Thursday, 31 July 2008
The Member of Parliament for Bury South (where I grew up near Manchester) argued that the only way forward for Labour was to be bolder.
This is the second time in as many months that Ivan has argued openly for Labour to change and be bolder when it comes to helping and reassuring people that Labour is on their side. It was an echo of David Miliband's comments yesterday.
Ivan Lewis is absolutely right. We are best when we are bold.
But like David Miliband, it is hard to believe that a Government Minister would have ever made such comments under Tony Blair, whose direction and control of the Party was never seriously questioned.
The cumulative effect of these small events makes the likelihood of a challenge to Gordon Brown all the greater. The fact that the Foreign Secretary refused to dampen speculation today that he wanted to be leader means we are heading into a frenzied month of leadership speculation. Brown must be clawing at his knuckles.
However, we must make sure that we have a proper debate about what the Party stands for. Miliband and Lewis are absolutely right to advocate a bolder sweep of policies. The coronation of Gordon Brown last year avoided a debate about the direction of the Party which was desperately needed. If there is a leadership election over the next two months, members must listen to what each candidate is offering.
The one who offers the boldest platform to take New Labour forward gets my vote.
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
Saturday, 26 July 2008
But, how can Labour recover? Here are my initial thoughts (and excuse me if they are written in a sort of breathless prose):
1) Stick by Gordon Brown. Whatever his personal shortcomings, Gordon Brown remains the right man to lead our Party. If there was an obvious and credible alternative candidate waiting in the wings to take over then things would be very different, but there isn't, so we stick with who we've got and we show loyalty and self-respect. I do not accept that the British public would tolerate another change of leader without the Party going to the polls in a General Election and if this was held in the next three months we would lose. Whatever the pundits might say, Britain is not being badly run and a change of leader would be too risky. The Party's problems are bigger than one man anyway. As Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian today, "There is no point in changing leader, without changing direction."
2) Be radical when it comes to policy. Follow Frank Field's example and "think the unthinkable." We need to help people who are feeling the affects of the economic downturn the most. I would introduce a windfall levy on the gas and oil companies (generating around £10 billion) that would then go straight back to every home in the country to help with rising fuel costs.
3) Raise tax on the top 1% of earners to pay for tax cuts for everyone earning less than £25,000 a year. Its about fairness and helping bottom and middle income households.
4) Push ahead with the choice and market agenda in our public services - even if this pisses off the Unions. When it comes to the Unions, we should listen and act. Obviously some of their demands like re-introducing secondary picketing are complete baloney but some of their other demands are exactly what Labour should do and it would be madness to reject them out of hand. I hope that the deals being done at Warwick this weekend are genuinely radical and commit Labour to a programme of social democracy. I have always considered myself an uber-Blairite but I don't think showing some red water between us and the Tories is such a bad thing. People want us to act and make their lives a bit easier. Labour can do this.
5) Cut tax where possible for the poorest in society and scrap the duty on fuel but strengthen our environmental credentials by introducing forms of taxation that penalise the user rather than everyone across the board and are genuine attempts to change behaviour rather than raise revenue.
6) Push ahead with Labour's popular policies and start comparing them with what the Tories would do - school building programmes, Sure Start centres (we need more of these now!), house building, help for first time buyers e.g. joint-mortgage schemes, implement Lord Darzai's recommendations, more training and work schemes, re-introduce school nurses. Stuff like this.
I watched Ed Miliband on the TV the other night and what he said struck me as right. The big problems facing Britain and the rest of the world - climate change, globalisation, economic slowdown - are problems that require a role for an active, dynamic government. They demand Labour solutions. But if we don't start delivering them then we allow the Tories to set the agenda and claim it was all a failure in the first place. This would be the real tragedy.
Friday, 25 July 2008
Obama's campaign trip to Europe has been a stunning success.
Addressing a crowd of 200,000 people in Berlin yesterday, Barack Obama looked every bit like the leader of the free world. If this doesn't give him a bump in the polls, I don't know what will!
For those watching, it must have felt like being in the presence of a rock star. The location was perfect, the crowd excited, the candidate on top form.
And the speech did exactly what it was supposed to do i.e portray Obama as the antidote to the unilateralism, arrogance and machismo of the Bush years. We did not need any more policy detail than this.
Some of John McCain's aides thought it looked like a "premature victory lap" or evidence of arrogance and ambition.
But I think we can pretty much take it for granted that anyone running to be President has a certain amount of arrogance and ambition. Not always such a bad thing.
And as for the "premature victory lap," I think Obama took a big risk coming to Europe but it paved off. The images being beamed back to homes in the United States show Obama as the statesman he is, engaging with people and showing true leadership. Not the kind of bullying hectoring Europeans have grown accustomed to under George Bush.
Politically, the trip helped Obama steal McCain's thunder and although I think this election is going to be closer than many people think, I expect Obama's Berlin speech will play very well with voters at home.
If Obama runs his White House like he runs his campaign, we've got eight years of excitement, innovation and leadership to look forward to.
We were all wrong.
I thought Labour would narrowly sneak to victory in yesterday's by-election, but instead we narrowly lost to the Nationalists.
Another depressing - make that suicidal night - for the Party.
The only possible, positive spin I can put on it is that things can't get much worse than this. When you are this low in the polls and you suffer setback after setback, perhaps the only real direction is up.
Let's hope so.
One thing is clear though: the Labour Party is universally hated.
The campaign in Glasgow East was pretty good, the candidate, Margaret Curran was strong and Gordon Brown was hardly mentioned at all. Yet, the electorate rejected the Labour Party and voted for the SNP, sending a clear signal to the Party leadership that Labour has got to shift a gear.
We are now witnessing the hemorrhaging of Labour's core vote.
We lost the swing vote a long time ago as the local elections showed.
If we can not win Middle England (Crewe and Nantwich) and we can not win the aspirational South-East (Henley) and we can not win in our own back yard (Glasgow East), we have to ask ourselves where exactly can we win? What is the point of us?
It is not as simple as changing a leader or a Cabinet reshuffle either - which is what some Party hacks will be advocating this weekend. It is more important that as a Party we ask ourselves precisely what we stand for. If I struggle to articulate Labour's message, then no wonder voters in Glasgow East haven't a clue either and no wonder they are angry with the Government.
If the results of last night were repeated across the country in a General Election Labour would be thrown out of power for over a decade. And deservedly so.
But I agree with Gordon Brown that voters have not yet made their mind up when it comes to the Tories. Every day is a referendum on the government, but in a General Election it will really come down to a choice between two parties and I am still not yet convinced the public is sold on Cameron's New Look Tories. However, with every defeat, with every setback, with every gaffe ,we make their job a whole lot easier.
The rot has set so far in it may be impossible to stop. But, if we don't come up with something quick and I mean NOW (big ideas, big changes of direction, going for it full steam ahead) it is hard to see how we pull it around.
Labour is staring into the abyss and so far no one is pulling us back.
Tuesday, 22 July 2008
Politics is a messy business at the best of times, but Scottish politics is in a league of its own. And Glasgow East could be the turning point for this government and the Labour movement.
There are two outcomes to Thursday's result: one, we lose, the Labour Party goes into meltdown and rumours of a leadership challenge turn into the real thing or two, we win (although our 13,000 majority is severely reduced) and the whole Labour Party breathes a collective sigh of relief. Either way, Glasgow East is where this government lives or falls.
Our candidate, Margaret Curran, seems like a plucky, tenacious campaigner. She has served her time in the Party, survived the maelstrom of Scottish politics, risen through the Labour ranks and for once in a by-election seems like a Labour candidate worth fighting for. She has a lot riding on her.
The constituency, which as the media loves to remind us has an average life expectancy lower than the Gaza strip, also has an opportunity to have its voice heard. Working class politics has been forgotten by the mainstream parties, much to their eternal shame. New Labour, rightly needed a big tent strategy to succeed, but we can no longer rely on our working class vote to come out for us each time. Why should they? It is not safe to assume that they have no other Party to vote for. As we are seeing, they are turning to the Nationalists, the crank parties and in some parts of England the BNP to represent them. How the Labour Party re-connects with this part of the electorate is crucial to its future success.
I think Labour will win on Thursday but Glasgow East, which is solidly white and working class, should be the wake up call our Party needs. The worst possible thing we could do on Friday morning is shrug our shoulders, breathe a collective sigh of relief and cross our fingers for the next time. This strategy, which most of the PLP seems to have subscribed to, is simply not good enough.
It is about time we listened rather than pay lip-service to the people of Glasgow East, Barking, Knowsley and elsewhere. The Labour Party can no longer, nor should it, take these places for granted. We need to speak their language, re-connect and give them a reason to vote for us. You never know, Margaret Curran could come to symbolise the new politics we have been looking for.
This is the lesson of Glasgow East.
This should be our turning point.
Monday, 21 July 2008
I thought I would give him a shameless plug and put his video clip on-line so you can meet him for yourself. Please vote for him in the election.
Sunday, 20 July 2008
Wednesday, 16 July 2008
1) The Darzai Report - clear, practical and sensible solutions for reforming the NHS, such as polyclinics.
2) Extended GP opening hours.
3) Extra grants and funding for university students.
4) A Climate Change Bill - the first of its kind anywhere.
5) A Renewables Policy which plans for 4,000 offshore wind turbines and 3,000 onshore turbines.
6) Progress made on ratifying the Lisbon Treaty when the Tories and a few cranks are determined to stop it at all costs.
7) The White Paper on Community Empowerment and Local Government Reform from Hazel Blears - innovative, interesting solutions to encourage and build communities.
8) A single Equalities and Human Rights Commission. There is going to be an Equalities Bill sometime in 2009.
9) The Leitch Report, which is being taken seriously by Government, promises to redress the balance between formal education and skills.
10) Zimbabwe - Brown got other G8 leaders to agree to sanctions, even though they were then subsequently defeated at the UN. He has been consistent and right on this issue.
11) The New Youth Justice Plan - extends Sure Start programmes, increases the number of parenting and children classes and introduces intensive parental support. Compare this to the "hang 'em and flog em" policy of the Daily Mail and the Tories.
12) Banned cluster bombs.
13) Supports a Congestion Charge for Manchester.
14) Gave agency workers the same equal rights to permanent workers, when the CBI and the Tories were hostile to the idea.
15) Gave parents of children up the age of 16 the right to ask for flexible working hours.
16) Passed the Human Embryo and Fertilisation Bill, making it easier for couples and gay people to have families and helping science along the way.
17) Made swimming free for over 60s. My grandparents are feeling the benefit.
18) Kept up the momentum at the last G8 summit to ensure countries did not renege on their international aid commitments.
Sunday, 6 July 2008
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Barack Obama kicked off a series of "big theme" speeches this week, with an address delivered yesterday on patriotism.
Since 9/11, Democrats have allowed Republicans to seize 'patriotism' as one of their issues. Most Democrat politicians have been scared that any criticism of the Bush Administration or the war on terror would make them look unpatriotic.
Democrats have always had a problem with this. Time and time again, they have allowed Republicans to paint them as weak on defence and foreign affairs and hence unpatriotic.
Secondly, Obama's name and background pose another problem. For some Americans, whether we like it or not, Obama is just not American enough - particularly compared to McCain, the Vietnam veteran.
Therefore this was an issue that he could not afford to ignore. And in true Obama style he tackled it full on.
He spoke eloquently about the armed forces, distancing himself from some on the left who have repeatedly attacked the Generals in charge.
He spoke of self-sacrifice and national community.
And, like a good liberal, he argued forcefully that dissent could be patriotic.
His speech also came with a warning: he would not allow anyone to attack his patriotism during the campaign.
This was a speech that needed to be made. It lay down the parameters of the debate on Obama's own terms. Its message that he shared the same patriotic ideas as ordinary Americans will help reach out to those who still question Obama's credentials and make him appear like an ordinary bloke - just like them.
Campaigns need grand speeches that lay out big themes like patriotism or religion or democracy. They help establish where the candidate stands on the issue and they set the tone of the debate usually, if they are any good, on the candidates own terms.
But they also need to be complimented by smaller speeches on specific topics. It would actually be refreshing now to hear Obama make a speech that was brimming with policy details or other specific ideas on narrow topics. This, I think, would make him a less abstract figure - a politician capable of coping with the nitty-gritty of daily life and not some ivory-tower figure.
It was a good speech but he has to make sure that he gets the balance right.