Progressive social change takes a long time to achieve.
After the massive loss of the Alternative Vote referendum in 2011, I spent a lot of time saying to downcast electoral reformists “don’t say ‘this kills reform for a generation’”. My argument had two parts: 1. This isn’t true. 2. Predictions can help make reality.
The education secretary had to be dismissed. His unpopularity was simply unsustainable. Gove and Lansley had done the dirty work of overseeing unpopular ideological reform. Now that they’ve absorbed more than their fair share of the public’s animosity they can be disposed of like damp kitchen roll.
All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.
Vince Cable quietly launched what he called an ‘enhanced’code of conduct for executive search firms to support the appointment of more women on boards recently. It is targeted at the FTSE 350 and recognises those firms who have been most successful in the recruitment of women to the FTSE 350 boards.
Of the various forms of government which have prevailed in the world, an hereditary monarchy seems to present the fairest scope for ridicule. Edward Gibbon
Recent reports about the cost of the Royal Family were spun by palace officials as a demonstration of the tremendous value for money of the Monarchy.
Just what is Cameron’s strategy in Europe? In fact, forget his strategy, just what is the PM’s basic logic when it comes to dealing with the European Union. After last week’s “fearless” yet fruitless stand against Junker, which saw the UK at odds with all but one other EU member state, it’s clearly time for change.
This morning Ed Miliband delivered a speech at a Policy Network event, where he reaffirmed the Labour party’s commitment to big reforms over big spending in an era of austerity.
How does one imagine a better future from the closures of the present? Some Enlightenment thinkers saw the cultures of rationality in a room without windows; a place which by definition cuts off any view of the outside. This is the ultimate triumph of any repressive politics; by defining the political in its own name it limits what can be thought and said.
The inquest into England’s worst ever World Cup campaign has focused on the usual questions of team selection, tactics and the attitude of the players, along with the obligatory search for a scapegoat.
After a week in which Ed Miliband has been repeatedly assaulted by a tag-team of hostile commentators over his supposed leadership failings, it needs to be pointed out that the criminal wrongdoing of Andy Coulson would have gone completely unpunished without the Labour leader’s decision to take a public stand against phone hacking by News International in
Ingvar Carlsson became the Prime Minister of Sweden under the worst possible circumstances. His predecessor, Olof Palme, was shot, on a cold night in February, 1986, at half past nine, walking home with his wife through the streets of Stockholm. We still don’t know who did it. Or why. The theories are as many as there are Swedish crime novels.
I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat, or a prostitute.
Over the course of the last mandate I, along with my fellow Labour MEPs, witnessed how UKIP MEPs consistently abstained from almost all votes in the European Parliament. It defended its stance by arguing that participation in the parliamentary system would indicate it endorsed the very institution it so vehemently argues is an unnecessary bureaucracy.
The staff of Brixton’s Ritzy cinema are on a mission. This year they have been campaigning with BECTU (the UK’s media and entertainment trade union) for the London Living Wage which would mean an increase in pay from £7.53/hr to £8.80.
The Ritzy is the busiest and most successful art-house cinema in the UK.
The complex and messy processes we call political reform depends equally on politics, policy and narrative. Parties accused of ‘not having any policies’ often have lots of policies. Page after page, with figures and proposals, ideas and projections.
Interesting news as we gather for the start of the new European Parliament mandate. The Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, of which UKIP are the biggest party, could be finished.
Nationalism and religion are making a comeback. In his recent article in The Church Times, David Cameron claimed that Britain is a Christian nation, and urged Christians to be more evangelical about their faith.
What is distinctive about the history of English progressive politics, and what can it teach us about social change for the future? In the nineteenth century Marx and Engels were convinced that England would have a revolution.
Yesterday saw the second One Nation Labour conference at Queen Mary University. Just under a year away from the General Election, interest in the meaning of One Nation Labour is understandably high and to that end this year’s conference sought to explain the history, strategy and narrative of One Nation Labour.
It has been nearly two weeks since the country went to the polls for the European and English local elections.
It was Panorama what won it for Lutfur Rahman. The flagship TV show put considerable resources into an investigation which ultimately came up with nothing. However, rather than making that the story, that he had been wrongly accused, the Panorama team instead looked for a different angle, to portray him as a crook.
In the wake of Ukip’s European triumph there are two currents flowing through our political landscape which it would be suicidal to ignore.
The first is that for too long the English people have felt lost at sea, powerless to control their political destiny in the face of ferocious and fast-moving forces of economic and social transformation.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
Henry David Thoreau
Ed Miliband’s discomfort at being asked how much his family spends on the weekly food shop is symptomatic of the divide, perceived or otherwise, of the political class from the rest of us.
Tomorrow is Election Day for the European Parliament and local councils. Because of tomorrow’s proximity to next year’s general election and the polarising effect of the UKIP phenomenon, the campaign has been pretty highly charged, with huge amounts of attention poured onto the argument of whether or not we should be in the EU.
The UK faces a crisis, if not of politics, then of politicians and political parties. Critics argue that politicians are in it for what they can get out of it. Most have never had a “real job” in their lives. They do not understand the pressures and challenges facing ordinary people.
Back in January of 2013, David Cameron made a speech at the European Headquarters of Bloomberg. After spent Months watching his party’s polling data and the sanity of his backbenchers steadily eroded by the rise of UKIP, the prime minister gave in and announced his plans to hold a referendum regarding Britain’s membership of the European Union in 2017.
When New Labour followed through on John Smith’s commitment to devolution, many sceptics saw it as a means of appeasing the independence movement in Scotland. With the Scottish independence referendum looming on the other side of summer, it is understandable if some think hasn’t devolution didn’t work.
On May 22nd, voters across London go to the polls to choose who they want to represent their city in the European Parliament.
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Commentary on the Liberal Democrats’ vote has been dominated by one issue since 2010; its collapse from the 23% of the British electorate who turned out for them in the last General Election to the very consistent poll results of the last four years showing that fewer than 10% will do the same next time round.
When we say, “The writing is on the wall” we usually mean that it is obvious what the people want. And that was my thoughts when I saw a vandalised photo of the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, on a hoarding for a local building site.
During the early years of the Blair Government, politics enjoyed a moment of being reasonably ‘on trend’. Musicians, actors and other figures from the culture/creative industries lined up to be photographed with politicians, attend political events and pronounce their support for general political directions (not just for Labour).
Research conducted by the New Policy Institute and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation into council tax was released at the beginning of April. The research project focussed upon the impact of the government having replaced the Council Tax Benefit and replacing it with a requirement for local authorities to devise their own scheme.
Today, Ed Miliband gave a speech in which he discussed the interim findings of Andrew Adonis’s Growth Review and used it as a springboard to describe how One Nation Labour will aim to end a ‘century of centralisation’.
Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP, passed away last Friday at the age of 70. Known as the “blonde bombshell” for her bright blonde hair and pouncing onto the political playground at 30, having previously been a physical education teacher, she became a figure to dominate Scottish politics right up to her death.
There is a great deal of contemporary interest in feminism, particularly amongst younger women.
Often in our local Labour parties we hear cries of ‘we need more young people’, only to thrust a handful of leaflets in their hand when they come along and tell them they have young legs so can deliver the most difficult set of flats in their ward.
The recent debate of statistics from Nick Clegg and blatant scaremongering from Nigel Farage over Europe has, as well as polarising the public on the EU, revived the proposals for having TV debates next year, ahead of the 2015 General Election.
Ed Miliband is set to try and force the government into enacting his energy price freeze before the general election, with a vote in the House of Commons next week.
This week saw the announcement that Ofgem will be conducting a full-scale investigation into the competition (or lack thereof) in the energy market as a result of the dominance of the big six.
As Westminster’s opinion formers and pundits once again join the chorus to declare that Ed Miliband’s leadership is in crisis it’s worth recalling that we’ve been here on at least three occasions already in this parliament. Each time Miliband has bounced back to the surprise and irritation of his critics. He is perfectly capable of doing so again.
Fellowship is life – motto of the Clarion Cycling Club
A few years ago an elderly neighbour of my mother’s died. A retired farm labourer, who had lived his life in a small, semi-tied cottage in a quiet corner of the East Midlands, he left no family and passed away as modestly as he had lived his life.
Are we in an age when we might soon read the words “It’s Buzzfeed wot won it”? The time when The Sun newspaper could declare that their influence was crucial in torpedoing a political party’s electoral chances is over. The newspaper industry, and the power of the press barons, is declining.
Our current approach to supporting vulnerable people just does not work.
I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.
Tony Benn lived a long life and was a man born into a highly political background. He met Gandhi and Lloyd George as a young man.
New political eras begin when the ideas that define them are embraced by those most reluctant to accept their logic.
Would the 2008 Crash have happened if we had more women economists? This is a genuinely interesting question, because it goes to the heart of whether we think our gender influences our viewpoints on matters such as the economy, healthcare, education and so forth – and thus whether better representation from women in policy-making might lead to different so
Yesterday the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) released a report into potential routes for future reform of council tax. Council tax is a widely criticised model, and with local government facing huge cuts to its budget, the question of how we reform funding and regenerate local democracy is both prescient and important.
There is no one more powerful today than the member of a focus group. If you really want to change things and you really want to get listened to, that’s the place to be. Bill Clinton
Focus groups – essentially facilitated and guided discussions around a particular selected topic – have become increasingly popular with political parties.
The Green Party’s spring conference finished yesterday morning; their last conference before crucial elections to the European Parliament are held in May. Shifting Grounds sat down for an interview with the Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, at the start of the weekend.
Today is the start of the Green Party’s Spring Conference. Despite a strange grilling from John Humphries on the Today programme over whether or not they should change their name, the party is in Liverpool to set out their agenda for a different country and a different politics.
The party sees where we are right now as a point of great change in politics.
For three years Ed Miliband has been swimming against the tide of elite incomprehension. What, if anything, is Milibandism? Is it a variant of New Labour or a return to party traditionalism? Surely if it doesn’t mean either of these things it can’t really mean anything at all.
Ed Miliband’s Hugo Young lecture a fortnight ago focused on an issue which has consistently marked his time in opposition, the inequality of power; whether that is the inequality of power between media interests and people, an inequality of power between private sector interests and people, or – as is now emerging as a theme and acknowledged in J
Recently, Ed Miliband said that the times we live in demand “a new culture in our public services. Not old-style, top-down central control, with users as passive recipients of services. Nor a market-based individualism which says we can simply transplant the principles of the private sector lock, stock and barrel into the public sector.
I’ve been living in Italy for 4 months without writing about politics, and now it’s finally time to do so, given the developments of the last 3 days; yesterday’s announcement that Matteo Renzi seems poised to become Italy’s latest unelected Prime Minister, which makes me even more disillusioned about Italian politics.
In his Hugo Young lecture, Ed Miliband made the case for decentralising state provision of services. In essence he proposes the idea of the ‘relational state’ – which is think tank wonk-speak for a middle way between top-down, state controlled provision and the hyped-up individualism of private sector management in essential services.
Ed Miliband will be giving the Hugo Young lecture at the Guardian this evening, and it looks to be a significant speech for the Labour leader.
The speech is set to address issues of public service reform and one of Miliband’s regular themes, power and accountability.
A tide of antipathy is crashing over the British landscape. The message coming from the electorate: we don’t care about conventional party politics because politicians look and sound the same. Most recently, this was epitomised in enthusiasm for Russell Brand’s castigation of the political elite. It’s easy to understand why.
Labour can’t win in 2015 with the same old machine politics of yesteryear. But not everyone in the party believes that. The latest move against this radical politics has come in the form of unattributed briefings against the Labour Party’s own Arnie Graf.
Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. Noam Chomsky
The political class that appears largely focused on out-doing each other with tough talk and redundant ‘debate’ about scroungers vs.
Theresa May is being asked to stop the leader of the Hungarian extreme right-wing political party, Jobbik, from entering the UK this weekend.
Gábor Vona is coming to Holborn on Sunday to speak at a rally that he says is for the Hungarian community living in London, in advance of this year’s European elections.
It seems like the distant past now, but I was the irritating age of 16 when the race was in full swing for the 2010 general election that brought the coalition government to power.
The political issues that have been dominant in 2014 so far, and look to carry on being so, are difficult issues for the left. Immigration and welfare loom large in political sphere for everyone, and are unlikely to go away.
The fact that David Cameron remains the only major party leader yet to agree to televised leaders’ debates at the next election is a sure sign that he would gladly drop them if he could possibly get away with it.
About this business of being a gentleman: I paid so heavily for the fourteen years of my gentleman’s education that I feel entitled, now and then, to get some sort of return.
The means of production being the collective work of humanity, the product should be the collective property of the race. Individual appropriation is neither just nor serviceable. All belongs to all.
Tomorrow is Compass’s annual conference, entitled ‘Change: How?’ in which they ask they ask just that, how do we make change happen? We will be there and be continuing the discussion on change next week, for which we want to hear from you.
Knowledge and union are power. Power, directed by knowledge, is happiness. Happiness is the end of creation.
Dr William King, The Co-operator
The recent scandal surrounding the Co-operative Bank demonstrates, amongst other issues, the dangers inherent in a political and financial culture that relies on the cult of the personality.
During the weekend the witch hunt over links between the Labour and Co-Operative parties intensified. Sunday saw television appearances from both Michael Gove and Grant Shapps, who jointly proceeded to peddle baseless accusations against the Labour leadership.
As we approach the 2015 election, Labour must start to give some real thought to the reality of the party in government, and the future from there.
Whilst conservatism preaches a gradualistic and course for change, and stands as a strong proponent of tradition, there exists an opportunity for the Tories to embrace something radical and something that will benefits British politics. That something is electoral reform.
Social mobility has been back in the news again recently. Today, William Hague went on Radio 4 to counter the effects of John Major’s most recent foray into politics, which consisted of Major criticising the backgrounds of those in politics, saying that the cabinet is dominated by the privately educated.
Many thanks for your letter. As I was reading your response, I felt that we were talking at cross purposes. You were discussing the one nation politics of the UK Labour Party as a means of achieving the common good for people in the UK. As a political activist, I understand the motivation.
When we think of the common good, we imagine it within our own borders. Indeed, Ed Miliband has framed the common good in terms of ‘one-nation’ – the British nation. I believe the adoption of nationalist rhetoric for the left in this country, and beyond it, is highly problematic. There are three key reasons for this.
There’s a saying in the women’s movement, “If we’re not equal everywhere, we’re not equal anywhere.” It recognises that the struggle for equality between women and men is truly global.
So here we are in 2013 watching the two great definitions of freedom being argued over by popular comedians in the pages of the New Statesman. Russell Brand dreams of a revolution, because nothing else can save us. Meanwhile, Robert Webb thanks the indiscriminate gods of history for giving us Ed Miliband and the opportunity to elect him.
Yesterday, news came through that Jeremy Hunt had been told the closing down of Lewisham A&E had been ruled unlawful.
To mark Local Democracy Week, which was earlier this month, local authorities up and down the country have been testing out new ways of engaging with their residents and galvanising active citizenship.
It was announced earlier this month that Burberry Chief Executive Angela Ahrendts would be leaving the company. Ahrendts’ move to Apple reduces the number of women heading up FTSE 100 companies to just two – Imperial Tobacco’s Alison Cooper and easyJet’s Carolyn McCall.
A story appeared in The Guardian today asserting that GCHQ was operating with powers unbeknownst to parliament.
The recent Labour Party Conference marked a significant milestone in the evolution of One Nation Labour. Over the summer Ed Miliband faced sustained media attacks over what was seen as his personal weaknesses, lack of authority in the Labour Party and absence of policy direction.
With conference season officially over, what have we learned about the coalition government and where it is going?
Over the last two weeks on the site we have had some excellent coverage of what came out of Labour’s conference, but possibly left unanswered has been what came out of conference about the direction and identities of the coalition and its cons
As David Cameron left the stage after his speech this afternoon, the impression left by his words was flat, if barely existent. It was a remarkably vacuous speech, bereft of big announcements and largely full of classic Tory rhetoric; proof of a party still trying to catch up after Labour’s conference last week.
Watching the furore over the Daily Mail’s attack on Ed Miliband’s father as “the man who hated Britain” I was reminded of the paper’s initial response to Danny Boyle’s hugely popular opening ceremony at last year’s Olympics.
I joined the Labour Party three years ago, just after the last general election. I had toyed with the idea of joining a political party for some time, and what eventually convinced me that Labour was the right one, was Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign.
The thought collective of Blairite and Cameroonian commentators who rushed to accuse Ed Miliband of vacating the centre ground with his promise to freeze energy prices must be scratching their heads at the lift in public support it appears to have given Labour. Surely the party’s ratings ought to have slumped.
In politics, strangely enough, the best way to play your cards is face up on the table
Ed Miliband’s speech to Labour Party Conference has been hailed for developing his One Nation Labour vision into something more concrete and also making it clearer than ever before why he wants to be Prime Minister.
The Labour Party Women’s Conference held on Saturday was probably the best attended that I have seen in over thirty years. With over 1,000 women it was well-informed and lively. It was really heart-warming to see so many Labour women coming together, and goes to show that feminism is alive and well.
We can agree that the tough positions Ed Miliband has taken on welfare and public spending since the spring are necessary because Labour won’t be trusted to govern if its numbers don’t add up. But the immediate price has been a loss of definition, which is something else Labour can’t win without.
The question posed by journalists this morning is; what did Ed Miliband and Ed Balls know about the smear tactics used by Damian McBride, now recounted in a tell-all memoir of his time spent as Gordon Brown’s spin doctor? The answer, I have no doubt, is a lot less than the journalists posing the question.
With conference only a matter of days away, it seems the Labour party thinks the time is right for another push on One Nation Labour as the campaigning tool and ideological guide for the party.
As Nick Clegg took to the stage earlier this afternoon to deliver his leader’s speech, he and the Lib Dem high command had spent days spinning the party as having fully grown and matured into its role as a party of government.
First it was feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez facing appalling abuse on Twitter. Her dreadful experiences were later followed by a 13 per cent drop in police domestic violence referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service. Although these two matters are separate, both sadly reflect the attitudes to women prevalent in this country.
The news that Barack Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina has been hired by David Cameron will have shocked the US politics anoraks that fill the ranks of the Labour Party. In 2008 Barack Obama appeared like a manifestation of the British left’s hopes and dreams.
The time of hugging hoodies and waffling about the ‘Big’ society is over. The Conservative Party has given up pretending to be nice! They attempted it before the last election, but have since decided it is time to return to the old familiars of banging on about welfare, immigration and the trade unions.
Lords’ reform is a contentious issue in British politics. Currently, it is dead in the water with the Conservatives having scuppered any hopes the Liberal Democrats had for change. However, the debate will re-emerge as we draw nearer to 2015.
There have been several articles in recent months that suggested public opinion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Mehdi Hasan, Roy Hattersley and Ipsos MORI’s Bobby Duffy, to name a few, have all expressed a suspicion, bordering on distrust, for public opinion.
Ah cruel foes with plenty blest/So ankering after more/To lay the greens and pasture waste/Which profited before
John Clare – The Mores
Tomorrow is ‘Peasant Poet’ John Clare’s birthday, also celebrated as John Clare Day. Clare has been hailed by biographer Jonathan Bate as ‘the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced’.
Eighty years ago, in 1933, J.B. Priestly was commissioned by publisher Victor Gollancz to write a study of contemporary England. Priestly described the text as ‘a rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey’.
This morning the BBC studio saw a steady rotation of left wing commentators being interviewed in preparation for Ed Miliband’s significant speech earlier today.
Question Time is usually a crusty affair with a prehistoric host and a staged feel to the debate.
But Mail journalist Melanie Phillips’ explosive appearance last week (alongside Boris Johnson, Russell Brand, Tessa Jowell and Lib Dem Energy Secretary Edward Davey) was unusual.
My job is to oversee the Policy Review of the Party. To be blunt this is a massive task. In 2010 we experienced probably our worst defeat since 1918. And history tells us that on leaving office we tend to stay out of office for quite a while. So we have to bounce back quickly after a heavy defeat. To do this we have to be brutally honest.
Boris Johnson suffered a battering at Mayor’s Questions today where he fielded questions from assembly members over fire station cuts, and was repeatedly heckled by members of the fire services.
Concerns were expressed about the increased response times and cuts in boroughs such as Southwark, which will lose a third of its fire-fighters and a fire station.
Despite its many positive advantages, unfortunately the internet has opened an all too accessible front for child abuse. All of us are only too aware that criminals and paedophiles are able to use websites around the world to distribute and share child abuse content.
Every so often we are confronted by a seemingly meaningless, apolitical event, which reveals the ground slowly shifting below our feet and highlights our lack of identity and direction. We were witness to such an event last week when the Queen was ushered into the BBC newsroom at New Broadcasting House.
This week, Labour has made some (potentially) significant shifts in its welfare policy. On Monday, Ed Balls announced that a future Labour government would seek to means-test the universal Winter Fuel Allowance.
The love of money as a possession – as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyment and realities of life- will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity
John Maynard Keynes
Today is John Maynard Keynes’ birthday (he would have been 130 this year).
Winning support for One Nation Labour is a much more audacious challenge than the New Labour project of the mid-1990′s. For a start, we want to win in five years, not the eighteen it took us after 1979.
A family with the wrong members in control; that, perhaps, is as near as one comes to describing England in a phrase.
The allegations that the co-chair of the Conservative Party Lord Feldman described Conservative Party activists as “mad swivel-eyed loons” is not only grossly offensive but is also going to have an impact on Tory activists campaigning for the Party in the months and possible years to come – already some Tories have switched to UKIP.
In today’s Guardian there is an interview with the co-ordinator of Labour’s policy review, Jon Cruddas. Up front and centre Cruddas explains One Nation Labour and what it seeks to achieve:
“Work and home is what One Nation is about – family life, how people live everyday life. Care for people, pride in country.
Max Wind-Cowie writes for Prospect magazine that UKIP’s recent electoral and polling successes can be put down to it’s ‘accidental post-liberalism’. By ‘post-liberalism’, Wind-Cowie means the idea that there are serious fallouts, losses and consequences from the hegemony of liberalism: both economic and social.
We currently have a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Many commentators complain at the coalition’s decisions, but imagine how many more cuts to public services there would have been, if the Liberal Democrats were not there to dilute Conservative policy.
This morning saw the State opening of Parliament, complete with what was a very unsurprising Queen’s speech. In amongst the tradition and the now pseudo-constitutional heckle from Dennis Skinner, the Queen’s speech denoted the future business of her government.
From early results, it looks like the psephological shift that has taken place in our politics since 2010 has begun to be cemented into our electoral system and into Town Halls up and down the country. The Lib Dems have collapsed and UKIP have made unprecedented gains.
A lively debate is underway about how One Nation Labour should present itself. Tony Blair recently urged Ed Miliband not to imagine that the electorate has shifted to the left or “settle back into its old territory of defending the status quo”.
Over the past two weeks the Labour party has been having a very public fight about electoral strategy. Except, as John Clarke has pointed out, it hasn’t.
Last Thursday was the One Nation Conference; a day of debate and discussion around the mantra of One Nation Labour.
In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman, and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings.
Much has been made of George Osborne’s tears at the funeral of Lady Thatcher in London last week. Were they for the lady herself, not implausible given his close association with the party from youth. Or for their membership of the club of high office, as brutal in its requirements now as it was in her own heady days.
As I write, helicopters are hovering above my office on The Strand, preparing to usher Baroness Thatcher towards her final resting place. For those of us born in the 1970′s, it’s hard to over-emphasise the long shadow of Thatcher, and the impact of Thatcherism on our lives.
The recent mini-revolt of Blairite grandees is about much more than the outcome of the next election. It’s a rearguard to defend an entire way of doing politics – the New Labour project itself.
Shifting Grounds accepted an invitation to join Ed Miliband on the campaign trail in Bristol on Saturday. The West Country is something of a spiritual home for us, given the number of our contributors who live in places like Bristol, Bath and Frome, so in effect we were welcoming the Labour leader to our local patch.
Labour’s impressive list of ‘firsts’ (including the first black MP’s, the first black cabinet minister, the first black woman in the cabinet, the first out gay MP, the first Muslim MP and the first Sikh MP) is a track record to be proud of, but I fear it has made us complacent and stopped us from practicing what we preach.
A giant paper mache head of Britain’s only female prime minister is floating past Leicester Square tube. The giant nose and plastic bags that make up the hair underline the wicked witch comparisons.
Around 3,000 people of all ages braved the rain in Trafalgar Square on Saturday to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher.
Among those who think there are things that Labour should learn from Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, there have always been two schools of thought: those who argue that Labour should respond by adopting her ideas and those who want Labour to fight back by adopting her style and her determination, as David Cameron put it on Wednesday, to make the political weat
The news that Margaret Thatcher passed away earlier today provokes a mix of feelings. Few other leaders in British history have left a legacy as powerful or paradoxical.
The formation of the coalition in 2010 took place with limited public dissent from within the Conservative parliamentary party. David Cameron, whilst sounding out Conservative backbenchers about the desirability of coalition informally, never held any vote.
Of the twentieth century it’s often remarked that “the left won the culture war, the right won the economic war”. If nothing else, Ken Loach’s Spirit of 45, out in cinemas last week, is a useful reminder that this did not always seem like being a foregone conclusion.
Late last year the IPPR released a report, arguing that the North of England is being squeezed out between Alex Salmond and Boris Johnson. In this report, they argued that if further powers were given to the north it could boost the region’s economy, and in doing so, boost the national economy by £41bn.
There is scurrilous talk on the interweb at the moment, now confirmed, that a dinner has taken place between UKIP party leader Nigel Farage and media proprietor Rupert Murdoch. Whether this involved the warm embrace of likening minds, or the boa constrictor hug of a Mafioso warning off a rival, is hard to say. Nigel is playing his cards close to his chest.
What effect has the European Union had on women and gender equality? As ever this is a complex issue, and there is much to say.
There have been some huge achievements, significant advancements and successful attempts to address gender inequality. But still today we have not got there.
“Merely external emancipation has made of the modern woman an artificial being. Now, woman is confronted with the necessity of emancipating herself from emancipation, if she really desires to be free.
The macho, testosterone-soaked nature of politics that views volunteers and junior staff members as “fair game” exists in every party and in the industry that has sprung up around politics. It infects the whole of politics to a certain degree.
Let the post-mortems begin. Everyone with an opinion on the Eastleigh result has been getting in on the act, so I might as well get my two-penneth in. These are my conclusions.
1) Rumours of the Liberal Democrats’ death have been greatly exaggerated.
The circumstances of this by-election couldn’t have been worse from Nick Clegg’s point of view.
I spent most of the last week in Eastleigh, soaking up that rare commodity at recent by elections, the palpable sense that this was one the Liberal Democrats could win.
”Labour stands for equality between men and women: equal political and legal rights, equal rights and privileges in parenthood, equal pay for equal work…”
So stated the party manifesto from not 2010, or even 1945 but circa 1923 – at time when women weren’t even accorded the vote.
“I think we really are the victims of a discursive shift, since the late 1970′s, toward economics”, the late historian Tony Judt said in a recent book.
“Intellectuals don’t ask if something is right or wrong, but whether a policy is efficient or inefficient.
Yesterday Ed Miliband gave a very important speech. It has been described as a game changer. In terms of policy, he made an audacious raid onto the Lib Dems territory with his claiming of the mansion tax. As Ed has always said, Labour doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas and the mansion tax is one.
‘A bridge too far’ were the words of Michael Gove backtracking on his plans to revolutionise the exam system in England and Wales.
Andrew Harrop at the Fabian Society produced a good and cautiously positive analysis of Labour’s electoral prospects at the weekend. Based on a specially commissioned YouGov poll, it concluded that Labour’s support has been boosted since 2010 by the addition of 2.3 million Liberal Democrat defectors, 1.
Last night Jon Cruddas gave a speech to the Resolution Foundation on what he saw as two “building blocks for the Labour Policy Review”: earning and belonging.
Few speeches by any politicians these days last as long as the vinegar smell from the chips wrappings that report them. But Andy Burnham made a really good speech last week – and a week on it deserves more attention – a lot more.
Here was a politician with an argument and a central proposition to make.
Yesterday saw the defeat of government plans to introduce boundary changes to constituencies before the 2015 election. For the first time since the beginning of the coalition the Lib Dems walked through the arches with Labour to defeat a government motion in a dramatic abandonment of collective responsibility.
Last week saw the launch of the One Nation e-book, a move signifying the slow but steady progress toward a manifesto.
There’s a phrase I like to use a lot; “let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good”.
I’ve been thinking about that phrase this past week. About why I use it so often and about why its use is so frequently necessary.
I’m not sure I have a singular ideology.
A year ago, fewer than 1 in 30 of the people who voted Conservative in 2010 planned to vote for UKIP. Today that number is around 1 in 8. The Tories are actually losing more votes to UKIP than Labour, a phenomenon that saw the UKIP vote share reach 16% in Survation’s poll for last weekend’s Mail on Sunday.
The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg this morning made his debut appearance on his new weekly talk show. Clegg appeared on LBC Radio for one hour and callers were invited to call in and grill the DPM.
We are now closer to the date of the next election than the last and debate about the shape and composition of the next government is well under way. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have just set out their joint priorities for what remains of the current coalition’s term of office.
2013 will see us unveiling our plans for how we can reunite Britain and create a One Nation country.
Under the Tories, we have become a divided country, with fragmented groups living side by side: the rich and the poor, the working and the out-of-work, the Brits and the non-Brits, the young and the old.
My first visit to Belfast was a revelation. I was young, I had never been anywhere even remotely dangerous, and Belfast at that time was very dangerous indeed. We stayed at the Europa, which was where all the journalists stayed, and which then had the dubious reputation of being the most bombed hotel in Europe.
On Tuesday evening November 27th, members of the Fabian Women’s Network met at Parliament to tell Jon Cruddas what they feel Labour should be prioritising for the policy review.
‘It is based on the difference between a neo-classical and a neo-aristotelian concept of human nature’
These are the words not of a Harvard professor, nor a professional think-tanker, but of the Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham. Jon Cruddas is a politician unlike any other.
For twenty years, Renewal has provided a space for the British left to engage in deeper debate than is permitted by the short-term horizons and constraints of day-to-day political controversy.
Wars are declared righteous, welfare reforms are presented as fair and legal changes are called abhorrent, but many politicians still claim their job has nothing to do with morality. It is bizarre that although politics and its language is value laden, some politicians seem to think ethics is relegated to the world of churchmen and philosophers.
Over the last year, inequality has been racing up the political agenda. ‘Inequality, as President Obama has put it, ‘is the defining issue of our time`. Yet for all the talk, the income gap – apart from dipping slightly in 2009 – has been rising through the crisis.
Not much has been said or written about the Occupy movement in Britain since protesters folded away their tents and left the front yard of St. Paul’s Cathedral earlier this year.
Last week, the Treasury spin machine went into overdrive in response to Labour’s push to highlight the cut in the 50p top rate of tax.
The centrepiece of their case was that the 50p tax had reduced the number of millionaires paying tax in the UK by 10,000 from 16,000 to just 6,000.
This has been an incredible week for me. I must first of all express my gratitude to David Clark and Tom Sadler for offering me the opportunity to edit Shifting Grounds for the week, and for giving me the freedom to shape women’s week as I saw fit.
This week we’ve had a true variety of content from a true variety of women.
It was great to be at the first ever Labour Women’s Network conference a couple of Saturdays ago. I was asked to speak to the theme ‘what would a winning offer from Labour look like?’ I was also briefed that I should not feel I needed to restrict myself to ‘women’s issues’.
Ed Miliband offered hope on working class representation at Party conference this year when he called for the party to be rebuilt to look like One Nation. He specifically spoke of ‘redressing the problem of working class representation.
Right back at the start of my career as a trade union official I remember a colleague once telling me never to gauge the strength of the relationships I had with employers by the number of contacts I had in my Filofax. They were wise words.
“The most important thing is getting the best person for the job.” How often have you heard this mantra when the idea of positive discrimination of any kind is muted? OK then, if we always get the “best person” for the job, be that in politics or anywhere else – we can only draw one conclusion – women just aren’t as good as men.
On Sunday I was amused by two contrasting pieces on the Guardian website. The first was the semiannual ‘Goodness me, how impressive is Stella Creasy?‘ profile (no arguments here, the woman’s a phenomenon – I’m considering having ‘What Would Stella Do’ wristbands made).
If you thought Parliament’s latest palpitations about votes for prisoners might – at last – be the death throes of this interminable debate, I’ve got bad news.
I hate positive action. It makes me despair. I think it is demeaning and insulting to both women and men, and I resent having to waste my time on it. The sooner we can get rid of it the better.
Surprised? You shouldn’t be.
With this year’s US elections delivering not only the return of a transformational President but a Senate of unprecedented diversity and enormous breakthroughs in this generation’s civil rights struggle, it is tempting but dangerous to believe November marked a decisive shift leftwards in American politics.
It’s difficult to articulate my passion for politics. Many friends ask why I often trudge out at weekends and evenings, often in bad weather to knock on doors, frequently unanswered and sometimes to receive a curt ‘not interested’ or ‘you’re all the same’ response.
Traditionally, the world of Human Resources (such a cold expression) nee Personnel (not much better) has been considered a woman’s domain.
As a member of the European Parliament’s Gender Equality and Women’s Rights Committee I have worked for a number of years to increase women’s participation in decision-making.
The financial crisis has hit everyone hard but, in Britain, women are at the very sharp end of it.
I am really frustrated with British politics. I do not feel that there is a party that truly represents my values or cares about what I think.
The Conservatives are the party of big business; they represent greed and elitism and I would never vote for them.
My feelings towards Labour are far more complex.
Blogging, even compared to other forms of media, remains a very male dominated activity. It was our intention when Shifting Grounds was launched earlier this year to feature at least one women contributor every day. Regrettably, we have fallen woefully short of that target at times. To an extent this reflects a lack of editorial focus and effort.
Whoever the genius is who thought of One Nation Labour, I take my hat off to them. Because what this divided country desperately needs is rebalancing.
Labour’s recent decision to join hardline anti-European Tories in voting for a freeze in the EU budget received a sniffy response from commentators and established pro-European grandees like Lord Mandelson. It was either dismissed as an act of base opportunism or taken as a hint that Labour might be drifting back into its old Eurosceptic habits.
I’m sure that many listeners of a recent Radio 4 Analysis episode, in which an interviewee asserted that “to try and create zones which are morally free in human affairs is a mistake”, would have found cause to nod along in agreement.
Last week I was lucky enough to attend two top class political events. On Thursday night, I saw Bill Clinton, speaking at a Policy Network event, deliver a ninety minute tour de force of vision, policy detail and a call to arms to transform the world’s economy for the future. He is a formidable intellect, and an even more formidable communicator.
Following last month’s agreement between David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, the Scottish Government has now rubber-stamped the SNP’s proposed question for the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’
The proposed question has yet to be approved by the Electoral Com
A referendum on Europe is apparently in the offing, but we don’t yet know what form it would take. David Cameron has expressed support for some kind of vote while ruling out a straight in/out choice. It is said he wants to renegotiate the terms of our EU membership and then give us the opportunity to express our approval accordingly.
An announcement from Downing Street on Friday confirmed Justin Welby, an oil executive turned bishop, to be the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Bishop of Durham was nominated by the Crown Nominations Commission, a 16-member body made up of bishops, priests and lay members.
Three days on from the re-election of President Obama, the hangovers that followed a night of celebration for Democrats have receded. As a nice bonus, the Republicans, by contrast seem to be facing a four-year long headache. The inquisitions and post-mortems have already began.
This is a post about political engagement. Except it really isn’t. Or at least it really shouldn’t be. The fact that we in politics actually use terms like social mobility and political engagement shows how far we have to go before we achieve any such thing. Because people at the sharp end don’t talk like that.
If it’s the hope that kills you, let’s all get ready to die again. Four more years to satisfy his liberal critics, catch up with the great expectations, and take on the perennially disappointed. Hope wasn’t the message this time around, but it’s what many will seek for a President Obama second term.
In 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry faced a maelstrom of negative campaigning, smears and attack ads. One of the main charges against Kerry was that he was a smug and detached member of the ‘liberal elite’.
About a year ago there was a great deal of controversy about Blue Labour. Since then, the dust has settled a little and it is possible to come to an assessment about Maurice Glasman’s analysis of Labour’s past and its future trajectory.
There are some aspects of Glasman’s historical interpretation of Labour’s history which I have reservations about.
There are few issues that unite the Liberal Democrats across the social/economic liberal spectrum at the moment. However, the proposal to give up employment rights for shares, appears to be one of them. Despite a carefully worded defence by Vince Cable on Lib Dem Voice, the party just isn’t buying it.
Alex Salmond has now asked the Scottish Government’s legal advisers for an opinion on the implications of independence for Scotland’s membership of the European Union.
“Too far, too fast.” “A double dip recession made in Downing St.” “Jobs-and-growth.” EdB’s flat hand gesture.
This has been 2012′s political narrative on the economy. And it is to the remarkable credit of both Ed’s that is.
I’ve very much enjoyed this exchange Jon and I’m amazed that you mention George W Bush’s Duty of Hope speech from 1999 as one of the most inspirational of recent times. I would certainly agree with you.
It’s been a rollercoaster year for the Don’t Underestimate Ed Miliband Association (DUEMA). Formed semi-seriously by Telegraph writer Iain Martin after the 2010 Labour leadership election, it subsequently became an in-joke among Miliband’s detractors before being taken over and renamed the Don’t Unseat Ed Miliband Association.
Ben Mitchell looks at the second Presidential Debate in ten observations.
Unlike the first debate, this one was worth staying up for. A good array of audience questions, well moderated, with follow up questions, ensured we got a proper contest rather than the drab affair in Denver.
The conversation is getting a bit lively.
I read in the Daily Telegraph two weeks ago that: ‘The air of anxiety is palpable as Whitehall waits for the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. …. a consensus is emerging that the fiscal situation revealed by George Osborne will be even bleaker than expected’.
10 million people a year travel between Britain and the Continent using the Eurostar channel tunnel: we are in Europe and, despite the anti-Europe rhetoric, we benefit from it.
Thanks for your generous response.
I agree that it is possible to enjoy your opponent’s conferences rather more than your own; not least as you have more time to listen and learn. I went to the Conservative Conference last year and felt I understood more about the texture of the Party than from simple observation around Westminster.
In these weeks of political rebirth as all the parties put on their serious voices and try to spark our interest again, the Tories have been talking tough justice. Last week at conference, Chris Grayling has made clear his desire to bring a harder line into the Department of Justice.
I hope you are well and recovering from the Conference Circus. Whilst the commentariat decided this conference season was uneventful and forgettable, I thought it was compelling. In particular, the Conservative get together was fascinating.
Until now the central paradox facing the modern Tory party was obvious.
Depressing. That’s how I found David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Party faithful on Wednesday. An odd word to use you might think, considering this was a speech peppered with references to Britain’s ‘can do’ attitude, to its greatness, and in its ability to overcome adversity and deliver.
Birmingham New Street, Monday evening. A crowd amasses- chanting and cheering. There is only one name on their lips. Boris Johnson.
Nearly a week on, Ed Miliband’s conference speech still looks a very good one. It pulled off several important tricks – saying something about the country, uniting the party, impressing the commentariat, looking good on the news and helping define not just Labour but also the Conservative Party.
We have heard a lot recently about the attitude of conservative politicians on both sides of the Atlantic towards people they evidently regard as their social inferiors.
My concern this time last week was that Ed Miliband wasn’t getting the credit he deserves for the skill and tenacity with which he has turned his party around over the last couple of years. Well, I don’t need to worry about that any more.
This is the first year for a long time I haven’t attended Labour Party Conference with my work hat on. For those of us who do, or have done, the Party Conference circuit, it is always fascinating to contrast and compare.
Much of the discussion of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party conference speech has rightly focused on his audacious appropriation of Disraeli and the rhetoric of ‘One Nation’ Conservatism.
The idea of popular sovereignty may be significantly undermined in an increasingly interdependent world. Forces from beyond the borders of the state effect the citizens of that state. From the global market to climate change, nation-states can no longer act unilaterally to determine policy outcomes of their own choosing.
The most important thing about a leader’s speech is that it should tell people something they didn’t already know. It could be an expectation confounded, a new policy rolled out, the enunciation of a fresh political vision or the visible growth of a leader’s personal qualities. We got all of that from Ed Miliband today.
Ed Miliband’s speech has caught the Tories off guard. As many have pointed out, David Cameron will now know that he has a real fight on his hands come the next election. Gone will be the petty polling, aiming to paint him as a leader, but not a Prime Minister. Now David Cameron has to fight tooth and nail in the battle of ideas.
We have swing voters. We also have swing newspapers, of which The Times is one example. Whether they’re an accurate barometer of public opinion – do they move with the mood of voters or the other way round – is disputed. Either way, The Times is moderate enough, and less tribal, to be taken seriously.
A year ago Ed Miliband delivered a speech that attracted almost as much controversy within the labour movement as it did from the political Right. His speech robust declared that there were two models of capitalism – one that fostered predators and another that championed producers.
On the second day of Labour conference in Manchester, one thing is undeniably clear. If the no-brainer purpose of this year’s event was to put some flesh on the bones of the themes essayed in last year’s leader’s speech (responsible capitalism, predators vs producers), those in charge look to have pulled it off.
Published on the eve of the Party Conference season, the 29th British Social Attitudes Survey makes for interesting reading. At first glance the Survey seems to paint a picture of an increasingly individualistic and xenophobic populace.
I got a taste of how established opinion would react to Ed Miliband’s leadership within minutes of his election in Manchester two years ago when I bumped into a News International journalist of my acquaintance at the conference bar.
Since the summer reshuffle, a lot of discussion has been devoted to the right-ward shift of the Conservative party. As Stewart Wood writes, the Tories detoxification strategy seems like a “distant memory”.
After their Brighton conference, we certainly know more about how the Liberal Democrats plan to revive their electoral appeal ahead of the next election.
With the economy still flatlining and the Conservative-led coalition’s policies making things worse for most working people, Ed Miliband’s messages about responsible capitalism and pre-distribution reflect the concerns and values of many voters.
Britain’s economy is crumbling under the drastic choices of our Tory-led government, grounded only in the sheer ideology of austerity, with no grip on growth.
The Coalition’s recent reshuffle saw three female Cabinet ministers sacked and fa ew promoted, leaving just four women out of 22 members, or five out of 32 attending. This prompted entirely understandable outrage from the Labour Party.
A coalition with the Lib Dems is not the answer according to Sam Wheeler. In the middle of his tirade against Britain’s third biggest Party, Sam berates them for hypothetically not being strong enough to stand up to Blair taking us to war in Iraq.
Henry IV of France, facing a conflict between his faith and a chance to be king, declared “Paris is worth a mass.” There are rumblings, as there always are when Labour are out of office, that getting into government again might be worth a coalition.
It’s more than two years since the long-anticipated “progressive moment” evaporated in failure and acrimony as coalition negotiations with Labour collapsed and the Liberal Democrats entered power with the Conservatives. Hard feelings linger, but enough is enough.
Liberal Democrats have long supported electoral reform. If any such system was eventually adopted for Westminster (despite last year’s lamentable referendum on AV) then it is more than likely that coalitions of one sort or another would become the norm rather than the exception.
Who would have thought this time last year that two of the three main party leaders would be facing serious challenges to their leadership and that neither of them would be Ed Miliband? It is a measure of how the political weather has changed since the last party conference season that Miliband goes into this one as the only leader with good reason to feel s
Labour beware. The Tory high command are poised to unleash the attack dogs. The party has been given a free ride these past few months, coasting on the back of its double digit lead in the polls, a government forever on the defensive, and gobby backbenchers on the Tory Right doing their best to nibble away at David Cameron’s authority.
Yesterday, at the Policy Network conference entitled ‘The Quest for Growth’, Ed Miliband set out his stall for conference season. His speech, a brilliant exposition of Labour’s New Growth Agenda, was delivered with the urgency the economic situation demands.
A lot has been written about the Liberal Democrat councillors cast out of office in northern cities like Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle, but the Conservatives waning attempts at gaining a footing in the urban north is arguably more significant. It demonstrates that for hugely important parts of the country the Tories remain a toxic proposition.
Politicians have developed a predilection for reminding us how badly politics is broken and that it needs fixing – but that is usually as far as that line goes. Our political system isn’t necessarily falling apart; it’s in a rut. The only thing necessarily broken is the chord that used to tie the parties to a powerful base of public support.
It is always easier to criticise and condemn rather than paint a picture of how to do things differently. In my previous post I argued that Britain needs a new long term plan for our economy and at this moment in time the population are more likely to be seeking one.
Reading Steve Richards’ Whatever it takes: the real story of Gordon Brown and New Labour I was struck by the extent to which New Labour felt constrained by British political culture.
Globalization has had a dual effect on the sovereignty of the nation-state. Since 1945, the normative framework of human rights has embedded a sense of obligation on the part of the state toward its citizens. The social contract now has a strong welfare element to it.
As Britain returns to normality after two and a bit weeks of the best escapism one could wish for, one man must be purring with delight at how well things have gone. Not just for ‘Team GB,’ or London 2012 as a whole, but for his own brand.
The latest Coaltion fall-out over Lord’s reform has highlighted the way in which constitutional issues can easily turn into a game of political football. Booted between the Coalition partners, a decision of crucial importance on how we run our democracy has descended into short-term politicking.
The shelving of both Lords reform and the boundary changes marks a new phase for the coalition.
Stage one was a meeting of minds, with liberal Tories joining together with economic liberals in the Lib Dems to reduce the deficit and reform public services.
If I had to be a Conservative (I’m imagining Tory HQ has my family hostage) I would be a One Nation Conservative. One Nation Conservatism began with Benjamin Disraeli and was in the ascendancy during the post-World War II governments of Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Heath.
When the media, old and new, sink their teeth into a story, it’s hard to prize it away. All it takes is a scent, a glimmer of hope that they may be proved right, for momentum to take over. As is the scenario with Chancellor George Osborne.
I made the trek up to Durham last week for Unite’s political school and the Miners Gala. Just a fortnight after Unite’s Policy Conference in Brighton, and with a cold hanging over me, I had considered whether I was really this committed. However in the intervening time I received a (completely unsolicited) letter from the Communist Party.
It is understandable that democratic politics interests itself with the majority. From Ed Miliband’s ‘the squeezed middle’ to Nick Clegg’s ‘alarm clock Britain’, politicians of red, blue and yellow stripes aim to identify themselves – often with ever sillier catchphrases – as the representatives of the majority.
If Cameron’s time as Leader of the Opposition had a uniting theme, it was the ambition to detoxify the Tory brand. It was more than a central theme in fact: it was the driving mission.
This is the second part of Matthew’s argument. Read the first part here.
Ironically politicians find themselves in quite a different position from those at the top of media and banking.
After the expenses and phone-hacking scandals you could have been forgiven for thinking that Britain’s elite institutions had hit rock bottom. You would have been wrong. Like a nervous Hollywood studio they seem intent on churning out new sequels, each with more convoluted plots, bigger names and more victims than the last.
All together now: “Paaaaaarliament’s out. For. Summer.” Who will be the most relieved-Cameron or Clegg? Probably both of them. It’s been several months to forget for the coalition. Cue a summer of recriminations, backstabbing, briefings, and counter-briefings.
Mention Tony Blair to a nearby left-winger and they either start to drool or to foam at the mouth. Almost without exception, no-one in the Labour movement reacts in a rational fashion where Blair is concerned.
Read Part I of Jeremy’s piece (‘Falling Standards’) here.
Fetishising the amateur
Welcome to the Age of the Amateur. Qualified experts, specialists, practitioners operating within established, well-regulated trades; these professionals have had their day. True integrity and nous belong to the volunteer, the have-a-go hero.
Anthony Blair’s musing over a return to British political life has caused much consternation amongst the Labour movement. The two great criticisms of New Labour as a project, that it was too close to Big Finance and Big Media, are being thrown into sharp relief by Leveson and the events at Barclays.
Has Britain reached a state of permacrisis? The past five years have seen a nigh-on seamless succession of scandals and mishaps that have rocked public faith in the nation’s institutions.
The fog is now clearing from the political battleground that faces Labour in the 2015 general election.
The Conservative’s original game plan was to eliminate the budget deficit by 2015 and pave the way for a significant tax cut.
It’s easy to mock the breakdown of the Conservatives’ ‘Big Society’ – I have myself. In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s agreeably vexatious phrase, it’s in danger of being seen as aspirational waffle, though he has in the past voiced admiration for the associational ideals that lie behind the idea.
It’s hard to know quite exactly what George Osborne was thinking when he saw the speedy annihilation of the Conservative treasury minister Chloe Smith, as she took the fall for him – twice – on television last week.
When Ed Miliband delivered his party conference speech drawing a distinction between productive and predatory capitalism last September, the gatekeepers of free market orthodoxy reacted with fury and scorn. He had insulted British business, the wealth creating heart of the nation.
The modern centre-left is beset by an extensively discussed challenge: the ‘diversity-solidarity’ tension. In other words, the unity of population it has historically relied upon is a lot more difficult to come by than it once was.
Last weekend, King’s College London played host to a conference on the past, present and future of the Blue Labour movement.
From MPs to clergy, Greenpeace activists and members of staff from the Houses of Parliament, the group of around 60 had a slightly different makeup from your average political gathering.
I regularly disagree with David Laws’ views on the size of the state (though not on a number of other issues). But I am actually very pleased that he has set out in stark light his in principle objection to the state spending 40% of GDP.
A prominent symbol of the Coalition era is the policy u-turn. From forests to pasties, and grannies to charities, the Coalition’s standard model of policy-making has been ‘make policy; await public backlash; scrap policy’.
Cuts versus stimulus, stimulus versus cuts. It’s a binary choice we hear more and more of these days. And it’s getting boring.
One of my enduring memories of the frantic days of Coalition negotiation in 2010 was the sight of William Hague declaring the eventual agreement a “realignment of the right”.
The Greeks have voted, showing a country that is heavily polarised between pro and the anti-bailout opinion, with Pasok, the socialist party, in a very difficult situation, its consensus having reached an absolute minimum.
Pasok is guilty of having failed to manage a complex situation that it did not create.
Labour has established a sustained double-digit lead in the opinion polls over the last three months and Ed Miliband has David Cameron “on the run” (his words, not mine) over phone hacking, as well as tax, fairness and the economy.
Twenty years ago, Giles Radice’s seminal Fabian pamphlet ‘Southern Discomfort’ shed a penetrating and well-researched light on Labour’s failing appeal in the south of England. Under the New Labour banner, Labour made major breakthroughs in 1997, holding many of those seats until the 2010 election.
Over the last few months we have seen a marked increase in shareholder activism on the issue of executive remuneration. Shareholders have been using their advisory vote on executive remuneration and there have been sizable votes against at Barclays, Aviva, William Hill, and Legal & General.
It’s increasingly hard to remember what Europe looked like when it wasn’t in the midst of a slow-motion financial cataclysm. As a credit crunch metamorphosed through being a recession into ‘Eurogeddon’, attitudes to the post-war ‘European project’ have inevitably shifted.
Resigning, in the words of the world-wise spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker, does not always have to be an unpleasant affair. Sometimes, it can be for the best. But try telling that to Jeremy Hunt and his Bullingdon bosom buddies.
Most of us can see in our daily lives how our world is beset with social problems: we’re stressed, mistrustful, our communities have eroded, crime is a constant problem, and the lives of growing numbers are dominated by despair and depression.
Read the second part of Jon Wilson’s argument here.
We need a plan. Politicians need an idea of where the country is going in the next few years, and who needs to do what to get there.
In this series of posts, I’ve argued that Labour needs to speak the language of the people to put hope back into our politics.
A victory for the people. A government that listens. A well-functioning and healthy democracy where the concerns of ordinary citizens are taken on board and a policy programme that’s reflexive and responsive.
These will be the sort of things trotted out over the next couple of days. And no, you haven’t missed a vital piece of news.
Read the first part of Jon Wilson’s argument here
For hope to be possible, political leaders need to show how they and the people can make things better together. We, in the Labour party, have lost the ability to do that. We don’t talk about how things really happen.
I met a man on the doorstep a year ago. He had a decent job in the railway industry. But with the cost of living rising, he was working seven days a work to keep his family afloat. He was angry that City bankers were paid millions after messing up the economy. Politicians, of every party, had just handed them more cash.
We talked for half an hour.
This week, for those who might have missed it, Business Secretary Vince Cable was described as a ‘Socialist,’ for daring to suggest that you shouldn’t just be able to summarily sack an employee almost at random.
The suggestion, or at least something very close to it, had been made in the Beecroft Report, produced by Tory Party donor Adrian Beecroft.
Sitting around texting, watching crap films on telly, napping half the day away and drinking four glasses of wine before two. It sounds idyllic. In Francis Elliott and James Hanning’s new book ‘Cameron: Practically a Conservative’, we get a tantalising insight into the interior life of the prime minister and how he unwinds of a weekend.
Just when he thought it was safe to oppose alone, carving out his own narrative and winning over exiled lefties, along come some unexpected cheerleaders. The New Labour crew have returned, piggybacking on Ed Miliband’s (or more accurately, Labour’s) recent surge in the polls.
I get riled when people – even those of a libertarian bent – claim that ‘responsible capitalism’ necessarily means ‘more red tape’.
Responsible capitalism should be an economic system in which property rights are properly protected. It should provide individuals with maximum freedom to take decisions over how their lives are managed.
In 1884 the prolific American inventor Thomas Edison built the world’s first industrial research laboratory at Menlo Park in New Jersey. The centre applied Fordist mass production techniques to the task of innovation, and was soon generating a rapid conveyer belt of new ideas for trial and testing.
I seem to have started a debate, and since debate is always healthy, I am grateful to you for responding at length to my post last week on why I’m not a fiscal conservative.
You are curious about why I chose to comment on your paper, In the Black Labour (ITBL), six months after its publication.
Ed Miliband has made ‘fairness in tough times’ a major theme of his leadership. The leaders of the other major political parties have also sought to lay claim to the ‘fairness’ mantle. They are right to suppose that much of the unfairness in our society can only be tackled at a national – or international – level.
Golden Dawn now sit in the Greek Parliament. The National Front achieved their highest ever vote share in France.
Yet in Britain the BNP vote collapsed last week, with all their councillors up for re-election going down to defeat, and the party coming last in the London mayorals.
Read the first part of Marc’s argument here.
When we think about the people who we most admire in our own lives, we turn almost always those who have a cause. We are continually inspired by those who commit their whole being to something that matters deeply to them.
“Oh, no, I don’t vote.” That’s how people chose to respond to the BBC’s Allegra Stratton’s enquiry as to why they didn’t participate in last week’s elections. Not, “I didn’t have the time” or “I didn’t like the candidates” or even just “I didn’t want to vote this time”. But “I don’t vote.
Well it’s all just a bit of a mess, isn’t it? A drubbing up and down the country on election day, approval ratings smashing through the floor so quickly it’s threatening the stability of the building and a relaunch that was more damp squib than high-octane reboot.
The Labour Party did pretty well last Thursday – but first, the obligatory caveats.
A marriage of convenience consummated on the Downing Street lawn in May 2010 gave birth to Britain’s coalition government. Arm in arm, two parties united in its commitment to wipe out the budget deficit within the term of a parliament.
Yet a vow to bring stability to the country has morphed into ideological zeal.
Boris Johnson has won the mayoral crown, once more defeating Labour’s Ken Livingstone. And rumour has it that Kelvin MacKenzie is betting £1000 at 10/1 that Cameron will leave this year with Boris taking over as Tory leader.
Last week’s news that, in one Edinburgh ward, the Lib Dems received fewer votes than a candidate dressed as a penguin probably best illustrates the extent of their local election defeat.
Read the first part of Jeremy’s argument here.
One rainy winter’s afternoon a few years ago, I found myself in a large 19th century townhouse in the chic 17th arrondissement of Paris, interviewing a Gaullist city councillor about the upcoming European elections.
‘Vous verrez, Antoine; dans quelques années ils feront comme si je n’avais jamais existé…’ (‘You’ll see, Antoine; in a few years they’ll act as if I never existed…’) remarks the dying President Mitterrand to his idealistic young biographer in the Robert Guédiguian film Le Promeneur du Champs de Mars.
For a number of years now, local government has been stalked by a haunting spectre. It has threatened to start banging on the door of Westminster politics, and has made gains in European elections.
We all know how the expectations management game works at election time. You play down your own prospects while trying to set an unattainable target for your opponents. The Conservatives must have been congratulating themselves for persuading the media that 700 gains was a reasonable measure of success for Labour.
Read Leo’s arguments about shifting grounds in the manufacturing sector here.
As the the past generation’s political and economic settlement continues to slowly unravel, a newly human economics of planning, coordination and foresight must emerge.
Everyone – apart from Labour HQ, obviously – is talking up how well the party is going to do today. No wonder, the latest YouGov/Sun poll gives us a 10 point lead over the Tories.
There is a quiet but important discussion happening in Conservative circles: one that – although drowned out by pasties and grannies – could have important consequences for the next election.
Put short, it is a discussion about the role of the working-class in the ongoing, and still much needed, modernisation of the Conservatives.
UKIP outpolling the Liberal Democrats, victory for Respect in Bradford West, the BNP in Strasbourg, Britain’s first Green MP, an SNP government in Edinburgh, local elections that look set to point in several different directions at once. What’s going on? Two things, actually.
Read the first part of this piece here.
An increasing number of Labour politicians are using the term the common good.
There is a growing recognition that its emphasis on relationships, democracy, community and locality can address the problems of social fragmentation and popular estrangement from mainstream politics.
On the morning of the 19 April 1989, the population of Liverpool woke up to a disturbing headline.
Only four days after the Hillsborough Disaster, The Sun newspaper, under the editorship of Kelvin Mackenzie, ran a story headlined ‘The Truth’.
Things are going badly for the Coalition, but we must keep our eye on the ball: the ball being Labour’s renewal.
Labour has to convince people it can be trusted to run the economy. It has to prove itself capable of decisive, authoritative leadership.
In exactly three months from today, London (with the support of the rest of Britain) will welcome and host the 2012 Olympic Games. Many are excited by this prospect, while some are simply indifferent.
So, Cameron and co are incredibly cosy with a powerful agenda-setting elite. Big surprise.
More interesting is Alex Salmond’s part in the whole affair.
Labour are enjoying their best month since the general election defeat in 2010. Columnists and pundits from across the political divide are now openly discussing the likelihood of a Labour majority in 2015. Even Miliband’s strongest critics have been forced to recognise his position has strengthened.
Politicians that answer the questions posed by the electorate do well. Politicians that shape the questions the electorate want answered do even better.
In the months after the general election George Osborne won his reputation as a master at setting the question.
In the beginning, there was Wall Street, and then the global Occupy movement was born. To be fair, it was fairly successful. For a while.
In public squares across the world, the political elite who instigated the disaster of economic liberalism were baited and denounced by a reawakened citizenry.
Only a New Yorker can ‘bustle’ whilst waiting, stationary, at the traffic lights… It’s a drizzly April dawn in New York City, but the city’s famed frenetic energy is already on display.
Economic democracy is about creating the opportunity and ability for people to influence decisions that affect their personal economy. This could range from worker representation within a firm, through shareholder decisions on bonuses, to a government’s representatives being given first-hand understanding of how austerity will affect its people.
As plenty of other voices both on this blog and elsewhere have pointed out, it has not been a great few weeks for the Conservatives. Last Monday, Baroness Warsi sought to blame the Lib Dems for the political chaos unleashed following last month’s budget, and for the battering taken by both parties in the polls as a result.
Until George Osborne’s hara-kiri budget it was widely assumed that the economic battle lines for the next election had been firmly set. The Conservatives would eliminate the structural deficit by taking an axe to the public sector and go to the polls on the back of a modest giveaway budget and claims to have sorted out Labour’s mess.
Out of control, out of touch, the government seem to be ‘out’ of everything. The ‘omnishambles’ narrative has taken a giant leap forward and has now become a mainstay of British political commentary on the government’s leadership of the country.
It’s fair to say that the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis has not been kind to the left. A favourite talking point of those writing obituaries for social democracy is that right-of-centre governments have come to dominate the continent, holding power in 22 of 27 EU countries.
If Labour does not want Mrs Thatcher’s aphorism – that the facts of life are Conservative – to come to pass, it has to relearn what it means to be socially conservative.
Stories are an important part of politics. Not long after heads have rolled and tears been shed, narratives are born and accepted ‘truths’ emerge about the past. The Major era is a case in point: once widely regarded as farcical, it has now been reinvented (largely by nostalgic conservatives) as a success.
When David Cameron flew out to Asia last week, he did so on a Boeing 474 owned by Sonangol, the Angolan state oil company.
In the ongoing kulturkampf between the new atheists and the faithful, the claim is often made that the United Kingdom is becoming a much more secular place.
In one sense, this is clearly true. In the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2008, more people said that they did not believe in God than did.
Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, argues that while liberals hold a virtual monopoly on compassion, and value fairness highly, they are ‘virtually tone-deaf’ to wider human instincts such as loyalty, respect, and sanctity, which are understood instinctively by conservatives.
Labour’s biggest problem for the last 4 years, as many have already noted, has been a loss of trust.
Frankly, there are a lot of practical steps to be taken before we can be truly trust-able. Bradford West provided ample demonstration of what happens when we allow nepotism and a politics of separateness to overcome our constituency parties.
We all know that there is something wrong with the way we do politics in Britain.
The election of George Galloway in Bradford West is only the latest in a long line of shocks to the political system.
Between 1997 and 2010, Labour lost five million votes.
The electoral coalition Labour had carefully nurtured in their 18 wilderness years fragmented, and with it power was lost. Votes disappeared in all directions: the Conservatives gained 1.1 million votes, the Lib Dems 1.6 million, the BNP half a million, and 1.
The aftershocks of George Osborne’s budget ripple on, but one aspect of the last couple of weeks has barely been mentioned.
Even without the small matter of Labour losing the Bradford West by-election on a 37% swing, the intended resignation of Liam Byrne from the Shadow Cabinet and House of Commons would have been spun as bad news for Ed Miliband.
By all accounts it has been a bad couple of weeks for the Tories. Labour has done well to capitalise on the three big issues: the top rate of income tax, hot pasties and party funding.
The main internal obstacle to a Labour victory at the next election isn’t Old Labour or New Labour; it’s Desperate Labour.
Desperate Labour has been out in force today, mostly grumbling in the shadows, but sometimes screaming in the sunlight.
On Thursday night, there was a by-election in which Labour increased its share of the vote by 18%. Josh Kaile, Labour’s candidate in Southfields, south west London, garnered only 350 fewer votes than his Tory rival, taking Labour from 22% to 40%, close to the national polling figures for the last couple of weeks.
Last night Bradford West delivered a result that no political analyst predicted. This morning many were trying to find answers in the result and what it tells us about the current national political landscape, and some were even seeking answers regarding the leadership of the Labour party itself.
This is misplaced.
The Budget is done. The Tories are the party of the rich. The price of alcohol might go up and hit the pockets of the less well off. The Tories sell access to the Prime Minister and government policy making. And Labour is the party of fairness. Today Labour’s polling is a 17 point lead, tomorrow it’ll take a hit.
Welcome to Shifting Grounds, a blog devoted to discussing and advocating a new politics of the common good.