That’s right – the Citizens Advice Bureau has come under attack from the right-wing Guido Fawkesblog, which is trying to create a story about a haven of “Labour apparatchiks”, operating a politicised agenda behind a mask of neutrality. The email extract above is being presented as justification.
What utter codswallop!
The claim is that the charity, which helps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice, pushes a left-wing or Labour-supporting agenda because it is “stuffed full” of Labour members like “former Miliband aide and Labour candidate Polly Billington”.
In fact, a quick glance through the very email being waved around as evidence is enough to prove the opposite. It leaves no doubt that Ms Billington is leaving her role in Citizens Advice precisely because she knows that taking up her political activities would create a conflict of interest if she were to remain. It’s there in black and white.
The email states: “Polly and I have been thinking carefully about how to make sure this is a smooth transition, so that the campaigns and communications teams are fully supported… and both THE REALITY and perception of our political neutrality are maintained” [boldings and CAPS mine].
That’s right – the intention is to maintain THE REALITY of the charity’s political neutrality.
How did Guido report it? She “has been moved from the front line … so that the ‘perception of our political neutrality’ is ‘maintained’. This is an extremely clumsy misinterpretation because, as noted above, the email refers very clearly to THE REALITY of the charity’s political neutrality.
Indeed, the CAB Code of Conduct prohibits any politicisation of the kind suggested by Guido: “Trustees and committee members must comply with… the avoidance of activities which might compromise Citizens Advice’s political neutrality.”
So where Guido‘s article continues: “Meanwhile, the charity has just hired the Resolution Foundation’s James Plunkett as its new head of campaigns. That would be the same James Plunkett who used to work for Gordon Brown and who has written a string of articles for the Guardian laying into the Tories and “the cuts”. Wonder how they will maintain his ‘perception of political neutrality’,” again it is spouting nonsense. He will be tied into political neutrality by the same code of conduct that ties everybody else in positions of authority, including members of CAB trustee boards across the United Kingdom who may be supporters of the Conservative, Labour, Green or any other party in their personal life, including this writer.
Since the article is clearly trying to suggest the CAB’s political neutrality is only a front, it seems clear that CAB has every right to sue Guido into oblivion – or at least seek compensation for the intended damage to the charity’s reputation.
This seems like another attempt to claim left-wing political bias that isn’t there, in order to install exactly the same kind of sympathy towards the right-wing parties instead – for an example of this strategy, look at the BBC.
Struggling to make an impact: Ed Miliband must reject the Tory Party’s narrative about the need for austerity and bring forward a vision for the future that really does make us ‘One Nation’ again, rather than hanging on David Cameron’s neoliberal coat-tails, as many former Labour voters believe.
The political debate is all about the Labour Party again today – as it has been since the Budget.
The newspapers and websites are full of advice for the party, which is now clearly seen to be struggling to gain any kind of a foothold with electors who have become disillusioned at what might best be called the Party of Very Little Opposition.
Labour “must adopt new principles” according to an alliance of thinktanks and party intellectuals who have written to The Guardian; Ed Miliband has been told “don’t play safe” with the party’s manifesto according to an article on the same paper’s site.
We can probably discount the Telegraph article by Dan Hodges, claiming that Labour is “closed for business”. It plays to right-wing readers’ prejudices just a little too much.
Will Ed pay any attention to these pleas? Evidence suggests he will not.
I should clarify from the outset that, as a Labour member, I want the Party to win in 2015 (and also to gain the lion’s share of the vote in May’s European elections).
But Miliband seems to be living in a world of his own, insulated from the rest of the Labour Party – not to mention supporters of Labour ideals who are not members – by a small group of (not-so-special) advisers who, it’s claimed, intercept any decent ideas before they get to the party leader and spin them until they turn to drivel. Whether this is true or not seems immaterial as this is the perception of the general public.
And perception is everything.
As I write this article I have just received a comment stating that “Miliband’s strategy for the next election seems to be a) to accept the Tory frame of reference for any given argument and b) to then concede the field of battle on that issue, whatever it is, without a shot being fired.” This is a common complaint, and Labour has no answer to it.
Why do Miliband, Balls, Tristram Hunt (notably), Rachel Reeves (lamentably) and all the other Labour frontbenchers blithely accept the Coalition’s terms of reference on any issue, against the wishes of their own backbenchers, their party as a whole and the public at large?
Are they really just a gang of greedy moneygrubbers, determined to screw the country for whatever they can get? That in itself would be a betrayal of Labour Party ideals and their constituency parties should deselect them if members believed that to be the case for one moment.
Are they a gang of neoliberals, their political philosophy so close to that of the Conservatives that you can’t get a credit card between them? This rings threateningly true in the cases of Oxford PPE graduats Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, ex-Bank of England employee Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt. But Ed Miliband is (famously) the son of a Marxist. He, above all, should know better.
The trouble is, David Miliband is the son of the same Marxist and he was as much a part of the neoliberal New Labour Red Tory deception as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Oh look – another comment has just arrived. “More people don’t bother to vote because they feel that we as a people have moved on and all we really want is people who will represent us honestly, by majority and with no hidden agendas, backhanders or lobbyists pulling the strings. I don’t see any evidence that the present government or the Labour Party are capable or willing to do just that… They should have the courage to change and become the voice of the people.”
Become the voice of the people. The meaning is clear – Labour is not currently representing anybody at all.
Is this true? Let’s look at some of the other comments on my (left-leaning, let’s not forget) blog. These are from people who are generally sympathetic to Socialism and who should, therefore, see Labour as the natural home of their vote. What do they say?
“[Is it] any wonder [that] 1. People don’t vote because they are seen as “all the bloody same”? and 2. The perceived differences have become so minuscule?”
“Until Labour wakes up and realises it is the welfare cuts that are a major concern to most of us and to anyone who has a conscience, they will lose the next election due to apathy.”
“Labour have to do something different to what they have up to now but they don’t seem to want to. Are they scared of being in government over a country in the state it is?”
“Labour have had four years to do something – anything – to fight against the welfare cuts, and to help the people they are supposed to be the party for! They’ve really done nothing when all is said and done.”
If Ed Miliband was reading this, I would be asking if he was getting the message yet (are you, Ed?) and what he proposes to do about it. You think not? Let’s have some more comments from people who should be supporting Labour – I’ve got plenty of them!
“There has been absolutely no fight in this opposition and I am ashamed of them.”
“People need a reason to apply their votes to Labour and Miliband-Balls are not providing them with one. They are sleepwalking into another hung Parliament and a very real risk of the Tories teaming up with UKIP. Then we’ll really see Nazism grip this country.”
“The would-be voters demand change and need bold new policies to blunt the Tory cutters. If the Labour Party cannot come up with policies which are radical then they don’t deserve to be in power at the next election, or ever.”
“Ed Balls worries me because he seems intent on copycatting Osborne. For example Osborne says he will run a surplus by the end of the next Parliament and Balls promises the same. Osborne say he will be introducing a Benefit Cap on social security spending on working age benefits (which could have devastating effects and lead to real terms cuts in benefits for years on end) and Balls says that Labour will vote with the Coalition to introduce it.”
“Surely we need some clear red water between Labour and the Tories? Surely Labour needs to differentiate itself more from the policies of the Coalition?”
“I sent an email to the Labour Party asking for its policy on TTIP (the rightly-feared Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that will force employment standards down to third-world levels, or below), amongst other things. They were decidedly equivocal and I felt no reassurance at all. I think it’s about we faced facts, Labour aren’t being coy in a pre-election year to avoid frightening the horses, they really are just another pack of neoliberals.”
This is how left-wing voters (and the squeezed-middle waverers to whom Ed Miliband keeps trying to pander) see the modern Labour Party: Carbon-copy Tories with no fresh ideas who aren’t worth the effort of voting.
If any of Ed’s shadow cabinet is okay with that description, he needs to sack them and bring in someone with a clue. And he needed to do it last year.
If the Conservatives win in 2015, it seems clear that responsibility will lie as much with Labour’s failure to provide any clearly-visible alternative.
We have already seen carnage inflicted on the poor, the sick and disabled, and a Conservative-only government (or in collaboration withUKIP) would increase that bloodshed tenfold (senior citizens take note: the bribe you were given last week was a trick and if you vote Conservative, many of you will not live to rectify your error at another election).
Unless Ed Miliband sorts out his party – pronto – that blood will be on his hands as well, and the people will not forgive him.
Note that I did not say they won’t forgive Labour. I said they won’t forgive Ed Miliband.
Words cannot describe the way people feel at what has been done to them by the Coalition. If Labour reveals even the slightest element of complicity, I wouldn’t give a farthing for Miliband’s safety.
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It isn’t about government any more. It seems none of the main parties are interested in gaining Parliamentary dominance in order to improve British citizens’ chances of leading successful lives, serving their needs by creating the best conditions in which they can prosper.
Quite the opposite – it seems clear that the intention is to crush those very citizens beneath the heel of the State (most hypocritically in the case of the Conservatives), forcing the people to serve the interests of the elected members.
What a sad State to be in. Politics is no longer even “the art of the possible”, as Otto von Bismarck once put it – unless we are discussing possible ways to fleece the electorate.
Now, the aim of the game is to shape the way the masses perceive current events. Control of the media is vital, and a series of strong statements – supported by those media but not necessarily by the facts – is considered all that is necessary to win.
It isn’t, as we shall see. But this is why we hear Tories screaming on and on, week after week, that they are clearing up a mess (no they’re not) that was Labour’s fault (no it wasn’t); that the benefit bill is too high (no it isn’t – really, it isn’t!), and the only solution is to cut support for people who desperately need it and put them into deep poverty and destitution (no it isn’t). These are positions taken by the current Coalition government and none of them are supported by the facts.
Then there is the running-down of opposing politicians. Labour’s Jack Dromey was on the receiving end of Conservative ire yesterday, after he tweeted a message about a lad from a Royal Mail sorting office being its “Pikey”. He meant that Gareth Martin’s nickname in his place of work was “Pikey”, after the character of Private Pike, the youngest member of the platoon in Dad’s Army – but Tories including David Morris went as far as writing to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, demanding an investigation into the use of a derogatory term for members of the Roma and Irish travelling communities and questioning whether it was an incitement to racial hatred, of all things.
Of course it wasn’t. It was an attempt to get a fairly simple idea into Twitter’s 140-character limit that failed because of a word that had a double meaning.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Sarah Champion accused Conservative MPs of making sexist gestures at female members of the Opposition, while they are speaking in the House of Commons. If this is correct (and it’s hard to tell, because televised debates concentrate mainly on whoever is speaking), then the intention cannot be as open to interpretation as Mr Dromey and his “Pikey”. Interestingly, I had to use an MSN news report as reference because the BBC News item seems to have disappeared – which tends to support my point.
Constituencies up and down the country have been going through the motions of choosing the candidates who will fight the 2015 election – and what a well-managed process it is! I wonder how many of these candidates were the preferred choice of their Party heirarchy, who then contrived to convince their members that the choice was democratic? But we were all shocked at the suggestion of corruption in Falkirk, weren’t we?
How many new candidates will be besuited youngsters, with scant work experience other than as gophers for sitting Parliamentarians, councillors or devolved Parliamentarians/Assembly members, brandishing their degrees in Politics, Philosophy and Economics as though they were magic talismans that would guarantee their entry to the highest offices in the land?
How many of these candidates will be brave enough to have a voice of their own, and how many will simply spout homogeneous party lines, carefully-worded so that they can apply to any constituency?
And if they win their seat, how many of them will stand up for the rights and livelihoods of their constituents, rather than obediently voting through every corrupt bid to drain us of power and money?
Not many, I’ll warrant.
Look at your own representatives – and the candidates who hope to replace them. What do you see?
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“Who’s been sitting in MY chair?” Nick Clegg would be right to feel supplanted as Labour moves further rightwards, groping for Tory votes – that aren’t even there. [Picture: Reuters]
One of the things that really rankled about Rachel Reeves’ attempt at Tory talk in yesterday’s Observerwas the (observable) fact that she didn’t need to.
Why try to out-Tory the Conservatives when their share of the vote has been going down at every election – among a proportion of active voters that is – itself – reducing?
So in 1955, they managed to snag 49.6 per cent of the votes. In 2010 this had dropped to 36.1 per cent. Turnout was 76.8 per cent in the first instance and 65.1 in the second. They got 38 per cent of all available votes in 1955 and 23.5 per cent in 2010.
Some could point out that Labour’s share in 2010 was only 29 per cent – around 18.8 per cent of all available votes – but this just proves the point. Neoliberal New Labour were very close to the Conservatives in outlook and policy and most people in the UK don’t want that.
But Rachel Reeves indicated that these policies would continue on her watch, and that’s why people reacted so strongly against the Observer interview.
Perhaps Labour should have done some research on this. Yes, the party has its ‘Your Britain’ website, for members to bring forward ideas – but I’ve been there and didn’t like it. It seemed needlessly complicated, with efforts made to get people discussing particular policy areas at particular times when it would have been better to let people just say what they want – when they want – and sort it out at the receiving end.
Besides – that’s just for members. How much research has Labour done on the doorstep? What do people who aren’t aligned to either main political party want? That is where Labour will get its votes.
Even pointing to research by the polling organisations doesn’t help here. Ipsos-MORI famously polled more than 2,500 people about the benefit cap earlier this year, and Iain Duncan Smith was delighted to announce that a significant majority of respondents were in favour.
It was left to this very blog to break the news that only 21 per cent of those respondents knew enough about the cap to give an educated opinion. It would be informative to know how many – of all the respondents, not just the 21 per cent – were actually affected by it.
All of this is a great shame that may worsen into a missed opportunity. There are some terrific ideas around at the moment and all Rachel Reeves – and Labour as a whole – has to do is look around for them.
The Fabian Society website carried an article entitled Welcome to DWPthe other day, in which most current proposals for reform of the system were rejected – which is a telling indictment of the state of the nation in itself. The stated reasons were that they would reduce the incomes of poor families (no thank you, Labour! You’re not going to out-Tory the Tories!) or fatally undermine universalism.
But among the ideas that were there, it was suggested Labour needs to reform individual benefits before setting its planned upper ceiling on the benefits budget. To that, I would add that the ceiling needs to be described as a proportion of a Labour government’s overall budget – not limited to a particular sum of money. This is the only way to keep it fair as inflation increases costs and devalues the pounds in our pockets, year on year.
Reducing unemployment, involuntary part time work and low pay by getting people into full-time jobs on a living wage could cut billions off the benefit bill (and boost the tax take at the same time).
For right now, the article stated, La Reeves needs to work on Labour’s perception problem – the false image created for it by an unsympathetic mass media, that it is ‘soft’ on benefits. This is based on misconceptions; only a quarter of social security goes on working-age people without jobs, and benefit fraud is – as has been explained ad absurdum on this site – miniscule.
Before the recession, Labour had cut the number of people out of work and really made work pay (with tax credits – not necessarily a great way forward, but a start – and these could be eased out of service as pressure was exerted on employers to adopt living wages). The social security budget was falling, not increasing. That’s what Rachel Reeves needs to be saying. Labour’s policies were working. The public has been misinformed. A new Labour government could create a winning formula again.
It could happen – if Labour stops being the Party of Plastic Tories and starts being the Party of the Worker once again.
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