Gordon's shadow against a wall. His shadow still looms over Labour. Photograph: Getty Images
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There are no easy answers to Labour's defeat

The next leader of the Labour Party to win a general election will be the one who owns the scale of the defeat, defines the new coalition and leads the party out of darkness.

On the Friday morning following the election people left home for work and children went to school. A normal day began. But the Labour Party woke to find itself a stranger in a country it did not recognize. Beaten in England, threatened in Wales and destroyed in Scotland, Labour has lost its place in the life of the people.

Another threat now looms. The Party risks avoiding this crisis by distracting itself in a leadership contest.

We can take the safety first route and blame the leader and our failure to prove our economic credentials. Over five years we never matched the Conservatives on the crucial valency issues of trust, credibility and character. We can blame the absence of a political narrative to secure the centre ground. George Osborne’s omnishambles budget sealed Labour’s fate. It reinforced the decision not to build a broad electoral coalition and instead stick with the so-called 35 per cent strategy.

We could decide that this is the sum total of Labour’s crisis and nothing that a new leader can’t put right. But if Labour stays in its comfort zone and refuses to confront the dark places it will be lost.

Outside of metropolitan urban centres the party is often in a state of political decay. Many northern Labour strongholds are political wastelands of dispossession; the only glimmer of hope for many ex-Labour voters is the rise of Ukip. In the prosperous south Labour is like a foreign country. In Scotland it has become the party of Westminster.

Labour is becoming the party of the metropolitan middle classes, public sector workers and black and minority ethnic groups. Across western market economies social democratic parties are shrinking into professionalized elites. In government they were neither very democratic not very social. They tended to be paternalistic and state driven compensating for the system but not reforming it, doing politics to and for people but never with them.  This model of social democracy built in the industrial era has come to the end of its useful life.

History does not guarantee Labour’s survival. That is why an independent inquiry is being launched into why Labour lost. Understanding the nature of our defeat is the first step in the journey of renewal.

In 2012 Labour’s Policy Review was re-booted. Its task was to make policy but also to develop a wider project of political renewal. By drawing on our traditions to redefine the character of Labour we sought a strategic political narrative to frame policy into a compelling story about the country and our future.

Tony Blair provided a good model. He had an intellectual project which was the Third Way, a political project which was New Labour, and an organisational project which was the Clinton campaign machine.

Labour had the beginnings of an intellectual project in One Nation. It gave voice to the right balance of conservative and radical sentiment. But its language of culture and nation did not fit the prevailing politics of transactional policy offers. It was treated like a tactical message rather than a strategic narrative

A political project never took shape. Policies became ends in themselves rather than moves to open up strategic opportunities. Instead of providing an intellectual basis for renewal One Nation ended up as a pre-fix to strings of policy announcements.

The organisational project, energized by Arnie Graf, was the party as a movement. Community organising would renew Labour as the party of work, family and local place and begin the long haul of rebuilding its electoral support. But it was judged against the transactional methodology of vote ID and it met with resistance from the Party machine and was shut down.

When focus groups and polling gave the signal, One Nation was quietly dropped in favour of the ‘cost of living crisis’.

Renewal was the path not taken. We have to take our share of responsibility for this failure. Attempts to link together narrative, policy making and community organising were met with resistance by the bureaucratic apparatus. Innovation was an unwelcome activity in a culture of control and hierarchy. New ideas or practices were excluded or simply absorbed to death.

Against this backdrop the manifesto marked a relative success. It brought to an end the separation of renewal and policy making and a team was created to integrate the work of both.

The result is a manifesto which combines three themes that will endure in the years to come. First it is a politics of work, wages, skills and housing. Second it outlines the changes in how we should govern the country by devolving and sharing power. And third it begins a debate about how we can combine fiscal conservatism and social justice through digital technology, radical reform and investment for prevention. 

It contains strong policies as well as key political faultlines and so it provides a good basis to debate Labour’s political renewal.

Labour needs to now define the social and economic coalitions  that will underpin its political project. The New Labour formula has too little to say to the working class, both culturally and economically. Aspiration and embracing business have become platitudes. The soft left is no answer either. It is confined to specific constituencies and its politics of equality is too abstract and dessicated.

Renewal will have to confront the faultlines or once again Labour will fail: the impact of globalization on the working class, structural reform of the economy, the size and the scope of the state, immigration and wages, and the settlement of four countries in one union. It must fashion a pro-social politics of relationships, family life and neighbourliness  and tackle the issue of social integration. These must all cohere in a story of national renewal especially in England. The country needs a foreign and security policy that defines its place and role in Europe and the world. And we need radical party reform, because if the party doesn’t change it dies a social death.

The next leader of the Labour Party to win a general election will be the one who owns the scale of the defeat, defines the new coalition and leads the Party out of darkness. Those who avoid this task and offer false hope will fail.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.