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.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Winning back the suburbs

There's an interesting debate going on between Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell about why the suburbs didn't vote Labour in last May's Mayoral election.

I think there are aspects to what both of them say that are correct.

Tessa is right to suggest people in the suburbs thought Labour was anti-car and in favour of high taxes.

Ken is right that some people in outer London feel Labour nationally has let them down over lack of new social housing (though I doubt all but a few tenant activists care if their home is managed by the council, an ALMO or a housing association) and lack of support for manufacturing. But that's one kind of outer London voter, blue collar on the big peripheral estates, not the taxi-driver and white collar demographic living in semi-detatched stereotypical suburbia.

Other factors were cultural. Ken gave the impression of being a voice only for places like my home patch of Hackney - he talked a lot about inner London and multi-cultural London's concerns and not much about making life better in Croydon or Havering. And he didn't visit those areas enough as Mayor or candidate. There aren't many votes in hugging up to Hugo Chavez amongst Dagenham residents. He also alienated two large blocks of swing votes in suburban London - the Jewish community because of his stance on Islamist preacher Yusuf al-Qadari and his row with Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold; and black cab drivers with his stance on breaking up their monopoly in favour of licensed minicabs.

My hunch is that the suburban vote is leftwing on the economy and extra spending on public services and might have bought a message about Ken's investment in the police and the tube if it had been properly put to them; but populist/rightwing on tax, immigration and crime and did not feel Ken's campaign was talking their language on these issues.

Rather than swapping theories though, maybe someone should commission some research and polling so we can actually define what suburban voters are like (there's a lot of difference between say Harrow and Bexley) and what really motivated their support for Boris.


Blogger Merseymike said...

The problem is that suburban voters may hold values that don't fit with social democratic ideals. That is why their default vote is Tory and they vote Labour in a good year. At the moment they are very unlikely to return to Labour

There does need to be preference given for public transport for environmental and other reasons. I doubt whether the 'aspirational' will like that idea very much, but it remains a necessity.

And you can't have Swedish-level services on US-style taxation.

New Labour was a failed attempt to bring in the Daily Mail-reading taxi-driver which worked for one election. The following two elections saw most of those voters go, but to abstention rather than wholesale to the Tories.

In the meantime, a good proportion of Labour's middle class vote - the public sector and intelligentsia - switched to the LibDems. The core working class vote has started to display abstentionist patterns.

Sometimes, you just have to accept that it isn't possible to be a 'party for everybody'. Difficult choices have to be made which will not please everyone, all the time. It was that lie which finally sunk New Labour because it was never true.

The Muslim vote is far higher than the Jewish vote, if we are to see the two as 'in competition', but if you seriously think there are surplus votes in supporting Israel, you are living in cloud cuckoo land. Labour should be critical of Israel because it is an occupying power, simple as that.If it means losing s few Zionist voters, so be it.

Populist on immigration and crime isn't social democratic. And those services which the 'aspirational' still expect have to be paid for. Via taxes.

I have a feeling that, as in many elections, results may be as much about who did or did not vote as anything else. And we do need to remember that Ken still did far, far better than Labour did across the country. really, under the national swings, we should have expected a far greater victory for Johnson.

The real mistake was allowing this sort of personality contest to take place in the first place

2:23 pm, March 04, 2009

Anonymous Dave H said...

In the campaign, the suburbs were largely written off. I know of certain organisers who were begging for Ken to visit their patch without success.

Whether this was Ken's decision or the party machine's I'm not sure.

Ken's performance was far higher than that of the party across the country, so it would be wrong to simply write of his campaign as a failure though.

4:13 pm, March 04, 2009

Anonymous London Member said...

The suburbs disproportionately benefited from Ken's policies like improving the bus service (which is the main form of public transport in many outer London areas),or neighourhood police or rail improvements. Labour won back a seat on the Assembly in the predominantly outer-London seat of Brent and Harrow. Ken was six per cent behind in the mayoral race in London on a night when Labour was massively further behind the Tories outside London, ie Labour in London with Ken performed much better than nationally and much better than in the Crewe byelection.

Re Luke's point about votes in Dagenham, it's true that many of the arguments about Ken's vote and the 'white working class' rest on results in Barking and Dagenham, where it's said that Boris Johnson had won in traditionally white working class wards, Longbridge and Whalebone. But these were two wards where the difference between Ken’s vote and the Labour list vote was most pronounced: 171 and 97 votes respectively. In other words the campaign for the mayoralty assisted Labour's performance rather than detracted from it as might be implied from the original post.

The Labour mayoral vote in Longbridge actually increased by 40per cent (more than the London average) compared with 2004 - from 688 to 1150.

The real problem with this is that it is impossible to look at the result in London in the abstract from the national picture on the same day. Ken was six per cent behind Boris Johnson on a day when Labour was twenty per cent behind the Tories nationally.

Labour would have had every right to be delighted to have achieved nationlly the result the London Labour party with Ken achieved. In fact the entire political situation in the country would have been different if it had.

Ken achieved the almost impossible, eroding a national Tory lead to much smaller proportions.

It's unlikely that Ken would have lost on any other polling day for decades.

Ripping London's result out of what happened on the same night doesn't help us at all and risks throwing the baby out with the bath water.

4:27 pm, March 04, 2009

Blogger Theo Blackwell's blog said...

The m-class didn't go Lib Dem, as Merseymike suggests - their vote actually collapsed. In Camden they were pushed into 4th.

This is presumably because anti-Labour Lib Dems felt more comfortable with Boris than Ken.

4:59 pm, March 04, 2009

Blogger Timothy Godfrey said...

The Tories kept accusing him of being the 'Zone 1 Mayor'. A criticism that is certainly not completely true, unfortunately it did ring true for many people because of the congestion charge, but also because his energy was directed at East London.

Ken finally came down to Croydon in the last part of the campaign and spoke at a packed business meeting. He spoke with passion and detail about the real issues affecting the local economy and understood the key development sites in the town.

On the walkabout through the town centre and market he was mobbed continuously with so many well wishers.

The real problem with the Mayor of London is that the largest electorate lives in Outer London - in the suburbs of Greater London. Croydon recorded the 7th highest borough vote for Ken, yet only saw Ken on one occasion in the campaign.

As an occasional listener to 'Radio Jackie' - local radio for South West London, Ken was never on, but we heard plenty from the Tories and Lib Dems.

So, we would all do well to remember that the 'Mayor of London' is in fact the 'Mayor of Greater London' and therefore pay far more attention next time to the populous places like Croydon.

5:21 pm, March 04, 2009

Anonymous Junius said...

He certainly wasn't the "Zone 1 Mayor" - we hate him in K&C.

Oddly enough, I saw Livingstone
one night a few months after his defeat - he was shambling around Mayfair, alone, dressed up in a very ill-fitting dinner jacket, no doubt on his way to address some "progressive" dinner-party...

7:45 pm, March 04, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

Merseymike, so what you are saying that there isn't actually a lot of support for the Labour party.

Surely it is the suburban voters that you need to attract in order to win another term. Somehow I can't see Brown being able to do that.

Another big factor which you have missed is the fact that Brown was not elected and many people don't like that. Politics has changed and leaders matter. At the moment you have a leader who loves to hit the political stage but not a lot of people really understand what the hell he's talking about.

Tony Blair, like to hate him was a someone who could play a variety of roles. He could switch from being a politician and relate to the everyday man on the street. Cameron is much the same and is a man of character and good at communicating at all levels.

Brown on the other hand talks a lot of mumbo jumbo and doesn't seem able to drop the politician mode when attending public events. Brown is a man who makes you want to turn off the tele when he rears his uggly mug.

8:06 pm, March 04, 2009

Anonymous Hackney thicko said...

Luke writes: "Ken is right that some people in outer London feel Labour nationally has let them down over lack of new social housing (though I doubt all put a few tenant activists care ... "

Should that read: " ... all but a few tenant activists ... "?

8:17 pm, March 04, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

Social Housing, have you seen the state of it. Honestly it is all very well you middle class boys harping on about social housing when most of you would turn your noses up at it.

Most of the social housing stock is in a poor state and I would argue whether they are fit for habitation. Rotten windows, damp, condensation, poor neighborhoods, crime, crumbling brickwork and leaking roofs. Only this week I had a look round a flat that housed a very vulnerable person and his windows were so rotten you could remove a pane of glass without even picking up a tool.

Really you should be ashamed to call yourself Labour. There was a time when every man and his dog wanted a council house....not the case these days.

Some estates are so bad that some employers won't even consider you if live on them. They are literally ghettos and the people that live on them are trapped.

If you don't believe get off your ass and visit some.

9:54 pm, March 04, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

Theo: I wasn't suggesting that the m/c went LD in London - those comments were referring to the 2001/2005 election. But I agree with your observation about why their vote switched to Boris in Tory areas.

Rich: clearly Labour support is well down. Labour can win a small majority without winning seats in Romford and Croydon Central, but to win a large majority requires the suburbs. And there was the mistake. Large majorities are not good - in Labour's case it meant all effort was spent holding on to marginal voters.

The problem with social housing is all the best has been sold.

I think that Cameron is much like Blair. Style over substance, and I think if elected his government will be a damp squib

10:48 pm, March 04, 2009

Blogger David Boothroyd said...

One thing to note is that the numerical Labour vote actually increased between 2004 and 2008; it was just that the Conservative vote increased much more. The turnout rose spectacularly in a way that correlated with the rise in Conservative votes, which tends to suggest that the main reason Boris won was getting new people to vote for him who had previously abstained, rather than persuading people to change from Labour.

In planning for 2012 it would be wise to count on the same people who turned out for Boris in 2008 to be likely to want to keep him as Mayor. They won't have changed their fundamental politics in the intervening four years. The Labour Party has to develop a new way of responding to the political views of these voters to persuade them that a Labour administration would be better.

Fortunately Boris had himself elected on a largely undeliverable platform and has no real idea of what to do. We now need to start work on an economically invigorating Labour platform to help London's recovery from 2012.

10:58 pm, March 04, 2009

Blogger Martin Tiedemann said...

I had a door slammed in my face in September 07, at Labour's high-point in recent years, by a Labour voter in a white working class area of Croydon that has Labour councillors. Their comment: 'Ken only cares about lesbians and he hates cars'.

Crass and awful as that juxtaposition was, it summed up a view I came up against frequently. Ken stood for metropolitan urban views which did not resonate with traditional Labour voters on London's fringes. We didn't attempt to build a coalition London-wide with those voters.

It's views like Merseymike's which often prevent us doing so. In my solidly Tory ward, even in a bad year 25% of people vote Labour where I live. When you're knocking on doors that seems soul destroying, it's Tory town. But actually it's one in every four voters, and they have a high propensity to vote. Just because a Labour voter lives in a more affluent area, they aren't less deserving of our time or our listening. But because we're suburban, outer, less fashionable, less identifiably working class, we're somehow less Labour and less worthy of pursuing for our votes.

No one's going Lib Dem or Green in outer London, Merseymike. It's Tory v Labour. And these people I mention voted Labour for 18 years under the Conservatives. But they do want to be listened to. And they care about jobs, schools, hospitals, savings, pensions, same as 'traditional' Labour voters, not Zionism or ideology.

Ken and Labour in London did do well and did fight hard, but in outer London we need a mayoral candidate who comes out there and fights for votes in every neighbourhood and doesn't write off whole swathes of existing Labour voters. We will win next time, but by campaigning in Croydon as much as in Camden.

12:05 am, March 05, 2009

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Hackney thicko,

thanks for pointing out that I am one. I have corrected the error.

8:29 am, March 05, 2009

Blogger Mellie said...

On the Lib Dems, they were scuppered by a right-wing campaign that attacked Livingstone instead of Johnson. The presence of Susan Kramer and others at the Progressive London conference suggests that the lesson may have been learned.

As others have pointed out, Livingstone polled much higher than Labour nationally, not because of personality but because his politics are much closer to those of the majority of Labour voters. People don't vote Labour to get privatisation and foreign wars - on the contrary. Labour must show clear red water between themselves and the Tories, who are still preaching neo-liberal nonsense in spite of the crisis.

Any move to replace Livingstone with a more right-wing candidate would be frankly suicidal where the 2012 mayoralty is concerned. And persistence with right-wing policies, which have cost Labour millions of votes, will be suicidal in the general election.

9:46 am, March 05, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

Martin: you will have to accept that you can't please all the people all the time. In 97 Labour support was wide but shallow - and ultimately you can't pursue policies which will appeal to all voters. That may mean that there will be no more majorities of 100+ - but is that a problem? I don't think so.

I was brought up in a solidly Tory area and I recognise that most people there didn't vote, and don't vote, Labour, because they have right wing views. Taking the politics out of politics doesn't work - you have an 'ideology' every bit as much as I or anyone else.

Labour should pursue those voters who wish to vote for left-of-centre policies. No matter where they live. Not change policies to appeal to right wing suburban voters in the hope of winning seats which they do not need for a majority. We have seen the result of that since 97, and it has been a government which has made some achievements - ironically in those cultural areas your target voters so despise - but have largely disappointed, because they thought they could please everyone all the time.

Your best bet would be to work to abolish the ridiculous boundaries of 'London' which were only created to prevent Labour from getting a majority in the GLC in the first place! You appear to be saying that you should change policy simply to win voters over where you live. Cynical or what?

Labour in opposition need to work out why they exist, what they believe, and what they wish to do in the future - because New Labour is reaching the end of its life and is best looked upon as a temporary failed experiment which produced electoral success in the absence of a credible opposition

3:41 pm, March 05, 2009

Anonymous Rich said...

Ken sealed his own downfall as he became very unpopular towards the end of his reign. His relationships with a number of dubious characters should have got him the sack so being removed at the ballot was surely the best way to go. The man became a tyrant and far too powerful and undemocratic.

With the likes of Mandy and Harman in government how the hell do you intend to get the working mans vote. One is a socialist snob and the other seems to hate every white working class male in the country. The fact is Labour has changed to such a degree that you have lost the relationship with the working class. Blair tried to push class under the carpet and Brown has put in place economic policy that has made every working man poorer and less secure as a result.

The next election will see Brown humiliated and he will go down as one of the countries worst Pms.

9:11 pm, March 05, 2009

Blogger Mark Still News said...

Ken was an action Mayor and brought in the congestion charge successfully, then the Oyster card scheme and a 50% social housing Scheme that the big footed Buffoon has stopped!

9:43 pm, March 05, 2009

Blogger Mark Still News said...

Ken should stand as an independent candidate and he would win the contest! He should not associate himself with the New Labour anti working class Bosses stooges!

9:46 pm, March 05, 2009

Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Just to respond to the point on Brent & Harrow. As with a lot of places both the Labour and Conservative shares of the vote rose in 2008, it's just that Labour rose by more. The main parties who fell were the Lib Dems and UKIP. Remember also that Livingstone was a Brent MP for 14 years. The Labour gain was largely on the back of a combination of Livingstone getting extra votes out in his heartlands and the Liberal Democrat collapse since 2004.

As for the issue of the boundaries of Greater London, it is often forgotten that by the 1960s several "London wide" bodies (most obviously transport and policing) had a significantly wider area than the County of London and there had been significant calls from outside the Conservatives for a widening of the boundary. What has contributed to the weakness of a "London feeling" more than anything else in the outer suburbs is the absence of "London" from the postal addresses - many people still think they are part of Essex/Middlesex/Hertfordshire/Surrey/Kent and often associate "London" with the likes of Islington and Camden. Often it seems the feeling is reciprocated as shown by the venom towards the suburbs expressed by Livingstone supporters (and does anyone really think an attempt to remove those suburbs, which even if successful would take time, is going to win over voters there?).

11:32 am, March 06, 2009

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

"My hunch is that the suburban vote is leftwing on the economy and extra spending on public services and might have bought a message about Ken's investment in the police and the tube if it had been properly put to them; but populist/rightwing on tax"

Everyone always wants to get more for less and always have done. The challenge for politicians of all stripes is how to reconcile this...

11:02 pm, March 09, 2009

Anonymous James Thurston said...

"Ken is right that some people in outer London feel Labour nationally has let them down over lack of new social housing (though I doubt all but a few tenant activists care if their home is managed by the council, an ALMO or a housing association)"

Party activists might not "care if their home is managed by the Council an ALMO or Housing Association". I live in a Housing Association property and have many friends who are not Labour Party members but live in Housing Association properties who certainly DO CARE.

It is my understanding that there are very poor channels of communication and access to their designated Housing Officers between them and their Housing Association. That Housing Associations are almost as bad as Councils regarding maintenance issues are a re far too concerned with developing New Homes for sale on the Open Housing Market than they are with affordable homes for rent.

4:11 pm, March 14, 2009


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