Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference on March 21, 2014 in Perth. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why has Labour watered down its plans to tackle zero-hour contracts?

The party previously suggested that workers would be offered a fixed-hours contract after 12 weeks. But that period has been extended to a year. 

The only one of the three main Westminster parties that can confidently take the fight to the SNP is Labour. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are now too toxic to do so. North of the border, the Tories have just one seat to Labour's 41, while Nick Clegg's party will be lucky to have many more after May 2015 (psephologist Lewis Baston recently predicted that they would lose 10 of their 11 Scottish constituencies). 

For Ed Miliband, a No vote in the independence referendum is crucial, not just to preserving Labour's Scottish MPs (without whom it would become far harder to govern), but also to reinforcing his argument that a unified, social democratic Britain can be built. Ahead of the vote in September, he has travelled with the shadow cabinet to Glasgow today, as part of two days of campaigning across Scotland - and has brought a new policy along. 

In his speech in Motherwell, he will announce Labour's plans to end the use of "exploitative" zero-hours contracts (which offer no guaranteed work and require workers to be permanently on-call) following the conclusion of an independent review by Norman Pickavance, a former director of Human Resources at Morrisons. He will promise to legislate to ensure that the estimated one million people (3.1 per cent of the workforce) on the contracts are offered:

- The right to demand a fixed-hours contract when they have worked regular hours over six months with the same employer. 

- The right to receive a fixed-hours contract automatically when they have worked regular hours over a year - unless they decide to opt out.

- Protection from employers forcing them to be available at all hours, insisting they cannot work for anyone else, or cancelling shifts at short notice without compensation.

In adopting this stance, Miliband is again smartly positioning Labour to the left of the SNP, which has moved to ban public sector contractors from using the contracts (albeit with some exemptions), but has not announced proposals for the wider private sector. As well as attacking Alex Salmond's party for promising to cut corporation tax by 3p and for refusing to commit to reintroducing the 50p tax rate, he will say: 

The reason the SNP has nothing to say about ending the abuse of zero hours contracts is simple: they know that if Scotland left the UK it would harder to end the abuse of zero hours contracts either here or in what is left of the UK.

Once again, this shows the truth: we can best deliver social justice for working families by working together across the UK with a Labour government in Westminster and a Labour government in Holyrood.

But while Miliband has gone further than the SNP and far further than the coalition (which will shortly publish its response to Vince Cable's consultation) is likely to go, it's worth noting that Labour's policy doesn't just stop short of the outright ban that some in the party, such as Andy Burnham, would like to see, but actually represents a watered down version of previous proposals. 

Back in September, when Miliband addressed the TUC conference, Labour briefed that anyone working for a single employer for more than 12 weeks on a zero-hours contract would be given the automatic right to a full-time contract based on the average time worked over that period. Yet that period has now been extended to 12 months. In other words, workers will now need to wait four times as long for fair treatment. (An additional problem, as the trade unions will be quick to note, is that employers will simply dismiss workers ahead of the deadline before later rehiring them.)

No doubt Pickavance's review concluded that the previous proposals would unreasonably limit employers' flexibility. But if so, Miliband should explain why the rights of the bosses have trumped the rights of the workers. 

Update: A Labour source points out to me that "our original press release back in September, announcing the principles of our proposals and the Pickavance review, didn't actually include the 12 week element, so I wouldn't necessarily see today's announcement as a climb down." He added that "what is announced today goes far further than the government consultation." 

That may all be true, but it is undeniable that the 12 week pledge was briefed to several journalists, including me, back in September. Just check the stories from the time. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war