Blair’s Shadow

Blair’s Shadow

We in the Labour Party need to get to grips with Blair’s legacy. His shadow and that of his government still hangs over even this leadership election and it seems I am not the only one to thinks so. Andrew Fisher wrote something similar to this in the Independent. Coming to a consensus and coming to terms with its legacy will be difficult. I feel that it’s best viewed by considering the two full parliamentary terms as separate entities but for many of course the decision to go to war in Iraq will over shadow everything else he did. I have thought this for a while but at least one speech by Zarah Sultana MP, and the reaction to it and Jeremy Gilbert at Open Democracy who wrote Labour should have argued against the last 40 years of economic policy, not just the last ten have made me revisit New Labour’s record, together with my view that we have been losing votes for 30 years and that 2017 was the anomaly.

During the first term, the Labour Govt. made major progressive constitutional reforms, Devolution for Scotland & Wales, the Good Friday agreement, the re-establishment of London Local Government albeit tarnished by the first executive Mayor. They also introduced the Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act. While keeping their promise to stick the Tory spending plans for the first two year, they turned the money taps on for the health service and education which had major qualitative effects. They also started an almost unparalleled period of successful macro-economic management although the seeds of failure had been laid by making the Bank of England independent. They introduced the National Minimum Wage, repealed Section 28 and introduced civil partnerships. They set a target for 50% entry to Higher Education. Labour’s 2001 manifesto qualifies the size of the success in terms of the investment in schools, training programmes, and NHS staff numbers as does Niel Finnegan’s tweet, where he also quantifies the outcomes of these targets in terms of child poverty, waiting lists, school results.

Looking at the 2001 manifesto, there is little clue that New Labour proposed to establish Academy schools, Foundation Hospitals, Top-up tuition fees, pass two laws on the regulation of investigatory powers, introduce the Private Finance Initiative and rip up the “Ethical Foreign Policy” to go to war with the US in Iraq. Against this GDP and incomes rose, as did house prices and gross private sector debt.  The education policy, despite increasing funding, and laying the PFI timebomb otherwise continued to weaken public democracy and teacher professionalism. New Labour set up Ofsted, established league tables and the national curriculum, and much of the capital budget was transferred to PFI.

The mantra of public sector “choice” echoed throughout the halls of Government, not so much in the homes and streets of the United Kingdom. There was a lot of anti-progressive things done and it was done, as ever, without the Party’s permission. The deconstruction of the Party’s checks, balances and self repair capability has been documented by Emmanuelle Averil, and Lewis Minkin, but they included prohibiting MPs standing for the NEC in most seats, the introduction of the National Policy Forum which removed policy development from conference and the rule that meant that most CLPs had to send a woman to conference every other year. New Labour lost another 1.1 million voters over the second term and nearly 4½m over the full two terms.

If we want to ascribe the loss of the Red Wall to 40 years of Thatcherism one needs to examine the attempts and success of New Labour’s Regional Policy. I have a wiki article sharing my limited research on the subject, but safe to say it was not as successful as it’s planners must have hoped and also got hopeless enmeshed with the failed push for regional assemblies and the “welfare to work” programmes. New Labour failed to ameliorate the decline in the economy of these regions as the UK moved from a coal and steel economy to hi-tech and services.

There were also are several important omissions in New Labour’s programmes; they did nothing on Housing and insufficient on Labour Law reform or Trade Union rights as I like to say,  and local government finance. England & Wales needs a transfer union guarantee as was established for Scotland. The independence of the Bank of England, fundamentally a piece of theatre, together with tripartite financial system regulation became part of the problem in the 2008 collapse. The post-election (2010) reform of the financial sector regulatory bodies was bipartisan and designed to ensure that no Bank of England Governor could ever walk away from such a monetary policy disaster again.

Another less than stellar success involved plans to “reform” the House of Lords, in the first term, they reduced the number of hereditary peers to 92, in the second term, they failed to take the final step and eliminate them as the House of Commons could not agree what proportion should be elected and what proportion appointed. 😠

But he won elections and without power we can do nothing. My Dad once said,

Government’s take 1000s of decisions every day and under the Tories every single one of them is wrong.

This may be true but those who argue that winning elections is enough need to answer the questions why did we lose Labour’s voters, did Blair drive them away or is it true he assumed they had nowhere else to go because if so he was very wrong. It’s ironic that it was while being led to one of his greatest internal opponents that the birds came home to roost.

Did the New Labour Governments contributed to the loss of votes in the Northern towns and in particular the old pit and steel towns. Not directly it would seem but people started to leave Labour over this period, 5m of them and the Government failed to pursue strategies that might have staunched the flow. It’s not innocent so the fact it won reelection twice is not enough to absolve it for contributing to Labour’s loss of mind share and votes in these communities.

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Fair shares

Fair shares

Crispin Flintoff has started a campaign to ensure that CLPs are properly funded. This is an issue that I looked at during the democracy review but CLPs get something like 5% of the membership fees and its paid as a capitation fee. From this, and by observing the effort that goes into fund rasing, I concluded that the CLPs should get more of the membership fees and am happy to help Crispin.

CLPs spend their money on administration, campaigning and conference. Administration varies from basic member communication, inc. printing via room rentals to in some cases wages and property costs. There are usually three conferences per annum, with annual conference being a significant cost often beyond a CLP, many of whom fail to send delegates. Elections vary but some need to be funded by the CLP, some require a tax to be payed to the district or regional party. Some have to fund an election every year, some only three out of every five years. Some get financial help from the Labour Group, if there is one, and others from Party HQ, but the biggest and safest and the weakest CLPs get little help.

We could describe the current capitation as 5% of the membership fees. In my article “Brass“,  I proposed raising it to 50%, I have changed my mind and today

  1. I propose doubling it (to 5%) and revising the rules around a floor so that small parties get what they need.
  2. and I would transfer the costs of Annual Conference to HQ

When thinking about the minimum grant, maybe there should be an investment fund where CLPs bid for the money to support projects aimed at growing the membership, building infrastructure (at the lower end, web sites/services, at the higher end, property maintenance) or growing internal fundraising efforts.

If so, I need to check out Crispin’s proposed motion and offer amendments.

ooOOOoo

With respect to conference costs I would reduce the delegation sizes for CLPs. I would in exchange ensure that CLPs could ensure a card vote was taken so that larger CLPs weight of numbers don’t get lost in a show of hands, but the biggest tend not to send the full delegation because they can’t afford it. (Another issue on which I have changed my mind is that I would also reduce the conference by one day as most delegates have to take holiday to attend.)

This devolution of money would probably require an increase in the financial controls implemented by each CLP. The Party might need to implement the sort of branch finance systems run by the Unions and require that quarterly returns are made before money is sent to the CLPs. This would be essential if the CLP share was raised to higher numbers such as Crispin’s 50% and would increase the IT and staff costs in finance, legal and governance. The LP income from membership fees in 2018 was £17m and it spent £3m (17½%) on CLP grants and payments . If one were to disburse £8½m it would be irresponsible and illegal to do so without knowing how it was to be spent, but it’s critical that the rules and decisions are transparent and rules based.

In the case where the CLP capitation payments was raised too high, the Party would then need to charge for services that it provides particularly services (usually time) provided by regional offices. Over the last couple of years, the senior roles in regional office have been used as the long arm of the Compliance Unit but the more junior roles are generally engaged in campaigning and are often helpful. The deployment of these people and the grants may often have been onformed by factional advantages perceived by the leadership; this needs to stop.

The final issue to consider is the accountability of the Labour Group council levies. In some cases this is a lot of money, in others less so. The HQ payments needs to take account of this source of campaign funds and ensure that the money is spent in accordance with the party’s collective priorities rather than used for reasons of factional control. …

Compliance in Government

Compliance in Government

It’s hard to understand what’s happening inside Johnson’s Cabinet, but there has been much, mainly adverse comment on the appointment of Suella Braverman as Attorney General. The AG is the Government’s Lawyer and there have been great lawyers performing this role, in fact often, Government’s have made their chosen candidates members of the House of Lords so that they can get the talent they need without having to filter it through the choices of their local associations/CLPs. You can find comments about the suitability of Ms Braverman elsewhere, but many commentators are worried about the resuscitation of the Tory demand to leave the ECHR and the Home Office’s continued breaking of the law.

Human Rights law is written to protect people from the power of the state!

Another thing that worries me is that I have observed in business, the growing organisational dichotomy between legal departments and compliance. The former tells a company what it can do, and the latter what it can’t and grasses the company up if it believes itself to be in breach of the law. It’s important that Government, particularly the Home Office and DWP get good and safe advice from their legal team, especially if they plan to weaken access to judicial review.

Image Credit: from flickr, CC Marco Vetch 2018 BY …

RLB at the Rivoli

I went to Rebecca Long-Bailey’s meeting in Brockley, earlier tonight. I made some notes which I have polished and reproduced here. Her speaking style is not that of Ian Hodson, nor of Matt Wrack who was her warm up act as were two local Momentum supporting councillors. Maybe we’ve had enough of ranty demagogues and interestingly even when I drifted off, she regained my attention; much of her content is good. Her words were reported elsewhere but this is based on the notes I took and two videos taken by a friend and posted on my Youtube channel.

She spoke of groups and declared that it’s good to have groups, but we must debate and then unify. This is not the condemnation of the “apolitical winner take all” behaviour of some of the groups that I would like to see, but she added that it’s wrong to call groups “cults” or even “Tories”. So I hope that the call for respect and dignity is something she’s committed to. There are still people excluded from the 2015 purge who should be allowed back in. The issue of collusion by staff in this unacceptable behaviour also needs to be addressed. However, she has been quoted as saying,

“I don’t care which wing of the party you’re from. If you’re competent, professional and get the job done, I want you working for Labour,”

The problem for her, and me, is that the minute we say things like this, people, often guided by Labour insiders, focus on the very top of the organisation but the problem is more widespread than that and it’s the medium (although this may include some Regional Directors) and junior levels that need to reminded, trained or otherwise persuaded or removed to ensure that the culture of collusion, cover-up and “ends justifying means” ends.

More politically and centrally to understanding why we lost again, she described her experience in her seat; where she spoke to a family who stated that they still saw Labour as a Party of welfare and they had worked hard and didn’t want to pay for others they considered workshy. Her initial words in response to this were generous and put social security in a good light, we all need that security but this was a problem for Ed Miliband’s campaign; he tried to put together a coalition of the vulnerable and too many of those in work, often home owners didn’t want to pay the tax bill. It’s one reason why we should listen to James Meadway who argues that the tax increases on high earners are an essential part of the 2017 manifesto.

She spoke about educational access, particularly higher education access which reminded me of Neil Kinnock’s comments about how he and Glynnis were the first in their family to ever get a higher education, and this was not because all their ancestors were thick. This raises the issues of access to, and governance of, the educational institutions, together with student finance and even the Educational Maintenance Allowance. No promises were made, and not all the issues identified but let’s remember that RLB’s running mate is Angela Rayner who has been shadow spokesperson on Education for four years and our Education policy is much less well developed than our Housing policy portfolio.

What I found very positive, was her statements on constitutional reform. She sees it as an essential means of rebuilding trust. While I consider “Abolition of the House of Lords” to be a slogan, she stated it needs to be replaced by a “Senate”, elected using PR, regaining the power to reject laws coming from the Commons using a set of rules to guide them. This is a call for a basic law of rights that cannot be over-ridden by Parliament, Absolutely essential!

She also stated that a Labour Government must fulfil the promise of devolution.

On Party reform, she said we need real political education, we certainly need to discuss politics, she said, we need to allow our members to become full-scale participants in the policy making process, and she also repeated her support for  open selection, because we need our best people to be standing as MPs (and I would add Councillors, I have written a rule amendment abolishing the Councillor trigger ballot: “Coming Soon”).

An election is probably some way off, and Leadership candidates can’t offer a member led party and then propose a detailed manifesto. The answer to questions, the chosen words of the stump speech and their records in Parliament are an illustration of values and direction of travel.

In the Mirror article, they suggest she is trying to prepare some in Momentum and maybe even Unite that they need a reality check. Beattie, its author, also points out that the Lewisham and surrounding Labour Parties are large but underestimates this by a factor of ten, there are thousands in the Lewisham Parties and the Rivoli seats 600, not of all whom can be guaranteed to vote for RLB; some came to listen.

There were a couple of questions, one fabulous one on racism in our society, the need for decency within our immigration laws, and citizen’s rights; Long-Bailey replied that the immigration centres were inhumane and needed to be closed. She has said more, about not throwing migrants under the bus, and never returning to having a shameful “Control Immigration” mug.

A second question was less fabulous, not so much a question but a statement that the second referendum was a mistake that lost the “Red Wall”. She did not agree, but I wonder how many people present will be choosing Kier Starmer hearing the contempt in the tone of the question? …

What Labour said in 2001

I have been researching an as yet unpublished blog article on New Labour’s governments and looked for and found Labour’s 2001 Manifesto, which was published and given a mandate between Blair’s first and second terms. I used diigo to capture my notes, but a single entry cannot be linked to (or I don’t know how to do it). So this, below/overleaf is what I captured. …   …

Fair Votes

I have been in correspondence with “Make Votes Matter”. There’s more to be said, but I think it’s how we need to go; we need a House of Commons based on a proportional “Additional Member System”, like the GLA and the devolved nation assemblies. Their model motion text pasted, and they say, “… below is taken from our website. There’s some strong claims in it, so we also a one-pager of supporting evidence available here.”

Conference notes that the UK is one of only three major developed countries to use a First Past the Post voting system for general elections.

There is consensus among experts that First Past the Post has a strong right wing bias wherever it is used, leading to parliaments and governments that are on average much more right wing than the voters.

This corresponds exactly with the UK’s experience. Most votes went to parties to the left of the Conservatives in 18 of the last 19 general elections, yet the Tories have been in power for 63 per cent of this time. Instead of building a society “for the many”, this has created one of the most unequal societies in the developed world, with some of the most restrictive trade union laws.

Conference believes we need a Labour government to reshape society in the interests of workers and our communities. But it is imperative to realise that the current voting system offers no protection against later Conservative governments tearing up these hard fought gains as they have in the past. The world’s most equal and progressive societies all use forms of Proportional Representation which prevent rule by a right-wing minority and lock in the hard-won victories of their Labour movements.

Conference therefore resolves:

– To adopt a policy of opposing First Past the Post and instead supporting moves to explore, select and introduce a new voting system for the UK.

– To call for the Labour Party to do the same and to commit to including the voting system for general elections in the remit of its planned constitutional convention.

I moved this at my Union branch last night. The meeting decided to drop the second and third paragraph and to weaken the firsts resolves.

The motion will not be sent to Congress due to the 3 motion limit. We decided to send something else. …

Dignity and respect at work

I was writing a motion for GMB Congress on Bullying and came across this, from one of the ACAS codes, as part of the definition,

Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work

I thought that maybe there’s a human rights dimension so went to check out the European Convention on Human Rights since we are losing the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights which does include it. Nope! ECHR doesn’t! Well done! …

1917

I have just seen 1917; I quite liked it, it was made for me by the speech from Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel MacKenzie. We had been set up to expect an act of monumental stupidity, an expectation reinforced by just having re-watched Generation Kill, but we got something quite different. I was also reminded, a bit, of the Odyessy via “Oh Brother, where art thou?”

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