Recent Labour party Articles

The Labour vote is actually the strongest of all parties

by Guest     August 23, 2013 at 9:00 am

by Neil Foster

How strong is Labour’s support right now? YouGov have just published the full data tables from a poll they recently conducted for Prospect last month.

What I find interesting is that contrary to the suggestion from some areas of the press that Labour’s support is ‘soft’, it actually is the firmest of all the four leading parties.

The poll asked:
‘The next general election is due to be held in May 2015. Have you decided definitely how you will vote then, or will you wait until nearer the time before deciding how to vote?’

55% of respondents said they’ve ‘definitely decided how to vote’, 42% said they’d wait nearer to the time and remainder didn’t know. However it’s the party breakdown of those who’ve already decided vote that will give cheer to Labour.

Two years away from a general election 66% of current Labour supporters say will definitely vote for the party, compared to 58% of Conservatives supporters who say they will vote for their preferred party.

The Liberal Democrats however can only rely on 33% of their current supporters to definitely turn out and vote for them – which must be alarming given the much-reduced poll figure since the general election. 42% of UKIP supporters say they will definitely vote for their party which is a big enough figure to worry the Conservatives and make a mockery of those who hope that UKIP support will return closer to the 3.5% they picked up in 2010 by the time of the next election.

The poll then asked those who were currently intending to vote for the Conservatives, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats whether they would consider backing Labour at the next election. 18% of current Conservative supporters said they would, 30% of UKIP supporters said they’d consider voting for Ed Miliband’s party and a sizeable 46% of current Liberal Democrat supporters said they would consider voting Labour as well.

There is real cause for encouragement from this poll. Not only is Labour resting on the firmest electoral foundations of all four parties, but that it has the potential to win many more supporters, although by and large not from Conservatives.

There is a gulf between poll leads and election victories and turnout and enthusiasm really matters. Labour’s poll lead over the Conservatives may fluctuate but do not make the mistake of thinking this must mean support for Ed Miliband’s party is ‘soft’.

These YouGov findings for Prospect show that in the run up to 2015 Labour’s support is currently the firmest of them all.

On social security, Labour should focus on ‘shared responsibility’ not ‘fairness’

by Guest     August 19, 2013 at 9:36 am

by Sam Fowles

We’re 21 months out from the General Election and thus far a potential Labour manifesto looks like Muller Lite to the Tories’ Deluxe Corner – a bit better for me but unlikely to rock my world.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the Welfare debate – a catalogue of Labour surrenders based on one fundamental misconception: That public policy can or should be based on “fairness”. In lackluster unison, the opponents of Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms mumble that it is unfair that families with severely disabled kids should have their welfare income limited to £500 per week. Meanwhile the Tories thunder that it’s not fair hardworking families should pay taxes so the unemployed can live on a higher income.

The trouble is; they’re both right. But only because our public debate has reduced individuals in society to the level of rats escaping a fire; each trying to make sure that someone else’s life is more unfair than ours. And Labour’s just accepted it.

But public policy isn’t about “fairness” or “unfairness”, it’s about responsibility.

The rightwing paradigm, where contributing to society is seen as an imposition which must be forced upon us, reduces people to Hobbesian savages and society to a series of punitive burdens imposed by government. In fact, the innate ability to live as a society is what makes us unique as a species. Society is not an imposition on humans, it is the essence of humanity.

It is also a responsibility to make the world better for the next generation, not because we will personally profit from it but because, if we don’t, what’s the point of us being here at all? We don’t ask why we should try to give our children a better life, we just accept that we should.

But limiting our responsibility to our blood relatives is a logical fallacy. The fact that someone shares my DNA will do nothing to protect them from winds of fortune of which I can neither conceive nor control. Thus our natural responsibility to our own children and innate responsibility to society become one and the same.

Government should be the expression of our collective responsibility. As the expression of our democratic will, government can facilitate us fulfilling our innate individual responsibility and leave us, as individuals, lots of time to indulge our irrational impulses as well.

Not for nothing did JFK urge Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. In the Labour party, social responsibility should be the bedrock of our creed. Ideas like patriotism, community and national purpose should be the spiritual home of the left, yet Labour seems afraid to claim them.

We support welfare, human rights, universal healthcare and free education because – fundamentally – we believe that society advances when it co operates. We believe that, as citizens and as humans, we have a responsibility to advance society.

While appeals to Aristotelian ethics may not play so well on the doorstep, perhaps a good start might be to suggest voters (and politicians) remember their humanity.

Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London. He tweets at @SamFowles

Politics over summer is hell

by Septicisle     August 13, 2013 at 10:45 am

Simon Jenkins is right: August politics is hell. Earlier in the year it was the Tories that were staring into the abyss, riven by Europe, embattled by UKIP, staring a triple dip recession in the face. Little more than 3 months later, and things are looking brighter for the party, although nowhere near as good as their chances of winning the next election are being portrayed in certain areas of the Tory press.

Naturally then, it’s now Labour and their hangers-on that are having an attack of the jitters. Quite why is difficult to ascertain: it’s not as though things have changed dramatically. The party still has a lead in the opinion polls; the economic recovery is hardly secured and for now is likely a mirage outside of the south east; and no one out in the real world gave a toss about the supposed selection scandal involving Unite up in Falkirk.

The odd thing is that on the whole, Ed Miliband has set out the general themes that the party needs to be focusing on. The squeezed middle might be the least well defined social grouping in history, but living standards will undoubtedly dominate come 2015. He set out a critique of predator capitalism, for which he was widely mocked by the media at the time, and yet tax avoidance by multinational corporations has become an issue as never before, while the spread of zero-hour contracts has exposed what a nonsense it is that employment law in this country is in some way holding business back. One Nation Labour has not been explained quite as well, but the potential is still there, especially as the Tories look set to go for a doctrinaire right-wing manifesto come 2015.

Labour’s problem isn’t then just due to indecision within the party itself, it also reflects the sad state of politics more widely in the country. We’re told endlessly that politicians are all the same, yet present the electorate with an alternative and they don’t want that either. Up until very recently they thought cuts were unfair and harming the economy, but they didn’t want to take the risk of loosening up, reflected through the lack of anything approaching street opposition as austerity as has been seen elsewhere in Europe.

The closest they’ve come to approving of an outsider is Nigel Farage for goodness sake, about as alternative as John Bishop is to Michael McIntyre. This is where some of the criticism of Labour’s current position gets silly: John Harris bemoans how Labour has missed the digital revolution, as though “a viral video” or a few more tweets from Balls and Miliband could make the difference.

In effect, the main reason behind the whinges is that Labour isn’t doing quite as well as it was. It’s not anything more deep-seated than that. How could it be? Despite the despair of the likes of Dan Hodges or the equivalent from the opposite side by Owen Jones, the party remains where it is because it doesn’t think the general public wants it any further left or right than where it currently is. What’s more, the opinion polls back them up. Hardly any MPs voice outrage at what the coalition is doing to the welfare state, how Serco and G4S are not that far off from running the country or how the Tories seemed to have settled on creating growth through encouraging another housing bubble, for the precise reason that it’s exactly what they would do if they were suddenly foisted into power. Sure, they might do things ever so slightly differently, but not massively. The most anger we’ve heard from a Labour MP recently has been Stella Creasy, and that was about fucking Twitter again.

More pertinently, why make the effort when the next election will be decided in such a small number of seats again? For the Tories to win a majority they have to increase their share of the vote, something a party in government hasn’t managed in a very long time. They seem to think they can achieve this feat through repeating the same Lynton Crosby-honed themes over and over for the next two years. The result we might have to face is another hung parliament, another five years of conglomeration and drift. And the sad thing is, no one seems particularly upset by the prospect so long as they’ve got some hold on power.

a longer version is here.

This is why Andy Burnham could one day be Labour leader

by Sunny Hundal     August 13, 2013 at 8:45 am

I missed this bit from Andy Burnham’s interview in the Guardian over the weekend, but it’s worth highlighting

“We’re the professional politician generation, aren’t we? I was schooled in this, kind of, how do we make a press release today that embarrasses the opposition? That’s the kind of politics that everyone was doing, and the kind of culture developed where you’re scrabbling over a bit of the centre ground with micro-policies that are designed to just create a little couple of days’ headlines and create a feeling, but not change much else.”

It was a mistake, he also admitted, for the last Labour government to allow the private sector into the NHS.

“Once the market takes a hold on the system it will destroy what’s precious about it. We had been building a policy that had been saying it doesn’t matter who provides healthcare as long as it’s free at the point of delivery. But I’m saying it does matter.”

What the two paragraphs above illustrate, in my opinion, are emotional intelligence. Burnham knows that those two are among the top five gripes of almost every Labour member in the country. And yet even the current class of Labour MPs (except those plainly on the left) are broadly unwilling to articulate these concerns. They just can’t bring themselves to do it.

Burnham spells them out so plainly, in an almost-blasé manner, that it looks like he understands those concerns well and they’re not a new revelation. Which, of course, they’re not.

I agree with Phil that Andy Burnham has grown immensely in confidence and stature since the Labour leadership election three years ago.

He has complete command of his brief and has Tories on the defensive over health like no other area*. He proposes big, bold ideas to deal with problems of the future.

Plus, as the above shows, he’s a very effective and plain-speaking communicator. Labour really lacks that right now.

I’m not saying he could be leader merely because of the above interview alone; I’ve been thinking this for a while. 2010 was too early for Burnham because he didn’t have much of an identity then (David Miliband quickly assumed the ‘Blairite heir’ identity and Ed positioned himself against that. The rest barely got a chance). At 43, he still has plenty of time (even 10 years from now if Ed Miliband is successful) to build profile and bide his time.

If I was to tip anyone as Labour leader (after Ed Miliband) right now, it would be Andy Burnham.

* The only person to come close to Burnham’s dominance on health was Ed Balls, when he had Michael Gove in his clutches over education in the early days. Nowadays, Stephen Twigg now doesn’t even come close to landing a blow.

Ed Miliband has chucked Labour in the deep end – it could very well drown

by Sunny Hundal     July 10, 2013 at 5:08 pm

A lot of lefties are aghast at the plans Ed Miliband unveiled yesterday to change Labour’s link with the unions, while most on the Labour right are delighted. I think it should be the other way around; those on the Labour right should be worried about the impact if this gamble doesn’t pay off.

I say this because Miliband essentially admitted Labour can only survive as a mass-membership party if it appeals as a credible alternative to the Tories. People have to believe that being a member of Labour will give them a say in its direction, will involve them and engage with them regularly. Otherwise they have no reason to join.

All this is uncomfortable with the Labour right, who centralised decision-making, kept members out of active engagement and ignored grassroots mobilisation during the New Labour years. Labour party members were an unrepresentative embarrassment to them. Now they’ll have to make an active effort to engage them and encourage them, and offer a different vision of a Labour govt to trade unionists to persuade them to join.

Feeling sceptical this will happen? You’re not alone. But surely we on the left can agree that even an attempt to do is welcome?

What if Labour simply increases its reliance on corporate donors to make up the funding shortfall? This is likely, but carries huge risks. It would alienate unions even more and depress Labour membership. The long slide into a hollowed-out base would continue and the media would relentlessly ridicule Miliband’s pledge to turn Labour into a mass-membership party.

As Mark Ferguson said initially, union leaders would also face growing questions from members on affiliation if only a small percentage join Labour. Increased calls for dis-affiliation may also lead the unions to set up another party or support the Greens.

My point is simply this: it is unsustainable for Labour to make this monumental change and then rely more on donations from big business. It may have been possible in the past when union leaders had the appearance of clout but now even that is gone.

In other words Labour has to become a populist, mass-membership party or it will hasten its own demise. Ed Miliband’s move in effect threw the party into the deep end of the pool. Now it either learns to swim or it drowns. He has the change the party or he will drown with it.

Labour’s battle with Unite over Falkirk is a sign of weakness AND strength

by Sunny Hundal     July 5, 2013 at 8:25 am

Let me start with a short story. In 2007 the constituency of Ealing-Southall had a by-election after the sitting MP died. One of the leading contenders was Sonika Nirwal – the first Asian woman to be elected leader of a Labour group (in Ealing). She would have been a breath of fresh air and everyone expected an All-Women-Shortlist to be drawn up. But Ms Nirwal didn’t get it. She didn’t even make the shortlist. The AWS plan was abruptly discarded and only two men made the shortlist: veteran councillor Virendra Sharma and an unknown newcomer. It was obvious who would win.

There are countless such stories across the Labour party. They aren’t new and they aren’t unexpected. As Hopi Sen points out: “The system can be manipulated, so it is manipulated.” Unite’s mistake in Falkirk was to get caught trying to manipulate the system.

So here are some thoughts on this internal battle.

It could escalate
The argument over selection mistakes in Falkirk is merely a proxy battle – both the Progress types and the Left of the party know this. It’s also one both sides are itching to fight, and could escalate unless Ed Miliband seeks to placate both sides not just Jim Murphy’s contingent. It is also utterly absurd for Labourites to say the rules need changing to prevent unions from ‘fixing selections’ – since ‘fixing’ is practiced widely. Change is needed but it cannot just target unions.

Labour still has a working class problem
Unite’s actions are justified for many activists on the left for one reason: working class candidates are badly under-represented across Labour. At least Unite is trying to address the problem, while the Labour leadership isn’t, they say. Unless it is rectified there will always be resentment over perceptions that middle-class candidates are able to stitch-up selections while working class candidates aren’t. Many point out that Unite have the right to pursue their interests in the same way Progress do, but with added legitimacy.

It is a sign of strength…
…that Labour is willing to stand up to its biggest donor and tell them to stop interfering so blatantly. The Tories don’t have the guts to stand up to the City or big business. And to an extent Ed Miliband is right to be angry since the Labour Party and Unite are separate entitities, not joined at the hip.

But it is a sign of weakness…
…that Labour capitulates so easily to the right-wing press over a minor beltway story. Take another example: twice a year Ed Miliband’s office hosts a reception for the political press. Some left-wing bloggers (including myself) are invited too. But for some unexplicable reason they also invite Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) and Harry Cole even though there is absolutely no benefit in doing so. Several journalists always point out that the Tories don’t even bother with the New Statesman, let alone hostile bloggers. Whatever the Labour leadership say, to everyone it looks like a sign of weakness they feel the need to invite mortal enemies, and feeds into the view that they are always worried about what the rightwing press.

Fighting the battle of the 80s
It feels like many of those stoking up fears about unions after Falkirk are still living the battles of the 80s against Militant. Of course Falkirk was nothing like that. In fact, there are far more instances of irregularities with Asian voters in areas such as Birmingham and parts of London. Are they going to ban Asians from standing or voting for Labour? Of course not. The point is that this controversy is being hyped up by people who either have an agenda against the unions or are fighting battles of the past.

The full report needs to be published – otherwise it just looks like Labour is pursuing a vendetta against Unite.

Labour should care not just for human rights but our right to privacy

by Guest     July 4, 2013 at 3:06 pm

by Ed Paton-Williams

This week Sadiq Khan MP signalled that Labour were re-committing to human rights.

In front of an Unlock Democracy debate in Parliament, he rightly praised Labour’s first term successes – The Human Rights Act, freedom of information and the Supreme Court. But Labour later “got the balance wrong” on citzens’ freedom and security.

Now he wants Ed Miliband’s Labour to, “stand up for the rights of our citizens – holding to account politicians and public authorities, taking on vested interests”. It was really good stuff and engaging seriously with human rights issues sets him apart from too many Labour MPs.

He has a blind spot though. In 2000, Labour passed RIPA – the major British law governing surveillance. It’s RIPA that’s behind many of Edward Snowden’s revelations over the past few weeks. RIPA lets British intelligence agencies tap the world’s Internet data as it reaches British shores. GCHQ stores all that data for 3 days and the information about where you are, who you contact and which sites you visit for 30 days.

RIPA enables the UK to share PRISM’s findings. If you use the Internet, RIPA means you’re under surveillance. Sadiq said yesterday that RIPA is “great but out of date.” (I’ll give it to him. That’s a decent soundbite.)

But he’s wrong. RIPA isn’t great. It’s letting GCHQ carry out mass surveillance on the web’s 2 billion users regardless of whether they’ve done anything wrong.

That’s a huge invasion of privacy and discourages free speech and free association. These are all human rights too.

Sadiq pointed out several times how Labour got it wrong on human rights. But despite Edward Snowden’s revelations, he still thinks RIPA is a “great” law. If Labour want to be radical supporters of human rights in Government again, they need to prepare to reform RIPA.

GCHQ shouldn’t be allowed to hoard everyone’s data with little oversight. The police and intelligence agencies would be better off targeting suspected criminals. And it’s Parliament’s job to hold them to account when they make mistakes.

It’s great news that Sadiq Khan’s pushing for Labour to regain its radicalism on human rights. But human rights include the right to privacy. It’s important Labour doesn’t forget that.

Ed Paton-Williams is a Labour member and works as a campaigner at Open Rights Group. He writes here in a personal capacity. Find him on Twitter at @edpw or on his blog

Why it’s Simon Danczuk who is ‘economically illiterate’

by Chris Dillow     July 4, 2013 at 1:54 pm

In the Times (£) Simon Danczuk says lefties such as Owen Jones are "economically illiterate." He misses the point that, in many respects now, it is not the left that's economically illiterate but rather centrists like him.

 - It is economically illiterate to ignore the massive evidence that unemployment is a huge source of misery, and to talk instead of the minority of scroungers.

 - It is economically illiterate to complain about crony capitalism, as Danczuk does, without recognizing that basic economics tells us that crony capitalism is the only likely form of capitalism.

 - It is economically illiterate to think the unemployed can be incentivized into work when there are 4.9 officially unemployed people for every vacancy, and 12.1 unemployed if we use a wider definition of joblessness.

– It's economically illiterate to believe that the macroeconomic cost of scrounging is anything other than very small.

 - It is economically illiterate to speak of the "benefits of getting people into work" as Danczuk does, but then accept the Tories' tight fiscal plans for after 2015 – especially if you don't raise the inflation target.

 - It is economically illiterate to think the government is in control of its finances, and that fiscal policy alone is sufficient to reduce the deficit, without recognizing that deficit reduction requires a decline in the private sector's net financial surplus.

 - It is economically illiterate to think a jobs guarantee for those who have been out of work for more than two years is anything close to an acceptable employment policy, when these account for less than one-fifth of unemployment, and when helping them into work might well displace the shorter-term unemployed.

 - It is economically illiterate to ignore the evidence that there's very little that governments can do to much improve the economy's medium-term growth rate.

 - It is economically illiterate to ignore the fact that, throughout the west, there has been a long-term collapse in demand for unskilled work.

 - It is economically illiterate to ignore the possibility that preferences are endogenous. Insofar as some unemployed are lazy, their laziness might not (just) be a cause but rather an effect of their unemployment: why make yourself unhappy wanting something you can't have?

I don't say all this to attack Mr Danczuk, but rather to make a broader point. The phrase "economically illiterate" has long been used to smear leftists as unrealistic utopian dreamers. And I'll concede that the description fits many of the soft left. But this tactic ignores a nastier fact. At the current juncture of capitalism, what is  really economically illiterate is the belief that capitalism is compatible with decent employment prospects and living standards for all workers – especially if you limit your policy options to those that are acceptable to Paul Dacre.

Why Labour should turn against HS2

by Sunny Hundal     July 4, 2013 at 8:25 am

At their summer reception yesterday, IPPR’s Nick Pearce joked to me that I finally agreed with Peter Mandelson over something.

It’s true. I’m glad that Mandelson has finally converted to an argument I’ve been making for a while: that High-Speed Rail 2 is a bad idea.

In one sense the economic and social arguments for and against HS2 have become redundant. The costs are so large and the payoff so minuscule that it’s bizarre to argue that HS2 will seriously regenerate the economy or provide massive payoffs in speed, the environment or re-balancing the economy.

It has now become an entirely political calculation. And this is where I think Labour is badly missing a trick.

The Labour leadership’s thinking in favour of HS2 is summed up by Steve Richards in the Indy today. As a senior shadow cabinet minister put it to me, we have show that Britain is still capable of (and needs!) large engineering projects and investment in infrastructure. The Labour leadership think accepting that we don’t have money to spend on HS2 would make it more difficult to make the case for other big infrastructure projects. Austerity would infect even long-term investment too.

I think that calculation has some merit. But I also think there is a strong political case against HS2.

For one, Labour could argue that the Coalition is now wasting billions on rail just so well-off people can get into London slightly quicker.

Secondly, Labour should be saying they would instead use a large chunk of the money for an unprecedented affordable house-building program. That would not only create more jobs, cost less and make life immediately easier for so many more people – it would help Labour’s key constituency of voters. Labour hasn’t committed to anything serious on house-building as yet.

Thirdly – it can be about looking prudent with money. Labour can paint HS2 as a gigantic white elephant with negligible benefits to look ‘fiscally responsible’ and prudent with money (their current obsession), instead of salami-slicing small bits of social security spending. If you want to make an impression with voters then go large – stop pussy-footing around.

If I was a Labour spokesperson I would put the argument against HS2 this way.

“Labour think HS2 has become a huge white elephant project which offers small benefits to well-off travellers who can get to London slightly faster. It doesn’t represent good value for money for ordinary taxpayers, and we admit we were too gungho about large projects in the past that did not always deliver value for money.

“We would divert a chunk of that money towards a massive housebuilding and schools programme, which offers real investment in our future and better value for taxpayers.”

BOOM! The Conservatives would be in tatters.

The centre left still has no idea how to become relevant again

by Sunny Hundal     June 28, 2013 at 10:41 am

Jacob Hacker, a professor of political science at Yale University, is widely credited for coining the Labour buzzword ‘pre-distribution’.

He wrote an article for the Guardian a few weeks ago, as part of a talk at Peter Mandelson’s think-tank Policy Network. The most interesting part of the article for me was this bit:

Second, the third way took for granted that one could maintain the state’s role in providing public goods while also glorifying markets – especially, at least until the crash, financial markets. Then, of course, governments of all stripes bailed out those markets when things went sour. Throughout, virtually no investment was made in fostering a positive conception of the state’s role in making market work, which is actually more vital than ever in a complex global economy. The result is a crisis of legitimacy, and no political force suffers more from this crisis than the moderate left.

This point cannot be emphasised enough. The ‘moderate’ left is in a deep crisis of legitimacy that hasn’t gone away.

Even five years after 2007 we still don’t have an explanation of what went wrong in 2007 and what lessons have been learnt. Ed Miliband has made some attempt to grapple with this, but the agenda seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Now the focus is back on ‘fiscal consolidation’ and ‘tough choices’ and ‘pragmatic decisions’ and ‘public sector reform’ and so on. You know, the kind of words the Progress crowd love.

Now I’m not saying those phrases are not relevant in any way. But many on the centre left have mistaken this ongoing crisis of legitimacy (‘how did you let us get into this mess?‘) as a sign that people want to hear more of the things the centre-left loves talking about.

In other words, they say, obviously the centre-left is unpopular because we aren’t talking enough about ‘fiscal discipline’ and ‘public sector reform’ – rather than try and convince the public that we realise fucked up and have some bold ideas to promote this time around.

Ed Miliband started off down this path, and I was hopeful that he would stick with it, and develop it further to convince the public that Labour had learnt and changed.

But it seems the same people who were previously praising the bankers, disliked regulation and wanted the banks bailed out – Ed Balls is a key figure here – have gone back into their comfort zone again. Three years later there is nothing bold on reforming financial services, rebalancing the economy or a bold industrial strategy other than lots of speeches and a British Investment Bank (which the Tories are pushing anyway).

Instead of arguing about how far the UK economy needs to change to it work for ordinary people, the Labour party is spending all its time trying to explain how far they would match Osborne in every step he takes.

The centre left – I’m referring to Labour’s “centrists” here – aren’t even listening to their own people and recognising their ongoing crisis of legitimacy.

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