Miliband, the Mail and antisemitism, some points arising

Robin Richardson

Image © CC-BY

Antisemitism, it has often been said, is a light sleeper. Sometimes, though, and in certain places and circumstances, it slumbers for quite a long time, and is not immediately or widely recognisable when it wakes up. For whilst dormant it was taking on new tones and colourings, was acquiring a new repertoire of signals and cues, new nods and winks, it was fashioning new dog whistles. Those who give voice to it when it wakes after a longish sleep may not be consciously aware of what they are doing, or of the effect their words, references and imagery have on others. Read more of this post

Parliament Channel: Harold Wilson Night (Conference Speech)

LeftCentral Review

© Image The Prime Minister`s Office photostream

The BBC Parliament channel, dedicated last Thursday evening to Harold Wilson, a set of programmes which included a broadcast of Wilson`s final 1975 Conference speech as Prime Minister. The speech with its valedictory tone is worth watching for reasons summed up by Ben Pimlott as Wilson appears to forecast the tough times ahead for the Labour movement. Pimlott reminds us that by 1975 the Party was on the cusp of tearing itself apart, in the early stages of an existential crisis. Wilson`s speech is delivered in a perfunctory manner to a morose audience, a conference of beleaguered looking delegates. If only they knew what was around the political corner, perhaps then they would have been grateful for the deliverance of Labour`s 1974 manifesto. A programme which if not socialist, was certainly socially responsible, in the speech Wilson describing the 1974 manifesto as promoting a fairer, more democratic and socially just society, an agenda transforming Labour into the natural Party of government.  In the turbulent years ahead Labour would struggle to hold on to its position as the main party of opposition due to the threat posed by the newly formed SDP. It was interesting to hear Shirley Williams defend the Wilson legacy with such vigour last Thursday. One wonders what her `Orange Book` Liberal colleagues thought of her performance? Read more of this post

Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

Book Review: Ignorant Yobs? – the education and training of ‘low attainers’

Robin Richardson

Copyright NSiKander 28s photostream

What is to be done, asks Sally Tomlinson, about low attainers? The question refers to about a fifth of the children and young people in countries such as the UK, Germany and the United Sates and refers not only to education and training systems but also to social, political and economic policies. It is also, clearly, a moral question.

Polite and apparently objective alternatives to the term ‘low attainers’ include or have included less able, backward, retarded, slow learners, below average, special needs. Terms which are rather less polite and neutral appear daily in the media and in middle-class conversations – yobs, chavs, feckless, lazy, plebs, underclass, dull, thick, shirkers, scroungers. Either way the language is pejorative, and the attitudes are at best paternalistic and patronising and at worst fearful, demonising and punitive.

What to do about low attainers has been a question for western governments at least since the start of compulsory education some 150 years ago. When unskilled or semi-skilled work in agriculture or manufacturing was readily available, the answers were not too difficult to find. Now that such jobs have declined or disappeared in western countries, and that enterprises operate in global not national contexts, the answers are much more elusive. Sally Tomlinson explores the difficulties and dilemmas with regard to five countries in particular – Finland, Germany, Malta, United Kingdom and United States. Her analysis and conclusions are relevant for a wide range of countries, not for these five only. Read more of this post

Ed Miliband Leader of the Left?

Nora Connolly 

Ed Miliband on the mic

Copyright archived Department of Energy

Ed Miliband is the leader of the Left, a revelation made recently in a broadcast with BBC/Independent journalist Steve Richards. Although, Miliband appears more interested in identifying himself with Conservative politicians, concepts and with Mrs Thatcher`s legacy – obsequiously describing her as a conviction politician. In his early thirties we discover that Miliband`s summer reading was Iain Macleod’s biography, Ed Milibands`s `One Nation` agenda clearly has had a longer gestation period than cynics might have thought. The Disraeli citation highlighted in the broadcast was further evidence that the philosophical underpinning of Miliband`s big idea is a Conservative/reactionary one. The only left-winger mentioned during the programme was Ralph Miliband, the father of the Labour leader, a brilliant Marxist thinker who sadly died in 1994.

Miliband`s position was considered analogous to Mrs Thatcher`s period in opposition, a correlation that allowed for a comparison with Miliband by Charles Moore. Richards returned to Thatcher`s legacy indicating that she developed a strong populist message, a political outsider who produced a critique of the former government led by Ted Heath in which she served. A politician who overturned the Keynesian post-war consensus, whose populist message was based on the notion that the state needed to get off peoples backs.  Read more of this post

Labour: From Constitutional Reform to Shameless Opportunism

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © Christian Guthier

Upon Ed Miliband’s joining of forces with those Tory Rebels who opposed Lords reform, one may be tempted to invoke the old idiom that “politics makes strange bed fellows.” Indeed, Labour’s vigorous support (in the form of a three-line whip no less) of the band of rebellious Conservatives who rejected House of Lords reform plans does seem very odd indeed. After all, wasn’t Labour the party of constitutional reform? Wasn’t this the party that at one time in government had begun the biggest constitutional upheaval since the Reform Act of 1832? Wasn’t this the party who talked about the need for reform in manifesto after manifesto?

Of course, when pressed, Labour insisted that they were actually in favour of the Reform Bill – it just wanted more time for it and in fact would have supported the Bill at the second reading. This is frankly hard to believe; Labour cannot be ignorant of the fact that the rejection of the motion would have killed off the Bill in the way that it did. Besides, Labour had no problem in getting to work with devolution and other reforms without any delay after the 1997 election. So how does one explain Labour’s attack on Lords reform? The answer comes down to Ed Miliband and his trademark opportunistic and cynical tendencies.

Ed probably thinks he’s been quite clever. By opposing the programme motion he thinks he can claim that he hadn’t reneged on his and Labour’s reformist principles whilst at the same time inflicting a considerable blow on the Coalition. When one looks at Miliband’s track record, can anyone be really surprised when he jumps into bed with a bunch of rebellious Tories? For instance, on AV, rather than pull out three-line whip levels of party discipline, he quietly tolerated those in his own camp who gave vigorous support to the ‘No’ campaign. On government cuts he opposes or supports depending on what the opportunistic climate dictates. On public sector strikes he quietly sat on the fence until he was sure that he would gain most from coming down on the side of the strikers. Read more of this post

Blue Labour’s Dilemma is the SNP’s Opportunity

John Curran 

Imagine © Scottish Labour

The failure to end the cycle of “boom and bust” brought Labour electoral defeat and Ed Milliband the leadership crown. The subsequent leadership battle (or soap opera which focussed on the two Milliband brothers) led to a re-examination of policy but no in-depth review instead a re-branding occurred as Blue Labour was born, an idea associated with Jon Cruddas, James Purnell and Maurice Glasman.

But what is Blue Labour? Richard Seymour writing in the Guardian 9 June describes it as a mechanism to reclaim themes excluded from the lexicon of the left. Seymour places it within the historical context of the `popular front’ of the 1930s when a clarion call was made by Stafford Crisps for left unification in opposition to appeasement.

The contemporary left must reframe the right wing artefacts of the past and by  doing so develop what Billy Bragg called the `Progressive Patriot`. English patriotism is no longer the refuge of the scoundrel it is the Labour Party`s big idea. As Milliband stated in his June speech:

”Something was holding us back from celebrating England too. We have been too nervous to talk of English pride and English character. For some it was connected to the kind of nationalism that left us ill at ease. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Union flag was reclaimed from the National Front”. 

This endorsement is ambiguous for good reason. Nationalism in England is de facto a right wing preserve symbolised by the emergence of the English Defence League a pernicious group with a growing support base. Its existence illustrates the difficulties in reconciling progressive politics with English nationalist themes.

Mr Milliband illustrated UK diversity by speaking movingly about his Jewish ethnicity and family:

”They did not have to hide their past. They did not have to pretend they were someone else.  Jewish but not religious”.

But, Britain does not have a perfect record regarding Anti-Semitism. After all Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Herbert Spencer and Oswald Mosley were all British. It was representatives of the working class left such as Joe Jacobs who made Britain safe for Jewish refugees when they took to the streets in 1936 in the battle of Cable Street.  Read more of this post

Osborne doesn’t need to spend more time in the Treasury

Image © HM Treasury

Image © HM Treasury

Tom Bailey (@baileys72)

Tim Montgomerie recently argued that George Osborne should restrict his role to being Chancellor, rather than also acting as ‘chief election strategist and general busybody across government’, so that he can get a grip on the economy. I’d argue that he should be sacked from both roles rather than restricting his duties to the Treasury. Of course, it is unsurprising to read a left-wing blogger demand that a Conservative chancellor be sacked but I believe many of the coalition’s problems, both political and economic, spring from him. However unrealistic it is, I think there are various reasons why the Conservatives’ long-term prospects would be best served by Cameron ditching his part-time Chancellor.

Firstly, Osborne has not demonstrated any evidence of economic understanding ahead of the crash nor had any success since taking office. In 2006 he described Ireland ‘as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking’ before in 2007 pledging to match Labour’s spending plans. Given the coalition’s rhetoric against state spending and excessive debt, this seems extremely hypocritical. Since 2010, there has been an economic failure as result of the economic strategy that he put in place. His 2010 Mais Lecture provided the underpinning for the austerity strategy which has helped drive us into a double dip recession. It is hard to see how Cameron could ditch his failing policies without getting rid of the architect.

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Guest Blog: What the French election means for the Left

Jasper Cox

Image © The Prime Minister’s Office

If, as is expected, François Hollande wins La Présidentielle this weekend, it provides a boost for Ed Miliband and Labour party: a sign that perhaps the Left in Europe is, unlike the economy, on the road to recovery. In the United Kingdom, from the marginal Occupy movement to disgust over bankers’ bonuses, there is emerging subtle dislike of unregulated neoliberalism (even if most people don’t know what the term means). Meanwhile, Miliband leads in the polls, by perhaps 11%,  despite being unpopular personally with voters. However, there is a danger that the correlation between the French election and the state of British politics today is overstated.

Firstly, when faced with criticism over their handling of the economy, David Cameron and his government have been able use two simple excuses: our economy is heavily affected by the Eurozone crisis; and over-spending by Labour makes austerity necessary. Sarkozy cannot do this. Sarkozy came into power in 2007, before France’s GDP fell, before France lose its AAA rating and before public debt rose significantly. He has been a key figure in determining Eurozone policies. Going further back, he was an interior minister under the last government, and the Right has been in power since 1995. This means neither he nor the Right can be given ‘the benefit of the doubt’, and so he has a harder challenge defending his economic policy in the presidential election.

The gripes with Sarkozy are not (just) about austerity, whereas anger in the United Kingdom at the centre-right administration is directed at cuts and public sector reforms predominantly. Sarkozy has introduced some reforms to the state but has also indulged in antiimmigrant rhetoric (the link is but one example) and “Countless voters have told pollsters that Sarkozy’s personality and style turned them off”. As The Economist, which has generally been supportive of the UK coalition government, despairs:

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A Defence of Ed Miliband and the Labour Leadership Electoral System


Image © The CBI

Andrew Hyams

Since Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour party in September 2010 there have been murmurs about the nature of his election. Some commentators clearly need reminding that Ed’s win over his brother was fair and square. The real issue here, though, is about the actual system Labour uses to elect its leader, and I believe the current one is better than the often touted alternatives.

The fact that Ed only drew ahead of David Miliband in the fourth round of voting is misleading. If the election had been a straight fight between the two, assuming this did not change anybody’s vote, then Ed still would have won. Taking preferences into consideration under the Alternative Vote system enables the party to get the consensual candidate, and not a candidate in sway to a sizeable minority section of the party, as Ed has been construed to be.[1]

Indeed, Ed’s reliance on union votes has come repeatedly under fire. It is true that Ed only lead David in the ‘affiliates and socialist society’ section of the electoral college (which includes not just unions but organisations such as the Fabian Society and Scientists for Labour). Yet David’s lead in the other sections were small in comparison. Ed still needed significant backing in all sections to win.

Look at it this way. David only actually won the support of 18 more MPs and 10,822 more party members than Ed.  Whereas, Ed won the support of 39,139 more union and socialist society members than David. With a score of 147,220 votes and 175,591 respectively, Ed won the votes of significantly more individual people than David.[2]

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