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Ed needs to be careful

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By Emma | 3 comments

First and foremost a massive congratulations to the 800 new Labour councillors. You have a tough job to do and this government is going to make it harder and harder. Just keep remembering who elected you and why and you’ll be fine.

However, despite a provably decent result in England and Wales, knives that were never fully sheathed are out and slashing away at the leadership. Suddenly the Labour right wing have remembered about the existence of Scotland. Ed’s under attack and he needs to be really careful in how he responds.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again: Labour are not going to rerun the leadership elections. We’re just not that suicidal. But if Ed doesn’t calm some of the frayed nerves in the Party, we’ll continue to fight each other rather than the Tories. It will all be done in the name of helping the Party back to victory of course, but will remain a tactic of division and derision to squash those of us who don’t think a neoliberal economic agenda is the best route to either electoral or governing success.

At the moment the air battle in Labour’s internal division is being fought over which voters we are trying to attract – former Labour to Lib Dem switchers or current soft Tory voters. There are dangers in appealing too strongly to one at the expense of the other, but also dangers in trying too much to be all things to all people, leaving a sense of a lack of definition. We need to keep appealing to both but with quite different, but complimentary messages. The Labour leavers have largely – to the extent that they are largely going to be – been convinced to leave their current Lib Dem affiliation (this post is true only in England. I don’t know Scottish politics well enough to comment on the very different issues there). Not all of them have been attracted to Labour, but that is because (rightly) we do not yet have a full policy offering with which to attract them. What we have not yet managed with real numbers is to convince those who are soft Tories to abandon them in any large numbers. The Tories are not yet disastrous enough and memories of disastrous Labour are just too fresh in the minds of these voters. Knocking the legs out from the electoral credibility of the Lib Dems was important for the first group of people. Now the Eds need to keep a focus on the “Too far too fast” message – which polling indicates is taking hold – but start to highlight the damages this is doing as it takes hold – not just the potential for damage people don’t yet see. So I’d like – now the Lib Dems are proved to be something of an irrelevance as an electoral force – a laser-like focus on the Tories. Their errors forced and unforced and the pernicious effects of their policies on most levels of society.

I’ve seen the same polling Ed has and I recognise the dangers of appealing to a Centre-right audience through centre right policies at the risk of alienating the large groups of people who left New Labour over just such triangulation. But you can take the fight to the right without tacking to the right. Labour can talk about the economy without bowing to unpopular corporatism and about crime without bowing to unpopular statism. We have solutions we believe in, that we can fight for on solid ground against the Tories. We won’t beat them by saying “yeah, your mostly right, but we’re nicer because we aren’t Tories”. We have to be more aggressive in taking the fight to them and sidelining the Lib Dems.

Having said all this, I understand but don’t really share the frustration of Dan Hodges and his anonymous backbencher when they stand aghast at Ed choosing to go after the Lib Dems in this Sunday’s Observer. At first glance the message does seem to be unbalanced, too Lib Dem focused at a time when Ed really does need to be taking the fight to the Tories. I think though that in his own way, that’s just what Ed is doing. He’s playing coalition politics and making sure that if the Lib Dems bring down Tory policy, Ed and our Party get our fair Lion’s share of the credit. But Ed has now got to turn his fire more continually on the Tories. But having set that up, Ed must now recognise that if it ever went away, two party politics is back and we have to play accordingly. Also rather more galling, Ed is going to have to be more strategic with how he treats his dissenters inside the Party (probably sometimes at the expense of actually achieving external victories, but sadly, that’s the nature of Party politics). Giving them some of what they’re seeking, but going on a full frontal attack on the Tories might just be the right thing to do for both strategies – internal and external.

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I plough a lonely furrow

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By Emma | 4 comments

The problem with being a reasonable moderate is that everyone thinks they are a reasonable moderate.

As I continue on my Labour journey it is astonishing how different the reactions I get to my blogging can be. When I try to examine how Labour can and should temper its message to the whole country, I am roundly derided as a Blairite out-runner. When I try to explain that this doesn’t mean capitulation on either message or medium, I’m decried as an idealist Leftie with my head in the clouds.

I don’t think I’m that different to most Labour Party members really, generally excepting those with a high profile. I also don’t think that Labour Party members are from Mars, and that we are as close to the mainstream as everyone else. Edging our way through the vagaries of life.

Most members I meet want Labour in power, but want that for the purpose of achieving economic and social justice. We want to see a proud and confident Labour Party that know what it believes in and how to achieve it, but we want that to also be a consensual process.

The problem I have is that I rarely meet people who are confident of the soul of the party and values, who also want to fight for a slick media operation and presentational structure. And I rarely meet people who want the Labour party to have the kind of presentational values that a modern Labour Party needs who are confident in the heart and soul of the Party.

I am trying, with this blog and my work elsewhere to persuade the Labour Party to be comfortable with and of itself in all its forms. Doing that means disagreeing with each other where necessary, but being loyal too.

It recently struck me that while this is the stance of practically every Labour member I meet, this is not a very popular stance on the Internet. Those who shout the loudest, or who come up with the most outrageous positions from either the left or right of the party generate much heat but little light. Luke Bozier’s recent rant is a particularly good example, but there are just as good examples of Ed being attacked from the Left  (Ed, if you’re being attacked by both sides, it’s because you are getting the balance broadly right).

Balance is a tough thing. If one is only critical of the leadership, that criticism loses its punch. When Dan Hodges writes yet another anti-Ed column what used to annoy me now bores me. Equally, I am sure if Dan reads this, he gets bored of my supportive columns. I try not to be a cheerleader, but on the whole I think Ed is doing a good job, and I’m not going to lie about that just to be a sensationalist, however much it might propel me into the spotlight to do so.

So I’ll keep on talking tactically about what Labour need to do to win, which is my forte. I won’t be hitting the headlines, or become a darling of the blogosphere, but I hope that someone somewhere finds this interesting and useful.

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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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Labour should have ruled out raising VAT altogether. That we didn’t was a huge mistake. That the ConDems have raised it is a bigger one.

VAT is a horribly unfair tax. Office of National Statistics stats show the richest 10% pay £1 in every £25 of their income in VAT; the poorest 10% pay £1 in every £7 as VAT. Those who can least afford it will be badly squeezed by this measure alone.

Unemployment is going up, and cutting 25% of each public service is only going to exacerbate this further. Not just because a possible 1 million of them could lose their jobs, but because the many businesses who trade with the public sector will also suffer. So this is a terrible time to actively reduce the funds available for those who can’t find work. But the CPI linking of benefits – as opposed to the more realistic RPI does just that.

I work in housing, and what I found most distasteful in the budget was the cut of 10% of Housing Benefit if people have been unemployed for a year. This combined with the destructive strategy being enacted bty Eric Pickles in the DCLG of telling councils that Regional Spatial Strategies have been abandoned without putting anything in their place (which has already led to at least 40 local authorities putting a moratorium on house building) means that we will have less and less affordable housing built every year. The differential in the Housing Benefit caps will also lead to a further abundance of single bedroom properties in the private sector with affordable properties for families becomes rarer than ever.

This was not a budget of necessity. Cuts to not need to be this severe or this unbalanced. When part 2 kicks in on the 20th October, and we see what the departmental cuts will entail, people will know this is not a case of cutting waste but cutting vital services.

Labour and the left believe that it is essential in our society that we provide for our weakest members. The Conservatives believe that in so doing we weaken our society. No one is really sure what the Lib Dems believe other that that they should be in the Cabinet no matter what. With this budget – more ideological that anything Thatcher ever passed – the Tories will have the chance to test their economic theories – and we will see the damage their trampling of the state will cause.

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