A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - 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.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lessons from Oxford

Well done to Antonia Bance and her colleagues in the Oxford Labour Party for following up their against-the-national-tide gains on May 1st with a big piece in the Guardian today by Compassite John Harris explaining how they did it.

The key points are worth repeating - and are exactly in line with the causes of similar against-the-trend success in Hackney and Lambeth in 2006 - and need to be picked up and disseminated by the Party nationally:

  • "infectious enthusiasm" - basically you need activists and candidates who want to win and are prepared to make their own luck whatever the national state-of-play
  • "Labour's recent wins took in both semi-detached suburbia and the kind of hard-bitten areas, in which a lengthy waiting-list for social housing - Oxford has worst English rate of homelessness outside London - are by far the biggest issue" - no nonsense about ignoring certain segments of the electorate - you need messages that resonate with our core vote and swing voters
  • "really, really hard work"
  • "a pretty united Labour group that's quite diverse ... and [is] from a fair spread across the party."
  • "on the doorstep, we're more progressive than the Lib Dems and the Tories. The Lib Dems fought this election on lower council tax. We fought on more investment in play schemes, a living wage, and making sure that people felt safe in their neighbourhoods"
  • "messages that have to be that bit more optimistic."
  • "You need to have a positive message about social justice and inclusion. And they're a real blind spot for the Lib Dems. When was the last time you heard a senior Lib Dem talk about childcare policy? You never do."
  • "the dire need, particularly in given the fragile state of the economy, for the government to break out of its current introspection and rediscover what remains of Labour's soul"
  • "We're the progressive option. We're the 'Labour party'. We're going to end child poverty by 2020, so let's go out there and tell the country why we're going to do it, how we're going to do it, how it's going to make a difference ... Let's end some pensioner poverty as well ... That's what it's all about. That's why the Labour party was founded. So let's stop being so bloody timid."
Antonia, who I'm fairly sure would self-define as on the left of the Party, adds:

"Labour's campaign saw a visit from Brown to Blackbird Leys, the estate that has long been a byword for the city's more troubled aspects. "We like having Gordon here," says Bance. "I genuinely mean that. Gordon's my guy.""

At last, some people that actually know how to win elections, putting forward some positive lessons about how we should do that. What a refreshing contrast from the "we're all doomed" stuff we've been reading elsewhere in the same paper for weeks. And what a nice surprise to see John Harris, of all people, write such a balanced article.


Blogger Merseymike said...

Errr...no, Luke, its you who wants to ignore segments of the electorate - those who are liberal/left and have started voting LibDem - and Oxford has plenty of those....but actually, not so many of the 'swing voters' you chase after. You may note that Oxford still has no Tory councillors - like where I live, its not very representative of the bulk of the country.

Optimistic me3ssages, definitely - not like those in Crewe or the concentration on things like the 42 day limits which win precisely no votes but send plenty away.

And, similarly, as message which incorporates social justice but which doesn't try to concentrate in the issues which White Van Man favours.

I'd say that Liverpool Labour party probably did much the same. The problem is that neither in Oxford nor in Liverpool are the Tories any sort of force. Not the case nationally.

I don't think Labour are doomed either - but they do need to stop making enemies unnecessarily.

8:28 pm, May 31, 2008

Anonymous jdc said...

Yes, Oxford have done very well, and so far they are making a good fist of sustaining it in administration, which is the next big challenge. Though you'd be the first to say, I imagine, that the campaigning lessons from there don't necessarily generalise to, say, Canvey Island :)

Meanwhile Luke, speaking of the economy, what needs to be done to persuade the Government to build some houses? It was in the top 3 policy wishes of about 90% of the people posting on the Labourhome policy thread, from every wing of the party.

I don't much care if we build huge great big ones, or flats, if we try to sell them, or if we rent them out, whether they're built by Whitehall, Councils, or a Quango, or what, and whether they are subject to right-to-buy or not, but it needs to be done.

We haven't got enough houses, yet the market uncertainty means the private sector can't get the funding to do it, and they'd be landbanking to force prices up anyway even if they could. The collapse in building and related trades is going to make the coming recession far worse than it would be if the government supported them, and doing so directly would be both more socially progressive, and better value for money, than doing it via banks.

Even if you didn't think in 1997 or 2001 that state-owned housing was a good idea, times have changed fundamentally, and to ignore that in order to avoid backing down to an "old Labour" demand is to fight old battles just as much as said left could be accused of having done.

8:50 pm, May 31, 2008

Blogger Anthony said...

"When was the last time you heard a senior Lib Dem talk about childcare policy?"



9:31 am, June 01, 2008

Blogger Anthony said...


9:36 am, June 01, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

NuLabor has truly kicked those on the council house waiting lists in the teeth. Just like the Tories before them, NuLab have prevented local authorities from building council houses.

As a former Housing chair I lost count of the mumber of times Labour councillors claimed that post 1997 the capital receipts would be released, & there would be a wave of new counil housing built.

just more lies.

10:08 am, June 01, 2008

Blogger Jock Coats said...

Trying to build your way out of a problem in housing is simply throwing our money at landowners in the form of subsidy for something they really don't deserve the benefit from.

With regard to the Labour scheme to press ahead with adding another ward of multiple deprivation to the outskirts of Oxford, here's a response that will work anywhere - http://tinyurl.com/23p7zv

Labour knew all this, learned it from the Liberals before they were even founded, but it practically speaking died out with Philip Snowden. Your social program will never succeed until your policies stop making wealthy people more wealthy by your implementation mechanism.

1:15 pm, June 01, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

There certainly needs to be something done about empty housing.

Luke: did you notice the policy prescriptions the Oxford activists were suggesting?

They mention free universal childcare, a rise in the tax rate for very high earners, and the closing of the gender pay gap.

Not particularly Blairite! The latter is hardly a paen to market forces, and the middle one might even be classed as socialist!

2:43 pm, June 01, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I'm in favour of the first and third ones, the second one really depends on how they define "very high earners".

2:55 pm, June 01, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

You need to add 'do something about numpty MPs who just reiterate dangerous illiberal party machine guff'

We have just heard on local BBC radio this morning Jim Sheridan Labour MP (yes I know, a complete nonetity before now). He defended the Government's idiotic obsession with getting 42 days dentention powers through parliament... then he went on to argue that all of Gordon Brown's problems were due to something like 'the media is too powerful in this country' and that this is something the Government will have to think about'

There we have it... let's drive through the most draconian powers in Europe... and then lets 'think about' the media!

Yikes! Liberal issues are never going to win a mass of centre ground voters over, but utterances like this just alienate more and more and more tolerant and liberal minded voters away (the ones incidentally are ideal potential bearers of 'infectious enthusiasm') and driving the Government and party into the terrain of the 'nasty party'.

10:37 am, June 02, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

But what has happened is that many liberal-minded voters have moved over to the LD's. They are far more likely to return to Labour than the fair-weather one-shot Tories of 97. The authoritarian approach will not win any extra votes but it will certainly lose some.

Its a bit like the Tories and the way they came over on things like gay rights. People who think those issues important enough to make them vote for an anti-gay stance aren't going to be in the Labour camp (pun intended). But the stance made the Tories look nasty and intolerant and so lost them many voters who may have supported them otherwise ( my partner pointed out, to my horror, that he may even be tempted to vote for Cameron given that he's not anti-gay and we'd be better off....). I trust he wasn't serious.

11:17 am, June 02, 2008

Blogger Jock Coats said...

Ted: "Liberal issues are never going to win a mass of centre ground voters over"

I earnestly hope that's not true. I refuse to believe that my fellow country-folk are complete idiots who are willing to be led into penury and totalitarianism without gainsaying it. They are just never actually told the truth in a way that makes them feel they have any alternative.

And whilst the "meedja" may be powerful, with the advent of modern communications mechanisms in which anyone can participate pretty well if they want to, they "ain't seen nothing yet".

11:23 am, June 02, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Labour Councillor Antonia Bance, the self-styled deputy director of Oxfam’s UK region, is a staunch Brown supporter, for which she has got her employer's backing. Antonia Bance told John Harris:”I genuinely mean that. Gordon’s my guy.” She goes on to say: “We’re the progressive option. We’re the ‘Labour party’. We’re going to end child poverty by 2020, so let’s go out there and tell the country why we’re going to do it, how we’re going to do it, how it’s going to make a difference … Let’s end some pensioner poverty as well … That’s what it’s all about. That’s why the Labour party was founded. So let’s stop being so bloody timid.” Antonia bemoans on her blog her new Cabinet status in the city council and she complains much hard work it involves. No doubt her new cabinet post is being subsidised by Oxfam, where Councillor Antonia Bance continues to work “full-time”. Shame on Oxfam and on Antonia Bance for this bringing party politics into charity work.

11:05 pm, June 02, 2008

Anonymous jdc said...

Anonymous - she says "I’m super-busy - and loving it" - how does that constitute 'bemoaning how much hard work it involves'?

Now, Luke, about those houses...

11:19 pm, June 02, 2008

Blogger Jock Coats said...

C'mon, I am no political ally of Antonia, but thousands of people up and down the country hold down full time jobs and are councillors, even portfolio holders.

My own employer when I was on the council gave me an extra 12 days' leave to attend council duties, but then the vast majority of them were during the working day, and I had no special responsibilities, though I was on the fortnightly (sometimes two) half day centralised planning committee which I earnestly hope Oxford's Labour do NOT revive (apart from anything else it puts most development control decisions in the hands of those who have simply got most time on their hands!).

I used my council allowance to buy extra days' leave when all that ran out.

11:30 pm, June 02, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oxfam should be careful surely....if Antonia has a management position in its UK programme, then surely she should be told to resign from her political post....here lies the conflict of interest.

11:46 pm, June 04, 2008

Blogger Jock Coats said...

I don't see why it would constitute a prejudicial interest. On the other hand it is potentially relevant expertise. And there's certainly no "profiting" from Oxfam.

12:08 am, June 05, 2008


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