Category Archives: Labour Ministers

The Present State of the Parties


This is a confusing moment for both the political parties and the electorate. Over the coming weeks and months psephological experts wil be telling us what happended in the Oldham East and Saddleworth  by election and who really lost and won. But the position when taken together with national political polls is reasonably clear. For the Tories we are at an important moment. Since the Coaliton was formed in May 2010 their national standing  has held firm at above 40 % in the polls. In local elections they have held their own. Their members and much of the general public supported the Coalition have been solid, for the most part. Over recent weeks this has changed with the Tory poll ratings slipping and now in Oldham  their vote collapsed. Of course, there was the third party by election syndrome of support switching to the best placed challenger to the incumbent party holding  the seat. However, it is far more importan and disturbing to the Tories  to contemplate that the Tory vote in the North among both the working class and disadvantaged sections of the middle class has collapsed. It is difficult to see just how the Tories will win them back.

For the Lib Dems their vote holdin up is a massive  relief. Working in their favour was public distaste for the departed Labour MP Phil Woolas and some Tory switching but nevertheless it could have been much worse.  Why not? I wonder did the Oldham electorate think that it was time  to get at the real villains of the piece, the Tories. And is this how it is going to be now? The Lib Dems have reached an historic low point in the polls and surely they can go no lower. Now is the voters opportunity to  take it out on the Tories. It is not how the script was written.

The Labour Party is very relieved. It was a solid victory in Oldahmeon a rainy day with the Lib Dem activists gathered in large numbers – and to their credit. The Labour leadership has done little to deserve a victory. Perhaps Labour needs to do nothing at all at the moment. Never mind the lack of judgement, maturity and flair of Ed Miliband and the inadequacies of Alan Johnston. Less said soonest mended seems to be the policy at the moment.. Stand by while public wrath washes about the Coalition. It isn’t a winning policy in the long run. It is not enough to repeat the dirge of a curse on both your houses. What did you Daddy in the great war? Well son, I survived. Good on you Daddy. But what did you do next.

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Three of a Kind


Ruthlessness is a underestimated political virtue. With the election of Ed Miliband as Leader of the Labour Party, we have three ruthless, youngish, men leading our main political parties and the ‘game is a-foot’. Ed Milliband has had the courage to sweep his brother aside, separate himself from a past that had in the end failed his party, and  thus able to re-shape the social democratic message to an electorate that may be  willing, if not now at some time, to listen to him. This is precisely the path that Cameron and Clegg have taken in the pursuit of power. And this is what WE ELECTORS expect of them all.

For the moment the Coalition is centre stage. If we are to be fair they are confronted with a massive challenge to deal with a budget deficit that could swallow us all in a ‘black hole’. Fortunately for Labour it can stand aside if it wishes and the fruit may fall off the tree. If so it must be far more effective in deflecting the blame for our economic woes away from a Labour Government that in some ways failed us. If these massive Coalition budget cuts do not work out well, and they might not, it won’t matter. A decent par round will do the job. After all I remember Nick Faldo winning a major with a final round without any birdies. If the economic outcome is indecisive with a long period of modest growth, which seems to me to be the likely outcome, playing a straight bat and making the right noises (to mix my sporting metaphors) may still do the job. According to the OBR there is a 40 percent chance of the Coalition economic policy producing the goods. Of course the OBR is now under different management so the odds may change by end October. but at the moment the odds are not unattractive.

What should Ed do? Having cleared a space for himself he might place a stress on competence, new faces, appropriate noises, not too many policy initiatives; an Opposition that is co-operative but determined, with  emphasis on a few political strategic issues of importance to us all and where he can win. Push, push, push and hold onto everything he wins.

Can he do it? I think, yes. So far he has been very brave, determined and right. But not many, not really, are watching, and he will not be able to hold the stage. But what an opportunity he has for striking electoral gains in Scotland, Wales and much of England by next May. We all love a winner.

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Say No to the Referendum


Today the House of Commons debates the Referendum Bill which proposes a mix of hybrid measures including a Referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system. The Coalition Tories and the Lib Dems will vote for it while Labour and some backbench Tories will vote against. At the General Election the party positions were reversed Labour proposed a referendun and the Coalition parties opposed. It is reasonable to assume that this Bill is not about reform. It’s purpose is to sustain the Coalition in power. A referendum is about genuflecting in the direction of a reform that no one wants. 

The Coalition is obsessed with holding on to power. A referendum is part of a price paid by the Tories for Lib Dem support of Tory economic policies which they opposed in the General Election. The Lib Dems are willing to go through the motions of achieving an electoral reform which its members do not support as part of the fairy-tale that the price paid for their public office is a fair one.

The Bill contains measures to reduce the number of contituencies by the simple application of the guiding principle that there are too many MPs, despite a rising population, and that the  electorate should be roughly equal in every constituency. Two Lib Dem held seats in Scotland are seen as an exception to the rule but in reality there are many others. The Boundaries Commission considers much more than numbers. It looks for natural communites. Some of these are below an average size  and some have more electors. Now the Commision is to be harried into a process much quicker than it prefers and to conclusions it would nomally resist. It is common knowledge than many electors are not registered to vote and past actions to get all that are entitled onto electoral lists have been inadequate. A Constituency that seems to be on the small side would often reach a national average if potential voters were identified and encouraged to be on the list. A compulsory voting system, which I would prefer, could ensure that every adult was  on the list and did vote. This is not part of the Bill.

If there were a General Election now the opinion polls suggest that the Tories might win. Whenever the election is called there is little doubt that the Lib Dems will be heavily defeated. 

There is every reason for the Labour Party to oppose the Referendum. It is Labour’s duty to bring down the Coalition as soon as it can to prevent changes in British Society that will make it a less just and prosperous society. This is not a time for fine words and delicate consciences. It is a moment to sound the bugle and to oppose.

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Stop the Labour Leadership Vote!


This is an urgent post and one which requires your immediate attention. I have had complaints about the Labour leadership campaign. Some people have described the last tedious weeks as akin to a shy ostrich marooned in an unfriendly space with its head in the sand. I do not think this is entirely apposite. These 5 candidates are not shy and withdrawing: they are loud and demonstrative. But I get the point. They cannot work out what has become of them and prefer to seek solace in the past. However, it will be obvious that if you stick your head in the ground you see nothing at all. Competition brings specialisation: you have the expert nerd with a LOT of experience, the assertive younger son with a specialisation in opposites, the man of the North and hence of the PEOPLE, the bluff man of commonsense with a gift for figures, and a portly, posh black women, who in all her lengthy parliamentary experience has never made it even to the humble position of PPS but now fancies herself as PM. These 5 have in much in common: they are all Oxbridge graduates,  they dress and speak well (in this they clearly have much in common with Nick and Dave), you could bring any of them home to tea and mum would approve. As far as I can gather none of them have had a ‘real’ job. They are not educated in the university of ‘hard knocks’ and what adversity they have suffered since UNI has been of their own making.

So what, you might say. All this cleverness and lack of sweat is what we expect of our political leaders now. Well, yes. But I draw your attention to what has happened since the General Election. In effect Labour has been leaderless although Hariet Harman did us all a favour by revealing our Dave’s lack of attention to detail and the nature of his bullying. She is on holiday now, Parliament is in recess, the sun shines, production rises, we no longer witness shouting and ranting, no more unnecessary laws are hitting the statute books. People could be happy. Over this period of repose and relaxation Labour’s standing with the electorate has risen in the opinion polls and in the natural course of events (and without a leader) will overtake the Tories. Some readers have an instinctive understanding  of the true political position of the Labour Party.Let the Coalition commit hara-kiri  with its programme of cuts, and say tut tut without  a single cross word or the proposal of  any troublesome alternatives.  Coalition MPs will fall about arguing with each other. Why then disturb people with the election of a troublesome busy-busy Leader of the Opposition?

We could ask Harriet to shoulder on. It is her duty. I do not know who was writing her scripts but whoever it was Harriet should stay friendly with him/her. Roll on  laughter, goodness and friendly behaviour and DOWN with scandal, slogans, and ill intent. And can it be kept going, month after month, year after year? Can we usher in a decade of happiness? Our only hope, say correspondents, if we cannot stop this unnecessary and unhelpful election,  is to leave the voting paper on the mantelpiece. Let us proclaim our belief, not in more or less government, but good government, good-sense, and toleration. It is our only hope.

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No Labour Resting Place


In politics there are two things you should not vote for: standing still and moving backwards. The first of these seeming options rests on the assumption that the duty of the Opposition is to oppose – a necessary function –  and not to propose. I guess the electorate is  heartily tired of the obfuscation of all Labour politicians confronted with the straight question of how to deal with the deficit. What would you cut then ? And to reform. Does the NHS need reform and if so of what should a reform programme consist?  The second option is even worse. Going backwards to a golden age leads to nowhere. There was no golden age. Your father may have known Lloyd George but I doubt it. The 1983 Labour Manifesto stands as a stark warning. Described as ‘the longest suicide note in history’ it led an enthusiastic Labour Party to the brink of disaster. In retrospect we all adore Michael Foot. In my experience of him Michael had one speech and a very good one at that. The first time I heard it I was greatly moved, on the second occasion I clapped politely, and on all subsequent occasions I made for the exit. But like a good sermon it should not be lightly abandoned.

Reform is both necessary and, in the end, unpopular. But there is no alternative. Hard judgemnts have to be made; and, yes,  some people lose their jobs and retrain for others. Reform is inconvenient: few people want constant change. Stop the train, I want to get off. Gordon, of blessed memory, wanted to get off, the Parliamentary Party was fed up with the constant stream of reform bills, trade unionists just hated losing members and tea and crumpets in Downing Street. Let’s get rid of this man Blair who wins us all these elections and restate Labour values and policies. It’s Buggins turn. He has waited too long and no.10 is his by right of presence and ‘all who sail in her.’ Well, we know where this led the Labour Party.

What has this got to do with anything? Well there is this issue of the election of a new Labour Party leader. Who should we vote for? Choice is always a difficult matter BUT thank goodness there is choice on this occasion. My advice to a perplexed electorate is to choose the person who most wishes to commit him/herself to a rational reform programme and studiously refrain from voting for any candidate who makes you yearn for the past – the illusory golden past. Choose the candidate who will give the Labour enthusiast a hard time, will make you think hardest, who will lead you to new pastures.

Well cocky, you might say, if you are so clever dick, tell me  who is this person of steely resolve and visionary gifts? I’m so sorry. I  have listened, I have read, but alas I cannot tell you? Perhaps you, if you have been thinking about it, would kindly tell me how you are going to vote?

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Coalition Illegitimacy


The  Coalition wishes to make significant constitutional and social changes. The process will begin this autumn. It cannot be argued that many of these changes have the endorsement of the electorate for no one voted for the Coalition or the patchcock coalition agreement. It might be argued that the Coalition partners received the votes of sixty per cent of the votes cast in the General election and that some of these  changes were foreshadowed in the General Election compaigns of both the Tory and Lib Dem partners. Surely, that suffices to claim a mandate? Well no, it doesn’t. Pushing through these changes relies on the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament: the majority in the House of Commons can do what it wants.

In such a situation it might be thought that the Coalition government should not embark on far-reaching changes that do not necessarily command support among the electorate as a whole; changes that a new government will find  difficult to reverse. Not so the Coalition is pressing on with unflagging zeal (indecent haste) to impose on us  its vision for the future.

Those who object will find it difficult to make headway. It is true that Coalitions are popular with the electorate to the very point of their collapse. The history of  20th century coalitions tell us that they invariabley commanded more than fifty percent of any poll. Today, even accepting the dire circumstances, it is true that the Coalition commands the support of 50 per cent of more of the electorate. It is open to the Coalition to pre-run elections where the weaker of the two coalition partners stands down for the benefit of the other. In a General Election campaign such an arrangement, if tolerable to  grass root activists, would save many seats. If this were to be a nationwide tactic the Labour Party would need over 45 % of the vote to win. A little political gerrymandering along the lines already put forward by the Colation parties might require an even bigger Labour share of the vote. No political party in recent times has polled half the vote.

Is it all hopeless then? Can the the Coalition literally do anything it likes, claim a mandate and win an election even if it is called early? I think not. In practice parliamentary sovereigny is a chimera and cannot be relied upon. The key to change lies with Lib Dem backbench MPs. If they decide enough is enough they can call halt the Tory gallop[ to utopia. You do not need a majorityof the House of Commons to bring down a government; a large scale desertion short of a majority will do. Is this what will happen? Well it might you know. It is possible.

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All Things are Equal But…


It has become a feature of Lib Dem and Conservative blogs to produce policy lists   which they claim prove that the Coalition  is a radical and reforming government. These individual claims are dodgy in themselves but the rest of us might conclude that they amount to little in total compared to the damage about to be inflicted on people up and down the country. To paraphase George Orwell, all things are equal but some things are more equal than others.The Coalition programme is an agreement that the Tories can do what they wish on the economy in return for minor concessions to the Lib Dem’s  on policy intiatives that are dear to them. It is not a zero sum game.

It is worth repeating that the Lib Dems opposed the Tory programme of public expenditure cuts and tax increases in the General Election. Can they be forgiven for an act of betrayal  of  their supporters and to the country as a whole ? Are the concessions they wrung from the eager Tories hungry for office a price worth paying? There are two considerations. First, what is the price? It is entirely resonable to conclude it is going to be extremely high: lost economic output, hundreds of thousands , perhaps millions,  of unemployed, falling real incomes, and numerous personal and family tragedies. Despite their  last minute conversion to Tory economics,  any Lib Dem worth his salt must be heavy-hearted at the consequences of Lib Dem betrayal . The claim that cuts on the scale of those proposed are inevitable now carries no conviction, they have become faint as more and more people come to realise that the cuts  are not required and, indeed, will be  positively harmful to the economy. And secondly, what do they gain? It is a pathetic and deceptive list. There are tax  changes to help the poor that are swallowed up by unemployment and higher prices; civil liberty gains, that make our roads more dangerous our borders more porous, increases the terrorist threat and reduces the ability of the police to catch guilty offenders by use of the DNA database;  opposition to nuclear power generation that threatens our ability to have sufficient power in years to come, and defence cuts which reduce the ability of our armed forces to protect us. The list is seemingly endless. In themselves these changes are paltry. The majority of us  recognise that the fruitless  years of derided Lib Dem policy formulation has  been rewarded by public office. It would be laughable if it were not so damaging to us all.

It is  time to call a halt. If we are well led, if we are brave  and defiant the tide can be turned in the autumn. It is  time for men of goodwill to come together to turn back the tide. Unfortunately, in Parliament that will be the responsibilty of the Lib Dem MPs whose supine behaviour got us to this point in the first place. They don’t have to do this to us all. They can decline to join in. It may be the only way  they can save their seats is by backtracking. If you cannot do it for us, do it for youself.

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Thatcherism with Knobs On


If you wish as a politician to tell an untruth about a matter of significance and import choose a subject about which most  people are ignorant. Even better choose one where the ignorant deceive themselves into believing they are experts and have short memories. How about the management of the economy?

Here is a statement by Nick Clegg: cutting the budget deficit [in the way the and at the speed the Coalition propose] is necessary to grow the economy. Now hold on, Cleggie. Cutting as proposed will reduce growth and  increase unemployment. Do you mean that in three to four years time the economy will  start to grow again from a lower base? You do, don’t you. And would we have lost more than we could ever regain? Well. I don’t know. What I do know is that unless we cut the deficit growth will be constrained in the future. I don’t understand you. There is no political disagreement  about the need to cut the deficit. What is at issue is how fast we do it and what we cut, isn’t that so?

And another matter. Boy George and Dave go around the world telling other countries to cut their deficits boldly so shrinking their economies and  our exports. Why don’t they shut up? Don’t be rude. Stay constructive, please.

It is difficult to be nice when all around you…so to speak. Why don’t you confess. The Lib Dems, somewhere on the road to Brighton, have had a conversion to Thatcherism. ‘Unemployment is a price worth paying!’ and all that. That’s unfair. We are committed to fairness : increases in tax credits, higher benefits at the lower end of the income scale, and so on.  And we have proposed special measures to help the disadvantaged in schools. Surely, that is not Thatcherism.

Well, if I may say so Cleggie, that is a typical Lib Dem evasion. If the budget measures are considered in the round the poor are worse off: higher unemployment, the plight of single mothers forced to stay at home in the school holidays because they are denied nursery and play facilities, increases in VAT. The poor will become poorer.

This argument is becoming tendentious. The truth is that Labour left us with a huge budget deficit and it has to be cut. No amount of wriggling can avoid it and any programme to do this will be painful. I am not ashamed to say so and neither should you or any bunch of irresponsible Labour politicians – or their journalistic friends and place-seekers. There. there. Who is  becoming ratty now Cleggie. What is going to give: reducing the size of the state, replacing professional public services by volunteers, defending the nation abroad, reducing crime at home, building a fairer society – getting re-elected. Perm any one from seven. The Lib Dems should be good at this game they have had a lot of practice.

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Shock Labour Protest


I have it on good notice that the media have failed to report a shock Labour protest outside Downing Street on Saturday afternoon, so confirming, for me, the  Labour establishment bias at the BBC, although admittedly not elsewhere. This demonstration was small but determined and the message clear. There were no more than than a couple of  dozen people taking part,  but their  import was dramatic . Slogans, and placards told their  story: ‘Jobs for all ex-Labour ministers’ and ‘We demand to serve.’ Buckets by the roadside collected a fair amount of small coins but demonstration spokesmen refused to reveal how much.

A well-known  former Labour woman leader of distinction, I think her name was Blewett or something like that, voiced the feeling of them all. ‘It is wrong’ it was said, ‘ that Frank and Alan should be given preference over us. Our service to the country has been just as long and  distinguised as their own and many of us are down to our last few thousand. We would not have minded if this selection by the Coalition had been after formal consultation with our group but despite our emails and Twitters to Tory HQ we have been ignored. The Coalition is fond of fine words and they give lip service to consultation. They talk of  building a Big Society tent embracing us all. But they have fallen at the first fence and failed to call us. Their fine words butter no parsnips. Mrs Blewett added,  ‘This is not personal, of course, although it is well-known in the Labour Party that Frank is a nutter and entirely incapable of devising a practical proposal of any kind.’ A Mr Shyers made a similar jibe that as far as he could remember Alan  had been responsible for cleaning services at No.10 and for installing new hatstands. This demonstration did not seem to be supported by bystanders who sbouted jibes such as ‘ Traitors’ and ‘Greed is your only philosophy.’ So showing us that they were out of step with the non-ideological basis of the New Politics.

A Downing Street spokesman issued a short statement. ‘We have sympathy with the protestors but they  must be patient. We have the partiulars of 113 former Labour ministers on file. Some have given us helpful suggestions of the roles they would like to fulfill for the Coalition. It is not possible to employ them all in the short term but we have them all in mind.’

I do not think that statements like this will satisfy the demonstrators. It is likely that we shall have further protests and there is talk among the women of chaining themselves to the Downing Street railings. We shall see.

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