Thursday, 31 July 2008

Miliband rage or minimum wage?

Most of the papers are in full silly season mode today - I particularly thought the Evening Standard's line-by-line "translation" of David Miliband's press conference with the Italian Minister was unintentionally hysterical. (No wonder David looked irritable having to answer the same question again and again!)

But buried amongst the papers and on the 10th anniversary of the minimum wage today, we've announced we're outlawing the scandalous practice of restaurants using tips to top up the salaries of their staff. Well done to Derek Simpson and Unite for campaigning hard on this.

This is just the kind of decent act of social justice we need to be selling back to the public. The minimum wage benefited more than 1.5 million people on the worst pay. Sadly it doesn't get anywhere the amount of coverage it deserves today - hopefully broadcast will pick it up later.

Whilst I don't agree with Steve Richards conclusion in his piece in the Independent today, he makes a pretty valid point about the problem about getting our message across in the current climate.

"The noise around the leadership in itself is becoming the pivotal issue. Until it subsides, the Government will not be heard and is in danger of falling even further behind in the polls."

I think a lot of members would love to start seeing us getting back out on the front foot, taking the Tories to task and promoting our successes and future plans - a detailed road map through these difficult times. I'm really pleased to see Gordon's planning to do this in September by unveiling a new economic plan.

The challenge we face is fighting to make sure we get heard. But shout we must.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Don't talk down the economy, stupid

You'd think that by looking at the media that we're going to hell in a handcart with the economy.

Which makes this piece by noted economics editor Liam Halligan in the Sunday Telegraph - one of the in-house papers of the Conservative Party - very revealing.

"The highly respected DCLG house measure - which surveys mortgage completions from 50 lenders each month - showed an average price of £207,577 at the beginning of 2007, rising to £219,054 at the end of last year.

"The latest DCLG number is £218,521 - lower, but not disastrously so."

That's a staggering drop of the average house price in the seven months of the credit crunch of £533!

By reading some papers and listening to the likes of Osborne, you'd be forgiven for thinking it must be at least ten times as much as that.

The perception is - and even I believed it - the economy is spiraling into recession and there's little we can do.

Liam's argument is that the prospect of a recession is not guaranteed at all. Which makes all the talk of it by the Tories, the right-wing media and the City all the more reckless.

There's no doubt times are tight and we're all feeling the pinch. But the recession is not a foregone conclusion.

But if people continue to talk down the economy it'll become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Here Come the Girls!

Move over Colleen. Hull's Wags are ready for the Premiership!

Love the way the Hull Dail Mail reporter - a true Hull lass - describes the Wag's boutique Coco Noir as 'Ker-Ker Noo-wah!' Brilliant.

Less than three weeks to go to the start of our first Premiership season and just sorted a ticket for the Arsenal match.

Get in!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Let's go fouth

I sometimes wonder whether I'm too optimistic for my own good.

I spent today taking calls at work from friends down about the result, thinking the game's up. "We're just fucked" seemed to be a common refrain.

Perhaps it's a mindset from years watching the Tigers, but I was brought up to believe that it's never over whilst you've still got time on the clock. Difficult - yes. Hard - undoubtedly. But impossible, no.

I think people know Gordon's been given a tough hand - rocketing food prices, uncertainty in the housing market and speculators driving up oil. Some even think he's getting persecuted for not having the best presentational skills.

But colleagues who campaigned up in Glasgow East and in the phone banks said time and time again, the voters were saying they didn't really know what we stand for anymore.

People know we're tough on security but 42 days detention without trial, ID cards and keeping innocent people on a DNA database are hardly the kind of policies to send people flocking to the poll booths.
I think it's time to start telling them what we're FOR. 

  • Helping parents give their kids the best start in life
  • Providing the education and training opportunities to help people get decent jobs 
  • Supporting those who need help to get back in work
  • A heath service driven by the quality of care
  • Making sure pensioners enjoy the retirement they deserve

We need to get back to clear, deliverable and progressive policies and give the public compelling new reasons to back us again.

The 1997 pledge cards worked for three reasons. Firstly, people could see what our priorities were, secondly they were achievable and distinct targets and thirdly, they were easy to remember.
  1. Cut class sizes to 30 or under for those 7 and under
  2. Fast track punishment for persistent offenders
  3. Cut NHS waiting lists by 100,000
  4. Get 250,000 under 25s off benefit and into work 
  5. Ensure low inflation

11 years later, we need to ask our members what those priorities should be for the next election - now.  Your ordinary member, who doesn't go to wards or GCs, rightly feels ignored, demotivated and unloved of late. No one likes to their team go on a losing streak.

Maybe that's because we still live by the old politics, where policy is decided at the highest level and left to the grassroots to sell on the doorstep.

So let's have a proper open debate - not a token consultation - about where we really need to go.  But let's also sell back the many successes of three successive Labour Governments.

Let's see Progress, Compass and The Fabians work together to play the increasingly crucial part in making that convincing argument for the fourth term.

And most importantly, let's forget all this talk about dumping Gordon. He's by far the best person to get us through these tough economic times (though if I hear him saying he's "getting on with the job" one more time, I WILL scream!) 

So no, we're not 'fucked.' 

We're bruised. We're bloodied. 

But we're not going down without a fight.


Monday, 21 July 2008

Purnell would benefit from a cut

Interesting debate going on at Labourhome on the welfare green paper. Apparently James Purnell is responding to comments on the site so if you've got a question, get in touch.

My comment was:

"I think there's an awful lot to commend the paper though I think a lot members would have preferred the annoucement to have been made in the House first!

"If these reforms, as promised, help to lift a further 200,000 children out of poverty and get us back on track to halving child poverty by 2010 and erradicating it by 2020, then we'll all welcome it with open arms.

"But surely the big issue - as Barnados highlight - is that half the 1.9 million children in povery already have a parent in employment.

"By all means let's help people back to work, but let's not push them into meaningless McJobs for the sake of getting them off the register and make sure we hit the 80%.

"That's the concern I have with private firms being incentivised to find work for the long-term unempoyed. How will we ensure that they're finding them the right job - or is any job, the 'right' job?

"These reforms will work best if we also pay people a living wage, grant equal employment rights to temporary and agency workers, universal childcare and conduct a closer scrutiny of employers.

"Whilst they'll be a lot of people with valid concerns about how this works in practice and no-one ever wins friends on reforming welfare, at least we're defining the terms of debate and setting the agenda again.

"For that alone, you should be applauded James."

I also thought - after seeing his performance on Marr yesterday - that he could do with a bit of a trim.

One benefit cut we could all back!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Don't shoot the messenger, Gordon

I've been quite busy in the last few weeks and a bit slack on updating the blog. 
With Roz out of hospital, I've finally been getting round to those husband-y tasks that need to be done.

That means assembling filing cabinets, putting boxes away - since my run in Hull and Roz's illness, we've still had a good few boxes of belongings that needed unpacking.

In some ways, we feel we've been given permission to live again after existing in limbo for the best past of the year.

But last week has spurred me to get back on the Mac again.

Caroline Flint's progressive policy on getting first time buyers on the ladder, the workfare reforms and the Youth Action Plan really deserved their fair share of shout.
But instead the whole week has been dominated about the perceived U turn on A&E visits for those charged with knife crime. There's a lot of good things to be said about restorative justice but in the current climate, this was always going to be a step too far.

I believe ministers didn't fully sign up to this, but it seems the Home Office press office might have over-spun the proposal,  according to PR Week. 

The lack of clarity on message was typified by Gordon's visit to the Middle East. When you want to highlight the fact that British troops will be leaving Iraq soon rather than later and a two state solution is within sight, being accidently pictured behind a helicopter-mounted heavy machine gun doesn't really reinforce the image of a consensus-building country.

Could it be that the people surrounding Gordon don't feel they have the confidence to highlight all these potential pitfalls?

It's a necessity for any decent comms person to be that critical friend, to risk the wrath to protect the client's reputation. For many years I did just that with John. Whilst on occasion  he didn't like the initial analysis (and that was a bit of an understatement as no-one likes to be told they might be wrong) he respected the opinion of someone outside the bubble.

The Prime Minister has unwittingly of late let himself be 'defined' by the media - the election that never was, the 10p tax rate and Northern Rock; though all have rational arguments for delay, all fed the Tory and media line that he was "dithering."

What No10 needs to do is to stop being LED by the news agenda and start SETTING it. Campbell revealed in his diaries that Blair didn't devour the news papers and very rarely engaged with broadcast.

So my advice would be: "Gordon, turn off the TV, cancel the papers, bring back the grid and start following your heart-felt principles." 

And don't shoot the messenger - work with them.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

A Word from the past

I suddenly felt, in equal measures, very nostalgic and quite old today.

I happened to be watching Terry Christian interviewed on the Daily Politics. He'd been invited to make a film on social mobility - or the perceived lack of it. Whilst generally saying Labour hadn't done enough, he then said he'd been asked to ''join Cool Britannia by John Prescott's son."

My mind flashed back to a night in 1995- we were at Teddington Lock studios, where Hughie Green used to film Opportunity Knocks), but now was home to the infamous ''The Word.'' I remember being somewhat taken aback to be holding the door open for Louise Wener (the very intelligent and attractive singer of a Britpop band called Sleeper who has now become a novelist.)

Back then any young party member was doing their best to spread the word about the new Labour party. When it came to celebrity supporters, we were still known for Red Wedge, which had fizzled out a good few years earlier.

And to be fair, the likes of Jimmy Sommerville and Billy Bragg had lost their street cred amongst people my age. That's why it was important to look for support from the new generation.

There had been successes. I'd been helping out with a voter registration campaign called Rock The Vote and certain other people had managed to enlist the support of Eddie Izzard, Steve Coogan and various bands.

I do remember the scene wasn't even called Cool Britannia back then (that name didn't come about until Tony got into No 10 and his first Anglo-French summit.) But the point was in 1995, we needed all the cool we could get.

So I did speak to Terry who, fair dues, said he didn't want to publicly support us. I don't seem to remember him saying that Tony was a Tory, but it was 13 years ago.

And then when it hit me - 13 years. I was 24 years old, playing a very, very small part in trying to bring about a Labour victory. I'm not too sure whether Terry's support would have led to a bigger landslide than the one we got but I'm glad to see that 13 years later that he's still the same loud-mouthed, opinionated Manc I last remember having a pint with.

If you want to hear his views on social mobility - and he makes some interesting points - then click here.