Tag Archives: Editorials & reply

The Guardian view on Labour’s byelection win: not such a bad week after all

There’s always hope, though I am not sure how much.
You have to have faith in something though. 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The Guardian view on Labour’s byelection win: not such a bad week after all” was written by Editorial, for The Guardian on Friday 4th December 2015 19.05 UTC

Labour retains safe Labour seat in Lancashire heartlands byelection. No story there, then. Except that, in the case of the Oldham West and Royton byelection, there undoubtedly is a story. This has been a torrid back end of the year for Labour. Splits, bad blood and bad headlines have cooked up such a witches’ brew for Jeremy Corbyn’s party that the expectation on all sides, based on doorstep evidence, was of a Labour slump and even perhaps a loss to Ukip. Early editions of the Daily Mail on Friday were so confident that they ran a pre-declaration story headlined “Corbyn effect costs Labour thousands of votes.” But, let’s be honest, no one else saw evidence of a big Labour win coming.

It is true that the Labour vote fell this week in Oldham West compared with the general election. But so did everybody else’s. That’s because turnout as a whole went down from 60% in May to 40% on Thursday, sadly typical for a modern byelection. What matters though, was that Labour’s share of the vote actually went up – by seven points – not down, while the Conservatives fell by 10 points and Ukip, supposedly the great threat to Labour this week, managed only a small increase while still ending nearly 11,000 votes adrift of Labour’s new MP Jim McMahon.

That’s a good bankable win for Labour in anyone’s money. Mr McMahon’s success puts him into the top 20 Labour shares of the vote in Britain and gives his party a much-needed electoral fillip after a grim time. The flip side of it is that it’s a bad loss for the challengers, Ukip and the Tories, never mind the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, all of whom might have persuaded themselves that Oldham West might offer them something. The gas has gone out of Ukip’s balloon, at least in Lancashire, while George Osborne’s party has no electoral dividend to show for all his northern powerhouse-building.

It’s a mistake to pretend that Labour’s win is all that unusual, though. By a coincidence, the first byelection of the last parliament was in neighbouring Oldham East and Saddleworth in January 2011. Labour successfully put up its share in that byelection too, by a meaty 10 points, while the Tory share halved. It was a reassuring win for Labour’s new leader Ed Miliband, whose party mostly did well in byelections for the next three years. But like most byelections in the early part of a parliament it said little or nothing about the 2015 general election result when it eventually came. There was a long way still to go, then as now.

Mr McMahon was clearly an excellent candidate in a crucial contest for his party. Talented, local, competent, well known in an area where he is the council leader, he was nobody’s callow besuited candidate from Westminster central casting. These things probably mattered more than that he was on a different wing of the party from his leader. Labour’s factions will argue long and loud about whether Oldham was a victory for Mr McMahon or Mr Corbyn. Their respective conclusions will reflect their respective prejudices. The truth is surely that, between them, they did enough to allow the Labour brand to win once more.

Real votes matter more than opinion polls. Yet each of them is important. Labour can draw comfort from Oldham West. But it has to beware the message of a poll this week which showed, first, that the voters grew more doubtful about air strikes in Syria as Wednesday’s Commons vote drew near but, second, that Mr Corbyn’s job ratings have fallen sharply since he took over in September. Mr Corbyn now has a net approval rating of -41, compared with -8 in September. David Cameron, by contrast, has a rating of zero, with voters evenly divided. That should be cause for Labour concern.

Still, we should not be hypocritical. If Labour had lost Thursday’s byelection, this editorial and this weekend’s political talk would all be about Mr Corbyn, especially after a searing week at Westminster over Syria. His leadership would be on the line. The profiles of Hilary Benn would be being burnished. So if defeat for Labour would have been bad for Mr Corbyn, it surely follows that victory for Labour must be good for him. His leadership is therefore not on the line right now. In Oldham at least, Mr Corbyn was not the issue in the way his opponents and critics might have imagined. On Wednesday, Labour MPs went along with majority party opinion and supported him on Syria by two to one. This tells us something, perhaps not too much, about the future. Nevertheless, the Labour leader can undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief this weekend. And so can his party, at least until next time.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Camila Batmanghelidjh surprised troubled kids with love


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Camila Batmanghelidjh surprised troubled kids with love” was written by Libby Brooks, for The Guardian on Friday 3rd July 2015 18.04 UTC

Camila Batmanghelidjh doesn’t text. Chronically dyslexic, the plethora of electronic means of communication, second nature to the young people she works with, is anathema to the children’s campaigner and founder of Kids Company. I found this frustrating when I was getting to know her, over a decade ago, first as a journalist researching a book on childhood and later as a volunteer for the charity. Wasn’t it rather queenly to expect a personal audience in this frantic and impersonal age? But I came to recognise that this was her gift: there were no fob-offs or polite ambiguities with Batmanghelidjh, no compromise with – often entirely pragmatic – convention, no fools suffered gladly either. And when she was with you, she really was with you.

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to sit in a room with her as a furious, dislocated, damaged child of the kind she found on the streets of south London, whom she fed, clothed and educated when no other social service would or could. “A child who has been terrorised and neglected isn’t going to feel threatened by punishment,” the Iranian-born psychotherapist explained to me. “Loving care surprised them more.” She recognised that love is an action.

On Friday Batmanghelidjh announced that she is to step down after nearly 20 years at the head of Kids Company, the charity she founded in 1996, which specialises in therapeutic support for severely abused and traumatised children. She accused politicians of playing “ugly games” after it was revealed that the Conservative government has signalled an end to its £5m annual funding, with the forfeit for further assistance set as her resignation and that of the charity’s chairman, broadcaster Alan Yentob. While official sources briefed against her, claiming that funds had not been properly accounted for and that the social impact of the charity’s services was in doubt, she dismissed it as a callow attempt to discredit her. Kids Company is now facing severe cutbacks if it is to survive, leaving thousands of vulnerable young people without support.

Ironically, the first time I encountered Batmanghelidjh in public, she was standing next to David Cameron. It was 2006, and the newly elected Tory leader had just delivered his infamous hug-a-hoodie speech. That mocking moniker, which of course he did not suggest, is now so well-worn that it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking it was both for the inveterately punitive Conservative party and indeed for any politician to boldly reference “love”. Batmanghelidjh was instrumental in that radical repositioning.

So it is baffling to see the same Tory leader apparently letting Kids Company swing for the sake of £5m. It’s no secret that Batmanghelidjh has annoyed plenty of people over the years, both on the left and the right, most recently with her criticism of the UK’s child protection system as not fit for purpose. She has been attacked for her unconventional methods and refusal to countenance the bureaucratic strictures of state care that can hamper swift intervention. My understanding is that she is not always the easiest of people to work for, mainly because her tunnel vision means that necessary conventions such as funding reserves and staff organisation are overwhelmed by crisis-to-crisis management.

It’s baffling too because Kids Company has enjoyed much high-profile support over the years, and indeed many Tory and City donors. With her bright turbans and dazzling charisma, Batmanghelidjh is a colossally successful networker and fundraiser. But the day-to-day running of the centres was far from glitzy. Many of those who attend are volatile, and staff are regularly threatened. I’ve heard plenty of third-sector sceptics conclude that her policy of loving kindness was naive. But I saw at first hand someone who knew how to get things done, and who was remarkable for the immediacy with which she cut through street swagger to reach an unhappy child.

At Kids Company, I met many young people who had referred themselves to the service. The majority had not been parented in any conventional sense, and they were often homeless. I remember Batmanghelidjh spending a frustrating afternoon shuttling between state services as she tried to find a bed for a girl who had run away from her abusive stepfather. On another occasion, security staff waited anxiously at the door of her cramped office while she spent hours talking gently to a raging teenager who was threatening to stab a fellow client over some imagined slight.I spent most of my time with a boy called Ashley. Just 15, he was already a small-time drug-dealer with a history of gun-related violence. Batmanghelidjh helped him come off skunk and found a sympathetic private tutor to make up his lost years of schooling. The last I heard, he was living happily with his girlfriend and studying for a qualification in sports management.

In 2005, the first children’s commissioner for England, Al Aynsley-Green, marked his appointment by warning of a national ambivalence towards children, with adults investing enormously in the young people with whom they are intimately involved while remaining at best equivocal and at worst fearful towards those growing up on the margins. Batmanghelidjh excelled at bridging that mistrust, preaching her gospel of empathy and emphasising that the consequence of so many unloved children was a distortion of the “emotional economy” of the whole country. At a time when further austerity can only serve to fragment society further, we need that message more than ever.

Earlier this week, a UN report called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, just as Iain Duncan Smith announced he was scrapping the 2020 child poverty target. This was denounced by Labour as the obituary for compassionate Conservatism. The treatment of Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company offers just as chilling a coda. Of course, the trajectory of a single charity has its peculiar complexities, but the broader symbolism is devastating. If this is what child protection looks like under a majority Conservative government, God help the child.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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An obituary from the year 2025 for a Labour party that abandoned its roots


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “An obituary from the year 2025 for a Labour party that abandoned its roots” was written by Aditya Chakrabortty, for The Guardian on Monday 11th May 2015 20.00 UTC

Throughout its long and volatile life, Labour had heard many predictions of imminent demise. Yet mass shock still greeted the party’s passing away in its sleep early yesterday morning, 9 May 2025, just shy of its 120th birthday. The proximate cause of death given was the trauma suffered after one election defeat too many.

This was a party that had long been accused of harbouring a death wish. Who could forget the epithet hurled at Michael Foot’s 1983 manifesto? “The longest suicide note in history.” In 2015 – just weeks before the humiliation of Ed Miliband – Labour’s roving philosopher, Jon Cruddas, had predicted that his side could simply “disintegrate in real time”. Back then, he’d been called foolish; only later was he hailed as prescient.

The hindsight of the 2020s is a marvellous thing; at the time, Labour’s steady decline was obscured by its own fidgetiness. It swerved left, then squirmed right. It wanted free markets but controlled immigration; it sought to be business-friendly, to a big business class only interested in ripping off the public. Many circles were apparently squared in that tumultuous quarter-century.Meanwhile, the myth that Gordon Brown had spent all the money became unshakeable, shaping the next generation of politics – just as the jibe about the winter of discontent had reverberated through the 80s and early 90s.

Perhaps mirroring the party’s diminishing patience, the people in charge sported ever-shorter names: Tristram, Stella, Dan.Throughout, the diminishing membership displayed their traditional contemptuous loyalty to whoever happened to be in charge. By Labour’s last election of May 2025, its much-trumpeteddifference with the Tory perma-government came down to this: our PPE graduates are smarter than your PPE graduates.

All this provided gallows humour and column fodder. Yet Labour could survive numerous defeats, as Ed Miliband’s own propaganda acknowledged: “Labour has only been in government for four short periods of the 20th century.” Even David Cameron’s boundary reform, which holed Labour below the 250-seat watermark, could be endured. What the movement couldn’t afford to let slip, however, was its role as the natural conduit for the discontents of wider society. That was what distinguished it from the natural party of government, the Conservatives. Fatally, that was the part it stopped playing.

From Arthur Henderson onwards, the party’s central demand had always been fair shares. That goal was defined by the father of the NHS, Nye Bevan, as “where the doctor, the grocer, the butcher and farm labourer all lived on the same street – the living tapestry of a mixed community”. Some hope of enacting that in today’s property market. In a society growing apart as fast as Britain’s, it was becoming impossible to agree what “fair” meant. Vast inequality had bred political polarisation. Labour, the party of collective politics, now represented a collection of niche electorates.

That one fact glared out of the results of the 2015 election. Multicultural London became more Labour, even while university towns and Guardianista strongholds began flirting with the Greens– a trend which was only to continue over the next two general elections. Meanwhile, across the de-industrialised north, Nigel Farage robbed votes from Miliband. “It suddenly became clear that Labour no longer had just one enemy – the Tories,” remembers Glen O’Hara, professor of history at Oxford Brookes university. “It had a whole kaleidoscope of enemies – from UKIP to the SNP.”

Economics commentators had long warned that the very idea of a national economy had become untenable. London was now a city-state for bankers and hipsters, supported by immigrant service workers the guff sold to the north and Wales about becoming a knowledge economy was just lies.

Now Ed Balls and other Labour big beasts were discovering what that meant for them: wipe-out. Economic and political polarisation were to be the central facts of the 2020s. Labour had faced this problem before in the 1930s – this time, however, it had neither electoral hiding place nor the regular inflow of political talent.

No political party can speak three different languages at the same time, especially not one that has got out of the habit of listening to its own base. Faced with an impossible task, the elite that now ruled the people’s party – the Kinnocks and Goulds and Straws – crumbled. While the Tories were also reduced to a regional party, its voter base was, at least, in largely one place. Now that Nicola Sturgeon had won Scotland, Cameron and George Osborne were much better than their Labour opposite numbers at playing the English vote. Not only that, the Tories used their decade alone in power to tame any dissenting parts of civil society. The BBC, the non-governmental organisations, the universities: all saw their funding regimes tightened up and responded by buttoning up on any unhelpful criticisms.

Labourism had emerged from an industrial culture: you could be born in a co-op hospital and be buried by the co-op funeral service. Most of those civil institutions had collapsed after Margaret Thatcher. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s response had been to create a new client base of public sector workers across de-industrialised Britain. By 2020 Cameron and Osborne had put paid to that. What they left instead was an insider-outsider economy: those on a good wage with a house might still be tempted to vote Labour, those struggling on three temporary jobs a day had no such line to the movement.

Labour leaves behind an estimable legacy. As prime minister, George Osborne is still able to rely on those private finance initiative  schools and hospitals, while Brown’s knot of tax credits proved impossible to cut while maintaining a low-wage workforce. The party is succeeded by two offspring. First is Fabian and Fabian, a small publishing house producing glossy proposals for ever more taxes. Then there is WWP, short for the White Working-Class party: a grouplet of cultural studies graduates who hold regular tours of defunct factories and monthly meat raffles.

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