Wednesday, 2 September 2015

My Answers to Liz Kendall's 4 Questions

In an article on Labour List posted on 1st September, Leadership candidate Liz Kendall posed four questions she feels are taboo within the Labour Party as she argues that processes and procedures are strangling the party. I offer my answer to each of her questions below;

What change in the world – or even in our neighborhoods – comes about as a result a branch meetings?

Branch meetings as the foundation of many members membership. It is a good opportunity for members to meet, socialise and have discussions. It is the responsibility of the branch officers to make meetings engaging. If organised correctly, branch meetings gives members the opportunity to plan activities and give their views on current affairs. If you take this away or profoundly change these meetings, where would this planning take place? Some members would be disengaged if not part of the small core that organise events and share ideas.

What are we doing electing each other to internal positions every year when we could be spending that time and energy talking to the electorate?

The fundamental question here is why do people join political parties? I joined in 2008 but only went to one meeting for a year because 99% of what was happening was done by one person. I wanted to do something, so I was not really that interested in listening to one other person getting to do all the fun stuff. Electing someone to a position may be a facade, but if that keeps them doing things on a voluntary basis then so much the better. Since my own CLP disbanded the General Committee structure, which meant branch delegates were no longer in post, main CLP meeting numbers fell dramatically. A similar thing happened when the District Council disbanded. This is not a co-incidence. It is very easy for Liz Kendall to say internal promotions are meaningless whilst she sits atop everything as MP, a role no-one else can do whilst she is in post, which given her age may be a long time. You simply must give people a reason to be involved.

Why should the central party have such a grip over every aspect of campaigning and messaging when it is local people who often understand what works best in their area?

This is simply untrue. The central party does not control messaging. We designed all of Pat's leaflets, every word of it and the central party checked it for overall policy compliance. This is fine because national policy cannot be regionally fragmented and if no checks occurred there would be the inevitable contradictions in messages. There is always a box left blank in our election literature for local issues. Suggesting there is no local input is simply wrong.

Can we really call asking three uninspiring and one-sided questions of the electorate a "Conversation" and if not, why did we ask members to have 5 million of these interactions?

Elections are won and lost on simple messages. If you don't believe me, think about effective it was for the Tories to ask the electorate "Do you want Ed Miliband as Prime Minister and if so, do you want him controlled by the SNP?" That one question swung everything. Regardless of what you think of spin, it's a combination of arguments presented in a form that is understood by the electorate that causes a uniform reaction that decides elections.

Monday, 24 August 2015

A Light Look on the Bright Side

Jeremy Corbyn will be the next leader of the Labour Party. The result itself is astounding. To offer you a pop-culture perspective on his gravitas, Corbyn didn't even have his own puppet in Newzoids before the election nor did he feature in Spitting Image in the 1990's despite being an MP throughout both the periods these satirical programmes mocked. On a side note, he can look forward to Series 2 of Newzoids, where he is sure to feature!

In terms of image, Corbyn can currently do no wrong. The media, certainly the usually hyper critical public, are giving him a honeymoon period last enjoyed by Blair in the mid 1990's. (Sorry to mention Blair, I know it's not allowed these days.) Maybe One Direction have announced they are to split today because they have realised they will never reach the heights of popularity that Jeremy Corbyn is currently enjoying. Of course I am speaking firmly tongue-in-cheek, but Corbyn would come a lot closer to packing out Wembley Stadium than any other politician I can think of at present.

This article will look on the bright side. I understand the arguments about the hazards of lurching to the left and the concerns that we will appeal firmly to our core vote and no-one else. The problem is that pre-Corbyn we were in grave danger of losing our core vote as we winked in the direction of floating and opposition party voters and our core voters felt they were forgotten and taken for granted. We only need look to the Lib Dems for evidence on what happens when you lose your core vote, it doesn't end well.

Corbyn's ascension (a deliberate reference to the best YouTube comment I read that was perhaps sarcastic when they said, "It is no irony that Jesus Christ and Jeremy Corbyn have the same initials") means that any seeping of votes to UKIP or the Greens will be negated as the left unites around a candidate who really speaks their language. In fact, when has the media covered comments made by UKIP or the Greens since Corbyn mania took hold? We haven't, as the media is far too interested in Corbyn and the public are apparently besotted. Time will tell how many of them, but the allure of something new and more importantly, something different will be appealing to many voters who vote in a binary fashion of who piques their interest.

A sign that we sometimes overstate the issues themselves and proof that we must appeal in terms of both detail and superficiality was listening to Any Questions on Radio 4, where Jeremy Corbyn offered a vastly different approach to the usual populist line that gets applause when it is stated by someone that "Britain is for the Brits". Corbyn correctly states that migrants are a net contributor to the economy, however, he goes further still to suggest that we should offer asylum to those in difficulty and Britain should embrace our responsibilities to both EU and Non-EU immigrants, especially when hardship is being suffered or they come from a war-torn country. Corbyn received wild applause when making this point whereas before the election he would have been met with derision and "oooh's" from the crowd.

Is it that the dissenters are persuaded? I doubt it, but the coverage is now being given to the alternative arguments to immigration, welfare, austerity and other matters where we previously held a more moderate position. The "left" (a reference I hate because it currently refers to how close to New Labour one is) arguments have been silent for some time. This is the source of Corbyn's popularity. People with a view that austerity is not the answer had no voice as Labour tried to learn from the criticisms we received after the 2010 General Election. The marginal parties picked up on this, but many voters remained loyal and voted for Labour under some duress. Sensing they now have a genuine chance to shape the direction of a party that can (at least in theory) win in 2020, they have eagerly grasped this opportunity.

In the 2015 General Election, Labour followed a logical approach that sought to react to the broadly accepted view (certainly the loudest one) was that we had little economic credibility and could not win without admitting our mistakes and pledging to be more sensible in the future. This led to a sensible but confused "we will also cut spending, but in a nicer way than the Tories" offering to the public, which did not inspire the voter to switch allegiances in enough numbers to change the result.

Being seen as "Tory lite" is toxic for our chances so we must move away from any accusation of it. The unique offering of Jeremy Corbyn is he offers a genuine choice and a completely different approach. I believe we should not be cutting local government spending at all and if he can offer a solution where local spending can be fair, whilst not appearing frivolous in terms of spending to the wider public, I will support his plans and be happy to do so. Where there is genuine choice, people can choose and hopefully they choose Labour, so let's look on the bright side and realise the standard line of "you are all the same" has far less credibility moving forward! The 2015 election taught us that "not being them" is not enough to win, so we must accept that we will now be treading a new path and unite to make the best of it.

Once Jeremy Corbyn is elected, he will have many challenges to overcome. Can he attract support from across the electorate? Can he negate the advantage the Tories will hand themselves when they redraw the boundaries? Can he unite Labour after a difficult election campaign (that was far too long)? I believe he stands to make better progress in Scotland than we would otherwise have achieved and gaining 20 or 30 seats won back in Scotland would certainly come in handy. We know that the Scottish vote is fickle given the unprecedented swings in May. They could come back.

It might all end in tears, but I see little in the other candidates that suggests our democratic epiphany exists in that direction. Politics is certainly not predictable so for us to say we are doomed does not take into account the surprising developments we have witnessed in 2015. So I'm game. I did vote for Andy Burnham because I like him as a candidate and I have never been one for jumping mindlessly onto any bandwagon, but I can tell when the jigs up. Corbyn is going to win, so let's see where this goes.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

In Corb We Trust?

It might be a little controversial but I am not one to not say what I think. Here is a video with me discussing my thoughts on the Labour Leadership contest.

Monday, 20 July 2015

19th July Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

The hot topic in the Labour Party is can Jeremy do it? We discuss many issues arising from the Leadership battle that is becoming more interesting by the day. Click play using the button below to have a listen.

Whilst we are not going to do weekly podcasts any more it is still worth subscribing via iTunes. Click the big button on the right to subscribe so you always know when a new show is available to download.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Don't Celebrate Just Yet

For the avoidance of doubt, I support the Fox Hunting Act as it is and there should be no diluting or repeal of the bill. However, please take a moment before rejoicing over the Tories deciding to suspend the vote.

The suspension followed an announcement from the SNP that they would forgo previous parliamentary conventions whereby SNP MPs abstain or do not vote for legislation not directly related to Scotland. Facing an embarrassing defeat, the Tories scrapped the vote. As I say a huge victory for public activism, or is it? Unfortunately not, as I will explain below.

In the current political makeup of the chamber, English Votes for English Laws means an increased Tory majority in of over 50 MPs. In what I view as an incredible admission, Downing Street have confirmed they will re-run the hunting vote once the SNP cannot vote on the amendments. In other words, they will vote again once they have arbitrarily increased their notional majority to guarantee their amendments will go through.

In one respect this is devastatingly sensible. Any good politician will tell you that if you go to a vote wondering if you are going to win you have probably already lost. It is, however, crushing for the many people who have written to their MP very concerned about the changes and urging the MPs support, even if they are giddy with their apparent success this afternoon. In a constituency such as North West Durham, where Pat Glass has never wavered from voting against such proposals, her support is welcome but ultimately the parliamentary majority of the Tories will tell in the end, particularly once the (now assured) constitutional change takes place.

It could have all been very different. The SNP have predictably played to the gallery and missed a trick with superficial and ill thought out tactics. Sitting on slim and very fickle majorities, they will have seen for the first time a true deluge of correspondence from their constituents. There is no greater engagement in campaigning than animal welfare so when you hear an MP say "the postbag has been full" trust me they really mean it on this issue.

Instead of announcing their intent to vote with Labour against the amendments, would it not have been far better for the SNP to say nothing and then crash into the "No" lobbies in a surprise move? Could they not have resisted goading the Tories for one day? It seems not. Their need to appease their voters amid their own insecurity won through allowing Cameron to retreat and live to fight another day. Even if Cameron had re-run a vote in the future once English votes for English Law had been introduced, it would have been far easier to criticise him for doing so if he had lost tomorrow.

As it happened, with the knowledge of a likely defeat Cameron could not risk being hit with the stick he so effectively hit Ed Miliband with during the 2015 General Election campaign where he said the SNP would be calling all of the shots. They certainly have this time, but the Tories have a more long term plan. Where Nicola Sturgeon is right, however, is when she says this shows how slim the Tory majority really is. I said that right from polling day, it won't ever be plain sailing for Cameron and Osborne in this parliament, but it will certainly be a lot easier in certain issues without the SNP vote siding with the opposition.

So whilst 38 degrees will sell this as a government climbdown due to public activism, the truth is it was nothing but pure politics at work here. The vote will be re-run, Labour MPs will promise to vote against, then the Tories will win. It is disappointing for the activists who care greatly about this issue, but it has wider implications for how the politics of this parliament will play out.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Osborne Sharpens His Axe

It was a Conservative pledge prior to the General Election that a majority Tory government would cut £12 billion from the welfare bill if they were elected. Plans are now being made by Chancellor Osborne to go ahead with the most severe cuts to welfare spending in living memory. Surprisingly few people seem to understand the scale of these cuts and I have had to bite my tongue when a friend posted a YouTube video saying do not cut £12 billion, simply cut MP wages and expenses instead.

Many people who were anti-Tory voted Green and no doubt went to bed feeling good about themselves and many made a stand against foreign folk having the audacity to wish to live here and voted UKIP. Both woke up to a Tory government. These voters are now reverting to type, filling the inboxes of Labour MPs via lobbying mediums such as 38 degrees asking "Will you vote against these cuts?" and participating in other campaigns handed to them by the unelected lobbyists. That's another story. For the record, the Labour MPs certain will vote against thee cuts, but there is not enough of them so it's pretty meaningless.

£12 billion cut from the welfare budget is 12,000 million pounds so you can expect very unpalatable announcements. You don't think George Osborne has held back these cuts because he thinks you are going to like it do you? There is also a presumption that this is the extent of the cuts to welfare, however, there is certainly the prospect and I believe the likelihood that there will be more cuts in the future on top of the impending cuts we know about.

So what do I expect to be cut? I will give my predictions here and we will see how close I am. I hope I am wrong by the way, but here they are.

  • Housing benefit cut for everyone under 25. 
  • Disability benefit cut to the levels of Jobseekers Allowance.
  • Fitness to work tests receiving tightened criteria.  
  • The welfare cap going down to £23,000 and then very soon to £20,000. 
  • Child Tax Credits limited to 2, possibly 3 children. 
  • A tightening of working tax credits criteria.

On this point the government have gotten away with an absolute scandal of a policy sales pitch. They are suggesting that by reducing working tax credits employers will cover the difference with increased wages. The very suggestion that companies will turn around after the budget and say to an employee "I note you are down (say) £20 per week in working tax credits, so here is a pay rise" is complete fallacy. I expect Tories will say that making working pay is one part making benefit not pay and to this end they are making real progress. Anyone struggling to make ends meet now faces real problems in the very near future.

I almost feel for the Lib Dems. They always said they acted as a brake against pure Conservative policy. After the emergency budget we will probably have to concede that they were in fact a brake on Tory plans and that with Osborne at the wheel and the pedal firmly to the ideological metal, the Conservatives will be using their surprise election win to justify a their continued dogmatic surge towards smaller government both centrally and locally, a vastly reduced welfare state and an increasingly free market in terms of both business and labour.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Mistakes of Politics and Being Political

There is an inbuilt ambition in all of us, whether we admit it or not. The public dislike the welfare system because it is seen to offer an alternative to work which is adequate. In order to satisfy low income working families, a huge part of the voting electorate by the way, there must be a correlation between efforts to succeed and rewards for doing so. The welfare system must provide a safety net but not affluence. I believe the role of Politics is to provide pathways where effort can be rewarded. If that makes me Tory then so be it, I believe I stand with the majority of the country where I say that welfare system is a support mechanism but shouldn't be a lifestyle.

We live in a society where social mobility is far more inflexible than it was 10 years ago. I used to quit my jobs when the going got tough, if they treat me badly I just left because I knew I'd find another job. I am far more mature than I was, maybe it's the mortgage! Young people these days leave University and enter the labour market into a huge pool of equal talent with very little to differentiate each person. I would have been completely and totally lost in today's labour market as a young man. I would have succumbed to a terrible job and felt underutilised, frustrated and probably depressed. Unless you stand out from the crowd with a brash exterior and heaps of self-belief you could drown in the competition. It's tough to remain confident following setbacks and in an age where to even receive a rejection letter is rare, it's easy for confidence to erode over time when even such a simple life aspiration like finding work and having independent income seems beyond a person.

Think about the realities for young people these days. They must work longer to receive a state pension which will only be payable for young people today at the age of around 70 - 75. Careers lasting longer for most means less vacancies and slower career progression. It means more frustration as workers await opportunities and more competition when that opportunity does arise. This leads to lateral job movement so you are fighting for positions that have applicants who have already done the exact job somewhere else. Is it little wonder there is more new businesses launching with people taking massive risks? Pursuing a normal career is not as attractive as it was even just 5 years ago. It is fine for people at the top.

The choice for young people these days is spending 30 years slowly going up the career ladder with no guarantees or taking a shot at running their own business with even a small hope of hitting it big and having everything they ever dreamed of. I believe owning my own business in some form is my only chance of making a large income over £50,000 a year. I will not be able do this in the public sector.

I reject any assertion by the Conservative government that the entrepreneurial spirit we see in the country today, with the number of new businesses starting around the country increasing month on month is an achievement they can take credit for. I believe the unequal country they have created and the great difficulty in progressing within conventional employment routes means that desperation and not aspiration fuels the increase in self-employment. That is testimony to those seeking to do well by the limited means available to them as the jobs market has let them down. Labour needs to catch up. People are trying to build their own future and we need to support them.

There are people like me all over the place who are trying hard but struggling to break through, who do all the recommended actions but watch others succeeding instead of them. It is frustrating to watch people using sharp networking and personal favours rather than effort and attainment to progress in their lives. This can easily result in a protest vote because they feel they have plenty of protest about. But I am not giving up and neither should you. For those that do quit, they are sealing their own future and that is their choice.

The Political party that accepts people want to be successful, run businesses, earn money and feel fulfilled and offers a package that shows they understand this will win support. I do not want any handouts or help, I just want to know that there is social justice in terms of fairness of opportunity and that there will be a reflection of our efforts and that if I am good enough, nothing will prevent me getting fair equity from life. A party that inspires the electorate wins. For many people, once they have crossed the ballot box, they hope not for an easy ride, but a level playing field where being good actually matters.

The rest is down to us, but there must be a path to walk down in order to succeed. It is that path that politics must provide.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Labour Leadership Video

Nominations closed yesterday for the Labour Leadership.

The candidates are as follows, with links to their websites;

Here is a short video I recorded yesterday giving my thoughts on the Leadership, including my view that we need to focus on getting back into power in 2020, rather than a debate on identity, as I do not feel our ideology is in question. It is simply a case of presenting an attractive package to the electorate that they are prepared to vote for.

Durham County Council Chief to Retire

Durham County Council's Chief Executive, George Garlick, has announced he is to retire in January 2016. Mr Garlick has been Chief Executive of Durham County Council since 2008 and oversaw the massive restructuring when the council became the single unitary authority in County Durham. He has announced his intention to retire to allow the process of appointing his successor ample time to take place.

Rachel Wearmouth of The Chronicle reports that Mr Garlick always intended to retire at his 60th birthday. According to his biography on the County Durham Community Foundation website Mr Garlick started his career as a teacher before teaching in the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency’s college in Riyadh for two years before returning to England. He then worked as a solicitor with various councils in England before becoming Assistant Chief Executive with Cumbria County Council in 1993. In 1995 George was appointed as the first Chief Executive for Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council and in 2007 he was awarded an OBE for services to local government.

The post of Chief Executive, with a generous pay package of £200,000 per annum plus the opportunity to earn large bonuses, will attract interest many of the top civil servants in the North East, including potential internal candidates like the current Assistant Chief Executive, Lorraine O'Donnell and portfolio Directors Terry Collins, Don McLure, Ian Thompson and Rachael Shimmin.

The new Chief Executive is likely to have a baptism of fire, however, with councillors already holding discussions to consider how to allocate ever decreasing funds following the latest round of central government spending reductions, which are expected to be confirmed in the next budget delivered by Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Labour Leaders Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

We return to discuss the Labour Leadership election in a 25 minute podcast. We discuss Jeremy Corbyn's nomination and how we feel the debate will be shaped moving forward as well as our own views.

Please subscribe via iTunes using the link at the right hand side of this page so you always know when a new show is available and thank you for listening!