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So yesterday I tweeted that the poll that rates Ed Balls highly shouldn’t bother Ed Miliband. That Balls is seen as doing better than his opposite number is good news – for Ed Balls, for Labour and for Ed Miliband. We are – after all – a team whose collective success comes together or not at all.

Sadly it seems some of those close to both Ed’s didn’t get the memo. They have allowed their egos to elevate their petty office politics over the essential national politics of removing the corrosive Tories from office and getting our economy working again for everyone.

Mark Ferguson is right – these people should shut up. Not least because in acting the way they are, they demonstrate little understanding of politics nous; something I would have thought pretty essential in a “senior advisor” or Shadow Cabinet Minister – even an unnamed one. Guys, you’re making fools of yourselves; sadly you’re making fools of the Party too.

Ed M’s team have demonstrated before a lack of discipline. Both Ed’s have come from the worst possible experience of rancorous personal relationships and the mismanagement of petty squabbling. They more than most must know how divisive and ultimately counter-productive it is. They are the ones who will need to get a grip on this now. In essence, the failures of their staff lie with them and their cultural leadership; the buck stops with them.

I’ve worked in a lot of different office places with a lot of different management structures. One thing I have learned is that you cannot and will not stop staff gossiping with each other and having opinions that often differ from management as to how things should be run. It’s perfectly natural for those at the sharp end to have such opinions, but where things are well managed, they don’t feel the need to share these thoughts with outside organisations.

Good managers work with their staff to ensure they are able to have an input and feel a part of the organisation. This ensures they excel at their jobs and have the ability to learn and develop as they do. If they don’t, these frustrations spill over into tensions. In this case, they seem to have manifested in anonymous briefings. I guess that’s more likely in politics than in any of the other places I have worked. The political lobby act as if every day is a basically a gossip session behind the bike sheds and being listened to by a big name journalist can make you feel very important, especially if no one else is listening.

I was going to write a post about my anger and disappointment in those who have been briefing, but Mark has already done a superb job of articulating how let down Labour members are by this kind of behaviour. Ultimately though it is the responsibility of the leadership to change what is happening. They must instil a culture where this kind of thing is not just not tolerated, but is not necessary.

I have also worked for a real variety of managers. I know good management when I experience it. I’ve been very lucky in that I have experienced it often. Sometimes I have been less lucky. I have also been a good and a bad manager.

Good organisations recognise and cherish the art of management. Management should not be an add-on to a promotion – a hoop you have to jump through in order to earn more and progress through an organisation. Management is a skill that must be developed and nurtured. It must be supported by proper management systems that are embedded and respected within the culture of the organisation.

There is no shame in not being a born manager. It is not the same thing as being a born leader. It can be learned and should be developed. It must be valued. Learning how to give and receive management advice, to give and receive feedback and appraisals and to ensure a continuous open and trustworthy relationship between line manager and staff is vital. It aids productivity and the positive feedback loop that a decent working experience can bring.

Recent changes at our Head Office seem to reflect this and have – as I understand it – made the chain of command clearer and brought management responsibilities into sharper focus. The same must be done with our party in Westminster – particularly it seems with those close to the leadership.

Yes, our staff members should not be running to tittle-tattle to the newspapers. But do they have a forum for constructive criticism? Do they have a space when they can tell their manager their concerns and know how those concerns will be addressed? If not, this is not just a failure of the staff members, but a failure of our culture. That’s what has to change.

This post first appeared on LabourList.


What Ed Balls is really saying

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By Emma | 7 comments

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.


This column first appeared on Labour List:

When Labour activists talk about tax policy, it’s a racing certainty that someone will bring up the extremely effective Labour’s Tax Bombshell Party Political Broadcast from the Tories in 1992. That advert, and the consequent election loss destroyed Labour’s belief in its ability to talk about – never mind act on – fairer taxation for a generation. A generation of Labour thinkers have been so cowed by this experience that they are simply unable to contemplate the new paradigm in which we now find ourselves.

Ed Balls talk of lowering the threshold of income tax isn’t bad politics if we can convince the majority of people that in doing so, they will be the beneficiaries. In all polls where the question is asked, the 50p tax rate is extremely popular. Unlike in the early 1990s when the popular narrative (rightly or wrongly) largely saw the city as a successful economic driver and therefore were more relaxed about the high earnings made there, people are more wary of high levels of corporate pay, seeing diminishing connections between top level pay and levels of productivity, talent and economic input. They want to see the highly paid giving more back.

Middle England is coming to terms with the limits of its aspirations – now Labour must too. If we want to talk to the real voters, we need to understand who they really are, what they really want and how we can really help. Ordinary people aren’t aspiring to earn £100k, they’re worrying about keeping a roof over their heads. They aren’t worried about the 50p tax bracket, they’re nervous about keeping their jobs. They aren’t hovering on the edge of the higher tax bracket praying Labour won’t lower the threshold, they’re desperately trying to work out how to hold things together as wages are frozen, inflation spirals and the child tax credits are cut. If we want to talk to the real voters, we need to understand who they really are, what they really want and how we can really help.

When Labour return to power there will be a lot to fix. The longer we are out of power, the more we will have to fix. So I would never advocate policies I believed would lock us out of power. On the other hand, Labour is not just here to come in and smooth things over after the Tories have wrecked all that we hold dear. We need to have a vision for a fairer society, and fairness works both ways.

Given the current levels of wage stagnation and the losses people are feeling through inflation, fuel prices and the VAT rise, it’s going to take an awful lot for people to feel they have advanced by 2015. A last giveaway budget in 2014 – as everybody is expecting – may not cut much ice by then. I’m not often one to link to the Taxpayer’s Alliance but this video from these traditional Tory supporters show just how untrusted Tory messaging on taxes is right now. Labour can be upfront about a tax they would impose on a tiny percentage of the country. Labour can say we are being honest about our tax plans, but we know the Tories will lie to you, and will continue to tax the poorest hardest.

Whatever happens between now and the next election, whatever is in the Labour manifesto at the next election, whatever state the economy is in at the next election, I can hands down guarantee you that the Tories will run a campaign based at least in part on the idea that a Labour government would raise taxes. They always, always do.  It worked so well for them after all in 1992. But what the 1992 scaremongers don’t mention, is that the Tories also ran this line rather less successfully in 1997. It’s perfectly possible to convince voters of a good idea if we can get them to listen to why we want to do it. As long as we can convince them that the top rate of tax is about the politics of their security and not the politics of envy; about fairness, not punishment and about getting them a better deal there is no reason in the world why Labour shouldn’t be perfectly successful electorally.

When Labour needed to change in 1992, we had the flexibility to understand what it was about our economic message voters didn’t like. We need to do so again to regain economic credibility. That doesn’t mean repeating twenty year old messaging in the hope it strikes a chord. We need to give voters a hope of a security they feel has been lost, and that doesn’t come by pandering to the aspirations of a few, but by supporting the needs of the many.


Cautious Welcomes

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By Emma | One comment

I should probably blog about the Budget, but there wasn’t an awful lot to it. In the opinion of this non-economist, there didn’t seem to be enough there to boost growth. The corporation tax is a giveaway to companies already here, but  they will continue to be cautious throughout the next few years, particularly as consumer confidence contracts. It won’t trickle down, but they’ll be some happy Tory donors tonight.

I thought Ed’s speech was one of his best performances to date. He was very good with some great lines, and if consumers continue to feel the pinch, the down, down, down and hurting not working lines will get more and more traction.

But there are many, many places to get a better and more detailed analysis of the details of the budget.

What I thought I’d talk about was the stream of post budget press releases that inevitably go along with a big financial announcement from the Government (any government) and the thinking behind them.

Basically, unless your industry or sector has been totally royally utterly screwed, unless you believe it simply couldn’t get any worse, you will always give a reasonably positive headline. If you think you’re mostly screwed, but there is something to be salvaged, you might make that luke-warm (beware the cautious optimists -  they do not mean what they say). The detail is in the text.

The always amusing though never purposfully @torypresshq have been tweeting press releases they believe are supportive to the Government. For example, at 15.29 they tweeted

 ”#EdBalls quoted #EEF supporting him on #BBCBudget. They actually appear to be pretty supportive of the #Coalition http://bit.ly/dTbLPF

If you just read the headline of that link “Chancellor makes down payment on balanced growth – EEF Budget Response” you might believe it was a glowing tribute to the Chancellor’s measures. But the full text is littered throughout with “but” and “however”. The overall balance of the release has clearly been crafted to keep a decent relationship with the Government, as is essential, but it is overall pretty critical.

The only sector which doesn’t seem to go for the say something positive if at all possible approach is the charity sector. For example here is Scope’s response to the budget http://www.scope.org.uk/news/budget-2011 which strangely @Torypresshq have not seen fit to retweet.

Not all charities are uniformly negative, not all corporate and trade associations are uniformly positive. But if you want the real story on the response to the budget, remember to look beyond the cautiously optimistic headlines.


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

1. Ed Miliband

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

2. Andy Burnham

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

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

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

3. Ed Balls

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

4. David Miliband

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

5. Diane Abbott

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


Dear Andy, David, Diane, Ed & Ed,

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

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

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

1. Be a leader, not a fighter.

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

2. Give up some of your power

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

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

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

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

4. Ensure CLPs are properly engaging in their communities

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

5. Chill out!

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

6. But don’t be someone you are not.

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

7. Read something you disagree with every day.

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

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

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

9. Cut out the dead wood.

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

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

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

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

Yours in Socialism,



On Monday, I attended the Fabian Society hustings for the Labour Leadership, and was pleased to ask the following question: “Are you a Socialist, and if so, what does that mean to you?”.

All the candidates answered in first part in the affirmative, with David Miliband probably demurring the most, Ed Balls being the most fighting, Andy Burnham unexpectedly quoting Billy Bragg, Diane Abbot being equally passionate as Balls. Ed Miliband was less passionate, but gave the most coherent argument about how his Socialism would work in policy terms.

One of the reasons for the question was following a long beer-fuelled debate with some good friends. Essentially the debate boiled down to them arguing that they wanted to hear from the candidates where their ideas and passions came from, and I said that while that was essential, it was also important to know what that would mean in terms of their take on policies for the future.

Inevitably and quite rightly, when you ask this question, you ask yourself what your own answer would be. That presumably is the ideal answer that you would want to hear.

So I will attempt to give an understanding of what I mean when I declare myself a Socialist, and how this would inform my policies were I to come to a position of leadership (very unlikely, but bear with me here!).

I believe Socialism is about society using the tools at it’s disposal, at all levels, to ensure that the fruits of capitalism are shared by the many not the few. Sometimes that means nationalisation - the railways would be a good example here, sometimes it means fighting privatization – of Royal Mail which was a bad idea under Labour and remains one under “Saint” Vince. Sometimes it means regulation – tougher restrictions on pay and conditions to ensure a fairer society. Sometimes it means local solutions – like freeing councils to build more social housing.

The Socialist solutions are many and varied, but they all stem from the same basic set of principle, that between the five of them the candidates outlined on Monday and which distilled outline my beliefs.

I am Socialist of the Heart like both Billy Bragg and Andy Burnham, and recognise the innate equality we are born with and the inherent inequalities in the system that choke our ability to remain equal. Like Diane I draw my line in the sand and stand on the side of the stand of the voiceless and the powerless. Like Ed Balls I am passionate about opposing measures brought in by right wing Governments to remove the power of the state to stand at people’s backs using the rhetoric of getting out of their way. Like David Miliband I recognise that the responsibilities of Socialism don’t stop at our borders, and that we should be judged on how we represent the voiceless and powerless everywhere. Finally like Ed Miliband, I believe Socialism is about taking action, not just to oppose, but to regulate, organise and bend the capitalist system to the will of the people. To ensure the benefits Capitalism can bring are felt by the many not the few.

I have a declared favourite in this campaign, but I was pleased to find so much talent and agreement about being braver in our understanding and practice of Socialism. I will also work with other members to take full advantage of the newly awakened thirst for internal Labour Party democracy to keep the pressure on whoever wins to keep the fires of Socialism lit, and keep holding the coalitions feet to them!



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