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

Corby Bi-Election: Nowhere is home to me.

Nora Connolly 

Image © knowhimonline

Corby, the Scottish enclave on the M1, is currently the centre of UK political activity after the announcement by Conservative MP, Louise Mensch to resign her seat with a majority of 1,951. A poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft in August suggests that Labour are currently in a commanding position with 52% of the vote, the Conservatives on 37% and the Lib/Dems flat lining on 7%.

The actual result in 2010 is illuminating, particularly as the BNP collected 2,525 votes. Labour lost on a 69% turnout. Given that the November by-election may depend on the resilience of the BNP vote if it holds then it could be close.

The anticipated decline of the Lib Dem vote alters the framework; disgruntled Lib Dems are hardly about to vote Tory, so at least 7,834 votes are going begging. But there is a racial dynamic to this by-election due to demographic changes in Corby which have been stoked up by the tabloid press.

Corby, the main urban area in the constituency nestles in countryside reminiscent of the Cotswolds. A former centre for steel production which dominated the local landscape, in the 1930s many thousands of Scottish migrants came to the town to work in the steel industry and to set up home – a sleepy hamlet morphed into `Little Scotland`. Corby has profound cultural and emotional links to Scotland such as the local dialect, a testament to this heritage.

Among the Scottish migrants was an immigrant population from the Irish Republic, many laboured in the steel works and in the 1950s they dominated the construction industry building the council houses which now populate the town. Some of those Irish immigrants remained among a strongly identifiably working class Scottish/Irish Celtic community that was often stereotyped and belittled in the locale. Perpetrating myths linked to ethnicity and class, a subtle form of racism.  Read more of this post

Where now for Labour education policy?

Memorandum on the eve of the Labour Party Conference to Stephen Twigg, shadow spokesperson for education

by Robin Richardson

As you and colleagues prepare for speeches, debates and conversations at this year’s conference, I am writing to suggest some of the principal themes and ideas that I hope you bear in mind.

For convenience, though at the risk of over-simplifying, I will set out the themes as three separate messages, each with its own title. In reality, as you know, themes such as these are tied

(cc) The Edge Foundation

together in a package. They are not separate from each other. Each gives strength and resonance to each of the others, and by the same token each is reinforced and amplified by each of the others.

1       Think Danny Boyle, not Daily Mail

Between 1997 and 2010, when Labour was in power, there was an understandable but regrettable desire amongst education ministers and their advisers to avoid negative coverage in the Daily Mail, and other papers with similar agendas and outlooks. The consequence was that many good things in education were not celebrated or even publicised to the extent that would have been appropriate – things like the progress in early years education, the increasing success of girls and young women, the greater access to higher education, the national strategies for literacy and mathematics, better provision for disabled children, projects such as the London Challenge, the invaluable role played at local levels by school governors, the energy with which bullying was addressed, particularly prejudice-related bullying, the major advances in the achievement of most minority ethnic communities.

In the absence of such things being publicised and celebrated, the Labour education ministers seemed all too often to be mean, ungenerous, narrow, fearful, controlling.

You cannot, I appreciate, ignore the Daily Mail. You can, however, defy it, challenge it, say no to it, say robustly that by and large schools in this country are doing a very good job. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony at the Olympics this summer was saluted right across the political spectrum, and in the full range of national newspapers. So, more generally, were the Olympics and Paralympics. A cabinet minister said in the Daily Telegraph that ‘we must pass the Danny Boyle test’, meaning the Tories should show themselves to be up-to-date, lively, creative, generous, open-minded, self-critical, spirited, full of good cheer. The Labour Party too, of course, must and can show it is all these things, particularly (though not only) in its education policies.

A columnist in The Times said the Olympics and Paralympics this summer ‘have made us nicer people’. Well, that may be a bit over-optimistic. More accurately and modestly, they reminded us that we are nicer – more generous, more imaginative, more caring, more public-spirited – than we are inclined to suppose, and than we are portrayed most of the time by most of the media. Think Danny Boyle, Stephen, not the Daily Mail. Read more of this post

Save St. Heliers

Georgia Lewis 

Image © lydia_shiningbrightly

I feel like a parent with two incessantly fighting children. I just want to yell at them both: “I don’t care who started it, I just want you to work it all out, get along and stop blaming each other!”

Except I am not yelling at kids. I am yelling at the Conservative and Labour parties in my London borough of Merton. And the wrangling is not over a toy or who pulled whose hair first. It is about the now-very-likely closure of the accident and emergency and maternity units at St Helier’s Hospital in south-west London.

The curiously named “Better Service, Better Value” (BSBV) team has been brought in to find ways to improve health services in south-west London. This is a team of doctors from clinics and hospitals in the area as well as “patient representatives”. People started to sit up
and take notice when it came to everyone’s attention that they were looking to close a maternity and A&E unit in either St Heliers,
Kingston, Tooting or Croydon University hospital. And now the recommendation has come out – St Heliers should lose these services.
This is in an area where A&E admissions are up 3% and 6% more babies were born there last year and this figure is not dropping any time soon. There might be a “planned care centre” for either St Heliers or Croydon University hospital.

Never mind that the maternity unit has just spent £3 million on an upgrade or that St Heliers has a further £219 million of ringfenced
funding introduced under Labour and maintained under the Conservatives, it looks like that money may now be spent on
downgrading services. Although given the vagueness of the information provided by BSV, we can’t be sure how much that will cost. Or whether there will be job losses. And if so, how many?  Read more of this post

Draft Data Communications Bill: Interview with Jim Killock

Left Central’s John Curran 

Image © utnapistimC

The following interview was conducted with Jim Killock Executive Director of Open Rights Group in which he outlines the approach his pressure group are taking in resisting Home Office proposals to introduce a draft data communications bill aka snooper’s charter.

  • If you could highlight the most important features of your campaign what would they be?

Open Rights Group’s campaign is primarily about public engagement – in order to show that the draft Data Communications Bill is an unpopular and highly intrusive breach of UK citizen’s human rights. What we have learnt by talking to Parliamentarians is that many people across the political spectrum share our views and object to these proposals and are concerned about this intrusion into our civil liberties. The big push for this legislation is coming from the narrow confines of the Home Office. We have to counter the information coming from this direction and educate both the politicians and public that the Home Office is wrong.

  • So the Home Office are exclusively responsible for this draft proposal?

The Home Office claims their ability to get hold of data is declining and that they are struggling to keep up. That is how the issue is portrayed, although such a view is in reality difficult to sustain. The trouble is, certain sections of government want to find more out more and more about its citizens. This can cascade into a very significant intrusion and breach UK citizens civil liberties.

Online data is a honey pot for the Home Office and for the Police. They see the draft measure as an opportunity to get hold of more information and the criminal justice angle is a convenient prop for government to hang on to. It is easy to claim that crime can only be solved in this way when they want to sell this type of legislation to the public.

  • The draft Communications Data Bill seems unstoppable what can be done to halt this legislation?

Well I don’t necessarily agree with the premise of your question. Yes, there is a very strong push for this legislation but as I have said it is coming from one government department, the Home Office. There is no overall political consensus operating behind the scenes. One government department has made its case but that is all.

Remember we are talking about a coalition government and many Liberal Democrats do not want this draft bill, and there are significant sections of the Conservative Party that are against it also. It is possible to defeat this government on this issue in a vote. When a government operates with a slim majority individual MPs have significant influence and their views matter. This is not like the days when New Labour had a massive majority and the executive was largely unrestrained. Even a relatively small rebellion could stop this draft proposal, so the Coalition must listen to its backbenchers.  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

Time for Constitutional change but not in front of the judges, First Minister

John Curran 

Image © Dogfael

Carwyn Jones the Welsh First Minister has recently called for a written constitution, arguing the UK has altered dramatically in the last 15 years. He thinks the devolved assemblies are unable to keep pace with the new constitutional landscape nestling within an antiquated structure more appropriate for the era of Gladstone and not fit for today`s purpose. This is a necessary debate but a return to an issue that predates Labour’s victory in 1997. Further, the First Ministers emphasis on a written constitution illustrates major flaws in his analysis.

Labour under John Smith viewed constitutional change as necessary, hence the partial acceptance of the Charter 88 agenda. The increasing centralisation of power during the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher altered Labour’s thinking moving them slightly away from a democratic centralist approach while accepting constitutional change during Tony Blair`s tenure. However, Labour rejected the democratic republican thesis regarding a written constitution as a UK constitutional bridge to far. Or did they?

Labour`s record is impressive in terms of devolution and the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act, releasing the constitutional genie from the bottle while maintaining an agenda that made them look “tough on crime”. The constitutional programme placated the Charter 88 lobby while the government paradoxically adopted an authoritarian line giving an impression they were attacking civil liberties. This view is enhanced with reference to the record of various Labour Home Secretaries most notably (but not exclusively), David Blunkett.

Michael Mansfield QC has argued that Blair and Brown were jointly responsible for the destruction of civil liberties in the UK. Dominic Grieve MP (current Attorney General) from a different political perspective claimed Labour’s years in power akin to tyranny installing what he called the `Surveillance State`. Indeed, Conservative David Davis MP resigned from Parliament forcing a bye-election on the issue of forty-two day’s detention without trial. Of course this disdain towards civil liberties meant a written constitution was ignored if not laughed out of the Blair/Brown court.

Lest we get carried away with the notion that a written constitution is a civil liberties panacea it is important to keep a few caveats in mind. A written constitution grants significant power to the Judiciary, a professional group from an elite social and educational background. They overlook primary and delegated legislation through a process known as judicial review, a tame version of this doctrine exists in the UK where Parliamentary sovereignty takes precedence over the courts (in contrast to the USA).

In the UK it is not strictly true that no written constitution exists. The Human Rights Act 1998 is applicable to all UK citizens and residents. Joshua Rozenberg this Tuesday (BBC radio 4 Law in Action) explained that the Home Secretary Theresa May is setting a motion before Parliament to change UK immigration law due to concerns that foreigners who have broken the law avoid deportation by citing Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. If the motion fails Rozenberg outlined that the government may amend the HRA, forcing a conflict with the European Court of Human Rights. Such tensions are par for the course and if the UK acquires a written constitution then expect more of this.   Read more of this post

Will we see Clegg’s new economic tone? Expect more of the same

Tom Bailey 

Image © Liberal Democrats

For those who believe that the coalition has profoundly misjudged its economic strategy, good news would appear to have come in the form of Nick Clegg promising a ‘massive amplification’ of state investment. This would appear to suggest support for the measures that Labour has been advocating for some time. Credit easing and state investment of the funds that bond purchasers are begging the UK to take could give a boost to the economy which we have just heard has sunk into a double dip recession. When Cameron’s economic record has struggled such that Eurozone leaders are telling him where to take his advice on account of their record on growth exceeding Britain’s, something somewhere has evidently gone desperately wrong. Ed Balls’s August 2010 Bloomberg speech seems vindicated by every new piece of economic news. His argument that the country needed a ‘credible and medium-term plan to reduce the deficit and to reduce our level of national debt, but only once growth is fully secured and over a markedly longer period than George Osborne is currently planning’, seems borne out by events. As Jonathan Freedland wrote, ‘Ed Balls is steadily acquiring the rare right to deploy one of the most powerful sentences in politics: I told you so.’ Robert Skidelsky, Keynes’ biographer, has unsurprisingly welcomed Clegg’s statement, stating that ‘drop austerity, go for growth and the debt will start to come down’. However, unfortunately, I think there is good cause to be sceptical of any major economic policy change. This is not just because I don’t trust Nick ‘No More Broken Promises, I pledge to vote against any increase in fees’ Clegg. Nor is it because he cannot leverage such a change in strategy from the Conservatives (he does not have Cable’s nuclear option)  on account of being the minor partner in a coalition government from which he cannot escape to any realistic prospect of electoral success given his party’s abysmal poll ratings. Instead, the reason for why change seems so unlikely is both how the coalition set out its plan and how the economic crash was defined. For the coalition government, this is a problem of path dependency. Having defined their rapid deficit reduction as essential to economic recovery, a change would be an enormous admission of failure for both political parties.

To change economic policy would demonstrate that the Lib Dems made the wrong judgement in signing up to the Conservative’s pace of deficit reduction. When the coalition was formed, the Lib Dems performed a volte-face on economic strategy. Their manifesto had stated that ‘if spending is cut too soon, it would undermine the much-needed recovery and cost jobs. We will base the timing of cuts on an objective assessment of economic conditions, not political dogma.’ Whilst before the election they had supported a ‘one-year economic stimulus’ through to 2011, by mid-May 2010 Clegg and Cable had become advocates of immediate austerity. In 2009, Cable wrote that ‘the apocalyptic cries of “national bankruptcy” are unhelpful scaremongering’. By June 2010, he had of course come to support rapid deficit reduction, explaining his change was made because he had been ‘persuaded that early action is absolutely necessary’. Lib Dems fell over themselves supporting Osborne’s claim that ‘Labour brought Britain to the edge of bankruptcy’, statements for which he was justly slapped down by the Treasury Select Committee. All this was further justified with recourse to that moronic note left by Liam Byrne. It would be a major U-turn to take a more Keynesian approach to economic policy.

A change in strategy would also be incredibly difficult because it would undermine the narrative that the Conservatives have propagated about the economic crash. The choice was made by the Conservatives to present the Great Recession commencing in 2008 as primarily a crisis of state debt rather than as a crisis triggered by enormous systemic financial sector failures that then resulted in the large deficit. This choice was likely made because this seemed the best way to attack Labour. A mess resulting from overspending by a Labour government is a much easier message for a Conservative party leader to make than a more nuanced recognition that state finances had been more prudent than the private sectors’ before the crash despite the treasury’s dependence on unsustainable finance sector revenues. Cameron and Osborne certainly never trumpeted any foresight of the crash nor offered any serious alternative economic policy paradigm before the crash. In 2007 they pledged to match Labour spending plans while in 2006 Osborne wrote that Ireland, even more of a credit fuelled unsustainable boom than the UK, represented ‘a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking’. Having made the choice then to define the crisis as one of state debt, the Conservatives have limited their options now. They are the original proponents of the view now repeated in every right wing paper that state spending cannot contribute to recovery. Simon Heffer’s statement, that ‘borrowing money, or printing more of it, would simply hasten Britain’s progress to Greek-style bankruptcy and financial implosion, wrecking living standards of Britons for a generation, and quite possibly longer’, could have come out of Cameron, Cable or Clegg’s lips at any point in the last two years. It is far easier for the coalition to muddle through blaming the eurozone, the weather or the Royal Wedding for the economic slowdown rather than their measures. A serious change of economic policy would go against everything that they had said since 2009 and would be an admission of the failure of plan A. Read more of this post

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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Guest Blog: The third of May will be a decisive day


Image © Matt Hobbs

Tom Vine

The week did not begin well for the mayoral contest. After a debate on radio channel LBC, Boris distastefully called Ken Livingstone a “f***ing liar” after Livingstone accused him of using similar tax arrangements as have been causing much controversy over Livingstone’s candidacy. Livingstone was quoted afterwards saying he and Boris are in “exactly the same situation” concerning their earnings.

Yet, what is frightening about this whole situation is not the fact that these men are choosing to pay corporation tax on their earnings over income tax but that our current Mayor of London feels he has the right to call Livingstone, let alone anyone, a “f***ing liar.” What’s also coincidentally convenient for Boris is the way in which the contest has been transformed into criticising Livingstone over taxation on his earnings. Admittedly, I felt as though Livingstone had, in a way, betrayed the left. But as I began to doubt the security of my Ken Livingstone vote, I realised how puny this issue is compared to what really matters for Londoners: housing, crime levels and the amount it costs you to get to school or work each day.

These are the very issues the mayoral candidates (of which a full list can be found here) have been debating for the past few weeks in an attempt to win our votes. These are issues which effect us Londoners directly. Knowledge of Ken and Boris’ tax arrangements isn’t going to reduce my tube or bus fares, so why should I care?

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