Believe it or not, Labour has a good-ish story to tell

Today’s growth figures confirm the recession is over -- for now.

So, it's confirmed. We didn't slip back into negative growth in the first quarter of 2010 and we have -- so far! -- dodged the deadly "double-dip" recession.

From the Guardian:

The Office for National Statistics said its first estimate of GDP for January to March showed growth of 0.2 per cent following 0.4 per cent growth in the final quarter of 2009. Economists had predicted growth on average of 0.4 per cent, although predictions in a Reuters poll had ranged from 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent, with some forecasters warning January's harsh weather could have knocked output.

The article, however, goes on to point out:

Economists said the growth figure was likely to be revised higher when the ONS issues two more detailed estimates in May and June once it has collated more data.

That is exactly what happened in March when GPD growth for the last quarter of 2009 was revised up to 0.4 per cent, from an initial estimate of 0.1 per cent. So, it's not all bad news.

In fact, this has been a week of economic clouds for Labour -- but each with a silver lining. The growth figure was not as high as hoped for, but, let's be frank, at least there was growth (and the BBC's Stephanie Flanders highlights the "stonking 0.7 per cent estimate for growth" in manufacturing, which is, she says, "the strongest quarterly performance for that part of the economy in many years").

Unemployment hit a 14-year high but the claimant count continued to fall -- and you'd be twice as likely to be on the dole in the 1980s as you are today. And the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that the Budget deficit in 2009-1010, while a record for peacetime at £163bn, was more than £3bn lower than anticipated.

Oh, and while Ken Clarke invoked the spectre of an IMF bailout to fearmonger about the prospects of a hung parliament, the IMF itself released a report that implicitly backed Labour's fiscal strategy. In its influential World Economic Outlook report, the IMF said that the west's economies were too weak for spending cuts, concluding: "In most advanced economies, fiscal and monetary policies should maintain a supportive thrust in 2010 to sustain growth and employment." Bad luck, Ken.

On the non-economic front, the latest statistics from the British Crime Survey and the police show that crime is down by 7 per cent, despite the recession. "The British Crime Survey shows the risk of being a victim of crime is at the lowest level in almost 30 years," said Keith Bristow, head of crime at the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

Net migration is falling, according to the ONS. Households are better off in 2010 than they were in 1997, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Higher spending has "improved quality" in the NHS, according the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance election report. And so on . . .

Let's not be under any illusions -- or get carried away. This Labour government screwed up a lot (especially abroad), and could have achieved wide-ranging and irrevocable social-democratic and constitutional reforms to the UK had it chosen to do so. Attlee achieved more in six years than Blair and Brown achieved in 13. And so there is no doubt in my mind that, overall, the party squandered its 13 years in office and its large Commons majorities.

But, nonetheless, it has a good-ish story to tell in this particular post-crash, post-expenses election -- despite the broken-Britain/bankrupt-Britain propaganda pushed by the Tories and their supporters in the right-wing press.

So why don't Brown and co tell it? As Steve Richards of the Independent points out:

Labour is seeking a fourth term. As David Miliband has put it, his party is making "a massive ask". Such a quest would be challenging at the best of times. After a recession and the expenses scandal, this is not by any means the best of times. In such circumstances it should be seeking to set the agenda ever hour of every day. Brown and members of the cabinet (what happened to the idea of presenting Labour as an experienced team?) should be at early-morning press conferences, mid-afternoon press conferences, rallies, and giving interviews around the clock.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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If the SNP truly want another referendum, the clock is ticking

At party conference in Glasgow, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. 

Nicola Sturgeon described Glasgow as the “dear green city” in her opening address to the SNP party conference, which may surprise anyone raised on a diet of Ken Loach films. In fact, if you’re a fan of faded grandeur and nostalgic parks, there are few places to beat it. My morning walk to conference took me past chipped sandstone tenements, over a bridge across the mysterious, twisting River Kelvin, and through a long avenue of autumnal trees in Kelvingrove Park. In the evenings, the skyline bristled with Victorian Gothic university buildings and church spires, and the hipster bars turned on their lights.

In between these two walks, I heard Scotland’s governing party demand a future distinctly different from the one being sketched out in Westminster. Glasgow’s claim to being the UK’s second city expired long ago but I wonder if, post-Brexit, there might be a case for reviving it.



Scottish politics may never have looked more interesting, but at least one Glasgow taxi driver is already over it. All he hears in the back of his cab is “politics, fitba and religion”, he complained when he picked me up from the station. The message didn’t seem to have reached SNP delegates at the conference centre on the Clyde, who cheered any mention of another referendum.

The First Minister, though, seems to have sensed the nation’s weariness. Support for independence has fallen from 47 per cent in June (Survation) to 39 per cent in October (BMG Research). Sturgeon made headlines with the announcement of a draft referendum bill, but read her speeches carefully and nothing is off the table. SNP politicians made the same demands again and again – devolved control of immigration and access to the single market. None ruled out these happening while remaining in the UK.

If Sturgeon does want a soft Brexit deal, though, she must secure it fast. Most experts agree that it would be far easier for an independent Scotland to inherit Britain’s EU membership than for it to reapply. Once Article 50 is triggered, the SNP will be in a race against the clock.


The hare and the tortoise

If anyone is still in doubt about the SNP’s position, look who won the deputy leadership race. Angus Robertson, the gradualist leader of the party in the Commons, saw off a referendum-minded challenger, Tommy Sheppard, with 52.5 per cent of the vote.

Conference would be nothing without an independence rally, and on the final day supporters gathered for one outside. A stall sold “Indyref 2” T-shirts but the grass-roots members I spoke to were patient, at least for now. William Prowse, resplendent in a kilt and a waistcoat covered in pro-indy
badges, remains supportive of Sturgeon. “The reason she has not called an Indy 2 vote
is we need to have the right numbers,” he told me. “She’s playing the right game.”

Jordi McArthur, a member for 30 years, stood nearby waving a flagpole with the Scottish, Welsh and Catalan flags side by side. “We’re happy to wait until we know what is happening with Brexit,” he said. “But at the same time, we want a referendum. It won’t be Nicola’s choice. It will be the grass roots’ choice.”


No Gerrymandering

Party leaders may come and go, but SNP members can rely on one thing at conference – the stage invasions of the pensioner Gerry Fisher. A legendary dissenter, Fisher refused this year to play along with the party’s embrace of the EU. Clutching the
lectern stubbornly, he told members: “Don’t tell me that you can be independent and a member of the EU. It’s factually rubbish.” In the press room, where conference proceedings were shown unrelentingly on a big screen, hacks stopped what they were doing to cheer him on.


Back to black

No SNP conference would be complete without a glimpse of Mhairi Black, the straight-talking slayer of Douglas Alexander and Westminster’s Baby of the House. She is a celebrity among my millennial friends – a video of her maiden Commons speech has been watched more than 700,000 times – and her relative silence in recent months is making them anxious.

I was determined to track her down, so I set my alarm for an unearthly hour and joined a queue of middle-aged women at an early-morning fringe event. The SNP has taken up the cause of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaign, run by a group of women born in the 1950s whose retirement age has been delayed and are demanding compensation. Black, who is 22, has become their most ­articulate spokeswoman.

The event started but her chair remained unfilled. When she did arrive, halfway through the session, it was straight from the airport. She gave a rip-roaring speech that momentarily convinced even Waspi sceptics like me, and then dashed off to her next appointment.


Family stories

Woven through the SNP conference was an argument about the benefits of immigration (currently controlled by Westminster). This culminated in an appearance by the Brain family, whose attempt to resist deportation back to Australia has made them a national cause célèbre. (Their young son has learned to speak Gaelic.) Yet for me, the most emotional moment of the conference was when another family, the Chhokars, stepped on stage. Surjit Singh Chhokar was murdered in 1998, but it took 17 years of campaigning and a change in double jeopardy laws before his killer could be brought to justice.

As Aamer Anwar, the family’s solicitor, told the story of “Scotland’s Stephen Lawrence”, Chhokar’s mother and sister stood listening silently, still stricken with grief. After he finished, the delegates gave the family a standing ovation.

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, the New Statesman’s politics blog

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood