- oD 50.50
- Shine A Light
Tom Griffin (London, OK): It seems that Tom Nairn, Peter Oborne and our own Anthony Barnett were on to something with their suspicions that Gordon Brown would seek to shore up his authority with some kind of cross-party pact.
The Fabian Society's Sunder Katwala offers just such a proposal in this week's New Statesman:
A Lab-Lib deal is possible - but only if a pre-emptive progressive coalition is formed soon. By the time Barack Obama leaves these shores in April, Gordon Brown should invite Nick Clegg to be deputy prime minister with Vince Cable as chancellor. The coalition would govern for a year - announcing the date of the next election, and legislating for fixed-election dates, too. This year it would focus on the response to the recession, while agreeing on core progressive priorities for the next four-year parliament in both party manifestos.
Stuart Weir (London, Democratic Audit): Guy Aitchison's very interesting post on Nick Clegg's speech to mark the publication of Unlocking Democracy, part history of Charter 88, part re-visiting Charter's themes today, focuses first on the dominant rhetorical themes that the ruling classes have used to submerge and disparage those of us who have been seeking democratic reform for half a century now. There is of course the notion of the 'chattering classes'; there is the idea that what we 'chatter' on about doesn't matter 'north of Watford'. There is the self-defeating insistence on the great merit of a flexible constitution, even though it is only the executive that benefits from this vaunted flexibility in amassing overweening powers that allow our governments to blunder on through political, economic, industrial and social disasters. As Nick Clegg pointed out forcibly, constitutional reform is vital to finding ways through the consequences of the series of blunders that have led the country through a new period of gross inequalities and greed to economic and industrial collapse.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Mike Smithson believes that Labour's poor showing in today's Populus poll means a 2009 election is off the agenda, but not everyone is so convinced. One opposition source points to the Labour website, where the party is recruiting campaign assistants on 9-month contracts immediately. They suggest this is evidence that Labour is gearing up for a May or June election.
Of course, the Prime Minister does not envisage an alliance with David Cameron's Tories. However, he is seriously toying with the idea of bringing the Liberal Democrats into a possible coalition. Private discussions - all, of course, totally deniable - are taking place secretly.
Against this fascinating background, I can reveal that special favours are being offered to the Liberal Democrats. First, there are signs of a deal being thrashed out between Downing Street and the LibDems over the appointment of the next Commons Speaker.
Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): Gordon Brown may have rediscovered Keynes and his nerve, but the politics of his government remain rooted in what has always been old-fashioned as well as neo-liberal about New Labour. There is a tendency in commentary to attribute this to Lord Mandelson’s re-birth; he may or may not be the Darth Vader of old – let’s wait and see – and some have seen a turning towards what we can loosely call “the public”, but he clearly reinforces Brown’s own impatience with anything that stands in the way of “growth”.
There is also a pervasive sense that the government has lost the traditional values that Blair used always to assert remained at the heart of New Labour – by which I mean a sense of communion with “ordinary people”, and especially the working and workless poor. Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate shook many people’s belief in his government’s commitment to social justice and it has clearly not been restored, despite his insistence that his bold economic response to recession is designed to protect ordinary people’s lives and jobs.
Matthew Oliver (London, Unlock Democracy): The results of Unlock Democracy’s recent survey should act as a wake-up call to those members of the Labour movement who believe that the issue of party funding can be kicked into the long grass.
The survey, commissioned by The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, finds that the Labour party risks a future Conservative government, possibly supported by Liberal Democrats and other parties, destroying the existing Labour-Union link if it fails to introduce meaningful reforms to the party funding system in this session of Parliament.
Sir Hayden Phillips wrote in 2007 that party finance reform was “within our reach but not in our immediate grasp". If Labour does not take action soon on these issues, these results show that they well find that the Conservative Party has snatched the opportunity from them and done with it what they will.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): John Osmond brings us news of the debate in the Senedd that launched the Institute of Welsh Affairs' new book, Politics in 21st Century Wales. He suggests that, given some of the players involved, the event may turn out to be a preview of the coalition negotiations that follow the next Assembly election:
Of course, First Minister Rhodri Morgan won’t be among them after 2011, since he has announced his impending retirement from politics – “he has indicated a wish to stand down as First Minister well before the elections” (according to his biographical note in Politics in 21st Century Wales). However, he prompted the speculation by suggesting in his contribution to the book that Labour should countenance proportional representation in local elections in order to allow a coalition deal to be negotiated with the Liberal Democrats.
It was Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price who suggested somewhat mischievously that this was tantamount to Rhodri revealing ‘a bit of ankle’ to the Lib Dems.
Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): What's a more motivating force, fear or hope? Across the pond Obama has inspired a generation, re-inspired another and put 9 million people on the electoral register. Here a halving of the Labour Partys majority has been represented as a historic victory. Here it was politics as usual, and bitter negative politics at that. Labour have successfuly played on peoples fears of economic collapse. But can Britain be held together by fear? Where is a credible positive agenda emerging from London? It's not going to be the Olympics or the sight of a UK football team emerging at Hampden comprising 11 Englishmen.
There is no doubt that Labour ran a very successful campaign, but that's not why they won. The SNP ran a great campaign but chose a candidate that made them the incumbent (Peter Grant is the Head of the SNP Council), but that's not why they lost.
There are three reasons why Labour won.
Madeleine Bunting, in the chair, did her best to make everyone feel an Obama moment. But Cruddas struck a note of scepticism. The financial crisis fills him with "foreboding" rather than "confidence", he said, as history shows it is nearly always the right that gains in tough times as voters turn to a "sour politics of identity" in search of a quick fix. Recent attempts to compare Gordon Brown with Roosevelt ignore the fact there is no ready-made framework for the party to turn to, although Cruddas says progressive taxation, a radical social housing plan, a new regulatory regime, a Green New Deal and scrapping Trident and ID cards to fund a "new military covenant" and more police all provide "illustrative examples" of whose side the party should be on.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): After last month's look at the Tories, the way forward for the Labour Party is the subject of the latest in the Comment is Free/Soundings series of debates, Who Owns the Progressive Future?
Cruddas set out his prescription ahead of the debate in a Comment is Free piece with Soundings editor Jonathan Rutherford:
The relationship between market and state is being redrawn. Nowhere is this more needed than in housing. This is where the battle lines are being drawn up. The left must create a democratic and accountable state capable of strategic intervention in the domestic economy and creating global alliances. A new settlement means a progressive tax system, a restructured financial economy and a Green New Deal. Ahead lie the perils of global warming and peak oil. But now let us give homes to people, and with them the hope of a better life.
Mike Small (Fife, Bella Caledonia): Last week's lost cause is this week's cause celebre. Mr Bean - virtually laughed out of office two weeks ago - is this week's giant of fiscal rectitude bestriding the world stage like a colossus of economic management. Inconvenient truths like the role New Labour played in the deregulation of goods and services, the 'liberation' of the Bank of England or support for the policy of basing your economy on spiralling housing prices, are swept aside in the glib wave of back-slapping that is sweeping the political commentariat.
The media is fickle, not feral.
Gleefully Jim Murphy the new Scottish Secretary mocks the SNP with reference to the 'arc of insolvency', a reference to the 'arc of prosperity' that the SNP have used to describe Iceland, Ireland and Norway. The problem with Labour's new found chutzpah is that they are treading on thin ice. The markets are faltering, the terrain unpredictable. Just as the SNP's original triumvirate of Ireland, Iceland and Norway was a too-convenient set, it equally fails as an example of why Scotland must be held to the Union. Norway is doing fine in the financial crisis, Iceland is not. The scale and impact of crisis has little or nothing to do with the size and constitutional make-up of the country involved.
Four years ago, as a junior minister at the FO, Rammell was personally informed by the Red Cross about the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American forces in Abu Ghraib jail.
However, Rammell did nothing. Indeed, he apparently failed to pass on the information to any other member of the Government.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): It is said that Satan has an icey prick. I assume that Mephistopheles, his representative on earth has similarly chilly parts and wouldn't want to enquire further, But now that he has entered the Cabinet perhaps we can rename it the Fridge. "Let the change begin", the Prime Minister announced when he finally made it to what he thought was the top of the pole - now he has returned to his vomit, charming though it is on a good day, as you would expect. Mislead people about a mortgage, fail to achieve your trade objective as Europe's Commissioner, what better qualifications for a peerage? Some are saying that Lord M is a "big hitter". Yesterday's misser would be more accurate - out in the real world. But the worshippers of globalisation that misrule Britain have not lived there for some time.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Over at Comment is Free, Labour MP Jon Cruddas argues that the Conservatives' emphasis on fixing Britain's 'broken society' is at odds with the party's commitment to free market neo-liberalism:
New Labour has not been able to exploit these contradictions due to its tone-deaf language, its one-dimensional take on Cameron and its own outdated political economy. While its centralising instincts and micromanagement of people have allowed the Conservatives to strike a chord with their criticism of state control. They have been able to portray state intervention - which has to be part of any redistributive politics - as an undesirable intrusion into people's lives.
James Graham believes that Cruddas and his Compass colleagues are the coming force within the Labour Party, but that they have failed to overcome their own 'centralising instincts.'
Ruth Sheldon (ippr): Returning to my home town of Manchester this week, I've found little I recognise. The Labour Party Conference is once again dominating the city centre, complete with the associated security, the highly visible yellow plastic barriers which mark the ‘secure zone' behind which hurried-looking delegates and politicians rush between hotels and the GMEX conference centre. Interestingly enough, just down the road, freshers' week is in full swing too. Yet Mancunians are left to look on as students and politicians alike set about frantic and sometimes alcohol-fuelled networking, apparently oblivious to each other and the impact they're having on the city.
Manchester City Council and the Labour Party have been at pains to emphasise what they believe to be a mutual benefit of the conference coming to the city. But a poll in the Manchester Evening News suggests that Mancunians don't share the same view. Just over 75 per cent of respondents said they believed the conference would not benefit Manchester. This in itself demonstrates that there is a disconnect between politicians and the public.
Ippr north organised an event at conference that sought to redress the balance, by focusing solely on the public's views. With no ministers, no speakers and no pre-determined discussion topic it handed over the agenda to the participants. Terry Christian hosted the event which involved residents from across the North West, including those involved in community groups as well as some local labour party activists.
Hassan Akram (Cambridge): The search for a replacement for Gordon Brown is slowly becoming public. Last week Brown lost a second member of his Government after David Cairns followed Siobhan McDonagh in openly demanding that Labour look for a new leader. McDonagh said she wanted to start the party thinking about who should replace Brown and refused to be drawn on who she thought might do the job best. But Cairns went further, hinting that he “had someone in mind” although he refused to say who it was. Of course, it is an open secret that a large group of MPs, worried about losing their seats in the next election, want to replace Brown with David Miliband. Miliband is seen as the only candidate youthful and vigorous enough to challenge David Cameron’s slick new Tory brand. The Party Conference is likely to put this on hold, but there can be little doubt that Milliband is hoping to be rewarded for "good behaviour".
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Does Barack Obama's presidential campaign have lessons for the left in Britain? That's the question that the Fabian Society will be considering in an OurKingdom-supported debate at the Labour Party conference on Sunday.
Among the speakers will be Skills Minister David Lammy, who argued earlier this year (in a speech that is available as a podcast) that the US experience provides a model for involving a generation of young people who are socially aware but disengaged from party politics.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): It's been a remarkable couple of days. The weekend's attacks on Gordon Brown have left the Government looking weakened at the very moment when the credit crunch has taken a dramatic new turn with the demise of Lehman Brothers. Robert Peston has called it Wall Street's 'most extraordinary 24 hours since the late 1920s.'
The party politics may not be the most important angle in all of this, but for what it's worth, Labour looks ever more vulnerable to critiques like this one from Janet Daley in the Telegraph:
Tom Griffin (London, OK): This weekend's events in the Labour Party are looking more and more like an attempt at repeating the Brownite coup against Tony Blair of 2006. Following Siobhan McDonagh's resignation as a junior whip yesterday, Party vice-chair Joan Ryan and former minister George Howarth have called for a leadership election.
Significantly, Howarth is also one of 12 MPs who have demanded a change of direction in Progress Magazine, the organ of what, with apologies to Charles Clarke, is generally seen as the Blairite caucus within the party.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Scottish Labour Party will have a new leader by this weekend. The Scotsman suggests that Wendy Alexander's successor could quickly find themselves at odds with Westminster:
In London, the government is trying to keep down wage inflation and will not provide any more money for public-sector wages.
In Scotland, the party is going through a leadership campaign where two of the candidates have been backed by unions involved in the strike action.
What this means is that, when Labour in Scotland does get its new leader this weekend, the party here will almost certainly be in favour of strike action while the party in England is not.
Tom Griffin (London, OK):In the wake of Charles Clarke's attack on Gordon Brown last week, the weekend commentary evinced a widespread view that the Labour party is paralysed, doomed under Gordon Brown, but incapable of getting rid of him.
In the latest edition of Tribune, Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle underlines the difficulties:
The actual constitutional mechanisms covering prime ministerial resignations are unclear. What if Brown is forced out in favour of candidate A; goes to the Palace, but recommends candidate B as his successor? Worse still, what if the ex-Prime Minister believed the only way to pre-empt a messy succession campaign for the party in government was to recommend a dissolution of Parliament to the Queen?
These are pertinent questions because, unlike the Tories, Labour does not have a clear and efficient way of removing its leader. Our current system was designed precisely to deter a challenge to an incumbent. On the other hand, it had assumed an election when there was a vacancy. The unelected succession of Gordon Brown to replace Tony Blair ran counter to that assumption and weakens Brown’s position.
Tom Griffin (London, OK): Charles Clarke may not have won much overt support for his attack on Gordon Brown this week, but his thesis that the future of the Labour Party cannot be understood in terms of Blairite and Brownite cliques seems to have won more general assent.
At Comment is Free, the Fabian Society's Sunder Katwala has pointed out that many of Clarke's own policy prescriptions don't fit the Blair/Brown New Labour template. In another piece on the Fabians' new Next Left blog (also at Liberal Conspiracy), Katwala suggests the same is true of many younger members of the Cabinet:
the generation of 40 and 30-somethings in the Labour Party have no interest at all in carrying the personal allegiances of 1997 around for the next twenty years. Which is lucky – as I doubt Ed Miliband wants to lead a rival army to take on his brother.
If there is one thing a ‘Next Left’ is about, it has to be about coming up with new answers, not thinking the work was done a generation ago.
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