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U08-424 Contents may 2011
In light of the ongoing discussion over progressive politics, Neal Lawson and Michael Dugher discuss the workability of a pact between the opposition party and the Liberal Democrats
CAN A ‘PROGRESSIVE ALLIANCE’ WORK BETWEEN LABOUR AND THE LIB DEMS?
Crystal-ball gazing in politics is a fool’s game. Who saw in advance the centre–right coalition we currently have? And what do we mean by ‘work’? This coalition is working in the sense that it looks fairly solid and has a programme – regardless of how much someone like me doesn’t like what it’s doing. But could there be a centre–le alternative?
That is what was always expected. A progressive realignment of the centre–le and the reunification of social liberalism and liberal Socialism has been the Holy Grail of many. Certainly me. Why? In part, for electoral reasons. In every election since the Second World War the progressive vote combined has outstripped the Conservative vote, but under ‘first past the post’ the Tories usually win (take note, Labour’s ‘No’ to AV campaign). But it’s about more than that.
For Labour and the wider Le to have any chance of success – and ‘by success’ I mean the reduction of inequality and control over climate change – then it’s going to have to become more liberal. By ‘more liberal’ I mean less statist and much more relaxed about people having the autonomy to run their lives. This is not just an operational or reform point. Yes, we have to democratise and localise services, but we have to make the goal of politics the ability of people to regain control over their lives – not just as shoppers (though that’s pre y hollow), but also in their workplaces, communities, the City, the media, and all the institutions and forces that currently exert undue influence over them, with li le, if any, accountability. Socialism is about people deciding, o en collectively, how to run their world.
A cursory glance at British politics would suggest that such a realignment is further away than ever. But take a closer look. As with Labour, so the Liberal Democrats have been the victims of a takeover by a small, rather neo-liberal elite. There will be a reaction to this – and there already is; witness their conference vote on rejecting NHS reforms. And remember, too, that, unlike Labour, they are still a democratic party.
Then look at Labour. Ed Miliband has made repeated calls for Labour and social liberals to work together, and some have been invited into help the party policy review. This is, in part, because Ed is more pluralistic than previous Labour leaders, but also because he rightly fears a two-versus-one campaign at the next election. My own organisation, which is mostly but no longer exclusively Labour, works closely with people around the Social Liberal Forum to develop policy and ideas, and to campaign together for shared beliefs.
People forget that there are likely to be four years until the next election. So much can, and will, happen. My hope is that Ed Miliband will continue to transform Labour, making it a force commi ed to greater equality, sustainability and democracy. This will define the Good Society. Over in the Lib
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Dem camp I hope one of three things happens; either the social liberals should take back control of their party, or they should split between the small groups of Orange Bookers and the rest. Alternatively, a large block could leave and join Labour or the Greens, who are, by necessity, the other part of any progressive alliance. What they can’t do is stay indefinitely in a coalition with George Osborne. Both tasks for social labour and social liberals are huge. What ma ers is not so much the end point but the nature of the journey, and the way in which people on the le start to work together now, begin to trust each other now, and see that there’s nothing to fear in a politics of firm beliefs and open minds.
So, we’re already forming a progressive alliance rather than waiting for it to come down in government from above. Hung parliaments look likely to be a feature of British politics for some time to come. Like it or not, parties are going to have to pick partners, or be consigned to the wilderness. But a progressive alliance will only happen if those who want it work at it. The job starts now. Neal Lawson is chairman of the pressure group Compass
MICHAEL DUGHER MP
A hundred years ago, the Liberal Party of Asquith, Lloyd George and Churchill governed Britain. The Liberals introduced important social and political reforms, not least on old-age pensions, social insurance and the Parliament Act, in an a empt to be the alternative voice – what we would today call the ‘progressive’ alternative – to the Conservative Party. By the end of the First World War, however, the Liberals were in coalition with the Tories, and they were in complete political meltdown. Once they had served their purpose, their coalition partners kicked them out, and Winston Churchill became a Conservative.
Now, Nick Clegg is no Winston Churchill, but just as the Liberals failed to oﬀer the necessary progressive change a century ago, so their failure is being repeated lamentably in government today.
Yet the question is still posed as to whether or not Labour could enter into a progressive alliance with today’s Liberal Democrats. Under Nick Clegg – a man who not only chose to get into the bed with the Tories, but who seems to be enthusiastically enjoying his time between the sheets – the answer is an unequivocal no. Clegg is not merely leader of the Lib Dems, but for many years has been the poster boy for the so-called ‘Orange Book’ Liberals, the free-market Lib Dems like David Laws, Danny Alexander and Chris Huhne. These politicians have been exposed in recent months for what they really are: a bunch of ‘quasi-Conservatives’ who diﬀer only from true Tories in their lack of hostility towards Europe. As David Laws said last November: “Working with the Conservatives in government has led to the ‘oranging’ process going on at a rapid rate.”
But even if the leadership of the Lib Dems were diﬀerent, Labour should reject the idea that a deal with the Lib Dems should be our goal. It should not. Labour is, at its best, a ‘One Nation’ party. It’s one that, genuinely, can have a mass appeal. We can poll well in Scotland and Wales, we can be a strong voice for the industrial North and the Midlands, and we can represent the big cities like London and Birmingham. But Labour can win – and win again – in seaside towns, in middle of East Anglia and in the leafy parts of the South of England too. History teaches us that when Labour has a broad appeal, we have a broad political reach. Think the mid-forties, the mid-sixties and repeatedly from the mid-nineties. To believe that Labour cannot win again in this way is the politics of despair.
To talk of a progressive alliance is also to seek a silver bullet that does not exist. You cannot simply tot up Labour’s standing in the opinion polls, add it to what the Lib Dems are polling, and believe that we have the basis for a progressive alliance. Labour has to do the hard work. If we listen harder to the public, if we connect with them more, and if we understand their aspirations and concerns once again, then we can win back their trust.
We desperately want – and need – people
To talk of a progressive alliance is also to seek a silver bullet that does not exist. Labour has to do the hard work there’s something more than a li le familiar about this and there are things to ponder today. One of the great myths put about, particularly by electoral reformers in the Labour Party, is that there was a terrible split in progressive politics a century ago, and the Conservatives were able to dominate most of the 20th century in a way that would not have been possible had Labour and the Liberals formed a progressive alliance. But this is to misunderstand history.
The reason why the Liberals declined so quickly, and why Labour emerged, was precisely because the newly-enfranchised working man (and later, woman) knew that the only authentic, radical, progressive force for change in Britain was Labour, with its roots in working-class communities, specifically, in those days, through the trade unions and the co-operative movement. And who voted Lib Dem last time, but feel betrayed by Nick Clegg, to think about voting Labour next time. In the same way that Labour needs to remain in touch with its core vote. If we are to win again, we need sizable numbers of people who have previously voted for the Conservatives to consider voting Labour in the future.
Under Ed Miliband, Labour has embarked on that journey, but there’s no short cut and no quick fix. Political elites may put together grubby coalition governments, but it’s people – inspired and reassured – that act on mass to deliver breakthrough majorities. That should be the scale of Labour’s ambition, not a shot-gun wedding with the Lib Dems. ■ Michael Dugher is the Labour
MP for Barnsley East and a shadow defence minister
STATE OF THE UNION
PRITI PATEL MP WANTS NEW LEGISLATION With every government announcement comes an inevitable response from the trade unions. Whether it’s over NHS reform, academies, pensions or slashing government waste, no news report would be complete without a trade union general secretary reciting their well-rehearsed and predictable lines, attacking cuts and bankers. In private, and increasingly in public, union representatives are also talking the language of strikes, co-ordinated industrial action to maximise damage and civil disobedience.
These threats must be taken seriously and, as well as preparing contingency plans, the government should change union laws to protect taxpayers and the majority of Britons who want to work without this disruption. Introducing a voter threshold for unions to approve strike action has been widely suggested, most notably by London Mayor Boris Johnson. However, a wider package of reforms and legislation will be needed to prevent unions bringing Britain to a standstill.
Workers who do not support strikes and want to work must have greater protection from picket-line bullies. The recent criminal conviction of an RMT official for attacking a worker crossing a picket line shows that some union members are prepared to be as aggressive and militant as in the 1980s. Conservatives should always defend the rights of people to work free from intimidation, bullying or violence.
Taxpayer-funded perks for unions must also be cut and be subject to full transparency. Finally, to avoid a repeat of the shameful Warwick Agreement, political party funding needs reform. Labour will always oppose measures to restrict the donations it receives from the unions, and Ed Miliband has stated that his real priority for the country is to make trade unions the cornerstone of a civilised society. But to clean up politics, protect the taxpayer and support the British economy, there must be an end to union cash for Labour policies. Priti Patel is the Conservative
MP for Witham
Total Politics | May 2011 | 13
Under the scalpel As Andrew Lansley’s NHS reform bill hits the pause button, Caroline Crampton and Ben Duckworth speak to the man at the centre of the controversy
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L e o n
N e al
Five minutes before his sudden departure, he had been denying vociferously that the break inserted into the passage of his bill – it will now only probably reach the report stage in mid-June – is a response to the opposition, from several quarters, to its contents. The following week, after our interview, the listening exercise was formally launched.
“What we’ve been hearing, with a single exception, points to a fundamental agreement with the bill,” Lansley says, rejecting any suggestion that there is widespread division over his plans. He continues: “I think people, on balance, broadly support the general practice-led commission and clinical engagement in commissioning.”
When asked whether he accepts that there has been a failure of communication on the message of the reforms, Lansley responds with an emphatic “no”, before proceeding to put forward his opinion that the British Medical Association’s (BMA) opposition to his reforms was premeditated. “The BMA did this before the election. The ‘Keep the NHS public’ was a BMA campaign before the election, and they’ve just carried it on.”
The one exception that he identifies, in his view of the broadly consensual reception his bill has received, is that of the BMA and the trade unions. Lansley says they are against the idea of “any qualified provider”, under which the private sector would be able to bid to provide NHS services. He is dismissive of their view saying, “Basically, it’s a trade union monopoly thing.”
Lansley has more problems than trade union discontent, however. His own party is less than fully supportive. Many of the Conservative MPs we spoke to about the NHS reforms admitted that they had been unclear on exactly what the reforms were and how the details of the bill would work. One was quick to stand by Lansley in his response to the BMA – if somewhat more blunt: “You just want to tell the trade unions to piss off.” But most are more reticent. There is not an ideological problem for
don’t think he’s coming back,” utters an aide as we watch the most talkedabout cabinet minister of the moment move swiftly out of the room. But she was right – he didn’t come back. Given the furore that has surrounded health secretary Andrew Lansley and his NHS reforms, it’s not surprising he’s not overly anxious to answer questions on how he is going to rescue both the situation and his credibility.
The BMA and the trade unions are against the idea of any qualified provider... Basically, it’s a trade union monopoly thing
Conservative MPs on changing the NHS but they do recognise the political difficulties it has caused. They are also experiencing two different responses at constituency level. GPs are often keen to take on the extra responsibility, but members of the public are worried. “People are unsure about the movement of power for two reasons. They think their GP is a muppet and don’t want them to have an more power at all, or they love their GP and don’t want their role to change,” says one who represents a marginal urban seat. Even his supporters are cautious. The NHS reforms are in such danger that an MP with professional experience of a primary care trusts (PCTs) can only “hope it will turn out alright”.
The ‘pause’ in the bill’s progress was a serious challenge to Lansley’s vision of an NHS driven by GP-led commissioning. Having spent years painstakingly resurrecting his party’s reputation as its defenders, David Cameron could not allow
Total Politics | May 2011 | 39
Ben Duckworth meets one of the Labour Party’s rising stars. The shadow justice secretary opens up about Ed Miliband’s leadership, staying tough on crime and teasing Ken Clarke. Photos by Emma Innocenti
Standing in his constituency oﬃce on the Balham High Road in South London on an unseasonably hot April day, Sadiq Khan jokes during a photoshoot that his wife will want him to look like George Clooney. He then tells a very good story about a worried Boris Johnson following Bob Crow into a toilet before a recording of Radio 4’s AnyQuestions in case the union man was trying to release a story to the press.
Creating a light atmosphere comes easily to a man described as a “warm character” by his colleagues.
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Regulars Letters 4 Diary 6 Steve Richards of The Independent Polling 8 Cameron’s foreign policy tests Blogger writes 9 The idea 10 Jonathan Rutherford on the virtue of manliness Data 11 Debate 12 Would a ‘progressive alliance’ work between Labour and the Lib Dems? Point of order 13 Priti Patel MP Events/The Wanted List 14 Ministerial profile 16 Nick Harvey MP MP of the month 18 Justin Tomlinson MP
Total Campaigns Direct marketing 22 The power of traditional campaign literature George Pascoe-Watson on... 23 Insiders in No 10 reveal how David Cameron has coped in his first year as PM Campaign doctor 24 Writes of passage 26 Follow these steps to become a fully-fledged Whitehall speechwriter History of the soundbite 28 How to maximise a good turn of speech Tweeting 29 Is Twitter worth the effort?
FeaturesAllshookup31 Is it time for a radical shake-up of MPs’ sitting hours? Facing the fallout 34 Jamie Reed MP defends nuclear power Councillors survey 36 Local government gives its opinion on Eric Pickles and the coalition Andrew Lansley 38 As the NHS reforms hit a pothole, we talk to the man behind the steering wheel. Does he admit to a communications failure? Three of a kind 44 John Higginson spends an afternoon with the three Deputy Speakers: Lindsay Hoyle, Nigel Evans and Dawn Primarolo Anniversary of the coalition 48 MPs say whether Britain is in a better or worse place under the Con-Lib Dem government On the AV campaign trail 50 The referendum draws closer but who’s running the best campaign? We go inside both camps In conversation with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown 54 Iain Dale meets the real Yasmin who reveals some surprisingly right-wing views
Cover story: Sadiq Khan 58 Labour’s shadow justice secretary on opening up to Ed and teasing Ken Clarke
Total History The forgotten PM 72 The life of Spencer Perceval, the last PM to be assassinated Where are they now? 74 The history of one object 75 Memorabilia 75 Sam Gyimah MP They were also MPs 76 Robert Fitzroy
Total Life Book reviews 84 Louise Bagshawe MP and Keith Simpson MP Brought to book 85 John Pugh MP My old book 85 Peter Lilley MP Film review: I Am A Great Man 86 Researchers’ stories 87 Hinterland 88 Bill Esterson MP on hockey Top 10 political footballers 89 Lunch with... 90 Jo Swinson MP
Improving the nation’s health 64 We discuss with FDF how we can improve Britain’s eating habits and general wellbeing
Tomorrow’s world 78 Siemens and Total Politics explore the future of our urban environment, including our transport and infrastructure
Total Politics | May 2011 | 3