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A rock and a hard place

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By Emma | 3 comments

There was no position Ed Miliband could have taken yesterday that would have pleased anyone. Trapped between the powerful right wing media, still trying to define him to the country as Scargill Mk II  and his well meaning but often strategically naive supporters who want to see him marching and shouting, even if that would stop him being able to actually do something in the future. The Twitter echo chamber was resounding in its condemnation of Ed. But in the real world, the conversations I heard about strikes last night probably reflected why Ed felt the need to disassociate himself from them.

There are two problems with what happened yesterday. One was the appalling presentation. The terrible BBC Interview which I described as looking like a hostage video showed a real lack of understanding in Ed’s team about the way media is changing. Ed sounded awful repeating himself and anyone with any knowledge of current media practices and the way news is now being received would have know that focusing on a line for the 6 alone was not going to look good if all you do is repeat yourself. There is an identified training need there, and it will need work over the summer break.

Secondly, Ed needs to reflect on the fact that there are going to be more strikes. These were by unaffiliated unions. The next ones might not be. I understand that he can’t support every strike and I agree that he shouldn’t. But he will find a lot more pressure to support UNITE and UNISON members. In the eyes of the public he needs to find a way to define himself as an arbitrator not an agitator. That won’t please the agitators on Twitter, but little can or will. It’s worth remembering that Twitter can be very self-reinforcing when it comes to a narrative unsupported by external events or opinion – just look at AV.

Yesterday was an attempt at the arbitrator role and I have no doubt it was well meant, but it was done very poorly. Next time a great deal more thought will have to be put into the strategy.

Let me clarify. I supported Ed because I believed then – as I believe now – that he was and is the best candidate for Leader. I have been and remain a strong supporter of his leadership. Crucially, I want his leadership to work. Identifying an area of weakness is not pouncing if the intention is to work to strengthen it. Ed will fight the next general election and I believe he can win it. But we do need to iron out the operation to make this as likely as we can.

Between a rock and a hard places is a terrible place to be. It will take a politician of Ed’s undoubted skills to navigate this better in future.

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I support Harriet Harman’s suggestion that we formalise the lucky situation we find ourselves in at the moment where we have a balanced representation at the top of the ticket. If anyone feels that it isn’t necessary to do this in the modern Labour Party, I tell that that I was called a “Barmy  Ballbuster” by a fellow Party member on Twitter for even suggesting it’s something we could look at.

All Women Shortlists have served us well and should remain until we find that we have achieved stable gender parity. I think quotas are vital in the world we live in. As has been shown by the dreadful recruitment rate in the Lib Dems and the lack of A-list success in the Tories, All Women Shortlists has consistently been proved to be the method that works best in ensuring that we get a more and increasingly representative party in Parliament.

But great women candidates don’t appear from nowhere. There need to be far greater support for women taking positions in the party at all levels to give them the experience and confidence to come through and challenge – particularly in areas that have traditionally been male dominated. We also need to make sure working class women are also coming through, and getting the support and networks that they need to continue to make our representative of the working class.

I support the idea of a 50% quota for women in the cabinet. The idea that this will stop “the best candidates” is a straw man. For any job, there is no perfect candidate, but a set of criteria, and a number of candidates who match this criteria to a greater or lesser extent. All this does is add an extra level of criteria in the essential category. In politics we all know that there have always been other factors than simply “merit” in appointing people, and that this is true in all parties. Factionalism is far more damaging to politics than gender balancing but is allowed to carry on regardless as it’s an informal rather than a positive and formal rebalancing.

We have a great deal of talented women in Parliament – certainly more than enough to make up half a cabinet of experienced women in Parliament, and a new generation of women in the new intake who can be inspired to take these leadership roles on. A cabinet with for example – Anne Begg, Karen Buck, Yvette Cooper, Angela Eagle, Harriet Harman, Meg Hillier, Margaret Hodge, Tessa Jowell, Meg Munn, Dawn Primarolo, Joan Ruddock and Joan Walley – is not a cabinet stuffed with also-rans but is vibrant and interestingly diverse in terms of political positioning (something I think would be an inevitable part of making the pool you are choosing from smaller).

I hope this wouldn’t be a permanent measure, but one designed to permanently change the culture until it makes itself unnecessary – like All Women Shortlists.

Anyone unlikely to vote for a party based on this issue alone, is always going to be unlikely to vote Labour. On the other hand, this single measure gives us back a sense of radicalism and transformative politics that has been missing from the Labour Party for a while. It could have the power to further inspire the base, particularly the women, and to bring in a generation of women who see Labour taking real and direct action to improve our reflection of them in Parliament.

Traditional models of political engagement for the working classes have largely broken down. It used to be that the unions were the best recruiting ground, but with workplaces becoming smaller and more atomised, unions have had less reach to the 21st Century working class, the telesales workers and shop assistants who are being exploited as much, if not more, than ever. The Labour Party must work – with unions where possible – to bring together small businesses and entrepreneurs with the workers they need to find solutions that ensure decent wages and lifestyles but also allow economic growth and don’t stifle the best of industry.

Unions have some work to do on themselves to transform into 21st century vehicles for the aspirations and needs of the modern working class. Labour should support them as close but critical friends in this process. The union link is essential to Labour, but equally we need to represent the majority of Britain. We need to help unions to find a way to do that with us.

A supporters network is an interesting idea, but I don’t think it is the solution to why busy people aren’t getting involved in politics. I believe Labour could make far more of the Socialist Societies who already offer those with a particular interest to engage with Labour on a less formal basis. Socialist Society members who are not members of other parties are already allowed to vote as part of the affiliates group in Labour’s electoral college, and if the Societies are better strengthened and promoted they can work in much the way a supporters network would while allowing a legitimate route for policy engagement from sympathetic non-members.

We should also work with unions and Socialist Societies to engage their members in questions about the Party. Asking unions to survey their members regularly to find out what they expect from their affiliation fees would be a useful and interesting and nuanced exercise and would tell us more than simply expecting their General Secretaries to speak for them.  

At their best, socialist societies act as a perfect bridge between expert communities and the party. On housing, environment, science, law, education, health and with LGBT, Jewish, Tamil, Chinese, disabled, student and Irish communities, Christian socialists and the broad interests of the Fabians and the Labour Clubs, the Socialist Societies offer the unique combination of practitioner and campaigner expertise and Socialist beliefs.

There is a wealth of knowledge in these organisations, and a depth of commitment to bettering the policies of the Labour Party as a result. We can be proud historically of the contribution we have made to debates both in our own expert contributions and our ability to pull in knowledge from outside the party.

I bow to those better placed to talk about community organising, and look forward to hearing about how the Movement for Change is going to work. I add the caveat that it must be real and genuinely of the grassroots. If it becomes another way for the well connected to add a feather to their already over-stuffed caps it will fail.

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What’s Next?

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By Emma | 2 comments

Let me be very clear, as I said in my post about why we should vote Labour, I don’t look forward to a stint out of office because vulnerable people are going to suffer under this Government. But we are where we are, and now we have to take this situation and run with it.

Long term, this situation has tremendous strategic advantages. We have a chance to renew the Labour Party and we can once again be the natural home of Left of Centre voters, who now know that in most places (more on the Green Vote at a later date) Labour really is the only alternative to Tory Government.

The Liberal Democrats will have a hard time for a very, very long time – possibly ever again – making the case that they are to the left of Labour. They aren’t, and never have been. Their version “fairness” was always a raising of the middle at the expense of the Top leaving the poor ever further behind. They have agreed to early, damaging cuts in areas like the Child Trust Fund and Tax Credits. There will  be tax cuts for the middle, paid for at the expense of the services on which the most vulnerable in our society rely.

Another meme the Lib Dems ran with, was that they aren’t “politics as usual”. Well it’s true that this is an unusual set up, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough to detract from the fact that they are in Government – with ministers in every department – and so will be held to account for all the decisions of that Government, whether they be ones they actively vote for, or those they just facilitate by abstaining on (a very cowardly deal indeed on the insidious – and deeply illiberal Marriage Tax Allowance).

Frankly, for the next few years Labour’s campaign materials write themselves. And the Lib Dems will never again be able to use the line “only the Lib Dems can stop the Tories in XXX”. God alone knows what they’ll put on their leaflets now. Certainly the one I got through my door during this election has proved to be a laughable lie.

The Lib Dems seem to have gained so much from this coalition. As they did from the debates. As with the debates, I think these gains will be fleeting. Unlike the debates I think they will do serious long term damage to their prospects. The Lib Dems have to make this work – the Tories do not. The Tories can push their agenda far, far harder than the Lib Dems currently realise, and – particularly this side of any referendum on AV – the Lib Dems will have to go along with them. They need to prove that coalition government works, the Tories – who will campaign against voting reform  – do not. Look at how close the Tories are hugging the Lib Dems – full coalition and a seat in every department. The Lib Dems underperformed in the election (as did the Tories) and weren’t in a strong enough position to earn all that, and their obvious bluff of “talks” with Labour wouldn’t have earned them alone. The Tories aren’t unastute politically, and must realise that the closer they tie the Lib Dems into this Government, the harder it will be to break that stranglehold, or that image int eh minds of the electorate.

So how do Labour respond? Well one fo the reasons I have focused more on the Lib Dems in this post than the Tories, is because I believe this election has shown Labour the way forward, and the gift of the Lib Dems going in with the Tories make this easier. Our future is not in fighting the Tories for third of the electorate who support them no matter how bad, but attracting progressive voters from all constituencies.

Labour must keep fighting for it’s poverty reduction policies. They are the best of all that we have done. We must continue to fight for union and workers rights – they are a part of what defines us . But we need to completely revisit our attitude to civil liberties. We should not oppose any attempt to remove compulsory ID cards, extended detention etc. and should attack the ConDem Government on their vicious and arbitrary immigration cap and their Marriage Tax .

We need to not just rely on those who left Labour for the Lib Dems over issues like Iraq to come back because they have no other place to go, but give them a positive reason to come back to Labour. We also need to attract Lib Dem voters who never voted Labour before, but who are dismayed at the direction their party has taken. We can do this by stopping trying to woo floating Tory voters with misguided post 9/11 security measures and playing a weak hand on regulation. We are no longer in a post 9/11 world – or a post 1992 world for that matter, but a Post Credit Crunch world where regulation is no longer seen by a majority of the public as intrusive.We have the opportunity to be “New Labour” no longer, but become the progressive liberal Labour movement some foolishly dreamed would be possible with Clegg and his Liberal Tories. If we do so, we can create the strong progressive movement the 21st Century deserves.

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Happy May Day

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By Emma | No comments yet.

I am – of course – disappointed by the Guardian’s decision to back the Lib Dems. I make no bones about it, I have read the Guardian all of my life and share many of it’s values. Indeed share many of the values that have led to this decision. But in the fierce heat of a global recession, I don’t think now is the time to vote for a party of the “middle and lower middle classes” but a party whose “record on poverty remains unmatched”. I want Labour to adopt some more liberal policies 0n civil rights and I’m in favour of voting reform. But now is the worst possible time to abandon the poor or workers rights. The Guardian choosing May Day – the international day of celebration of workers rights – to make this decision shows how far removed from their priorities these important rights are.

The Labour Party are the party who have brought in statutory union recognition, health and safety legislation, paid maternity and paternity leave, the social chapter, the working time directive and the national minimum wage. OECD figures show that around the world, countries which have collective bargaining rights also have greatly reduced inequalities.

Today is a day to celebrate the achievements of unions in the UK and internationally. I’m sorry the Guardian couldn’t have waited one more day to move away from the cause of workers rights, and spent today pushing their now chosen party on issues on which their record is poor at best.

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There’s quite a lot of commentary at the moment on Twitter and the blogs bout Nick Clegg’s demands for a hung parliament. While some of the critisism is apt, I tweeted some days ago, and still feel, that at the moment, any and all criticism of Clegg – especially by anyone connected with Labour or the Tories – is simply counter-productive. It feeds his message of “same old politics” too easily, and the Tory press are blurring the lines so much already that even valid criticism seems like carping.

I also think that some of the lines don’t quite make sense. True, it’s not for Clegg to choose the Labour leader, but it may be for Labour to choose between being led by Brown or governed by Cameron. I believe even Gordon knows which is the preferable choice.

So let’s assume Clegg gets to play kingmaker – or even crown himself with a Labour cabinet. What are the conditions Labour should put on such an alliance?

In the debates, both Clegg and Cable have attacked Tax Credits and their manifesto proposes getting rid completely of the Child Trust Fund. These must be a vital line in the sand. These are essential policies to continue a fair redistribution. This is a key Labour principle, and we must fight for it.

Secondly, no anti-union laws, including increasingly draconian laws to stop people working collectively and politically. Unite and Ashcroft are not the same, and union members already jump through enough hoops donating money through their union – a signal of thier political belief in collective action. A good Labour person in the DTI and protecting this area at the Treasury will be hugely important.

Finally, agreement on a referendum on voting reform must include an AV or AV+ as well as FPtP and STV options. Each party (and individuals within the parties) must be free to campaign in the referendum as they see fit.

I think these measures would be essential to assuaging Labour concerns, but shouldn’t be too bitter a pill for the Lib Dems to swallow. If Labour are seen as giving up something as substantial as their leader, the Lib Dems will also have to show willing to be coalition players. I don’t think these measures which protect the vulnerable should be too hard to take.

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Compass Loses Direction

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By Emma | No comments yet.

I’ve been a member of Compass since it was founded. I think it usually has interesting things to say, but is all too often swayed by populism and enjoys too well it’s stance of defiant leftism, without properly backing it up.

I was balloted today by Compass on whether they should support an anti-Tory tactical vote. I voted no. Not because I have a problem with people in Tory/LD marginals voting tactically, but because I don’t think any organisation that purports to be of the left – and indeed merged with the largely union supported Catalyst – should be supporting the anti-union Lib Dems.

The challenge for the left should not be just how to stop the Tories, but how to make future progressivismwork, and I can’t see that working without the Unions. Not in a way that protects the most vulnerable. This ballot is a distraction from the more complex work of trying to build a progressive choice that does enshrine union rights while taking on board the best of what the Lib Dems have to offer.

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In 1992 the Labour Party lost an election we had expected to win. This was over  half my lifetime ago, and the repercussions are still being felt even now.

“New Labour” can be an amorphous phrase, and everyone who uses it does so with their own, very different, definition in mind, so I’ll try to expand on what I mean when I say “New Labour” and why I know that the time has come (and is overdue) to move beyond it.

In 1992, when we lost the election, we didn’t lose because we were too confident (the Sheffield rally analysis) but because the public didn’t share our confidence. They didn’t think we could be trusted to keep the best of what had come out of the entrepreneurial boom in the 1980s and they didn’t trust us not to lose our nerve against what were seen as over-demanding unions. 1992 was also only just post-Cold War, and no one had really worked out what that meant yet. Certainly the majority were still wedded to Cold War ideas on national security, and Labour – with our anti-Trident stance (and remember that there was at the 1992 election a Bush in the White house whose reelection was expected) was seen as naive and damaging to our relationship with our strongest ally.

New Labour was a sensible reaction to the 1992 loss (apart from calling it “New” Labour – one of the worst and most short-sighted branding decisions in history). The proponents of New Labour asked the party to have a conversation, and make a choice based on the grown up electoral understanding that the majority of voters in the UK did not agree with some of our flagship policies even if they did agree with our general policy gist. It was time to examine what we were willing to sacrifice in order to be elected to do the good that we could. New Labour was about an abandonment of outdated dogma, and an understanding that our attitude to this dogma defines us just as much as our actions.

So the party gave up it’s historical commitment to renationalisation and opposition to Trident in to elect a party that would bring in a minimum wage and would rebuild and protect public services. That they did so at a time where the Conservative Government did its utmost to lose the election has made analysis of the 1997 victory harder and  less clear cut, but certainly the number of seats that Labour won in the South East must be a strong indicator that this strategy worked and that Labour had been seen to change enough for people to give them a chance. Crucially though, Labour didn’t lose it’s own vote either, and had promises for the whole alliance of middle class Fabiansocialists, unions and the working class that has been the make up of the Labour party since it’s birth just over 100 years ago.

Labour’s first term really delivered. The New Deal, the minimum wage, child tax credits, statutory four weeks holiday pay, banning handguns and landmines, starting the ball rolling on dropping Third World debt and gay equalities legislation; there was something in Labour’s first term for everyone. Of course there were complaints that it wasn’t enough – there always will be – but the fact is Labour did all this, and pumped money into our ailing public services, starting the turn around that we enjoy today- while convincing the public that  of its case in doing so. So to my mind the 1997 – 2001 Government will go down in history as the most radical and reforming government since Attlee.

It didn’t sound like it though. Labour talked tough, and Tony Blair led from the right, continuing to prefer to pick his fights with the left of the party. PPP/PFI were anathema to the more traditional left who saw these funding models as undermining the role of the state, and instead of making the argument that the private sector was being used to augment the public sector – and continue the fight for a strong government role – Blair continued to use these fights to define himself and the Labour leadership long after it was necessary to redefine Labour in the public imagination. A phrase I heard often in those times was “I’d rather have a leader who talks right and acts left than the other way round”. While I agree that is preferable to the Cameron’s attempt a progressive Toryism that we are seeing now, it was actually – in the same way that our failure to restore full regulation to the banking sector was doing for the economy – storing up trouble for the future.

If we don’t make an argument we’ll never win an argument. The argument for better redistribution was never made while the actions were being taken. It was all “talk right and act left” , which was OK in the years of plenty, but has set us up for a bad fall in the leaner years. We don’t have the foundations that we could have been building during that time. We don’t have a general understanding of what Socialism can be and can achieve when it states it’s case proudly.

Labour’s second term was ruined by September 11th and the reaction of the Blair government. I’m not going to rehash all the arguments over Iraq, that’s a long post for another day, suffice it to say I thought it was a mistake before we went in and I know it was now. The arguments about the international fall out from Iraq have been endlessly rehearsed by better writers than me, more knowledgeable on international matters than me. But, here I am interested in the effect the war and the various civil liberties issues that have also arisen out of the ashes of September 11th  had on the Labour Party.

Essentially it’s been devastating to our coalition. The 1992 based fear that Labour would not be seen as able to as an ally to a Republican US Government (and apparently advice from Clinton) led to Blair backing Bush to the hilt. Unlike many who were against the war, I don’t doubt that Blair thought it was the right thing to do, but I think this 1992 fear played into it, and into the overly macho stance on issues like 42 day detention, curtailing of protest, ID cards and other civil liberties issues. Now don’t get me wrong, Labour has always had an authoritarian streak, but that was usually tempered by the liberal side of the party. However, after September 11th, it seemed that the Labour leadership took their most tried and tested tactic – arguing with the left of their own parties, and moved on from issues of funding and the boundaries of the public and private sectors and changed this to a supposed populism over issues of counter-terrorism. This lost huge swaths of the party that had fought so many civil rights issues in the 80s and joined the Labour Party over these issues in the first place. The coalition started to crumble as members despaired over a step too far. Those who were disquieted over the funding models were viscerally disgusted over civil rights issues, and weren’t willing to stay to fight for what remained good (and I believe that so much of what we have done – a vast majority is good). While I have my personal issues with those who have abandoned the party in this way, politically I realise that the coalition is essential to maintaining a vibrant, electable Labour Party.

I think the Lib Dem bounce shows what I have been arguing for a while. That the Labour Party doesn’t have to be authoritarian on these issues. It’s another clear sign that we’re not in 1992 anymore Toto. It’s a sign that if Labour is to win back the voters it needs, it is going to have to win bank it’s whole coalition, which means understanding the success the Lib Dem have had is neither in spite nor because of it’s liberal policies on crime and drugs. It’s because people don’t think those policies are enough of an issue to be a deciding factor in their votes. We don’t need to over-compensate anymore,and we shouldn’t because it is damaging our electoral chances with all those who once voted for us. It’s time to once again be the party of the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act, while retaining what separates us from the Lib Dems, and continuing to be the party of workers rights and Child Tax Credits.

New Labour had it’s time and place. But it’s current adherents have taken what was once a smart electoral strategy and in an Orwellian twist  turned it into a dogma of their own. Refusing to understand or acknowledge the passing of New Labour’s usefulness will only result in the continued tarnishing of a legacy I want to continue to be proud of. It’s time for a new conversation and quickly so people can see we have got the message. So no more championing our – clearly not very New Labour manifesto – as New Labour. Labour must make the argument and the policy now for a coherent Left of Centre party for all the coalition or risk it failing for generations.

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The Good, the Bad and the Worthy

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By Emma | One comment

Well so far, so meh.

Performance wise I’d give the night to Cable who showed Osbourne how to do the fireworks properly. Darling was solid and dependable, and that’s actually a good look for him. He’s not running for leader (is Vince, I can’t help feeling that he flirts with it, but actually prefers the freedom not being leader gives to be a “maverick”) so doesn’t need to be Mr Charisma.

Policy-wise I will of course give it to Darling. I think he’s managed this crisis superbly. Cable was very populist, but his union bashing was pretty disgusting. How will that sit with the left flank of his party I wonder?

Gideon didn’t fall flat on his face, and so may have won the expectations game, but his performance at the end was his undoing. His line about the “there’s not going to be a Liberal Democrat Government” was awful. Like saying – I know I’m second best, but vote for me anyway as the other guy can’t win. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want people to vote Liberal Democrat (unless dong so tactically against the Tories) but I support their democratic right to do so, and refuse to disenfranchise them. Also George, there may or may not be a Liberal Democrat Government, but if a hung Parliament gives Dave excuse enough, there may well be a Liberal Democrat chancellor.

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I was delighted to be invited to participate in this week’s House of Comments Podcast with Mark Thompson, Stuart Sharpe and Old Holborn discussing recent political events.

edit: Seems I’ve rather touched a nerve with Old Holborn, must have been my demolishing of his silly fire-fighter analogy. Shame as he was a rather charming old duffer during the recording.

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Being Arses

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By Emma | No comments yet.

Not all strikes are good. Not all employers are bad and we’ve come a long way since the 1980s.

That being said, BA seem to be going out of their way to behave completely unreasonably. Taking deals off the table before union members have a chance to vote on them, declaring all sick workers guilty of striking until proved otherwise and attempting to sack union officials on what have to be spurious grounds given the sheer weight of number of officials put on disciplinary charges since strike action was declared.

I realise that we are likely to have a less union friendly government soon, and that situation isn’t helped by the likelihood of this strike. In the longer term Unite aren’t helping their members by choosing to strike and helping to usher in defeat for the Labour Party. But as far as many of their members see it, they can[t think of the longer term when so many could lose their jobs and benefits.

BA are pushing them so hard it feels like there could be a political motivation to back Unite into a corner. I’m sure the airline are looking for less regulation, and with issues like climate change and the EUETS, a Tory Government would suit them just fine. Is Willie Walsh an Ian McGregor for our times? A man motivated as much out by ideological intransigence as the bottom line?

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