cat for example) rather than actually policy.

8. Gove will be reshuffled into a role he can’t screw up so publically.

Wrong.

Score 0/10. As above. No reshuffle. Despite being nicknamed the Cabinet of the Dead Cameron is resolute in not reshuffling. Whether this is wise or not remains to be seen, but certainly it meant I was 100% wrong in this prediction.

9. There will be at least two more cabinet resignations, and at least one will be a big beast. Neither will be Vince Cable who missed his chance to make a difference, and is nicely neutered as far as Clegg and the Tories are concerned.

Wrong.

Score 6/10. Just as I scored very low on a questions I marked as right, here I’m scoring pretty high despite getting it wrong. This is partly because we did get one pretty high profile resignation in Liam Fox, partly because I’ve been proved right about Cable over and over and over again and partly because there’s still two days left for Chris Huhne to do the right thing before he’s forced to by the CPS.

10. The 10% cut to Housing Benefit will be dropped from the Welfare Bill. The Lib Dems will claim this as a victory despite a lot of the other pernicious stuff that will remain.

Right.

Score: 10/10. Not much to add other than Thank God, but the fight goes on.

11. There will be at least one quarter of negative GDP and unemployment will rise.

Right.

Score: 7/10. This is the most difficult to score. A negative quarter was announced this year, but it was for the last quarter of 2011. We’ve absolutely flat-lined, and predictions are that this quarter will be negative again. But the figures aren’t out yet so I’m having to rely on predictions. I will come back and rescore if I am wrong. I am – sadly – completely right about unemployment.

Final tallies:

8 right, 3 wrong or 73%

69/110 or 63%

(See the difference a bit of subtlty can make – humph!)

Let me know what you think. Have I been too generous? Too harsh? What are your predictions for next year?

 

 

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A Tale of Two Columnists

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Goodwill to all mankind. ‘Tis the season right? Oh well.

Seems I set my self a precendent last year by responding at almost exactly this time to Dan Hodges nihlism. I’ve not bothered with Dan for a while, mainly becuase what was once fun jousting became as tediously repetitive as his columns. I used to enjoy reading Dan in the Statesman. I rarely agreed with him, but his words in that context felt like a challenge I wanted to rise to. And rise I did.

Now Dan is a columnist in the Telegraph. That’s nice for him. I hope they pay him well. He remains a very talented writer. But as we go into the Christmas period I’d like to offer Dan a gift of some advice. He will certainly choose to ignore it, but it is good advice, even if it won’t feel that way.

My advice is this: Stop trying to be a like John Rentoul. It’s doing you wonders in the short term, but it will kill your longer term prospects.

There are a number of similarities. Rentoul built his career by being associated very clearly with a Labour leader. But where Rentoul had a cogent narrative to support and contribute to in Blair and Blairism, Dan’s obsession is a negative one, with a leader he loathes partly on ideological grounds, but mostly because he just really doesn’t like him. Dan has nothing to offer as a positive. He’s not offering Labour an alternative path, championing a different leader or a different vision. He’s trying to tear down, not build up. No wasn’t just a campaign for Dan, it’s become a crippling addiction, a way of life.

It’s perfectly OK not to like Ed Miliband. It’s Dan’s perfect right to do so and to write about it until his fingers bleed. I’m sure the Telegraph will be more than happy to allow him to do as long as it remains useful.

But therein lies the problem. Because this can only end one of two ways, and at present, neither looks very good for Dan. Miliband will either continue to weather the storm and come through successfully or he will be defeated either by the Party or by the electorate. (Personally, my money is still happily on the former). When either of those happen, Dan loses. If Miliband wins, Dan will once again be the man who called it wrong. If Miliband loses, Dan loses his foil. Like Mike Yarwood after the downfalls of Heath & Wilson, he becomes even more irrelevant (I say even more, because his repetitiveness is already threatening his relevance).

Dan is in danger of allowing his talent to become the political equivalent of a diamond sledgehammer – hard, beautiful, capable only of destruction and ultimately pointless. Unless he diversifies, unless he channels at least some – and no one would ask for all, he should still write about Ed – of his energies into a wider variety of topics, and in particular finding someone or something to get behind, then Dan’s doomed to increasing irrelevance. Which would be a huge waste of a once great talent.

*Edited becuase for some reason my theatre addled brain had John Rentoul at the Telegraph not the Independent! Apologies.

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Both Sides Now: Welfare Reform

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Everybody in the country should read this piece by Sue Marsh and get angry. What’s happening to Sue and many, many other DLA claimants is a depressing and disgraceful example of how this government are attempting to reduce the deficit by breaking the backs of the very poorest in our society.

But that’s not the whole story. It would be remiss of me not to mention that ATOS, welfare reform and Lord Freud were all originally brought in by James Purnell and Liam Byrne as Labour ministers. We didn’t go as far and our ideology is different (of which more later) but our hands are not clean on welfare reform.

That’s the admission that cleanses my lefty soul; that goes some way to placating the increasingly loud and well organised disabled lobby. It’s the answer that speaks to the part of our Socialism that is about protecting the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.

But that’s not the whole story either. The whole story is about how we got to that point while in government and where we go now in opposition. The whole story is how we support a system that works. The whole story is how we provide a social contract that those who fund it and those who benefit from it will can both agree with.

These are not questions that simply exist on the issue of disability benefits. On employment and unemployment related welfare, on housing and housing related welfare and on societal attitudes to child poverty and parental welfare Labour faced questions from all sides while in Government and face a louder clamour still in opposition.

The Tories have a strong and firm stall on all issues of welfare. It may (indeed does) have evil consequences, but it would be a mistake to believe it comes from a place of evil. It comes from a flawed, misguided, mistaken belief that looking after people infantilises them and that tough love is the best – indeed only real – love there is. Call it wrong because it is. Decry the effects loudly, because they are terrible. But if we simply revert to name calling without understanding, we won’t be able to change minds. When the majority of the public agree with their attitude, rhetoric and most of the measures, we simply cannot expect a democratic party of opposition to ignore that simply to pick a fight they’ll lose anyway.

There was a fair amount of angst among Labour supporters about the recent speech by Liam Byrne about making unemployment benefit recipients work harder for the money they receive. Measure might include weekly rather than fortnightly attendance at the Job Centre and compulsory work training for the long-term unemployed. It was all too easy for the left – Labour and otherwise – to believe that these announcements were tantamount to the demonisation of the unemployed. Despite Liam Byrne making other speeches calling levels of unemployment a disgrace.

We cannot forget that currently there is a prevalent belief in disability fraud – despite fraud being relatively low incidence and extremely low cost. But those who are struggling the most live closest to those who are defrauding the system, because the poorly paid live in close quarters with those on benefits, including the small percentage who may not deserve them. Those who are working hard, unsatisfying low paid jobs deserve as much as anyone to feel their taxes are being well spent, and it is them as much as anyone who a new social contract will have to be made.

This being the case, I would urge disability campaigners like Sue to engage even more fully on the issue of fraud (I know this is done to an extent). Not because it is as real or prevalent as the Daily Mail believes, but precisely because it is not. If we can lay the myths firmly to rest, we can stop basing our policies on the demands they create from ordinary people. But until we engage with that narrative head on and change it, we will never lose the term scrounger (one of the reasons I love Sue’s blog is her taking that word and challenging it in it’s very title. More of that!).

In my previous writing on welfare I was fumbling towards a time when Labour and the left could agree that the simple statement “as a society we should encourage as few people as possible to be on benefits” was not an attack on those who do need and deserve societal support, but an acknowledgement that most who do would prefer – if possible – to live by other means. Getting people off benefits should be equal in our minds to reducing unemployment, to raising standards of living. Not – as it is in Iain Duncan Smith’s philosophy as a way of testing the mettle of the unemployed in the hope they will rise to the challenge. Too often, both sides of this debate on the Left have allowed what should and could mean the former to mean the latter.

That’s the fault of our politicians for failing in and out of government to challenge perceptions rather than pander to them. But equally, it’s the fault of the left for falling into the trap of playing an eternal and losing defensive game. What we currently have in terms of welfare isn’t working. It’s barely enough to keep those who rely on it off the breadline and yet still seen as wasted by those who don’t. The left, campaigners like Sue and Labour should come together in all our long term interests – and those of the UK – to make welfare reform a thing that excites rather than frightens us. We should be talking to experts, health practitioners and patient groups to make assessment work; we should work with charities, employers and claimants to make long term unemployment a thing of the past; we should work with strong hearts and loud public voices to proclaim the birth of a new welfare contract in the long term interests of everyone. We should never again let our fear stymie our ambitions. Because every time we do, every time we fight on the defensive not the offensive, we lose a little more ground. And soon we will have none left.

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It’s not just Ken Vs Boris

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Marcus Roberts wrote a convincing ten point planon what Ken needs to do to win. I agree with nine and half of his points. Not bad going. However, I also slightly disagree with the premise as a whole. Because I think it buys into the half a point I disagree with – that this is a contest of Ken Vs Boris.

If we allow this to become a Ken Vs Boris contest, we’ll lose. Ken may have been the big personality of London once, but he isn’t anymore. In 2000 even I voted for him against Labour. In June a poll had him trailing the Party by 20 points. Things have changed, Ken’s campaigning style needs to change too.

You would not know this to look at his website or his otherwise excellent Fare Deal video. In fact you’d barely know that Ken is running for Labour. This is a huge strategic mistake. It’s a mistake because Labour poll ahead of Ken, but more than this, it cedes the ground of the debate. It gives up a Tory Vs Labour fight we have a chance of winning to a personality politics bun fight. That puts the game firmly on Boris’s turf, allows him to flirt with his Tory rebel image (without actually ever actually living up to it) and these days, Ken is no match for this

I like Ken. I’ve grown up with him as a permanent fixture of my political life. The GLC were an intrinsic part of my childhood, and that of every child who ever sailed up the Regents Canal on the Jenny Wren or tried in vain to use one of their square rubbers as a bouncy ball. But Boris is the bigger personality. Just as Ken was a household name in the 80s, now Boris is known and – we must accept liked – by millions.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t highlight Boris’s incompetence, dilettantism and complete inability to empathise with the lives of ordinary Londoners. But we should equally be framing this better. It’s not just because Boris is rich that he considers his wages “chickenfeed” while raising the fares of ordinary Londoners. It because he fundamentally agrees with the path the Government is taking which is hurting ordinary Londoners.

Boris doesn’t want to fight this campaign as a Tory but as Boris. I accept that we can’t simply repeat the fact that he is a Tory, but actually being a Tory is one of Boris’s big weaknesses. Not to at least attempt to capitalise on that would be insane.

Ken and London Labour should adopt most of the advice Marcus has given them. But I’m concerned about  “meeting voters where they are on Boris”. Because where they are at the moment is that they like him and they’re inclined to vote for him. Labour have to come out swinging as a team. We have that strength in London that the Tories don’t. It’s going to be difficult because this contest has never really been fought on a Party political basis. But we need to shift the frame of the debate if we are going to win back my beautiful city. London deserves better than Boris and a lot better than the Tories. We have to make it clearer to the electorate, that by electing BoJo, you get Osborne, Cameron, and Brian Coleman. But by electing Ken, you get a Labour candidate ready to take the fight for London to the Government.

This post first appeared on Labour List.

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On lobbying

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Let’s start with some honesty: I have been a professional lobbyist. I wasn’t very good at it (of which more later), and getting made redundant was a sweet relief as I hated every solitary second of it, but I did it for 18 months. I stress that the firm I worked for we’re not only enthusiastic signatories to the APPC code, but were evangelists for it. They represented some clients I wasn’t that keen on but never, ever did anything that I could describe as shady. As someone who has dealt with public affairs companies when seeking sponsorship for a variety of events and projects, it is my opinion that this is true for the vast majority of the lobbying industry. I know some excellent people who work in the industry none of whom are – to my knowledge – evil. They are, like most people, trading the skills, knowledge and experience they have developed for a salary. As simple as that.

Still I wake up every morning thankful I’m no longer a lobbyist. Even on the worst day at my current job (and every job has its bad days).

Of course my former colleagues would argue that I am still a lobbyist. As a campaigner, it’s true that the majority of my work is spent trying to convince politicians of the rightness of my cause and act accordingly. As do the public affairs teams at all major charities and pressure groups, companies and trade organisations, think tanks and unions.

But for me personally, and forgive me for being crude, the difference between lobbyist and campaigner is like the difference between being a lover and being a prostitute. You’re doing exactly the same things, but with quite different motivations. In short, you mean it Maaan. I’ve discovered that for me to be able to fulfil my potential, I have to mean it.

In most public affairs companies, there are two types of people: the swans and the hamsters.

The swans are the directors and their entire role is about liaison. Never purposefully lunching alone, they keep up their links with the politicians they’ve known for years, with the clients they’re keeping onside, with the former clients they’re hoping to win back and the potential clients they’re hoping to win. They are known throughout the industry and they charge accordingly.

The hamsters are the account managers. They read and digest for the clients endless committee, think tank and pressure group reports. They listen to select committee hearings and attend APPG meetings diligently taking notes to be bundled up for weekly digests for the clients. They arrange meetings, create briefings and organise diaries. The reason I was not a great hamster, was that I found it a Herculean effort to read dry, dusty reports on matters I didn’t care about. I lost my ability to pay attention to detail on issues that didn’t matter (and my big picture strengths were rarely brought into play as a hamster). Other hamsters do this extraordinarily well though, and my two closest colleagues from my time as a lobbyist were two of the most professional and dedicated people it has been my pleasure to work with.

Lobbying isn’t clear cut. The image that exists ( and which lobbyist like Bell Pottinger’s Peter Bingle do everything to maintain) isn’t the whole picture. But it is an industry in need of sunshine. The APPC works pretty well for those who sign up to it. But until there’s a mandatory code covering everyone in the industry, and that should probably include Greenpeace and the Tax Payers Alliance, the worst sort of swan will continue to tarnish the best sort of hamster. In the end, despite the kicking and screaming of the old guard, regulation may well be good for the industry as a whole.

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The Dream Politician

Monday, December 5th, 2011

The dream politician is independent minded. They also agree with everything I think.

The dream politician takes on their Party, but doesn’t rock the boat.

The dream politician is fair and even-handed. Except when it comes to my special interest group, when they are 100% behind our demands.

The dream politician has never had a political job before standing in my constituency. They make the shadow cabinet within months and we think they’re leadership material.

The dream politician has substance – which plays so well on the telly.

The dream politician is a pragmatic ideologue.

The dream politician isn’t factional, they just disagree with the same people I do.

The dream politician is always in the constituency and on Newsnight.

The dream politician is a strong leader who empowers members.

The dream politician is a lie. A flawed creation of those whose interest it is in for all the all-too-human politicians to fail.

Be careful what you wish for.

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