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, October 31, 2008

Accuracy and The Guardian

This article - http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/oct/31/glenrothes-byelection - in the Guardian says that the PM has been in Glenrothes to  "capitalise on signs that Labour could be close to winning its first byelection since he became party leader".

This is strange as I can remember Labour winning the Ealing Southall and Sedgefield by-elections already under Brown as leader.

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Workington St Johns Ward, Allerdale DC. Lab gain from Con in a split ward. Lab 452 (35.6%, -14.7), Con 394 (31%, -18.7), BNP 257 (20.2%, +20.2), Ind 113 (8.9%, +8.9), Green 55 (4.3%, +4.3). Swing of 2% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Hutton S Ward, Brentwood BC. Con hold. Con 686 (73.4%, -5), LD 199 (21.3%, +6.4), Lab 50 (5.3%, -1.4). Swing of 5.7% from Con to LD since May this year.

Kentish Town Ward, LB Camden. LD hold. LD 939 (36.5%, -1), Lab 863 (33.5%, +6.7), Green 518 (20.1%, -7.8), Con 171 (6.6%, -0.2), BNP 62 (2.4%, +2.4), UKIP 21 (0.8%, +0.8). Swing of 3.9% from LD to Lab since Dec 2006 by-election. Labour regains second place from Greens as they no longer had Sian Berry as candidate, but LD vote surprisingly resilient despite resignation of sitting cllr over the Arizonagate scandal.

Thame N, S Oxfordshire DC. Con hold in a split ward. Con 423 (50.5%, +8.2), LD 287 (34.3%, -9.5), Lab 127 (15.2%, +1.3). Swing of 8.9% from LD to Con since 2007.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Allegory of good and bad government

Being a local government geek I couldn't resist a holiday visit today to Siena's beautiful 13th century town hall, the Palazzo Pubblico, to see Lorenzetti's "Allegories of Good and Bad Government".

This 1338 fresco was commissoned to remind councillors of the effects on the city of the conduct of their duties.

The panels showing "bad government" look remarkably like Hackney in the 1996-2001 hung council period - a tyrannical figure at the heart of the borough, uncollected rubbish, discord and strife in the council chamber, poor street lighting, potholes, probably outsourced revenue and benefits to the private sector, etc.

The "good government" ones are in turn rather similar to Hackney under Labour since 2001 - justice and wisdom prevail at the town hall, leading to clean streets, effective recycling, new public buildings and civic happiness. I think I could even spot a mediaeval Tuscan trading standards officer prosecuting a market trader for using the wrong weights and measures.

Cllr Smith and I have bought a print of the "good government" allegory to sit on our living room wall and remind us of our civic duties. Cllr Smith suggests that as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Hackney artists - perhaps Banksy? -  should be asked to compete to produce a modern version of the fresco for our own town hall.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mountain marathons

This weekend I was glad to be sat in restaurants in Siena, enjoying a glass or two of Chianti Classico and some bistecca fiorentina in 27c sunshine, rather than competing like I used to in the Original Mountain Marathon (known in my day as the Karrimor).

Many people will have seen on the news (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cumbria/7691893.stm) that the race  was a bit damp this year.

My brother and his wife were competing this year so I am particularly relieved everyone got off the mountain safely - though my brother says the situation was exagerated by the media and the only reason competitors appeared to be "missing" was because it was difficult to reach race HQ through 4 feet of water to check back in.

Between the ages of 16 and 21 I competed in 5 of these annual mountain marathons, completing 3 (Howgills, Argyll and Galloway) and pulling out of the others because of snow in one case and injury in the other. The race involves navigating 26 miles - in the easiest "class" - as the crow flies (further in practice) with an overnight camp.

Any criticism of the organisers on safety grounds is well off the mark as they enforce rigid regulations about the survival clothing, kit, tent and food you carry and are themselves fell-runners with decades of experience.

One day I hope to return to the level of fitness to do a mountain marathon again - I'm glad it wasn't this year I tried.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Council by-elections

Thursday night's council by-election results - rather belatedly as I am on holiday::

Charnwood DC, Loughborough Disgley and Hathern Ward. Lab hold. Lab 838 (49.7%; +5.0), Con 490 (29.1%; -9.7), BNP 234 (13.9%; -2.6), LD 107 (6.4%; +6.4), National Front 16 (0.9%; +0.9). Swing of 7.4% from Con to Lab since 2007. In a Labour-held parliamentary marginal.

Chichester BC, E Wittering Ward. Con hold. Con 410 (40.3%; +6.6), LD 364 (35.8%; +7.0), BNP 125 (12.3%; +12.3), Lab 69 (6.8%; -0.4), UKIP 49 (4.8%; +4.8). Swing of 0.2% from Con to LD since 2007.

East Devon DC, Alderholt Ward. Con hold. Con 499 (53.0%; -12.5), LD 442 (47.0%; +19.7). Swing of 16.1% from Con to LD since 2007.

Hambleton DC, Whitestonecliffe Ward. Con hold.  Con 343 (75.2%), Ind 113 (24.8%). Uncontested in 2007.

Merthyr Tydfil CBC, Town Ward. Lab gain from LD. Lab 580 (35.7%; +16.7), LD 461 (28.4%; -18.1), Ind 277 (17.0%; -1.8), Ind 125 (7.7%; +7.7), Ind 110 (6.8%; +6.8), Plaid 72 (4.4%; -11.3). Swing of 17.4% from LD to Lab this May.

Ribble Valley BC,  Billington and Old Langho Ward. Con gain from LD. Con 350 (61.1%; +10.3), LD 181 (31.6%; -17.6), Lab 42 (7.3%; +7.3). Swing of 14% from LD to Con since 2007.

Spelthorne BC, Ashford East Ward. Con hold.  Con 858 (51.7%; -1.4), LD 452 (27.3%; +13.4), UKIP 185 (11.2%; +11.2), Lab 163 (9.8%; -3.1). Swing of 7.4% from Con to LD since 2007.

LB Westminster, Lancaster Gate Ward. Con hold. Con 805 (60.3%; -4.4), LD 325 (24.3%;+6.6), Lab 205 (15.4%; -2.3). Swing of 5.5% from Con to LD since 2006.

Wolverhampton MBC, Wednesfield North Ward. Con hold. Con 1295 (45.3%; +0.1), Lab 1072 (37.5%; +3.0), BNP 337 (11.8%; -3.6), LD 156 (5.5%; +0.5). Swing of 1.5% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Wolverhampton MBC Wednesfield South Ward. Con hold. Con 1123 (45.2%; -16.1), Lab 867 (34.9%; +8.0), BNP 358 (14.4%; +14.4), LD 134 (5.4%; -1.4). Swing of 12.1% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Brace ourselves for Glenrothes

It was good to see Sarah Brown campaigning in the Glenrothes by-election yesterday - following her introduction to Gordon's conference speech she is clearly seen by voters as a major asset to Labour.

At my own rather more humble level in the Labour Party, my partner Linda did some phone canvassing for the by-election campaign yesterday and reported a high level of Labour support. Apparently the key local issue cited to her was "bucket collections" (which translates for those of us South of the Border as rubbish bin collections). Labour Candidate Lindsay Roy seemed to be personally known to the majority of electors she spoke to because of his high profile as a local head teacher.

But although we have a great candidate, and are clearly putting the work in, and there are anecdotal accounts of good canvass returns that I have heard from Linda and others, having spoken to people with a strategic overview of the campaign I am sorry to say that I have to chuck a bucket of cold water over the flames of optimism.

The overall picture from the doorsteps of Glenrothes is that Labour and the PM are a lot more popular than we were at the time of the Crewe and Nantwich or Glasgow East by-elections, but that this is being trumped by the continued electoral honeymoon of Alex Salmond's SNP administration in Scotland. The chances of us holding this seat are, unfortunately, minimal.

Labour folk from the PLP down need to get their heads round that so that the 6 November result is not a shock or trauma that drives us back into the kind of panic that existed before Conference, but something that as a professional political party we have anticipated, planned for, and can take in our stride.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Happy Wednesday

Channel 4 YouGov poll of marginals (quote from C4 website):

"The recent financial turmoil has boosted Labour's standing in the polls, according to part two of our Channel 4 News/YouGov Facing the Crunch poll.

The Tory lead over Labour in key battleground seats has reduced from 13 to just five points since the recent economic troubles, according to an exclusive poll released today.A Channel 4 News poll carried out by YouGov in early September predicted a Tory landslide, suggesting the Conservatives could win power with a 150-seat majority.But today's poll of the same seats shows Labour's share of the vote increased from 32 to 38 per cent. Forty three per cent of voters would plump for the Conservatives, down from 45 per cent last month.Just 12 per cent go for the Lib Dems, down from 13 per cent in the last poll.These new results would, YouGov estimates, give the Tories a 50-60 seat majority if repeated at the next general election
."

IPSOS/MORI Monthly poll:
Con 45% (down 7%)
Lab 30% (up 6%)
LD 14% (up 2%)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why I am proud to be Labour

Because, according to today's OECD report on inequality (http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/47/22/41528630.pdf):

"Since 2000, income inequality and poverty have fallen faster in the United Kingdom than in any other OECD country."

Now that's what I call a democratic socialist government.

Global Peace and Unity

There are lots of ways for the Labour Party and Government to engage with Britain's Muslim communities. Hardworking local MPs do it every week. Good councillors are in tune with their local communities. The Government engages with all faiths, including the various different leaders, groups and ethnically and religiously diverse Muslim community. As well as dealing with Islam as a faith, the Government also tackles violent extremism through a variety of means.

But our willingness to engage shouldn't mean that we talk to anyone and everyone just because they are a Muslim; we need to apply our own political judgements and principles, and ensure that no-one who supports violent extremism in whatever form is given a seat at the table.

At the weekend, the Excel Centre in London is host to a major event - Global Peace and Unity (GPU) - which promises a range of cultural and political sessions.

But a look at the invited speakers makes you wonder how much 'peace & unity' will be on the agenda.
  • One speaker Muhammed Ijaz ul-Haq, is a Pakistani MP. The Guardian reported on 18/6/2007 that he had reacted to the awarding of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie with the statement 'If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British Government apologies and withdraws the 'sir' title.'
  • William Rodriguez survived the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers; since then he has filed charges against the US Govt, the Vice President, and other agencies claiming that the attacks were not the work of Al-Qaeda, but in fact were a conspiracy by the US Government involving the use of controlled explosions and missiles.
  • Sheikh Muhammed Alshareef wrote an article 'Why the Jews were Cursed' which 'explains' why Muslims should shun Jews.
  • John Rees, from the Socialist Workers Party.
  • Salma Yaqoob from Respect.
  • The bloggers' favourite Robert Fisk.
  • And of course George Galloway.

There's an interesting debate about GPU over at Harry's Place.

I spent my younger years tackling Trots, so I am no stranger to the concept of 'frontism', the use of seemingly innocuous events to attract an audience, in order to expose them to ideas and messages they would otherwise never hear. In the SWP or Militant's case it might lead to a lifetime spent selling newspapers and going to political meetings. In the case of Islamism, it can lead to something much, much worse. But there's another political concept which I am reminded of when I see Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, and regrettably some Labour people on the speakers' list: Lenin's idea of the 'useful idiot'.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tory lead at lowest since April

More steady progress for Labour in the YouGov poll today. Con 42%(-1), Lab 34%(+1), LD 14%(nc). This is very nearly hung parliament territory - actually translates to a Tory majority of six.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Learning the lessons of 1931

I was brought up on family stories of Ramsay MacDonald's betrayal of the Labour Party in 1931, when he responded to the Depression by cutting public spending - including taking away the funding for my grandfather's university place - and thereby split the Labour Party as well as deepening the economic crisis.

So I was pleased by today's news that Alastair Darling intends to do the opposite - borrow to maintain public spending, and increase it in areas where jobs can be created as a consequence, in order to reflate the economy and provide alternative employment for people made jobless by the credit crunch.

We actually need the things that the press coverage of his interview says will get funded so it's a win-win situation - more social housing being built, more green energy schemes (hopefully including nuclear), more investment in transport infrastructure like Crossrail, and even, according to the Observer, a bit of sensible defence Keynesianism, as that paper cites the new aircraft carriers and Trident replacement as programmes that will benefit.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

No10 bolsters press operation

I was pleased to hear last night at DCLG Special Adviser Paul Richards' birthday party that No10 has appointed Michael Dugher and John Woodcock to run the Downing Street media operation.

This is a good move - they are both experienced operators originally out of the NOLS Office stable (like all the best people) who are liked and respected by the journalists they will be dealing with.

It's also politically significant in that it will inspire trust across the party that No10 won't be briefing against departmental ministers - John has been working until now for the very definitely Blairite John Hutton, whilst Michael has been working for Geoff Hoon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Update on the "metric martyr" case

I've just had some further detail on the Janet Devers prosecution by Hackney Council from colleagues on the council executive, which I thought would be of interest given the number of responses to my post earlier this week.

It turns out there were two sets of different charges, selling by the bowl and not using metric weights.

Selling by the bowl

The argument against Hackney on this is that everyone does it, the customer can see what is being bought and can therefore judge whether what they are getting is fair. As part of the investigation, Hackney officers bought a series of goods sold in bowls from a number of different stalls to find out if this was true. By weighing the amounts and then working out the price per kg, they found that when grapes were being sold for example, the price varied from 94p per kilo to a staggering £2.30 per kg. So customers can't see what they're getting when compared to other bowls and that is why the legislation is clear that you can't sell certain goods by the bowl.

Not using metric

Customers and traders can ask to buy, and sell goods, in Imperial. If you ask for a pound of apples, you can be sold a pound of apples. The law only requires that the trader uses metric scales. In the cases that have gone to court, the traders refused to do so. This isn't about stopping people buying using measurements and weights that they're used to, it's about creating an even playing ground. Most traders have complied with the legislation - so why should a minority who refuse to comply be allowed to get away with it?

Hackney's officers are there to enforce the law as it stands. The public wouldn't be comfortable with individual officers deciding what laws they would or not would enforce. Weights & measures work is a tiny fraction of the work of our trading standards and they do a huge amount of good work e.g. clamping down on unhygienic premises. They have been issuing guidance on these matters to traders since 1994 - it is regrettable that a prosecution had to take place - a huge amount of effort went into trying not to go down that road.

Council by-election results incl. Lab gain from BNP

Last night's council by-election results:

Dewsbury E Ward, Kirklees MBC. Lab gain from BNP. Lab 1513 (37.4%, -2), LD 1405 (34.8%, +14.3), BNP 690 (17.1%, -10.6), Con 345 (8.5%, -3.9), Green 58 (1.4%, +1.4), Ind 17 (0.0%), Ind 15 (0.0%). Swing of 8.2% from Lab to LD since May this year. This result makes Labour the join largest party on Kirklees, composition of which is now Lab 22, Con 22, LD 19, Green 4, BNP 1, Ind 1. By-election caused by the resignation of the BNP's C0lin Auty after failing to oust Nick Griffin as leader. Is in Shahid Malik's marginal Dewsbury seat (Con target number 95) where the BNP took over 5,000 votes in the last General Election.

South Bank Ward, Redcar & Cleveland UA. Lab hold. Lab 652 (49.9%, -0.6), LD 288 (22.1%, +12.3), BNP 206 (15.8%, +1.4), Ind 101 (7.7%, -7.3), Con 59 (4.5%, -5.8). Swing of 6.5% from Lab to LD since 2007, but a better result than the other Redcar & Cleveland by-election earlier in the month.

Churchdown Brookfield Ward, Tewkesbury DC. Ind gain from LD. Ind 598 (39%, +2.2), LD 508 (33.2%, -7), Con 364 (23.8%, +5.8), Lab 62 (4%, -1). Swing of 4.6% from LD to Ind since 2007.

Tudor Ward, Watford BC. LD hold. LD 932 (50%, +3.1), Con 486 (26.1%, -12.4), Lab 273 (14.6%, +4), Green 91 (4.9%, +0.9), BNP 83 (4.4%, +4.4). Swing of 7.8% from Con to LD since May. Good increase in the Labour vote in a poor ward for us in a 3-way parliamentary marginal (Con target number 38, LD target number 7).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

According to Facebook...

According to Facebook:

"The following website has been identified as malicious:lukeakehurst.blogspot.The link you have clicked has been identified by Facebook as a malicious web site. For the safety and privacy of your Facebook account, we strongly suggest you avoid visiting this address."

Peter and Oleg

Former Special Adviser to Peter Mandelson, Ben Wegg-Prosser has the inside track on the friendship between his former boss and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska on his blog here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Thank you My Lords

Thanks for making us all quite a lot less safe, dear unelected members of the Upper House with your daft vote denying the Government the right to lock up suspected terrorists.

It's bad enough having a completely undemocratic second chamber to our legislature at the best of times, but even more so when 309 peers vote against the public interest and against public opinion.

Security Minister Lord West says today:

"The threat is huge. The threat dipped slightly and is now rising again with the context of severe, large complex plots, because we unravelled one the damage it caused to al-Qaeda actually faded slightly.

They are now building up again. There is another great plot building up again and we are monitoring this."

The tools available to the Government to combat that threat are fewer because of the vote last night.

Shame on the Peers who made this the case.

If I was the Government I wouldn't have stopped at using the Parliament Act to drive through this legislation, I would have used it as the final straw reason to abolish the absurd anachronism of an unelected, unaccountable House of Lords and replace it with a democratically elected second chamber that gives proper consideration to issues of national security.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not metric and not a martyr

I'm glad that the local authority I'm a member of has prosecuted a market trader at my local market, Ridley Road, for not displaying metric measures.

It's fundamental to any system of protecting consumers from being ripped off that there is a single agreed, and legally enforced, system for weighing and measuring goods for sale. Otherwise how can you compare prices at neighbouring stalls or shops and work out if you are paying a fair price, or indeed that you are getting the measure that has been advertised? This isn't a new concept - every civilisation since the Romans has had a legally enforced system of weights and measures.

For better or worse, in this country that has been Metric since the early '70s.

I've got nothing against traders putting up the Imperial measure equivalent so that older folk can compare using a measuring system they grew up with, or even just for nostalgic reasons.

But refusing to display Metric measures puts anyone who went to school after the early '70s at a huge disadvantage. I was schooled in the transition years where we primarily learnt Metric measures but also were given a rough idea what a pint, a pound or a yard was. People younger than me will have grown up entirely with Metric and won't have any idea whether Janet Devers is handing them a pound of apples or a stone of them. I'm 36 and I don't know how many ounces there are in a pound or how many pounds in a stone - 12 or 14 or 16 I think but I'm honestly not sure.

Ironically, I think Mrs Devers uses decimal currency to price up her goods. Surely if she is really against all this newfangled Metric stuff she would be charging in pounds, shillings & pence prices or better still groats and farthings?

More to the point, if it's all about free choice can I go and ask her for an sester of apples and pay her in denarii?

Poll Entrails

For those of you interested in the detail, the regional, social class and age splits etc. of yesterday's YouGov poll are online here: http://extras.timesonline.co.uk/results.htm

Change since April is a bit less regionally polarised than in the YouGov poll two weeks ago, indicating the further 2% lift for Labour is coming as one might logically expect, from voters beyond Labour's historic core support:

Scotland +8% (i.e. Labour doing 8% better than in April this year)
North +8%
Midlands & Wales +2%
South +7%
London +11%

The relatively weak Midlands performance makes me think we need to be saying more about how we will support manufacturing, which is still crucial in this region, through the current economic situation.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Council by-election results

Thursday's council by-election results:

St George West Ward, Bristol UA. LD gain from Lab. LD 923 (34%, +9.1), Lab 816 (30.1%, -8.1), Con 509 (18.8%, -18), Ind 257 (9.5%, +9.5), Green 116 (4.3%, +4.3), Eng Dem 93 (3.4%, +3.4). Swing of 8.6% from Lab to LD since 2007. LD gain from third place.

Knutsford Division, Cheshire CC. Con 1647 (58.7%, +1.2), LD 818 (29.1%, +5.1), Lab 342 (12.2%, -6.3). Swing of 2% from Con to LD since May this year.

Knutsford Ward, Cheshire East UA. Almost identical to the above as on same boundaries for new shadow authority.

Holybourne & Froyle Ward, E Hants DC. Con hold. Con 424 (54.6%, -13.7), LD 352 (45.4%, +21.6). Swing of 17.7% from Con to LD since 2007.

Alexandra Ward, LB Haringey. LD hold. LD 1460 (49.9%, -6), Lab 772 (26.4%, +5.9), Con 443 (15.2%, +6.4), Green 221 (7.6%, -7.2), BNP 27 (0.1%, +0.1). Swing of 6% from LD to Lab since 2006. Impressive Labour performance in safest LD seat in a borough where Labour is recovering strongly. This is in marginal Hornsey & Wood Green LD parliamentary constituency.

Mount Joy Ward, Isle of Wight CC. Con 286 (45.5%, -2.7), LD 155 (24.6%, -5.8), Ind 150 (23.8%, +23.8), Lab 38 (6%, -12.6). Swing of 1.5% from LD to Con since 2006.

Herne Bay Division, Kent CC. Con hold. Con 2474 (47.7%, +7.6), LD 1524 (29.4%, -3.3), Lab 537 (10.4%, -13.1), BNP 399 (7.7%, +7.7), UKIP 252 (4.9%, +1.3). Swing of 5.4% from LD to Con since 2005.

Rotherhithe Ward, LB Southwark. LD hold. LD 1149 (56.8%, +9.2), Lab 618 (30.6%, +5.3), Con 255 (12.6%, -4.3). Swing of 2% from Lab to LD since 2006. LDs and Lab both picking up some of the Green vote from 2006.

Middle Rasen Ward, West Lindsey DC. Con gain from LD who failed to run a candidate.
Con 400 (76.2%, +36.5), UKIP 125 (23.8%, +13.4). Swing of 11.6% from UKIP to Con since 2007.

Unite/Amicus General Secretary Election Starts

From the Amicus/Unite website. The back story to this is that SWP supporter Jerry Hicks (Convenor at Rolls-Royce Filton) has used the same rule Derek Simpson used to force Sir Ken Jackson to face re-election to force Derek to face a new election.

It will be interesting to see if other political traditions in the union field a third candidate or if it ends up being a straight fight between the Labour left and the Trots:

"Unite to hold election for Joint General Secretary

9 October 2008

The Executive Council of Unite has today (Thursday) called an election in the Amicus section of the union and has postponed the full integration of the union until May 1st, 2009.

The election has been agreed in order to safeguard the provision, as set out in the general rules and instrument of amalgamation of Unite, for the continuation of the General Secretary of the Amicus section in office as a Unite Joint General secretary until December 2010.

Unite members have voted overwhelming in favour of this provision in two previous secret ballots. However, the Executive Council has taken this course of action in light of the potential success of a legal challenge to these arrangements brought against the union by a single member. It is the view of the Executive that an election now will ensure that the members’ desire to safeguard the agreed rules of Unite is respected.

To enable the election process of the Amicus section General Secretary and to allow further time to ensure the full integration of Unite, the Executive Council has delayed the implementation of the Full Rules of the union until May 1st, 2009. The rules were otherwise due to be implemented from November 1st, 2008.

The election in the Amicus section will be concluded on March 9th, 2009, with the winner holding office for a year, from December 2009 to December 2010.

ENDS"


UPDATE: The Times says TGWU may quit Unite, and that Laurence Faircloth, Amicus SW Regional Secretary, is third, pro-merger candidate vs. Simpson and Hicks.

The Future of Tribune

Tribune magazine looks like it might fold for the umpteenth time.

The basic problem is that not enough people want to read it because it's not actually that good.

The political line in takes is predictable, often trite, and feels dated. It rests on past laurels from the golden age in the '30s-'50s.

It is far too narrowly focused in terms of the spectrum of Labour opinion - most people on the moderate wing of the party don't want to pay a subscription to read something that just insults their beliefs rather than hosting a balanced debate - and occupies soft left territory that is also covered far more efficiently and speedily by Compass' website.

The internal Labour news and gossip is less extensive and timely that one can find on the blogosphere.

If the magazine read better and was properly marketed it ought to have far more than 4,000 readers and should be self-funding. As it is, we may be about to lose a piece of Labour history that has failed to move with the times.

Contributing factors to yesterday's PMQs victory

The new Comptroller of HM Household was doing some comptrolling.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Iceland and Russia

I would share the concern of Iceland's PM, expressed here, that they have had to turn to Russia for a financial bailout because, as he says, "We have not received the kind of support that we were requesting from our friends".

The heavy involvement of Russia in rescuing Iceland's economy isn't altruistic, it's geopolitical, and the West (i.e. primarily the US) have been very foolish in not acting as a kind of financial NATO to a fellow NATO member.

We were extremely lucky that even in the midst of such a deep crisis, Iceland did not allow itself (as some media reports yesterday said it had) to trade access for the Russian military to the former US airbase at Keflavik for the propping up of its banks with Russian capital - as that was obviously the long term prize the Russians were angling for.

Why do the Russians care about Iceland and why should we?

It sits at the middle of the strategically vital Greenland-Iceland-UK (GUIK) gap - the bottleneck that controls access to the North Atlantic for Soviet, oops sorry Russian, submarines and ships operating from naval bases on the Kola peninsula.

Control the GIUK gap - as NATO historically has, not least because this was the primary role of the Royal Navy in the Cold War and explains why we still have so many ships designed for anti-submarine warfare - and you can safely get men, food and equipment across the North Atlantic from the US to Western Europe if there was ever a confrontation with Russia.

Lose control of it - because for instance there are Russian aircraft based at Keflavik, using Iceland like it was a very large, immobile, granite aircraft carrier, and this becomes rather problematic.

Well done Iceland for not giving the Russians access to Keflavik, and shame on the rest of the West for allowing the Russians to get this kind of financial leverage.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Labour's lop-sided recovery (so far)

Very interesting post on politicalbetting.com showing Labour's recovery is so far rather lopsided towards our core traditional support, which explains why we are still lagging behind more in the marginals than the country as a whole according to the poll in the News of the World at the weekend. The regional splits in the YouGov poll taken recently compared to the one in April show:

Our support up from 28% to 43% in Scotland (remember this is for Westminster elections not MSPs - but it's still an extraordinary shift)
Up from 30% to 41% in the North - another remarkable jump
Down from 30% to 29% in the Midlands & Wales.
Up from 20% to 23% in the South.
Up from 25% to 30% in London.

So we've done a good job at reawakening our historic core support but now we need to also reconnect with the "New Labour" swing voters who gave us victory in the last three elections. Better still let's try to come up with policies that appeal to both sets of voters.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Reshuffle below Cabinet

This is the full list of ministerial posts outside Cabinet announced by 10 Downing Street today:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/oct/05/2

Friday, October 03, 2008

More on the reshuffle

The more I'm hearing about the reshuffle the more I'm liking it.

My partner Linda's boss, John Spellar, has just called to say that the 3 year hiatus in his ministerial career is over and he is back in Government as number 3 in the Whips' Office under Nick Brown and Tommy McAvoy.

I'm particularly pleased that Jim Murphy - NUS President the year I was NOLS National Secretary - has made it into the Cabinet. If anyone can see off the threat from the SNP he can.

Lord Drayson's return is great news - he was a very effective minister when he was at MoD and radically reformed the procurement process.

The comeback by Margaret Beckett is also good sense - we needed some more experienced heavyweight politicians on the frontbench.

The base of the Government has been broadened with people from Mandelson to Jon Trickett on the political spectrum getting jobs so that the whole Party is lining up to take the fight to the Tories.

The more I think about the Mandelson appointment the more I think it was a stroke of political genius by Brown. It's brought on board someone with a unique ability to strategise, understand the electorate and win elections, but also someone with a great grasp of economic policy at a time when we need to tackle a hugely complex economic situation. The Tories are terrified of him because his presence will reassure both business and swing voters that Labour remains well and truly camped on the centre ground of British politics.

All in all a good days work by Mr Brown.

That massive Tory conference poll "boost"

ICM has done the first post-Tory conference poll.

The Tory "boost" is a mighty +1%, compared to a +7% rise for Labour after our conference.

And that was before today's headline-dominating reshuffle.

The Reshuffle

As per his previous form, Brown is rather better at smoothly executing reshuffles than Blair was, and seems keener to promote perceived Blairites than the man himself did.

I think the Mandelson appointment is inspired and game-changing and hopefully draws a line under some of the history of the period from 1994 to now. He was an exceptionally good DTI Secretary during his previous stint - introducing the Minimum Wage and Regional Development Agencies. Quite apart from masterminding the 1997 landslide and being a descendant of Herbert Morrison.

Good to see Geoff Hoon and John Hutton staying in the Cabinet too - particularly with the latter getting a job he really wanted to do at Defence.

Also significant that Energy & Climate Change are getting the stand-alone Department they need.

Council by-election results

Last night's council by-election results:

Witham W Ward, Braintree DC. Con hold. Con 508 (40.9%, +1.1), Lab 373 (30.1%, +3.2), LD 182 (14.7%, -2.2), Green 178 (14.3%, -2.1). Swing of 1.1% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Leominster S Ward, Herefordshire UA. Ind gain from Con. Ind 515 (41.4%, +20.7), Con 397 (31.9%, -12.2), Green 200 (16.1%, -4.9), LD 131 (10.5%, -3.7). Swing of 16.5% from Con to Ind since 2007.

West Ruislip Ward, LB Hillingdon. Con hold. Con 1351 (52.4%, +1.3), LD 860 (33.9%, -2.8), Lab 147 (5.7%, -2.5), BNP 111 (4.3%, +4.3), Green 55 (2.1%, -7.6), NF 52 (2%, +2). Swing of 2.1% from LD to Con since 2006.

Bourne Abbey Division, Lincolnshire CC. Con hold. Con 760 (41.4%, -12.9) Ind 355 (19.3%, +19.3) BNP 239 (13%, +13) Labour 202 (11%, -34.7) LD 198 (10.8%, +10.8) Green 42 (2.3%, +2.3) UKIP 41 (2.2%, +2.2). Swing of 16.1% from Con to Ind since 2005.

Castle Ward, Oswestry DC. LD gain from Con. LD 198 (38.7, +0.3), Con 174 (34.1, -27.5), Ind 139 (27.2, +27.2). Swing of 13.9% from Con to LD since 2007.

Kirkleatham Ward, Redcar & Cleveland UA. LD gain from Lab. LD 1031 (56.4%, +25.5), Lab 486 (26.6%, -15.9), Con 204 (11.2%, -15.4), BNP 106 (5.8%, +5.8). Swing of 20.7% from Lab to Con since 2007.

Teynham & Lynsted Ward, Swale DC. Con hold. Con 463 (63.4%, +3.3), Lab 189 (25.9%, -1.7), LD 78 (10.7%, -1.6). Swing of 2.5% from Lab to Con since 2007.

Ruishton & Creech Ward, Taunton Deane DC. Con hold. Con 902 (56.3%, +6.8), LD 700 (43.7%, +3.2). Swing of 1.8% from LD to Con since 2007.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A General Secretary in touch with the grassroots

I was impressed to learn from a friend from Islington that Labour Party General Secretary Ray Collins actually turns up to his local ward party meetings in Highbury West to hear what ordinary grassroots members have to say. This is a very good sign and I hope other senior people in the party are as diligent.

QED

I think Cameron himself explained why voting Tory was a bad idea in his speech yesterday when he said:

"Experience is the excuse of the incumbent over the ages. Experience is what they always say when they try to stop change. In 1979, James Callaghan had been Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor before he became Prime Minister. He had plenty of experience. But thank God we changed him for Margaret Thatcher."

Er... I would beg to differ and so might a few million other people. There was a lot wrong with the 1974-'79 Labour Government but Callaghan, for all his faults, was a very wise national leader. His replacement Margaret Thatcher was an extremist, sectarian fruitloop who butchered the public services, destroyed our manufacturing base, sowed poverty, discord and division, blighted the lives of the three million people she deliberately put on the dole, left the inner cities and industrial areas to rot and raised the worship of the free market to totemic status that we are now paying the price for. There was a lot that needed to change in Britain in 1979 but the human waste created by the frankly evil policies Cameron's heroine promoted was not the way to do it.

Would that the British people had stuck with "experience" and hadn't been suckered into an 18 year nightmare of Tory rule.

I hope we aren't stupid enough to fall for the same baloney twice. Cameron was part of that administration as Norman Lamont's Special Adviser - that's the "experience" he wants to deploy - experience of wrecking the country once and not having learnt any lessons from it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Rattled

Is it normal for a party leader to make the entire theme of their speech (character, judgement etc) a direct response to a one-line jibe in their opponent's speech (that "novice" line)?

I think he's rattled. Be interesting to know what the Tory private polling says about reaction to the "novice" issue that has got him so exercised.

Oh and "together" - pass the sick bucket - I don't remember the 18 years of Tory government he was a Special Adviser in involving much togetherness - it was all about division.

 
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