Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Cameron’s defeat following the election of Jean- Claude Juncker was an embarrassing disaster that may have been avoided had he negotiated better. His main failure was that he failed to recognise the power of negotiation and instead thought he could throw his weight about and in doing so adopted a ‘bull in the china shop’ style which failed. Dismally.

I wrote this piece for Labour List outlining my thoughts.

Andrew Rawnsley, writing for the Observer, offered similar thoughts on why Cameron’s defeat was so ‘dire’. ‘The genesis of his mistake can be traced back to 2005’, wrote Rawnsley. During Cameron’s leadership campaign he appealed to the right of his party and said he would take the Conservatives out of the European Peoples Party (EPP).

Sage voices cautioned at the time that leaving the main centre-right group in the European Parliament would cause problems down the line but nevertheless he stubbornly stuck to his word and left the EPP. This not only excluded him from the groups decision making but it cut him off from the informal alliances which are made and often where deals can be struck, Rawnsley argues. “It set a pattern that has since been repeated of Mr Cameron throwing chunks of meat off the back of his sledge to try to sate the pursuing pack of Europhobic Tory beasts”, writes Rawnsley.

He also points out that: “Had the Conservatives been in the EPP, it is quite likely they could have stopped the Juncker juggernaut before its engine was even running.”

Cameron’s other problem, which Rawnsley rightfully observes, is that far from executing excellent negotiating skills, he has been ‘hopelessly crude’.
A critique of his negotiating skills was offered by the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski. In a leaked conversation Sikorski suggested Cameron had messed up…although he used slightly more colourful language.

And during an interview for the Andrew Marr Show the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, described Cameron’s handling of the situation as ‘cack handed.’

In addition, business groups have voiced their concern over Britain’s position in Europe following Cameron’s debacle. John Cridland, leader of the CBI- Britain’s largest business group, said in an interview with the Observer, that the country’s economic success depends on it remaining a full member of the EU.

Cridland told the Observer that full membership of the EU boosted British jobs, growth and investment. “The EU is our biggest export market and remains fundamental to our economic future,” he said. “Our membership supports jobs, drives growth and boosts our international competitiveness.”

He dismissed some form of associate membership status, which some Conservatives favour. He said “Alternatives to full membership of the EU simply wouldn’t work, leaving us beholden to its rules without being able to influence them. We will continue to press the case for the UK remaining in a reformed European.”

Meanwhile, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, warned that ‘The NHS, police, education system and social care are at risk of an “existential crisis” within the next five years if the Conservatives win the next election.’
During a speech organised by the Fabian Society Cooper said that public services are about ‘empowerment and opportunities and should not just provide a safety net as the Tories believe.’

Setting out potential policy ideas ahead of the 2015 election, Cooper announced, among other things, that Labour would hold a review to understand better the reasons for failed rape convictions and seek answers as to why the number of prosecutions is falling.


Honeyball’s weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

“Does the Tory Party actually want to win the next election?” asks Andrew Rawnsley in his article for the Observer this week.

There are enduring problems among the Tories, of which we read about often enough this week it will be even more apparent as the Chancellor announces further spending cuts much to the anger of his cabinet colleagues.

All of which is further compounded by  a group of Tory MPs who have written the ‘Alternative Queen’s speech’ in which they call for the August bank holiday to be renamed ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’, the restoration of national service and an exit from the European Union. The manifesto runs into some 42 proposals in total.

The result of this is confusion within the party is that the public remains unclear about whom and what they are voting for. As Rawnsley writes: “That confusion remains to this day. So do the same arguments within his party about the best way to secure power. There are those around him who press for the next election campaign to be tightly focused on traditional Tory issues such as welfare, immigration and Europe with a dash of tax cuts if they are at all affordable.” You can read his full article here.

And, as if dissent from backbenchers wasn’t enough, there is mounting fury from within the cabinet over the Chancellor’s spending review which led to this headline in the Sunday Mirror over the weekend: “Spending review row: Tory ministers fighting ‘like ferrets in a sack’ over savage cuts”.

The acrimonious battle between the chancellor and several of his cabinet colleagues over the savage cuts has caused an 11th hour battle ahead of the announcement on Wednesday. George Osborne is expecting them to find £11.5billion worth of savings between them.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls responded by stating “that further cuts were necessary because their deficit reduction plan had failed”. He wrote in the Sunday Mirror that instead of cuts the Government should boost jobs and growth.

Balls wrote: “The hard reality is that if David Cameron and George ­Osborne carry on with the same failing policies, Labour will have to deal with a difficult situation after the next election.”

In his article for the Sunday Mirror Ed Balls wrote of the real impact cuts have had after three years in Government, Balls pointed out that, “for ordinary families life is getting harder. Prices are rising faster than wages. The number of people on the dole for over a year is going up”.

People often ask what Labour would do differently, and the shadow chancellor sets out his plan in the article: “Instead of planning more cuts two years ahead, they should use this week’s spending review to boost growth and living standards this year and next.

“More growth now would bring in more tax revenues and mean our public services would not face such deep cuts in 2015.

“Help working families with a 10p starting rate of tax, not giving millionaires a tax cut.

“And get construction workers back to work repairing Britain’s broken roads and building the affordable homes we need.

This alternative plan would boost growth, create revenue and in turn mean we can save and improve public services which are also at breaking point following deep cuts. This is a plan that is workable, that seeks to help those who need it most, while focussing on longer term measures which will get the economy back on track. You can read Ed Ball’s article in full here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

It will be a historic day today as MPs vote over press regulation.

Ed Miliband gave a powerful interview to the Observer in which he said MPs from all sides must stop living in fear of retribution and do the right thing by those who have suffered media intrusion. He said: “”Monday is the day that politics has got to do the duty by the victims and has got to stand up for the victims.”

He admits, in the candid interview, of initially being nervous of the consequences of speaking out about the press and specifically of ‘making it personal about Rebekah Brooks’ when he called for her resignation. She had been the chief executive of News international at the time and another executive there reportedly warned one of his officials that ‘having made it personal about Rebekah, we are going to make it personal about you.’

Miliband has worked hard and shown great leadership in preparation for tomorrow. His proposal would see a regulator with greater independence from the industry created. It would have better powers to investigate complaints. It would also be able to influence on the prominence of apologies in the print media and crucially it would be enshrined in legislation.

You can read more on this here.

This week (20 March) will also see the Chancellor deliver his budget. In preparation Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, and George Osborne appeared on the Marr Show yesterday morning. The Shadow Chancellor said not enough was being done to stimulate growth and accused the coalition of following the “economics of the lunatic farm”. You can read more here. 

The COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg has published a book in which she argues women lose out in the workplace because they don’t negotiate for themselves and, if they do, are punished for it.

An extract of her book, Lean In, Women, Work and the Will to Lead, reveals case studies which show that it is no different at the mighty Facebook HQ. Sandberg describes, for example, how a group of gifted engineers at Facebook, all female, fell silent when asked to share the progress they had made in building products. They only opened up and shared stories when Sandberg then asked them to tell each others stories.

She says the key to your own success is achieving more success-but how can this be done if women fail to share their professional elf advancement?

Sandberg writes: “For women, taking credit comes at a real social and professional cost. In fact, a woman who explains why she is qualified or mentions previous successes in a job interview can lower her chances of getting hired.

“As if this double bind were not enough to navigate, gendered stereotypes can also lead to women having to do additional work without additional reward.

“When a man helps a colleague, the recipient feels indebted to him and is highly likely to return the favour. But when a woman helps out, the feeling of indebtedness is weaker.”

The Guardian extract is to her book was actually very interesting; not least because it suggested women try to please everyone but in business trying to please ‘all the people all of the time’ will hold you back. Her final story reveals what happened during her first six month review with Mark (Zuckerberg); he told her “that my desire to be liked by everyone would hold me back. He said that when you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress. Mark was right.” You can read the full extract here.



Osborne should be embarrassed about the loss of Britain’s AAA status

Labour Party

As predicted Britain’s credit rating has been downgraded from AAA to AA1 by Moody’s Investors Service.  According to George Osborne the economic significance of this is not huge.  What Osborne would rather not acknowledge is that the symbolism is highly significant.

As I pointed out in a previous blog, being downgraded by one or more of the credit rating agencies is not the end of the world.  It happened to France and the United States without any real impact on the cost of government borrowing.  So this development is by no means an economic catastrophe, but we should not ignore the fact that it may be portentous.

Since Friday there have been no troubling signs in the market related to the downgrade, except, perhaps, the continuation of the pound’s decline in value.  Never the less, this is an important moment politically for George Osborne and the Conservative Party in general.

David Cameron, George Osborne and the Conservative party have for a long time stood on a platform of restoring economic stability, reducing our country’s debt and getting our economy going again.  In fact, Osborne stated that losing our AAA rating would be a humiliation, and as Ed Balls said in the Commons on Monday:
“The chancellor needs to get out of denial and get a new plan that will actually work on growth, jobs and deficit. Or else the prime minister will have to get a new chancellor.”

The downgrading is a further nail in the coffin of the Chancellor and this Government’s economic credibility.  It has also damaged Osborne’s increasingly shaky standing within the Tory party. The Chancellor’s decision before the 2010 election to make Britain’s triple A status a measure of his success is now seen as more evidence of poor judgment.

The Financial Times yesterday had two damning quotes from Tory backbenchers:

 “It was rank inexperience – foolhardiness verging on stupidity,” said one of his colleagues. “He would be OK if growth was ticking along at 2.5 per cent, but it’s not,” said another senior Tory, as he questioned whether Mr Osborne had the skills to cope with the persistently weak economy eroding his political capital. “

Cameron has made it clear that Osborne will remain in the Treasury until the next election, despite this latest in a long line of mistakes.  This is bad news the UK, as our economic outlook goes from bad to worse.  The credit rating downgrade might just be an embarrassment for Osborne right now, but it could also be a portent of things to come if he doesn’t come up with something to help stimulate growth.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

More than a million better-off families will lose some or all of their child benefit, under changes which came into force at midnight.

Over a million UK families are set to be hit by one of the most significant changes to the amount of child benefit they will receive. The new rules, introduced by the coalition government mean that where one parent earns more than £50,000 per year they will lose part of their child benefit with incremental reductions up to those who earn £60,000 when it will be completely cut.

Quite rightly Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the government should tax the richest, rather than make changes that affect those on middle incomes, and described the changes as a “complete shambles”. Families where both parents earn £49,000 a year will be completely unaffected by the cut and will be able to keep their benefit.

You can read more on this here.

Tory Prime Minister David Cameron appeared on the Andrew Marr show yesterday. Questioned on relation to Europe he agreed that being in the single market gives us ‘a seat at the table’ and means we have far greater negotiating powers.

But Marr masterfully tackled Cameron further and suggested he wished to cherry pick certain things that Britain could be part of, and repatriate powers over the things he didn’t. “The problem” Marr said, “is that you need every other member of the EU to agree, and that’s not going to happen is it?” Showing he has still failed to understand properly how the EU works, Cameron responded; “it’s difficult, but it’s not impossible.”

Marr insisted that any form of repatriation or re negotiation of powers would be an extremely difficult and long process. Cameron refused to be drawn on the specifics and simply said he’ll reveal further details during his ‘big Europe speech’ which he will deliver later in the month. So watch this space for his big plan…

You can watch his interview in full here for the next six days.

Hilary Clinton has left hospital having suffered a cranial blood clot. The next presidential election will not be held until 2016, by which time she will be fully recovered, of course.

Yet commentators are already raising questions-as she left hospital-regarding her ability to stand as the Democratic Presidential candidate for the 2016 election, even though her doctors confirmed she will make a full recovery.

She has consistently denied that she intends to stand but that hasn’t stopped speculation. The Daily Mail reported that at “67, detractors have claimed Clinton’s advancing age and health make her too old to realistically serve as a two-term president were she elected in 2016.” You can read this here.

I don’t recall such intense scrutiny over the age of John McCain who was a Republican Presidential nominee for the 2008 Presidential election at the age of 71, or Ronald Regan who was 70 years of age when he first took office.

The world economy needs growth not austerity

Labour Party

Throughout sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone, British commentators and, unfortunately, politicians as well, have failed to understand the nature of the beast. Unless and until the British accept that the Euro is a political as much as an economic project we will continue to talk in terms of Euro failure and eventual break-up.

Much though the feral Tory Eurosceptics who sit on the right-wing of their already right-wing party would love to see the Euro collapse, the more sensible among us should get real, knowing that this will quite simply not happen. The Euro is here to stay. David Cameron, hectoring the Eurozone countries to put their house in order while the UK flounders in a double-dip recession, admits as much.

Both the political nature of the Euro as a unifying force and its ultimate durability were demonstrated in the result of Sunday’s election in Greece. The Greek people voted, albeit narrowly, for stability, choosing in New Democracy a party that, while demanding some let-up, will broadly follow the Eurozone’s demands. The Euro, despite the crippling demands for austerity, is popular in Greece. In fact, the idea of a single currency is generally hailed across the EU as the way forward and a force for good. It is Britain, Sweden and Denmark who are out on a limb, not the other way round.

The new Greek Leader, Antonis Samaras, meanwhile, does not want to go down the harsh austerity route outlined again by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Samaras is right to seek some slack for Greece. While there is much Greece needs to do to put its own house in order by way of fighting corruption and making the population pay their taxes, further austerity will only make things worse.

In a welcome development, the French people have well and truly understood the ant-austerity message. Francois Hollande now has a clear majority in the National Assembly, ensuring that his growth plans will be approved. It is not only the French socialists who believe in action to stimulate economic growth and employment. President Obama is saying the very same things. At the start of the crucial G20 summit in Mexico there are two clear blocs – the right-wing pedlars of austerity and those who are more enlightened demanding an agenda for growth.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls argued in yesterday’s London Evening Standard that we need a global growth plan and that every national leader should support Presidents Obama and Hollande as they seek to get the world economy moving. Given that the India’s massive economy is slowing down, such action is more urgent than ever.

If there is one overriding conclusion to come out of the Los Cabos G20 summit it is surely that “we are all in it together” as separate nation states linked by an ever more global economy. This is exactly the reason why the Euro will survive. We are increasingly living in a world where large power blocs hold sway – the United States of America, India, China. The European Union is on its way to achieving power bloc status.

Where, you may ask, is Britain? My answer is that the United Kingdom is at present moored precariously in no man’s land. I would also contend that although no-man’s land is not an ideal place to be, going it alone outside a power bloc would be disastrous. In today’s world, nation states are always stronger together than apart.

Our political leaders must take note of the people of Europe

Labour Party

France’s new President Francois Hollande is meeting Germany’s tried and tested Angela Merkel probably at this very minute.

The Euro, which will no doubt form the centre-piece of their deliberations, was, and remains, a brave venture, a departure from the politics of nation states and superpowers, globalisation and international money markets. For the first time ever a monetary project sought to bring together 17 different countries – a bold vision indeed. In this sense the Euro is the logical conclusion of setting up the European Union. Once the EU had established a political agreement, the Euro began the process of economic co-operation.

In this sense it is right to call the Euro a political project. And this is the very reason why Europe’s leaders from Angela Merkel to the European Commission do not want the Euro to fail. While I do not agree that if Greece were to leave the Euro this would mean the disintegration of the EU, its departure would seriously undermine the bold vision for Europe.

Mrs Merkel and the European Commission see this clearly, maybe even thinking that if Greece goes the whole Euro project will fail. Their response – severe austerity – is, however, beginning to look as if it will not work in the longer term.

Austerity should not continue for the simple reason that the people of Europe who have been to the polls recently have not supported Mrs Merkel’s point of view. Sunday’s elections in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s largest Land, saw Merkel’s CDU vote slump by eight per cent to an all-time low of 26%. The centre-left SDP social democrats did well boosting its share of the vote by five per cent to 39%. The liberal FDP also gained support.

While there may have been local factors at play in this internal German election, the result comes on top of Francois Hollande’s victory on a platform which included growth as well as austerity. We should also not lose sight of the result of the election in Greece. The Greek people have suffered more than any others in the EU and they are clearly saying no to austerity. The fact that the Greek election results have not delivered a government should not blind us to what the results are saying, which is a clear no to austerity.

The European Commission, Angela Merkel and the rest of Europe’s political leaders would do well to take on board that the many people in three EU member states have made their voices heard against strict austerity.

EU leaders are often quite rightly accused of being out of touch. The people have actually spoken over the past few months. The European Union – composed as it is of the world’s leading democracies – must take these voices on board. If they do not, the bold vision will flounder even further off course.

Meanwhile Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls hit the nail on the head regarding Britain’s role in the EU. According to today’s Guardian he told a Centre for European Reform seminar, “I don’t remember a time when British economic and political leaders in our country were less influential in debates which had more profound significance for jobs and growth in our economy.” Under the Tory-led coalition David Cameron and George Osborne are nowhere. The final irony is, if Greece were to leave the Euro, they would probably receive IMF money to which the UK had made a contribution. Standing aloof from the Euro does not let us off the hook in today’s integrated world.

Austerity must go hand in hand with growth

Labour Party

It would be a grave error to allow the excitement of Francois Hollande’s historic victory on Sunday to overshadow the results of the Greek general election. It was, of course, Greece’s sovereign debt crisis which sparked the ensuing crisis in the Eurozone. Moreover, the Greek people never accepted the consequent austerity measures. Whatever your view of those who demonstrated on the streets of Athens, it was always clear they had widespread support.

The short premiership of Eurozone appointee Lucas Papademos did nothing to assuage the opposition to austerity. Now, given the chance to once again elect their government, the Greeks have said no to austerity. Having come second in the inconclusive poll on Sunday, the far-left Syriza Party are incredibly in talks to form a coalition. If they are not successful the baton will pass to the leader of Greece’s socialist party, PASOK, former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Both the Greek and French result aptly demonstrate that austerity on its own without plans for growth, while never popular, is now losing whatever credibility it had for solving Europe’s economic problems. Put simply, the people will no longer put up with recession, unemployment and public expenditure cuts seemingly for no gain.

Now that two general election results have delivered this verdict along with local elections in Italy, another country under a Eurozone appointee, it is surely time to re-evaluate the austerity strategy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday it was of “utmost importance” that the programmes of austerity and economic reform as a condition of the €174 billion Greek bail-out package “continue to be implemented”. She also made clear that “The process is a difficult one, but, despite that, it should go on.”

Likewise the European Commission would do well to think again as they seem to be taking a pro-Merkel line. A spokeswoman said it was up to the Greek political parties to “work in an atmosphere of responsibility” and continue implementing structural and economic reforms.

The only realistic way out the austerity deadlock with the people on one side and powerful financial vested interests, not to mention the leading lights of the Eurozone, on the other is to seek a middle way. Just as Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has always said, austerity must go hand in hand with measures for growth. Austerity alone causes huge suffering – unemployment and poverty coupled with the absence of hope. The people of Europe need to believe there is a future and a relatively strong one at that. Angela Merkel’s regime is providing the exact opposite and the people are making their views known.

While I would never claim the British local election results were wholly based on opposition to austerity measures, they clearly showed that our electorate prefer Labour to the current coalition. On the basis of those results Labour would form a government. We are seeing the Tory-led coalition sinking deeper into the mire as Cameron and Clegg try to revive their flagging fortunes. We should, perhaps, add the UK to the list of those countries who have had enough of austerity and want to feel hope for their future.

Cameron admits the UK is dependent on exports to the Eurozone

Labour Party

Wittingly or not, Prime Minister David Cameron admitted Britain is dependent on markets in the Eurozone for our exports on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday. In other words, the UK is inherently part of the economic system across the European Union, in spite of strenuous efforts to remain outside not only the single currency but the more recent fiscal pact designed to mitigate the current economic problems.

This is absolutely not a good place to be. To be outside deliberations on the European economy, yet affected in a fundamental way, but with no means of influencing what happens to the majority of your exports is utter folly. In the same way, not being party to economic decisions which will have a profound impact on the British people is somewhere a responsible government should never find itself.

But Cameron, Clegg et al are not responsible. Cameron’s hatred of Europe is not good for Britain. Moreover, Cameron has alienated German Chancellor Angela Merkel who should be a key ally. His recent suggestion that the governance of the Euro is not yet resolved has, apparently, angered her. Taken in conjunction with Merkel’s fury when the British Conservatives left the centre-right European People’s Party group in the European Parliament, this does not bode well. Diplomacy and influence are all about gaining friends, especially significant ones, not annoying them.

The Cameron/Merkel stand-off could become even more unfortunate given the likely victory of Socialist Francois Hollande in the French presidential election on Sunday. Hollande has made it clear he will not go along with the austerity demanded by Angela Merkel and that he will not ratify any austerity deal put forward by Nicolas Sarkozy.

So where does this leave the UK?  Cameron appears to side with Merkel but she will not have much to do with him. France, potentially the EU’s second most important member state after Germany, is likely to elect a President calling for growth to lift Europe out of recession. Cameron, meanwhile, is fretting on the side-lines with nowhere to go.

A victory for Francois Hollande would, of course, be of huge benefit to Europe. We would at last have someone in a position of huge authority against full-on austerity making the case for growth. This would also give a massive boost to the Labour Party. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have been arguing a similar case since the beginning of the crisis; they now will perhaps be heard rather better that they have so far. As Ed Balls said in the Guardian yesterday, “It is no good the prime minister telling us that the Eurozone crisis is going to last a long time. Cameron and George Osborne must accept their share of the blame”.

As, indeed they must. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed that 32% blame the return to recession on UK government policies, 29% on the Eurozone and global factors and only 17% on the last Labour government. Cameron and Osborne should take note of what happens in France on Sunday. The result may tell us a lot about the future direction of Europe and the UK.

Ed Miliband is to meet François Hollande

Labour Party

Ed Miliband is due to meet the French Socialist Presidential candidate François Hollande in London on Wednesday. Having suggested on this blog that Ed campaign for M. Hollande in the forthcoming Presidential elections in France, I am delighted that the two centre-left, dare I say, socialist leaders have agreed to meet.

I have picked up that the talks will focus on economic growth. With the EU and the UK in the grip of right-wing imposed austerity this, of course, very welcome. As I maintained in my earlier blogpost, if M. Hollande were to win, as the opinion polls are still predicting, France under a centre-left leader would be in a position to challenge the prevailing right-wing economic orthodoxy. This would, I believe, be of enormous benefit to Europe as a whole. It would also force David Cameron and George Osborne ton rethink their disastrous cuts agenda which is doing our country so much harm.

It is very heartening that M. Hollande is taking his meeting with Ed Miliband seriously. He is bringing with him his campaign manager, former French Foreign Minister Pierre Moscovici who also used to be an MEP, and Elisabeth Guigou, French Justice Minister from 1997-2000. On our side will be Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander, Shadow Chancellor and Foreign Secretary, plus the Europe Minister Emma Reynolds, who helpfully speaks French fluently.

In the context of how to pull Europe out of recession, the meeting is likely to look at Hollande’s idea of a contract between the generations, a concept not a million mikes away from Ed Miliband’s idea of a British Promise. Both leaders are comfortable discussing ideas and viewing the big picture.

Contact such as this with another centre-left European leader is immensely valuable. In the case of M. Hollande who remains the front-runner to become French President, it is completely the right thing to do. Hollande is apparently not meeting David Cameron. I wonder why not?