Labour and Foreign Policy

Labour and Foreign Policy

I have just done the Labour List survey on Labour’s foreign policy advertised and written by the Labour Foreign Policy Group (Who they? Ed). I note that on their question on Brexit, they repeat the political trick used in the corrupted referendum,  Do support the Leadership’s attempts to move on and make Brexit work or should we rejoin the Customs Union and Single Market or the EU, or just satisfy ourselves with a ‘closer relationship’.

I believe we need to re-join the Customs Union and Single Market, to alleviate the economic damage caused by the increased trade friction and this is a closer relationship with the EU. I also believe we should re-acquire our political rights i.e. rejoin. The Labour Leadership have a fantasy that the Tories hard Brexit can be fixed, and we can now see the beginnings  of the Tories  phase III, the repeal of the Working Time Directive, revoking the Banker’s bonus cap and the restarting of fracking. Wake up, we have an equally unprincipled Prime Minister who is an effective servant of the ERG and the UKIP entryists.

With respect to the survey, I wanted to vote for all three ‘No’s but couldn’t as it was a radio button widget answer. This is how they win, it’s called divide and rule and this is why the PR campaign won’t talk about systems until the principle is agreed.

I also said with respect to supporting the Ukraine that Labour should ensure that Russian money is expelled from UK politics and while the Tories and Leave campaigns are the obvious first port of call, Labour needs to make sure its own hands and the hands of its parliamentarians are clean!

I think my first principles would be that a Labour Government must promote democracy and the rule of law at home and abroad, democracies don’t war with each other, …

Will CoFoE’s democracy come to be?

Will CoFoE’s democracy come to be?

At the CTOE plenary meeting we discussed Von der Leyen’s state of the Union address, we are/were most focussed on what she said as a result of the Conference on the Future of Europe.

We noted that she concluded the speech with a call for a convention on the treaties, prioritising an inter-generational contract, to leave the world better than we find it for our children but also to make the accession of new countries easier and to ease decision making.  She also welcomed the Conference out come and promised that citizen’s panels, “will now become a regular feature of our democratic life.”.

It was reported that there was little coverage of the commitment to reform in the speech in Germany. It was also reported that at the moment there are 17 member states opposed to a convention including the current presidency, the Czech republic, and its successor, Sweden. However circumstances change, and there is significant interest in the larger member states in specific reforms most obviously reform of the veto and possibly the extension of competencies, with defence, migration and energy markers being the obvious candidates, as a result of the war in Ukraine.

I am of the view that the Conference report opened a number of gates to a massive progressive improvement of the social and economic well being of the citizens of the European Union and Von der Leyen has in particular picked up on Migration policy as an area where it can do better, building a system based on dignity and respect. She also promises to incorporate citizens’ panels into the democratic fabric of the EU.

The CTOE agreed to continue to campaign for a convention, with the whole report of the Conference being on the table, and to continue to push for reform of the veto, and the implementation of transnational lists, which requires Council acquiescence. …

Labour and the EU

Labour and the EU

I have written an emergency motion for Labour Party Conference, I have ’till noon on Thursday to get it submitted, so better get a move on, unfortunately doing this from a CLP is a bit tricky . I need to check if it’s on the Agenda but that’s a bit tricky, I am not sure they have published all the motions to hoi-polloi like me yet.


Conference notes the announcement by Liz Truss on 19th September that there will be no post Brexit trade deal with the USA, and that the Govt is once again postponing (16th Sept) the imposition of the agreed customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.is a bit tricky, made worse by the direction not fo

Conference further notes that the Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ has led to reduced foreign inward investment, a worsening balance of trade deficit, reduced employment, a labour shortage in many industries, most obviously in agriculture, hospitality and in the NHS,  jobs are being offshored to western Europe and sterling is at its worse exchange rate ever with both the dollar and the euro. The labour shortages are compounded by the xenophobia released by the referendum and the Tory’s “hostile environment”.  

Conference believes that these negative economic consequences of Tory policy are significant contributors to the cost of living crisis.

Conference believes that to start reversing the damage inflicted by the Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ Britain needs to significantly reduce the trade frictions it has imposed on its imports of goods, services and labour from its biggest trading partner, the EU.

Conference resolves that Labour will call for a closer relationship with the EU in order to alleviate the trade frictions the Tories have introduced, that we will seek to rejoin Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, and that we will repeal the cruel and intrusive hostile environment. …

On the cost of living crisis

On the cost of living crisis

This started last year with the post pandemic wage recovery but what’s driving it today is the increasing imported energy prices, driven by the price of gas and to some extent the cost of food. There are two reasons why gas prices are critical, the first is that we burn it to make electricity and secondly, we use it to heat and cook in some of our homes and workplaces.

The UK privatised its energy distribution services in the late eighties and in doing so the planners had to solve two problems. The new market had to be both profitable and competitive.  They broke up the electricity generators and what today are called distributors but are in fact merely billing entities. They created a fake market and slapped a regulator, OFGEM, on top of it. The generator companies make electricity, from fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables. OFGEM regulates the price onto and off the grid. Today it sets the price based on the highest cost source of supply i.e. Gas. The reason for this was to encourage investment in renewables, which are now capable of delivering to the grid at a considerably lower price.

The companies that are completely unaffected are the extraction companies, those who extract primary energy sources mainly fossil fuels from the ground. The UK quoted companies are BP & Shell, but several more of the UK’s primary energy suppliers are foreign owned. The current purchase price guarantees the extractors a profitable price which can be demonstrated by examining their profitability.

Both the Tories and Labour are planning to cap the consumer price for a limited period; the Tories plan to pay for this by a consumer tax (although they are calling it something else), Labour with a corporation “windfall” tax. The subsidy is needed but the critical reform would be to re-engineer the  fake energy market. I would also argue that there should be no public money without a public stake.

Another impact of the privatisation was that gas storage was sold off. Across Europe, the plan has been to buy gas in the summer, store it, and use it in the winter thus reducing the demand during periods of high prices. UK’s storage is now about 4 days; in Europe it is several magnitudes higher.

Privatisation has failed to deliver a resilient national energy plan, and the bulk of the current inflation is caused by the rising cost of imported primary energy.

The other cause is imported food prices, exacerbated by the falling domestic production. Reduced production, caused by a Brexit related labour shortage should lead to increased imports which the Brexit caused falling exchange rate makes it more expensive. This effect is reduced as we are importing less from Europe than we used to, as our European suppliers do not want to ship to the UK due to the increased trade friction costs and the opportunity cost of the transport. Importing substitutes from the US, India or even the antipodes is not cheaper due to the much higher transport costs. The reduced domestic food production also causes competition in the food supply chain which boosts costs.

On top of this, the Bank of England’s response to inflation will be to increase interest rates; this will make mortgages and rents higher which will squeeze family budgets more. Some people will have to walk away from their homes, and renters will face increased poverty as housing competes with food and warmth for a share of the family income.

The final driver for the cost of living crisis is falling real incomes making food and shelter consume a higher proportion of an ordinary family’s budget. The final obvious piece of the cost of living crisis is that there is an effective public sector pay cap. Public sector pay has been held to a 1.5% pay increase at a time of an effective increase in the Consumer Price Index of 10.1%.

James Meadway argues that wage increases are needed, prices should be fixed, and profits squeezed. It’s unlikely that the government will do this; it’s nit going to be pretty.  …

A short note on FX & UK Trade

A short note on FX & UK Trade

Like many, I am considering the macro drivers of the cost of living crisis and I listened to the AEIP podcast with Gary Stevenson. He has an interesting view and argues that the QE funded furlough scheme was in fact a subsidy to the rich and that the fundamental imbalance in the country is the shift of wealth from poor to rich. It’s a version of the argument that the problem is insufficient demand being caused by the continued pressure on medium and low incomes.

He also argues that the massive QE efforts are an effective devaluation which given the relative stickiness of prices with wages being the slowest to change and everything that wages need to buy increasing will exacerbate the squeeze on spending. He also argues that given the choice between working and starving, people will work. The use of the word devaluation led me to look at the following charts

GBP:USD FX from Google Finance

The pound has been falling against the dollar all year, this makes imports, particularly of Oil, but also of Gas and food more expensive.

Balance of Trade: GBP millions

Here we see the balance of trade figures, a more traditional cause of devaluations. With the exception of two months, the UK has been in deficit for the last five years. There are those who contest the the balance of trade causes currency price movements and Sterling in particular is impacted by speculative currency flows. The key drivers of speculation are expected rate of return, which for fixed income assets is driven by the bank rate, and animal spirits about which I think it best not to comment.  …

Britain’s aircraft carriers, bought but not paid for yet

The Prince of Wales, the newer of the two aircraft carriers costing £3.5bn has broken down in the Solent. I had planned and still plan to write a piece about the 2020-21 Defence Reviews and have already written about it briefly on this blog.  

HMS Prince of Wales R09
HMS Prince of Wales, in Portsmouth, CC Rab Lawrence 2019 BY from flickr

These aircraft carriers, at 64,000 tons are three times bigger than their predecessors which were used to provide air combat capability during the Falklands War. I cannot see a need for such vessels, and it is my view they were authorised to create jobs in the Scottish dockyards that built them albeit under massive US pressure. They are calculated to cost about £3½ bn and the inconvenient truth is they are estimated to have £½m running costs/day!  That makes a fifteen year life time cost of £2.7bn and a full lifetime cost over 50 years of £9.1bn for each aircraft carrier. Over 70% of the whole lifetime cost of the aircraft carriers is running costs and yet to be incurred.

We should sell them, although who would want a ¾ size fleet carrier? Maybe we could sell one each to India and Pakistan, or maybe the Argentines would like one. …

The time has come …

The time has come …

If you follow this blog, you’ll see that I am concerned with the line that Labour is taking on Brexit and the post-Brexit deal. I have written this motion which I believe will get some broad support; it might not be insufficiently assertive on rejoining the single market, I think its clear but others may want some stronger words.


The Tories’ ‘Hard Brexit’ has intensified the cost of living crisis.

Conference notes:

  • The Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ has led to reduced foreign inward investment, a worsening balance of trade deficit, reduced employment, a labour shortage in many industries, most obviously in agriculture, hospitality and in the NHS and jobs are being offshored to western Europe. The withdrawal from the common energy market, has contributed to the UK’s increase in energy prices. These negative economic consequences of Tory policy are significant contributors to the cost of living crisis.
  • The labour shortages are compounded by the xenophobia released by the referendum and the Tory’s “hostile environment”.
  • Northern Ireland’s post-brexit economic performance is outperforming all other parts of the UK, except London.
  • It was a mistake for Keir Starmer to whip Labour MPs to vote in favour of the Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ trade deal.
  • To start reversing the damage inflicted by the Tory ‘Hard Brexit’ Britain needs to significantly reduce the trade frictions it has imposed on its imports of goods, services and labour from its biggest trading partner, the EU.

Conference resolves that Labour will call for a closer relationship with the EU in order to alleviate the trade frictions the Tories have introduced, that we will seek to rejoin Horizon Europe and Erasmus+, and that we will repeal the cruel and intrusive hostile environment.


This is 223 words so there’s another 27. If you like it but want the last paragraph to call for rejoining the single market, and include freedom of movement for Labour that would be great. I am putting this to my GC as a conference motion but with Deptford, who knows, it might get trapped between the remaining Lexiter’s and Starmer loyalists.  …

What does ‘system update required’ say about Labour’s IT?

What does ‘system update required’ say about Labour’s IT?

As part of the ‘drains up’ undertaken after the 2019 General Election, a coalition calling itself Labour Together undertook a review of what went wrong and as part of that review commissioned an organisation called the “common knowledge co-op” to look at Labour’s IT and its management. They produced a report called “System update required”. (original | mirror ) What did it say? I think this is important, but like so many learning opportunities that challenge power and the bad behaviour of the powerful it seems to me to be dramatically under-valued.

When I first read it, I was outraged. I hoped to summarise it in a sensationalist fashion to see if I could interest someone who might pick it and make things better. What I have written is not that exciting and I suspect little will change because the Party doesn’t have the knowledge and experience and today is led by people who care more about their control and position within the Party than they do in winning an election and becoming a government. I mean they’d be happy to be in Government but it’s more important to them that they control the Party.

In summary, the report says, portfolio management was unacceptably poor and not accountable to the highest levels of management although they too didn’t have clue. There weren’t enough IT staff and the more numerous IT management layer wasn’t good enough. The report makes no mention of ‘requirements management’, nor of any benefits analysis tools to allow an understanding the effectiveness of the software applications provided. Labour’s voter ID/GOTV software is no longer the best. Local adoption of the IT tools is low, partly because of poor commitment to training, partly due to a high turnover of local activists and partly because the Labour machine didn’t care.

In more detail,

  1. Portfolio management of the applications was unacceptably poor i.e. there was no strategic ownership of the portfolio or its elements and the owning divisions and their heads did what they wanted including damaging the capability of other parts of the organisation. Much of this is down to dreadful talent management and probably factionalism. Factionalism will have impacted both staff selection, IT priority management and funding programmes. The report makes no comment on the effectiveness of  the “requirements management” process nor how the role of “senior user” in the project teams was undertaken.
  2. There weren’t enough software engineering staff. The management were unable to scale the organisation appropriately as the 2019 election began; they had failed to do so for the Euro-elections. The contractor culture and poor management experience has led to poor documentation. The lack of documentation also inhibits user adoption and training and staff take-on. No effort was made to leverage Labour’s talented membership in systems development.
  3. Labour no longer[1] has leadership in the doorstep/campaigning apps and these, it would seem, are no longer considered competitive advantage; many progressive parties use either open source or third party programs to do this work. (I argue elsewhere and frequently, including below, that one should only build software where the organisation’s functionality is unique and gives competitive advantage).
  4. Local i.e. CLP digital adoption is weakest where it’s needed. Data quality i.e. the contact rate is correlated with party membership and strength. Famously, when David Miliband stood down from South Shields the contact rate was alleged to be under 5%; the Party has been much more careful about releasing the information since then. Many of the IT tools are not used by local parties. Some/many regional staff were not appointed for their IT (or even campaigning) skills.

That’s the end of the summary, you can skip more of my précis by going to the Gaps & Lessons section of this post.

Tools and portfolio management

Labour’s tools are designed as point solutions to single problems and the ‘ownership’ of these systems is/was allocated across at least three divisional heads. There is no single IT strategy and the Heads of Department often refused to co-operate with each other. An attempt was made to the extent that a consultant produced a report to bring these competing managements into alignment, but this failed due to senior management fear of the power of fiefdoms. This envisaged a strong central IT function. This was compounded by an inappropriate appointment to a Director of IT[2] who might have been expected to make this work but didn’t. While applications were owned divisionally, staff were not. There are/were too many managers with no clear chain of command on a decision.

The managerial contention led to frequent circumstances where constituencies and regional staff were denied access to critical tools for campaigning or permissions delayed and deadlines missed in some cases by holidays taken by key staff members. The report documents unprofessional interpersonal rivalries as the motivation for some of these delays.

At best the Labour Party’s compliance with the GDPR is often an excuse/reason for deny people access to the tools. This has led to an ineffective design and use of the tools.

IT staffing cadre and sourcing

There have never been enough development staff, in the summer of 2019, between the Euro-elections and the run-up to the general election, there was one software engineer. i.e. the Labour party had one developer responsible for 7 tools accountable to three divisions. The report recommends that a cadre of 7 would be more appropriate. The staff shortage and the use of contractors has led to inadequate documentation, which inhibits maintenance; both bug fixes and new functionality are too slow to arrive. The lack of documentation also inhibits user adoption and training.

The take-on of temporary staff for the 2019 election was too slow and inhibited by the previous hiring freeze. Tg=he Director of IT also left the organisation during the elction campaign; this can’t have helped scale the organisation to what was needed. This financial policy i.e. the hiring freeze and the delayed staff take-on almost certainly affected the result.

The 2019 campaign failed to take account of and use the vast pool of talented volunteers, unlike in 2017. This is exacerbated or due to the Party’s paranoia for control and secrecy. The code is, at least, held in git repos but volunteers are not given access. There may be good reasons why not, theft of code, or misuse and theft of data. The report recommends and I agree that more should be done to energise and utilise the skills and experience of Labour’s membership. They identify that code developed to leverage Labour’s unique advantage of motivating a large number of volunteers cannot be stolen.

Adoption

Digital adoption is weakest where it’s needed. The answer to this is training and an open source/train the trainer culture, and documentation that works. (I say, that an all members bugs database is needed, an effective trouble ticketing system with time to fix service levels i.e. effective incident and problem management and help desk functions. The long term inadequacy of Organise, a tool being replaced by an off the shelf package is unacceptable. (I write about the data protection risks of a broken membership system elsewhere on this blog.))

Gaps and Lessons

The party needs an IT Governance policy/strategy and needs someone to drive it and ensure it’s useful and meets the Party’s needs. It needs sponsorship from the NEC. I would adopt COBIT as it avoids inventing one, people that understand it are easy to find and I have seen it work exceptionally effectively. One of its central tools that will help Labour and any other organisation is the mantra, Plan, Do, Check, Adjust, where plans are written down. All projects and operational processes need to be approved and checked against the planned benefits. This doesn’t happen in the Labour Party.

Making the point that they had a divided management structure and more managers than coders is cute, accurate but easy. What is the ideal ratio between developers and their managers, operations staff (and their managers) and policy people including Governance, Compliance and Regulation and procurement/finance people? This will vary according to a number of factors, maybe those I explored in Software Programme Management on LinkedIn. i.e. it will depend on the importance of the system, its planned volatility, the maturity of the code and base technology but I am certain that having zero GCR people can’t work. (see also this article on Linkedin by me).

Reading the report makes me ask if the tools i.e applications Labour has, are the tools we need. What no-one questions is whether the tools are the right tools? I had not heard of Turnout, and while I had heard of Impact, no-one in our CLP is interested in using it. We do what we’ve always done. No-one is asking how effective is doorstep work? Let’s remember that Leave won that campaign without one!

Each project needs a business case that states the expected business benefit and each project needs to be evaluated to ensure that it still delivers as expected. (If possible they should be tested if only on paper, against the second best alternative.)

The development/acquisition strategies must take into account the skills market available, not just in the short term, but also longer term. The use of highly adopted technology will allow an ease of recruitment of staff and volunteers. The most important application of this principle/guidline maybe in applying it to a single UI borrowing or implementing common implementations or metaphors. It maybe that android is the most common user interface in use amongst Labour’s members and supporters; whatever is the case, Labour should not be investing in UI design. Despite this, I believe that stopping the use of Nationbuilder[3] may have been a mistake, it had funnel management capability and potentially allow the encouragement of supporters or even voters to become more engaged; it was designed to act as a volunteer management engagement package. It does not meet my, “buy what people use” slogan.

Labour, well everyone really should only build for competitive advantage, no-one should adopt and change[4]. For instance we no longer[5] have leadership in the doorstep/campaigning apps and these are no longer considered competitive advantage; many progressive parties use open source or third party programs to do this work.

Labour needs to develop as if open source so that user authored applications can be easily incorporated.

Recommendations

I now try to briefly explain their recommendations although their words are admirably brief. They recommend slimming down the number of managers[6] and having a single plan[7] which is shared and understood and committed to.

  1. They recommend hiring more staff, most importantly software engineers who can make the code better. They have some weak words on having a strategy and say nothing on requirements management.
  2. They state that a Digital Roadmap is required which is generally available.
  3. There should be a collaboration capability to allow collaboration by the broader membership, for bug fixes and even user authored apps.
  4. They recommend that Labour de-commit from Experian and build an alternative system based on local knowledge for voter id and social media targeting.
  5. Ensure everyone that needs it is trained that documentation is available and trouble ticketing works and is transparent.
  6. That appropriate access permissions are granted; this would involve a roles and responsibilities register.
  7. A common casework tool for all our public officials might be sensible so the Party can track issues although there are data protection issues here. They propose that contact creator becomes real time to avoid over contacting supporters.
  8. They recommend broader GDPR training; in my view a complete rewrite, the policy is designed for control and neither compliance nor operational effectiveness are considered.
  9. An availability tool should be made available so all potential users know what to expect.

[1] There’s a couple of citations in this para on P16.

[2] See page 10/11 of the report.

[3] This product charges on the basis of the database size, I wonder how much this was the motivation for leaving it rather than a skills shortage,  reliability and a weakness in meeting its business case.

[4] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/software-programme-management-david-levy/

[5] There’s a couple of citations in this para on P16.

[6] The redundancy programme did not achieve this goal.

[7]This was clearly not the case in 2017. …

On Labour’s disciplinary rules

On Labour’s disciplinary rules

I have not read, until today, in detail the new rules on LP complaints. The version published before Conference, well during conference, in the CAC reports were very hard to read. The rules are spread over Chapters 1, 2 and 6 and contain significant numbers of cross references, within the chapters and between the chapters. Here is a flow chart of what I believe to be the process.

Flow Chart of the LP Complaints process

The new rules, in Chapter 2, introduced the concept of a prohibited act and codified the prior prohibition of supporting other parties in elections as a proscribed act. There was also an attempt to consolidate a growing body of text dealing with sexual harassment and racist acts. particularly made as an attempt to meet the findings and remediation plan of the EHRC report. I wrote in Dec that I don’t believe these rules meet the criteria of Article 6, the Right to a Fair Trial, of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and have also noted the Forde Report’s concerns about ECHR compliance.

Complaints made nationally are assessed supposedly by LGU who now need certain levels of training and accreditation to determine if the allegation is about sexual harassment, abuse of a protected characteristic, or another complaint, usually a breach of rules. Complaints can be dismissed at this point for being incomplete or failing to meet the eligibility stated in the Complaints Policy. There seems to be no transparency or appeal against these decisions. The classification is also used to guide the investigation process.

The prohibited acts are in many cases pretty uncontroversial the problem being with,

2.I.5.B.v) Possessing membership of, providing financial assistance to, sitting on the ruling body of or otherwise supporting (as may be defined by the NEC) any political organisation that the NEC in its absolute discretion shall declare to be inimical with the aims and values of the Party.

Labour’s Rule Book C2.I.5.B.v

The problem being with the incomplete definition of ‘otherwise supporting’. Article 7 of the ECHR guarantees no punishment without law. This is to ensure that people can avoid illegal behaviour in the knowledge of the law. This rule cannot be complied with because the offences are unstated and thus unknowable. I also note that member on staff bullying and harassment is a prohibited act but not staff on member, and the complaints process may not be used against staff.

The separation of powers within the LGU taking decisions to prosecute, and initiating the collection of evidence is unclear. i.e. no-one has visibility of the complaint leading to a prohibited act prosecution.

I am really unclear on the role of Independent Review Board, it’s job is to confirm/reject NEC decisions but it seems it only reviews cases about protected characteristics. The rules are unclear on this, although there is some text in Chapter 6 which is about if the NEC cannot make up its mind or it has a conflict of interest C6.I.1.D.iv.

CLP prosecutions are guaranteed a hearing at the NCC. Prohibited act prosecutions that require a witness are guaranteed an NCC hearing. NEC disposals on prohibited act prosecutions are guaranteed an NCC appeal. Chapter 6 complaints handled by the NEC can be appealed to the Independent Complaints Board. These would seem to be the only appeals allowed by Labour’s rules. While an appeal to the ICB can be made on the grounds that no-one reasonable could have come to the conclusion based on the facts, the ICB can refuse to hear an appeal.


IRB is independent review board, ICB is the independent complaints board, ICP is an independent complaints panel a subset of the board convened for a specific hearing, NCC is national constitutional committee, NEC, the national executive committee, and CLP constituency Labour Party. EHRC is the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, ECHR is the European Court of Human Rights. …

Crime and Punishment (in the Labour Party)

Crime and Punishment (in the Labour Party)

I have not studied all the new rules as passed at 2021 conference, but this is a note on proscribed acts and prohibited acts and how they are dealt with. It notes the powers of the NEC to define prohibited acts in the support of proscribed organisations. It notes the remaining role of the NCC and concludes with a quote from the Forde report expressing concern of the use of admin suspension and the concern that expulsions may be used for factional purposes. For more, use the 'read more' button ...