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Whilst I was driving home from University in Nottingham, I drove down the Aston Expressway into Birmingham. For those that haven’t driven on this piece of road, it is a three lane duel carriageway which has a central lane which changes direction based on the direction of heaviest flowing traffic. It looks like this:

At the time I was thinking about this quote from Nye Bevan:

We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down.

 

I was thinking about this for about 10 minutes, and I realised that in Bevan’s time, this was most probably true. The world was a different place, with monumental struggles between democracy and fascism, and between communism and capitalism. If you were in the middle of one of those conflicts, then you would most likely be run down by an oncoming tank.

Today, politics is quite a different environment. Yes, much of the process has not changed, but there are no longer these large differences in ideology.

Anyway – Whilst I was driving down the Aston Expressway, I realised that I was, intact, driving along the perfect analogy for modern day politics. There are three lanes of traffic to the left, and there are three to the right. There is one in the middle, which is only active when the others are particularly busy. From time to time, it changes direction, but there is always traffic on it.

British politics is therefore much like the A38. Labour and the Conservatives will always enjoy around 30% of the vote each.

There will always be a Lib Dem wearing sandals, weaving in and out of the traffic, radically changing direction all the time.

There is UKIP, or the man standing in the tweed jacket on the wrong side of the road, shouting at the traffic to turn back.

Then there is the centre ground, which is where the 10% that can win you an election reside. They may change direction from time to time, but if you can be pointing in the same direction as them, come election day, they will vote with you and will win you an election.

It is the centre ground that Labour, and the Left needs to occupy to win elections. 

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Tony Blair pays tribute to Philip Gould, “a constant advocate for the British people”

Credit/Office of Tony Blair

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said:

Philip was such a huge part of the renaissance of the Labour Party. To me he was my guide and mentor, a wise head, a brilliant mind, and a total rock when a storm was raging.

“He became indispensable. He was always a constant advocate for the British people, their hopes and anxieties. So his political contribution was immense.

“But then as his illness gripped him, he became something more. In facing death, he grew emotionally and spiritually into this remarkable witness to life’s meaning and purpose. No one who saw him in those last months was unchanged by him. And the bond between him and his wonderful family was a joy to see.

“I feel very proud and privileged to have known him and to have been his friend.”

Alistair Campbell has also written a moving tribute to Philip Gould.

RIP

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We are exactly one year away from an American General Election that may see Barack Obama ousted as President of the United States. It is unlikely, but it is possible. There are no left-wing parties in Government in major western democracies outside of America and Australia. The last significant left-wing Government in Western Europe, that of Spain will almost surely fall in their National Elections on the 20th November two weeks from today.

The challenges for the Left in the West are immense. In recent years the Left has taken what could be generously described as an electoral hammering, and this is a trend that is unlikely to falter in the wake of the financial crisis. This crisis has undoubtedly been the biggest single challenge to face the Left since the rise of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the US.

In Greece, a Socialist Government is trying as hard as it possibly can to destroy the Eurozone. By putting the question of the next bailout to a plebiscite, it is likely that Greece will reject austerity and bailouts from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will cease. Greece will become bankrupt, and will leave the Euro. Italy, which has the second highest debt:GDP ratio in Europe (around 120%) will almost surely follow. The Italian Government is planning €47bn of cuts before 2013, when the next elections are scheduled. Meanwhile, the assortment of left wing parties in Italy embark on large anti-austerity protests and marches.

Meanwhile, what could charitably be called the “organised Left” in Britain, the Occupy London Protests are sitting outside St Paul’s Cathedral engaged in “protest”. It pains me to use that expression for what they are doing. Polling has shown that their general aims are supported by only 20% of people whilst 46% are opposed. Clearly, the 99% that the OccupyLSX protests claim to represent aren’t very keen on the idea. Ed Miliband, writing in the Observer has expressed sympathy with the protesters.

In short, words fail me at the state of the Left in Europe.

However. There is hope.

In France, the victor of the Parti Socialiste primary elections, Francois Hollande, has the best chance of any in Europe of forming a left-wing Government. It is not a finished matter. The unpopularity of the incumbent President, Nicholas Sarkozy, will not be enough to persuade the French People to elect their first left-wing government since 1988. The relative popularity of the French National Front, and their leader Marine Le Pen, are polling around 20%. The moderate Hollande also faces opposition from the hard-Left.

If the election were held today, Hollande would win 39 per cent of votes, up eight percentage points from three weeks ago, whilst Sarkozy would have 24 per cent, up three points according to French pollster LH2.

A squeeze from both the far-Right, with le Pen pushing an anti-Corporatist, anti-EU, anti-bank agenda, and from the hard-Left whose candidate polled a respectable 17% in the PS Primary. Hollande faces a tough test to make it through to the 2nd round of the election, and then beat Sarkozy or le Pen.

He must build the broadest possible coalition to defeat Sarkozy.

Francois Hollande represents the best chance that the Left have to regain a foothold in Europe.

To be successful once again, the Left must emulate the great left-wing leaders of the 20th and 21st Centuries. We should look to the Blair’s, and the Obama’s for the future of the Left. Where people’s personal finances are in danger, they will look to the Conservative alternative for a smaller state, lower taxes and fiscal credibility.

The Left should not forget that fact.

Fiscal credibility, in an age of no money for the Left to spend will be more important than ever. The State must be made more efficient, and will inevitably have to become smaller in some areas. We should set out a strict deficit reduction programme to regain the Nation’s economic trust. Francois Hollande has committed himself and his Party to reduce France’s deficit to less than 3% of GDP. We should do the same. We should set out a vision for the future, and a plan for growth in the new economy.

But. And it is a but. We should remember our achievements in Government. We introduced the National Minimum Wage. We gave record investment to schools and hospitals, and achieved record levels of literacy and numeracy in schools.We are not in the financial position that we are in because we employed too many teachers and nurses. We cut crime of all types by 32%. We devolved power to Scotland and Wales.

More importantly, we found peace in Northern Ireland. People had been searching for 400 years, and the Labour Party found it.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t apologise for our mistakes. We should say sorry. We should then say “but”. We are not sorry for our achievements in Government. We should not be sorry for our successes.

We can, should, and must do it again.

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Stephen Twigg, Labour's new Shadow Secretary of State for Education

 

Stephen Twigg, who has replaced Andy Burnham as Shadow Secretary of State for Education told the Liberpool Daily Post that:

On free schools, I am saying that we need to apply a set of tests, that we are not going to take an absolute policy of opposing them.

The tests should be: will the school raise standards for pupils and parents, will it contribute to a narrowing of the achievement gap between rich and poor and what is the wider impact of that school?

This statement has kicked up quite a fuss about Labour reversing their previous position on Free Schools. I, for one, think that these comments are very sensible when considered in the light that Labour will inherit any number of Free Schools when we win re-election.

The tests that Stephen Twigg outlines are not based upon ideological doctrine in the same way that Michael Gove’s belief in the Free Schools ideal is, but is based upon sound logic and consideration of the needs, and opinions, of parents and school teachers.

Indeed, asking the above tests of the whole Free Schools project shows a subtle, but important distinction when compared against Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy – Free Schools will now be judged as a whole, rather than individual cases. The tests that he lays out will ensure that the project is providing a quality service for the consumers of the service, i.e school children and parents.

By enusring that the Free Schools project provides help for poorer children and the wider community, Labour will provide a Progressive alternative to the Government’s program of introducing profit making into the British education system.

The former Shadow Secratary State for Education, Andy Burnham attacked the Conservative-led Government’s free school proposals as being a:

Free-for all, where good schools can be destabilised and where teachers can be employed without teaching qualifications.

In some cases this is true. Evidence has shown that this can be true.

However, by assesing the benefits of Free Schools as a whole, rather than indavidually, and ensuring that the projects can be shown to contribute to society by narrowing the ‘education gap’, and ensuring that schoolchildren receive the highest standard of education possible, Labour’s support for the Free School concept could provide a template for future schools projects by a new Labour Government.

Labour would be unwise to oppose a project that is here to stay. We should instead seek to improve and refine the model for the benefit of future generations. 

 

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320,000 people, or the top 1% of earners pay half of their over £150,000 income to the Treasury. Many of these people are wealthy enough that they can afford measures to legally avoid tax, or even take their bank accounts offshore.

The 50p rate of tax does not work for two reasons.

Firstly, if as the IFS reports, the top rate of tax is causing a £500m net loss to the UK Treasury.

Tax payers money, and money from those earning less than a tenth of the top rate threshold, is spent on enforcing the 50p rate of tax.

That is a potential half a billion pound loss to the Treasury.

£500m that could be spent on teachers, doctors and nurses. Money that could be spent on Sure Start, Building Schools for the Future, or a cut in VAT to help hard working families.

Secondly – The other 99% of people aspire to be part of that 1%.The 50p rate of tax is a disincentive to those who seek to grow their small business, create jobs and train young people.

Cutting the top rate of tax would stimulate growth amongst wealth creators in Britain. Profit can be a powerful motivator, and a potent tool for helping the poorest in society especially where both owner and worker receive a fair deal.

In 1997, the New Labour manifesto pledged that: “There will be no increase in the basic or top rates of income tax”.

This is a pledge that should be made by Labour once again.

By saying that Labour would not raise income tax once again, we would avoid the gesture politics that plagued the Party in the 1980s.

Other measures which are economically efficient, and raise more money for the Treasury should instead be considered. An increase in inheritance tax, combined with an increase of the threshold or a land value tax which cannot be avoided. Both of these measures would ensure that Britain remains competitive in the global economy.

Liberal Democrat President, Tim Farron said this to the Liberal Democrat Conference in Birmingham:

“Are we all in this together? Well, not if we give tax cuts to the rich!

“At a time when 90% of the country is struggling to pay the rent or mortgage, giving a 10p tax cut to those who need it the least, would not just be economically witless, it would be morally repugnant.

“Now of course, all income tax is temporary!

“Income tax was introduced as a temporary measure in 1798 during the Napoleonic wars.

“So my solemn promise to you is that we will get rid of this temporary measure, as soon as we stop falling out with the French.”

Supporting symbolic measures such as the 50p rate, which are economically inefficient and harm the UK economy is a shared by many in the Labour Party, and it is in some ways appealing.

It is not realistic.

If Labour is to prove, as in 1997, that we understand aspiration and are serious about promoting growth and jobs, and providing opportunities for all in society, we should pledge to abolish the 50p rate of tax.

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At some point in the next four years we are certain to see a referendum on Scottish Independence. Will that vote be the end of the United Kingdom?

No. The United Kingdom remains as strong an institution as it has ever been. Devolution, a process started and finished by the last Labour Government has ensured that the outcome in that referendum will be a “no” vote. Now that there is a Tory – Liberal Government in Westminster, which will inflict spending cuts which will disproportionally affect Scotland a vote for independence would seem to be inevitable.

That would be true, if it were not for the Scotland Act, Devolution and the Scottish Parliament. These institutions allow Scots to protect themselves from a relatively hostile Westminster Government. Alex Salmond is the man that Scots have supported in this difficult time for Scotland. The Scottish National Party, having won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament after an election in which they barely mentioned independence for Scotland. The SNP must be careful not to be overly hubristic after their success. They have one a victory. They will not win another in the fight for the future of the United Kingdom. As things stand, the Scottish public are overwhelmingly against independence. This will only potentially change for one reason.

The Conservative and Unionist Party.

If that Party now uses Scotland as a way of meeting their targets for spending cuts, they may be the force that causes the Union to collapse. Of course, the smart move politically would be for the Tories to support Scottish Independence. At the last General Election, Labour won 41 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. Without those seats, Labour would have only just won a majority in the House of Commons in 2005. Scotland has been called the “Jewel in Labour’s Crown”. The Tories could never win in Scotland. They could however, stop Labour from winning. The Tories could easily find themselves in a position where they could rob Labour of that Jewel, and Crown forever. Labour as a governing Party could be consigned to the history books. Scottish independence would be significantly less advantageous for Scotland than having a national Labour Government. A Scottish Government would find it near impossible to maintain valuable Scottish services such as the NHS at their current levels. Devolution will protect Scotland in the years to come. Independence would destroy it.

For Labour to win the next General Election, and for Scotland to maintain it’s standing the Union must remain intact.

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The “People’s Platform” will be a collaborative effort between numerous politically interested individuals. It will include essays on areas of policy that Labour could improve on to be more in tune with its members and supporters, but is independent of the Labour Party, and does not necessarily represent the Party’s views. It will also include input from supporters of other political Parties, with ideas on how Labour could appeal to a broader base. These will also examine Labours past achievements, like the NHS, and attempt to present a vision for the future. The finished collection of work by Labour supporters will be submitted to the “Refounding Labour” initiative.

If you are interested in writing for this project, as a number of people have suggested they are, please email me a suggested title or theme to: Harry.Langford [at] btinternet.com.

Ideally, the proposals will be somewhere between 500-1500 words long, although both longer and shorter pieces will be warmly welcomed. They could be on Labours history, particularly the legacy of the last Labour Government, and how these achievements could be built on.

The idea of this collaboration is not to push one ideological view. It will incorporate many different ideological perspectives, from across the Labour family.

Some topics that have already been suggested include:

Constitutional Reform

The Economy

Business

Defence

The Link with the Unions.

Clause 4

The Middle East.

The NHS

Any and all other topics will be included in this work.

If you have a more specific idea of what you would like to write, please leave a comment below so that others can see it!

The deadline date for submissions is Wednesday the 29th of June, with publication set for the 1st of July.

If you are interested in this idea, I would appreciate if you would tweet the link to spread the word about our project!

Many Thanks,

Harry.

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