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, December 21, 2007

By-election results

Final council by-elections of the year from yesterday.

First, the one I was Labour Agent for - Springfield Ward in Hackney.

Result was:
Conservative – 1244 – 58.9% (up by 414 from 2006, share of vote up by 16.2%)
Labour - 590 – 27.9% (up by 52 votes and 0.2%)
Lib Dem – 113 – 5.4% (down by 85 votes and 8.2%)
Green – 85 – 4.0% (down by 179 votes and 6.2%)
Christian Party – 40 – 1.9% (did not stand in 2006)
Communist – 37 – 1.8% (down by 76 votes and 4%)

Turnout was 33% (up 2% compared to 2006, but electorate has increased by 1300 as well)

For those readers unfamiliar with the idiosyncratic politics of Stamford Hill, this ward is very polarised between two southern polling districts which are mainly social housing and very ethnically mixed, Labour-voting and low-turnout, and two northern polling districts which are mainly owner-occupied with a large Chassidic Jewish population who (in this ward) vote Tory and do so on a very high turnout. Tory councillors at the count last night were describing the result as a referendum on the council's attempts to tighten up the rules on planning permission for residential extensions, a move which is unpopular with the Chassidic community.

Congratulations to Michael Levy the new Tory councillor and to Peter Golds and Matthew Coggins on their campaign. A silver lining to the cloud is that the Lib Dem vote collapsed despite their 5 separate leaflets each saying it was a two-horse race between them and the Tories - and an outrageous leaflet that was blue and stated on the outside that it was a message from the former Tory councillor!

A colleague has calculated that the Lib Dems delivered 19,500 leaflets during the campaign. An impressive 172 leaflets for every actual vote they got ...

Our Labour candidate Munaf Zina put in an excellent performance and worked extremely hard. I hope we will see Munaf as a Labour Councillor before too long – he has a great deal to bring to the council.

Other by-elections yesterday:

In my old stamping ground of Castle Point, there was a 17.5% swing from Tory to Labour in St Mary's Ward, Benfleet - the Tories clung on to one of the two seats being contested but my Agent from the 2005 General Election, Brian Wilson, gained a seat, putting a Labour voice back on a council where we lost our last seat in May.

Shepshed Town Council - 2 Labour gains from Conservative. I think this is in Loughborough parliamentary seat, which is a Labour held marginal.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Attack of the clones

I am already having trouble telling the difference:



Saturday, December 15, 2007

Post of the day

Hopi deserves some recognition for this bit of online sleuthing:

http://hopisen.wordpress.com/2007/12/15/spot-the-difference

Friday, December 14, 2007

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Brighton & Hove, Regency Ward - Green hold with Tories narrowly overtaking Labour to come second.

LB Harrow, Canons Ward - Con hold of a safe ward. Tories down 13%, Labour up 1%

LB Hounslow, Chiswick Riverside Ward - Con hold. Tories up 16%, Labour up 3%, LDs down 7%, Greens down 12%

Merthyr, Treharris Ward - Ind hold with LDs overtaking Lab into 2nd place.

Reigate & Banstead DC, Earlswood and Whitebushes Ward - Con hold but with big swing to LDs.

LB Southwark, Riverside Ward - Lib Dem hold. Lab & LD both up 8%, Greens down 11%, Tories down 7%.

Surrey Heath DC, Bagshot Ward - LD hold with 5% swing to them from Con.

Test Valley DC, Romsey Cupernham Ward - LD hold with a swing to them from Con.

Wychavon DC, Lovett and North Claines - Con hold


Overall aggregate picture across them all was of an increased Lab + LD vote at expense of Tories.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Long election counts

Anyone who has ever endured a recount on election night will sympathise with the candidates in the Australian electorate of McEwen in Victoria.

Yesterday they completed the first count - two and a half weeks after polling day.

It showed Labor gaining the seat by just six votes - from a total of over 100,000.

They've therefore started recounting and the latest coverage seems to show the Liberals back ahead.

In the meantime the sitting Liberal MP was allowed to vote in the Liberal leadership election - which was decided by a one vote margin.

Tory donations

The Tories in Westminster get some interesting donations, indicating that the class divide is alive and well in British politics:

£325 - Champagne (and postage stamps!)

£4,000 - "Villa"

£3,000 - "Boat trip"

£1,200 - "table gifts"


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Labour Up 3%

The tide has turned - again.

Mori poll today: CON 42%: (+1), LAB 35% (+3), LD 14% (-3)

Fourth term here we come.

The surge is working

I had noticed a lack of news from Iraq in recent months.

Tucked away on page 20 of today's Guardian we discover why. The US "surge" in troop numbers is actually working. Much deried by anti-war activists, it turns out that there actually was a military solution to the terrorism and sectarian violence in Iraq.

In Simon Tisdall's article we learn that:

  • Iraq's government is optimistic because of "Improved security, an expanding economy and new understandings with Iran, Syria and Turkey"
  • The Iraqi National Security Adviser believes "We are out of the woods ... We are building a new Iraq under a democratic parliamentary system. There is a new sense of belonging in Iraq" ... "Iraq is going to lead the region in a new way, with democracy and a new nationalism and a western orientation" ... "Our strategic direction is very clear to everybody in the region. We are heading west".
  • "Senior US officials advising the Baghdad government say they, too, are increasingly hopeful about current trends, while adding the usual caveats about fragility of the security environment and deep-rooted political animosities. They say infiltration of jihadis from Syria has measurably declined, as has some of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's more objectionable pot stirring. "
  • "Civilian deaths are down 60% across Iraq, and down 75% in Baghdad, since the US military surge began in February."
  • " a key reason for recent progress is the Sunni Arab Awakening movement in Anbar and other provinces, where tribal leaders have turned against al-Qaida. On the other side of the sectarian divide, the ceasefire by Moqtada al-Sadr's Shia Mahdi army, and a largely unpublicised US operation to clean up the interior ministry, have also been crucial."
  • "a senior Iraqi adviser to the country's leadership who asked not to be identified said he believed the past few months had brought changes that were irreversible."

Now why isn't this cautious good news being reported more prominently? Could it be because it contradicts the doom-laden narrative that is received wisdom about Iraq?

Monday, December 10, 2007

LabourHome floats wrecking of the union link

Labourhome seems to rapidly be becoming a repository for ill-thought out ideas.

Last week Alex Hilton was naming - when they have no right of reply as they are staff - party officials he thought should not be allowed to become General Secretary.

Today he and commenters are in this thread - http://www.labourhome.org/story/2007/12/10/34955/147 - casually floating the mutilation of the Trade Union link by halving the number of union reps on the Party NEC. Some idiot bizarrely calling themselves "TrueLabour" wants only 3 union places.

Why would the unions as a whole bother affiliating to the Labour Party if their voice on the NEC was hacked in half? Particularly why would the smaller unions stay affiliated when only the big 3 or 4 would be sure of getting any representation?

Most Labour Party members at least pay lip service to the union link. But this post shows that in practice too many people don't get that it's a two way street - no taxation without representation.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Worth reading

A good dose of reality from Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer here.

Still no mention of the Abrahams affair from the 100 people we canvassed today.

Another mendacious Lib Dem Focus drops through the doors in Springfield: headline story asks "How can the Labour council make people live like this?" and is about a small estate called Tower Court, which is indeed in a mess. It neglects to point out that the reason that Tower Court is in this state is that it is being demolished and replaced with a totally new regenerated estate, and is in the process of being decanted i.e. everyone is moving out, which kind of answers the question in their headline.

It also says the block is "squatted by drug users " when in fact the crack house on the estate was closed down by the Hackney Council/Police Crackdown team in September and has a notice on the door saying that.

Promoted by Luke Akehurst of Flat 1, 8 Beatty Road, London, N16 8EB on behalf of Mohamed Munaf Zina of 91 Kyverdale Road, London, N16 6PP. Hosted (printed) by Blogger.com (Google Inc) of 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043 who are not responsible for any of the contents of this post.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Two sandwiches Short of a picnic

Shame on embittered has-been Clare Short for her frankly weird attack on Baroness Amos.

Short said of Amos' presence at the EU/Africa summit "I don't see any reason to send a kind of pseudo-minister and I think that it's not right to send her because she's black. I don't see any other reason for sending her."

Well done to Amos for the dignity with which she has responded to questions about Short's remarks.

More nonsense from someone who should know better

In the real world, I spent this morning getting soaking wet canvassing the Wigan House and Leaview House estates with a group of other equally rainsoaked Labour activists for the Springfield by-election. It's the sixth time we've been round those estates in this campaign so we are down to the real hard to find in folk who weren't there the previous five times. But we still found a load more Labour supporters - as well as running into cheerful ex-Tory councillor Eric Ollerenshaw out leafleting. No one we canvassed - repeat no one - mentioned the David Abrahams story.

That's real politics - getting cold, wet and tired canvassing a housing estate in December but coming back elated because you have been communicating Labour's message to our core supporters who most need a Labour councillor and a Labour government.

I came back to read yet another contribution to the la-la land of defeatism and miserablism that passes for debate on the Labour left. This article by Tony Robinson: http://www.newstatesman.com/200712070008

I feel uncomfortable attacking it because I actually rather like Tony - in the same way that I like Neal Lawson - but as with Neal I think Tony has lost the plot politically. Like Neal (who was a TGWU official and hammer of the left on the Bristol District LP when I met him), Tony was someone I met while I was a student in Bristol, as we were both members of Clifton Branch LP. At the time I think all three of us would have seen ourselves as Kinnockite and were in the Labour Co-ordinating Committee. This was the predecessor of Compass but from 1985 to 1996 when it folded was firmly part of the pro-leadership wing of the Party, even if it clung rather absurdly to the label "soft left".

Anyway, what we get from Tony is a long ramble through what a terrible insight being on the NEC had given him into the evil Stalinist apparatchiks who run the Labour Party. I guess I regret the amount of effort that shitty rightwing apparatchiks like me put into getting Tony elected onto the NEC when he was on our slate as he hated it so much - I hope he doesn't feel sullied by our efforts.

He starts with a complete falsehood - saying Peter Watt "was the machine’s candidate for general secretary." He wasn't. Number 10's candidate was Ray Collins of the TGWU who Peter beat when the NEC took the decison thanks to Grassroots Alliance votes.

He gives us a littany of bad things done by the leadership - including "parachuting of favourite sons into parliamentary seats" which caused a hollow laugh here. Chance would be a fine thing! Even if they were minded to - and Blair never showed the remotest interest in grubby real-politik like parliamentary selections - being a favourite son is more likely to harm you than help you in the average selection fight. And "the ejection of Walter Wolfgang from Conference" - which was actually conducted by OAP volunteer conference steward Jim White, the former Mayor of Rushmoor, and nothing to do with the leadership at all.

He talks about "the same people who have orchestrated them, moving silently through the background like the shadowy figures in the back row of the mass ranks of the Politburo" but won't name them. Why not Tony? Most of them would wear it as a badge of honour.

There is a strange coded reference to left wing 70s AEU leader Hugh Scanlon and another to Sir Ken Jackson - reflecting the curious ongoing paranoia the Compassite left have about the Amicus section of Unite, despite the fact that it has now had a left General Secretary for five years. Again, Tony refers to "the army of dedicated fighters within the big right-wing unions" and "right-wing street fighters". Gosh, they sound like rough nasty people. Probably they like winning elections and canvassing council estates in the rain and all kinds of grubby working-class evil Stalinist things like that.

The Labour Party, we learn "was transformed into a machine specifically designed to enact the will of Downing Street." How disgraceful. I mean, the Labour Party enacting the will of a Labour Leader who is Prime Minister. What a shocking abuse of democracy!

We get some more nonsense about the terrible way in which Jack Dromey (at which point Tony ought to declare an interest cos I think Jack is his mate and certainly he was his daughter's employer) is kept in the dark as Treasurer. Aha I get it now, Unite/TGWU good - Unite/Amicus bad! Now I'm not on the NEC but even I know that the General Secretary is the registered treasurer of the Party and Mr Dromey holds an honorary position - a constitutional appendix of no practical purpose created in 1918 to give the unions an extra seat on the NEC beyond their own block.

Now to give him his credit Tony does say two sensible things, which give me hope for his redemption:

"New Labour has always been a deeply ideological construction. It believes passionately in freeing the British people from poverty, making their streets safe and unshackling the markets that constrain their purchasing power."

"I believe we can win a fourth term in office, and despite the unacceptable behaviour so vividly displayed recently, I earnestly hope we do, because it’ll be the poor, the sick and the old who will suffer if we don’t."

But his conclusion has no content. We must "cleanse the Augean stables, and that will involve a root and branch transformation of the Party" he says. But he says nothing about what that cleansing involves (other than that the NEC get to spend a lot more time pretending to be forensic accountants and cross-examining the Party's finance chiefs) and what the transformed party would look like.

I therefore offer you the missing bit of the article - the Tony Robinson vision of a transformed party:

  • Union link maintained but block vote to be wielded only by members of the Robinson family employed in the union movement.
  • Amicus section of Unite to be expelled from Party. Actually all manual unions representing rough people who might say nasty things to be expelled, leaving the Musicians' Union and Equity with all the union seats on the NEC and 50% of the vote at Conference. Exception to be made for Jack Dromey.
  • All branches to hold a nice dinner after meetings at house of a member with table seating 20 and good wine cellar.
  • Party to merge publicity function with the Guardian newspaper.
  • NEC to have reserved seats for nice thoughtful people.
  • Fabian Society to get 12 seats on the NEC.
  • General Secretary to have title changed to "Facilitator".
  • Elections Unit of Party to be abolished and resources redeployed to support catering by Waitrose at local policy forums.
  • Fundraising unit to target nice celebrities instead of dodgy millionaires.
  • National Policy Forum to be replaced by bilateral meeting between Compass and the Fabian Society hosted by the IPPR.
  • Manifesto to be developed using a focus group of Lib Dem switchers
  • Key Seat list to be trimmed down to just the "places that really matter": Bristol West, Islington South, Hampstead, Cambridge, Oxford but not the unfashionable bit with the car factory.
  • Canvassing to be replaced by wine and cheese evenings.

Me, I'm off to get wet doing some more canvassing again tomorrow morning - amongst people who thankfully know Tony as Baldrick off the telly rather than for his belated critique of New Labour.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Inside the world of "Save the Labour Party"

The latest Save the Labour Party newsletter - http://www.savethelabourparty.org/0711.pdf - is full of gems.

We learn that:
  • the problem with conference is the wrong kind of delegates are getting elected - "only about 11 % the delegates consistently supported our interests"; "It also appears that CLPs are sending increasingly right wing/anti-democratic delegates or, at any rate, those who are easily influenced by Party staff." (translation: left policies are unpopular both with 89% of Labour activists elected as conference delegates, and the activists on GCs who elect them)
  • "The Centre-Left Grass Roots Alliance did far worse in these elections than it has done for a long time polling overall 10% fewer votes than usual." (translation: not only do 89% of the Labour Party think left policies are bonkers, they don't like left candidates either)
  • "When visiting South Africa earlier in the year STLP Secretary Gaye Johnston asked herself what would have happened in South Africa if Nelson Mandela and the ANC had given up the struggle in the face of odds far greater than we face?" Message from Luke to STLP: you are not the ANC, Gaye Johnston is not Nelson Mandela, New Labour is not the Apartheid Regime. Please see a psychiatrist now to get your delusions treated. Then refer them to the similarly delusional Compass who think they are comparable to Ghandi.
  • "The PLP has become increasingly New Labour." Yes, because not only do ordinary Labour Party members not elect left wing fruitloops as conference delegates, they don't select them as parliamentary candidates either.
  • The CLGA slate for the NEC is: Ann Black and Peter Kenyon (STLP), Pete Willsman (CLPD), Mohammed Azam (BASG), Christine Shawcroft (NSCGN) plus a woman still being selected by CLPD. Walter Wolfgang is retiring. No doubt Peter will repeat his triumph in the NCC election this year.
  • The internal STLP ballot reveals that on a 52% poll 55 votes were cast i.e. this mass organisation which is poised to seize the Labour Party - and gives it lectures about recruitment - has a nationwide total of 106 members. An average of 0.16 per CLP. No wonder they don't get many conference delegates elected. Within this thriving model of democracy Ann Black (who is occasionally sensible) got 38 first preference votes and Tom Davidson –5, Susan Press-5, Peter Kenyon 4, Stefan Cholewka 3. So Peter Kenyon has got on the CLGA NEC slate on the basis of 4 first preference votes!
  • Finally we learn that not only is STLP comparable to the ANC, it's actually a religious movement: "Save the Labour Party is a crusade, or it is nothing." A crusade, but just a very small, very unsuccessful one.

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results.

First the good - no, excellent, one:

Sandwell MBC, Princes End Ward - Labour gain from BNP - Labour 796, Con 517, BNP 314, LD 29 - Labour vote increased from 35.7% to 48% since May. BNP vote down from 34.9% to 18.9%, Tory vote up from 19.8% to 31.2%.

Now the rest:

Derbyshire Dales DC, Masson Ward - Con gain from Lab - Con 369 Lab 256 LibDem 126. Swing of just under 9% from Lab to Con.

Maidstone DC, Shepway South Ward - Con gain from Lab - Con 251 Lab 240 LibDem 173 Green 34. Swing of only 1.3% from Lab to Con (the ward had an 11 vote Lab majority in May).

Richmond LBC, Barnes ward - Con hold with swing of just under 5% to them from LD

Wokingham UA, Remenham Ward - Con hold in a very safe seat. Strangely the Labour vote went up - though only from 3.9% to 4.6%!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

EDM on Boris and Conrad

CONDUCT OF THE HON. MEMBER FOR HENLEY AND THE RIGHT HON. MEMBER FOR RICHMOND
05.12.2007
Buck, Karen
That this House notes with concern the conduct of the hon. Member for Henley and the right hon. Member for Richmond in supplying character references for the businessman Lord Black of Crossharbour following his conviction in a US court of obstruction of justice and three counts of mail fraud; and believes it is inconsistent for those hon. Members to present themselves as exponents of law and order in light of the fact that they have provided a character reference for a man who, in the words of the Financial Times `stole nearly $7 million from Hollinger through a complex scheme in which he paid himself non-competition fees following a sale of some of the company's newspapers' properties to another company he controlled'.
Signatures( 8)
Buck, Karen
Efford, Clive
Dismore, Andrew
Salter, Martin
Jones, Kevan
Dobson, Frank
Humble, Joan
Keen, Alan

Legal advice

According to this Guardian article Peter Watt accepted the Abrahams donations on the basis of legal advice. The article actually says "the arrangement was technically legal". There's no such thing as "technically legal" - what that means is "legal".

Not a fashionable thing to say then, but if we were able to find lawyers in the past who thought it was legal, we would be able to find barristers who could make that case in court, and rather than him resigning and us all running round screaming mea culpa we should have stood by our original judgement and defended it through the courts. Who knows, we might actually have won.

Alternative ways forward

Just what the Labour Party needs to regain its lead in the polls - a proposal from Peter Kenyon for a meeting - as though we didn't have enough of those already - where "Party officials, and advisors" would be subject to well meaning ideas from the Fabian Society, and whatever nonsense Compass and the LabOUR Commission are offering this week.

I thought Peter was into governance and probity and the neutrality of party officials. If this is the case why would he expect them to engage formally with one of the Party's leading factions, particularly one critical of the policy stance of their elected bosses?

Can we have an equivalent gathering where Progress and Labour First get to lobby Party staff about our vision for renewal? - the Fabians would be welcome to our one too I guess.

And just in case Gordon wasn't getting enough unsolicited advice from Peter Kenyon, the two Jons (Cruddas and Trickett) want us to trash the achievements of the last ten years and embrace ... actually having read the article I can't work out what they want to embrace apart from not tolerating illegal behaviour and safeguarding the union link, both of which are statements of the bleeding obvious. Oh and be in favour of more equality and democracy. And motherhood and apple pie. And they want the next General Secretary to be more autonomous and powerful. Which under the circumstances of what happened to the last one is blissfully unintentionally ironic. And we should have an elected Party Chair apparently - that'll have the swing voters returning in droves and the poll lead returned pronto.

Alternatively we could just get on with delivering a strong economy and improving public services, and spend a bit less time navel-gazing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Another week, another lying Lib Dem Focus

Last week I mentioned that the Hackney Lib Dems are delivering a by-election Focus leaflet saying "it's a two horse race" in a ward where they came 4th in in 2006.

This week they've followed it up with "Labour cut funding for our most needy children..." which would be terrible if we had, but in fact Hackney's Labour council hasn't made any cuts to children's services either this year or in any of the previous five years - we've had growth budgets with increased spending in every year since 2002. But hey, never let the truth get in the way of a good Focus leaflet.

Promoted by Luke Akehurst of Flat 1, 8 Beatty Road, London, N16 8EB on behalf of Mohamed Munaf Zina of 91 Kyverdale Road, London, N16 6PP. Hosted (printed) by Blogger.com (Google Inc) of 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043 who are not responsible for any of the contents of this post.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Boris on Black

Boris Johnson has been taking time out from his Mayoral campaign to provide a character reference for Conrad Black:

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/americas/article3215846.ece

not unlike this previous episode in the Boris saga really:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcgrZs4GXv4

Oh great, a conspiracy theory

Winner of most idiotic and unhelpful contribution to the debate on Party funding goes to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. According to this article today the current issues are all down to "The shadowy role of Labour Friends of Israel".

I declare an interest as a - non-Jewish - member of LFI. But I don't really think that its LFI that Yasmin is writing about. What she is not very subtly trying to suggest is that Jews have too much influence in the Labour Party.

Would she write a similar article demanding to know about "the shadowy role of Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform", or the "shadowy role of the Christian Socialist Movement", or the "shadowy role of Compass"?

No, but like them LFI is a pressure group composed of Labour supporters who share a common interest on a policy issue. Far from being shadowy it publishes pamphlets and books, has a website listing its officers and patrons, and holds a very high profile fringe meeting at each year's Labour conference.

LFI has its counterpart, LMEC, which promotes the Palestinian cause inside the Labour Party. They both express legitimate points of view and make a useful contribution to the Labour Party's foreign policy debate.

She correctly anticipates that she "can already hear the accusations of anti-Semitism". I think I just made the first one. Because I cannot understand what, other than anti-Semitism, would motivate someone to write a whole column whose only hook was the shared ethnicity of David Abrahams and Jonny Mendelsohn.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Another by-election on the 20th

It's a shame I will be busy in Springfield Ward on 20 December, otherwise I'd be on the train to Benfleet as on the same day Labour has a chance of winning back a toehold on Castle Point District Council, where I was parliamentary candidate in 2005.

Two Tory councillors have quit over allegations of benefit fraud.

They represented St Mary's, which is the best ward for Labour on the "Mainland" i.e. the non-Canvey Island part of Castle Point.

Labour is running two excellent candidates - Brian Wilson who was my Agent in 2005, and Co-Op stalwart Tony Wright - who between them have 22 years experience as councillors for that ward until 2003. As the Castle Point CLP website points out, unlike their Tory successors they actually held advice surgeries and made themselves available to local residents - not much to ask and taken for granted in London (at least I hope it is) but in some parts of rural and suburban England a key differentiator between Labour and Tory councillors.

The problem with cash in UK politics isn't that there's too much of it

I'm entertained by the comments under the post below suggesting that the problem with UK political funding is high spending by political parties.

They obviously haven't worked for one recently.

Full-time Labour (and I suspect Tory and certainly Lib Dem) officials up to and including the recently resigned General Secretary earn salaries that are derisory compared to the rest of the voluntary sector, let alone their counterparts in trade unions, the public sector and the private sector.

There are hardly any of them - a skeleton crew at national and regional level who work flat out just to keep the most basic functions of a political party going, with a tiny number of field organisers compared to say the 1950s when over half of constituencies had a full-time Agent.

Most staff are appointed on short term contracts in the immediate run-up to an election then peremptorily laid-off immediately afterwards.

It's hardly surprising we get into a mess about basic matters of law and compliance when we have political parties that are under-staffed by people working ridiculous hours for low wages and struggling to do what they perceive to be the day job (organising elections) let alone exercise legal and financial responsibilities they are unlikely to be qualified to deal with.

UK political parties are trying to sustain the campaigning of their US counterparts, with the accountancy and legal requirements of a major corporation, based on the staff complement of a small provincial department store bolted on to a voluntary machine funded more through jumble sales and quiz nights than corporate donations.

Labour's poverty is a standing joke amongst state-funded sister parties. Swedish comrades tell the story of being shown round Labour HQ by Labour Students and saying "this is a very nice youth HQ, almost as big as ours, but where is the party HQ?"

During elections we have ward and constituency spending limits which don't extend to much beyond putting out a couple of leaflets per household during a month-long campaign. If you are lucky you might have enough over to buy some rosettes.

At a national level we don't have commercial TV advertising by political parties at all. In a General Election if you live in a key seat you might see half-a-dozen billboards per party (compared to dozens advertising burgers or perfume).

When was the last time any of the political parties had enough cash to advertise in newspapers or on billboards on a regular basis between elections?

For democracy to be able to fully function, we need political parties with enough staff to train, organise and politically educate their lay members, and enough cash to recruit and proselytise and consult and have a dialogue on an ongoing basis, not just at election time and not just in marginal seats, with the wider electorate.

A debate has now started about where that money should come from. But first of all we all need to kill the myth that there is too much money being spent on politics - i.e. on democracy - in the UK.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Still here

I'm sorry to disappoint Chris Paul but I haven't given up blogging.

It's just been a busy week - a night off to see Babyshambles at Wembley Arena on Tuesday, Alan Davidson's funeral on Friday, and in between being Agent for the Springfield Ward by-election.

Like one of my least favourite Lib Dems Meral Ece I have been out canvassing in Springfield. Unlike her I haven't picked up any comments about recent national events having an impact on people's voting intentions. We've now found 1300 Labour "promises" - with over 2 weeks to go - and I think about 10 Lib Dems. This hasn't stopped the Lib Dem Focus newsletter proclaiming "it's a two horse race" between them and the Tories - this in a ward where in 2006 the Tories got 836 votes, Labour got 534 and the Lib Dems just 198, behind the Greens on 264. The "two horse race" is between the Lib Dems and Communist Monty Goldman to come 4th rather than 5th.

On the national stuff I don't buy the idea that one man making donations through third parties somehow shows the whole system of political funding is wrong. It shouldn't have happened and I doubt it will again but I'm not impressed by people with their own agendas - usually about breaking the union link - trying to draw wider lessons from an extremely quirky scenario. The Labour Party needs to tighten up its own procedures to ensure that donations are transparent, but the actual law as it stands in the PPERA only needs one change - the regulation of spending on campaigning between elections, which because of a civil service drafting error was left out of the Act, allowing rich donors or candidates to "buy" marginal seats with saturation spending in the "long" campaign.

I wrote the above before reading what Gordon Brown said to the NPF today. I haven't deleted it because on this specific aspect of this issue I happen to disagree with him. I'm against a cap on individual donations. As long as people are transparent about donating we should have a system that encourages people and groups of people such as trade unions to give money to political parties - not put limits on it in a way that somehow suggests donating is wrong or corrupting.

As we're on the subject of election law, the bit above about Springfield is:

Promoted by Luke Akehurst of Flat 1, 8 Beatty Road, London, N16 8EB on behalf of Mohamed Munaf Zina of 91 Kyverdale Road, London, N16 6PP. Hosted (printed) by Blogger.com (Google Inc) of 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043 who are not responsible for any of the contents of this post.

 
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