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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day trip to Brighton

I've just got back from a day in Brighton.

Having attended 16 Labour Party Conferences but never been called to speak, I finally gave my maiden conference speech today. Shame it took a serious illness to achieve this - I was part of a panel recounting their experience of the NHS.

Here I am on stage - I'm the one in the wheelchair next to Andy Burnham (the pic is from John Gray's blog, Paul Richards has also reported my speech on LabourList):


A wildly irrelevant and lengthy point of order during the health debate by Tower Hamlets veteran leftie Belle Harris meant that just as us four patients walked or in my case were pushed up onto the stage we were told time constraints meant we had to cut the length of our contributions by half.
I thought what I said in the end was better for being briefer and off-the-cuff but here for the record is the full text I had prepared if Belle hadn't nicked part of my three minutes:
“I want to tell you what the NHS has done for me this year. In February, I was completely well. I was a 36 year old young dad, and I had only ever visited my GP a handful of times.

Then I got a sudden shooting pain in my calf. I thought it was cramp and would go away. It didn’t.

The pain spread to both legs. Then came pins and needles and the numbness in my hands and feet.

After a few weeks I was finding it so difficult to walk I started falling over in the street.

As you can imagine this was a terrifying experience.

In April I was admitted to hospital – and didn’t come out until September.
I think you’ll agree that five months sampling a wide range of NHS services day in day out is long enough to form a clear judgement about the state of our national health service.

It turned out I had a very rare and difficult to diagnose – but thankfully also very treatable – neurological illness called POEMS syndrome.

A bone marrow tumor was putting antibodies into my blood which were destroying my nervous system.

I’ve had radiotherapy. I may need chemo but hopefully not. At the moment I am slowly recovering.

At my weakest, I spent three months with my legs so frail they had to be lifted in and out of bed. My hands too weak to use a pen properly or even open a soft drink can.

It’s only when you are that helpless that you understand what “care” really means.

When you get to know that the kindness a nurse puts into how they look after you makes the difference between a bearable day or an absolutely terrible one.

And I have to say the wonderful, committed, compassionate people who cared for me kept me going through a very frightening experience.

They aren’t just doing a job. I know that every day they go the extra mile everyday to make life bearable for people who are seriously ill.

I want to thank my GP for spotting there was something seriously wrong. I want to thank all the staff at the Homerton Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology who looked after me: doctors, nurses but also cleaners, porters and catering staff without whom no hospital can function.

I want to thank the haematology and radiotherapy teams at University College Hospital for treating me. And the physios and occupational therapists at the National and in the community team where I live who are helping me learn to walk again.

Believe me, this huge complex system that is the National Health Service delivers care and treatment in a way that is personalised to the patient, not bureaucratic or distant.

Hundreds of people helped care for me, but I always felt that all of them cared for me as a person.

And thank goodness that in our country if you need five months in hospital with incredibly expensive care and treatment, you are assessed on your need, not on your credit card. And you are treated by people who are motivated by public service.

My heart goes out to people who get an illness like mine in America, where there’s no NHS. How much more terrifying must it be not knowing if you can even afford to be ill, let alone afford diagnosis and treatment?

I can’t begin to tell you the boiling anger I felt when I lay in my hospital bed and read that Tory MEP Daniel Hannan was parading round the TV studios of America attacking our NHS and the people who work in it. I pity that man if he cannot see what a wonderful institution the NHS is. And I pity David Cameron if he allows those kind of repugnant views to be promoted by a leading member of his party.

Our NHS isn’t perfect. There are always ways in which the experience for patients could be improved. But fundamentally, the NHS saves lives. That’s why we have higher life expectancy and lower infant mortality than the USA.

As a patient I have experienced a system that we should all be very proud of.

A service created by Labour, opposed by the Tories, embodying Labour values of solidarity and community.

I know the NHS really is worth fighting for.

So thank you Labour for the NHS.

Thank you Gordon Brown for the massive NHS investment over the past 12 years which would only ever be possible with a Labour Government.

And thank you NHS for giving me my life back.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just for the record

I can't be bothered to rebut everything ignorant Guardian/Compass hack John Harris writes about a Labour Party he appears to have learnt nothing about since campaigning against its re-election in 2005.

But this article - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/sep/27/labourconference-labour - contains a lie: "It's rumoured that this year, the vast majority of constituency parties haven't bothered sending a delegate (according to some whispers, as few as 100 may have someone here)."

London has I think 72 CLPs. I know from a report given to the Party's Regional Board that just those 72 are sending over 90 voting delegates and over 750 visitors (councillors and other activists without voting rights) - one of the best turnouts ever from the region. Only a couple of London CLPs are not represented. OK other regions have weaker activist bases and further to travel, but Harris' "whisper" would imply only 30 non-London CLPs were there, when just counting the speakers on conference floor or looking in on any of the regional delegates' briefings or receptions would show this to be nonsense.

Mr Harris, you are too lazy a checker of facts to deserve the title "journalist". Nor are you a political activist in any meaningful sense. You are just a peddler of second-hand anti-Labour lies.

Two YouGov Polls

Daily Tracker (pre-leader's speech): CON 40% (+1), LAB 29% (nc), LD 18%(-2).

Speech reaction (amongst people who watched it):

Excellent 33%
Good 30%
Fair 22%
Poor 11%
Bad 4%

Do you think Gordon Brown is doing well or badly as prime minister?
Very well 21% (+11)
Fairly well 29% (+1)
Fairly badly 18 (-3)
Very badly 31% (-10)

Speech reactions

I thought Gordon's speech was well delivered, with some useful policy meat and a good sound bite about the Tories "making cuts not because they have to but because they want to".

The return to a pre-2007 emphasis on tackling Anti-Social Behaviour was the most important part of the speech and demonstrates a realisation in No10 that crime and ASB remains a top concern for both Middle England swing voters and our core vote on estates.

As a long-term campaigner for electoral reform I was delighted by the commitment to a referendum on changing to a fairer voting system, and as a tactician I was delighted that the crazy idea of holding that referendum on General Election polling day (which would have split Labour during the election campaign and turned the referendum into an extra vote for or against the Government) was dropped.

I was disappointed that compulsory ID cards have been put on the back-burner -I still think we'll need them if we are ever going to really control illegal immigration - you can't tell if people have a right to be in the UK if we don't have to possess biometric proof of identity.

I'm one of the top-rate taxpayers who was benefiting from the to-be-abolished Employer Supported Childcare scheme so personally Gordon's speech just cost me £1,195 per year plus the 1/2% NI increase, but as a socialist I can't complain about a little bit more redistribution towards the families that most need childcare help.

The setting up of the National Care Service is important - varying standards of home care for the elderly council-by-council limit their ability to carry on living at home in a way that is unfair and wasteful.

I detected the hand of some Aussie-politics following No10 SPADs in the summation - it came within an inch of repeating the Paul Keating phrase "a victory for the true believers". Like Keating, after this speech the successor to a 3 election winning Labour leader may just pull off a surprise 4th term.

Monday, September 28, 2009

YouGov Daily Tracker Poll

The fightback commences:

CON 39% (-1) LAB 29% (+5) LD 20% (-1)

These changes are worth an extra 45 Labour MPs and would result in a hung parliament.

We are all fighters not quitters now

Lord Mandelson's speech just now was easily the best conference speech by anyone not Labour Party Leader I have seen.

He has single-handedly restored the morale of the Party and set out very clearly the way in which Labour can win next year.

Tony Blair said in 1996 “My project will be complete when the Labour Party learns to love Peter Mandelson”.

I think judging from the reaction to Peter's speech we just got there.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Memo from Jiminy Cricket

Good to know Paul Richards reads his Labour First bulletins, which he describes here as "like getting regular memos from Jiminy Cricket": http://www.progressonline.org.uk/columns/column.asp?c=274

The full text of the Labour First newsletter he quotes is:

"Conference – Labour’s last chance for a historic fourth term

The 2009 Annual Conference represents Labour’s last chance to demonstrate the unity and sense of purpose needed to win a historic fourth term.

True to form, both the Bennite hard left and the Compass soft left are focussed not on the threat of a Tory government but on talking down Labour’s achievements in government. Sounding like the Monty Python “what have the Romans done for us?” sketch they are creating a pernicious myth of leadership betrayal of the grassroots which is calculated to depress and alienate Labour’s core vote and our activists.

Bizarrely, the main thing the left can come up with to debate at Conference this year is not a raft of visions of a socialist future, but a proposal to tinker with conference procedures to reintroduce the divisive Contemporary Resolutions abolished in 2007. Comrades who enjoy passing resolutions may find they have many years to debate them – in the complete impotence of opposition while the Tories ravage our communities – if they focus on looking for ways to bash the leadership rather than explaining our achievements to the voters.

Ideologically, the left’s cupboard is bare. A recent high-brow speech by Jon Cruddas, the Benn de nos jours, name-dropped multiple philosophers, not one of whom is likely to be a household name in his marginal Dagenham constituency, but failed to come up with any policy prescription more original than “abolish Trident”, a golden oldie from the 1980s. Unilateral nuclear disarmament is as wrong a proposal now as it was when it lost Labour the 1983 and 1987 elections.

Equally depressingly, some Ministers seem more excited about the prospect of a future Labour leadership election in opposition than they do about avoiding going into opposition in the first place; whilst others deserted the fight for Labour’s re-election entirely when they resigned in the last reshuffle. A lot more focus is needed from our top team on the General Election and communicating with the electorate, and a lot less on refighting the last leadership election or positioning for the next one for the benefit of an internal party audience.

Those of us on the common-sense wing of Labour need to keep our heads amidst all this panicking and manoeuvring and concentrate on the job in hand – defending Labour’s record in government, attacking the opposition, and developing popular policies for a fourth term that resonate with ordinary voters.

We have a lot to be proud of about our Government. The minimum wage; tax credits; massive investment in schools and hospitals; reduced crime; urban regeneration; a society more at ease with diversity; a sure-footed response to the global recession that saw off a potentially devastating crisis and is already producing tentative signs of a recovery.

And we have everything to warn voters about the Tories. Beneath Cameron’s PR gloss lies an unreconstructed Thatcherite economic policy of slash and burn that would see recession turn into depression and our public services decimated. These Tories are the blithering idiots who wanted to cut public spending in response to the financial crisis and opposed every measure Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling took to respond to the collapse of the banks. They are the top public school-educated elite whose first ideas for spending cuts are the Sure Start programme and Building Schools for the Future that are giving working class children fresh hope. They prioritise re-legalising fox-hunting, and in Europe they are forming alliances with a hotchpotch of racists, homophobes and climate change deniers. Cameron has so little control over his own rightwing and is so afraid of offending them – not least because it is the wing of the party he came from before recasting himself as voter-friendly – that he did nothing to discipline Daniel Hannan MEP for attacking the NHS. In fact Hannan, far from being on the fringes of the Tory Party, was invited by Cameron to be the keynote speaker at their 2009 spring conference! Hannan represents many in the Tory ranks who are in thrall to the small state ideology of the US Republicans – they see an economic downturn not as a problem but as an opportunity to slash public spending.

As for the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg appears to be little more than Cameron’s mini-me – appalling his own activists by calling for “savage cuts” to public services.

So the dividing lines are clear between a Labour Party that should, to quote our sister party in Sweden, be “proud but not satisfied” of everything we have achieved, and a Tory Party that would devastate everything we have worked so hard for.

We must use Conference to communicate those differences to the public.

And we need a manifesto that sets out responsible and common-sense policies to tackle the things voters consider a priority: crime, immigration, security, continued improvement in our schools and NHS, and above all a return to economic stability and prosperity.

If instead Labour retreats into leadership speculation, navel-gazing and self-criticism, we will have only ourselves to blame if the voters decide we are not addressing their concerns."

Council by-elections

Yesterday's results, including a big swing to Labour in the ward near Watford vacated by former blogger Kerron Cross when he quit politics to become spin-doctor to the Archbishop of York:

Toton & Chilwell Meadows Ward, Broxtowe BC. Con hold. Con 1,081 (56.6%, +8.3), LD 474 (24.8%, -0.3), Lab 298 (15.5%, +1.2), BNP 58 (3%, -4.1). Swing of 4.3% from LD to Con since 2007.

Elwick Ward, Hartlepool UA. Ind hold. Ind 233 (35.8%, -48.8), Con 201 (30.9%, +30.9), Ind 132 (20.3%, +20.3), Lab 40 (6.1%, -9.3), Ind 28 (4.3%, +4.3), LD 17 (2.6%, +2.6). Swing of 39.9% from Ind to Con since 2006.

Preston Ward, North Tyneside MBC. Con hold. Con 1,141 (55.8%, -14.2), Lab 503 (24.6%, -5.4), Public Services not Private Profit 174 (8.5%, +8.5), LD 152 (7.4%, +7.4), Green 73 (3.5%, +3.5). Swing of 4.4% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Bursville Ward, Tendring DC. Con hold. Con 455 (55.2%, -10.5), LD 227 (27.5%, +15.6), Lab 90 (10.9%, +1.1), Green 52 (6.3%, +6.3). Swing of 13.1% from Con to LD since 2007.

Hayling Ward, Three Rivers DC. Lab hold. Lab 487 (53.9%, +21.6), Con 190 (21.0%, -4.7), BNP 170 (18.8%, -11.5), LD 56 (6.2%, -1.4). Swing of 13.2% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Baroness Scotland

I just don't get why she isn't resigning.

She's not an irreplaceable political asset to the Government - until this scandal 99% of the public had never heard of her.

She is causing reputational damage to it by hanging on.

What is the point in her continuing in office?

Personally I'm uncomfortable with the signal sent to ordinary working people by a Labour minister employing a "housekeeper" - sounds like someone from the cast of "upstairs, downstairs" - whether that servant is an illegal immigrant or not. I thought we represented people who cooked their own dinners and did their own washing up, not the servant-employing classes.

Conference

My take on next week's Labour Annual Conference is in another place, here: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/Magazine/article.asp?a=4763

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No platform ... for Charles Clarke

I am a big fan of the work Progress does in providing a space for debate in the Labour Party, though I've always regretted that the cash generously provided to it by Lord Sainsbury has gone exclusively on these kind of think-tanky activities. The original concept floated to me by its founder Derek Draper (are we allowed to mention him anymore?) in 1995 when I was a humble NOLS representative on Progress' initial politburo or whatever it was called, was that it should be a fully fledged faction, throwing Sainsbury money and phonebank calls etc. at parliamentary selections to back ideologically pure New Labour candidates. Unfortunately it ended up run by folk who find ideas more exciting than head-counting at their local GC. I think there was room for it to do policy debate and factional organisation. Oddly Compass manages to do both while Progress never gets its hands dirty, leaving the heavy lifting to us in Labour First.

I do wish they would stop providing a platform for former Hackney Council Chair of Housing Charles Clarke though. We all know what he is going to say, he keeps saying the same thing. Progress hosting his speeches diminishes their reputation and influence and implies to the media that he represents some current of Labour opinion wider than his own, admittedly vast, ego. Tonight they've hosted him again and again he's tried to undermine the PM just days before a vital pre-election conference.

We can't stop Charles talking guff but he should do it from across a restaurant table by himself, not with the illusion of credibility provided by Progress' platform, or with them doing the legwork to find him an audience.

Rumours

Rumours have reached me of a falling out between Jon Cruddas MP, Compass' leading voice in Parliament, and Neal Lawson, the organisation's guru.

Jon Cruddas, whatever his sometimes wrong policy calls, is a Labour Party man through-and-through in the best sense, and apparently takes exception to the wholesale embrace of Lib/Lab broad tent politics in Neal's latest article in the Guardian, which was penned jointly with a leftwing Lib Dem.

With his keen sense of Labour history, Cruddas must be worried that the Lawson message seems to be evolving into one ironically once-espoused by ultra-Blairites, i.e. that the foundation of a separate Labour Party in 1900 as the LRC was a strategic mistake for the left, and we all should have stayed in the Liberals.

Cruddas also knows that if he ever wants to run for Deputy Leader again, association with people calling for cuddling up to the Lib Dems is political death for anyone seeking votes from the Labour activists who have to suffer Lib Dem campaign tactics at a local level.

Submarines

I'd prefer four not three. In fact five would make me feel more comfortable. My logic being that if you are spending £20 billion on a national strategic deterrent you might as well spend the extra few billion on a couple more boats to carry it as it is a bit silly to have said deterrent temporarily disabled if one of them has a crash and needs repairing - the total of four boats was always said to be the minimum needed to guarantee keeping one at sea all the time.

Though in fact I still haven't got over the abandonment of the "two power standard" for setting the size of the Royal Navy in 1912 i.e. equal to the next two biggest navies combined (some typical Liberal Minister called Churchill was running the Admiralty then).

I don't buy the "contributing to multilateral disarmament" argument. No one took any notice, let alone cut their own arsenals, when Blair cut the number of warheads from 200 to 160.

I would be interested to know why France considers it needs and can afford 300 warheads carried by a combination of four SSBNs and 60 airplane-launched nuclear missiles for its force de frappe. Maybe they anticipate someone being a future strategic threat that we don't.

Monday, September 21, 2009

This joke isn't funny anymore

Compass are proudly announcing that their chum, Green MEP and party leader Caroline Lucas, is speaking at the Compass/Tribune No Turning Back rally at Labour conference this Sunday (http://www.compassonline.org.uk/news/item.asp?n=5532).

Yes, that's right, a supposedly Labour-orientated organisation is giving a high profile platform, in Brighton, to the Green Party's parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion, a marginal Labour seat they are trying to take off us/gift to the Tories by splitting the left vote.

I'm disgusted.

If you were a Labour activist in Brighton fighting to defend this seat wouldn't you feel stabbed in the back by these idiots?

Seats to watch

Interesting news last week that Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price is standing down at the General Election from his Carmarthen East & Dinefwr seat to go and study in the US.

This currently looks like a relatively safe seat for Plaid (majority 6718) but has a history of yo-yoing between Labour and Plaid, often moving against the tide of the rest of the UK as the appeal of individual candidates and whether they have local roots in this heavily Welsh-speaking area can have a big impact.

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr was a Labour seat from 1997-2001 before being won by Price.

The previous Carmarthen seat before the 1997 boundary changes was Liberal from 1876 to 1929, Labour from 1929 to 1931, Liberal from 1931 to 1935, Labour from 1935 to 1945, Liberal from 1945 to 1957, Labour from 1957 to 1966, Plaid from 1966 to 1970, Labour from 1970 to Oct 1974, Plaid from Oct 1974 to 1979, then Labour from 1979 until its abolition in 1997.

One to watch for a counter-intuitive result on election night.

"Look to Norway"

As FDR said in 1942, "look to Norway".

Congratulations to our comrades in Det Norske Arbeiderparti on their re-election in last week's general election. The new government consists of the Labour Party, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party, with Labour's Jens Stoltenberg remaining PM.

The results were:

DNA (Labour Party) - 35.4% (up 2.7% from 2005) - 64 seats (up 3)

FRP (Progress Party - far right) - 22.9% (up 0.8%) - 41 seats (up 3)

Hoyre (conservatives) - 17.2% (up 3.1%) - 30 seats (up 7)

SV (Socialist Left) - 6.2% (down 2.6%) - 11 seats (down 4)

SP (Centre Party - agrarians) - 6.2% (down 0.3%) - 11 seats (unchanged)

KRF (Christian Democrats) - 5.5% (down 1.3%) - 10 seats (down 1)

Venstre (Radical liberals) - 3.9% (down 2%) - 2 seats (down 8)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Council by-elections

Yesterday's results:

Ripley & Marehay Ward, Amber Valley DC. Lab hold. Lab 585 (52.4%, +23.7), Con 531 (47.6%, -2.3). Swing of 13% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Sparkbrook Ward, Birmingham City Council. Respect hold. Respect 2495 (39.6%, -1.9), Lab 2228 (35.4%, -3.1), Con 799 (12.7%, +7.6), LD 506 (8%, +1.6), Green 213 (3.4%, +0.1), Ind 55 (0.9%, +0.9). Swing of 0.6% from Lab to Respect since 2008.

Amersham Division, Bucks CC. Con hold. Con 1840 (46.6%, -3.9), LD 1768 (44.8%, +0.1), UKIP 140 (3.5%, +3.5), Lab 106 (2.7%, -2.2), Green 95 (2.4%, +2.4). Swing of 2% from Con to LD since June this year.


Water Park Ward, Cotswold DC. LD hold. LD 894 (71.7%, +16.2), Con 353 (28.3%, -16.2). Swing of 16.2% from Con to LD since March 2008.

Beacon Ward, Newark & Sherwood DC. Con hold. Con 413 (48.2%, -0.7), LD 296 (34.6%, +7.8), Lab 147 (17.2%, -7.1). Swing of 4.3% from Con to LD since 2007.


Newark East Division, Notts CC. Con hold. Con 517 (45.2%, -6.4), LD 322 (28.1%, -2.3), Lab 198 (17.3%, -0.7), UKIP 107 (9.4%, +9.4). Swing of 2.1% from Con to LD since June this year.

South Bank Ward, Redcar & Cleveland BC. Lab hold. Lab 442 (43.6%, -6.1), LD 354 (34.9%, +17.8), Ind 102 (10.1%, +1.6), UKIP 69 (6.8%, +6.8), Con 47 (4.6%, +0.1). Swing of 12% from Lab to LD since Oct 2008.

Overall not good results for the Tories. The Amber Valley one shows the impact on Labour of the BNP standing or not standing in a key parliamentary marginal - with a BNP candidate running in 2008 the Tories won this ward. There are mutterings about foul play in the Sparkbrook campaign due to the very high number of postal votes rejected -387 - because of non-matching signatures or dates of birth.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thanks for the warning, Nick

Good of Nick Clegg to warn Labour in today's Times that he intends to destroy us - the print edition even had a handy map of the Labour seats he wants to target.

Far from being potential coalition partners as some (even the great T Blair) misguidedly thought in the 1990s, Clegg reveals that the LDs dream of reversing their early 20th century eclipse by Labour and returning to a scenario where politics is a two party fight between rival middle-class parties representing nuanced versions of the same ideology. This would of course mean no voice for trade unions or working people in Parliament.

Far from being progressive, the LDs form coalitions with the Tories in twice as many hung local authorities as they do with Labour, and as part of the ELDR group in the European Parliament they consistently vote with the right and against the left on major issues.

Our Scandinavian sister parties have got liberalism sussed and refer to the Liberals and Conservatives collectively as "de borgerliga" - the middle-class block of parties.

Given Clegg's declaration of war on Labour, will our Victoria Street HQ finally abandon the non-aggression pact that has seen our national campaigns not lay a finger on them in three General Elections, with attack material such as "Liberal Demolition" having to be generated and researched by individual activists and MPs like Dan Norris, Tom Watson, Phil Woolas and John Spellar?

Time for the gloves to come off and Labour nationally to spell out the shambles the LDs are, their crazy policies and their dreadful record in power in local government.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Unions and selections

Yesterday’s Times ran an article claiming that “Union leaders are quietly preparing to push the Labour Party to the left after the next general election by installing favoured candidates in seats around the country.”

I’ve read a lot of ill-informed nonsense about Labour’s selection processes, but this article is really quite spectacular in its ignorance.

Where to start?
· First, most active trade unionists do not sit on the left of the Labour Party. They tend because of the nature of trade union activity – representing ordinary working people and negotiating deals with employers – to be pragmatic and moderate. That means they aren’t raving uber-Blairite ideologues either – more practical people who understand reality and how to organise and win elections. The candidates backed by trade unions in Labour parliamentary selections share those characteristics.
· Those smaller unions like RMT that really are very leftwing aren’t affiliated to the Labour Party so have no influence on Labour’s selections.
· The people to the left of Labour within bigger unions (e.g. one-time SWPer Jerry Hicks in Unite) don’t have a role in their union’s input into Labour selections because that function is usually confined to union members who are also Labour Party members.
· Most trade unions haven’t been that brilliant at helping their members navigate their way to selection as Labour candidates on a systematic basis. The exceptions are the GMB in the north of England and the Amicus section of Unite. The other affiliated unions have been pretty amateurish in the support provided – though some of their individual officials or activists have got selected on their own efforts and merits.
· Unions can’t “install favoured candidates”. It is Labour Party members who pick parliamentary candidates. All unions can do is nominate where they are affiliated to a CLP – which is fairly useless unless you are also capable of picking up nominations from party branches – and train and support their favoured candidates.
· In the last two rounds of selections there’s no evidence of any great surge of union-backed selection winners. The last big union intake was 2001 when union officials like Tom Watson, Mark Tami and Kevan Jones got in. Since then the people within the old AEEU who understood how to help people get selected have been sidelined by Derek Simpson.
· The class composition of those PPCs backed by unions and those not is roughly similar. This is because if you are talented enough for your union to want to see you in Parliament then you would already have been plucked off the shopfloor and made a full-time official. Union full-timers are by any measure – pay, status, etc. – just as “middle class” as lawyers, lobbyists or full-time councillors. In fact many of them are ex-Labour Students activists who wanted to carry on working full-time in a quasi-political job when they graduated from student politics.
· Within those PPCs selected with union backing, a disproportionate number will be from white collar sections of their unions – the APEX and NULO bits of GMB, the ACTS bit of TGWU, much of the old MSF etc. I.e. those union branches that recruit lawyers, full-time councillors, officials of other unions, Labour Party staff etc. These people share exactly the same political characteristics as any other similarly active Labour Party member.
· Similarly, those people active enough in the Labour Party to seek parliamentary selection are almost always going to be active in a union too. If you are a Labour activist you are usually going to be committed to the values of trade unionism. For the Times to get excited about 75% of Labour PPCs having union backing is like getting excited because 75% of rain is wet.
· The examples picked by the Times are flawed. They cite Unison’s Lillian Greenwood as an example of union intervention in a selection but her victory, whilst she’s on the soft left, was actually a shock defeat for the hard left candidate Christine Shawcroft. They cite Chuka Umunna of Compass as a union-backed candidate but he is a middle-class lawyer who beat Steve Reed who was strongly backed by Unite/Amicus. They cite Rachel Reeves as a “on the Blairite wing of the party, with links to pressure groups such as Progress” when in fact Rachel is close to the Brown camp and has been a member of the National Political Committee of Unite/Amicus, and as such got union backing when she was selected.
· The vast majority of Labour candidates in winnable seats, whether union-backed or not, pass the “Luke Akehurst thinks they are sound” test. This suggests the PLP isn’t going to veer sharply leftwards post-election.

I declare a prejudicial interest as a member of the Unite Parliamentary Panel. Presumably based on the quality of the analysis in their article, if I get selected somewhere the Times will cite that as evidence of Derek Simpson packing the PLP with lefties.

Tory defence cuts

It was interesting that George Osborne, who as far as I know has little track record of interest in or study of defence matters, chose to highlight three major defence procurement programmes as targets for cancellation yesterday – the A400M transport aircraft, Tranche 3 of the Eurofighter, and the CVF Future Aircraft Carriers. Cutting the aircraft carriers implies dropping out of the Joint Strike Fighter programme as well – no carriers, no need for planes for them – though I don’t know if Osborne knows that.

I imagine Liam Fox and other shadow defence ministers like Gerald Howarth, who I stood against in the Aldershot parliamentary constituency in 2001, will be fuming at the pre-emption by Osborne of the Strategic Defence Review they would want to run if they end up in the MoD after the General Election.

Is Osborne saying the Armed Forces just don’t need these capabilities or that cheaper alternatives would be sought? I can see you could buy off-the-shelf transport aircraft from overseas instead of A400M – though the reduced cost would be offset by the complete absence of any industrial or economic benefit to the UK – but aircraft carriers you either build or you don’t – no aircraft carriers means no air cover for land or naval operations any further away than our land-based aircraft can reach, so basically no UK involvement in any crisis at a distance unless a friendly country provides the air cover.

Will the US see us as carrying any diplomatic weight if our contribution to future military crises is limited by not having these bits of kit? What sort of “Special Relationship” will we be able to claim when Brazil and India are able to contribute carriers to coalition efforts and we are not?

The RAF won’t be happy to see two of their key programmes axed, and the Royal Navy faces basically becoming a coastguard if it doesn’t have aircraft carriers to provide air cover for its ships and the Army’s ground forces anywhere in the world. Seamen and airmen have votes.

So do the people who make aircraft and ships. What would be the impact on the UK’s recovery from recession of cutting three high-technology programmes and the skilled manufacturing jobs associated with them?

And what is the potential political impact of Osborne targeting these programmes for cuts?

These are the parliamentary constituencies in the Tory Top 160 target list that by my reckoning would see job losses if these programmes go:
· Portsmouth North – near to CVF production
· Clwyd West - near to A400M wing production in Broughton
· Bristol West – near to A400M supply chain in Filton
· Filton & Bradley Stoke - A400M supply chain
· City of Chester – near to A400M wing production in Broughton
· Stroud – near to A400M supply chain in Filton
· Bristol NW - near to A400M supply chain in Filton
· Pendle – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Ribble South – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Portsmouth South – CVF production
· Stevenage – missiles for the Eurofighter
· Rossendale & Darwen – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Edinburgh South – near to radar production for the Eurofighter
· Blackpool N&C – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Bolton West - missiles for the Eurofighter
· Bolton NE - missiles for the Eurofighter
· Morecambe & Lunsdale – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Lancaster & Fleetwood – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Barrow-in-Furness – CVF production
· Hyndburn – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Lancashire West – near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Edinburgh N & Leith - near to radar production for the Eurofighter
· Chorley - near to Eurofighter production at Warton and Samlesbury
· Bristol East - near to A400M supply chain in Filton

Labour MPs and PPCs in those seats should be using Osborne’s statement as a key campaigning message. Tory PPCs in BAE Systems’ Lancashire heartland must be spitting feathers.

I’m fairly sure that if the case was explained properly the public would want more spent on equipping our armed forces at a time when they are in harm’s way in Afghanistan, not less. I think Bob Ainsworth got this wrong in his speech yesterday and should be making the case in Whitehall for the MoD budget to be ring-fenced from any coming spending cuts.

The unions ought to be exercised about this too. Watching TUC Conference you would think that trade unions only represented public sector workers, but Unite and GMB represent the highly skilled engineers and shipbuilders who will lose their jobs if these programmes are cut. They should be saying that there is no public service is more “frontline” than the defence of the nation, and on that basis it should not face cuts any more than schools or hospitals should.

Before the comments explode with accusations of bias, I’ll pre-empt them with a declaration of a prejudicial interest – I work, amongst other clients, for companies in the defence sector – though not the ones that are the prime contractors on any of the programmes named by Osborne.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Number 5

Apparently this is the 5th most popular Labour blog. The full top 100 is here: http://www.totalpolitics.com/blogs/index.php/2009/09/11/top-100-labour-blogs

Well done to Tom H, Hopi, Alex S and Alastair. Good company to be in/be beaten by.

Council by-election results

Yesterday's results, including a good Labour gain in a 3-way fight versus Greens and Tories in Leicester:

Drayton Ward, Daventry BC. Con hold. Con 314 (33.9%, -14.1), Lab 158 (17%, -1.9), LD 138 (14.9%, +14.9), BNP 133 (14.3%, -18.8), Ind 129 (13.9%, +13.9), Soc Alt 55 (5.9%, +5.9). Swing of 6.1% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Yelvertoft Ward, Daventry BC. Con hold. Con 382 (79.7%, +10.8), LD 97 (20.3%, +7.3). Swing of 1.8% from LD to Con since 2006.

Welland Ward, Harborough DC. LD hold. LD 600 (54.8%, +7.2), Con 373 (34.1%, +5.4), BNP 122 (11.1%, +11.1). Swing of 0.9% from Con to LD since 2007.

Castle Ward, Leicester City Council. Lab gain from Green. Lab 611 (31.7%, +5.2), Green 519 (26.9%, -8.5), Con 435 (22.6%, +7.2), LD 292 (15.1%, -3.1), UKIP 41 (2.1%, -0.6), Liberal 31 (1.6%, -0.1). Swing of 6.9% from Green to Lab since 2007.

Westoe Ward, South Tyneside MBC. Ind hold. Ind 694 (30.6%, -35), Lab 567 (25%, +6.1), Con 320 (14.1%, +3.2), BNP 266 (11.7%, +11.7), LD 225 (9.9%, +9.9), Ind 194 (8.6%, +8.6). Swing of 20.6% from Ind to Lab since 2008.

Cheadle & Gatley Ward, Stockport MBC. LD hold. LD 2625 (52.9%, +7.5), Con 2005 (40.4%, -5.4), Lab 143 (2.9%, -5.9), UKIP 96 (1.9%, +1.9), Green 91 (1.8%, +1.8). Swing of 6.5% from Con to LD since 2008.

Lickhill Ward, Wyre Forest DC. Kidderminster Health Concern hold. Health Concern 643 (48.1%, -1.5), Con 512 (38.3%, -1.6), Lab 140 (10.5%, nc), LD 41 (3.1%, +3.1). Swing of 0.1% from Con to KHC since 2008.

Heworth Ward, City of York UA. Lab hold. Lab 876 (34%, -2.7), LD 608 (23.6%, +11.5), Con 591 (23%, +2.3), Green 302 (11.7%, -6.2), BNP 172 (6.7%, -5.9), Loony 25 (1%, +1). Swing of 7.1% from Lab to LD since 2007.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Why the fuss about election night?

Despite enjoying my telly appearance with him on last year's BBC local elections coverage, I can't get as excited about "saving election night" as Iain Dale is (http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2009/09/save-general-election-night.html).

Anyone who is really active in politics can never watch the election night programmes anyway as they are actually at a count.

Personally the last thing I want to do after 15 hours of polling day campaigning is to immediately spend another 2-6 hours standing up scrutinising equally tired counting staff and arguing with the Returning Officer and other party agents over whether a smiley face is a valid vote or which party's line on the ballot the apex of a wonkily placed cross falls into. I always seem to get stuck at counts that last forever - until dawn and then reconvened the next day in Bristol NW '92, until 4.30am in Aldershot in 2001, until about the same time in Castle Point in 2005, until 8 or 9am in Hackney in the 1998 local elections.

Counting at these times naturally leads to exhausted counters and party scrutineers, and to mistakes being made - votes or bundles of votes placed in the wrong pile or tray for instance. In a close seat it is not impossible for counter tiredness to affect the result.

I've been at a parliamentary count where counter tiredness led to a bundle of 50 votes for the Tories being lost on the floor of the hall, then reappearing and flipping which party won the seat. I've been at a council count where sheer exhaustion and confusion at the end of a 10 hour count meant the agent failed to ask for a recount in a tight ward, and that ward determined control of the borough.

It's better for accuracy of the result and the health of the staff and party volunteers involved to count in the cold light of day on a Friday morning after a good night's sleep.

Seats in Northern Ireland and some in Cornwall and Scotland have always counted on the Friday. 1945 was no less exciting an election result for the count taking place during the day because of the wait for military postal votes. Council counts held on Fridays are altogether calmer and more civilised.

Election counts are not primarily designed as spectator sports or good telly. They are held to accurately record the views of the voters, not as political theatre. Let's hold them in daylight conducted by people not suffering from sleep deprivation.

Hackney GCSE results

There was quite a heated debate when I posted about the GCSE results from Hackney's Mossbourne City Academy.

In the interests of completeness/transparency, here are the results from all schools in Hackney. These are the provisional results at GCSE for the nine secondary schools. There are a further three new City Academies in Hackney whose first cohorts of children have not reached GCSE age yet, and one more to open. The new indicator is the percentage of pupils with five or more A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths (previously it was five A* to C GCSEs):
Cardinal Pole 51%
Clapton Girls 49%
Hackney Free and Parochial 31%
Haggerston Girls 49%
Mossbourne Community Academy 84%
Our Lady’s Convent 69%
Skinners' Company School for Girls 30%
Stoke Newington Media and Arts College 48%
Yesodey Hatorah School for Girls 83%

Clapton Girls and Skinners' results are slightly lower than they were last year. The trend overall is up, in some cases dramatically. Our Lady’s Convent has had very much improved results, Haggerston, Hackney Free and Cardinal Pole have all improved by 10% or more.

Mossbourne has set a new bar for a mixed, non-denominational school, with 84% of its pupils getting five A* to C GCSE’s including English and Maths. Mossbourne has a comprehensive intake, its pupil profile being entirely representative of the make up of the Borough like the other mixed schools.

The national average for this indicator in 2008 was 47.6%. The national average for 2009 will not be known until January.

The average for Hackney in 2009, with the caveat that these results have yet to be confirmed, is 52%.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Council by-elections

Two wildly contrasting results for Labour last night - a very good hold in Plymouth and a loss of a previously safe ward in Chatham, partly because of controversy over candidate selection:

Hallow Ward, Malvern Hills DC. LD gain from Con. LD 504 (61.6%, +16.5), Con 314 (38.4%; -16.5). Swing of 16.5% from Con to LD since 2007.

Luton & Wayfield Ward, Medway UA. Con gain from Lab. Con 1042 (36.9%, +10.8), Lab 1038 (36.7%, -12.3), LD 223 (7.9%, +7.9), UKIP 200 (7.1%, +7.1), BNP 186 (6.6%, +6.6), Ind 87 (3.1%, +3.1), Green 51 (1.8%, +1.8). Swing of 11.6% from Lab to Con since 2007.

Ham Ward, Plymouth CC. Lab hold. Lab 1243 (44%, +2.7), Con 676 (23.9%, -15.7), UKIP 442 (15.6%, +15.6), Ind 204 (7.2%, +7.2), LD 181 (6.4%, -6.8), BNP 82 (2.9%, +2.9). Swing of 9.2% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Southwick Ward, Wiltshire CC. Ind gain from Con. Ind 385 (37.2%, +37.2), LD 315 (30.5%, -8), Con 273 (26.4%, -34.3)UKIP 61 (5.9%, +5.9). Swing of 22.6% from LD to Ind since June this year.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Home

Apologies for the lack of posts since Monday.

I've been busy getting home from hospital after a five month stay, during which I was diagnosed with POEMS syndrome (a tumour that produces antibodies that attack the nervous system and hence cause muscular weakness), treated with radiotherapy and then had two months of intensive physiotherapy.

I've recovered from a low point of being stuck in bed with my legs out of action, my trunk muscles weakened and my hands not functioning properly.

I can now walk in the gym with a splint on my weaker leg and two physios holding my hands for balance. Rest of the time I need a wheelchair. Independent indoor walking should follow in the New Year after a readmission for another month of intensive physio. Getting rid of the wheelchair completely could take up to two years. Hopefully I will avoid a relapse of the illness, which would require treatment with chemotherapy.

I'd like to publicly thank all the staff who looked after me in the Acute Care Unit and Lamb Ward at the Homerton Hospital; John Young Ward and the Neurological Rehabilitation Unit at the National Hospital for Neurology & Neurosurgery; and in the haematology and radiotherapy teams at University College Hospital. I feel privileged to have met such professional and caring people.

Thanks also to my fellow patients for their company; to friends, work colleagues and Labour comrades for visiting me; and to my family, particularly my partner Linda and son Jed for their love and support.

My normal levels of offline political activity resume shortly - online it's never stopped.

Meanwhile I'm getting used to life on wheels and enjoying being at home for the first time in a very long time.

 
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