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The way Labour feel about the NHS

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By Emma | 4 comments

Some things in politics are technocratic. Some are ideological, some things are pragmatic, some are defensive, some optimistic. Some things are designed to make things better, some to make things less worse.

The best advances combine the best of our passion with the best of our ideology and the best of our know how. The NHS is all of this and more.

Other parties should understand how Labour activists feel about the NHS. It is our Thatcher; it is our Churchill; it is our religion; it is our monarchy, our republic and our patriotism. It is our Potemkin, our Bastille, our Gettysburg. It is our Brittania, our John Bull, our Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It exemplifies for us the very best of the Britain we believe in. It goes to the heart of our values, and it lives in our hearts.

If the coalition had want to ensure the most ferocious election campaign ever, they couldn’t have gone about it more bullishly. Every Labour activist in the Party has been fired up by this Bill. Every doorstep in every marginal in the country will be hearing about the NHS and the damage done to it from now until 2015.

But Labour mustn’t just focus on the NHS as an electoral issue. We need to take that passion and commitment and apply it equally to planning the future of the NHS and long term care. Andy Burnham has, quite rightly, said that we will repeal the Bill. But we will need to do so carefully. The NHS will have gone through enough shocks and any re-reorganisation will take care, time and most vitally the support of the professionals. We need to work with the experts with whom we have built such a strong coalition in fighting damaging change. We need to listen to them, to work with them and to draft together a strong, long-term, sustainable future for the NHS. One that once again reflects everything we want to present to the world about what it means to be British.

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What A Mess

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By Emma | One comment

My God the Lib Dems have screwed this one up royally.

Let’s leave aside for the moment, the rights and wrongs of the policy, this is just stunning political ineptitude. Every step they take seems designed to make them look more ridiculous than the last.

Look first at Vacillating Vince. Will he vote for his own policy. No one – especially not Vince – seems to know. In the end though he will of course vote for it. As will enough Lib Dems to ensure it passes. They’ll be left with the worst of all worlds, having adopted the policy while trying to weasel out responsibility for it. Which of course, anyone with an ounce of political nous can tell you won’t happen if the policy passes.

The interesting thing is that the really high profile likely rebels – apart from Tim Farron – are the giants of the past. Ming Campbell and Charles Kennedy won’t be back in senior positions again, but still command a great deal of respect from the left of the party. Their high profile rebellion this early in the parliament is quite significant.

The problem Clegg and the Lib Dems have, is that they have allowed the Tories to front-load all the stuff they hate before the AV referendum. The cuts have been announced, they are going to pass the hideous housing benefit changes, Tuition fees will largely have been and gone, the changes to the NHS, Education and Policing will have Lib Dem support on the record, even if the votes haven’t occurred.

So when the AV referendum and council seats are lost, the cold comfort of the raise to the basic level of tax (more than off-set by the VAT rise) or the Pupil Premium (not new money) will not be enough to reinvigorate demoralised activists. The hardcore few will remain. These will be those who are more wedded to the coalition than those who have slipped away. They will cling ever harder, because they will rightly see that before 2015 and a change of leadership (at the least) the Lib Dems will not survive alone again.

There are a lot of people who see the splits over tuition fees as the beginning of the end of the coalition. I don’t – I think it binds the two parties tighter than ever. However, what it could easily signify is the end of what we currently know of as the Liberal Democrats as a single and separate political force. Large parts of the party could be wooed by the Tories into a more permanent political Alliance (they’ve been there before). While some others may join the Liberal Party or struggle on as a seatless wraith. The ghost at the feast of plural politics. The warning to all politicians to be careful what you wish for.

Frankly, the way they have bungled this, it remains to be seen if they will even have the nous to salvage that much.

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I was having an interesting discussion with a colleague this morning about what Lib Dem MPs who didn’t like the coalition’s actions could and would do. I said that it was highly improbably that this (or any) government would go a full term without at least one ministerial resignation and that that was probably even more likely under coalition. While ministerial resignations are dramatic and aid a narrative of splits, in the end they don’t really amount to much unless a Government is a lot closer to a knife edge than this one is. Some junior Lib Dem stepping down from being minister for paperclips will occupy Twitter, the blogs (this one included I’m sure) and the press, but won’t make an awful lot of difference to the Parliamentary mathematics.

The only thing that would really change parliamentary mathematics would be defections.

Now as is utterly clear, the Lib Dems hate Labour. Lib Dem blogs are full of this bile and since going into coalition with the Tories, it’s all spewed endlessly at us. And let’s be fair – we hate them right back. We hate them for splitting the left making it so easy for the Tories to rule without a majority and the coalition has hardly dulled that feeling. Both sets of activists are as tribal and angry as each other and this is not being made better by the ConDem coalition.

So I really can’t see a Lib Dem defecting to the Labour Party in this parliament. But I can see a Lib Dem feeling so far removed from their party that they didn’t see a place for them in it anymore. This happens – rarely but it does happen. If it did, I think that the shock of leaving their own tribe would probably be quite enough and defecting to Labour probably more than they could take. But with Caroline Lucas now firmly ensconced in Parliament, there is another alternative which would work pretty well for non-Orange Book Lib Dems.

I’m not willing to put any money on it (unlike AV failing, which following today’s story in the Independent I have now put £20 on) but I don’t think it could be dismissed out of hand that by the end of this Parliament, we could see at least two Green MPs fighting for reelection.

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This Was Not Fair

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By Emma | 5 comments

The CSR was an attack on the most vulnerable in society along with the squeezed middle. It will completely redefine the welfare state not as an indicator of our civilisation, but as a Victorian squalor provider, hidden from the view of the rich who caused the problems in the first place.

Because it’s an area I know about, I will exemplify what I mean by talking about the cuts to social housing, which are appalling. a 60% cut to the budget for building desperately needed new properties is expected to be made up by charging new tenants up to 80% of the market rent. This is not affordable housing by any stretch of the imagination, particularly in areas where the market rate is ridiculously over inflated. There will then be a split in social housing providers between those who build and those who house the poorest, which will mean over time that we end up with ghettos rather than vibrant mixed communities.

This is just one way to examine what is clear. This budget is deeply unfair. When the budget for local authorities are cut by twice as much in percentage terms as the money given to the richest woman in Britain, that’s  not fair.

When the poorest  suffer as the second most impacted group  (after the very wealthy who can – of course – bear the impact far better), that’s not fair.

A final thought for you. On the Guardian Website, they ran an interactive feature called You Make the Cuts. In the cuts options offered for the Department for Transport, one option is to privatise 10% of the road network and introduce charging. This would generate £75 Billion. Not a single other measure would have to be taken. Not a job lost, not a university place unfunded, not a social house unbuilt. There would even be money to invest in public transport to alleviate the suffering of those who would be worse off.

Not even considered.

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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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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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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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I used to work in the democracy movement for a short time. I got very disillusioned very quickly. It was rarely if ever a real examination of how to give disenfranchised people more power, but in fact how to give more power to the people who demand it most.

So I can’t say I care an awful lot about the AV referendum. I don’t see how a voting change that is arguable less enfranchising of supporters of smaller parties is more democratic. I also don’t see how a system that ensures that the party that really loses the election – i.e. comes behind two others – is the most likely to partake in government is more democratic either. I don’t see how a system that introduces binding changes agreed to behind closed doors which weren’t in a manifesto days after the election (take rape anonymity for example) is more democratic. At the very least there should be nothing in a coalition agreement that wasn’t in one or the other manifesto.

However, I will almost certainly vote yes on the day. My preferred of the many flawed systems is AV+, which retains the constituency links but might help the Greens to be bigger players (thus giving rise to potential new partnerships if the coalition becomes a merger), and this might be a step in the right direction, but I can’t say it will be my number 1 priority. Good luck everyone, but I’ll be too busy fighting the cuts to go to the barricades on this one.

Plenty of other Labour Party members will though (and a small minority will campaign against) and good luck to them. It was one of our Manifesto commitments, and if at all possible, we should try to make it happen.

But we can only do so if we are able to do so while fighting the rushed and ill-judged measures the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill also contains. Left Foot Forward have done a brilliant analysis of the myriad problems with the bill as it stands, and it needs serious rewriting to get it into a fit shape to be supported.

If the ConDems really care enough about getting this issue out to the public in a referendum, than frankly they should present it to Parliament in a form that can be supported by all sides of the house. Otherwise it could just seem that Cameron is getting Labour to do his dirty work for him by presenting us with a bill we can’t in good conscience support, knowing that enough of his backbenchers will rebel that it might fail altogether. Unlikely, but he can at least turn to his backbenchers and show them the gerrymandered constituencies that they gain from it.

There is no need for these issues to come together, and to be honest if the coalition think they are going to last to 2015 no need to rush the referendum. We have plenty of time to register the millions of unregistered voters, and in the 2011 census, to count the millions of children who will mature to voting age before the next General Election is even held. Labour needs to ask why we’re rushing something imperfect when we could have a great and truly reforming bill and registration drive that enfranchises millions more, not millions less.

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This post is triggered by a few blogs I have read by Lib Dems some of which are linked to here.  This post here - for example – is one of the most laughable pieces of rhetoric I have ever read. Whining that opposition politicians are daring to oppose your Government (or in fact the bit of your Government it suits you to claim) is as pathetic as it is ridiculous. Honestly, it’s such a caricature of all the worst traits people complain of in Lib Dems, that if Nick Perry didn’t exist, the Labour Party would be accused of inventing him to make them look bad.

More thoughtfully, Mark Thomson has laid out his thoughts 0n the betrayal narrative here and here. But I think Mark too misses the point. In both of these posts, Mark writes as if Labour’s calls of betrayal are about a sense of betrayal felt by the Labour Party. I can’t speak for all of my party, but I didn’t feel the Lib Dems betrayed Labour, but vindicated what we had been saying to their left-leaning voters. And that’s the point. It’s those voters who are feeling betrayed or are likely to feel betrayed over the next few months and years. I’ve already met several Lib Dem voters of my acquaintance who have sworn “never again” and it’s exactly those kinds of voters who Labour can and should be appealing to. Will this bleeding of voters be the  cost to the Lib Dems of being backed into the corner they have been fighting for all these years? The result of the inevitable mixed feeling that coalition government will bring?

The problem the Lib Dems have is that they have always been two rather different parties one of liberals and one of social democrats forced into an alliance purely for electoral advantage (which is probably why the one thing that unites them is an over-prioritisation of voting reform). The party leadership – as happened with Labour – is increasingly to the right of the membership (a huge percentage of whom identified themselves as Left of Centre before the election) which I can tell you from experience leads to disaffected members and ex-members pretty quickly – particularly when you enact right wing policies. For Labour it was our civil liberties agenda and the war, for the Lib Dems it likely to be the cuts.

The Lib Dems may soon find that they consist of two groups. the economic liberal wing – led by Nick Clegg and their remaining leftist partisans led by Simon Hughes. Lib Dems often accuse me of partisanship, and it’s true. But it’s just as true that the Lib Dems have partisans too.  But “my party right or left” is only going to remain true for the rump of supporters who will always be there, not the millions of voters who felt the Lib Dems were the left wing alternative to the Tories in their area. These supporters are a good target for a reinvigorated Labour Party, and focusing on an appeal to them will help keep Labour fresh and moving on from the worst of New Labour authoritarianism. Moving beyond – for example – the tough justice stance of Alan Johnson and Jack Straw to the more nuanced position being heard from Ed Miliband.

Let’s be honest. The Lib Dems were faced with a complete Hobson’s choice after the results of the election. Going into some form of coalition with the Tories was probably the only thing they could have done. But having decided not to opt for confidence and supply, they will have to realise that they will be judged on the whole actions of the Government.  In the first of his posts I linked to, Mark had this to say of the Labour Leadership Contenders: All the main contenders are very closely associated with the previous discredited government. Which is true in parts. But if Liberal Democrats are going to say that any member of a Government should be judged by all the actions of that Government, they need to realise that will be true of them too, and can’t simply try to claim credit for the “good” parts of the budget.

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Chill Out!

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By Emma | No comments yet.

I had a lovely relaxing weekend listening to great music in the sunshine.

Now don’t worry, this isn’t going to turn into one of those sorts of blogs. No lolcats here.

But stepping outside of the political maelstrom did give me time to think a little bit from a more external perspective.

Reading the commentary and blogs of late, there’s been an astonishing impatience displayed about the changes needed to the Labour Party, to our offer to voters (particularly disaffected Lib Dem voters) and also an astonishment that voters aren’t rejecting the coalition in ever greater numbers (though I will blog again about the damage to the Lib Dems).

If we keep up this pace of expectation, we risk alienating the public before they are ready to listen to us. Labour have done well in setting and maintaining an oppositional narrative to the budget, but we can’t expect people to fall behind it immediately. We lost the election, and voters – on the whole – are an optimistic bunch who want to give the coalition a chance. There will be  inevitable disappointment, disillusionment and anger as the cuts start to bite, but at the moment, they are theoretical and the sun is shining. Keep up the narrative, but it must be with an understanding that it is mood music, until such a moment come that the public switch to it being their own tune.

If we keep up this pace, we will burn out. We will exhaust ourselves in opposition just as we did in Government. We need to build up to a crescendo, not die down from one. This is one of the reasons I supported taking our time over choosing a leader. While few are listening to us, we can take our time listening to each other and getting the start of an all party dialogue in process.

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