Look Left – Labour hold Feltham but deeper problems remain

Labour comfortably held Feltham and Heston early yesterday with an 8.5 per cent swing from the Tories, increasing its majority by more than 1,500 votes.


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• Labour comfortably held Feltham and Heston early yesterday with an 8.5 per cent swing from the Tories, increasing its majority by more than 1,500 votes.

It was Labour’s fourth English by-election win in a row this parliament, Seema Malhotra following Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde), Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), and Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) into the Commons.

Ed Miliband, for whom the convincing victory will come as a relief following a torrid week, said the result was a verdict on the government’s “failing economic plan”, though he recognised it would be “a long journey” back to power.

The Labour leader added:

“I think it is pretty offensive that the Conservatives are saying this morning: ‘Well, what do you expect? It’s a traditional Labour area.’ They shouldn’t be denying the people’s choice. They should be listening to the people’s verdict.

“I think that is one of the things people really don’t like about this government – that they don’t listen. They really need to start listening.”

On a turnout of just 28.8%, Labour won with 12,639 votes (54.42%, +10.79% on 2010), the Tories came second on 6,436 (27.71%, -6.32%), the Lib Dems third on 1,364 (5.87%, -7.87%), with UKIP fourth on 1,276 (5.49%, +3.45%).

A good night for Labour then, even if widely expected; in these no-win contests when your team’s under fire you’ve still got to slay the would-be giant killer, avert an upset and score more votes than your opponent.

Wider afield, however, Labour’s ratings have dipped of late (Miliband’s in particular), with discontent rising in the wake of Wednesday’s poor PMQs performance – the last of the year.

As we said on Thursday:

“With the House rising next week for Christmas, and following his underwhelming performance at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Ed Miliband has much to think about as he heads home for recess.

“In the midst of the economic crisis, and with the coalition tearing itself apart over Europe, Labour’s poll lead has vanished, with Miliband’s personal poll ratings, amongst all voters and Labour ones, whether it be a snapshot, over the medium term, or the long term picture since his election last year, particularly concerning.

“The latest headline figures from YouGov’s daily tracker poll for The Sun give the Conservatives a two-point lead, 40%-38%; bad enough, but when delved into the full data (pdf) looks even grimmer for the Labour leader.

“As Chart 1 shows, The proportion of voters that find him decisive (8%), strong (7%), a natural leader (4%) or good in a crisis (5%) are not pretty, with the perceptions of Labour voters scarcely better…

“Onto the longer term trends, and, as Graph 1 shows, though his satisfaction rating may be down only slightly, the percentage of voters dissatisfied with him has shot up – those who were initially don’t knows, now they do know, are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the Labour leader’s performance.

“The historical comparison isn’t great either; as Graph 2 shows, only Michael Howard, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith (none of whom made it to Number 10) have lower net satisfaction ratings after the first 14 months as Leader of the Opposition.”

How, then, can Ed turn it around? Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, says the test is to win voters round in these times of ‘no more money’, to “present a credible alternative for voters”.

Looking ahead, he concludes:

“The next election will not be about what to do in good times but about how best to get through bad ones. That is why so much now depends on Ed Miliband. Only he can tell the Labour party, in the absence of an international boost of demand which shows absolutely no sign of coming, that a Labour Britain would have to cut its coat according to its cloth.

“Only he has the authority to tell his party that Labour’s general election offer to the voters will involve no net extra current expenditure, and maybe even less. Only he can tell his shadow ministers to focus on radical manifesto ideas that involve no more money.

“It’s an incredibly tough call for any Labour leader. Nevertheless, these are incredibly tough times. Whether Miliband is up to it is unclear. But the task is urgent and unavoidable and it will define him one way or the other.”

• So, to those two main areas in which the coalition has experienced difficulties, difficulties Ed Miliband has been unable to capitalise on.

First, the economy. As with every week it seems, there was yet more depressing news on the economy; on growth, unemployment, and the long-term picture it was grim, grim, grim this week for Britain.

On Monday, economists at Standard Chartered predicted the UK would be back in recession in 2012, reporting (pdf):

“The UK economy is likely to be in recession going into 2012 as the negative impact of fiscal tightening and falling real incomes is compounded by a downturn in demand from the UK’s largest trading partner, the euro area.

“We expect GDP to contract in [the first half of] 2012, before bottoming out and eventually recovering in [the second half of] 2012.”

On Tuesday, there was slightly better news on inflation, CPI down from 5.0% to 4.8%. RPI down from 5.4% to 5.2%.

As Tony Dolphin wrote, what happens to inflation matters for a number of reasons:

“Lower inflation will ease the squeeze on households’ real incomes (assuming wage increases are maintained at roughly the current rate). This might be expected to lead to stronger growth in consumer spending and in economic growth (though what happens in the eurozone will probably turn out to be even more important in this respect).

“This will affect the nature of the political debate about the economy.”

To Wednesday, then, and the terrible unemployment figures – 128,000 more people will be jobless at Christmas, with the number of people out of work hitting a 17-year high – an unemployment rate of 8.3% – and, once again under this coalition, it’s women and young people who are hit hardest.

On the grim prospects for the young unemployed, Sally Hunt wrote:

“With the job market getting tougher by the day for young people, access to education and careers advice has never been more important. However, since coming to power the government has trebled the price of going to university, axed vital financial support (such as the education maintenance allowance – EMA) and got rid of the future jobs fund…

“As well being a huge waste of talent the long-term implications of having one million young people out of work and study could be devastating for our economy. The cost of 16-18 year-olds not in education, employment or training runs in to billions every year.

“Today’s figures are a worrying reminder we need to do more to help young people get on – not price them out of education and consign them to the dole queue…

“As long as the government continues to erect punitive financial barriers the problem of youth unemployment will only get worse. The alternative to improving access to education and a good career is a generation with few prospects and little chance to alter their situation.”

Continuing the theme, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves and shadow employment minister Stephen Timms wrote on Left Foot Forward about how the government was “letting the next generation down”, while IPPR North’s Lewis Goodall wrote about how the north was faring much worse than the south:

“According to the figures (pdf), Middlesbrough has an unemployment rate of 18.8 per cent. Blackley and Broughton, 19.9 per cent. One in five people out of a job: and those are the ones who still have the inclination to look. The list goes on: Bradford East: 18 per cent, Grimsby 13.5 per cent and Redcar 16 per cent. For these people, rebalancing is as remote a prospect as the government’s assurance that we are ‘all in this together’.

“For those unemployed, it just isn’t good enough to be told there are 300,000 vacancies in the economy, the majority of which lie 200 miles away. IPPR North has urged the government to introduce a ‘northern job guarantee’.

“The government should offer a guaranteed job, paid at the minimum wage or above, to anyone who has been unemployed and claiming jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) for more than 12 consecutive months. The guarantee should be matched by an obligation to take up the offer or to find an alternative that does not involve claiming JSA.”

As Richard Exell concluded:

“To sum up, there has been another set of record bad figures, which would have looked even worse if it had not been for an increase in self-employment which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

“The government’s forecasts for unemployment assume that the next 12 months will be no worse than the last 12 months. And if the strategy of relying on private sector job growth to compensate for public sector redundancies is going to work, let’s hope it starts working soon.”

• To the second area in which the coalition has looked vulnerable, then, and the continued fallout over the prime minister’s European Union summit walkout last Friday.

As Will Straw reported on Tuesday, public support for Cameron’s EU summit failure is already unravelling:

“A new YouGov poll for The Sun this morning reinforces yesterday’s Times poll on the public’s broad reaction to Britain walking away from the Franco-German treaty revisions. Although a veto was not technically used, by almost three-to-one (58%-21%), voters think Cameron was right when asked: ‘Do you think David Cameron was right or wrong to veto the treaty?’

“Yesterday’s Populus poll for The Times (£) found support at 57%-14% while a Survation poll in the Mail on Sunday found support at 62%-19%.

“But more in depth questions by YouGov (pdf) show that the public do not think that the outcome will be a happy one for Britain. As Chart 1 and Chart 2 show, just 24 per cent think the outcome will be good for Britain (31 per cent say ‘bad’), while a meagre 15 per cent think the summit will be ‘good for the British economy over the next few years’, with 34 per cent thinking it will be bad.

“The latest poll also finds the narrowest support for British withdrawal from the EU in months. Only 43 per cent now want Britain to leave while 36 per cent think Britain should remain a member. As recently as August, 52% said they would vote to leave, while 30% would remain a member.”

Questions are also being asked about what exactly Cameron gained for Britain from wielding his veto, with it now looking increasingly likely the EU-26 will be able to use the “full panoply” of Brussels institutions, undermining one of the PM and chancellor’s key claims.

Another of the government’s ‘wins’, protecting Big Finance, is also beginning to come apart, as Cormac Hollingsworth explained:

“Cameron’s defence of his “veto” was the threat of the EU’s planned attack on the City, through the financial transaction tax, and the regulation of the banks. However, these excuses don’t add up.

“Cameron claimed that the UK will not be allowed to follow the recommendations of the Vickers report and regulate UK banks more stringently than the EU has agreed. But bank regulation agreed at the EU level have always been an agreement of a minimum level of regulation, leaving it to individual jurisdictions to decide whether they want to impose further regulations…

“Cameron’s second excuse of the threat of a financial transaction tax argument is even more flimsy.

“Everyone knows that for the FTT to work, the US also has to agree to have the tax. That’s because financial transactions are global, and if they’re only taxed in Europe, the trades will easily move to the US instead, making the tax pointless. Therefore the fact that Tim Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary, is very openly opposed to an FTT means that there is no threat of the FTT ever happening. It can’t be an excuse for a veto…

“When the dust settles, the shocking truth will be apparent: the City was never under threat, and there was no excuse for Cameron’s “veto”.”

As Ben Fox says, all Cameron has ended up doing is trading influence for isolation:

“Cameron has actually done his party no good. Although dramatically wielding the veto guaranteed 24 hours of positive coverage from Eurosceptics, the reality is Cameron didn’t win any of the safeguards for the City that he promised.

“In fact, City institutions (including many Tory donors) will almost certainly pay a large price. The EU-26 will now press forward with proposals on corporate tax and a financial transactions tax with or without Britain.

“Moreover, as Tory Eurosceptics realise they have less influence but are still bound by EU legislation, more and more will shift to more extreme parties like UKIP and the BNP. It is now almost inevitable separate structures will be set up for the 26 countries who either agreed the deal or are awaiting approval from their national parliament, with Britain on the outside.

“That will be bad for Britain and for the EU, with a whole new panoply of bodies, some with their own separate presidents.

“But Britain has suffered the worst of all worlds. On policies for the EU-27 our MEPs will have fewer allies and we will have less negotiating clout in the Council of Ministers. On economic policy, and anything the EU-26 want to talk about, we will be shut out completely. Cameron has achieved splendid isolation – with nothing in return.

“Nice work, Dave.”

Also this week on Left Foot Forward, we’ve got the scathing reaction of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to Cameron’s walkout; James Denselow on how Cameron has turned Britain from an outlier into an irrelevance; Tony Burke on how Cameron has sold out UK manufacturin; and today, Ben Mitchell on where next for the left in the Europe debate.

Progressive of the week:

Labour candidate for London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who this week pledged to establish a London-wide non-profit lettings agency and introduce a London Living Rent for the capital. He said that, if elected in May, he would bring in a “fairer approach” to housing than current Mayor Boris Johnson, whom he said had “completely failed” on housing.

As we reported on Tuesday, the need for urgent action is clear:

“Nearly a quarter of London households (700,000) are in the private rented sector – compared to 16% nationally; the average rent in the capital is now £1,000; and more than 40 per cent of private rented dwellings do not meet the decent homes standard – compared to 29% of owner occupier, 20% of housing association and 27% of council houses.”

Livingstone, in a speech to IPPR’s London Policy Conference, highlighted the many housing horror stories he had come across:

“Earlier this year I launched a specific appeal for Londoners to tell me their ‘Housing Horrors’ – what was their personal experience of living in the private rented sector?…

“We were overwhelmed by the things people told us; one wrote:

“I currently live with my husband and 2 children in a small 2 bed flat in north London for which we pay the extortionate amount of over £1,250 per month. We cannot move as we have elderly relatives in the area that we look after and our children are settled in school.”

“Another said:

“As (previously) a university lecturer, I’ve been forced to move back to my mother’s and quit my job in the city simply due to the fact that the cost of renting even a room in London is unaffordable – unless I live in squalid conditions constantly having to move.”

“Londoners need help with the housing crisis right now.

“We are not talking only about the poorest or most marginalised. There are thousands of Londoners, many aspirational and well-qualified, who by definition will never get into social rented accommodation. Most of them cannot afford to buy.”

As for Mr Johnson, well, on Friday he launched the ‘Boris Bus’, a new Routemaster to replace the bendy bus – at £1.3 million each, five times the cost of a green, hybrid double decker that will run on just one of London’s 700 routes.

As Val Shawcross AM wrote on Left Foot Forward:

“When, from January, Londoners from Barnet to Bexley and Hillingdon to Haringey will be paying a massive 50 per cent extra for their bus tickets, they should remember where a large chunk of their fares are going.

“If it’s a choice between improving their bus service, keeping their fares down or spending millions to alter the design of the double-decker they ride to and from work, what would the cleaner, school teacher, office or shop worker choose?…

“Londoners have a choice in May: above inflation fare rises year after year under Boris Johnson to pay for vanity schemes like needlessly redesigned buses, or lower fares and a fairer deal under Ken.”

Regressive of the week:

Tory MP Aidan Burley, who was filmed sipping champagne in a plush Alpine restaurant next to friends dressed in Nazi uniform, giving Nazi salutes, chanting “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler”, toasting the Third Reich and taunting a French waiter… This fine, upstanding Member of Parliament did not lift a finger to stop any of this, did not say a word, just sat there like a grinning half-wit revelling in his well-heeled chums’ sickening behaviour.

Martin Bright, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said of the Tories’ non-sacking, non-punishment, non-denunciation of Burley:

“This is an abdication of responsibility. Burley was a guest of Conservative Friends of Israel on a recent trip to Israel and he has brought deep shame on the organisation… The Conservative party now needs to show that the era of the boorish Tory oaf is well and truly over, and deal with Aidan Burley accordingly.”

With the Holocaust Educational Trust adding:

“It should be obvious to anyone that this kind of shameful behaviour represents an appalling insult, both to those who survived the Holocaust and to those who fought to defeat Fascism in Europe.”

As Alex Hern reported on Left Foot Forward, Burley hasn’t even apologised for his role in the incident, his ‘sit back and watch the racism’ attitude, merely apologising for the fact people were offended. As far as apologies go, his pathetic effort leaves much to be desired…

Evidence of the week:

The Resolution Foundation’s “The Missing Million” report (pdf), which examined “the potential for female employment to raise living standards in low to middle income Britain”.

Report author James Plunkett explained the main findings on Left Foot Forward:

“When we do identify a possible source of future household income growth – and especially progressive household income growth – we can’t afford to pass it up. The good news on this front is that two reports this week point to one such opportunity: growth in women’s employment. The first report, our own from the Resolution Foundation, shows quite how much headroom we still have to raise female employment in Britain.

“In 2010, the UK ranked just 15th in the OECD on female employment, just behind Slovenia. If you compare the UK’s performance to better performing countries, around a million women are missing from the UK workplace.

“As this chart from the report shows, two groups of women in particular help to explain our poor performance: those in their 30s, who are far more likely to have young children, and those in their early 60s, past the (now abolished) Default Retirement Age.”


“Back in June 2010, funding for childcare was one of the first areas the government looked to for cuts, dramatically worsening the employment prospects of millions of low income women, hitting their living standards over the short- and the long-term…

“For Labour, too, the UK’s performance on female employment raises some difficult questions.

“Their years in power saw a dramatic expansion of publicly-funded childcare but also a much more significant increase in spend on tax credits, including billions spent on families with older children. Was that balance right or could more have been done to build institutions such as universal childcare, supporting more women into work?

“For the foreseeable future, investments in such services will mean making difficult choices about where else to cut.”

The World Outside Westminster by The Grapevine’s Tom Rouse:

Newt Gingrich’s position as frontrunner for the Republican Presidential nomination has been cemented this week after polling revealed he currently holds a 9-point lead over Mitt Romney.

Gallup polling suggests Gingrich’s rapid rise to prominence is in large part due to his popularity amongst core GOP voters. Roughly 40% of those aged 55 and over and 40% of those who identify themselves as conservative currently favour Gingrich, a stark comparison with Romney who hovers around 20% in each of these key groups.

Romney’s support comes from those who consider themselves to be on the moderate end of the party and in particular younger voters, amongst whom he enjoys a 7-point lead over Gingrich.


Romney’s past has come under more scrutiny this week, with Friday’s Telegraph reporting that questions have been raised over his life as a “poor Mormon missionary” in France, with people who knew him at the time revealing he “was not as poor or arduous as he has claimed”.


Meanwhile the Tea Party continue to stir, as Alex Hern reported on Left Foot Forward this week, with The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland noting how the broadcast wing of the Tea Party, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, are inadvertently helping Barack Obama’s re-election bid, by “putting off the best Republican candidates”, making Obama “much less vulnerable at the election”.


To the President, then, and there was some good polling news for him this week; he has seen his disapproval rating slip below 50% and polling suggests that amongst undecided and independent voters he enjoys a strong chance of beating Gingrich with a recent WSJ/NBC poll suggesting Obama enjoys an 11-point lead in a head-to-head with Gingrich.


Elsewhere, an end of an era has been marked in Iraq this week, with the last US troops finally withdrawing from the country after a 9-year occupation. A formal ceremony was held on Thursday to mark the end of their deployment, with the last troops due to return home at the end of the month.


Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, continues to command headlines. In the time since the contested election results were announced he has accused protesters against his regime of being lackeys of the west and blamed the US for the killing of Colonel Gaddafi. However, things at home are not looking so promising, with a rally in support of his United Russia party failing to come close to filling the square it was supposed to dominate.


While in France, former President Jacques Chirac has been given a 2-year suspended sentence after being found guilty of embezzling public funds. The charges relate to M. Chirac’s time as mayor of Paris, with the court ruling he had used public money to reward supporters and support his political party. Rumours about his misconduct have been floating around for years, but during his tenure as President he was immune from prosecution.

Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:


Johann Lamont is the new leader of Scottish Labour, beating off competition from fellow MSP Ken Macintosh and Tom Harris MP. She succeeds Iain Gray, who quit after Labour were routed by the SNP in May’s Holyrood elections. In her victory speech this lunchtime, Ms Lamont pledged to “make Labour Scotland’s party once again”. Anas Sarwar MP is the new deputy leader of the Scottish Labour party.

For more on Lamont, read her article on the scourge of pay-day lenders on Left Foot Forward last month.

Earlier this week, first minister Alex Salmond argued that an independent Scotland joining the euro was “a long term possibility”, with polling by Ipsos MORI indicating a slight boost in support for independence – standing at 38% – with 33% calling for a referendum as soon as possible.

Amongst those saying they are certain to vote, 68% backed the option known as ‘devo-max’, up one point from August, with 28% not backing it and 4% unsure.

Assessing the results, Mark Diffley, research director at Ipsos MORI, explained:

“Although our poll last week revealed growing support for the SNP, a clear majority of Scots do not currently support full independence and would prefer to remain part of the UK, albeit with the Scottish Parliament given substantial new powers.

“There does, however, appear to be growing support for the referendum to be held sooner rather than later, which could put some pressure on the Scottish government to alter its preference for holding the ballot in the second half of the current term.”

Audit Scotland, meanwhile, reported that despite health spending rising by £232 million in 2011/12, it presented an effective spending cut of 1.4% in real terms due to inflation.

With the report also highlighting staffing reductions in the health service, Theresa Fyffe, the Royal College of Nursing’s director in Scotland, warned:

“It’s a very honest assessment and it is clear to us that health boards cannot continue to save money by reducing the size of the NHS workforce, unless it wants to put at risk standards in patient care.”

Also this week on Left Foot Forward, we reported on how the SNP’s anti-sectarianism bill had been roundly condemned by all the opposition parties at Holyrood, while SNP president Ian Hudghton MEP, the party’s leader in the European Parliament, wrote about how David Cameron’s EU summit walkout risked leaving Scotland’s fisheries to rot.


Plaid Cymru AM, Leanne Wood, become the fourth person to announce her intention to stand for the leadership of her party.

Outlining her vision for an independent Wales, she declared:

“My first-hand experience of recession and its impact during the 1980s gives me a determination to make sure that we do not lose yet another generation to youth unemployment. Tackling those economic challenges goes hand in hand with our journey to independence.

“I have a clear vision of what our future direction should be: building the case for real independence. Over the years, we have been less than clear as to what we mean by independence, why we want it or how we get there. Now is the time to change that.”

Meanwhile, as much of the attention focused on Alex Salmond’s attack on David Cameron over his stance at last week’s EU Summit, Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, had stern words as well.

In a letter to the prime minister he wrote:

“Since devolution began the Welsh government has consistently sought to work constructively with the UK government in pursuit of those interests which, though devolved, are shaped by decisions made at EU level.

“For the most part that co-operation has been positive, even where there has been disagreement on the desired outcomes. For the first time, I am now seriously concerned about whether the interests of Wales can be advanced effectively in Europe by the UK government. For those of us who are committed to the UK and the place of the UK within the European Union, this is a deeply concerning position to be in.”

Northern Ireland:

Speaking during a DUP-initiated debate on the government’s handling of last week’s EU summit, the former SDLP leader, Margaret Ritchie, accused the coalition of failing to show any respect for the devolved administrations.

Speaking during Tuesday’s debate, she argued:

“Not only did [David Cameron] appear to fail to consult his coalition partners; more importantly from our perspective in Northern Ireland, he failed to consult any of the devolved administrations, despite the fact that his actions could have profound implications for those jurisdictions.

“I ask the government seriously to consider those implications in the medium and long term, because there are many economic, financial and social benefits to membership of the European Union.

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land and sea border with the eurozone. We are entitled to be consulted about any UK government action that fundamentally impacts on Britain’s relationship with the eurozone. Anything short of that is, frankly, disrespectful.”

Speaking ahead of a meeting of Westminster and Stormont ministers, meanwhile, finance minister Sammy Wilson argued that the price had to be right if powers over corporation tax are to be devolved to Northern Ireland.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Wilson explained:

“We want to make sure that that price is the correct price, it’s reasonable, it does not hamper our ability to do things in the economy by cutting a massive amount off the block grant. Also if the government is keen to help us in rebalancing the economy that they will look for ways of trying to alleviate some of the cost of it by, for example, allowing us to use some of the extra tax revenues if we got investment.”

Also this week in Northern Ireland, debate raged over whether God Save The Queen should be scrapped as the anthem of the national football team – see my article for more.

This week’s most read:

1. More grim news: Economists predict UK will be back in recession in 2012Alex Hern

2. The graphs that should worry Ed MilibandShamik Das

3. Five reasons to oppose the welfare billDaniel Elton

4. Public support for Cameron’s EU walkout already unravellingWill Straw

5. Nazi party Tory is sorry you were offendedAlex Hern

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