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, March 30, 2007

Free at last

A historic week for me as a recovering former student politician.

It's NUS Conference in Blackpool and for the first time in my adult life I don't know or care who has been elected as President.

I spent a total of nearly 2 months of my life (spread over 6 years) shut in the Blackpool Winter Gardens with 1,000+ other badge-wearing activists (and at Special Conferences in Wolverhampton Town Hall and somewhere else I can't even remember) thinking about such momentous issues as 11th preference transfers for the bock-of-12; whether Left Unity or SWSS got the 2nd anti-platform speech in the funding debate; and who had the best strategy for Futher Education Union Development.

Until recently I had box files full of every leaflet handed out by every faction in the leaflet tunnel from 1990-1996, each box with a photocopied "Trotskyists not welcome here" logo taped on the outside. All thrown out when I moved house in November.

Bizarrely I was never allowed to speak from the platform by my faction - as I was judged incapable of sounding leftwing enough to swing any votes - actually maybe not so bizarrely - but did get named in speeches by other factions - most memorably the AWL's Richie Carrothers used his hustings speech for the NEC to plead with delegates "don't take your line from Luke the Nuke Akehurst and the puppet masters in the NOLS balcony".

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pots & Kettles

Stop plotting leadership campaigns warns Charles Clarke, advising colleagues instead to engage in positive contributions to the debate about the future of the Labour Party like he is, such as publicly urging Miliband to take on Brown; calling the Chancellor "stupid", "a control freak" and "deluded"; setting up strange little websites; attacking your successor as Home Secretary; and voting against 3-line whips on national security issues.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Poverty stats

The poverty stats issued yesterday are obviously not good news but need to be taken with a pinch of salt because what they are actually an indicator of is whether the incomes of the poorest are keeping pace with rapid increases in median income. Obviously its a bad thing if they are not because it creates a more divided society, but what the numbers don't mean is that the poor are getting poorer and actually have less cash than they did the year before - in fact the poor are getting richer, just not as fast as those on average incomes.

I would be more interested to know the stats based on a definition of poverty as being unable to afford a defined basic standard of living - does anyone know if and where these are published? - which seems a more meaningful indicator than the constantly shifting goalpost of a % of national median income. I would have thought it would be relatively easy to define what as a society we think every person should be able to afford - in fact a debate on this would help a lot of better off people get their heads round the impact poverty actually has - and then agree how to guarantee everyone gets that level of income.

However, I disagreed with DWP Minister Jim Murphy (I think this is the first time I've disagreed with Jim Murphy since NOLS Conference 1992) when he said (as reported by
Dave Osler) that benefits (as opposed to work) could never lift everyone out of poverty. I thought the idea was that as democratic socialists we wanted to abolish poverty. Why don't we just define a minimum income that's set above the poverty level - defined in absolute not relative terms - and then set the minimum income provided by benefits at that level, and the minimum wage for working people sufficiently above that to be an incentive to work? Is there a reason not to do this (or at least start getting there in stages)?

Interesting poll

Communicate Research in the Indie has got Labour boosted by the budget - with the Tory lead dropping from 11% to 4% (Con 35% - down 5; Lab 31% - up 2; LD 20% - up 3).

The detail shows Labour up a lot amongst key groups of voters - up 9% amongst skilled working class C2s and up 5% amongst junior white collar C1s, but down 7% amongst the least well off DEs - all of which is a fairly logical reaction to the way the Budget has been presented.

The Indie says:

"Mr Brown's Budget may have halted a slide in support for Labour among the party's traditional supporters in recent months. The proportion of these who say they will vote for the party has risen from 76 per cent to 79 per cent since last month, while the Tories' level of "core vote" support has fallen from 91 per cent to 87 per cent."

Monday, March 26, 2007

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas le politique

The misquoted title is based on what General Bosquet said as he watched the Light Brigade charge to its death in the Crimean War.

Which is roughly how I feel watching Charles Clarke limber up to throw his substantial frame under the wheels of the Gordon Brown steamroller.

Does Charles really think that being a born-again breaker of 3-line whips and CND-er is going to help him collect nominations to mount a challenge - from the right - to Brown?

At least the Light Brigade got past the starting line before getting mowed down.

And there were 600 of them...

Papal Bull

The Pope says the EU is "ignoring its Christian roots" and was therefore on the road to oblivion caused by "a singular form of apostasy".

I may be the wrong person to comment as an atheist but - quite apart from a large number of the founding fathers of the EU having been secular democratic socialists - wouldn't a specifically "Christian" EU be a completely alienating concept for millions of Jewish and Muslim Europeans?

According to the BBC the Muslim population of EU member states includes:

Austria - 339,000 (4.1%)
Belgium - 0.4m (4%)
Denmark - 270,000 (5%)
France - between 5 and 6m (8-9.6%)
Germany - 3m (3.6%)
Italy - 825,000 (1.4%)
Netherlands - 945,000 (5.8%)
Spain - 1m (2.3%)
Sweden - 200,000 (3%)
UK - 1.6m (2.8%)

These 14m people are Europeans - as are millions of atheists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs etc. - the EU is not the property of one faith. The values of democracy and liberty that Europe shares are universal ones, not the exclusive property of one faith-based civilisation.

The deeply divisive attempt to define the EU as a specifically culturally Christian group of states is behind French and German moves to block Turkish EU membership.

Well done to French Socialist Presidential Candidate Segolene Royal for having the courage to say that opposition to Turkish EU membership is wrong.

Choices

I'm a rarity in the Labour Party in being happy to put on the record that I have a lot of time for Peter Mandelson, who I think made a huge contribution to making Labour electable, and was a highly effective minister.

But, absent in Brussels, he has really misjudged the appetite in the Party for a Blairite vs. Brown fight for Leader.

He has said it was "obvious" that the Party needed a contest, and, according to the Guardian "that the new generation of younger Labour MPs needed to decide for themselves who they wanted as leader".

But the list of Brown's campaign team assembled around campaign manager Jack Straw includes several of those younger Labour MPs he is talking about:

According to the Guardian Straw's team includes "Andy Burnham, the Blairite health minister, Liam Byrne, the Home Office minister, Geoff Hoon, the Europe minister, Phil Woolas, the local government minister, and Kitty Ussher, a highly regarded Blairite backbencher."

Who exactly is going to be leading the charge for a Miliband candidature if bright young Blairites like Burnham, Byrne and Ussher are the kind of people actually running Gordon Brown's campaign?

I really do not see a contest happening (unless McDonnell somehow gets nominated). I can understand that Peter wants one but the next generation doesn't want to perpetuate the divisions of the last decade.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

New Labour and Redistribution

An interesting quote from the Business section of today's Observer:

"the IFS's calculations show that during Brown's decade in Number 11 the poor have been the clear winners, with billions of pounds channelled to them through the tax credit system. Redistribution may be a political dirty word, but Labour has done plenty of it."

On the Institute of Fiscal Studies Website you can find all the supporting data for this:

http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/budget2007/distribution.ppt#14

One of the slides shows the the effect of the tax and benefit system on net income since Labour took power in 1997:

Poorest 10% of the population - net income up over 12%
second poorest 10% - net income up over 11%
third poorest 10% - net income up about 7%
fourth poorest 10% - net income up over 4%
fifth poorest 10% - net income up nearly 2%
fifth richest 10% - no real change
fourth richest 10% - net income down about 1%
third richest 10% - net income down over 2%
second richest 10% - net income down about 3.5%
richest 10% - net income down about 5%

The specific groups gaining most over the last ten years are:

Pensioner couples - net income up about 5%
Single pensioners - net income up about 10%
Couple with kids not earning - net income up about 15%
Working lone parent - net income up about 12%
Non-working lone parent - net income up about 15%

The IFS concludes on this Budget:

" •Sensible tax reforms with revenue recycled to minimise losers
•Higher-rate tax-payers unaffected, 65+s paying tax gain, hard to generalise about others
•Tax credit rises for low-income families generally exceed income tax losses
•Around a fifth lose, two-fifths gain, two-fifths largely unaffected
•As usual, low-income families with children gain, but still much to do to hit 2010 child poverty target
•Overall impression of Brown’s record unaffected
•Highly redistributive, especially to families with children and pensioners"

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Labor wins in New South Wales

The Australian Labor Party has won the New South Wales state elections by a landslide - details here.

Martin Kettle does his bit for Labour (not)

Usually Martin Kettle is one of the few relatively sensible voices at the Guardian.

This week, after the extraordinary but in-character personal treachery of Polly Toynbee attacking Brown, the man she has been ramping for PM for years, we have Mr Kettle just being really very, very unhelpful to the Labour Party.

He makes some fair points about the current polls but doesn't offer a solution.

This is rather like the stance being taken by Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn. Undermine Brown but to what purpose?

There is only any point the ultra Blairites (as opposed to common or garden or lesser spotted Blairites - the about 90% of us who are determined to be as loyal to the next PM as we have been to this one) or commentators like Kettle continuing to talk down Brown's prospects of reviving Labour in the polls if they are going to run a credible candidate against him - not just as a spoiler to take the shine off his win, but to actually win.

But that candidature doesn't exist.

It ain't Alan Milburn who would struggle to get nominated. It ain't John Hutton who the public are largely unaware of. It ain't Clarke whose opposition to Trident replacement makes him completely unfit to hold any foreign policy-orientated high office again. It ain't David Miliband who is too young and untested and says he doesn't want the job. It ain't Alan Johnson, who is a great asset to the Party but whose speech at party conference was not that of a future PM.

There was a brief window immediately after last year's Labour Conference when a credible challenge by John Reid, the only person in the Cabinet who can match Brown in gravitas and experience, and the only one with the political courage to run, looked possible. But unless I have totally misread the situation, Reid has made his peace with Brown and has no intention to run - he certainly wouldn't want to run to please Clarke, as the two appear to have utter contempt for each other.

So without a mainstream non-Brown candidate, talking down Brown just damages the next Labour PM and damages Labour.

Whether it is politicians or Labour-supporting commentators doing it they need to put a sock in it because otherwise their gloom-mongering will become a sell-fulfilling prophesy.

The truth is:
- we don't actually know how the public will react to Brown as PM, but chances are the polls can only go up because we are already bumping along at the lowest base of Labour support
- the current malaise in the polls isn't about Iraq - we already fought a General Election and won it when Iraq was a far more resonant issue for the public
- the fundamentals of the economy and public services remain good - we deserve to get re-elected
- Cameron has put the Tories ahead but not that far ahead - he is a good performer but he isn't Blair or JFK - he's an Old Etonian posh boy with some good basic PR training, a nice manner, and no discernable political philosophy
- we don't know what policy initiatives Brown has up his sleeve - and they may be the kind of defining popular policies (like the Minimum Wage in the first term) that will unite the party and inspire the electorate - certainly I don't expect him to focus as obsessively as Blair on the distraction of "public service reform", which has failed to catch the imagination of either the party or voters
- it's the mid-term - of course we are behind in the polls - the anomaly was that we weren't 10% behind in 1999 and 2003 - in government you do the difficult stuff at this stage in the cycle, then it plays electoral dividends come the General Election
- we know how to win elections, we just won three, one only 2 years ago, so why the doom and gloom?
- the fundamental rules of British electoral behaviour have not changed - people still want a competent government that is broadly moderate socialist/social democratic and caring domestically but looks after their security with regard to crime, immigration and defence and doesn't tax them excessively

Labour's task is to push as hard as it can without alienating people on the domestic social democratic agenda of strong public services and redistribution and equality, without driving people into the arms of the Tories by advocating deal-breakers on crime, tax or defence.

I think Brown understands that - that there is some room for manoeuvre to the left on domestic policy (but in a modern way, not reheating the ideas of 20 years ago) as long as people are reassured on the crime/tax/defence triangle.

Instead of undermining Brown without putting forward an alternative candidate or alternative policies Kettle and commentators and politicians indulging in this game should accept that he's going to be the next PM and start generating popular policy ideas that his team can pick up and run with over the next two years.

It isn't by backing Brown as its next Leader that Labour, is as Kettle puts it, "is beginning to look like it actually wants to lose". The exhibition of "beginning to look like it actually wants to lose" is by Labour-supporting commentators like Kettle and some politicians of the Clarke/Milburn variety who are talking down Brown before he has even got to No10 - how can we expect the public to come back to Labour if we don't all, and I mean all - every Party member - actually sell the Government's successes and potential successes ourselves?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Through the starting gate

After last night's Hackney North CLP GC I'm through the starting gate in my bid to get on Labour's National Policy Forum as a London CLPs' rep.

The actual election of 4 new reps takes place at Annual Conference but you have to get nominated by 3 CLPs in the region - critically this is including your own - so if you live in a CLP that has different politics to you or is hotly contested, this requirement can be a deal-breaker.

Anyway, I got Hackney North's nomination and as I was already nominated by more than 2 other CLPs I'm eligible to stand.

Thus far I've also been nominated by the following CLPs:

Bromley & Chislehurst
Camberwell & Peckham
Carshalton & Wallington
Croydon C
Dulwich & W Norwood
Ealing North
Hackney South & Shoreditch
Hornchurch & Upminster
Hornsey & Wood Green
Lewisham Deptford
Sutton & Cheam
Vauxhall

who I'm very grateful to. The deadline is at the end of the month and 46 CLPs haven't nominated yet so I should hopefully pick up a few more.

As usual we had a tightly fought GC last night, which a left comrade over on Dave Osler's blog (http://www.davidosler.com/) is describing as a "Slightly depressing GC last night for the left in Hackney North".

Actually I thought it was a score draw and my guys could have done better (2 or 3 usual attenders were away).

For the NPF we ended up with a spilt ticket of me, Nicky Gavron, Laura Bruni and Francis Prideaux.

For the National Constitutional Committee Labour First's Maggie Cosin beat Save the Labour Party's Peter Kenyon 15-13 - causing consternation in the hard left camp as this was the seat Peter lived in for nearly 30 years.

For the Conference Arrangements Committee another tight vote saw Stephen Twigg and the left's Lynne Jones MP elected with 15 and 14 votes and moderate candidate Marge Carey and left candidate George McManus defeated with 12 and 11 votes.

A motion from the left attacking Hackney's estate regeneration policies and basically taking an anti-housing association/Defend Council Housing line was defeated heavily.

Diane Abbott was on top form and extremely funny, and won my son's vote in the reselection trigger ballot by giving him a kitkat bar to keep him quiet.

Mr Osler's blog shows there is a degree of jitters in Diane's camp about the trigger process. I gather this is because the forces to the left of her (we have them in Hackney) might vote not to reselect her (because of her son's private schooling and her support for Livingstone's position on the East London Line Extension - i.e. private sector involvement).

I'm not convinced she has anything to worry about. Yes there are a lot of people who will vote against her in some of the ward parties, but I'm not sure they will carry a majority even of the wards, and almost all the affiliates will vote in Diane's favour. Getting her triggered would require a lot of organisation - and as the person who would, if minded to, do that organising, I can report that I'm not doing it because a) the political disbenefits for Labour in the seat outweigh any advantages it would bring and b) I have other selection fish to fry in the coming months in Walthamstow. If however, Walthamstow goes All Women Shortlist, and the good members of Hackney North were to ask me to put myself forward ... but this isn't going to happen because the decision on AWS for Walthamstow happens after the Hackney North trigger ballot.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Budget

... was even better than I expected.

I almost ... but only almost ... felt sorry for Cameron. I think he had thought he was back at his hobby of stag-hunting, stalking an aging, wounded beast. Then suddenly the stag turned, charged at him full tilt and stuck its antlers somewhere very painful.

Poor David. It just can't have been like that at Eton's debating society. Surely a chap isn't allowed to change the terms of debate just before you stand up to deliver your carefully rehearsed speech?

This was also a redistributive budget - try sticking different wage rates for a couple with kids into the BBC/KPMG budget calculator to calculate this - the PWC figures quoted by the BBC say that in 2008:
  • "Anyone earning between about £17,000 and £40,000 a year will be better off
  • Those earning less than about £17,000 will lose from the abolition of the 10p tax rate but they should more than claw it back from working tax credit
  • Those on £43,000 will pay £20 a year more in tax"

Pride in Labour's present and hope for its future

I'm less interested in some self-important retired civil servant's silly comparisons of Gordon Brown with Uncle Joe (though enjoying the fun the cartoonists are having with it) than in what the allegedly "stalinist" (which usually in British political abuse means well-organised or good at winning, rather than "supporter of a dictator who was responsible for 30m deaths and the Gulag" which is what it should mean) Mr Brown is acheiving through the way Lord Turnbull alleges he conducts government business.

According to most of today's papers, he is going to announce an extra £1 billion to tackle child poverty in the Budget today. The Guardian says this will lift 200,000 children out of poverty and he will also make "an announcement that education will be the biggest winner from this year's spending review, with extra resources earmarked over the three years from 2008 to start bridging the gap on spending per pupil between state and private schools."

The Guardian also says that "After nearly doubling in the 18 years of Conservative rule between 1979 and 1997, the number of children living below the poverty line had fallen by 700,000 by 2004-05, the last year for which figures are available. A further fall is expected when the data for 2005-06 is announced this month."

This in itself - forget everything else we have achieved - justifies re-electing Labour at the next General Election. I have a great deal of difficulty understanding people allegedly on the "left" who can't summon up enthusiasm - or in some cases are actively hostile to - a government which is taking this kind of action on child poverty and education. I can only assume that there own experience of these issues is limited.

As to the future, there was an interesting piece in the online version of yesterday's Guardian saying Blair was urging Gordon Brown to promote seven young Ministers - some Brownite, some Blairite, to the Cabinet. The names are actually similar to those tipped in a Sunday Telegraph article last year as being admired by Brown too: Liam Byrne, Yvette Cooper, Ed Miliband, Jim Purnell, Jim Murphy, Pat McFadden and Caroline Flint.

There are actually more young Ministers (and backbenchers) than that who are serious talents for the future, but that list is a good start.

They all have sensible - but radical - politics, they are all bright and have proved themselves in office, and they are all basically normal people who the electorate can identify with.

This stands in sharp contrast to the Old Etonian clique around David Cameron profiled today.

The fact that after 10 years in power we have renewed ourself in office and have a coming generation of highly electable politicians who (in contrast to the tail end of previous Labour governments) don't look knackered by years in office and are coming up with fresh policy ideas, has got to be good news.

Even better was that on close reading of the article most of the ideas Blair was praising them for coming up with about "public service reform" aren't the simplistic marketisation solutions I was worried were meant by that phrase but are more imaginative ideas that are compatible with keeping public services universal and public.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Peter Hain

Nice new website(s) - http://www.peterhain.org/ and http://www.hain4labour.org/ - from Peter Hain, though a bit fiddly to navigate, not least because it's not clear where one site ends and one starts.

He seems to have gone for a "I'll show you mine if you show me your's" strategy with his MP supporters, announcing all 33 declared ones in one go rather than dribbling them out as others are doing. My hunch is that 33 is the total of his support.

Having said that there's some quality in the 33 - a lot of whom are clearly there because of personal ties from working with him or because of the Welsh connection. Quite a few of them are not really MPs I ever saw as sharing Hain's politics - there is a pretty wide spectrum there from moderates like Nick Palmer, Jessica Morden, Mark Tami and Wayne David, through to Socialist Campaign Group members Mike Clapham, Dave Anderson and Bill Etherington ... and er... ex-Tory Shaun Woodward.

Speaking of ex-members of other parties, Peter's Liberal past is air-brushed out - I couldn't find any mention of the party he was in before 1977. Surely, given everyone knows he was one, it would be better to confront it and explain why he switched to Labour?

The organisational stuff on the site - e.g. email details for sub-regional, youth & student organisers, is good, as you would expect from a Phil Woolas-run campaign.

Should 33 supporters be it, and he fails to get selected, there could be a bit of a scramble by the campaigns that do hit 45 to sign up the candidateless Hainite MPs.

I can't help thinking that had Cruddas not run, Hain might have been in with far more of a shout - but a younger MP without frontbench baggage has managed to grab the soft left constituency - basically the Robin Cook vote - that Hain might have expected to be standard-bearer for.

Polls

Don't read the new ICM poll. It'll only depress you if you are a Labour supporter.

Instead, take a look at the Australian Labor Party's 20-year record lead in today's Newspoll - 52% on first preferences versus just 34% for the government, rising to a 61%-39% lead on the preferred vote after transfers.

This doesn't just affect the ALP. It affects us here.

Have a think about what it will do for the next Labour PM's ability to construct a way forward in foreign policy and to get action on climate change if the line-up Gordon is dealing with globally includes the substitution of Hilary Clinton and Labor's Kevin Rudd for George W Bush and John Howard.

More here.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Thinking Bloggers

Fellow Stoke Newington resident Dave Osler has nominated me as one of 3 thinking bloggers - saying "I don't think he really is a Blairite, to be honest. He's more an old school Croslandite with brains. But the blog is consistently thought-provoking, however you want to slice it." I'm taking that as a compliment given Dave's own politics, though it doesn't quite match Duncan's comment a couple of days ago: "I don't think I've ever come across a more unreconstructed Old Labourite than Luke Akehurst! It's like the years since approximately 1977 never happened."

The idea is that I have to now name 5 bloggers that who often cause me to think about what they have written - and they have to name 5 more.

I'm nominating:

Andrew Regan - the host of http://www.bloggers4labour.org/ - he doesn't post himself often, but when he does it is usually different and thought-provoking.

Janine Booth of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty - http://www.workersliberty.org/jblog - who promotes a version of Trotskyism that is more attractive than the shouty slogans at the SWP

Political journalist Paul Linford - http://paullinford.blogspot.com/

Paul at http://nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com/

Adrian McMenamin: http://newgolddream.dyndns.info/blog/

Pictures

In the comments below someone has had a go about my current picture on this site making me look 13.
My partner Linda agrees that it's a rubbish picture and is urging me to get a new one taken.

In the meantime here are some alternatives. Let me know if you think any of them should replace the current one:

1) Me and my local MP looking chuffed about Labour's landslide victory on Hackney Council:



2) Aged 29 as PPC for Aldershot:

3) Official (and slightly menacing) LB Hackney mugshot:


4) Recent, but too smiley?



On second thoughts maybe it's safer to stick with the current one ...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The conceit of Neal Lawson

That's enough about Trident.

Now let's resume normal service with a look at Compass Chair Neal Lawson.

Neal has been Down Under. Unfortunately for the British Labour Party he had a return ticket.

His trip was not, mind, a fact-finding trip to find out how the ALP has got a huge poll lead, is being rejuvinated by new moderate leader Kevin Rudd or is in power and governing well in every state and territory government.

Nope, he went to tell them "the lessons they could learn from" Compass.

I think that is what is known as a Pommie colonialist mentality.

Did anyone tell the dominant faction in the ALP, the Labor Right, that he was there?

And what lessons did he tell the bemused Aussies? How to publish tract after tract of pseudo-intellectual codswallop? How to undermine your party's current and next leader? How to regularly attack your own party in the Guardian? How to be wrong on almost every major issue? How to preach democracy but rig your consultation poll on the Deputy Leadership?

Here's what he actually said, in italics:

  • Don’t rely on or blame leaders: Neither Tony Blair, the new ALP leader Kevin Rudd, Gordon Brown or any other Labour leader has all the answers. Leaders always take the path of least resistance. They need to be channelled to take the best possible path. Crying betrayal just disempowers us. What a hypocrite. He spends all his time blaming leaders.
  • Don’t turn desperation into capitulation: The left in the UK gave Blair too much room and too much credit after 1997. We didn’t win as New Labour and we didn’t have to govern as New Labour. We won, like all oppositions, as not being like the previous failed government. More radical paths were open to us and still are. This probably one of the most politically illiterate single paragraphs I have ever read. A good example of Neal writing the diametrical opposite of the truth and thinking if he asserts it enough times it will be retrospectively true. And back in 1997 he was one of the worst "New, New, New, liquidate the Party" ultras.
  • Have an alternative economic policy: The left has been lazy on economic policy above all else. Its left just one route – too much accommodation with free market practices that lead to a social recession. The Compass report on A New Political Economy sets out the starting points of such an alternative. Yeah, an alternative economic policy - a real vote winner like it was in 1983. An alternative to the prosperity we actually have had for 10 years. We'll have to give that a try on the doorsteps: "let's pull you out of the misery of the social recession you didn't know you were in. You'll lose your job, but never mind, you'll get a yoghurt weaving class or esperanto lessons to make you feel more socially prosperous."
  • Have an alternative public service reform agenda: Don’t just be left with commercialisation as the only response to new demands on public services. Develop democratic and collectivist alternatives such as co-production. "Co-production"????? Oh I see, another made up concept from the Compass book of ideas generated by 2nd year sociology students...
  • Have an electoral strategy: New Labour has held a monopoly on this issue and must be challenged. Not least because 4 million votes have been lost since 1997 and more of the same strategy will see us lose the next election. Yep Neal's got an electoral strategy. It's called winning all the 400,000 Guardian readers but losing the other 99% of the population.
  • Believe a different world is possible: Left politics must be about transformation not just adaptation. People join Labour party’s and align themselves to left politics because they want to change the world. If we stop believing this is possible then we start to go backwards. Believe a different world is possible. But one only Compass members would want to live in.
  • Build a force of ideas and organisation: Ideas and beliefs are the starting point of politics but as Lenin said “the victory of ideas needs organising” and cannot be left to chance. Aha, a Lenin quote. Obviously a great inspiration for all democratic socialists (ignoring the few hundred thousand of us he had murdered in the Red Terror. I hope he quoted Lenin in Sydney. They expel people who quote Lenin there.

Welcome back Neal. I was missing your frequent reminders of exactly how pernicious and laughable Compass is.

Rebellion stats

Who rebelled last night?

By region of the PLP:
38% of Eastern region Labour MPs
34% of London MPs (45% of inner London MPs - largely the generation originally elected in the '80s when the London party was very left wing but only 25% of the newer generation of MPs from more marginal outer London)
32% of Scottish MPs - (impact of SNP threat - with a cluster around Lothian region impacted by Nigel Griffiths decision and challenge locally from LDs)
32% of South East MPs
30% of Yorkshire MPs
28% of Welsh MPs
25% of North East MPs (traditionally a rightwing region in Labour terms)
24% of East Midlands MPs (reflects historic marginality)
23% of South West MPs (low score reflects economic dependence of Lab seats in the region on defence)
21% of West Midlands MPs (33% in Birmingham, 17% outside Birmingham - reflecting moderate tradition in the CLPs there and historic electoral marginality)
18% of North West MPs (mix of economic dependence of the region on defence and traditional marginality of region meaning they actually care what voters think)

By marginality:
30% of Labour MPs in the top 27 Lib Dem targets rebelled
but only 24% of those in the top 100 Tory targets
rest of the PLP in "safe" seats: 28%

- so people up against the Tories know unilateralism is a vote loser, those where LDs are the threat are obviously conscious of losing votes to the left

By generation - old guard not new:

60% of Labour MPs who have announced they are retiring
only 22% of the 2005 intake

Not, on the whole Brownites - so Gordon's personal appeal for a pro-government vote worked. I can see Andrew Smith and Tony Lloyd were off-side but Nick Brown voted with the government despite having expressed his opposition earlier in the year, and only 2 of the 17 2001 intake of MPs who called on Blair to resign last year voted with the rebels (both of them Scots).

Gratuitous Nye Bevan quote of the day:

"I knew this morning that I was going to make a speech that would offend, and even hurt, many of my friends. I know that you are deeply convinced that the action you suggest is the most effective way of influencing international affairs. I am deeply convinced that you are wrong. It is therefore not a question of who is in favour of the Hydrogen bomb, but a question of what is the most effective way of getting the damn thing destroyed. It is the most difficult of all problems facing mankind. But if you carry this resolution and follow out all its implications — and do not run away from it — you will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber. ... And you call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm."
Speech at the Labour Party Conference, 4 October, 1957, against unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Gratuitous link to something that cheered me up of the day: New Statesman says: "As he prepares to take power, Gordon Brown has served notice to the Labour Party that he will make no compromises on security and defence issues."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Betty Boothroyd

Just watching Betty Boothroyd on Newsnight. A pillar of the right when she was on Labour's NEC, her storming TV performance tonight shows she should have been Prime Minister not just Speaker.

Gerald Kaufman

I forgive him his role as a sidekick of the ghastly Harold Wilson in the early '70s after

a) his great speech in the Trident debate

and

b) his endorsement of Hazel Blears

Let's reimpose some discipline

At some point - maybe once we have a new leader - let's reimpose some discipline in the PLP.

However strongly MPs feel about a subject, it can't be acceptable to keep having these large rebellions.

Let's have proper debates in the PLP - with votes taken - and then the minority accept the PLP majority view and vote the way they are whipped.

And if they really feel they have to break the whip, they are de facto not in receipt of it and get suspended - i.e. are not voting members of the PLP with loss of all committee positions and other offices in the gift of the party - until the PLP choses to let them back in - and if they are still suspended at the start of a General Election, they are not the Labour candidate in their seat.

There has to be some kind of "deterrent" - excuse the bad pun - to breaking the whip - when was the last time anyone was properly punished for breach of discipline?

Bad result

Meanwhile unelected Lords have voted to stay unelected. Now there's a surprise.

Good result

Clem Attlee and Ernest Bevin - who took the decision that Britain should become a nuclear power - would be proud that a Labour Government has decided to renew that deterrent.

As Attlee and Bevin took their decision in secret, without even consulting the Cabinet, they might however be a little surprised to see it subject to a vote in the Commons. But times change.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

That vote tomorrow

Tom Watson MP makes the case for voting with the Government on Trident replacement with complete clarity and common sense on his site.

In 50 years time when the very submarines being decided on now are still the basis of our national security we may well have cause to thank him and others for taking a tough political call under a lot of pressure.

At the same time, the integrity of (most) of the MPs voting the other way and the sincerity with which they will argue their case are not in question.

Looking down the list of MP signatories of the rebel amendment I can see Frank Dobson, my boss in my first real job as an Agent, who was kind enough to speak at my adoption meeting at the last General Election; and Doug Naysmith who was my friend and mentor in politics in Bristol when I was a student, and whose campaign in Bristol NW in 1992 was my first - and most painful - General Election campaign. Neither of them would vote lightly on such an important issue - they believe they are doing the right thing.

Unilateralism vs. multilateralism was the key fight that inspired me to start going to Labour Party meetings in 1988 (I hoped I could help Neil Kinnock get his policy review through against CND by turning up to Canterbury Branch LP - I'm not sure I had that much impact).

I know that the Labour MPs voting on this tomorrow will all feel they are doing the right thing, which ever way they vote. I hope the majority of them listen to Tom (and the frontbench) and make the right call. This one is too important to get wrong.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Purgatory exists

Not being religious, it never crossed my mind that purgatory actually exists.

But I've now found out it does, and the venue is Euston Road on the last Saturday in March:


"John4 Leader
National Rally
Saturday 31st March
12:30pm-4pm
Shaw Theatre, Euston Road, London

FEATURING:

Palme-D'or-winning director Ken Loach with an extract from his new film, yet to be seen in cinemas
Sheik "Crystaltones" Thompson – jazz legend known for playing with Courtney Pine, Branford Marsalis & Queen Latifah and leading his own bands "Dedeh" and "Cue Ensemble"
Steve Gribbin – popular comedian/satirist formerly of Skint Video
1st of May Band – music from Banner Theatre: political theatre and music entertaining and challenging for over 30 years
Dave Sharp – folk/blues/rock country/punk from the co-founder & lead guitarist of British rock band "The Alarm" and collaborator with Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson
Lost Marbles String Band – Appalachian blues
"Jago" Panjabi folk & dance
Rob The Rub – acoustic guitar with a political edge

Plus speakers including:

John McDonnell MP
Tony Benn
Jeremy Dear
Matt Wrack
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Mark Serwotka
Andy Reed
Doug Nicholls
John Leach
Jim Mortimer
& a range of community and grass-roots activists"


How many speakers? Ten, not including the "range of community and grass-roots activists".

It could be less a case of "were you still up for Portillo" than "were you still awake for Jim Mortimer".

Incidentally, Jim, who I used to be a member of Browning Ward Labour Party with in Bermondsey, should be able to use his speech to tell people about the kind of election results Labour can expect under McDonnell, having as General Secretary masterminded Labour's 27% effort to come third in 1983.

The invite says "Be sure to arrive early to avoid disappointment if travelling from afar". And be sure to leave the Labour Party early to avoid disappointment if you think John McDonnell actually has a chance of winning.

Nigel Griffiths resigns

Nigel Griffiths just resigned as Deputy Leader of the Commons over Trident replacement.

Why now when this has been known to be the Government position for ages - indeed, was in the Manifesto?

Maybe they could replace him with John Mann who as Tom Watson's post today showed, has rather sounder views on this and ought to have been a Minister years ago.

I see this as a touchstone issue - it really sorts out the people who are serious moderates from those who haven't done the thinking on security issues - or have and have come to the wrong conclusions.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More reasons to vote Hazel

In today's New Statesman she says:

"Loyalty is an underestimated quality. I've been loyal to the Prime Minister for ten years and I'm proud of what we've done. When we get a new Labour prime minister, then I will be loyal to our new prime minister and then I'll be called a Brownite loyalist."

Good stuff. I await a full range of jeering comments from the usual suspects.

The Merger

I voted for the merger between Amicus and the TGWU so I'm pleased by the ballot result today.

I did so mainly for industrial reasons:

- in a globalised economy with huge powerful corporations you need unions with similar muscle to stand up to them
- it has been absurd that in some industries like aerospace and automotive both these unions have been organised in the same workplaces - they've already been campaigning together but it has taken effort to co-ordinate it must make sense to have a single union in each industry and workplace

The impact on the Labour Party of having such a large single affiliate - holding 12% of the electoral college and 18% of the vote at Conference - is more ambiguous but is a secondary consideration - the key question is what structure will deliver most for members on pay and conditions, keeping their jobs and other industrial issues.

Wednesday

An interesting but varied evening yesterday.

First of all, the London Region Political Committee of Amicus, where we had a good discussion about how to strengthen the union link by getting workplace reps of the union to get involved in the Labour Party as Amicus delegates to their GC. Anyone got any best practice on how to get this happening they can share?

Labour Party NEC Member Mike Griffiths, our National Political Officer, was guest speaker and, in advance of the merger result, stressed that the merged union musn't just be the one with the biggest voice in the Labour Party, it must be the one that gives the most support by putting the most campaigners on the streets at election time. An early priority is anti-BNP work in Sandwell in the run up to the 3 May local elections.

Afterwards, a dash across town to a fundraising dinner for two of the hardest campaigning Labour MPs - Jim Knight and Chris Bryant. Speaker David Miliband stressed that although their two constituencies - Rhondda (Lab maj 16,242) and South Dorset (Lab maj. now up to a comparatively large 1,812) they actually have more in common than might be apparent - both have very active campaigning CLPs, both have MPs whose local work meant they increased their majorities in 2005, and they need each other - The Rhondda can only get a Labour government if we win in South Dorset, and South Dorset needs heartland voters in The Rhondda to keep faith with Labour.

Also there were Labour bloggers Tom Watson MP who was on good form ribbing me for my support for Hazel Blears and Leighton Andrews AM who asked which Luke Akehurst blog I was the author of (very funny).

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Compass Plebiscite

Compass has reported the outcome of its massaged ballot on the Deputy Leadership - sent out with a recommendation to vote Cruddas:

Hilary Benn – 18.75%
Jon Cruddas – 53%
Peter Hain – 7.5%
Harriet Harman – 12%
Alan Johnson – 3.89%
Not Supporting Any Candidate – 2.7%
Spoils – 2.16%
Turnout = 29.9% of about 2,000 members

So we now know Cruddas has a guaranteed 320 votes. I make that 0.0012% of Labour's electoral college (1/3 of the electoral college X 320/178,000 X 2 if we assumed a 50% turnout). A highly significant marker...

Will they re-run the ballot now there is a sixth candidate - Hazel - who they didn't even put on the ballot paper? (or was that a political decision rather than an accident of timing?)

And why did AJ do so badly? I would have thought his stance on constitutional issues like PR was popular with Compassites.

I'm holding my breath for more dramatic and unpredictable headlines such as CLPD backs McDonnell, Jack Dromey backs Harriet Harman, Wales Labour Party backs Peter Hain, etc.

Case of mistaken identity

To the couple stood behind me last night in the "Best Turkish Kebab" shop in Stoke Newington Road who tapped me on the shoulder and said "you're that Chris Evans, innit?", a handy recognition guide:

Chris Evans is over 6ft tall, a millionaire, and has had his own TV and radio shows.

I am about five-foot-six-and-a-half (the half inch is very psychologically important), rather rounder and more florid than Mr Evans, unlikely ever to be a millionaire, and have my own website and the occasional letter in the Guardian as my media claims to fame.

However, the similarity has been noted both by "another blog" and many white van drivers over the years, so it's an easy mistake to make.

Monday, March 05, 2007

YouGov Poll of Labour Members

Not been online all day, but now that I am some of the detail in the YouGov poll (here) of party members and union levy payers is very reassuring.

The bits I particularly liked:

Only 6% of trade unionists 7% of members are "very left-wing". The vast majority are "fairly left-wing" or "slightly left-of-centre". As logic would suggest - some of them don't even vote Labour - the trade unionists are to the right of the individual party members.

The combined vote for McDonnell + Meacher is only 11% in the members' section and 23% amongst trade unionists.

61% of party members agree that "‘In order to go on winning general elections, Labour needs to govern Britain from near the centre, not to adopt more left-wing policies’"

53% agree that "‘John McDonnell is too left-wing to be Prime Minister’"

The combined vote for the 3 Deputy Leadership candidates normally labelled as Blairite is 65% amongst party members and 63% amongst trade unionists, for the 3 seen as soft left it is 34% and 39%.

I find it personally reassuring that my own instincts on the leadership are about where the membership are: I'm with the 69% who would vote Brown in a Brown/Miliband/Meacher/McDonnell contest and with the 69% who want a contest (though I would rather it was a straight Brown vs. the left fight).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Walthamstow selection

As I've now gone public elsewhere about my decision, I thought I should report here that, assuming it is not an All Women Shortlist, I'm going to be throwing my hat in the ring for the Walthamstow Parliamentary selection caused by the recent announcement that Neil Gerrard MP will be retiring at the next General Election.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Friday night and Saturday morning

On Friday we followed the now traditional Akehurst karaoke birthday party at my favourite Chinese restaurant, Shanghai, in Dalston, with a visit to the Dalston Jazz Bar.

I discovered that I can't sing Californication by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but redeemed myself with all 13 verses of 12 for the Chimes on the Kremlin Clock, The Red Flag, The Internationale, Bandiera Rossa and Song of the Soviet Airmen at the end of the dinner.

I have the pictures of a large part of the Hackney Labour Group doing YMCA by the Village People, but don't feel it would be fair to my readers (or good for the dignity of the people involved) to share them on the worldwide web.
Saturday was a lot more sedate - a walk round Clissold Park to see spring arriving in Stoke Newington:




Charles Clarke

Now we find out what he meant by debate.

In one short article today we have him using playground language to attack his successor John Reid's proposals for dealing with the mess Mr Clarke left the Home Office in - which most other commentators view as "common sense" not "batty"; and announcing he is likely to break a 3-line whip on maintaining the UK's nuclear deterrent, a policy that was a pledge in the Labour Manifesto that he fought the last General Election on as a senior Cabinet Minister.

In what he describes as the “very unlikely” event of him running against Brown for Leader, who does he think would be the 44 MPs who would nominate him?

They would presumably be to the right of Brown but

a) happy to slag off ideas that Tony Blair and John Reid come up with
b) in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament
c) in favour of breaking 3-line whips on manifesto commitments
d) in favour of having a PM who was sacked for being unable to manage one department, let alone the whole government

... I have trouble coming up with a list of 4 MPs that fit those criteria, let alone 44.

Friday, March 02, 2007

35 today

It's my birthday - and that of one my heroes, Mikhail Gorbachev, and, more prosaically that of Lembit Opik too.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Map

Fellow political anoraks will like this map of the May '06 London election results.

Hackney is the almost entirely red bit just north east of the middle.

On a totally unrelated matter this site has just had its 50,000th hit. Which is pleasing - someone must be reading this stuff.

Hazel momentum

The Blears campaign seems to be the Deputy Leadership bid with what US politicians call "mo" - momentum - right now.

5 more MPs publicly endorsed Hazel today - Sharon Hodgson, North West MPs Rosie Cooper and Andrew Gwynne, and from London Siobhan McDonagh, one of Labour's best campaigners, and the excellent Meg Hillier, MP for Hackney South where I'm a councillor.

Denis Macshane on Comment is Free

This is spot on and worth reading.

 
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