Archive for the 'Labour' Category


Eight months on from GE17 how LAB doing is performing in the polls compared with earlier main opposition parties at the same stage

Friday, February 9th, 2018

David Cowling, the leading election analyst and former head of BBC political research, has produced an excellent paper which asks the question of why Corbyn’s Labour is not doing better in the polls.

The response that is coming from the party to recent surveys is to refer back to the polling what happened on June 8th and the fact that party did better than most, though not all, of the surveys on the day itself.

The concluding part of the Cowling analysis looks at how other main opposition parties have been doing in the polls eight compared to the election outcome. He concludes:

“… one is left to wonder at the under-performance of Labour, post-2017, especially given the state of the Conservative party that they are facing. Mrs May still has higher ratings as the best candidate for Prime Minister than Mr Corbyn. The Labour leader has never once achieved a positive rating in the Ipsos MORI time series on satisfaction/dissatisfaction with party leaders, unlike every other Labour Opposition leader since the 1970s. The Conservatives are still better regarded than Labour in terms of managing the economy. And, despite the fact that a clear majority of voters believe the Conservatives are handling the Brexit negotiations badly, they are still preferred over Labour as the party most likely to secure the best outcome.

Labour can justifiably point to a number of issues where they are preferred to the Conservatives, including the NHS, Housing, Education and Unemployment; and they are seen as the party most on the side of ‘ordinary’ people. But why does this not translate into increased political support? It is not as if Labour is currently struggling against other strong contenders for Conservative votes: UKIP has totally collapsed and the Lib Dems have only reached double figures in one opinion poll (out of 68) since the 2017 election.

The Westminster graveyard is littered with the corpses of party leaders who claimed it would be “alright on election night”. As increasing numbers of people are observing, if Labour cannot put the Conservatives on the canvas when Mrs May is leading them, then what chance will they have against another Conservative leader? Labour has been lucky that everyone’s attention has been on Conservative woes. That luck will not last forever.”

Mike Smithson


Jon Trickett – Labour’s man to sort out the outsourcing mess?

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

Don Brind on the politics of the post-Carrilion world

When Jon Trickett was leader of the Leeds City Council in the early 90s he had a regular Friday date with finance department officials. He got them to bring along every bill the council had paid that week. He then pulled out at random a number of bills to prompt a discussion on whether the ratepayers had got value for money from suppliers.

“I hate waste” declares Trickett and his hands-on approach to public procurement was designed to inculcate a tight-fisted culture of amongst councillors and officials. He says they indentified lots of savings that were reinvested in council services.

He took that mindset to Westminster when he was elected at the Hemsworth by-election in 1996. And it informs his thinking now as the member of Team Corbyn tackling what he describes as the “rigged system” of outsourcing and privatisation.

He is leading the charge over the collapse of Carillion and the troubles at Capita but Trickett has been on the case for the best part of five years. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership he drew up radical plans to ensure that social as well as financial criteria were used in public procurement. The near £200 billion a year of national and local government spending on private contractors would be used to drive policies like the Living Wage, apprenticeships, equal pay and to fight tax fraud.

In the Commons  the junior Cabinet Officer minister Oliver Dowden trotted out the standard defence for privatisation and outsourcing. These companies “have a specialty in delivering such services, so they can deliver them more efficiently. That means there are savings for the taxpayer.”

Not so, says Professor Colin Crouch of Warwick Business School. He argues firms win contracts in fields where they have no track record or professional knowledge because “their core business” is “knowing how to win government contracts: how to bid and how to develop contacts with officials and politicians.”

It is, of course, true that the private sector was widely used to deliver services by the last Labour government and Tories have a favourite quote from Gordon Brown that “It simply would not have been possible to build or refurbish such a number of schools and hospitals without using the PFI model.”

The implication is that Labour is divided and that Trickett is speaking for only the Left of the party. The contributions in the Commons by John Spellar, Luciana Berger and Rachael Reeves,– none of them Corbynistas — put the lie to that.

Spellar said there there are “two separate but linked problems: the business model and the performance of these companies? Like Carillion, Capita seems to be part of the over-concentrated, over-leveraged, dividend-and-bonus-exploiting culture that relies on the state to bail out failure. Capita incompetence is only too clear from its lamentable performance on the recruitment contract for the armed services.”

Berger said Capita’s £1 billion contract for the delivery of NHS England’s primary care support services was beset with serious problems including “patient safety, GP workload and an effect on GP finance …The service falls far short of what is acceptable”.

Reeves, the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee said there were striking similarities between Capita and Carillion – “both have debts of more than £1 billion and pensions deficits in the hundreds of millions; both paid out dividends of more than £1 billion in the past five years; both rely on the public purse for half of their contracts; both were audited by KPMG; and both grew through acquisition and not through organic growth.

“Jobs, pensions, small businesses and vital public services now depend on these outsourcing companies, but it is time we rethought the whole strategy for public service provision. How many more warning signs do the Government need?”

Although Trickett has been working in this area for several years Labour’s policies are still work in progress. The party holds an important conference in Glasgow this week on Alternative models of ownership . A background paper for the conference says “The predominance of private property ownership has led to a lack of long-term investment and declining rates of productivity, undermined democracy, left regions of the country economically forgotten, and contributed to increasing levels inequality and financial insecurity. Alternative forms of ownership can fundamentally address these problems.”

Although old-style nationalisation will be part of the menu, as I have argued here previously it will be a relatively small part of Labour’s economic programme.
Under a Corbyn government the state will continue to be a purchase of goods and services on a massive scale. As the veteran Labour MP Barry Sheerman “there is nothing wrong with a public-private partnership: what is important is getting the contract and the relationship right. What went wrong in many PFIs was rotten contracts that still bedevil local hospitals and local schools.”

That’s the task facing John Trickett. I think he’s the right man for the job.

Don Brind


Why Tony Blair should be Diane Abbott’s role model

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Don Brind on the shadow HomeSec

There was something churlish about Diane Abbott’s attempt to put down Tony Blair recently — “no one can now remember that they supported Tony Blair.”

She surely can’t have forgotten how the then Labour leader came to her defence in one of the most uncomfortable phases of her career when she sent son to a fee paying school.

She is now Shadow Home Secretary the job in which Blair made his name. If she could shed her ideological antipathy she would acknowledge that Blair did an outstanding job for Labour in that role. In a 1993 New Statesman article he first offered to pledge to be “tough on crime and tough on the underlying causes of crime”.

Law and order had been an issue that played well for the Tories but with flair and persistence Blair invaded their territory. It was a vital strand in Labour’s campaigning through to 1997 and played a part in getting Blair the leadership in 1994.

Criticising Abbott doesn’t come easy for anyone in the Labour Party because of the fear of finding yourself in some unsavoury company. She has, without doubt, been the target of some deeply unpleasant racist and misogynist abuse. She explained to the Guardian how she tries to avoid allowing it to interfere with her work.

It’s also true that she was not the only campaigner to be involved in a “car crash” interview during the General Election  Boris Johnston and Jeremy Corbyn also got maulings from interviewers.

But when all the alibis are in, the judgement must be that as a Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott is not a patch on Tony Blair.

Other Labour MPs are making the running in this key area, notably backbenchers Sarah Jones and Vicky Foxcroft on the issue of knife crime 
and junior frontbenchers Gloria De Piero and Louise Haigh, the shadow justice and policing ministers. They argue it’s time for Labour to reclaim its position as the party of law and order.

De Piero and Haigh are unafraid to celebrate the record of the Blair-Brown governments. “Under the last Labour government we invested more in our police and criminal justice system than any other country in the OECD and slashed crime rates by over a third. It took a Labour government to pass the Race Relations Act and tough laws on LGBT and disability hate crime. It was Labour who first introduced legal aid to ensure everyone had the right to obtain justice whether rich or poor.”

They declare “The Tories have vacated the ground on law and order, it’s time for Labour to occupy it as our natural territory once again.

As I found last June Labour’s key policy of recruiting 10,000 police officers played well on the doorstep but as Mike Smithson argues Labour must be ready for the long haul.

Policing and crime needs to be in the forefront of Labour campaigning. As De Piero and Haigh point out “deprived communities suffer most” when police are cuts lead to rising crime. Half of the communities with the highest crime rates are found in the top 20 per cent of areas with the highest levels of chronic health problems.

Suggesting that the Labour leader should get himself a new Shadow Home Secretary would be a waste of breathe. Jeremy and Diane go back a long way –during a romantic period in early 80s he took her on a first date to Highgate cemetery. The mutual affection and loyalty persists.

So perhaps the best we can hope for is that the Labour leader says to his old friend “If you want me to be Prime Minister you have got to raise your game.”

Don Brind


In defence of John McDonnell. Don Brind denounces the “interview as humiliation”

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

“If only we Germans had a word for it”.

The BBC’s comedy news programme The Now Show came up with an imagined quote from Chancellor Angela Merkel reflecting on how her failure to form a new German coalition government was being relished by her detractors.

Two alleged car crash interviews by the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell also inspired Schadenfreude and it was probably not confined to Tories. Over the years McDonnell has rubbed up against plenty of his PLP colleagues who would no doubt have felt that joy at the humiliation of another.

The Shadow Chancellor’s first encounter with Andrew Neil on the BBC Budget programme had them salivating . The second, with Mishal Hussein on the Today programme produced a splash for the Standard (remind me, who is the editor?). It claimed McDonnell was “ridiculed today when he repeatedly failed to put a figure on Labour’s borrowing plans”

McDonnell is one of Team Corbyn’s best communicators but he was below par on his early morning outing. He nonetheless made a perfectly sound case for investment in infrastructure “Every infrastructure project you put out there immediately starts employing people, they start paying their taxes and as a result of that you cover your costs.

But he threw in a complaint about “the type of journalism where you go into an interview and someone asks you a question of a particular figure, is to be honest, a trite form of journalism.”

It came across as a whinge but whenever I hear an interviewer ask repeat a simple question and then complain the politician hasn’t answered it I hear echoes of the Jeremy Paxman’s signature Newsnight interview in which he directed the same question to the then Home secretary Michael Howard twelve times.

That 1997 interrogation was widely admired and emulated but it became increasingly clear that Paxman’s journalism stemmed from deep cynicism and contempt for politics and politicians. This was confirmed five years later when he authored The Political Animal. It was reviewed in the New Statesman by John Lloyd . I made his powerful critique required reading for my students when I turned my hand to teaching politics and journalism.

Paxman, argued Lloyd, sees politicians as “demented, empty, lickspittle bunch; indeed, many may be psychologically flawed.” and Parliament as a “pantomime”.

According to Paxman, MPs see the fact politics has moved away from the Commons to the studios as a “Bad Thing, since it deprives them of the opportunity to hold the government to account in the cockpit of democracy. They have yet to explain why this process can be done only in a converted chapel under rules of conduct, some of which date back to the 16th century.”

Lloyd concluded gloomily “Paxman – as an approach rather than an individual – has won. His style of journalism – the interview as humiliation, or personality clash – is now the preferred type

“Broadcast news and current affairs, for all its many splendours, is now an anti-democratic conspiracy. No one, it seems, can do anything about it.”

That’s undoubtedly an overstatement – I certainly don’t believe that McDonnell’s interrogators, Andrew Neil and Mishal Hussein, share Paxman’s cynicism and contempt. But when you hear a question repeated over and over it’s worth asking whether that question is aimed at enhancing understanding of a complex issue or whether it’s about making the journalist look good and showing the politician is a fool.

Don Brind


Letter to Laura. Does Momentum want to help Jeremy control the party or run the country?

Monday, November 20th, 2017

“When are we going to convert you?” I was frankly rather flattered to be asked that question by Laura Parker, then political secretary to Jeremy Corbyn and now national director of Momentum.

Her question was whether, in effect, I had abandoned my Corbo-scepticism following the General Election in which her boss had led Labour to a better than expected result. I pointed her to my PB verdict on that result. I said I was wrong – and right — about Jeremy: that he had been both a vote winner and a vote loser.

That judgement probably still stands. There is a Marmite quality to Corbyn that, despite the government’s multiple mishaps, helps explain why Labour and the Tories are level pegging in the polls as are Corbyn and Theresa May in the personal ratings.

That’s not to deny that Labour have been making a strong showing since the election, winning arguments, especially on the economy and public services, and votes in the Commons, all spearheaded by Corbyn’s confident performances at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Nonetheless, the successes haven’t been reflected in the polls. The party does need to do better, even if Tony Blair’s suggestion that it ought to be 15-20% ahead is, to my mind, rather fatuous. Matt Singh offers a more granular analysis of why the chaotic goings on in the Tory Cabinet are not moving the polls.

My focus here is on what role Momentum, under its new leadership, will play in boosting Labour’s fortunes.

The divisions in the Tory party highlighted by the infamous Telegraph “Mutineers” splash  are both an opportunity and an awful warning for Labour. My question to comrade Parker – of whom I’m a big fan — obviously focuses on the awful warning bit.

Momentum boasts more than 30,000 members and as many as 200,000 supporters among a total Labour membership of 550,000. – more than all the other parties put together.

Wise heads at Westminster see Momentum as a hard core of ideologues plus a much larger army of idealists but who can be driven together by ham-fisted opposition by irreconcilable Corbyn opponents. They note that loyalists figure strongly among front benchers there are more than two dozen Tribune group members among them. This is a good basis for keeping Labour MPs working together.

The big worry is about Momentum’s capacity to foment debilitating divisions in local parties. The political editor of the Manchester Evening News Jennifer Williams provides an interesting case study. The city council’s business friendly economic policies – “which have regularly seen Manchester feted nationally as a northern urban success story” is being challenged by Momentum. She reports that Momentum has had very limited success in council selections but quotes one  local MP talking of  “a decade-long fight for the soul of the Labour party.”

Council selections are in full spate for next year’s May elections in other big cities, including the 32 London Boroughs, as well as more than 200 shire districts. My own experience in Wandsworth makes me fairly sanguine. In elections for party officers in Tooting the Momentum slate was comfortably defeated but , more significantly, party members from all sides were out campaigning the next day in a council by-election. Local eyes are set on a big prize – seizing control next of Wandsworth council which has been in Tory hands for 40 years.

Victory in a General Election is an even bigger prize and the Guardian’s Zoe Williams hits the nail on the head. She says Labour is looking more purposeful and coherent, “But what would really distinguish it, ahead of an election that cannot be far off, would be to foster an atmosphere of generosity and trust.”

I agree. I hope Laura does too.

Don Brind


LAB’s most successful election winner the latest to question why Corbyn’s party isn’t further ahead

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

The record suggests that when LAB’s ahead the Tories are being understated

Tony Blair is the person of course, that people like Team Corbyn never like even to acknowledge even though he’s the one living LAB leader who has been an election winner. In fact he’s the only leader never to have lost a general election.

One of the points I like to highlight with red team supporters is that the last time a non-Blair led LAB won a sustainable working majority was Harold Wilson in 1966 – that’s more than half a century ago.

Before the last election there was a strong narrative from leading commentators that the polls just about ALWAYS overstate LAB thus even the substantial leads that many of the pollsters were showing for Team Theresa were an understatement.

That was rather dashed when the exit poll came out and supported the earlier Nate Silver analysis that the Tory understatement generally happened when they were behind in the polls.

Thus even Tony Blair went into the 1997 and 2001 elections with poll leads far in excess of what was achieved. That didn’t matter because he still won by big vote margins and was helped by the hugely efficient way the election system worked for the party.

Things have changed. Over the past two general election the Tories have been the prime beneficiaries of electoral bias thus reinforcing the main point of Blair’s latest observations. LAB leads needs now substantially higher then 2 or 3 points.

Remember in the run up to GE2015 EdM had many double digit leads but ended up with Cameron gaining a surprise majority.

Mike Smithson


Labour joy and Tory gloom

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Don Brind reflects on the conference season

A few weeks ago I was helping a front bencher prepare for a TV appearance and we guessed that one of the questions might be “Do you agree with Laura Pidcock?” She is the newbie MP who declared she wouldn’t hang out with Tory women because she regards them as “enemy”.

The more emollient reply we came up with was: “There are some Tories I like. I just don’t want them running the country.”

For me a perfect example of this approach is former MP and whip, Michael Brown who I lunched with recently. He is great company but the Tory government he was part of – John Major’s – made a bit of a hash of ruling Britain.

With the help of some great talent spotting by veteran lobby correspondent Colin Brown, the ex-MP reinvented himself as the Independent’s parliamentary sketch writer. He still dines in Tory circles – with among others David Davis and Patrick McLoughlin– but he sounds like a journalist.

“I told the party chairman, the longer Theresa May hangs on in Downing Street the bigger Jeremy Corbyn’s majority will be.”

“Jeremy Corbyn will save the Tory party. Young people need to find out that Labour governments always make a mess of things.”

This familiar Tory belief that they are better than Labour at running the economy doesn’t square with the facts — as the public finance expert Professor Richard Murphy of City University, has shown.

Labour government’s are more prudent than Tory governments — Tories have been the biggest borrowers since the war  and that picture holds good if you run the numbers from 1979.

The Big Lie in British politics is the one peddled by George Osborne, with support from Nick Clegg, that the Labour government – rather than American banks — caused the crash of 2007/8. Equally mendacious is the Tory claim to have created a “strong and stable” economy. The claim rests solely only on the jobs numbers, which were subjected to a searching analysis  by Alastair Meeks of this parish a couple of weeks ago.

A genuinely strong economy would be producing rising livings standards and be capable of properly funding vital public services including health and education. That is manifestly not true after seven years under a Tory Chancellor.

The economy is shaky because there are fundamental weaknesses which the Conservatives have neglected including the productivity gap of around 30% with key competitors, a failure to invest enough in infrastructure and skills where the jobs of the future come from, a persistent deficit of around £100 billion a year in trade with the rest of the world and dangerously high household debt.

The question of how a Labour government will deal with the dismal inheritance from the Tories lurked behind the rapture of fans of Jeremy Corbyn in Brighton. They understandably took the chance to celebrate after standing by their man against sceptics like me.

The mood was extraordinary. I’ve seen nothing quite like it before and I’ve been conference-going since 1972.

Despite the buzz my judgement is that Corbyn’s “government in waiting” is not ready yet. I am, however, more sanguine than some other Corbyn sceptics inside and outside the party. I offer three bits of evidence for believing the party is moving in the right direction.
Firstly, I believe that Labour is developing an industrial strategy that will deal with both the opportunities and threats created by the digital revolution. An interesting meeting organised by Labour Business and Fujitsu was addressed by two of the smartest people on Corbyn’s front bench, Chi Onwurah and Liam Byrne. They are people to watch.

Digital is already pervasive across most industries and services and the impact on the future employment market will be huge. I was, therefore, encouraged that Corbyn and his Shadow Health Education Secretary cast their “cradle to the grave” national education service as a part of economic policy – vital to reskilling workers as new jobs are developed.

My third reason for optimism was a line in John McDonnell’s speech.

“And, yes, in 1997, after 18 years of Thatcherism, when whole industries and communities across our country had been destroyed by the Tories and our public services were on their knees, it was the Blair/Brown Government that recognised and delivered the scale of public investment that a 21st century society needed.

“We should never forget that we are part of that great Labour tradition and we should be so proud of it.”

Wow. Praise for New Labour from a Corbynista.

What I take from this is that McDonnell is rightly desperate to become Chancellor and to realise that ambition he’s willing to take lessons from wherever they come.

Don Brind


Looking at conference rhetoric – the politics of fear and the politics of hope

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

A guest slot by CycleFree

It has become a truism that political campaigns based on fear are doomed to fail. Positive visions, hope and excitement are what we want, apparently. And there is some evidence to support this: Corbyn’s genuinely inspiring campaigning for what he has said and believed these last four (five?) decades, the increasingly desperate Remain campaign and, of course, May’s abysmal GE campaign, which wholly failed to explain why Corbyn’s choices and what they say about his character, judgment and, therefore, how he would govern would affect voters and in ways which resonated with them.

But is this entirely true? Labour’s campaigns have always stoked fears that the NHS will be destroyed if the Tories are in power. Leave’s campaign last year was based in very large part on fear of foreigners, specifically fear of Turks and young male migrants/refugees from unsavoury parts of the world. Corbyn would likely never have won as many middle class/middle aged voters as he did were it not for the latter’s fear that the Tories would take their homes and savings in old age if they fell ill, a fear skilfully exploited by Labour with the “dementia tax label. In both the latter cases, the campaign which won (the referendum or argument) was the one which best exploited people’s fears as well as presenting an appealing vision of a better way (No University Fees! Keep Your Home! Freedom from the EU!) however unachievable, superficial or lacking in detail that vision may have been or, in the case of Brexit, is now being shown as being.

And so to this week’s Labour conference. Forget the now inevitable argument about whether Labour is tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks (it isn’t and it won’t). Forget the ignorant insults aimed at a 96 year old man and his grandson (take a bow Emma Dent-Coad, MP for Kensington. That’s just what your Grenfell Towers constituents elected you for). Forget Shami making a fool of herself yet again suggesting laws one doesn’t like can be ignored. After all she is only following an earlier Baroness and Attorney-General who thought laws were only for others. Forget even Corbyn’s speech: undoubtedly well received in the hall and elsewhere.

No. The most significant thing said this week was McDonnell’s statement that the next Labour government would not be a traditional” Labour one. We would be well advised to take this statement seriously. Traditionally, Labour governments have all sought to reassure as well as be radical: reassure voters that the economy would be safe, if more fairly run, that taxes would only be on the rich, that public services would be nurtured and valued, reassure business that Labour would invest, reassure the markets that Labour would be a sensible custodian of the nation’s finances.

McDonnell’s and Corbyn’s primary aim is not to reassure, other than as a tactic. It is to change very radically Britain’s economic and political settlement. And the “run on the pound” and “war gaming” remarks are not an error. They are an indication that they intend seeing their measures through and taking whatever steps may be necessary to do so. The fact that these may be unprecedented or harmful or have unintended consequences or hurt those who have voted for them may count for little or nothing. So what might these measures be if, say, money starts flowing out of Britain the day after McDonnell gets made Chancellor? Capital controls? Temporary bank closures? Limits on how much people are allowed to take out? A tax on all savings held in banks in the UK above a certain limit? Conversion of savings into bonds or shares? Seizure of savings above a certain limit?

Alarmist? Improbable? Why? All these things happened to ordinary people in Cyprus a mere 5 years ago. Sure they happened as part of a bank bailout and were blessed by the EU and there were special circumstances: the fact that so much Russian and other “dirty” money was in Cyprus made it easier for some to justify. Still, if it happened there, it could happen here and justifications would be easy for Labour to construct. No-one loves the rich or the markets or bankers, especially if they are seen as obstructing an elected government. For the past 30 years or so, the assumption everywhere has been that you can’t or shouldn’t even try to buck the markets. But bucking the markets is exactly what Corbyn and McDonnell want to do. The Tories would do well not to underestimate both the breadth of Corbyn and McDonnell’s vision nor their determination.

If those opposed to this want to make the case for why it will be harmful, they need to start some war gaming of their own. They need to explain how such measures will affect ordinary voters now, not by reference to the 1970’s: not “the markets won’t wear it” or “remember Callaghan and the IMF” but “you won’t be able to pay for that foreign holiday or buy stuff from Amazon in Luxembourg” or 20% of the money Mum had put by for her care has been taken or “the money saved/to be given to us as a deposit for a home will be in shares you won’t be able to sell for years” or “Dad has to pay a wealth tax on his house out of his pension and can’t”. They need to start demolishing, forensically, item by item, those Labour proposals which won’t work – and only those – and they need to start making the case now.

Fear of losing what you have is a powerful motivator, as the reaction to the dementia tax showed. Fear of being made worse off is equally powerful, as the reaction to university fees and interest rates on the loans also showed. It is a key part of any effective campaign. It is not the only one, of course. It won’t necessarily win on its own. So we will have to wait and see for the Tory Conference whether the Tories are capable of attacking Labour intelligently or only each other and, more critically, whether they have any positive story to tell the country.