Look Left – One week on from the referendum, one year on from the coalition

This week saw the first anniversary of the coalition government, and the now infamous Rose Garden love in between Nick Clegg and David Cameron.

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• This week saw the first anniversary of the coalition government, and the now infamous Rose Garden love in between Nick Clegg and David Cameron, as well as the one week anniversary of the AV referendum defeat and local and devolved elections last Thursday.

More on the anniversary of Nick and Dave later, but first to last week, results which were better than expected for Cameron, as bad as expected for Clegg and kind of average for Miliband – not terrible, not brilliant; a lot done, a lot to do and all that – while the referendum was an unalloyed triumph for Cameron and George Osborne, leaving Yes campaign leaders to reflect on what might have been.

Jessica Asato, director of Labour Yes, wrote on the Total Politics blog:

“Here is a referendum recipe for disaster. Choose an issue that no one cares about, get the most unpopular man in Britain to champion it, antagonize the few people who might support it and hold it on a day when everyone will use it to kick the most unpopular man in Britain. Welcome to the 2011 referendum on the alternative vote.”


“Cameron’s firm support for the No campaign and the Conservative Party’s commitment was the game changer. Up until the prime minister gave his speech on 18 February, the polls had been leaning towards yes, from that day forward they nose-dived. Meanwhile, Tory donors were lined up to channel cash into literature which bore the Labour Party’s logo and which was distributed in local council election areas where there would be a strong Labour vote…

“In the end, the Yes campaign’s army of young, passionate volunteers were let down by strategic failures of message and targeting. For me, their commitment made the Yes campaign an uplifting experience, a taste of how a more pluralist, hopeful politics could come to be. This year might have been about the gutter politics of babies in ventilators, but oddly it has strengthened the resolve of those who believe we’ll eventually find a better way.”

While Andy May, the national manager of regional staff for Yes! To Fairer Votes, wrote a five-page debrief on how the campaign was lost:

“The first ever national UK referendum on our voting system was always going to be a difficultaffair. It may be that we were never in a position to win once the Conservatives and a significantpart of the Labour parliamentary party mobilised against us. But the size of the loss cannot justbe attributed to the political environment we were in. Those who ran the Yes campaign musttake a long hard look at themselves…

“I have to say in many ways the past months have been incrediblyfrustrating for myself and a number of other staff who felt they can’t speak out. Other postmortems I have seen, like this one, have been rightly critical and those of us who worked on thecampaign owe it to the volunteers and donors to allow a public inquest in to what went wrong. My view is fairly critical.

“From the very start the self interest of the major funders and the seniormanagement’s lack of creativity, lack of experience and inability to listen to staff and activists’concerns had a very negative impact on the chances of success…”

Some of the contributing factors, he says, include staffing; phone banks; campaign literature; media and comms; advertising; fundraising; and polling. For the victorious No campaign, head of press Dylan Sharpe, on the Total Politics blog, and communications consultant Dan Hodges, in the New Statesman, give the inside story on how the referendum was won.

On the coalition anniversary, meanwhile, the deputy prime minister promised the Lib Dems would have a more distinctive voice in the future, describing the new approach as “muscular liberalism”.

He said:

“In part this means we need to do a better job of blowing our own trumpet on policies such as cutting income tax for ordinary taxpayers; ending child detention; increasing the state pension; introducing free nursery education for disadvantaged two-year-olds; adding a quarter of a million apprenticeships; increasing tax on capital gains; reining in the banks; creating a Green Investment Bank and a green deal; and getting more money into schools to help poorer pupils…

“In the next phase of the Coalition, both partners will be able to be clearer in their identities, but equally clear about the need to support government and government policy. We will stand together, but not so closely that we stand in each other’s shadow…

“We must not define ourselves in relation to the other parties. We are defined by a century and a half of liberal politics. It is not left or right, it is liberal. If it requires a position on a spectrum, it is the centre. We are camped on the liberal centre-ground of British politics. And we’re not moving.”

Will Straw, however, wrote on Left Foot Forward that the Liberal Democrat leader could not escape his “original sin”, explaining:

“The critical point that the Lib Dems don’t seem to understand or accept is that their predicament is due not to the fact of the coalition but to their u-turns. The moral certainty taken during the election on tuition fees, VAT rises, and spending cuts was dropped as soon as the prospect of a ministerial car and red box were dangled in front of their noses. They could have drawn red lines on these policies rather than electoral reform.

“Nick Clegg described the coalition agreement as his “original sin”. It seems the public agree.”

The referendum eerily feels a long , long time ago; the Rose Garden an eternity.

• There was less good news for Cameron and Osborne on the economy, however, with Mervyn King predicting a slowdown in growth (and rise in inflation) and France and Germany enjoying higher quarterly growth than Britain.

As Will Straw wrote this morning:

“New figures out today show that the UK is slipping behind its major competitors in the growth stakes. Germany reported growth of 1.5 per cent for Q1 2011 while France reported 1%. By comparison, the UK grew at just 0.5 per cent in the same period and much (if not all) of that was due to the snow bounce meaning that British growth has been flat over the last six months.”

Also today, the Financial Times reported (£) that industrial production barely grew in March, rising 0.3 per cent, with manufacturing output growing 0.2 per cent. Geoffrey Dicks, one of the founding members of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) voiced doubts over whether the government was on track to eliminate the deficit by the election.

He told (£) the FT:

“I signed my name to a forecast of underlying productivity growth of 2 per cent but if I were still at the OBR, that is something I would now be questioning… My own guess here is that the weakness of productivity growth in the recovery so far is telling us not just that productivity has been lost but that its rate of growth from here on could also be below the 2 per cent that we take as ‘constant’.”

Earlier this week, the Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King revised growth down (and inflation up). See the Bank of England Inflation Report for full details, and for Tony Dolphin’s take on this week’s announcements and stats see here and here.

• Internationally, the situation in Syria continues to worsen. Latest reports tonight indicate three more people have been killed in Homs as thousands attended post-prayer protests.

The BBC’s Owen Bennett Jones reports:

“After Friday prayers three weeks ago, security force personnel killed more than 100 protesters. Since then, the number of victims each Friday has been falling – 70 were killed two weeks ago and last week 22. But with the protesters still turning out to voice their demands for change, it seems the state is trying a new strategy. In line with assurances that crowds would not be fired on after Friday prayers, the police and army used far less force than before.

“There was also a different approach on state TV. For the first time it acknowledged that what it described as gatherings had occurred in a number of different places and that people had demanded freedom. Some aspects of state policy remain, though, unchanged – security forces still set up checkpoints and roadblocks to prevent people meeting in large numbers and reports say that once again many suspected protest organisers were arrested.”

While Left Foot Forward’s Dominic Browne wrote:

“The Syrian regime, having banned foreign journalists from the country, continues to carry out the brutal repression of its people – even claiming they are close to victory. The atrocities are, as a result, going under-reported. Domestic bloggers and brave citizen-reporters are becoming indispensable in bringing these human rights violations the international attention they deserve.”


“At this stage in the uprising international pressure and scutiny must not let up. President Bashar al-Assad and his corrupt regime are unlikely to be forced into surrender by sanctions alone. They know they are fighting possibly the biggest existential threat to their regime they have ever seen, and appear to have no humanitarian conscience when it comes to surpressing it.

“However, if the people of Syria know that the international community are right behind them, and as the sheer volume of the protests does not let up, a united international stand may be able to tip the balance of power in favour of the people.”

The future, however, looks bleak, as Shashank Joshi explained on Left Foot Forward on Wednesday:

“Syria’s internal conflict looks to have entered a new phase. Though the death toll is still lower than that of Egypt’s supposedly peaceful revolution – 750 casualties since mid-March, as opposed to Egypt’s 846 – the use of tanks and the central role of the military rather than police forces make this episode increasingly redolent of the 1982 Hama massacre.

“Nonetheless, Bashar al-Assad will probably survive. In a fluid regional environment, and with limited information trickling out of Syria, making such prognoses is hazardous – but there are a few reasons for the regime’s likely resilience: first, its security forces have remained predictably loyal and largely unified; second, the regime is not collapsing from within; third, the uprising has yet to penetrate either of Syria’s two largest cities: the capital city Damascus, and Aleppo; fourth, and most importantly, the international community’s response has been divided, ambivalent, and faltering…

“No such united [international] stand is forthcoming, and none will coalesce in the next two weeks. In no other revolutionary country is there such a restrictive constellation of diplomatic forces. Brian Whitaker may be correct to argue that “prospects for a return to the previous status quo are virtually nil”; but Bashar Assad’s willingness to pull out, quite literally, the big guns has probably ensured his regime’s medium-term survival.”

Progressive of the week:

Chuka Umunna, Labour MP for Streatham and Ed Miliband’s PPS, who outlined his vision for ‘One Nation Labour’ on Left Foot Forward yesterday, building on the ‘Blue Labour’ vision advanced recently by the likes of Lord Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas. In his article, Chuka wrote about the next General Election; the role of the Market and that of the State; tradition and nostalgia; and the importance of having a vision for the future.

He began:

“At the next General Election, we must be able to explain what the country will look like after five years of Labour government and what vision we offer; as Ed Miliband sets the party’s direction of travel, Blue Labour has much to offer…”

And ended:

“…the “Blue Labour” label can perhaps be misleading – “One Nation Labour” perhaps would be more appropriate, signposting Ed Miliband and Labour’s determination to win back support across the country and across all demographics. But let us not get bogged down in labels at this stage – its the ideas that matter and Glasman, Cruddas and co are on to something.

“If I am wrong, let us hear your alternatives; the prize is a better Britain.”

Regressives of the week:

Tory-controlled Wandsworth Council, who plan to charge kids to use a playground in the borough. That’s right, they’re planning to charge some of the poorest kids in the country to use the swings and roundabouts in Battersea Park. There are times when one is lost for words; fortunately, Ken Livingstone isn’t.

Labour’s candidate for London Mayor said:

“Only the Conservative Party could consider charging kids to play. I believe London’s parks and playgrounds should be free for London’s families and I am deeply concerned at this attempt by the Conservatives to turn publicly funded playgrounds into areas which only the rich and privileged can enjoy.

“This appalling proposal will reinforce fears that the outgoing leader of Wandsworth Council, Eddie Lister is set to drive through a hard-right agenda at City Hall in his new role as Boris Johnson’s chief of staff.”

And Wandsworth Labour councillor Leonie Cooper added:

“I find it astonishing that anyone come on London radio and make comments that Kathy Tracey has. Why on earth should we implement a charge for playgrounds? All that will happen is people who can’t afford they won’t go to the park. Wandsworth makes a lot of money already from charging clubs…

“The only way they can collect the charge is to introduce another member of staff to collect charges; it isn’t going to generate income and people outside borough who can afford it will come but Wandsworth residents won’t come because they can’t afford it…

“This is a pilot and if it works then Wandsworth council wants to extend it and Eddie Lister has just been appointed by Boris Johnson as his chief of staff and I worry this could be pushed through in other parts of London by the Conservatives; you need to be prepared for this in other parts of London.

“We need play areas for our kids across London which are free and is wrong to have areas just for rich people.”

Evidence of the week:

New research (pdf) from the Revolving Doors Agency and the Corston Coalition into the costs to the public purse of women living with chaos – and the savings which could be made if effective interventions were available.

Antonia Bance, Advocacy Director for The Corston Independent Funders’ Coalition, wrote on Left Foot Forward:

“In England, there are estimated to be around 84,000 women who, have chaotic lifestyles and multiple needs. There are about 83,000 female problem drug users, and around 80,000 women who sell sex in the UK. Every crisis service knows them – A&E nurses, custody sergeants, social services, domestic violence advocates, homeless shelters… but effective projects able to help women out of chaos are few.

“The cost of living with chaos and crime to individual women is huge – with low life expectancy, likelihood that children are taken into care and a high risk of exploitation, violence and abuse. The costs to the public purse are also huge – rising to £378,300 over five years for the most entrenched women. After the cost of providing support, successful interventions could save significant sums of public money – between £47,000 and £264,000 per woman over five years depending on her support needs.”

Investment would not only save money in the long run, but save lives, added Antonia:

“An investment of £18 million per year England-wide in similar services could reduce the cost to the state by £384m over three years and almost £1 billion over five years. Yesterday the Ministry of Justice announced, jointly with the Corston Coalition, a rescue fund to ensure that existing women’s one-stop-shop services threatened with closure can remain open. The MoJ have also announced that the department will commission effective women’s services from 2012 onwards.

“This research makes clear the savings that could be achieved if every town and city had a dedicated centre for women living with chaos and multiple needs. Prison should no longer be the last safety net…”

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