A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, the Labour Party and Hackney - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Some thoughts about how to make the leadership election a positive experience for Labour

Elections should be enjoyable experiences where the campaigners get a buzz out of promoting a person and policies they agree with and the electorate feel empowered.

If the preliminaries to the election of a new Labour Leader are anything to go by, there is a risk it will not be that kind of experience. So far everything has been about fear and negativity and division, not about finding what unites us, celebrating debate and diversity and empowering the electors - in this case the three sections of the electoral college (union members, party members and the PLP).

A good example of this is Polly Toynbee's nasty article today attacking John Reid for having the temerity to even hint at thinking about standing. Toynbee presents herself as a Brown supporter. She does Brown a great disservice with her attack on Reid. Toynbee is alienating Labour moderates who might be instinctively inclined to support Brown with crude attacks like this. In the most likely outcome of there being a Brown premiership he will need people like Reid in the Cabinet - they appeal to a segment of Labour's core working class support concerned about security issues. Just as Blair called for an end to ministers and ex-ministers playing the man not the ball after Charles Clarke's outburst a couple of weeks ago, so we need commentators and journalists to critique the policies on offer not trash the possible candidates. Unlike Toynbee John Reid has earnt a right to say what he thinks about the future direction of Labour. When she was in the SDP trying to destroy Labour, Reid was in Kinnock's office trying to rebuild it. Anyone who has had his breadth of Cabinet experience can be attacked for their views but can't be written off as not a "serious candidate" as Toynbee does. The left wing component of Brown's support around Compass also need to be muzzled - they clearly haven't won his ear on policy but their anti-Blairite rantings are driving away some of Brown's potential moderate supporters.

We need to stop questioning people's motives. That cuts both ways. It means acknowledging that however wrong they were, the letter signers of two weeks ago acted in what they thought were the Party's best interests. But also that people floating new policy ideas are not all wreckers, extremists, "people who don't belong in the Party" or agents provocateurs. And that those of us wanting to express our loyalty to Blair are not seeking to damage Brown given that he is the person we are most likely to have as our leader in the next General Election. The worst outcome of a leadership election would be one where we attack each other during the campaign so much that the winner is "damaged goods" when they go head to head with Cameron and the Tories.

We need to attract support to our chosen candidates for positive reasons - their policies, values and character - not negative reasons like "stopping" another candidate or avoiding a black spot when it comes to career advancement.

We need the rival camps to stop going nuclear and playing "for keeps". The choice of leader is important but it isn't Benn vs. Healey struggling for the soul and future of the Party. It is likely to be about nuance and detail between people who agree on the fundamentals and will need to work together in future. Like Wellington when an artillery battery at Waterloo told him they had Napoleon in their sights, we need candidates who will understand that it isn't the done thing to shell the opposing commander.

We need the candidates to look like they don't mind losing. Because democracy can't work unless candidates accept that not always winning is an occupational hazard and comes with letting large numbers of people vote on what your next job will be.

We have to involve the 190,000 party members and the millions of affiliated trade unionists in the debate. So far they feel totally alienated by a process being played out in the Westminster Village and the media. They have to feel they chose the Leader, not just woke up one day and discovered they had a new one. That means a contested election even if the outcome will be exactly the same as a non-contest. Mutterings about the financial cost of a ballot should be countered with "what price democracy?"

We need to look at how the last transfer of leader when Labour was in power - from Wilson to Callaghan - worked. Wilson decided the timing of his departure. Admittedly the threshold for nomination was lower, but there were six candidates: Benn, Callaghan, Crosland, Foot, Healey and Jenkins. Callaghan was by any estimation the frontrunner just as Brown is, having been Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary and a leadership contender back in 1963 but he did not feel got at or insulted by nearly a third of his Cabinet colleagues throwing their hats in the ring. Most (probably all) of them knew they would lose but quite legitimately ran anyway to either profile themselves and stake a claim to a future bid, mark their right to a senior Cabinet position, or measure the size of their ideological or personal power base. Dennis Healey even went into the second round despite only getting first round support from 30 MPs. Callaghan was magnanimous in victory and gave them all high office.

This time round we ought to have, besides Brown, McDonnell representing the Hard Left, Meacher or someone else representing the Soft Left, and maybe a soft Blairite (Johnson - who on some issues is actually close to the Soft Left) and hard Blairite (Reid) standing. That way Party and union members will get a real choice and the winner - still almost certainly Brown - will get a real mandate and we will have got a real measure of the strength of the different ideological currents in the Party. That way we can avoid the ill-feeling after the alleged Granita deal when Brown felt he had never had the chance to demonstate his support in the Party and Blair was unable to proove what support he would have had if Brown had stood.

We need to understand that actually our most senior ministers would be very odd politicians if they did not want to take the chance - however slim - to run for Leader and PM - that "inside every soldier's knapsack is a marshal's baton."

We also need to understand that we would be a pretty pathetic excuse for a Labour Party if we only had one person capable of being PM available and sat round the Cabinet table at any one time.

This election should be a festival of ideas and choice that shows Labour in the best possible light as open, democratic, comradely and inclusive. It's not too late to make it that.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And on another site

I'm not sure I really belong there but other stuff about conference by me is now available at the Guardian Comment is Free.

Conference

The queues to get online in the conference centre (6 PCs for 30,000 visitors) and the competing attractions of the bar of the Midland mean that I haven't written anything since Monday. In the mean time the little counter thingummy on this site has gone past 10,000 which I suppose is a good number of hits (I only installed it in mid August).

My take on the speeches:

Brown - could only find 2 things I disagreed with - giving Parliament a vote on going to war (which is a confusion of the roles of the executive and legislature which if Brown is PM he may regret) and the double devolution reference (eroding the powers of elected councillors and giving them to unelected, unaccountable community "activists") which is outrider stuff from DCLG that I was hoping Brown would drop. Otherwise the content was excellent and gave rather more policy cheer to people like me than to people like Compass, who will at some point wake up and realise Brown is not going to be the kind of PM they would like him to be.

Blair - summed up for me by the hardline Brownite sat next to me who turned at the end and said "that was beautiful" and the soft left friend who texted me immediately afterwards to say they had "become a Blairite". Better late than never.

The overall impact of the last 48 hours: the total ideological triumph of my end of the party and the extinguishing of any risk of Labour veering off to the left post-Blair. Which has got to be a good thing.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mandelson's speech to Progress

Peter Mandelson's speech to the Progress Rally yesterday deserved a wider audience. So here goes - based on my scribbled notes. He offered 5 pieces of advice to the Party:

1) We should be proud of the Party and our Leader. If we don't cheer our own side we can't expect the voters to.
2) Don't abandon the New Labour position just as the Tories accept it. Yes to renewal of policy, no to rejection of New Labour.
3) Recognise that the new policy agenda will not come from thin air or one person's head - all the thinkers in the Party need to be involved in an inclusive, honest debate about policy direction. We can't win on the same slogans and dividing lines as the last 10 years, as Sweden has shown.
4) Trade Unions are needed, welcome and must be fully involved. They are the ballast of the Party. But some General Secretaries rejected New Labour and therefore lost their influence (they were not rejected by New Labour) and see the current situation as an opportunity to reclaim their former power. Labour must remain a national party and not a party for one class or sectional interest.
5) He's relieved that the Cabinet took a self-denying ordinance on speaking about the leadership but as an ex-Minister he didn't. Whoever suceeds Blair, he or she needs to do so by a means that commands the respect and acceptance of the whole electorate and shows we are an open, democratic Party. What has been going on since General Election day 2005 is the opposite of a stable and orderly transition. Blair will still be young when he leaves office and has a lot still to offer the Party. It must be his decision when to go. The manner of his leaving must strengthen the Party and be the basis for the next victory.

I agree.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

An interesting sense of priorities

There are nine groups of contemporary resolutions, of which delegates are voting to prioritise eight to actually be debated this week.

The unions get to choose 4 subjects, so there is no point constituency delegates voting for any of them when they choose their own 4 priority subjects.

Which means effectively that constituency delegates are choosing 4 topics from 5.

"Campaign Briefing", the fetching yellow instruction sheet for leftie delegates incapable of making up their own mind (published in a rare display of unity by CLPD, the Grassroots Alliance and the Campaign Group of MPs) has therefore set out which 4 its massed ranks (or more likely dozen or so) of delegates should support.

The policy they don't want prioritised for debate is SERA's model motion on Climate Change.

Does this mean that little things like the future of the planet are viewed by the comrades as a bourgeois deviation from the class struggle?

Conference Diary - Saturday

Saturday is the day for real hacks to get to conference - the kind of people who think an afternoon compositing contemporary resolutions followed by an evening at the General Federation of Trades Unions reception is a great way to spend 50% of their weekend. So I was there.

First observations:

- Delegates are outnumbered by deputy leadership candidates and their attendant retinues of Special Advisers. If there is any cabinet member not running for deputy leader could they identify themselves?
- Everyone is being terribly nice to each other and wildly enthusiastic everytime the PM walks into a reception.
- His (the PM's) voice cracked and he sounded like he was going to have a cry when he got to the end of his speech at the London Region and started to talk about the Party looking outwards not inwards.
- The discussion about leadership candidates amongst ordinary delegates/activists is refreshingly dispassionate and high-minded - most people are not that interested in the personalties/politicking and seem to be reserving judgement until we know m0re about the policies and potential electoral impact of the (possible) runners and riders.
- The white wine in the receptions at the Midland Hotel is, mercifully, chilled, rather than the lukewarm temperature normally served at equivalent hotels in Brighton and Blackpool. But it's still chardonnay. Yuck!
- Manchester is very, very rainy compared to London where it was still summer when I left at 10am yesterday.

The road to nowhere

In Manchester, about 100m from the G-MEX conference centre, is Cameron Street. It's a dead end.

Friday, September 22, 2006

In a galaxy far, far away...

From the parallel universe that is the Hackney bit of the John McDonnell leadership campaign I received the following meeting invitation:

I think I shall attend, even though I doubt the invitation was aimed at me.

I can only assume it is a gathering of some kind of political equivalent of the English Civil War re-enactment societies - "The Sealed Trot" rather than the "Sealed Knot" - dedicated to reenacting the golden age of the 1980s ultra left.

Particularly retro are:

  • the use of a Labour Party logo last in circulation in 1985 before the Rose was adopted
  • the presence on the platform of a meeting about the Labour leadership of Gill George, a Respect Party council candidate, and Matt Wrack the General Secretary of a union that threw away its vote in the election by disaffiliating from Labour

As a comrade has pointed out, the only thing missing from the list of speakers is "Gordon Brown (invited)".

In the spirit of re-enacting the '80s I could go dressed as Neil Kinnock and try expelling them all. Now that would be fun.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Reply time

I thought I ought to reply to the Daily's blairite-scorched-earth-strategy story, so I've posted this on their site:

"I’m not aware of having said “Brown is bad”, only that Blair is good. There is still a strong possibility that I will actively campaign for Brown if he is up against only Meacher and/or McDonnell; or D Miliband who I disagree with on double devolution; or Milburn who I disagree with on public services issues; or Clarke who has publicly expressed doubts on Trident replacement and new nuclear power stations.

If either Reid or Johnson run I will have a difficult choice to make. I think Brown, Reid or Johnson would all be excellent leaders and are all coming from broadly the same place ideologically (and are all more tribally Labour than Blair, which I like) but we don’t have enough data yet on which would play best with the electorate (we need something like the Frank Luntz people-metering on Newsnight that showed Cameron’s popularity during the Tory leadership). We also won’t find out exactly what their policy platform is until the campaign starts and collective responsibility is parked - I’ll want to weigh up where they stand on Trident, nuclear power and an interventionist foreign policy (which I support) and public service reform (which I’m sceptical about but which is less of a deal-breaker).

I think the Daily rather over-estimates the influence of my blog and Stuart’s - if No10 was waging a scorched earth policy they would do it on TV and in the press, not through a website that only gets a few hundred hits a day.

The “Brown is popular in Wales and Scotland” argument is spurious and undermined by the Dunfermline by-election result earlier this year. Reid is probably popular in Scotland too. If Wales is so important why not have Hain as leader and be done with it? My hero Kinnock was massively popular in Wales and Scotland - fat lot of good that it did us in 1992. These are devolved elections about the performance of devolved governments. What counts in picking a leader in a country with FPTP is popularity amongst swing voters in the marginal seats that decide General Elections. No offence to the Celts (I am one by ancestory) but there are as many Westminster marginal seats in the 3 counties of Kent, Sussex and Essex as in the whole of Scotland and Wales. I’ll be looking for a Leader that resonates with Dartford, Basildon and Harlow as well as with the areas that always return Labour MPs. "

We Hate Luke Day

Looks like today is "We Hate Luke Day" as incoming fire hits the Akehurst bunker from my old adversary Janine Booth at Worker's Liberty - http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6957 and from the Daily - who in an article headlined blairite-scorched-earth-strategy - appear to be on a fishing expedition to incite Blair supporters to attack Brown - which as previous posts here will indicate isn't where I'm coming from. I shall remain unprovoked.

What with the Daily also describing Tom Watson as one of my "closest political allies" and being called a "traitor" by http://www.tenmoreyears.co.uk/ it has been a confusing day so far ...

As Janine has half-complimented me by saying I was "one of the few people who is actually ideologically committed to the Blair project, rather than just going along with it for the sake of a career or some defeatist notion that it's the only way to 'win'" I will half compliment her by saying she is "one of the few Trots in NUS that had actually read, let alone understood, Marx; one of the few entryists who actually wanted to build rather than destroy their university Labour Club; and shares my contempt for Respect/The SWP".

Welcome back...

http://www.fourthterm.net/wordpress/

Outflanked to the right

Unfortunately this new site, which has denounced me as a class traitor for insufficient Blairism, is not entirely serious: http://www.tenmoreyears.co.uk/

I might still buy one of the t-shirts though, to go with my 1996 vintage Labour Students "Blair" one, as a set of sartorial bookends to the golden era of British centre-left politics.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Conference Lessons

Lessons of this for STLP:

a) make sure contemporary resolutions are contemporary

b) the elections for CAC are important ...

Renewing Labour

The Party is running an online consultation on Party renewal here: http://www.labour.org.uk/letstalkrenewinglabour

At the moment the comments are mainly whinging about how things are now rather than sharing best practice about how to build an active party.

There are lots of people out there who are proving that the national circumstances are not an insurmountable obstacle to building vibrant, election-winning local Labour Parties so please get posting here: http://www.labour.org.uk/letstalkrenewinglabour and share how to do it...

What the public think about Blair vs Brown

Politicalbetting.com has linked to the detail of the latest ICM poll.

It pretty much suggests that the public raison d'etre of the recent attempt to oust Blair as PM - that he would be replaced by someone a lot more popular who would help Labour's electoral prospects - was total nonsense.

Key figures:

32% of Labour supporters want Blair to stay on for a full term and another 20% want him to stay on and fight the next General Election. Only 23% want him to go now.

Asked "Who do you think will make a better Prime Minister, Gordon Brown or Tony Blair?" Blair comes out ahead in every region of the country, every social class, both genders and every age group, with Brown only higher rated by supporters of the Lib Dems and minor parties. Blair's leads on this issue were particularly big amongst C1 and C2 social classes, and the Midlands and the South ... i.e. the demographic and geographical patches where general elections are won and lost. Amongst Labour's own voters Blair scored 61%, Brown 29%.

The attempts to speed things up didn't even help the person on whose behalf they were done - let alone the wider Party: amongst voters as a whole 65% think Brown was harmed by the events. 72% of Labour voters believe this too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

People's Liberation Front of Judea to merge with Judean People's Liberation Front

In an event of almost as much political magnitude as the Lib Dems deciding what level of higher rate tax they not will set after they do not win the next General Election, obscure faction-let Labour Reform is to merge with the modestly named and slightly less obscure faction-let Save The Labour Party.

All is revealed here: http://www.savethelabourparty.org/Sept_Oct.pdf

Save The Labour Party are not kidding when they say "Labour Reform is having difficulty in continuing as a large and active body" - a quick look at its website shows it has not been updated since September 2003.

Other ruritanian micro-organisations and 1980s re-enactment societies squabbling for the franchise to represent the 5% of Labour Party members who think John McDonnell should be leader include the Grass Roots Umberella Network, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (sic), the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance (sic), the Socialist Campaign Group, Labour Left Briefing, the Labour Representation Committee etc. etc. Oh and don't forget Compass. Or Socialist Action.

Either they all hate each other more than they hate people like me, or, even sadder, the same people are going to 20 different meetings (most of them at the Lucas Arms, Gray's Inn Road; ASLEF HQ Hampstead; or the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square - there must be something in the water in Camden).

My good comrade STLP founder Peter Kenyon will be glad to know Hackney North CLP has voted against his model contemporary resolution calling for a leadership contest to be triggered at Conference.

Dissent in Compass

Readers will know that although some of my best friends are members of Compass it is not my favourite political organisation.

A brief scan through the comments on its website reveals it is not even the favourite organisation of some of its own members, who feel Neal Lawson has taken it a long way from the "critical friend of Blair and promoter of whizzy new policy ideas" role suggested when it was founded.

Presumably those unhappy with having their names associated with the increasingly leftwards slide of Compass include Ruth Turner, now gainfully employed at No10 but then on the NEC, who was a signatory of its founding statement.

Leading the fightback inside Compass at its AGM last weekend was one Stan Rosenthal who ran for Compass' Management Committee on this platform:

"Over the past year I have been trying to open a debate within Compass on the democratic legitimacy of the leadership committing us to a strongly anti-Blair stance in the absence of this being part of the original Compass recruiting pamphlet or being included in the platforms on which MC members were elected. I also considered that such an excessively confrontational and divisive attitude towards Blair was counterproductive to our progressive ideas being taken up by this Labour government and by any future electable Labour Party.

The response of the MC was first, to stop the posting of these views on the old Compass website, then (after persistent challenging) to post, but bury, them in the deep recesses of that site and finally to censor any reference to the Compass democratic deficit on the more current sites.

Voting for me would send a signal that your views on where Compass should stand on political-positioning issues can no longer be taken for granted. If elected, I will continue my efforts to provide the opportunity for all members to have a say on such matters. Dare more Democracy…….within Compass! Be the change you wish to see… in Compass! Vote Rosenthal!"


Good to see such tolerance of dissent and such democratic accountability from Neal et al.

I am almost tempted to join so that I can vote for Mr Rosenthal but the prospect of contributing £32.50 to Gavin Hayes' salary is a price too high...

Go back to your constituencies and prepare for a good snooze

Thanks to the Guardian for this magnificent panorama of the pulsing, vibrant, dynamic political gathering that is the Lib Dem Conference: http://www.guardian.co.uk/panoramic/page/0,,1875261,00.html

You can pan round to see exactly how packed the hall was while Ming was speaking, and zoom in to see how excited his audience was and to count how many of them have either beards or sandals.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Alternative League Tabling

As ranked by other Labour bloggers rather than a Tory I'm apparently equal #9 rather than #35:

http://paulburgin.blogspot.com/2006/09/popular-blogs-at-bloggers4labour-week_18.html

which will lead to further injunctions from Linda to "stop being so smug and obviously pleased with yourself".

"I'm against selection full stop"

Well done to Alan Johnson for saying here

" I'm against selection, full stop. I think the Prime Minister is as well. I'm curious as to why anyone would even think I'd changed my views on selection. I lived on a council estate in Slough, which was then in Bucks, which kept its grammar schools. I saw my daughter Emma fail her eleven-plus, and so she got sent to a comprehensive. But it isn't a comprehensive if you're creaming off the best students. She was very bright but, well, probably life chances were lost then. Her brother, Jamie, passed. So am I bitter about selection? Yes. I've seen what it does to kids."

But why then go on to clarify it through his aides here that he "did not plan to scrap the 11-plus: government policy is to avoid creating new grammars but leave existing schools untouched"?

If segregating kids into different schools by ability (which 9 times out of 10 actually means segregating them by social class/parental income) means they lose life chances as Johnson says, then surely it is morally indefensible and should be ended.

That doesn't mean "abolishing" grammar schools - they can keep the name, ethos and everything else, it just means they wouldn't be able to select by ability.

I grew up in a part of Kent that still has the 11+ now. I "passed" (and thanks to Thatcher's Assisted Places scheme got a free place at a minor public school) but I remember children in my primary school class crying in the playground because they had "failed" and would not be going to the same school as their friends or felt they were labelled as "failures". It wasn't a half and half split - only 5 of a year group of 50 at my state primary school "passed". Even within the "passers" there was - and is in my home town - further segregation and hierarchy between the 2 "good" grammar schools - both single gender - and the 2 "less good" grammar schools which had originally been "Technical" schools. Then there were a few whose parents had gone to church enough times to get them into the local RC "Comprehensive" or CofE "secondary modern". Everyone else went to the village "secondary modern" which Tory Kent County Council then shut down a few years later. I remember quite a few kids in my class saying after the 11+ exam they had assumed it was another practice (we did practice tests every week for two terms until we were experts in anagrams and all the other nonsense in the test) so had not bothered to answer all the questions...

I find it unbelievable that after 9 years of a Labour government we still allow 11 year old kids in some parts of the country to be put under that kind of pressure and stress, then separate some of them from their friends, fast track a chosen few and brand the vast majority as "non-passers". Not just Victorian but Mediaeval.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Swedish General Election Latest

My contact in Sweden's Social Democrat Party HQ reports that the exit poll (polls closed at 1800 GMT) shows the right winning (posted 19.15 GMT).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Outrider-ometer

I've decided to run Alan Milburn's speech on Thursday through my patent outrider-ometer. If an idea is sooooo right wing that even I am offended by it then it very definitely constitutes outriding (coming up with ideas for the sake of it to wind up Gordon Brown and get publicity). As some of Alan's speech was actually constitutional reform stuff that could have been spouted by Clare Short or Neal Lawson it's likely to be a mixed bag:

  • "state subsidies that would allow parents to move children from a failing school" - yep, out-riding nonsense - surely we should be putting the money into turning round the failing schools? What about the kids without pushy parents left behind?
  • "tax breaks designed to spread asset ownership in housing and shares as the best vehicle to tackle inequality" - yes, more outriding, I can't quite figure how the first half of the sentance leads to the second half - in what sense would tax breaks - only payable to people that pay tax - deal with inequality?
  • "local income tax" - not out-riding but Lib Dem policy that we spent the last election fighting against. Changes balance of funding councils from home owners with assets to younger voters at the time in their lives when they are already under most financial pressure.
  • "communities determining the tax rates through referendums" - a recipe for the selfish to vote to spend less on schools, child protection, sheltered housing, libraries etc.
  • "Community-run mutual organisations, he suggested, could take over the running of children's centres, estates and parks" - i.e. self appointed middle class activists rather than accountable elected members get to run local services. Already proving a disaster in foundation hospitals where the elections are mainly contested by people so unqualified for public office that they have either been rejected in council elections or were not allowed to stand by their party.
  • "Local police and health services could be made directly accountable through elections." Nice idea - but depends on whether Alan means real elections or the Mickey Mouse ones run for existing foundation hospital boards where the electorate is about 0.1% of the actual local population.
  • " voting reform for the Commons" - a good idea.
  • "a directly elected Lords" - a good idea
  • "power for parliament to vote on wars" bonkers Bennite as opposed to Blairite out-riding.
  • "Incentives and sanctions should be increased to reduce the number of lone parents without work" - fine depending on what the sanctions are and there being some recognition that some lone parents might quite legitimately want to stay at home raising their child and that this is probably a good thing for both the parent and the child.

So one my outrider-ometer Alan scored:

40% pure outriding

10% bonkers lefty

10% Lib Dem

20% agreed with by Luke (and bizarrely Compass)

20% worth considering but with the devil in the detail

The Guardian concluded that "the breadth and depth of Mr Milburn's speech suggest that the most active Blair supporter outside the cabinet has not ruled out standing for the party leadership." If that's the case it is an unusual strategy - trying to irritate as many of the electorate as possible. My hunch is that Brown will be quite pleased if the alternative candidate from the Blair camp ends up being Milburn.

League tabling

Tory blogging guru Iain Dale has now published his league table of Labour (actually Labour/other left) bloggers - http://www.iaindale.com/files/upld-article70pdf?.pdf

He ranks me at #35 which I'm chuffed about considering I only started doing this at the end of May, and, having seen his criteria here: my hunch is I scored nil on two of the ten areas (design and independence of thought).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Transitional demands

The far left are keen on "transitional demands" - on the face of it nice-sounding policies that are undeliverable without a revolution and thus help turn people into revolutionaries (in theory).

The CPGB has this week decided to apply this policy making technique to John McDonnell's leadership campaign: http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/640/labour.htm

Unfortunately, in amongst the apparently reasonable but pushing at the boundaries stuff they are urging on McDonnell like a £300 a week minimum wage, some plain loopy Spart speak has slipped in. For instance, they want McDonnell to campaign for "Replacement of the standing army with a people’s militia".

A "militia" is of course an old Leninist demand popularised by Ken Livingstone's economics adviser John Ross (like most of Ken's kitchen cabinet a former member of the central committee of the International Marxist Group which subsequently entered into the Labour Party as "Socialist Action"). Mr Ross, who earns the best part of £200k a year at the GLA and therefore has little need to worry personally about a £300 week minimum wage, campaigned on the very same concept of a "militia" as IMG Candidate for Newham NE in one of the two general elections in 1974, stating "This is the only peaceful road to socialism. The ruling class must know that they will be killed if they do not allow a take-over by the workers. If we aren’t armed there will be a bloodbath."

So far the workers have not been armed and there has been no bloodbath ... I'm sure I'll be amongst the first against the wall when it comes.

In the mean time this entryist sleeper cell is running London, hence surreal episodes like swapping oil for policy advice with the lovely Hugo Chavez.

They have yet however, to arm the workers, unless the proliferation of PCSOs is a first step.

Does anyone out there have the text of their boss the Mayor's hagiographic foreword to Workers Revolutionary Party Leader Gerry Healey's biography?

Is the Labour Party its own worst enemy?

Back in March/April David Cameron's poll honeymoon was wearing off to such an extent that some Tories were muttering about ditching him as leader. Then Labour imploded with the Prescott/Clarke/Hewitt triple whammy which turned what might have been reasonable local election results into a rout.

It looks like we've done it again. The attempt by round-robin letters to get Blair to resign was of course predicated on him being allegedly such an electoral liability that only an immediate change of leader could rescue us. Except that the poll taken immediately before all the letter writing (31 Aug to 6 Sept) - and sat on by MORI until revealed by politicalbetting.com yesterday actually had Labour 1% ahead of the Tories (CON 35%(-1): LAB 36% (+4): LD 19% (-5)).

Maybe the problem with Labour's popularity is not Blair or his policies but the perception that we are all more interested in the timing of an internal election and who will win it than we are in getting on with implementing the manifesto we were elected on less than 18 months ago.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Another contender for Minister for Daft Ideas

For once I agree with Tom Miller about something.

Pat Hewitt has called for the general public to get to pick the next Labour Leader.

I can't think of anything more likely to reduce Labour's membership below its already pathetic levels than telling people that paying £36 a year for a party card gives them no more democratic rights than any random person who walks in off the street.

The electoral college we have now, with 1/3 of the vote each for the PLP, individual members and the individual members of affiliated trade unions and socialist societies was a compromise reached after years of bitter infighting. It's a fudge but one that ensures that all the main stakeholders in the Labour Party have some say in picking a leader - and particularly that millions of political levy-paying trade unionists get to have a say. Re-opening that can of worms would be a bad, bad move.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

How not to promote trade unionism 2

It must be something about men called Bob.

Bob Piper has gone into one here about me criticising Bob Crow of the RMT's walkout during Blair's speech.

As someone whose salary as a Labour Organiser back in the mid-90s was 66% funded by the RMT I actually have a lot of time for them as a union - or for what they used to be under Jimmy Knapp.

Apparently Bob P thinks Bob C stands up for his members. My take is there are more constructive ways to get better working conditions and pay for your members - and keep their jobs - than:

  • staging walkouts from speeches by Labour Prime Ministers to get yourself on telly - which is just rude, and only served to make Blair look dignified and them like dinosaurs
  • shouting "scab" at the Mayor of London (although he deserved it for standing against an official Labour candidate, which was not the point the RMT were making)
  • yourself as a union scabbing on the Labour Party you as the NUR founded by getting yourself kicked out for funding the soon-to-split Caledonian Trots of the SSP
  • using strike action as a first resort rather than a last one so that millions of London tube users associate trade unions with a 3 hour journey to work rather than being organisations that might help them get a better deal from their employers

Meanwhile Jon Rogers tells us the TUC have been debating Trident. Unless of course you are a GMB member in the Barrow shipyard hoping to build the next generation of the things I would imagine the average union member would be a bit fed up to find that their £10 a month membership fee was helping fund completely theoretical debates on foreign and defence policy.

How not to promote trade unionism

Over the years I have had quite a bit of success recruiting people to trade unions - the TGWU when I was a member of that in the '90s and latterly Amicus. Some of those people subsequently had support from the union in redundancy and other employment situations that made a real financial difference to the outcome of negotiations with their employer, and moral and legal support when they felt isolated and needed some solidarity.

The main obstacle I have found in persuading people of the value of being in a union is the perception that they will be endorsing people behaving like this:


Thankyou Bob Crow for another stupid, ignorant and childish blow to the reputation of trade unionism. With General Secretaries like Crow, who needs union-busting bosses?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blair speech to Progress

Progress have put Blair's speech from Saturday online: http://progressonline.org.uk/Magazine/article.asp?a=1377

I do not understand how anyone who heard it or now reads it can want to lose the services of this man as PM and Labour Party Leader.

We should be pleading with him to stay on for a fourth term.

Keeping the Faith

There seems to be an enormous ammount of excitement amongst Labour bloggers (and the Guardian diary) about Keeping the Faith -http://www.keepingthefaith.org.uk/ - an online petition set up in the middle of the chaos last week for people to pledge their support for Blair to choose the timing of his departure, and initially hijacked by spammers.

I've never met the site's owner David Taylor though it sounds like we share similar politics.

Various blogs have laid in to him for such thought crimes as:

  • not liking Clare Short
  • hosting an anonymous website (how unlike X million other bloggers)
  • supporting the current Labour Prime Minister (what an appalling thing for a Labour Party member to do!)
  • not being IT literate enough to protect his site from spam

I think he did a good - and in the circumstances politically brave (as it wasn't clear what way things were going) - thing.

It was one of a number of initiatives that happened pretty spontaneously last week because there were a lot of people out there who wanted to stand up and be counted as Blair supporters when it mattered most. Most of us are probably guilty of naiivity for thinking we could influence wider events by just saying how we felt, but as Labour Party members we didn't want to sit back and be observers at a key time.

For those of us like me who have friends and allies in both Brown and Blair camps it was particularly important to be able to publicly say what we thought and not just take cover and try to do a Vicar of Bray act.

The IT snobbery of the blogging community - "ho, ho he couldn't stop spammers and we were able to find out who he was" was pretty depressing, as was the tendency (which with this post I'm now part of) to blog about other websites rather than the "real world" outside the blogosphere.

I plead guilty to aiding and abetting David Taylor by linking to his site and emailing many of my Labour friends with it - a large slice of whom have signed it.

I'd urge more people to sign up in defence of idealism and loyalty and transparency and against cynicism and keeping your head down: http://www.keepingthefaith.org.uk/petition.htm

Band wagon Dave

I am rapidly growing to despise Mr David Cameron.

Yesterday he showed his great taste, diplomacy and sense of timing by choosing to use the 5th anniversary of the mass murder of thousands of Americans to ... wait for it ... try to put distance between himself and America.

What a tawdry little man.

The wording was of course mealey mouthed but the intention was clear: "there's votes in them there bleeding heart liberal middle class dinner party set hills and our boy Dave is driving his bandwagon straight for towards them."

"democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside" ... "Liberty grows from the ground - it cannot be dropped from the air by an unmanned drone" he says, though strangely liberty was quite sucessfully dropped from the air by Lancasters over a number of German cities and a single B29 over Hiroshima, both of which embraced democracy and freedom quite enthusiastically despite the aerial delivery method.

"Foreign policy decisions are not black and white" he says. Some of them are not but most of the ones in the last five years have been. You are either in favour of overthrowing the Taliban and Saddam and replacing them with democracies or you are not. I am not aware of a middle way for "liberal Conservatives" like Mr Cameron to pursue.

"We are not engaged in a clash of civilisations" he says. Er... you could afford me. I thought yesterday was the 5th anniversary of a bunch of jihadists who want to re-establish a global caliphate flying passenger planes into buildings. If the wars that are being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq - which are about whether those countries become muslim democracies that embrace the values of the enlightenment or slide into being mediaeval theocracies - are not a clash of civilisations I don't know what is.

Unlike Mr Cameron, while the war on terrorism goes on - and last night former CIA director James Woolsey was saying on Newsnight it might last as long as the Cold War - my support for America is unconditional and not hedged around with neat formulations and semantics.

We owe that country too much:
  • We owe them for the lives of their young men who came and died in the mud of 1917 and 1918 because we were too exhausted to defeat German imperialism
  • We owe them for the Lend Lease destroyers that stopped the U-Boats from starving our grandparents into defeat
  • We owe them for the lives of a second generation of young men who rescued our continent from the Nazis
  • We owe them for the Marshall Aid that rescued us from post War destitution and allowed us to fund an NHS and a welfare state
  • We owe them for funding the 45 year defence of the West at a cost of billions, so that we are not all now living in a Stalinist worker's paradise
  • We owe them for the lives of the young Americans now who are sitting terrified in humvees in Iraq or behind sandbags in Kabul trying to protect the fledgling democracies in those countries and - by extension - us

From the party that brought you Neville Chamberlain, step forward his ideological heir, David Cameron.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rejoice, rejoice

If the Daily has got this right - clare-short-to-step-down - the composition of the PLP looks set to improve.

I don't often question Tony Blair's judgement but in this case one has to ask why on earth he kept this person in his Cabinet for six years.

The Akehurst Diet

The mirror to this blog set up by spoofster/online stalker is a constant source of insight into the psychological "issues" afflicting its anonymous author.

95% of it is extremely well-observed satire. 5% is just nasty for the sake of it in a fairly playground way. There's the not very well disguised homophobia and the obsession with people's physical appearances.

In my case this has now moved on from my hair colour to my weight and Linda's with a charming cartoon illustrating how much we "enjoy lard".

Neither of us is the slimmest of people but I am tempted to consult my lawyers about this slight upon our diet.

Those who know me are well aware that the Akehurst diet is in fact identical to the Atkins diet but with the additions of carbohydrates and alcohol. Specifically, it includes all the major food groups: foie gras, claret, steak, claret, unpasteurised soft cheeses, claret, claret and sometimes port. Similar diets have made Charles Clarke and Tom Watson the men they are today. As Hipp Organic and Cow & Gate don't do foie gras flavour Jed is not yet able to share this.

What Labour Members want

Last week's YouGov poll of Labour members - http://www.yougov.com/archives/pdf/Labfinal060907.pdf - didn't really tell us anything we didn't know about their opinions on the leadership - broadly that they want Blair to go fairly quickly but would be angry if he was forced out, and that Brown is the only potential leadership candidate with any meaningful level of support (with the usual proviso that things can change very fast).

For me as someone who is more concerned about the ideological direction of the party than the (fascinating but not very edifying) questions of who gets what job and who is whose ally, the interesting bits were the questions about policy and political labels.

These should be studied carefully by Brown's people as at some stage they need to publicly resolve where Brown sits in terms of the slightly schizoid nature of his support base i.e. that it manages to contain people who can barely stand the sight of each other like Tom Watson and Neal Lawson. I'm completely certain that Brown's own instincts are nearer to my kind of politics than to the Compassite bit of his support base but so far he's not explicitly repudiated the Compass outrider stuff - indeed he spoke at their conference earlier this year.

The poll may help Brown realise that there are a lot more potential votes at my end of the Party than on the left.

Key stats (and to The Daily - http://thedaily.wordpress.com/2006/09/08/first-leadership-poll-of-party-members/ - yes I admit I am guilty of cherry picking):

64% agree that "In order for Labour to keep winning general elections, it’s important to govern Britain from near the centre, and not to switch to more left-wing policies"
Only 7% of members are "very leftwing" (about the same as John McDonnell's 5% support and almost exactly the percentage of members who voted for the Grassroots Alliance NEC slate).
58% don't think that Blair is "Bush's poodle"
67% think British troops should stay in Iraq "as long as Iraq’s governmentwants"
56% support 90 day detention of terrorist suspects
64% want some kind of Trident replacement
60% want new nuclear power stations

However, like me, most members seem to be less enthusiastic about further NHS and education reforms.

Minister for Daft Ideas

If the quality of ideas we are going to get if we have a wide-ranging policy debate on Labour's future direction is anything like this - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5331752.stm - let's not bother.

Harriet Harman's latest proposal is: "an end to the convention where the prime minister can decide key foreign policy issues alone" (I don't think that will appeal to the likely next holder of that office) and "Democratisation" of the Foreign Office.

What wonders that would do for us internationally. UK PM to UN Security Council: "yes I would love to support sending peace-keepers to Darfur but can you hang on while I see whether some back-bench MPs, a focus group or two of totally uninformed citizens, a bit of opinion polling and the editorial of the Guardian say? I'll get back to you once they've given me my instructions."

We already have a democratic way of deciding foreign policy. It's called electing a government in a General Election.

It seems Byers and Milburn are not the only policy "outriders".

Every time Harman comes up with an idea it makes me more terrified of the prospect of her becoming Deputy Leader.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The week in Smiths & Morrissey Songs

Guest post by Linda Smith.

The boy with a thorn in his side/There is a light that never goes out: How Soon is Now?/You just haven't earned it yet baby:

Bigmouth strikes again:


I started something I couldn't finish:


Vicar in a tutu:


I am hated for loving:

Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me:


Satan rejected my soul:


In the future when all's well:

Semantics are important

So why is Tony Blair still PM rather than having been replaced this week?

The bottom line is that most Labour people want to keep the Party's record of never having forced a leader out of office - every one so far resigned of their own accord or died in office.

This meant that a big lump of the people who may well vote for Brown as leader were happy to demonstrate their loyalty to Blair at the point when it mattered.

The issue is one of semantics - there are a whole mass of people who see Brown as Blair's natural "successor", but not his involuntary "replacement".

Progress Conference Soundtrack

The otherwise excellent Progress Conference today had a few hiccups with the TUC's (which was the venue) choice of piped music.

In the conference hall: an excellent medley of Motown hits, unfortunately featuring Jimmy Ruffin's "What becomes of the broken hearted" and Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a clown".

In the gents toilets: the equally excellent but equally unfortunate Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni, better known as the opera music from the finale of the Godfather Part 3 when most of the lead characters get assassinated. In a week when most of Labour's MPs seemed to have thought (in the words of a former NOLS Chair) that "politics is like gangster movies without the guns" this was apt.

Maybe someone at the TUC was trying to make a point.

Re-writing history

Just watched the film correspondent of Sky News describe Oliver Stone's new movie, World Trade Centre, about 2 policemen who survived 9/11 as "too pro-American". Words fail me at the cretinousness of this response. Sure it might be a rubbish film for other reasons, but its subject is the murder of thousands of Americans by terrorists - which it would be a bit difficult to make a dispassionate, even-handed film about. Presumably the same critic would have panned Schindler's List as "too pro-Jewish".

Meanwhile an even more disturbing example of the post-9/11 equivalent of Holocaust denial is revealed in the New Statesman - which interviews ex-spies (obviously reliable then ...) David Shayler and Annie Machon who think that "there weren't any planes on 9/11, just missiles wrapped in holograms" and, says Shayler, that "there is a Zionist conspiracy that's a fact. And they were behind 9/11." What nice people. The author says they "aren't green-ink types". Of course not: "green-ink types" are usually harmless eccentrics. These people are sick. If they really believe what they say they are very disturbed. If they don't believe it then what is their motive?

There is a light that never goes out

At the Progress Conference - their new website is here - http://www.progressonline.org.uk/

Excellent speech by Tony Blair - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5329792.stm - dignified, relaxed, self-deprecating and absolutely clear on the political challenges facing the Party and country and why these matter more than personalities.

He was careful to distance himself from Charles Clarke's name-calling and to refer positively to Brown.

The corridor politics set the same tone - building of bridges and behaving in a more comradely way than last week being the watchwords from both camps.

Maybe there is a chance that the Party can step back from the brink and be self-disciplined and united after all.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now

... is not just one of the Smiths' greatest singles, but an accurate statement.

This has to be the worst week I've experienced in politics since the 1992 election.

How has anybody been helped by a series of events that culminated in the public humiliation of the man who just won us a third General Election?

We've probably lost ourselves the next election and put the Tories in for a generation.

We've split the right of the Labour Party and set friend against friend and ally against ally.

The knife has been wielded not by Blair's ideological critics on the Hard Left, or even the Compassite element of Brown's support, but by people who share 95% of his politics.

Gordon Brown, having carefully tried to create a position where he would be the unity candidate of the centre and right of the Party, challenged only by John McDonnell, has now made it almost inevitable that he will face a bruising leadership fight with a more Blair-friendly candidate, and has reduced his own reputation with party members and the wider electorate.

If the only consequence of this would be a few MPs having their careers truncated or losing their ministerial limos in would be sad but not disastrous.

The fact that it means there is more chance that the millions of people who need a Labour Government so that they get decent schools, hospitals, policing, housing and jobs may end up suffering years of misery under the Tories makes it a tragedy.

Apocalypse Now Part 3

So how have this week's events played with local Labour members outside the Westminster beltway?

I went to two ward party meetings last night - my own to give my councillor's report, then on to another for a wine & cheese evening (it being Stoke Newington).

There were a total of about 20 members at the two, and a good mix of ages, ethnicities, genders, political orientations and active/less active members (NB this is not to show how diverse we are but that it was a reasonably representative sample).

At Chatham Ward where I am a councillor we passed a resolution for conference about social housing then discussed how to get young people locally benefits from the Olympics, the shortage of local boys' secondary school places, the decision making structure of Team Hackney, our Local Strategic Partnership, whether to take collections at the end of our meetings, and at some length the logistics of next year's Labour book stall and tombola at the St John's Church Fete. The Chair (re-elected last year after explicitly saying he was "a supporter of Tony Blair") then asked if there was anything else anyone wanted to raise. I braced myself expecting a flurry of comments about the need for a leadership election. Instead, silence. So we all went home, the elephant in the corner of the room included. As I left I was asked "who is this Tom Watson person you mentioned before the meeting started, has something happened in the last couple of days?"

Arriving at branch number 2, Clissold, historically one of the most leftwing wards in Diane Abbott's CLP, I came in half way through people going round the room saying who their dream candidate for leader was. The result (I got this second hand if anyone there for the whole thing wants to correct me) was Gordon Brown 1 vote, Hilary Benn 1 vote, Hazel Blears 2 votes, undecided/wouldn't say 6 votes. There was unanimity in condemning the coup attempt this week. One specific comment stuck in my mind: "I thought politics was supposed to be an honourable profession, not about jostling for positions."

Journalistic Accuracy

Top marks for accuracy to Brown cheerleader Jackie Ashley, who in this piece today (Guardian article) reveals that Tom Watson is "Scottish".

This may be a revelation to Tom (or is it MacWatson) and indeed those of us taken in by his Brummie accent, Black Country constituency, home town of Kidderminster and support for the Harriers.

Probably equally accurate is Ashley's claim that this week's letter writing-athon was "emphatically not a "Brownite plot"".

Write-in Candidate for Leader

I would like to nominate for the Labour Leadership Neil Kinnock.

Why?

  • He's ginger
  • Sound politics
  • Neither Brownite nor Blairite
  • Previous experience of getting most of the current antagonists to work together.
  • Popular in Wales, and according to some of the arguments this week the Welsh Assembly elections in themselves justify a change of PM
  • Should never have had to step down in 1992 and deserves a stint as PM
  • Previous experience of regenerating the party during two decades in opposition and willingness to gallantly lead us through innevitable and crushing electoral defeats may be useful in a couple of years time given the way the polls are going

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Apocalypse now part 2

Just received, in my capacity as a CLP Membership Secretary, a resignation from the Party in protest at the attempted coup.

Save the Wales

One of the less valid arguments being spouted last night for a precipitous change of PM was that this will somehow save the seats of some MSPs, Welsh Assembly Members and Councillors next year.

Even if there was still going to be a bounce in the polls when Blair steps down, which looks less likely as the infighting surrounding the changeover will have pissed off more voters than the change of face will please, I despair at the kind of politician who places responsibility for their local or devolved election results on Labour nationally.

Local elections should be about the performance of local councils.

Devolved elections should be about the performance of Rhodri Morgan or Jack McConnell, not the incumbent of No10.

As soon as you start suggesting to voters that they might use them as a referendum on the government, of course they will. It's a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The linkage is very easy to break. You campaign on local issues and you campaign all year round.

If it wasn't easy to break how come Wales posted appalling results in 1999 when Labour was riding high in the UK polls yet improved on these in 2003 in the middle of the Iraq War? And how come boroughs like Hackney, Lambeth and Islington produced thumping Labour results this May when the national picture was so bad?

If only the energy currently being expended on plots, letters and media grandstanding was being expended on canvassing and leafletting for next May's elections. If only.

Sign here...

http://www.keepingthefaith.org.uk/

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Apocalypse now

So far the resignation letters have been less than straight up about the motives of the resigners.

Tom's one says: "Your leadership has been visionary and remarkable" but "I no longer believe that your remaining in office is in the interest of either the party or the country.
How and why this situation has arisen no longer matters."

My view is the "how and why" is exactly what matters.

We need to know what the Brownite critique is.

If it is for subjective reasons - e.g. they just like Gordon more, or personal ambition, then it reflects on them as resigners rather badly.

If it is for objective policy reasons then we need to know what those are because they will help Labour members determine who to back in any future leadership election.

For instance, if the Brown critique is limited to wanting different or less public service reform (i.e. abandoning or diluting the choice agenda) then despite the recent mess I would be reasonably enthusiastic about Brown being given a clear run against the Hard Left.

But if the Brown critique of Blair includes his foreign policy then I reserve the right to go and campaign for John Reid on principle because I will not vote for any leadership candidate who wants to change the current line on the Middle East.

Tom can get away with saying "How and why this situation has arisen no longer matters. " His candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party can't.

Similarly, the "deal" as outlined very sensibly by Ed Balls in the Observer on Sunday, has always been an orderly transition. What is going on now is not orderly. If Brown doesn't act to put a stop to this then my take is he has broken that deal and a) Blair would be jusified in saying "forget it, I'm staying until the next election, you're already fighting me so you'll have to finish the job if you want rid of me" and b) Reid or Johnson would be justified in throwing their hats in the ring for the succession.

The ball is in Brown's court.

Through the looking glass

We are living in some very odd times politically.

Now that we have the 2 lists of letter to Tony signatories it is apparent that the one that I disagree with (calling for Blair to go now) has been signed predominantly by hardcore moderates from Wales and the West Midlands - most of whom support the Government line on Iraq and even Lebanon - http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article1367190.ece whilst the "please feel free to hang about a bit longer" counter-letter which I agree with was signed by quite a few soft left people well to the left of those who signed the original one: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/labourleadership/story/0,,1865848,00.html

And to make things even more confusing, the Independent has started publishing editorials I agree with: http://comment.independent.co.uk/leading_articles/article1367163.ece

My instinct is that the events of the last 24 hours have caused immense damage to Labour's reputation with the public, and made us look divided and self-obsessed. It doesn't show a political party in an attractive light when it has a huge faction fight in public which is not about policy or the issues facing real people but fundamentally a personality spat between two men who agree with each other on 95% of issues. The elitest way in which the leadership contest is being played out in the Westminster village with no say for the Labour Party membership let alone the wider electorate won't help re-engage the public with politics either. We may already - and I hope this is not the case - have reached the point where our internal feuding has lost us the next General Election and whoever is leader will inherit the political equivalent of a smoking ruin.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bob Piper is right

For once Bob Piper is right about something: his respect for the seriousness with which my former flatmate and ex-boss (National Youth & Student Officer when I was NOLS National Secretary) Tom Watson will have taken signing the letter asking Blair to go: http://councillorbobpiper.blogspot.com/2006/09/revolting-mps.html

Tom & I have had some fairly serious political differences in the past - notably over electoral reform and Cuba - conducted in a robust fashion - but the bottom line is, as Bob says, he is a Labour loyalist to the core. I guess we will have to agree to differ robustly about him signing the letter too.

Contrary to what Iain Dale claims (http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2006/08/tom-watsons-shift-of-loyalties.html) this is not a "shift of loyalties" or "betrayal" by Tom at all. He has been a Brownite for at least six years, probably more, certainly longer than some of the recent PLP "Vicars of Bray".

The tragedy is that many MPs like Tom were pushed into a position of aligning with Brown against No10 for wholly avoidable reasons - in some cases like Geoff Hoon gratuitous and ungrateful demotions in reshuffles - in some like Tom the snooty, snobby de-haute-en-basse attitude of certain No10 staffers who were sniffy about the trade union old-style rightwingers who should have been the leadership's core support in the PLP.

The political managers around Blair bear a longterm responsibility for not making the effort to keep the PLP or indeed the wider party on side - something that in many cases could have been done just by making them feel wanted or showing some common courtesy and politeness.

Blair himself could have at least tried to show an interest in the Poor Bloody Infantry of the PLP in the tea rooms and lobby.

It is too late now to unmake those mistakes - not of policy or ideology but of basic political management.

I hope that the next incumbent and his team show a bit of inclusivity and an ability to bind wounds. I won't be holding my breath though.

If, as insiders are saying, Tom Watson is going to be Brown's first Chief Whip, I hope he treats his flock in the PLP as he ought to have been treated rather than the way that he was.

Political Courage

... along with loyalty is in short supply right now in the Labour Party. But well done to Richard Corbett MEP for not just going with the flow: http://corbett.pir2.info/blog/2006/09/i-and-many-of-my-colleagues-are.html

I'm not sure even the PM wants to stay on quite as long as Richard is suggesting but at least Mr Corbett is displaying some guts on this, as are the 49 MPs the BBC has just said have signed a pro-Blair letter.

Look to Scotland

As traditional in depressing times for Labour UK-wide, those of us needing cheering up can look to Scotland for consolation.

Today's London media have given us the news that the bunkered-in staff at No10 have completely lost the plot ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5315114.stm) (though my spoofster will undoubtedly see some significance in the revelation that TB may speak to a grateful the nation from the Chris Evans show as part of his departure tour), letters that may or may not exist may or may not be being signed by my predecessor as Hackney Chief Whip Chris Bryant, and my predecessor as Chatham Ward Councillor Charles Clarke is accelerating leftwards across the political spectrum at high velocity http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5315636.stm - I'm not quite sure who he is trying to impress - I don't think slagging off Gordon's policy pronouncements is going to get him recalled to the Cabinet post-leadership change in a hurry.

However, in my ancestoral homeland (the red hair comes from the Mackenzies of Dumbarton rather than the Akehursts of Kent) the excellent Jack McConnell is quietly getting on with the job of getting re-elected and according to today's Scotsman http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=1308102006 has opened up a handy poll lead over the Nats, whilst the Trot vote has collapsed :

"According to calculations by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, if the poll result was replicated in May, Labour would win 49 seats, down just one, and the SNP - which lost eight seats in 2003 - would drop a further three to 24 MSPs.
However, the Liberal Democrats would be on 23, up six, the Conservative up two on 20 and the Greens on nine, an increase of two. The SSP/Solidarity would get just one seat, down five. Other parties or independent candidates would take three seats."

Particularly good to see the collapse of the Trot vote post the Sheridan trial.

Were Hackney not an equally steadfast bastion of democratic socialism, I might be making plans to relocate northwards. Will Scotland be taking asylum seekers if Cameron gets in?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Catching up rant

Back from holiday, and a week of supressed rage to get out of my system as I've watched the continued self-destruction of the Labour Party. Cameron & co must be having trouble containing their mirth as they watch our team try their best to increase the Tory 9% lead.

First off, last week's good guys:

  • Ed Balls MP - for this calm and sensible piece in the Observer (except the dig at Byers) - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/
  • 0,,1863996,00.html
  • Siobhain McDonagh MP for going on the BBC and basically telling the headless chicken wing of the PLP to shut up
  • David Winnick MP for saying "I think it would be useful if some of my colleagues calmed down a bit. It's quite obvious that for the prime minister to give a departure date is totally unrealistic."
  • Dennis Macshane MP for speaking for the silent majority of Labour loyalists: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/focus/story/0,,1863883,00.html

Now the "please, please let's make a catastrophe out of a crisis" wing of the British left:

  • Glenda Jackson MP for yet another televised call for Blair to go. Why is that newsworthy? Am I the only Labour supporter who wants to puke every time I see her? - there's something about the sneering, personalised tone that just sets my gag reflex going. When was the last time she said anything actually supportive of her own government?
  • Ken Livingstone for proving why he should never have been readmitted to the Labour Party with his remarks about Trevor Phillips: http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/
  • 0,,1862591,00.html
  • "It's grim up North London" Neal Lawson for recycling the same piece yet again in the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1861459,00.html - from the man whose switch from uber-moderniser LCC leader to Compass ranter is up there with Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader as an example of consistency and loyalty, though at least Vader was motivated by trying to save his wife and kids rather than having a huff about losing the Bridgend selection contest.
  • Peter Wilby of the New Statesman for saying Labour needs to lose the next election: http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1859576,00.html I'll remember that next time I meet someone in my council ward who is getting their flat improved under Decent Homes, or whose kid's school is improving, or has a job when they didn't in the '90s, or benefits from the mimimum wage or tax credits: Peter Wilby thinks you really need 4 years of the Tories. What a jerk.
  • And Charles Clarke for attacking Blair and Brown for actually being straightforward and showing leadership about Trident and civil nuclear power - http://www.newstatesman.com/200609040029 - and saying what we really need is a debate about both them and a whole bunch of issues largely of interest to Labour Party activists rather than the general public. He lists as key issues for debate: the boundary between local and national government, relations with business, the environment, constitutional reform and foreign policy. All very worthy and of great interest to Guardian reading Stoke Newingtonites who work in politics like me, but I doubt that they are top of the list of concerns in the places that will decide the outcome of the next election like Basildon, Harlow and the Medway towns. Strangely he doesn't list the 3 issues the opinion polls say the public are most concerned about: crime, terrorism and immigration. Possibly because these were issues he was supposed to be sorting out at the Home Office and er... didn't in spectacular fashion in April, largely causing Cameron's recovery from a dip in the polls and Labour's flop in the local elections. Memo to all Labour MPs defending marginal seats: next time someone asks you to help sort out an ASBO for the local youths causing mayhem on mini-motos, invite them to a "debate", preferably with Polly Toynbee, Neal Lawson and any care-in-the-community types from your CLP, about biodiversity, the proposed method of election for the House of Lords and why George W is so nasty.

I'm with the Brownites on this (shock, horror!). We need a prolonged period of navel-gazing on policy like we need a hole in the head.

My prescription for the next few years:

  1. Everyone needs to get a grip and stop thinking the exact timing of a change of leader is going to affect the outcome of the next election. In fact Brown has an interest in Blair absorbing the flak for a year or so more and taking some of the tough decisions so he doesn't have to. A "regicide" when the PM is going to step down sometime soon anyway will lead the public to think Labour has reverted to the worst divisions and habits of the 1980s.
  2. Trident replacement, a broadly pro-US foreign policy and civil nuclear power are non-negotiable core policies for "moderate Labour". If you don't like them, vote for Michael Meacher or John McDonnell.
  3. The divisions between Brownites and Blairites, modernisers and traditionalists are mainly false, obscure or irrelevant. The real divide in the Labour Party is between right and left. Those of us on the right of the Party don't have the luxury of numbers of being able to engage in internecine warfare about the number of angels that can fit on the end of a pinhead.
  4. The Brownites need to make it clear to Reid, Byers, Milburn etc. that they have a political future in a Brown administration otherwise it isn't going to be surprising if they cut up rough.
  5. The debate about policy for the future SHOULD be carried out in the leadership and deputy leadership election where participation will be widest, not as some separate debate.
  6. In the mean time we have a perfectly good manifesto that won us a third term. Ministers should get on with implementing it and MPs should get on with telling their constituents what a great government we have.
  7. Don't panic!
  8. Every now and again let's remind ourselves what is was like to live under the Tories and how much we worked to get this Labour Government and what it will feel like if we lose it.

 
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