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Cross-Party Politics in Britain, 1945-2019 – review

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 8:18pm in

In Cross-Party Politics in Britain, 1945-2019, Alan Wager surveys cross-party dynamics in British politics since the end of the Second World War through a blend of archival research and oral history. According to Richard Carr, Wager presents a compelling analysis through seven case studies of key coalitions and re-evaluates the role of the Liberal movement within the two-party system.

Cross-Party Politics in Britain, 1945-2019. Alan Wager. Oxford University Press. 2024.

Cross-party politics in Britain coverAs Britain gears up for an election which, according to all polls, looks set to produce a majority Labour government, Alan Wager’s interesting new work illustrates the significant cross-party currents that have marked Westminster politics since the Second World War.

Wager’s book is built around seven case studies – stretching from Churchill’s “prolonged pursuit” (40) of the Liberal Party as a means of toppling Clement Attlee through to the Conservative-Brexit Party alliance which “Got Brexit Done,” sort of, in 2019-20. Along the way we take in, among others, Ted Heath’s attempts to scramble together an administration in 1974, the road to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and, of course, the Cameron-Clegg coalition. Throughout, this is a strong study which ably mixes archival work and oral history. It is written in an engaging tone that is intellectually rigorous. It holds its central narrative – which, after all, has to manage jumping between case studies – very well.

The First-Past-the-Post-fuelled addiction to proclaiming a “winner” and a “loser” in each election has mitigated against cross-party working in interesting ways

Several key themes emerge. Notably, the First-Past-the-Post-fuelled addiction to proclaiming a “winner” and a “loser” in each election has mitigated against cross-party working in interesting ways. Certainly, the issue of narrative – of having “lost” in both 1974 elections, though narrowly – clearly did for Ted Heath, as it did for Gordon Brown in 2010.

Yet even winners make cross-party mistakes. In that latter election, Wager wisely notes (164), David Cameron’s failure to push for a wider political realignment was also a classic reversion to two-party politics. His real aim was to secure the hegemony of the Tories against their principal opponent, Labour, thus bolstering Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems as part of any political realignment was always going to take second place to squeezing his coalition partners – even if it then emboldened his own pro-Brexit right. The notion that Clegg was ultimately an ally worth defending, certainly compared to Bill Cash, was never given serious enough thought. Tribalism essentially won out – a perennial theme.

David Cameron’s failure to push for a wider political realignment was also a classic reversion to two-party politics.

Cameron included, the role of the leaders takes centre stage throughout the book. The 1977-78 Lib-Lab agreement to sustain Jim Callaghan’s administration was, in reality, more of a “Callaghan-Steel pact” – even in the analysis of its Liberal signatory – than it was a genuine attempt to carry the two parties into anything even approaching ideological homogeneity. Steel subsequently actively discouraged Roy Jenkins from joining the Liberals, paving the way for a separate SDP – even if one soon seeking to pursue an electoral alliance. Fast-forward a little over a decade and Tony Blair’s role as both a pluralist and a control freak – driving through radical constitutional changes such as devolution to Scotland and Wales, a Freedom of Information Act, and significant re-calibration of the House of Lords, all of which had been largely scoped out by his predecessor John Smith – comes across vividly. So too does his differing strategic ends to Ashdown – with the New Labour leader seeking to “gobble up” the Lib Dems, rather than gift them electoral reform (115).

Large parties want to maintain the status quo, and smaller ones want to disrupt it. Cross-party working is often just an avatar in that ever-dominant process.

In a sense, this speaks to a broad theme of the work: that large parties want to maintain the status quo, and smaller ones want to disrupt it. Cross-party working is often just an avatar in that ever-dominant process. This does not preclude sometime co-operation – Steel and Clegg both could claim having got “something” on electoral reform to their parties at the start of their deals, even if neither arrangement delivered the goods in practice – but it does often make it more difficult.

Overall, this is an important contribution to the literature that made me re-think a number of assumptions about post-war British politics. It is not a work of counterfactual history, though inevitably will provoke musings in that direction – rather like Colm Murphy’s recent Futures of Socialism.

This is a matter of personal taste, but I wondered if other case studies could have usefully extended the work. Since the book ends on Brexit – and on both the People’s Vote and Farage wings of politics – an analysis of the origins of the European Movement or, as Robert Saunders has persuasively done, the 1975 Referendum campaign with its various cross-party alliances, may have added much. Equally, the way socially liberal reforms like abortion were managed through Private Members’ Bills brought forward by Liberals but ultimately delivered by Wilson’s Labour government may also have plugged the chronological gap between Churchill and Heath somewhat. Alwyn Turner’s “Blajorism” – with its consensual approach to public service reform (certainly with greater New Labour money), post-Dunblane banning of handguns, and particularly the road to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland – may have offered an interesting Conservative-Labour way into the themes of the work, though links were clearly different and often mediated through the civil service, and governmental transition – itself an interesting area. Such examples may have bolstered an already excellent analysis.

This work forms an interesting way to re-evaluate the position of the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats.

As it is, the book’s cover image shows a determined David Cameron sitting next to a rather sheepish Nick Clegg. In a significant sense, this work forms an interesting way to re-evaluate the position of the Liberal Party/Liberal Democrats. As Ed Davey towels himself off after whatever theme park slide he next undertakes as part of the ongoing election campaign, it would really be worth a read for him and his team. Among many astute points this work (140) highlights that the pursuit of political equidistance between the Conservatives and Labour had been an ongoing feature of the Kennedy-Campbell-Clegg Lib Dem leadership continuum in the 2000s – the electorate simply hadn’t noticed, or ascribed it to one off disagreements over the future of the voting system or the Iraq War.

As such, the breathless shock that surrounded the negotiation of the new administration in May 2010 was in part the novelty of post-war coalition, but also represented the failure of political journalism to hammer home that two public school southern English leaders of a similar age, socially liberal disposition, and who had worked together on issues like the Gurkhas could actually translate that into something more concrete. Latterly, when Nick Clegg (196) saw photos of himself sitting next to Cameron at PMQs he experienced something of a personal revelation akin to the end of Animal Farm.

This is an insightful, readable and clear study of recent decades in Westminster. [] Whether we see any imminent new flowerings of its central messages of course will depend on events on 4 July

All in all, this is an insightful, readable and clear study of recent decades in Westminster. Undergraduate courses on British party politics would benefit from its findings, as would political journalists and party members. Whether we see any imminent new flowerings of its central messages of course will depend on events on 4 July. But the question of how long and how far the “complicated, fragmented, and increasingly volatile British electorate” continue to buy the “artificial construction” of the “two-party system” (202) is unlikely to go away altogether.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Image credit: David Cameron and Nick Clegg waving outside No 10 Downing Street in May 2010, courtesy of Number 10 on Flickr License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

 

When asked who to favour, banks or children in poverty, Rachel Reeves chose banks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 5:30pm in

As the FT has reported this morning:

So, given a choice, Rachel Reeves has chosen to favour banks when there is near universal agreement now that some saving could be made in the payment of interest on central bank reserve accounts with the effectiveness of monetary policy (if that is necessary) being maintained.

Her choice favours banks, while she claims there are no funds available to end child poverty. She could do this for maybe a million children hit by the two-child benefit cap at a cost of less than £2 billion a year, which could be provided many times over by just limiting these interest payments.

Reeves would rather favour banks than. children in poverty. That's what we need to know about the forthcoming Labour government.

But that is also why it will fail.

Lying and deceiving Sir

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 4:32am in

Aaron Bastani of Novara Media goes to the heart of this egregious smear from Starmer. How does he think people who were campaigning for the Corbyn 2019 manifesto (such as me – and him!) think this is in any way fair or even logical? I fear Johnson has taught him to dissemble and deceive –... Read more

The Bank of England is stagnating the economy. Unless Rachel Reeves demands a change in their policy she has not got a hope of delivering any of Labour’s promises

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 5:06pm in

In the real world, rather than in that of elections, there is data in employment out this morning.

The Office for National Statistics has published these charts:

The summary is that the Bank of England is getting its way: unemployment is rising, as it wants.

Wages are, for now, sticky, but that is unsurprising: there is always a lag between rising unemployment and wages.

The number of people unable to work is also rising.

And so the number of people available to work is falling.

Put all that together and what do you get? Stagnation, at best.

So much for Rachel Reeves' talk of growth when the Bank of England is determined it should not happen by keeping interest rates high and investment rates low as a result.

When will Reeves take on the Bank? I doubt that she ever will.

So will Labour ever deliver on its plans? Right now, there seems to be not a hope that they can.

Labour will not be taxing wealth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/06/2024 - 4:58pm in

As the FT reports this morning:

The Tories introduced the lifetime pension cap. Based on the value of a fund, and not just contributions, it has caused major difficulties for hospital consultants in particular. There was an obvious problem needing a solution.

The Tory solution was to abandon the cap.

That solved nothing but perpetuated a massive bias towards wealth in the pension system.

Now, Labour says it will maintain that bias.

It could have instead said it would abandon the cap and cut the rate of relief on contributions. That would have worked. But no, there is nothing like that. There's just another £800 million bung to the wealthy.

Ending the two-child benefit cap to take 1 million children out of poverty would cost £2,000 million (£2 billion). Apparently, that's not possible. If you can work out the logic of that and come to any answer that includes the terms 'economic sense' and 'empathy', I will be amazed.

How long will Labour’s honeymoon with the UK electorate last?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/06/2024 - 4:39pm in

This is my latest video on YouTube. In it, I argue that Labour will only have months to keep the electorate happy after the general election, and if they don't, the backlash could be severe and long-lasting.

The audio version is:

The transcript is:

How long will Labour's honeymoon with the UK electorate last?

It's very clear from opinion polls that right now, Keir Starmer and his cohort are running high in people's opinion. But will that last once they get into office?

I've been talking to quite a wide variety of people, and to be candid, no one who has much experience of the UK political scene thinks that Keir Starmer is going to be everyone's favourite by early 2025.

Why's that? Well, Rachel Reeves is going to deliver a budget in September 2024, we're pretty sure, a couple of months after she gets into office, and it's going to be deeply uninspiring.

Is she going to be offering more money for the NHS? Probably not.

Is she going to offer the funds to solve the junior doctor's pay dispute, which they've reasonably been pursuing because their pay has been devalued over such a long period of time? No, she's probably not.

Is she going to give money to resolve the problems in education? No, she's probably not.

I could keep going.

The point is that everyone's going to suddenly realise that because Rachel Reeves is saying she will raise no new money, and she has to follow the same fiscal rule that Jeremy Hunt did, she's going to deliver a programme which is basically identical to everything that the Tories have done.

And I call that austerity.

Other people call that austerity.

And I think you'll call that austerity.

And that's absolutely the last thing that this country needs.

And yet that's what Labour's going to do.

So what happens when, I think by next January - give it that long -people are suddenly looking at Labour and saying, “this party is going to make no difference to my life, despite the fact we've just given them a whacking great majority, or even a moderate majority”. They're going to be deeply, deeply disenchanted with what Keir Starmer is doing.

And the backlash will be significant, at two levels. One of those levels will be amongst the general public. That's you, and that's me. We're going to say, this isn't what we signed up for, even if we did vote for Labour. And that's going to mean that other political parties are going to be coming back into the scene big time.

And we don't know who that will be, because frankly, most of those other political parties, most especially the Tories, are still going to be in a big, mighty mess as a consequence of what's going to happen in the general election.

The other thing that's going to happen is that a very large number of Labour back bench MPs are going to be very annoyed with their party leadership.

Remember that a great many MPs who are going to be elected for Labour this time will never make it to ministerial office. Around a hundred and twenty MPs on average are ministers at cabinet level or below cabinet level or as parliamentary private secretaries or whatever else at any point of time.

Suppose Labour gets 450 MPs. That's going to leave them well over 300 sitting around on the back benches, who will wonder whether they'll ever get ministerial office and ever have a chance to affect political change. And because so many of them will be quite sure that's never going to happen, they're going to begin to cause trouble.

That happened, of course, with the Tories last time. We've seen the problem with Conservative leaders managing their backbenches over recent years. Well, we're going to see that happening with Labour as well. So, at two levels, Labour is going to be in deep political trouble fairly soon into the life of this new Parliament.

Unless, and that's a very big unless, some change happens. What's that change going to be? Keir Starmer's going to have to realise that if he's going to make a second term in office, he cannot afford a collapse in his popularity very early in this term in office, or his days will literally be numbered from 2025 onwards.

He'll be a lame duck from the start.

The only change he can make is to say to Rachel Reeves, “Sorry, you're not a good Chancellor. You've got to go. We need somebody who understands that Labour has to deliver for the people of this country, or it is nothing at all.”

That's what Labour has to do, or its honeymoon is going to be incredibly short.

No one’s best interests are served by Labour having a large majority after 4 July

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/06/2024 - 5:34pm in

My short video post for this morning addresses a key issue in this election, which is that absolutely no one's best interests are served by Labour having a large majority after 4 July, including Labour itself.

The video can be viewed here.

The transcript is:

Labour does not need a big majority in the upcoming general election.

Why? Because big majorities lead to bad government.

That's particularly true if, as some polls are suggesting, Labour might be facing an opposition with fewer than 100 seats in any one party.

That's bad for Labour, because nobody is holding it to account.

And it's bad for Labour, because there will be vast numbers of disaffected backbenchers within its ranks who will be causing trouble.

And it's bad for all the rest of us, because Labour won't bother to listen.

Yes, Labour might win this election, and a lot of people want that to happen, but critically, we do not need it to have a majority of 150 or more, because that is not going to help us with anything.

One in four children can now claim free school meals

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 5:17pm in

As the Guardian has highlighted this morning, new data shows that 2.1 million children now qualify for free school means. This is one in four children now do so.

The figures have grown dramatically, as this chart from Statista, based on official figures, and excluding the latest figures showing that the total has grown again, demonstrates:

The figure has almost doubled.

This is a real measure of poverty.

Worse, it is a real measure of hardship for children.

It is also a clear indication of division within our society.

And the social dimensions remain as hard to manage as ever: stigma has always been attached to claiming these meals.

It is, therefore, a measure of Tory failure.

We know every public service is now failing, but this is evidence of the very clear costs of that.

Children who need to be fed by their schools are unlikely to learn as well as others because they may also go without breakfasts as well.

And they will be denied the opportunities in life others have: that's what goes with the deliberate promotion of a low-wage, low-security economy for so many in this country.

And have we won anything as a result? Low growth, low productivity, low investment and businesses that are only interested in financial engineering rather than the real sort of engineering that might benefit society are the most we have got as a result of this deliberate exploitation of people in his country as a result of the deliberate increase in poverty by the Tory government.

But what will Labour do about it? As far as I can tell, they will do precisely nothing.

The strongest possible hints have been given by Labour that they will say nothing in their manifesto about ending the two-child benefit cap that is putting one million children into poverty. I think we can take that as indicative of their concern on this issue.

The Tories have been callously indifferent to child poverty—in fact, they've promoted it.

But is Labour any more concerned? Or is balancing its budgets and appeasing those with wealth a much higher priority for it? So far, it would seem so.

And now you know why I will continue to criticise Labour. Nothing less will do until it shows the slightest spark of empathy in its planned actions.

The Bank of England should not be paying interest on the money the government gifted to our commercial banks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 4:55pm in

A proposal I have long made has won a surprising supporter in the form of Chris Giles of the FT.

The proposal is to cut the interest paid on the central bank reserve account balances notionally held by the UK’s commercial banks with the Bank of England, but which actually represent the money created by the Bank of England as a consequence of quantitive easing policies, which sums ended up being described as a new bank deposits held by those commercial banks with our central bank, but which were actually nothing of the sort. The balances in question were, effectively, gifted to those commercial banks by the government when. creating new money to keep the economy going during g periods of crisis.

I, along with a few others, like the New Economics Foundation, have been arguing for a long time that the payment of interest on most of these balances was quite unnecessary.

The transmission of Bank of England interest rate policy into the larger economy does not require that interest be paid on the vast majority of these sums, in my opinion.

Before 2006 no interest was paid on any touch balances, although they were insignificant at the time.

When interest payments were first introduced, no one argued that the balances have to amount to hundreds of billions of pounds to be effective, and evidence from other central banks, such as the European Central Bank, has shown that interest need not be paid on all such sums.

So, why has such interest been paid? That is because two exceptionally powerful lobbies have argued for those payments.

One of those lobbies has been the commercial banks, who have profited considerably as a result. Even now I would argue that they are profiting by more than £35 billion a year as a consequence. At one point that gain exceeded £40 billion a year.

The other powerful lobby has been the Bank of England who, I think, see their interests as being aligned with those of the commercial banks.

The case for reducing these payments is very obvious. Those payments have unjustly and wholly inappropriately enriched the banks at a cost to society at large, grossly inflating the interest costs due by the government. This means that they have entirely inappropriately induced an environment of austerity within the government's culture. The wrongheadedness of this has always been obvious.

Now, enter Chris Giles of the FT into the fray, rather unexpectedly. He has said that this matter could be resolved by changing the Bank of England's mandate. He suggests that six words be added. They are that it should “have regard for the public finances” so long as it can effectively implement monetary policy.

I agree with Chris, that would be useful. I would add a specific obligation to deliver full employment and sustainability as well: as usual, he does not go far enough.

But he then developed his argument by saying:

At present the BoE pays 5.25 per cent interest overnight on the money it created to buy government bonds under multiple waves of quantitative easing since 2009. It still holds roughly £700bn of bonds that were purchased and they earn a return of about 2 per cent. Netted off, the annual interest rate loss is around £23bn a year, a little shy of 1 per cent of GDP.

Chris gets his numbers wrong. There is no reason to offset interest received on bonds notionally owned by the government against interest paid: they are unrelated issues. So the cost is the gross sum, which is over £35 billion, as I have noted.

But the key thing is that he thinks that he thinks interest should not be paid "in the interests of the public finances". And to this extent, he is absolutely right. There is no reason for most of this interest to be paid.

How much does this release for public funds? Maybe £30 billion a year.

And will the banks suffer as a result? Yes, of course. So, too, will savers. But, c'est la vie: this is the age-old trade-off between appeasing the well-off and meeting needs, and those in need should win.

As for interest rate policy implications, the Bank might just realise that high interest rates really are not good for the economy after all. That would be an extra win.

But whatever happens, Labour will need to address this issue.

Criticising Labour is the right thing to do

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/06/2024 - 4:36pm in

In my second video of the morning, I address an important issue.

Criticising Labour has nothing to do with wanting it or any other party in power. It has everything to do with wanting Labour to deliver for the people of this country when it really does not look like it will at present.

This is the video (and yes, a typo crept in, too late to be noticed):

This is the audio version:

And, this is the transcript:

People keep asking me, why do you spend your time criticising Labour? Do you want a Tory government?

And the answer is, of course, I don't want a Tory government. The Tory government that we've had for the last 14 years has not been good for this country. That is an objective assessment that has nothing to do with party politics.

I stress, I also criticise Labour. Not because I'm a party politician. I'm not. I criticise Labour because someone needs to. Because as a party, it's not doing what this country requires. And I believe it is the job of the person who sits in academia, in public life, or whatever else it might be, who's willing to pop their head above the parapet, as I am, to criticise politicians for what they do.

I'm not here to promote a party. I'm not here to promote the SNP, or the Greens, or Plaid Cymru, or any other party either, let alone the Lib Dems. I'm just not going to do that.

What I'm going to say is what is right and wrong with what anybody has to say. And I criticise Labour most of all, because Labour is likely to be in government, and I think Labour's going to fail, and I'm not just getting in my agony early by saying it now. I'm getting in the comments now to say there are other ways to deliver policy that if only Labour was willing to adopt them, then it might do what the people of this country need.

It has to.

It has to cut tax on those people who are paying too much on lower levels of income.

It has to end child poverty.

It has to end things like the bedroom tax.

It has to solve the problems with things like carer’s allowance.

It has to fund the NHS.

It has to fund education.

There are problems with defense and we know it, especially if Donald Trump comes into office in America.

And so Labour has things it's got to do and at present it doesn't appear willing to do them.

Critiquing it now is not to say don't elect Labour if that is your choice, because I'm not asking you or telling you how to vote. It's just saying, there is no panacea if they win. They are creating their own pile of problems that need to be addressed.

And I'm going to warn you about what they are now, and warn Labour about what they are now, because I hope that they might take notice, and might do things better than they are currently planning to do.

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