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 30, 2009

Council by-election

After a couple of bumper crops, there was just the one council by-election yesterday:

Huntingdon N Ward, Huntingdonshire DC. LD hold in a split ward. LD 243 (32.6%, +2.7), Con 213 (28.6%, -18.6), UKIP 167 (22.4%, +14.1), Lab 123 (16.5%, +1.8). Swing of 10.7% from Con to LD since 2008.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking the biscuit

Remember the media frenzy about Gordon Brown "dithering" when asked what biscuit he likes best on Mumsnet?

According to The First Post, it was all made up:

http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/55261,news-comment,news-politics,gordon-brown-biscuitgate-at-last-a-crumb-of-truth

They quote Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts as saying:

"The truth is that Gordon Brown didn't follow the live chat on the screen directly - he answered the questions grouped and fed to him by Mumsnet HQ and his advisers. He didn't avoid the biscuit question because it didn't cross his path...
"We were conscious of not merely focusing on frivolities. Fun as biscuits are, access to the Prime Minister is precious and we would have hated to waste time on Rich Tea Fingers at the expense of miscarriage or school starting age. Plus, of course, we'd rather not be seen as a soft touch."

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blair for President

I think readers would expect me to like the idea of Tony Blair being the "EU President" when the post is created.

What I don't get are the reports that the Tories are trying to stop this happening.

In any other country, partisanship about a domestic former political opponent would be offset by pleasure that someone from your country is getting a coveted and prestigious position, which must be in the national interest, whatever party they are from. Added to that, Blair's views on European integration are by the standards of almost all other EU member states Eurosceptic, so he represents the nearest views to the Tories' on EU matters with a realistic chance of getting the job.

Would they really rather have some ultra-federalist from Belgium or wherever get the job than a Brit who is fairly pragmatic on further integration, just because the guy beat them in a few general elections? The main opposition to Blair's appointment other than from UK Tories is from the Benelux countries who know he would be a block to federalist ambitions of faster integration.

The Tories are cutting off their noses to spite their faces and looking pathetically partisan and sectarian. I'd go so far as to suggest it is unpatriotic to try to block a Brit from becoming President. So much for their attempts to portray themselves as the "heirs to Blair", they don't even back the man when his appointment is a no-brainer for UK diplomatic interests, such is their paranoia about him.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Griffin

I'm reserving judgement about the impact of Question Time on the BNP's level of support until we know more about who the eight million people were who watched it.

For your average usual QT viewer - mainly middle class - their hunch that Griffin is a crank and a very nasty one will have been confirmed. He spouted weird race theories about indigenous peoples, failed to rebut accusations he is a holocaust denier (mainly because the accusations are based on his own previous statements), and exhibited bizarre tics and mannerisms (I think that's where Jack Straw got the idea of comparing him to Dr Strangelove, which sailed over the heads of non-Kubrick and Sellers fans in the audience). Both Straw and Baroness Warsi went up in my estimation, handling a difficult task very well. Bonnie Greer was fantastic - belittling him by being patronising.

Whatever Griffin is, he lacks the skills as a political communicator of his ideological forebearers Hitler and Goebbels. They wouldn't have stuck doggedly to the race theory stuff, they would have argued about the economic plight of their target voters and then blamed the Jews or another racial scapegoat for causing it. Griffin bizarrely failed to address the bread-and-butter social issues for working class communities such as jobs and housing which are clearly fueling rising BNP support. His rather whingey version of fascism is also not that attractive for all but the most self-pitying members of the Aryan Master Race. Hitler told them they were super humans who would conquer the world and create a thousand year Reich. Griffin told them they are victims, "aboriginals", the subjects not the potential perpetrators of genocide, and so downtrodden that they should be upset about the absence of a tick-box for "English" on the census form - hardly the Versailles Treaty in terms of blows struck against the herrenvolk.

My worry is that Griffin still managed to get the cores concepts of BNP ideology across, using deliberately inflammatory language. He chose to do that rather than push a softer message. That was calculation not incompetence. He's not primarily looking to compete for votes directly with Labour or the Tories. Not yet. At this stage he needs members, cadres who buy into pure neo-Nazism rather than fluffy electoralism, because without members you can't run council candidates or deliver leaflets - most of the public have never had the chance to vote BNP outside Euro elections because they have too few committed members to run candidates everywhere. He will have recruited members and activists last night. And he's looking for votes from people who haven't voted in the last few elections because they feel alienated from politics. The people Marx called the lumpen proletariat ("historically the most reactionary class") and the French call Le Marais ("the swamp" - the people who used to vote Communist and now vote for Le Pen). Those people won't be impressed by Straw or Warsi's eloquence. They probably empathise with a guy who looked got at, was inarticulate and prejudiced. Because if you were feeling got at yourself, and you were inarticulate and prejudiced you probably find it refreshing to see a politician like yourself on TV.

People have bleated on about the democratic right of Griffin to be on TV. I don't believe in extending democratic rights to people who want to overthrow parliamentary democracy. In Germany, where they learned some hard lessons about democrats not being robust enough in defending democracy, the law can be used to ban parties that threaten the constitution - they are debating a ban on the NPD right now. I'm not sure if this is the solution but we seem to be remarkably liberal towards the BNP in a way they must feel confirms all their feelings about effete mainstream politicians.

I wonder what people feel would be the appropriate reaction if Griffin won a General Election? I guess if you accept he can appear on Question Time as a legitimate participant then you would accept he could become Prime Minister/Fuhrer. Would we meekly say, "hey, it's a democracy, the bad guys won" and allow ourselves to be carted off to the camp for former democratic political activists and other undesirables , or would we try to overthrow a BNP government by force on the basis that no fascist government can ever legitimately govern a democratic state? I'd like to think we'd do the latter, and hence I rather admire the people who protested outside the BBC yesterday. This may seem a crazy, hypothetical question to raise but in 1924 the Nazis had 3% support, the same as the BNP today, and were considered a fringe party. Nine years later they were in power.

Council By-elections

Last night's results:

Abingdon Dunmore Ward, Vale of the White Horse DC. LD hold. LD 796 (52.6%, +0.1), Con 602 (39.8%, -1.4), Green 71 (4.7%, +4.7), Lab 43 (2.8%, -4.5). Swing of 0.8% from Con to LD. This is in the LD held marginal of Oxford W & Abingdon.

Sutton New Hall Ward, Birmingham City Council. Con hold. Con 1633 (58.3%, -1.4), Lab 505 (18%, +3.1), UKIP 344 (12.3%, +12.3), LD 319 (11.4%, +0.7). Swing of 2.3% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Sibsey Ward, East Lindsey DC. Con gain from Ind. Unopposed.

Eriswell and The Rows Ward, Forest Heath DC. Con hold. Con 400 (45.8%, -24.4 ) LD 346 (39.6%, +39.6), UKIP 128 (14.7%, -15.1). Swing of 32% from Con to LD.

Borehamwood North Division, Herts CC. Con hold. Con 982 (44.5%, +5.6), Lab 928 (42.1%, +13.1), LD 170 (7.7%, -4.6), Ind 125 (5.7%, +5.7). Swing of 3.8% from Con to Lab since June this year. A good result for Labour, only missing the seat because of the intervention of the independent candidate Frank Ward, a former Labour councillor and dad of Watford MP Claire Ward.

Potters Bar Oakmere Ward, Hertsmere DC. Con hold. Con 679 (76.6%, +5.4), Lab 207 (23.4%, -5.4). Swing of 5.4% from Lab to Con since 2008.

Tintwistle Ward, High Peak DC. Con hold. Con 339 (69.2%, +14.3), Lab 111 (22.6%, -22.5), LD 40 (8.2%, +8.2). Swing of 18.4% from Lab to Con since 2007. This is a very good result for the Tories in a Labour-held parliamentary marginal.

Nevile Ward, Rushcliffe BC. Con 381 (50.9%, -19.3), LD 368 (49.1%, +19.3). Swing of 19.3% from Con to LD since 2007.

Jubilee Ward, Wyre DC. Con hold. Con 492 (38.3%, +2.6), UKIP 345 (26.8%, -4.9), Lab 331 (25.8%, +1.9), BNP 116 (9%, +9). Swing of 3.8% from UKIP to Con since 2007. This is in the Labour-held Blackpool N & Cleveleys parliamentary marginal.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The BNP on Question Time

The BBC has got itself into an awful mess over allowing Nick Griffin on Question Time, basically because it had already set the threshold for allowing political parties occasional representation on the show as them having "nationally elected representatives", thereby allowing the BNP, UKIP and Greens through on the basis of their MEPs, and Respect because it has Mr Galloway in the House of Commons.

They should have foreseen that the implications of letting minor parties like the Greens, UKIP and Respect have a platform on Question Time was that one day they wouldn't be able to refuse a seat to the BNP, but I guess they thought Nigel Farage and Salma Yaqoob make good telly compared to the often boringly on-message folk the main parties usually offer up.

The reality is that parties that only have opinion poll ratings of 1, 2 or 3%, or can get MEPs elected when people protest vote but not MPs when they choose a government, or whose support is confined to a tiny geographical part of the UK, shouldn't expect to appear on panel shows as though they were equal with the government and opposition. The BBC is creating a pluralism in British politics which does not reflect the preferences of the electorate. We now know the BNP has about 11,000 members yet the BBC accords their leader a platform that makes him appear equal in credibility to representatives of parties with 200,000 members, pushing 10 million votes, thousands of councillors and hundreds of MPs.

A fair rule that would have stopped the BNP being entitled to grandstand on this national platform would be one of proportionality. There are five guests on the show so you should need 1/5 of the vote in the most recent General Election to get on the show, i.e. only Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems need apply. It might make for livelier TV and be more meaningful in terms of reflecting where political debate really takes place in the UK to have two Labour and two Tory politicians from different wings of the party on some editions - after all, the minority currents in the main parties - the left of the Labour Party and the right of the Tories - have millions more people who subscribe to their ideologies than any of the minor parties do, and have many elected MPs.

When the show is broadcast from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the threshold could be amended to allow parties that got approximately 1/5 of the vote in those territories in the last General Election to participate - the four main Northern Ireland parties (though the SDLP and UUP only got 17%), the SNP (again they got 17%) and maybe, if you round-up, Plaid Cymru though with 13% they aren't really even a national party in Wales.

If they want to occasionally include Nigel Farage it should be made clear this is for comedy value not because he has some entitlement to appear.

Tory AWS

I have to confess a sneaky admiration for the tactical skill of David Cameron in announcing that a handful of parliamentary selections will be ring-fenced for women candidates only.

The Tory blogosphere is up-in-arms, particularly the sections of it who are boys who fancy their chances of becoming Tory MPs. I always find it a bit cringe-inducing when male wannabee MPs of any party attack All Women Shortlists (AWS) or their female equivalents advocate them - isn't it better for those with a prejudicial interest to shut up and let people who don't stand to personally benefit from the position they take on this do the arguing?

Of course, Cameron wanted a little issue where he could take on the internet boys, the hardliners and backwoodsmen and show them who's boss, and they've walked right into his trap. It's hardly the expulsion of Militant, the ditching of unilateralism, OMOV or new Clause IV, all of which incidents on the long Labour march back to power required genuine political courage for leaders who would have lost their jobs if they hadn't won the key votes, but it serves as a Clause IV moment lite that makes Cameron look tough and like he is changing his party against grassroots hostility, even though it's meaningless when the Tories have already completed almost all their selections.

Oddly, the same Tory bloggers who are going apoplectic about losing their opportunity to run in Spelthorne or where ever to women from their own party were completely relaxed when Cameron introduced primaries which mean that people who aren't even Tories can out-vote Tory activists in picking candidates, thereby destroying the tiny elements of internal democracy that exist in the Tory party. They also showed less interest when Cameron gifted two notionally Tory-held seats in Kent to candidates who had been in the Labour Party barely five minutes previously, over the heads of long-serving and better qualified "real" Tories.

Cameron's AWS gesture also increases the already large number of potential Tory MPs who could owe their position in the Commons not to their own political status but to careful sponsorship, intervention and rule-tweaking by the Leader's Office, and hence will be totally loyal to him. I wonder if he has been swapping ideas with Harriet Harman.

Finally, even though the electorate when they are asked about it don't like the "politically-correct" idea of AWS, they do like the idea of more women MPs and may have been slightly put off by the prospect of a ruling party with more Old Etonian MPs than women ones. Cameron knows the only way any party has ever managed to really increase the number of women MPs is Labour's use of AWS so he's prepared to ignore the rather un-Tory means to get the electorally attractive ends he wants.

One other oddity is that the thwarted boy candidates have got rather less to whinge about than their Labour equivalents. Labour has a couple of month long selection processes, a dislike of perceived carpet-baggers hawking themselves round the country to multiple seats until they get one (and a vigorous range of diary columnists prepared to mock anyone who does, as Shahid Malik experienced at the hands of the Guardian in the run-up to 2005 and to his credit toughed it out), and there is a propensity for CLPs to vote for local heroes rather than national party celebrities. This means that if you are a bloke in the Labour Party who wants to be an MP you usually get just one shot at selection in one seat in each four year cycle, and if the seat you are connected to or have been working on gets made an AWS by the NEC Org Sub, bad luck, you are very unlikely to be a candidate in that election. This is in contrast to the Tory Party where it is considered totally acceptable, rather than laughable, to apply for literally every winnable seat that comes up with no reference to local connections, be shortlisted in dozens before you win one, fight more than one at once and indeed in one famous case hust in two constituency selections on the same day, travelling between the two by helicopter! So a few AWSs won't stop the aggrieved Tory boys eventually gracing the green benches.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two new polls

Two new polls out tonight show Labour holding on to the 4-6% lift it got in the polls from its conference, and no comparable boost for the Tories, i.e. the Tory lead is only 2/3 what it was, and the Labour vote 1/4 higher than it was three weeks ago:

ComRes:
Con 40% (no change)
Lab 28% (no change)
LD 19% (no change)

YouGov:
Con 41% (-1)
Lab 30% (+2)
LD 17% (-2)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Primaries

The Tories lost the Bedford Mayoral election, counted today. This was after them making a big fuss about selecting their candidate by what they called a "primary" but was in fact an open caucus meeting (a primary is a selection ballot run either at polling stations or by post, not just a vote at a public meeting, however large). In this case it was affected by a very old-fashioned case of what the Australians call "branch stacking" - one candidate packing the meeting with family and friends, in this case from a specific ethnic/faith minority but it could as easily have been packing it with fellow trade unionists or WI or NFU members.

Perhaps now the rather silly debate over primaries will end, as the Tory model has been proven to produce election-losing candidates.

I find it particularly odd that Progress has spent so much time promoting the idea of primaries when there is no prospect of Labour adopting them because real ones cost £40,000 per constituency to run and no such resources exist in our party.

Activists in all parties would be better advised to put effort into recruiting members to their parties, so they become larger, better funded and more representative of the public, rather than naively speculating about importing US organisational models that were developed for specific US reasons (e.g. the absence of organised party structures between elections, elections that focus on candidate rather than party and the need to end the Tammany Hall boss politics that had previously controlled candidate selection).

David Cameron ought to think about copying some of Barack Obama's policies, such as deficit-funding a massive fiscal stimulus - the opposite of the Tory economic approach, rather than trying to be a British Obama by appropriating the word "change" and trying a few organisational gimmicks like these "pretend primaries".

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Council By-elections

Tonight's results:

St Helens Ward, Barnsley MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1520 (59.8%, +13.8), BNP 590 (23.2%, -7.1), Ind 171 (6.7%, -7.5), UKIP 94 (3.7%, +3.7), Con 89 (3.5%, -6), LD 78 (3.1%, +3.1). Swing of 10.5% from BNP to Lab since 2008. Loss of this seat would have lost Labour control of Barnsley.

Chineham Ward, Basingstoke & Deane DC. Con hold. Con 898 (63%, +19), LD 249 (17.5%, +7.7), Ind 163 (11.4%, -29.4), Lab 98 (6.9%< +1.4), Ind 18 (1.3%, +1.3). Swing of 5.7% from LD to Con since 2008.

Mayor of Bedford. LD gain from Ind. First Round: LD 9428 (26.8%, +2.6), Con 9,105 (25.9%, +1.3), Ind 7631 (21.7%), Ind 4316 (12.3%) (Combined Ind vote -2.7% compared to Independent Mayor Branston's vote in 2007), Lab 3482 (9.9%, -1), Green 1183 (3.4%). Swing of 0.7% from Con to LD since 2007. Final Round: LD 13552, Con 11543.

Hanworth & Birch Hill Ward, Bracknell Forest DC. Con hold. Con 640 (42.4%, -14.2), Lab 377 (25%, -1.9), LD 206 (13.7%, +13.7), UKIP 139 (9.2%, +9.2), Green 77 (5.1%, -11.3), BNP 70 (4.6%, +4.6). Swing of 6.2% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Heath Hayes East & Wimblebury Ward, Cannock Chase DC. LD gain from Lab. LD 314 (30%, +8.6), Con 300 (28.6%, -11.1), Lab 267 (25.5%, -0.2), BNP 116 (11.1%, +11.1), UKIP 51 (4.9%, +4.9). Swing of 9.9% from Con to LD since 2008. This is in a long-shot (number 196) Tory parliamentary target seat.

Northgate Ward, Crawley BC. Lab gain from LD. Lab 527 (43.3%, +19), Con 446 (36.7%, +18.9), LD 230 (18.9%, -26.6), Justice 13 (1.1%, +1.1). Swing of 0.1% from Con to Lab since 2007. Labour picks up a councillor in the second most marginal parliamentary seat in the country.

Town Ward, LB Hammersmith & Fulham. Con hold. Con 970 (63.4%, +0.8), LD 289 (18.9%, +2.8), Lab 271 (17.7%, -3.6). Swing of 1% from Con to LD since 2006.

Boston NW Division, Lincolnshire CC. Con hold. Con 597 (38.7%, +13.2), BNP 581 (37.7%, +17.1), Lab 204 (13.2%, +1.9), Lib Dem 160 (10.4%, +3.2). Swing of 2% from Con to BNP since June this year.

The Runtons Ward, North Norfolk DC. Con hold. Con 524 (52.1%, +2), LD 454 (45.1%, -4.8), Green 14 (1.4%, +1.4), Lab 14 (1.4%, +1.4). Swing of 3.4% from LD to Con since 2007. A good Tory result in their number 155 target parliamentary seat.

Hipswell Ward, Richmondshire DC. Con hold. Con 144 (39%, +1.7), LD 126 (34.1%, +7.7), Ind 99 (26.8%, -9.6). Swing of 4.7% from Con to LD since 2007.

Middleham Ward, Richmondshire DC. Con hold. Con 253 (85.5%, +10), LD 43 (14.5%, -10). Swing of 10% from LD to Con since 2007.

Leyland St Mary's Ward, South Ribble DC. Con hold. Con 709 (74.9%, +6.3), Lab 237 (25.1%, +6.2). Swing of 0.1% from Lab to Con since 2007. This like the Crawley one is in a key Tory parliamentary target seat (number 50).

Taunton Lyngford Ward, Taunton Deane DC. LD hold. LD 523 (51%, +6.5), Con 274 (26.7%, -1.3), Lab 164 (16%, -11.6), UKIP 64 (6.2%, +6.2). Swing of 3.9% from Con to LD since 2007. This is in the Tories' number 26 target marginal seat.

Barrow selection

Both Iain Dale (http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2009/10/labour-selection-woes-in-barrow.html) and Alex Hilton (http://www.labourhome.org/?p=7875) are trying to throw dirt around regarding the likely selection of John Woodcock as PPC for Barrow-in-Furness.

This is somewhat bizarre as Barrow isn’t a last minute parachute exercise into a safe seat just before an election. It’s a relatively marginal seat and the selection is a full process with the local members in the driving seat making a democratic choice of Labour candidate.


Alex’s problem seems to be that John Woodcock is the runaway favourite and has won the support of every single ward party in the constituency. In the through-the-looking-glass world of metropolitan Labour hackery, John’s moderate politics and track record running Labour Students and working for sitting Barrow MP John Hutton and then for the PM are seen as handicaps and Alex can’t understand how such a candidate could win without jiggery-pokery. But in real world Barrow, outside the beltway, where the biggest local employer is the shipyard that builds Trident submarines, Labour people want a candidate with Woodcock’s politics and see his closeness to the MP they trust, Hutton, and to Gordon Brown, as endorsements worth something.

John Woodcock also happens to be an extremely able and intelligent young man. He will be a great asset to the PLP. It’s a shame that Alex can’t get over his jealousy and stop smearing someone who is winning on merit and because they are the right kind of candidate for that kind of seat.

Labour Future

It's an iron rule of Labour politics that every time Labour starts to recover in the polls, Charles Clarke does or says something to destabilise the leadership.

This time its a new grouping of MPs (lots of whom I like and respect) who have called themselves Labour Future http://www.labourfuture.net/. Unfortunately the involvement of Charles means no one will read their worthy policy essays - instead they'll just assume it's an anti-Brown vehicle. Indeed that's already how it is being reported.

This is an almost exact re-run, with a cheaper website and less illustrious patrons, of the short-lived "The 2020 Vision" project launched by Clarke and Alan Milburn in February 2007 when they were pondering running a candidate against Brown for leader.

My hunch is that "Labour Future" will have about as much impact on Labour's future as "The 2020 Vision" did, i.e. nil.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tory lead slashed by nearly a third

This won't be the main political headline tomorrow but maybe it should be: the net result of the conference season has, according to tonight's Populus poll, to make the next General Election competitive again.

The poll reads:

Con 40% (-1)
Lab 30% (+3)
LD 18% (unchanged)

i.e. very near to hung parliament territory.

Change is since mid-September.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Reaction to the Tories in Hackney

According to the Times conference diary (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6867255.ece):

"We don’t like your sort here. A reminder that much of the country is yet to be won over by the Tories. One council candidate in Hackney, a Labour stronghold in East London, told us of a recent canvassing trip: “I knocked on one front door and as soon as I said, ‘Hello, I’m your Conservative Party candidate’, he punched me in the face.”"

Obviously I don't condone violence, but perhaps given what Tory policies would do to my constituents here in Hackney, they should try phone canvassing instead.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Council by-elections

Tonight's results, more of the recent pattern of poor Tory results except in West End Ward, Westminster, where turnout was just 12%:

Penrith West Ward, Eden DC. LD gain from Ind. LD 387 (51.7 %, +51.7), Con 157 (21.0 %, -17.5), BNP 102 (13.6 %, +13.6), Ind 58 (7.8%, -37.5), Lab 26 (3.5%, -12.7), Green 18 (2.4%, +2.4). Swing of 34.6% from Con to LD since 2007.

Grange Hill Ward, Epping Forest DC. Con hold. Con 454 (52.5%, -31), LD 411 (47.5%, +31). Swing of 31% from Con to LD since 2008.

March West Ward, Fenland DC. Con hold. Con 830 (53.9%, -5.2), Lab 460 (29.9%, +29.9), LD 250 (16.2%, -24.7). Swing of 17.6% from Con to Lab since 2007.

Pickering East Ward, Ryedale DC. Liberal Party gain from Lib Dem. Liberal 392 (42.8%), LD 274 (29.9%), Ind 213 (23.3%), Ind 37 (4%). The 2007 election was uncontested so no swing calculable. The Liberal Party (people who opposed the merger with the SDP to form the Lib Dems) already held the other seat in the ward and has 29 councillors around the country.

West End Ward, City of Westminster. Con hold. Con 526 (60.8%, +10.3), Lab 169 (19.5%, +0.6), LD 108 (12.5%, -1.2), Green 62 (7.2%, -6.3). Swing of 5.5% from Lab to Con since 2006.

Cameron's Speech

Cameron's speech was obviously technically great and I don't doubt his sincerity, but it left me wondering what has happened to any idea beyond presentational of modernising the Tories?

Unlike New Labour which was a fundamental reappraisal of the ideological direction of the party and actually had buy in from at least a strong minority of party activists and a majority of the PLP, the Tory modernisation scheme seems limited to a few nods to environmentalism (even those have now gone missing from Cameron's speeches), a curbing of the worst bigotry of the past, and a leader who has clearly studied the Tony Blair guide to public presentation.

Cameron's speech and its context were as though Blair had got up to speak at his final pre-1997 conference without having abolished Clause IV (in the Tory case the analogous sacred cow is their anti-European stance) and made a speech aimed firmly at the prejudices of his core vote without confronting the party and asking it to change at all, following his Shadow Chancellor having outlined a repeat, with bells on, of their early 1980s economic strategy. It's as though Blair in 1996 had just marched his MEPs out of the mainstream Party of European Socialists to join the communist group in the European Parliament.

Cameron's parliamentary candidates are not modernisers, most of them are from the Tory right. His activists and members have certainly not changed (a nauseating mix of paranoid Daily Mail readers and the very, very posh defending their class privileges if the conference delegates who spoke were anything to go by), as unlike New Labour pre-1997 the party membership has slumped not doubled. The traditional pro-European Tory left such as the Tory Reform Group remain marginalised and bitter about the political cross-dressing of former Thatcherite Special Advisers pretending to be moderates without renouncing their 1980s vintage economic and European policies. Right-wing headbangers like Daniel Hannan are lionised and promoted and get to give the keynote speech at spring conference, not expelled as Militant were when Labour modernised.

I heard nothing today from Cameron that Thatcher or Major could not have said. Nothing that indicated any lessons learned from the 1979-1997 period. No apology for past mistakes or renunciation of past policies. No indication that "Modern Conservatism" is any different ideologically or in policy from its previous incarnations. Nothing to indicate the Tories have changed at all - just that they hope 12 years in opposition has dulled memories of their last period in power.

Given what those of us old enough to remember Thatcher and Major know of their record then, the failure of Cameron to in any way move his party on and renounce its past as "Old Tory" is warning enough of what he would be like in Government. Read in conjunction with Osborne's specifically Thatcherite prescriptions on the economy and public spending, we know where they are headed: back to the future.

Cameron's sudden discovery of poverty as an issue ("don’t you dare lecture us about poverty... I learnt all about it at Eton and in the Bullingdon Club") rings hollow when he and Osborne are proposing policies that would deepen the recession, increase poverty and inequality and replicate all the worst aspects of the regime of the woman who inspired him to come into politics, Margaret Thatcher.

Reaction to Osborne's speech

The YouGov daily tracker poll that came out this evening reads:

Con 40% (-3)
Lab 31% (+2)
LD 18% (+2)

This is the best Labour poll rating since April and translates into a Tory parliamentary majority of only 4. The impact of Osborne setting out his slash and burn approach to the public finances seems to be worth up to 50 extra Labour MPs. After all, why would any of the 3 million public sector workers affected by Osborne's pay freeze but not Darling's one on the top 20% of their colleagues now vote Tory?

Or the over 2 million extra people who would lose their jobs, taking unemployment to 5 million, because of the deflationary impact of his measures turning the recession into a double dip one, according to economist David Blanchflower? He said of Tory plans to switch off Quantitative Easing:

"This is the most wildly dangerous thing I have seen in a hundred years of economic policy in Britain, [they are] showing no understanding of economics. To remove QE and cut public spending is like a return to 1937 — it could drive the economy into depression. This is the most bizarre set of economic policies I have ever heard.”

On behalf of Labour activists everywhere I would like to thank George Osborne for single-handedly kick-starting our General Election Get Out The Vote campaign.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

From Red Wedge to Blue Rinse

The Tories are playing "Shout to the top" by the Style Council as intermission music at their conference after Theresa May's speech.

My memory is that the Style Council were prominent in Red Wedge, the pro-Labour campaign by various leftist pop stars in the run-up to the 1987 General Election. Is Paul Weller aware that his music is being appropriated to gee-up drowsy Tory conference delegates?

By playing '80s leftie pop after their DWP Spokesperson spoke, are the Tories trying to remind us of their awful record on youth unemployment last time they were in power?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Poll of the marginals

Today's must-read for political anoraks (even if its publisher is now owned by Lord Ashcroft) is the PoliticsHome detailed poll of over 200 marginal constituencies.

Last year's report made boring reading as Labour was doing so badly that almost every seat read "Con gain".

This year the poll was taken before 21 September, i.e. before our conference, but Labour had already recovered to just an "awful" position from a "cataclysmic" one so you begin to see some differentiation around the regions, and work out where we might need to refocus our political messages and policies and organisational efforts in the few months left before the General Election in order to hold the maximum number of seats:

  • The overall projected Tory majority is down from 146 to 70.
  • Labour is staging something of a fightback in terms of below average swing in London, Scotland, the North West, the North East, West Yorkshire and in seaside towns, which were an important set of 1997 gains.
  • The regions where the Tories look set to make most gains are the south outside London, the East Midlands, the West Midlands and Wales.
  • The Tories are not making much headway in Lib Dem held seats.
  • Nor are the Lib Dems projected to make many further gains off Labour.
  • Our incumbent MPs continue to have a personal vote bonus, making it more difficult for the Tories to take seats where the Labour MP is re-standing.
  • Although anti-Tory tactical voting has broken down (Labour supporters will vote tactically for LDs but not vice versa), there is no evidence yet of anti-Labour tactical voting.
  • The factors determining voting behaviour in marginals are primarily the values and priorities of the parties (cited by 45%) not policies (cited by 21%) or the party leaders (cited by only 12%).
  • Key issues this year for marginal seat voters are the economy (49%), health (35%), law and order (28%), unemployment (26%), education (24%) and immigration (23%). Unfortunately hardly anyone in the kind of seats that will determine the election considers priorities to be some of the issues close to Labour activists' hearts such as housing, poverty, civil liberties, transport and the environment. That's not to say we don't need good policies in these areas - we just shouldn't assume they will have a big electoral impact.
  • The electoral impact of the expenses scandal seems to have been minimal.
  • Despite the Ashcroft funding of marginal campaigns, the public in marginal seats report almost as much Labour campaigning contact as Tory (my hunch is we actually still have a better grassroots organisation - supported by anecdotal reporting of a shortage of Tory volunteers on polling day in council by-elections).
  • The credit crunch has increased fear that the Tories are a risk, are only for the rich, and will slash public services.
  • Particularly good individual seat poll results for Labour are: hold Hammersmith, gain Bethnal Green & Bow from Respect, hold Dagenham & Rainham, hold Ealing N, hold Feltham & Heston, hold Harrow W, hold Blackpool S, hold Great Yarmouth, hold Southampton Itchen, hold Blackburn, hold Stretford & Urmston, hold Sunderland C (believe it or not this new seat is a marginal!), hold all 4 marginals in Cumbria (I assume this is if we don't scrap the Trident submarine replacement, which is built there), hold Birmingham Hall Green, hold City of Durham, hold Leicester S, hold Liverpool Wavertree, hold Oldham E & S, hold Cardiff W, hold Clwyd S, hold Delyn, hold Llanelli (I am surprised Blaenau Gwent was not polled - YouGov's Peter Kellner is predicting that Labour's Nick Smith will gain it from the current independent MP), hold Aberdeen N, hold Aberdeen S, hold Dunfermline & W Fife, hold Edinburgh N & L, hold Kilmarnock & L, hold Renfrewshire E, hold Stirling.
  • Particularly worrying "deep attack" Tory projected gains are Tooting (Labour since 1945), Poplar & Limehouse (a 3-way marginal with Respect), Thurrock (only previously lost once since 1945), the two Walsall seats, Stoke South (Labour since I think 1935), Wolves NE, Coventry NW, Bridgend (only previously lost once), Gower (Labour since I think 1935), Wakefield (ditto), Ashfield (Geoff Hoon's seat, only ever lost in a byelection before), Nottingham E, Leicester W, Derbyshire NE, Bassetlaw, Great Grimsby and Scunthorpe (affected by the Elliot Morley expenses scandal?).
  • The poll has the Greens gaining Brighton Pavilion. I am sure this will delight their "pluralist Labour" friends in Compass, who have twice had the Green candidate speak at their events.

You can read the full report here: http://page.politicshome.com/documents/2009ElectoralIndex.pdf

Friday, October 02, 2009

Council By-elections

Last night's results. Labour holds in a series of seats we were defending, generally appalling results for the Tories and a string of stunningly good ones for the LDs.

Crompton Ward, Bolton MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1528 (47.4%, -2.6), Con 935 (29%, +1), Ind 377 (11.7%, +11.7), LD 284 (8.8%, -13.2), Green 99 (3.1%, +3.1). Swing of 1.8% from Lab to Con since 2008. This is in Bolton NE, number 93 on the Tory parliamentary target list.

Wroxham Ward, Broadland DC. LD gain from Ind. LD 960 (62.5%, +54.4), Con 346 (22.5%, -18.9), UKIP 134 (8.7%, +8.7), Green 50 (3.3%, -4.6), Lab 46 (3%, -0.8). Swing of 36.7% from Con to LD since 2007. The new Broadland parliamentary seat is a Tory defensive marginal vs. the LDs.

Allestree Ward, Derby City Council. Con hold. Con 1988 (52.3%, -10.4), LD 1037 (27.3%, +15), Lab 532 (14.0%, -0.3), BNP 242 (6.4%, -4.5). Swing of 12.7% from Con to LD since 2008. This ward is in Derby North which is a three-way Labour defensive marginal - number 130 on the Tory target list and number 30 for the LDs.

Doon Valley Ward, East Ayrshire Council. Lab gain from Ind. Lab 1221 (50.5%, +1.5), SNP 891 (36.9%, +10.9), Con 176 (7.3%, -1.1), Ind 84 (3.5%, -13.1), Ind 44 (1.8%, +1.8). Swing of 4.7% from Lab to SNP since 2007.

Northfield Ward, Kettering BC. Lab hold. Lab 265 (37.9%, -17.6), Con 258 (36.9%, -7.6), LD 80 (11.4%, +11.4), BNP 58 (8.3%, +8.3), English Democrat 39 (5.6%, +5.6). Swing of 5% from Lab to Con since 2007. Kettering is a Tory parliamentary seat by a notional majority of just 108.

Fant Ward, Maidstone BC. LD hold in a ward the Tories won in 2008. LD 702 (46.4%, +18.8), Con 393 (26%, -7.3), Green 317 (20.9%, +4.9), Lab 102 (6.7%, -16.4). Swing of 13.1% from Con to LD since 2008.

Walsingham Ward, North Norfolk DC. LD gain from Ind. LD 389 (58.1%, +32.5), Con 237 (35.4%, +35.4), Lab 43 (6.4%, +6.4). Swing of 1.5% from LD to Con since 2007. As with Wroxham this ward is in the new Broadland parliamentary seat.

Fishwick Ward, Preston BC. Lab hold. Lab 656 (55.7%, +13.2), Con 283 (24.0%, +3.9), LD 239 (20.3%, +1.3). Swing of 4.7% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Wednesbury South Ward, Sandwell MBC. Lab hold in a ward the Tories won in 2008. Lab 1006 (45.1%, +6.5), Con 946 (42.4%, +1.6), LD 168 (7.5%, +7.5), Green 109 (4.9%, -0.2). Swing of 2.5% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Laleham & Shepperton Green Ward, Spelthorne BC. Con hold. Con 814 (42.2%, -16.2), LD 742 (38.5%, +13.4), UKIP 154 (8%, +8), Ind 142 (7.4%, +7.4), Lab 77 (4%, -12.5). Swing of 14.8% from Con to LD since 2007.

Droitwich SW Ward, Wychavon DC. LD gain from Con. LD 521 (47.4%, +6.2), Con 416 (37.8%, -4.3), Lab 163 (14.8%, +14.8). Swing of 5.3% from Con to LD since 2007.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Lib Dem Probity

Lib Dem Liverpool City Council seems to have interesting recruitment processes.

Conference pics

More pictures of me on stage at Conference yesterday:






 
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