Monday, 20 July 2015

My Times letter about high pay at IPSA


Sir Ian Kennedy claims (letter, July 17) that Ipsa has been “conscious of the current climate of austerity” when setting MPs’ pay. It seems that this standard has not been applied to his or his senior staff’s remuneration. Ipsa’s last published salaries show the chairman receiving a pro rata salary of £182,000 and several senior managers more than £100,000.

Can it be that working as a senior member of Ipsa’s staff is more important than the work of an MP?

John Slinger
Online at The Times here

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

My LabourUncut blog: Labour has stepped through the looking glass

Labour has stepped through the looking glass

by John Slinger

Imagine if David Miliband had won the Labour leadership on 2010 and had taken the party to the right of Tony Blair, or even just continued where Blair left off in 2007.

Imagine if he’d led a centralised operation focused on the theorising and advice of a small group of advisers.

Imagine if he’d turned out to be an unpopular leader who had stuck to his central message that Labour needed to move to the right, entertain radical reform of public services, tackle the deficit through cuts and be avowedly pro-business, even though many commentators and many in his party thought that the cost of living crisis and pre-distribution were more important themes.

Imagine if he’d made some major tactical and PR blunders but that he managed to keep the party united and left-wingers had remained supportive and loyal (if ultimately unconvinced).

Imagine if he had stuck to his key narrative on the deficit and business before switching to the cost of living crisis with just a month to go to polling day and put it on page one of the manifesto.

Imagine he’d been level pegging in the polls for a year but in the end, led the party to a crushing and surprise defeat.

Imagine if, in the aftermath, rich backers from the right of the party were saying threatening things about leading left-wingers and spending their money to sign-up non-members to sway the next leadership race.

Imagine if his supporters, the so-called “Blairites”, argued that we lost because David hadn’t been allowed to be “Blairite” or right-wing enough and had been prevented from doing so by the lefties even though the lefties had been loyal.

Imagine if the right foisted an extreme right-wing candidate on the ballot and coalesced around him or her?
Imagine if silky voiced right-wingers took to the airwaves and spoke with utter confidence about the rectitude of their cause as if they’d won the election.

It’s hard to imagine but if you switch “right-winger” for “left-winger” then this is the Alice in Wonderland world being constructed by some in the Labour party now.

Sadly, it’s not fiction.

John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and Chair of Pragmatic Radicalism. 

Online at LabourUncut here.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Progressonline oped: To defeat the terrorists we must defeat defeatism

To defeat the terrorists we must defeat defeatism

John Slinger | 7 July 2015 |

Syrian rebel
The terrorist group calling itself Islamic State is far from defeatist – it believes it will win. Given the defeatism displayed by the international community, especially the west, who can blame them? Defeatism leads to inaction. Inaction has consequences, for the countries concerned and ultimately, as the horrific events in Tunisia show, for our citizens. Now that the group’s death and destruction is edging ever closer to our shores, our politicians are going to have to change the narrative and mind-set from defeatism to confidence in our ability to defeat our enemy.
Suppose a prophet of doom, in the months after 9/11, had predicted the following: Al Qaeda would morph into an even more extreme terrorist group which would opportunistically capitalise on instability caused by an ‘Arab Spring’; it would form a base in Syria, out-gun and kill off moderate rebels who the west and the world had abandoned, before overturning international borders and occupying vast tracts of land in Syria and Iraq; it would declare a caliphate armed with masses of very sophisticated, captured American hardware, threaten to invade several Middle Eastern countries, perpetrate genocide against minorities, destroy antiquities and launch terrorist attacks against western targets? Such a prophecy would have been dismissed as outlandish. That it has come to pass is no accident. It has occurred because of many factors, not least of which being the west’s defeatism and the terrorist group’s toxic combination of warped idealism and brutal realism, to which we have, so far, had too few answers.
The self-styled Islamic State must look on with glee as democracies such as ours contort themselves in anguish at the prospect flying our bombers a few tens of miles northwards in order to attack them in Syria, a country whose borders they have already rendered meaningless. This is the latest manifestation of a defeatism that we have shown ever since 2011, when the moderate rebels in Syria, who first rose up peacefully against Bashar al-Assad, began asking for external military intervention. The terrorist group noticed as we made a conscious decision not to intervene to protect civilians from the Assad dictatorship, not to arm the Free Syrian Army, and not to punish Assad for his use of weapons of mass distruction. They noticed when our leaders explicitly ruled out sending ground forces. How else did we expect them to respond to this defeatism other than to exploit the opportunity it presented?
Defeatism has its own internal logic. We all feel compelled to help our fellow humans, but in light of Iraq and Afghanistan, many people have become persuaded into thinking that military action only results in chaos. The narrative develops that “something must be done, but nothing effective can be done”. This simply isn’t true. The 1991 no fly zone over the Kurdistan Region of Iraq prevented Saddam from continuing his genocide against the Kurds, enabling them to forge their beacon of openness and democracy.  The Nato action against the Serbs ultimately ended the Bosnian conflict and prevented ethnic cleansing and British intervention in Sierra Leone prevented a catastrophe. Nobody seriously believes that the international community couldn’t have prevented the Rwandan genocide had it chosen to.
Yet since 2011, the West chose to allow the narrative to develop that Syrian air defences were impregnable. Senator John McCain, a man who knows a thing or two about air defences, dismissed this on Radio 4 in March 2012: ‘We spend nearly a trillion dollars a year on defence. If we can’t defeat the air defences of a third rate power then I have a great apology to extend to the taxpayers of my state. We are supposed to have the best capabilities in the world by far.’
Our leaders’ rhetoric simply isn’t being matched by reality. When the west’s hand was finally forced, when Isis occupied Mosul and later were a few miles from Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, president Barack Obama said that US policy was designed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” them. David Cameron said the words “defeat” or ‘defeated’ eight times when he spoke to parliament ahead of air strikes in Iraq last September. Following Tunisia, he now refers to the ‘existential threat’ posed by the terrorist group.
The prime minister and all political leaders must now decide whether they are willing to defeat this existential threat now, using whatever means are necessary, at least including special forces, or wait until the atrocities perpetrated against us are so hideous that they necessitate action. Prior to 9/11, the consensus amongst western intelligence was that Al Qaeda could be contained. This proved to be wrong and hugely costly in human lives. We must choose a judicious mix of military, economic and ideological action, but first we must defeat defeatism.
John Slinger is a strategic communications consultant and writes about foreign policy here

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A poem I wrote...

And after 
Amidst the profound mystery
A premonition of what's past compels
Eating up experience 
Touching tangible things
Hardwiring the heard
Searing sounds, smells, speech
Of little souls 
Capture it now
Before the glimpse goes

Friday, 22 May 2015

My London Evening Standard letter on valuing humans above statues in Palmyra

During the Syrian conflict, the international community chose not to intervene as 200,000 people died. But there wouldn’t be a more pathetic image of Western weakness than if action was taken to save Palmyra.

The world must create safe areas and a no-fly zone to protect civilians — it must be hoped that, even at this late stage in the conflict, we value human life over statues.

John Slinger

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

My LabourList blog: We must “disagree without being disagreeable” to win again

We must “disagree without being disagreeable” to win again

In his last act as Labour leader, Ed Miliband bequeathed standards for the leadership election that will help ensure that the party wins again. He urged us to conduct the process “with the same decency, civility, and comradeship that we believe is the way the country should be run”. He spoke of personally bringing a culture to the party, summed up as “the ability to have disagreement without being disagreeable.”

Ed’s words are not idle niceties. As we carry out the post-mortem, offer diagnoses and seek to raise the Labour Lazarus, they compel us to do so in a climate of open, respectful debate. Those of us who believe that the clear conclusion of the 7 May result is that the party must move back to the radical centre ground of British politics and who sympathise with rather then shun New Labour, must reacquire the confidence to “disagree without being disagreeable”.

We’ll need to be robust, confident and organised, particularly given that trade unions such as Unite have called for Jim Murphy to stand down. We must challenge them when they use deliberately loaded phrases such as “the embrace of Blairism”, designed to delegitimise an entire strand of Labour thinking. It is unthinkable that someone from the right of the Labour Party would ever cite the “embrace of trade unionism” in a statement calling on a politician to resign.

Following the election defeat, we must guard against a revisionism that argues that Labour failed because Ed wasn’t allowed to be radical enough due to the malign influence of Blairites. Such a position is as illogical as those who sometimes argue that the chaos in Syria remains the fault of the West, despite the very absence of Western intervention.

It is particularly important that those who believe in a modern, progressive party, overcome the habit of self-censorship developed in recent years. Parties are necessarily broad churches, and when one group is in the ascendency, it is natural for others to self-censor in the interests of unity. One of Ed’s many achievements was maintaining party unity after losing the 2010 election, in part due to his and his senior team’s openness and the support of key people like Stewart Wood for new ideas and initiatives.

But unity also flourished because people who didn’t vote for Ed and disagreed with some of his approach, chose to give Ed their full support, despite him not being the choice of a majority of party members and the Parliamentary Labour Party. We went further than “disagreeing without being disagreeable”; we rightly offered him our complete loyalty and worked hard to ensure that he became Prime Minister. In light of this, we must not feel defensive in now setting out an alternative prospectus to the one that was soundly beaten last week.

There is little point in rehearsing the arguments ably outlined by Tony Blair, Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Dan Jarvis and Peter Mandelson. I would add that the party must not just focus on policies and personalities but must review our structure and modus operandi. CLPs do admirable work throughout the country, but are often impenetrable and unattractive to ordinary voters. Success will be defined not in a new constitution but when we as ordinary members spend more time looking outwards and listening to voters, rather than inwards, talking to ourselves.

In order to do this, the party must learn how to have a more intelligent, honest conversation with voters. The old CLP mantra of canvassing in order to identify “our” voters must be overturned. We should be reaching out to people who have shunned our party in recent years. Let’s build on Ed Miliband’s call in July 2013 for us to “reach out to others outside our party” in order “to genuinely build a movement again”. If we conduct the leadership election as Ed instructed us to, we might just win the right for an audience with our true leaders – the British people.


Online here.


Friday, 1 May 2015

My Labour speech at the office election hustings

The following speech is from our Hanover Communications office election hustings. I had two minutes to deliver this as "leader" of our Labour Party. The results were: Tories (23), Labour (18), Lib Dems (7). Well done to all my colleagues from the other parties and all who asked brilliant and challenging questions.


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Confounding expectations

This is an election where expectations nationally, and in this room, are being confounded.

Where Ed Miliband smashed the caricature, hugged a Hen party, while Dave forgot his footie team.

Where a Long Term Economic Plan unravelled into a Short Term Economic Con.

Where it’s now Labour competence, versus Tory chaos:

-       Our Budget Responsibility Lock: their £8bn unfunded NHS spending bribe.
-       Our balanced deficit reduction plan; their plan for secret cuts, which would result in the lowest number of soldiers since Cromwell and benefits slashed for working families and the vulnerable.
-       We’re ruling out an EU referendum, while the Tories are endangering our businesses to appease those Cameron called “fruitcakes, nutters and closet racists”.

Where Crosby’s Daleks went negative, Labour rose above the fray, and Ed looked Prime Ministerial, Zen-like, some would say Calland-like in his poise. 

If Ed worked here, I’m sure he’d even replace the coffee, use the correct recycling bins and unblock the disabled toilet.

Not only have we shown ourselves to be competent, but we’re having conversations with ordinary people - 4 million so far and counting. A contact programme so efficient it must have been run by a Hanover intern.

Tories say Cameron isn’t looking keen enough for a second term. Yet Ed said he’ll meet anyone, including Russell Brand, to encourage them to vote.

Because we’re are a party with a mission – to confound expectations about what our country, our politics, our people can achieve.

Only by making the right changes, all from a simple prospectus: that Britain only succeeds when working people succeed.

We’ll get Britain working for all of our people, by investing in skills and jobs, reforming broken markets, backing business, sorting out our long-term infrastructure and challenging vested interests.

I ask you to use your uncommon sense, confound expectations, vote Labour, support our better plan, and together, we can build a better Britain.