Sunday, 25 September 2011

No apologies on economy says Cooper

Labour shouldn’t apologise for its record and needs to fight back against Tory myth-making about the economy, said Yvette Cooper at the Fabian Question time event at Labour conference.

Rejecting the proposition put by Times columnist Philip Collins that by accepting they had lost the argument on the economy the party will gain a hearing again in the country, Cooper said Labour would be wrong to back down because the Conservatives had misrepresented the financial crisis.

“We shouldn’t concede argument on the economy. It goes against the principles of the Labour Party to concede on things that are wrong. You don’t get credibility by saying things that are wrong and will be proved to be wrong.”

Cooper said the focus should instead be on growth and showing “the Labour alternative to what is happening now.” She argued that the Conservative "myth-making" turned the financial crisis into a crisis of the public sector, whereas in fact it was the public sector that saved the economy from the failures of an under-regulated financial sector.

She argued Labour still had to challenge the Conservative version of events, but should also focus on the future: “this is a growth crisis not a debt crisis” she said.

Collins argued however that no one is listening to Labour because they won’t concede any mistakes. “Refusal to give an inch loses whole argument” he said, highlighting that spending did get too high in the government’s final years, tax revenues were misjudged and the language of ‘boom and bust’ was a mistake. He said – which he acknowledged was surprising coming from him – that the party should return to Gordon Brown’s slogan of “prudence with a purpose”.

Fabian Society General Secretary Andy Harrop agreed Labour needed to work harder to regain economic trust and said that a promise on public spending was central to this, but also warned against “carping about troubles coalition is facing…it’s not in our interest for economy to tank” as the right tends to triumph in downturns.

Maurice Glasman suggested the debate about the economy was too centred around public spending and should be more concerned with talking about how to make the economy more productive. "The price of successful political action is a constructive alternative" he said.

Dragons - and Fabian audience - support breaking up the energy companies

Emily Thornberry began our political Dragons' Den on the Fabian Fringe at Sunday lunchtime by saying that the dragons - Luke Akehurst, Hazel Blears MP, and Anthony Painter - have been arguing about which dragon they each want to be. 

First up into the Den was David Goodhart who - while taking at least twice his allotted time - argued that immigration should be capped at 150-200,000 a year.

Luke Akehurst called Goodhart's immigration ideas 'courageous' but 'impractical'. Blears was rather more interested and said it'd get support on the doorstep. She also agreed with Goodhart that Turkey should be refused membership of the EU.

Anthony Painter said there has definitely been a 'fundamental breakdown of trust' between government and ordinary people on immigration. Ultimately Goodhart's solution of the immigration cap won't solve this, he argued.

Risking the wrath of the Fabian audience, David Goodhart responded "We need to deal with the rioting hoodies, for Christ's sake, before opening the floodgates to more".

Next up was Daniel Elton, who argued that the energy market is broken, we need to break up the big six companies, and let in, say, Tesco to run some of it. The NHS, local authorities should buy its energy in one bulk deal.

Blears rightly predicted he'd get all the Dragons on his side. Old energy companies were monolithic and gave no choice to the consumer - and nothing has changed, she said. There were price rises announced on the same day as British Gas announced a £750m profit. Akehurst agreed and thought the proposal should be put to the Shadow Policy Forum process: "Run with it, please, it's great." There were no votes on the panel - or in the audience against this proposal.

Sally Gimson argued we should have new Commissioners for Victims' Rights, as they do in Australia, who are hands-on, nationwide and take crime seriously. Commissioners who stand up for victims and witnesses in court rather than courts that simply perpetuate the working practices of lawyers.

Blears agreed that the current Commissioner is "hamstrung" and that the views of victims and witnesses are not accorded enough importance and respect. "Do I think it's an election-winning idea that'd really resonate with the public? The answer sadly is no." said Luke Akehurst. However, the proposal got a unanimous yes from the dragons.

Will Cook argued government should provide access to start up capital as soon as someone has made five years' worth of NI contributions: "It's the lack of availability to capital that holds people back", he said. "We need to get away from the consensus that 'education, education and education' alone is enough... This would be a popular policy - nearly half of all British workers say they'd rather be self-employed, yet only one in ten is."

Anthony Painter called it 'an interesting twist' on how to get money into new businesses. His one question was whether the state is the right vehicle or whether it could better be delivered by a credit union or bank. Blears said the single biggest issue at the next election would be jobs. There is no shortage of entrepreneurialism - "some of Salford's gangsters are the most entrepreneurial people you could meet!"

Chair Emily Thornberry then put the four proposals to an audience vote. Goodhart's immigration proposal gained 1 vote; Elton's energy proposal gained 27, Gimson's Commissioners got 6 votes, and Cook's start up capital proposal got 13.

Friday, 23 September 2011


Some readers of Next Left will be familiar with the Young Fabians, others may only be vaguely aware that the Fabians have a dedicated section for under-31s. Run by volunteers, it is one of the most active areas of the society, with record membership reached during the last year. We thrive on being many things to many people, and Labour Party Conference in the coming days provides us an opportunity to show what the Young Fabians do, and what young people can get from membership.

The Young Fabians helps young people develop their thinking on policy and get their voices heard by senior politicians. We run skills workshops, and provide opportunities to write (for the YF Blog and our quarterly magazine, Anticipations). We organise UK campaigning days, lead foreign delegations, and hold socials for members to get to know each other. The Young Fabians is for people new to politics, for those looking to develop a professional network, and many more in between. At the heart of our work this year has been a commitment to involving and empowering young members in the society. Members can participate in a variety of ways and as little or as much as they want, from reading the magazine or organising their own events. We are the thinkers and doers of the left’s youth.

There will be two Young Fabian events at Labour Party Conference in Liverpool – one social and one policy-oriented. No conference passes are required and everyone is welcome (whatever your age!).

Young Fabian Reception
- supported by UNISON -
7pm-10pm, Sunday 25 September
Portico Cantina & Bar, Albert Dock (Britannia Pavilion), Liverpool
Drinks provided, all welcome
Speakers throughout the night: Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham, Glenis Willmott, Lisa Nandy, Luciana Berger, Stephen Twigg, Kate Green, Adrian Prandle (Young Fabians), James Anthony (Unison)

Securing the future of the next generation
- fringe debate supported by ICAEW -
8am-9am, Tuesday 27 September
West Reception Room, Liverpool Town Hall
Breakfast provided, all welcome
Speakers: Andy Slaughter MP (Shadow Justice Minister); Joani Reid (leading YF ‘Next Generation’ Policy Commission); Rosie Chadwick (Catch 22); Fatima Hassan (ICAEW). Chair - Adrian Prandle (Chair, Young Fabians).

The fringe debate will tackle all important issues for Britain’s ‘squeezed youth’ and showcase the policy ideas and work of the Young Fabians Policy Commission dedicated to this important topic.

The Young Fabian Reception is a great opportunity to come and meet active Young Fabians and find out, in an informal environment, about all the great work we do. Please note that in Labour’s official conference guide, the event has been listed on the wrong day – so do make sure you don’t miss us on Sunday evening!

If you’d like to join the Young Fabians – or know someone under-31 who you think would be interested in getting involved – then take a look at all there is on offer and sign-up here: And don’t delay - all new members this week will be entered into a prize draw.

See you in Liverpool!

Adrian Prandle is Chair of the Young Fabians and also sits on the Fabian Society Executive Committee

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Moving to the country

How has Ed done in the year since he won the leadership of the Labour Party? The consensus verdict is in: he found his feet this summer after a slowish start. His position within the party is now firmly established, which is a more comfortable platform from which to tackle the big challenge for the next year: establishing himself within the country.

New polling conducted by Deborah Mattinson and Ben Shimshon of BritainThinks for the new Fabian Review bears this out. (You can read the full polling and analysis here) They show how all leaders of the opposition suffer declining poll ratings in their first year; it’s during the second year the ones that go to be prime minister start to really connect with voters and see their numbers improve accordingly.

BritainThinks have been talking to people about the idea of leadership and what characteristics are important now. Two recent events seem to colour people’s ideal-type of leader: the MPs' expenses scandal and the financial crisis. And the political consequences of these trends are that, currently, the former is playing in Ed’s favour but the latter in Cameron’s.

The overwhelming loss of trust politicians have experienced over the last few years has seen ‘integrity’ leap to number one in people’s leadership wish-list. Here Ed has a slight edge (similarly he also has the lead over Cameron in being ‘a good listener’ and ‘empathy’). However at the moment Cameron has a bigger lead on being ‘decisive’ and having ‘a vision’.

What Miliband is experiencing here is the ‘Mommy problem’ familiar to politicians of the left: that in times of insecurity, voters tend toward the ‘strict father’ model of leadership more usually offered by the political right – a more disciplinarian, strong-on-defence-and-moral-responsibility type of offer. The left’s more social, empathetic vision of government can get crowded out by the machismo.

So Labour strategists either need to shift the political conversation onto those areas where Ed already has a natural advantage – a tough sell during a period of economic uncertainty that doesn’t look like going anywhere soon – or beat Cameron on what is presently home turf.

The ability to be ‘a great communicator’ (the polling’s 3rd biggest prize) is there – remember those ‘Ed speaks human’ placards at his leadership launch? They weren’t meant ironically, but some of that skill got a little lost in translation to a national audience. The next year should recapture that. And ‘decisive’ is also within grasp if the message of ‘responsibility at the top and bottom’, outlined in Miliband’s best speech so far, continues to guide his response to events, as it did over the summer (although, publically at least, more obviously over phone-hacking than the riots).

Overall the polling – as with many of the assessments in the magazine of Ed’s first year – gives a sense of ‘lots done, lots to do’. The greatest strategic challenge for the next year is to bring together the various plays that have been set in motion into a singular and compelling story of what Ed Miliband’s Labour is all about. The ‘squeezed middle’ and ‘the promise of Britain’ both tap into very strong currents of feeling and speak to the world as many people find it, as does the focus on rebuilding our sense of community and instilling responsibility across society. This is all fertile territory; to harvest the votes, the next year needs to find the narrative that binds it all together.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Challenge for Labour

Ahead of Sunday’s Labour Party Conference Fabian Question Time ‘The Challenge for Labour’ Andrew Harrop, the society’s new General Secretary argues that the party needs to reach out to three distinct electoral groups. To win again it needs a strategy based on rupture with the past, credibility in the present, and ambition for the future.

No one should underestimate the challenge ahead in returning Labour to majority government. Although the party only lost one million votes between 2005 and 2010, the electoral maths suggests its needs two million more voters to be confident of winning next time. Since 1997 our support ebbed away, not just to the Tories, but also to smaller parties, principally the Liberal Democrats, and to people not voting at all. The latter two causes together count for three-quarters of Labour’s lost support so it would be folly to focus exclusively on Tory-Labour swing voters.

Labour’s aim must be to steadily build long-term support from all three camps. First, the party must give people turned-off politics a reason to vote. Some of this group may respond to the communitarianism of Blue Labour, but it seems unlikely that an appeal based on locality and tradition will work for the millions of young people disconnected from politics. Then there are the centrists who started 2011 well-disposed towards Cameron but still sceptical about his party. They will look for leadership they can trust, respect and feel is on their side. This is the group where Ed must compete head-to-head with Cameron. Finally, there are the millions of voters who have supported progressive parties, but favoured Lib Dems, Nationalists and others over Labour. This group will be particularly important because of the boundary changes, since the overall number of non-Tory seats is falling but the distribution is hard to call. To win we will need to convince the anti-Tory majority, and particularly disaffected Lib Dem voters, that Labour offers a home of principle not just convenience. To brew this electoral cocktail, Labour’s pitch must reference past, present and future.

Past: Ed Miliband sees just how toxic the new Labour brand of the Blair-Brown past had become. His game-changing decision to distance himself from much of our recent legacy has already proved a huge asset on phone hacking and will again in future on other issues, like student funding. But it is the broader impression of contrition and renewal that really matters, if Labour is to re-earn permission to be heard by the millions we turned-off when we were in power.

Present: The here-and-now matters too. Although the last few months have gone better, Labour’s frontbench still needs to master the slow attritional war of Opposition. The twin aims must be to discredit the Government and prove that we offer a strong, trustworthy alternative. It may be true that ‘governments lose elections, oppositions don’t win them’ but dogged and creative opposition is needed to show up the Coalition’s failings, exploit crises when they do emerge and win the public round to the idea of Ed Miliband as a credible Prime Minister-in-Waiting; someone who understands people’s lives and can be trusted to be strong on tough decisions. This battle will fundamentally be about the economy, whether we face a ‘double dip’ recession, a Japanese lost decade, or an over-cooked 80s-style pre-election boom. The two Eds need to nail Cameron, as well as Osborne, for sucking money out of the economy and anaemic private sector growth. The goal is not to be right for its own sake, but to win public confidence as trusted, in-touch stewards of the economy.

Future: Labour will only ‘seal the deal’, however, by looking forward and setting out positive reasons to vote Labour. We need to appeal to the heart, to remake the emotional bonds we slowly broke after 1997. This is not just an electoral scheme to hoover-up disaffected progressive voters. Ambition and radicalism are essential to avoid always singing to someone else’s tune. After a decade in Government we were still a party on the defensive, fighting against the prevailing currents of right wing economic doctrine, institutional interests and media power.

Labour needs to re-make an aspirational, confident case for social democratic values in a way that speaks to a broad electoral base not just to ourselves. We need to be become the standard bearer of the centre-left British mainstream, against the powerful minorities on the Right. The Fabian intellectual tradition can make a vital contribution to this optimistic future vision, notwithstanding the criticism we have received from within the left of late. For to fight on the front-foot in 2015 Labour must reinvent and set out afresh the two most enduring Fabian principles: the case for equality and the case for state action.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Do you have one idea to win the next election? The Fabian Fringe at Labour 2011

Labour Party Conference is fast approaching and as with every year we’ll be running one of the largest fringe programmes on offer. Come and join us and our partners in Liverpool Town Hall, just five minutes walk from the Secure Zone. No conference pass is needed to secure attendance.

Do you have one idea to win the next election? If so please submit your ideas to Me and the winner will get to pitch their ideas to our Dragons in this year’s ‘Fabian Dragons’ Den entitled ‘One Idea to Win the Next Election’ (Sunday at 1pm).

Hazel Blears MP and Mehdi Hasan (Senior Editor New Statesmen, co-author ‘Ed: The Milibands and the making of a Labour leader’) will be joined by a special guest to pass judgement on your ideas.

To take part all you need to do is submit your pitch via e-mail and be ready and available to speak at The Fringe event itself. The pitch should be no more than 500 words and a few runners up will have their ideas posted on our prestigious and influential Fabian blog ‘Next Left’.

At the Fabians we are committed to involving our membership as much as possible in our events. A Fabian member will be on every panel and others are actively encouraged to ask questions from the floor.

Our traditional Dragons’ Den is just one event we’re doing this year. They’ll also be ‘Fabian Question Time: The Challenge for Labour’ featuring Yvette Cooper MP; ‘Is There Such a thing as Society?’ Featuring Andy Burnham MP and a discussion on the phone hacking scandal in our ‘Labour After Murdoch’ event featuring David Blunkett and Sadiq Khan MP.

Our programme consists of public facing fringe events set up to ignite debate and a series of specialist roundtables on a wide variety of topics. You can download a pdf of our full fringe programme here or read about it more on the website here

Friday, 2 September 2011

The changing politics of 'family values'

Guest post by Sunder Katwala, former General Secretary of the Fabians

The recent New Statesman coverage on the family - which I blogged about on Next Left - hinted towards, but hyperbolically exaggerated, an interesting contrast between right and left in how they tackle the politics of the family.

The right has been very clear about what it wants to say about the family, but much shorter on what goes with the rhetoric. The centre-left has often been able to generate a “policy rich” agenda, but has been less successful in articulating the principles.

Margaret Thatcher was a vigorous advocate not just of “family values” but of a traditionalist Victorian-inspired reading of them. If we have had a slow decline of these values over decades, as the Prime Minister reiterated today, then a large part of that must have taken place while a staunchly traditionalist reading of family values were a constant staple of ministerial speeches.

The problem for the Thatcher family values agenda was that, across a decade, the Downing Street Policy Unit did not find many ways to put that rhetoric into practice. Rates of divorce and of births outside of marriage continued to rise across the 1980s and afterwards. Partly the creative destruction of markets trumped the instinct to social stability, but it was also because nobody in mainstream politics succeeded in identifying what could legitimately have been done to quickly or sharply reverse those trends, at least without significantly transgressing on the values of an open society.

That the right is usually more ambivalent than the left about intruding on market freedoms in the cause of family values, as proposals over parental leave have tended to demonstrate, is one reason why social democrats have often had more policy content on families and children as part of a concern for social inclusion and integration – introducing new institutions such as SureStart for the under 5s, to increased financial support for families in work, and progress on maternity and paternity rights and flexible working - but were weaker on a public articulation on the vision of family which brought this together.

Both right and left have changed their approach to family. The right has toned down the rhetoric significantly since the days of Peter Lilley singing ditties about single mothers at the Tory party conference. It has got practical, particularly drawing on the work of the Centre for Social Justice.

The left has been talking about how to develop its hands-on focus on children and families in its analysis of social exclusion into a more coherent public narrative, which also reflects on the evidence of lessons of what has worked and what didn’t over the last decade. So a caricatured portrait of a debate between hyperindividualist 68ers and traditionalist reactionaries misses out the real world in which most of us live.

So, when the Fabians brought Iain Duncan Smith and Polly Toynbee together at the Labour conference to discuss poverty and life chances, they still had some differences of course, but both proved rather much more struck by the extent of common ground too, especially on the need for greater investment in early intervention, where IDS has alighted on a central preoccupation of many Labour thinkers too.

The potential convergence is illustrated by Tim Montgomerie’s consensual pitch from the right in the Guardian, which included a surprise offer to become a conciliatory pioneer on the right for a mansion tax, as well as for early intervention, and asking in return:

Can Labour politicians get to the point where they agree that single parenthood is sometimes wonderful, often unavoidable but rarely ideal?

Yes, that seems to me to be something that most people on the left could endorse pretty straightforwardly, not least because the nuanced expression and avoidance of scapegoating marks a significant shift in the discourse and rhetoric of the right too, decisively rejecting the scapegoating and stigmatising which will naturally generate a defensive response.

The ambivalence in the left’s approach to the family is not presentational – the fear of channelling the Daily Mail – but also substantive - about the complexity of strengthening the family in the society we live in, not an idealised version of what once was.

The real difficulty here that the family is rightly the most private and so jealously guarded of social institutions and yet also, at the same time, acknowledged by both right and left to provide the most important foundations for our civic life too. That tension presents significant challenges, generating fears of excessive intervention and the spectre of the ‘nanny state’ alongside recognition of the shortcomings of a laissez-faire approach, whether pursued from social individualism on the left or market individualism on the right, which heads into there is no such thing as society territory.

Dystopian claims of a broken society lack both a credible evidence base and, usually, any coherent or possible agenda for change, while, at the same time, significant sections of our society are fractured and damaged, so risk further entrenching a segregated minority, in which both disadvantage and dysfunction are too easily transmitted from generation to generation.

Both left and right have liberal and traditionalist wings which are still motivated primarily by the urgency of the need to contest or protect the legacy of the social liberalisation of the 1960s.

But the potential for a good measure of common ground can be overlooked if we do not recognise the engaged debate about public policy has mostly moved beyond that.

There is a broad sense that the bulk of those changes are irreversible. Britain is in this respect a more European society, with our public debate much less dominated by the sharp “culture wars” polarisation which continue to frame much US debate about “values issues”.