24 June 2011

Dammit - Ed got there before me!

I've had the idea of a post on why Labour's system of shadow cabinet elections are a bad idea for some time now. The 2010 elections threw up mainly the members of the previous Labour cabinet who hadn't ruled themselves out or left parliament, plus a few complete no-marks. There were very few Ed Miliband backers in there and very little for him to work with, talent wise. A few of the top names have done OK - Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham. Most of the rest have been irrelevant or invisible. Meanwhile, there has been no mechanism for Ed to bring promising new MPs from the 2010 intake - e.g. Rachel Reeves, Chuka Umanna, Stella Creasy, Lisa Nandy etc. into the front line.
So the system is crying out for a change; and I was going to post at some point about this. When I got around to it. (?!)

But I don't have to make that post now, because Ed has announced that he wants to drop the system anyway. And Amen to that. There seems to have been a huge amount of support for this across the PLP, with two different groups coalescing around Ed. Neo-Blairites like it because they are in favour of centralised control anyway - that's why they dug Iraq etc. - and Ed's backers like it because it gives ED more control.

The main dissenters are hard left MPs like John McDonnell, who are arguing against the move on the grounds that it will reduce accountability. And if the Labour leader was just a parachuted-in appointment who couldn't be gotten rid of, I'd agree with John. But the leader is open to challenge. If Labour MPs, party members and affiliates don't like what Ed is doing, he can be replaced. THAT's real democracy. All the current system is managing to achieve is to minimise the chances of Labour winning the next election by lumbering Ed with a shadow cabinet team many of whom didn't vote for him and don't get on with him. That's in nobody's interests, really (except for the couple of people who think David Miliband could walk in at any moment and save the day).

This move shows that Ed is a skilled tactical politician - and if the PLP agrees to dropping shadow cabinet elections (as I think it will), we can expect a much stronger shadow cabinet team, very soon. Nice work, Ed.

22 June 2011

Free time killed the Internet star

Have been worryingly absent from the airwaves for ten days which given my voluntarily unemployed status really isn't an excuse. I can only say that anyone with editor access (which is only two people!) will be able to see a whole posse of posts lined up but in progress. I hope to return with possibly six or seven entries for your delectation then. In the meantime, keep it real!

12 June 2011

My own advice for Ed Miliband

Today's Observer interviews 9 "left-leaning thinkers" asking them each the same set of questions about what Ed Miliband should be doing as Labour leader. I found 8 of the 9 useful; even Robert Philpot of Progress (an organisation I am no great fan of, although to their credit they backed Yes2AV) manages to impart a certain wisdom to proceedings. The one person whose advice appeared to be completely worthless was Kitty Ussher of Demos, who appears to think that all that's needed is to copy Tony Blair, circa 1995, despite the fact that most of the collapse in Labour's vote total between 1997 and 2010 occurred on Blair's watch, and Brown ran in 2010 essentially on a continuation of the Blair agenda.

Anyway, I thought it would be good fun to offer my own take on the Observer questions in the hope that Ed might come across it at some stage. So here is my advice to Ed:

What is your verdict on Ed Miliband's leadership so far?
In terms of putting the mechanics in place to build a policy platform for 2015 (policy review, "Refounding Labour" consultation", etc.), pretty good. In terms of articulating a clear forward vision, we've had flashes of it (his initial leader speech at Labour Party conference in September 2010, his speech to Resolution Foundation on the "squeezed middle", etc.) but he needs to do a lot more of that to give "new generation Labour" more definition as a work in progress. Marks out of 10: 7.

What "big idea" in terms of policy/strategy do you think Labour should pursue in opposition?
Reforming the economy to provide a comprehensive alternative to neoliberal capitalism. In the first instance that needs fundamental reform of the financial system and corporate governance, much greater equality, and much more democracy across the economy. Quite simply, Labour needs to an updated version of its 1974 manifesto commmitment - "a fundamental shift in the balance of wealth and power in favour of ordinary people (the "squeezed middle and bottom") and their families. And in many ways, a fundamental repudiation of New Labour.

Who should Labour be appealing to to win the next election? (Disaffected Lib Dems, soft Tory vote, the core vote?)
All these and more; "people who've never voted because they think all the parties are full of crap" would be another category. At the end of the day, rather than saying "we need this policy for group A and this for group B" it's much better to say "these are the policies we believe in and we think are best for the country, now how do we convince group A of this, group B of this", and so on? In other words do not try to assemble a ragbag of incoherent policies on the basis of a series of focus groups but try for something holistic and coherent (which can then be contrasted with the incoherence of the ConDem coalition).

What would be your top tip for Ed Miliband to give steel to his leadership?
Externally, start hitting Cameron a lot harder. I've seen speeches at places like the Compass conference by Ed where he's really set the room on fire and he needs to start doing that at PMQs. Angry, but razor-sharp.
Internally, you need to put the Blairites on a tight leash. This is meant to be a "spin-free" shadow cabinet. That means that leakers - if they are in the cabinet - are fair game to be sacked.

What slogan would you suggest for Labour?
I thought Maurice Glasman's suggestion - "Ed Gets It" - was pretty good.

Ed Miliband and the "bastards" who want Labour to lose next time round

Now some of you kids out there may remember John Major... for the benefit of anyone under 30, Major was a Tory PM, sort of ran the country for several years in the 1990s, struggling with a small parliamentary majority against Eurosceptic backbench rebels, a growing reputation for sleaze and incompetence, and continual threats of a leadership challenge which led him to resign his own party leadership in the summer of 1995, securing a thumping re-election win against John "Mr Spock" Redwood.

At one famous meeting in 1993 Major referred to three of his Eurosceptic cabinet colleagues as "bastards". They were never officially named but they were probably Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo (then in his hard right phase).

Now, the "bastards" were not enough of a hindrance to Major to ensure that he lost the 1997 election, because the economic disaster of Black Wednesday (even though it was actually the start of a period of rapid growth for the UK economy) did that by itself. Even if there had been no "bastards", the Tories would have lost - pretty heavily - in 1997. What the "bastards" probably managed to do was turn a heavy defeat into a rout, making it impossible for the Tories to come back in 2001 and even in 2005.

But the Major era already feels like ancient history - so why bring it up now? Because there are "bastards" somewhere in the Blairite hard right of the Labour party and one or more of those bastards is gunning for Ed Miliband (and also Ed Balls). The spate of leaks in both the Telegraph (which we fully expect this kind of behaviour from) and the Guardian (for which it is a most unwelcome recent development) is strong evidence for some kind of anti-Eds plot.

In a recent post I was very uncomplimentary about Labour's hard right - some might call them the LINOs (Labour In Name Only) or the FOTC (Friends of the ConDems), among other names - in a recent post when I accused them of living in 1996. In fact, that is probably too modern - they're living in 1993. For them, Ed Miliband is John Major, they think he's crap, and they want to take him down.

But how? What is the mechanism? As Dan Hodges - surely a supporter of the plot, though unlikely to have the clout to orchestrate it - has pointed out, a new Labour leadership contest this side of the next general election is most unlikely. Even if the present parliament makes it to 2015 (which I'd only give 50-50 odds at best on), the Labour party does not really have the funds to spend millions of pounds on another 4-month contest. Also there is no obvious right-wing alternative candidate for leader apart from David Miliband, who I just can't see launching himself into a rematch against his brother.

But if there is no appetite for a contest, then there is only one way of changing the leader before the next general election: Ed Miliband would have to be persuaded to do an Iain Duncan Smith and step down in the party interest. It's worth thinking very carefully about how bad Ed's performance would have to be, and how bad the party's situation would have to be, for this to be seen as the best thing for him to do.

Based on 9 months in the job, I'd say Ed's performance is OK - neither brilliant, nor crap. I don't watch Prime Minister's Questions very often because it's dull repetitive knockabout, but based on collating all the evidence from media accounts and bloggers and allowing for bias, Ed seems to be pretty much even stevens against Cameron at the moment. I think he needs to point out that Cameron is a serial liar and that ConDem policy is in total disarray on several key fronts, but once he can start to land big hits like that, he'll be coming off best pretty much every week.

Ed hasn't managed to build on his September 2010 Labour conference speech to articulate a vision of "New Generation" Labour as much as he should have done - but he has got the policy review process going, and that's sensible and important. F*** knows why he put Liam Byrne in charge of it, but there you go. Ed has also managed to put the "squeezed middle" in the centre stage of public debate. Both Eds need to be much more visible in pointing out the failures of ConDem economic and social policies, and in articulating a clear alternative strategy, but the potential is there.

For Ed to be persuaded to resign, the Labour Party's situation would have to be hopeless with him at the helm and moreover, Ed would have to feel it's hopeless. The former scenario seems most unlikely, the latter pretty much impossible. Currently, Labour is regularly 5 to 8 points in front of the Tories on YouGov polling. The May local elections were not spectacularly good but nor were they a disaster for Labour (except in Scotland). Quite simply things are Not Bad Enough for a "Stand Down Ed" bandwagon to roll. And even if the situation did deteriorate somehow, from what we know of him so far, Ed is a tenacious cookie - as was his mentor Gordon Brown - and having secured this job, there's no reason to suppose he'd just walk away from it if the going got tough.

Now, unless the "bastards" are deluded they must know all of the above. So therefore, I conclude that their objective is not to force a leadership change before the next general election, but instead to destabilise Ed's leadership and the Labour party with the ultimate aim of replacing him AFTER the next election. For Ed to be replaced, Labour would certainly have to lose the next general election. From which, in turn, I conclude that the "bastards" are deliberately trying to make Labour lose the next election so that they can say "I told you so" and they can take over the Labour party.

As political strategies go, this is about as underhand, counter-productive and downright vicious as you can get. But it's also utterly predictable. No-one said politics was a nice business, and Ed showed he could handle this kind of crap - and dish it out in return - during the Labour leadership campaign.

It's tempting to call for Ed to round on his critics - perhaps with a "back me or sack me" appeal along the lines of what Major did in 1995 - but I think that would be extremely counterproductive at this stage because the plot really is not that strong, whatever the Sunday papers think. Far better to ride it out and stick to the main game plan, while also doing more to articulate that "Vision Thing" that so many of us want to see. 2012 will get easier for Ed IMHO because the economy will probably be in dire straits, Ken will most likely beat Boris for London Mayor in 2012 (a huge psychological boost - I'll post on the electoral logistics of this separately), and also there will be fresh shadow cabinet elections in autumn 2012 where a lot of the Blairite "dead wood" is likely to drop out in favour of fresher - and mostly more Ed-friendly - faces. In retrospect, 2011 will no doubt turn out to have been the high water mark of the anti-Ed rumblings. I think we have to suffer a few months more of the "bastards", but so what? They have a few high-level media contacts and leaked papers but not much else, and their bark is a lot worse than their bite. To paraphrase Blade Runner: "they're not police, they're little people".

06 June 2011

That milk'll get cold on you...but it's getting warmer now

About a month ago, I profiled the current contenders for the Republican nomination - fast forward four weeks and the picture has changed somewhat with Donald Trump'swithdrawal and the subsequent pullouts of Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels have narrowed the field somewhat - not helped by the fact that for all their flaws, both Daniels and Huckabee might have had a respectable chance of putting up a reasonable show!

The rest of the post will concentrate on those other candidates not mentioned in the original post who have or are rumoured to be on the verge of putting themselves forward. A subsequent post later in the week will consider the four potential candidates who could really give the Democrats a scare were they to declare themselves.

A definite 'Mos Eisley' addition to the field were he to announce his candidacy is Roy Moore. No prizes for guessing that Moore doesn't hail from either the West or East coast of the States. His most famous moment in the public eye came back in 2003 when he was removed from his office as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to abide by a US district court instructing that he remove a granite monument to the Ten Commandments which had he had placed in the Alabama Supreme Court building. Extremely popular with the 'religious right', he would be expected to surpass the defeat of Walter Mondale if selected for the nomination.

Slightly more credible for moderate opinion is John Huntsman Jr. He served the Obama administration for 2 years as its ambassador to the PR China. Hunstman was a former governor of the Mormon state of Utah, arguably one of the most socially conservative in the entire Union. Nevertheless, his positions on Climate change and support of the economic stimulus plan suggested by the President make him one of the few candidates likely to have some appeal to moderate voters. however, as with a number of other runners, the likely upshot of his relative moderation is to make him UNACCEPTABLE to the extremes of the Republican base. He is also said to lack charisma and a degree of name recognition with ordinary Americans.

A somewhat unexpected runner entered the campaign in the form of former Pizza magnate Herman Cain. Perhaps the most interesting things about him are that he has never held elected office (which in an era when the US, just as much as the UK has been brought to its knees by 'professional' politicians is arguably not necessarily such a bad thing) and that he, like Obama is black. In terms of political positions, he is the usual pro-Israel, anti abortion and anti big government which seems to be the currency of many Republican candidates. His selection for the nomination seems unlikely.

Another candidate who has formally declared is former New Mexico Gary Johnson Johnson does have the commendable policy of legalising Marijuana across the board, and unlike many Social conservative commentators, from his former position in Santa Fe he would have had first hand experience of the violence accompanying the increasingly lucrative Mexican drug trade. His argument is that legalisation would undercut this trade and reduce violence levels. He is a costcutter proud of vetoing 750 bills to fulfill a campaign pledge not to raise taxes. I can see the drug policy being what the focus attaches to, however!

Two other candidates who may be familiar to readers are John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the UN under the previous administration of George W Bush. A fierce conservative, and indeed one of the leading 'Neocons' under Bush, Bolton was critical of supranational organisations such as the UN itself, the ICC and EU. whilst likely to endear him to many Americans, his links with the Bush regime are likely to prove highly problematic were he to enter the fray. He does attack the Obama administration , unusually, primarily on foreign, rather than domestic policy grounds.

George Pataki was the governor (as opposed to Rudy Giulani , who was the Mayor of New York City) of New York State during the September 11th attacks. A critic of the Quantitative easing policy of Obama, and fiscal conservative, Pataki's resume is relatively light on what he would do differently beyond reducing expenditur across the board (another cutter!) There is also a significant gap on social policy. It's relatively tricky in New York to appeal to the entire state given its racial diversity on a 'Tea Party' ticket, so these may be more moderate than some other candidates.

Another very much in the mould of Ron Paul would be Buddy Roemer , a former governor of Louisiana,and four term congressman, also representing that state. He last held office in 1992 before being voted out. His cornerstone appears to be to limit campaign donations to $100 per contribution - an element of self-interest surely not withstanding.

Thus, the crowded field of 17 candidates has now dwindled to 14 - to summarise:

OUT: Huckabee, Trump, Daniels
CONSIDERING: Palin, Bachmann, Pataki, Bolton, Roemer, Moore, Huntsman
IN: Romney, Gingrich, Paul, Santorum, Pawlenty, Cain, Johnson.

Thus seven candidates have thus far declared - of these the favourite were noone else to stand would surely be Mitt Romney - I doubt Obama's supporters will be overly concerned. The third part of this trilogy will look at four candidates who could seriously worry Obama - but look to be holding their powder dry for 2016.

04 June 2011

A bit of June Christmas cheer for Private business!

One of my correspondents has sent me arguably the best news since the start of the coalition government. It is reported by the BBC that the EHRC is going on strike . This is arguably proof that the coalition strategy is working. Let's hope many more of such agencies follow their example. The only noticeable impact of this collection of ne'er do wells, many of whom had significant and documented links with the USSR and its satellites has been to load up costs on the people that in the long run pay their wages. In the absence of the Soviets, Islamic extremists like Iran have picked up the slack in terms of funding their , in many cases fairly lavish lifestyles. Seriously, this piece has made my day. Osborne should say: 'Frankly, a permanent strike would be absolutely fine' - this strike is a catastrophe for the 'anti cuts lobby'. At a stroke it will reveal how much fat can be taken out of the system with absolutely no impact on the ordinary citizen. The only issue would seem to be whether Champagne producers can cope with the demand from every single private sector organisation that has had the misfortune to encounter this body! As the Pointer Sisters famously said - 'I'm so excited'!I'm also reminded of a quote from the now sadly departed 'X Files':

'You shouldn't play poker when you aren't holding any cards!'

The Jason Voorhees of British Politics

For those unfamiliar with the character of Jason Voorhees, he is the primary Antagonist of the Friday 13th series of films. Anyone famiilar with these will know the drill. Voorhees appears and wreaks havoc, usual involving multiple homicides only to seem as though he has finally perished. Then the film usually leaves a degree of ambiguity as to his fate. The franchise's original 1979 instalment spawned an enormous 10 sequels, some of which are some of the most wretched examples of horror cinema ever seen, but still Jason survives. The reason for mentioning him is that with the elections for the London assembly and mayoralty in prospect next year, perhaps its time to focus on the man most like him in terms of his longevity and arguably his likely impact on the London scene, for he has once more been up to his usual tricks.

Former mayor of the GLC, and two term London Mayor before his surprise defeat in 2008, Ken Livingstone has compared his mayoral rival's chief of staff, Eddie Lister to the Recently indicted Serbian General Ratko Mladic . It's not the first time the man has made a tastelessly crass remark. Who can forget his comparison of Evening Standard reporter Oliver Finegold (of Jewish descent) with a Nazi Concentration Camp guard?

The Voorhees analogy, no doubt distasteful to Livingstone's acolytes as his comparison of Lister (who has courted controversy for potentially charging children for access to public playgrounds) to a man accused of the genocide of 8000 people is however apt. Whatever else I think of him, following his defeat at the hands of Kenneth Baker in 1986, he bounced back in 2000 to defeat two candidates (including a rival from his former party) to win the mayoralty and held the position for 8 years. I hoped his defeat by current incumbent, Boris Johnson in 2008 had finally driven a metaphorical stake through his political heart, but terrifyingly the man has returned to once again cast his dark shadow over the London scene. As Giroscoper points out, chillingly, the London elections are not, as I erroneously thought conducted on an electoral college basis (ie borough by borough), thus the multiple defeats he suffered in 2008 in the outer London boroughs could be overcome by him piling up enough of a majority amongst the so-called 'Rainbow coalition' (composed of around 11 boroughs with heavy concentrations of ethnic minorities, students and public sector employees) which delivered him two election triumphs. Admittedly many more verbal gaffes such as this one, and the poll lead he has might start to look slimmer, but it is perhaps a reflection on the chaos wrought in the nation's capital between 1997 and 2010, that such a being can have the slightest chance of achieving high office after decisive rejection in 2008.