Friday, 19 April 2013

Ed Miliband's 'new settlement' is a direct response to Tony Blair but it's Lord Heseltine he should listen to

Ed Miliband's call for a 'new settlement' is a direct response to criticisms from Blairites this week and shows that the Labour leader is clearly worried about the damage caused by those who have accused him of turning Labour into a protest party.

Today's proposals tackle employment, tax, housing and regional businesses. It's an attempt to re-light the Labour flame after Ed Ball's poor ratings and the intervention of the former PM which has caused Labour to become weird and introspective while the Tories have handled the death of Baroness Thatcher with aplomb. It says a lot about the state of Labour that Polly Toynbee warned this week about Blair 'making the same mistake' as Thatcher in interfering with the leadership after he has left.

Out of the policies it's the talk about regional banks which I would look to focus on if I were Miliband. I've mentioned before about Lord Heseltine's regional regeneration strategy and today he's urged LEPs to 'revolt' against central Government to demand finances and power. For me, these can have a greater impact than regional banks which will undoubtedly face regulative and trust issues.

As small business lending fails to take off, LEPs will fight the regional battles and gain traction with their regional media and public. Talk of a regional fight is exactly what people want to hear, they care little for devolution or credit ratings in the whole (the issues are too complicated for many voters), they are concerned about the local economy, jobs and prospects for their families and children.

I've been working on a project in work with YouGov, looking at how people view their communities, and there is massive appetite for getting disadvantaged people into work locally, sharing expertise and injecting cash into local communities.

Nationally Ed Miliband might not have time to become as popular as he needs to be, and to do so he's probably going to have to play yet more personality politics. But if he wants to truly impact Labour's vote regionally he could do worse than side with Lord Heseltine and start asking Ed Balls to talk more serious regional economics. It means Labour can build localised policies and not get caught up about the national 'who cuts what, how fast?' picture.

The irony that I'm referring to Lord Heseltine leading the way for regional economic policy in the week Baroness Thatcher's funeral was held, is not lost on me. Yet Labour could do worse than follow the old war horse's lead in this instance.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's death leaves gaping hole in politics

I was born and bred in Liverpool. So the news that Baroness Thatcher, Britain's first woman prime minster, has died brings up a raft of emotions. Many will discuss her career and legacy in great detail and frankly I'm not adding anything to that debate, but I'm going to side-step the politics and think about why she had the impact she did.

What I do remember, vividly, is being about seven years old and the playground on fire with Chinese whispers that 'She's quit!'. That was in 1990 and we didn't talk about politics much on the playground, and I don't remember her being in Top Trumps - yet everyone knew about 'Maggie'.

From Right to Buy and The Falklands, to the closure of coal miners and denationalisation, her legislative programme was bold, divisive, relentless and created a divide between London and the rest of the UK which has since grown at pace beyond wildest expectation, the City becoming the Emerald Castle to the rest of Oz.

What marked her as a politician though, was character, she was 'not for turning' and she galvanised the Conservative party in a way which transcended in a way not seen post second world war. And she did this as a woman, a trailblazer for the modern boardroom and a shatterer of glass ceilings. It's no coincidence that many accused her of having blood on her hands, Thatcher echoed Lady Macbeth's unrelenting ambition, right up to the point of her career's end and the ghost of Heseltine.

Compare her no-nonsense style, her cut-glass tongue and merciless march of capitalism, with the bland  'middle ground' of today. Standing next to her, Cameron, Clegg and Milliband resemble the Spitting Image caricature of John Major. Ironically, this too is because of Thatcher. Her unpopularity in the North, the divisions that remain in the Conservatives to this day, all acting as a lesson that to survive beyond Thatcher a leader had to walk the middle ground. John Smith's death arguably denied Labour its modern era equivalent and instead New Labour is now the template for gaining and retaining power.

She's still being attacked for decisions she made in 2013, yet hundreds of other politicians since have made unpopular and unwise decisions and hid behind civil servants, the media, or special advisers, deliberately alienating themselves from the aftermath of their work. In many cases it's unclear whose policies belong to who.

I'll miss Baroness Thatcher. The fierce hate her name provoked in some, the tales of how her policies destroyed towns, the loyalty and free market leader others declared her to be. She defined her principles and she acted upon them, so be damned those who disliked her way of doing things.

You knew where you stood with Maggie. Even a playground of scouse kids. if David Cameron visited the school it would no doubt be a bland stage managed photo.

We'd have egged Maggie's car -and she would have shut down our school. Those were the days.

RIP Baroness Thatcher.