Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Centre Left's conference week highlights

It's been an eventful week at my first conference in eight years, if extremely mixed politically (I know it's not over yet, but do you really think it's worth staying till Thursday? I'm home already). On Sunday the Refounding Labour party reform package was passed, including some difficult-to-justify gender quotas for the Shadow Cabinet, Leader and Deputy Leader. The Sunday night Progress fringe, which I attended and wrote up for them here, was an excellent show featuring the best of the Labour Party's sensible squad, as well as a barnstorming speech by Ivan Lewis, surely a good tip for higher things.

On Monday, Ed Balls' speech gave cause for modest cheering, when he agreed to long-term fiscal targets to aid our financial credibility. But it was only the first baby step along a long road. But the Leader's speech was both disappointing and worrying: I have a blow-by-blow analysis piece here. There are some other very good articles about it and its aftermath by two fellow bloggers I finally met in the flesh (instead of on Twitter), Anthony Painter and Atul Hatwal, not to mention the usual forensic analysis by John Rentoul. But the upshot is that the speech has not taken us anywhere and, indeed, it seems that Miliband spent much of Wednesday morning justifying it in the TV studios. Worse still, it had ecstatic crits from the current bunch of union leaders, not to mention mad Seumas Milne from the Guardian. Not a good sign.

That same morning Andrew Neil also asked Andy Burnham whether the passage in Ed's speech about responsibility meant we were now going to differentiate between the "deserving poor and the undeserving poor". Which, of course, was exactly what it meant. Poor Andy was cornered. But it wasn't his fault, he was just defending the indefensible, like a good lieutenant. The problem, I'm afraid, was caused by the general.

Difficult, difficult times for Labour.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Leader’s speech: holding our breath

Let’s get things straight. This is not a make-or-break speech (very few are, as John Rentoul recently pointed out). Only a small number of people, apart from the political media and the usual political anoraks, may even pay this speech much attention, for reasons which are, to be fair, not Ed’s fault at all.

To wit: we are a quarter-way through a now-stable electoral cycle, all three main leaders and the government look secure. Labour are highly unlikely to form a government before 2015 and quite conceivably not even then. Many journalists, in the unusual situation of coalition, perceive that the Lib Dems are providing as much of an opposition function within government as Labour are without it, and often pay more attention to their words (as they are more likely to have a direct effect on outcomes) than those of Labour.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Centre Left goes to Liverpool

So, arrived in Liverpool for Labour Party conference. Writing this in a somewhat, er, basic hotel in Bank Hall, one of the perhaps slightly less beautiful parts of the city (no, it's not the area in the photo). Which, for the record, I have booked, and to which I have travelled some distance at my own expense. This, dear reader, is the glamorous, jet-set life of the political blogger.

Let's be honest, party conference attendance is not exactly a majority interest, is it? Looking around me, I get to thinking what, perhaps, normal men of my age might be doing this Saturday night.

Come on: strange I may be, but I defy you to look me in the eye and say that I do not love my party.

Friday, 23 September 2011

The euro paradox: the lesson is better institutions, not less

This week, our sleepy European politicians seem to be waking up to the dangers of the euro crisis: even George Osborne seems to be starting to panic just a little. Aside from the delicious irony of a Euro-sceptic Tory Chancellor arguing for more integration, there are important lessons which we need to be drawing.
Britain, it is surely obvious, will be as affected by a euro-zone disaster as much as any other major European country; that is, an awful lot. To disabuse oneself of Osborne's rather ill-judged recent suggestion that the pound is a "safe haven", one has to look no further than the euro-sterling exchange rate, which has barely budged over recent months. In simple terms, the markets are discounting the fact that the economies are rather locked together, and that what ever miserable misfortune may befall the euro and Europe is likely also to be visited on sterling and the UK in similar measure.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The seven-year itch: a cautionary tale of tax, cuts and debt

There was this bloke. And there was this girl. They met, fell in love, got married, usual story. It was a big, special wedding – everybody went. A match made in heaven, everyone said. People came out of their houses to wave as they went to the church. Kind of wedding that fills everyone with hope for the future.

She was popular, always a lot of boys round her. But she was smart, knew what she wanted. Sometimes it looked like she wasn’t paying much attention, but she did when it counted. Didn’t stand for any nonsense. He, on the other hand, was a bit of a tearaway. Heart in the right place, but not very together, a lot of the time. And a drinker. A long history, in fact. Lots of girlfriends, but in the end, they all went, because of the drink. But not this one: this time it’d be different.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The boy Miliband done good

So, Ed got boos and catcalls at the TUC - as it happens, catcalls which are, rightly or wrongly, likely to be very useful indeed for his standing in the country, as Jack McConnell points out, showing as it does that he is standing outside of what is likely to be a very unpopular and widespread program of strike action.

In fact, although the media has tried to make a big deal of this, as usual, in the end 
it seemed almost uneventful. What they didn't really focus on is that the heckling largely came from non-affiliated unions, which have chosen not to take any part in the Labour Party's structures, and the fact of the heckling may have had as much to do with an increased militancy on the part of  these non-affiliated unions as it has to do with any serious falling-out between Labour and unions.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Scottish Labour: everyone’s problem

I imagine that, in the run-up to his conference speech - and having had a rather unexpectedly busy summer - Ed Miliband is turning his thoughts to his grand plan for Britain. And rightly - this will be a defining moment for his leadership. But, at the same time, it might be a little too easy to forget a rather pressing issue north of the border.

Now, it seems clear that Labour failed to win in 2007, and was decimated in 2011, largely because it stopped having a convincing argument for the electorate, as in Westminster. But, unlike Labour nationally, it has already had four years to regroup from the initial defeat, and is patently going backwards rather than forwards. For a country which has been dominated by Labour for surely the majority of the last century, it has been a fall from a great height indeed. And it's not over yet.

Friday, 2 September 2011

For your entertainment, an update on the delightful Mr Chávez

I know it’s starting to become a bit of an obsession, but I can’t help myself. Since my letter some time back asking why supposedly respectable trade unionists from the TUC were giving backing to the anti-democratic, constitution-twisting President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a few more nuggets have surfaced:

  • A few weeks ago, Chávez decided to repatriate all gold reserves held abroad (as well as, at the same time, nationalising the entire domestic and foreign gold-mining industry). When concerns were expressed on how the treasury might find space for it all on its return, he kindly offered the basement of the presidential palace as a suitable location. The aim suggested by Reuters, to help prop up the economy ahead of next year’s elections, seems more than plausible, however I am sure that there is also complete separation between that fine democratic leader and the Venezuelan state on this one, and that the gold reserves would be perfectly safe there from, say, suddenly disappearing into a Swiss bank account.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Labour must never be allowed to get this broke again

Yesterday the Guardian reported that proposed new rules for party funding could result in the Labour Party being "ruined". But this is only a metaphorical straw landing on a camel with an already decidedly poorly back.
Peter Mandelson's memoirs are interesting for many reasons, but one of the most important is as the first insider account of the Brown government and the 2010 general election campaign. What I hadn't realised, as a former party staffer, and what blew me away, was just how tight money was in relation to the two previous elections, for both of which I'd been on the payroll.

Part of the reason is for external factors beyond the party's control: membership of all political parties is down, and Labour's larger corporate and individual donations all but dried up following tougher declaration rules that it itself introduced, and the subsequent 2007 funding controversy, which resulted in the resignation - and subsequent clearing - of General Secretary Peter Watt. This has left only one real source - union donations - to fill the gap.
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