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, November 27, 2009

Exclusive: Labour hires 30 extra election staff

I've been told that the Labour Party has finally overcome its financial difficulties enough to go on a hiring spree, with the funds now available to recruit 30 new frontline staff for the General Election.

Donors have funded the new posts with ring-fenced cash so that they know their donations are being spent directly on the election campaign.

Recruitment is starting immediately, so Labour activists who want to work as full-time staff on the election campaign should look out for the posts starting to be advertised here: http://www.labour.org.uk/new_job

Whilst the Party isn't out of the woods yet financially, this proves the media and Tory blogosphere hype about us being unable to fund a proper campaign is wishful thinking, and Labour is gearing up for a professional, hard-fought election campaign.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Council By-elections

Tonight's results - Tories losing three seats to LDs (two of them in target parliamentary seats), Labour gaining one from the LDs:

St Austell Bay Ward, Cornwall Council. LD gain from Con. LD 690 (48.2%, +14.7), Con 675 (47.2%, -12.2), Lab 66 (4.6%, -2.4). Swing of 13.5% from Con to LD since 2008.

Northop Ward, Flintshire CC. Ind hold. Ind 343 (27.8%, -41.5), Con 280 (22.7%, +22.7), Ind 227 (18.4%, +18.4), Lab 197 (16%, -14.7), LD 187 (15.2%, +15.2). Swing of 32.1% from Ind to Con since 2008.

Clifton Ward, Fylde DC. Con hold. Con 387 (35.4%, -10.8), Ind 372 (34%, -6.6), LD 241 (22%, +22), Lab 80 (7.3%, -5.9), Green 13 (1.2%, +1.2). Swing of 2.1% from Con to Ind since 2007.

Bushey Heath Ward, Hertsmere DC. Con hold. Con 748 (74.8%, -3.9), LD 157 (15.7%, +6.8), Lab 95 (9.5%, +1.3). Swing of 5.4% from Con to LD since 2008.

Blackbrook Ward, High Peak DC. LD gain from Con. LD 689 (56.9%, +20), Con 470 (38.8%, -24.3), Lab 52 (4.3%, +4.3). Swing of 22.2% from Con to LD since 2007.

Halewood South Ward, Knowsley MBC. Lab gain from LD. Lab 607 (46%, +12.1), LD 486 (36.8%, -9.8), BNP 113 (8.6%, +8.6), TUSP 52 (3.9%, +5.3), Con 32 (2.4%, -3.5), Ind 30 (2.3%, +2.3). Swing of 11% from LD to Lab since 2008.

St Dogmaels Ward, Pembrokeshire CC. Ind hold. Ind 483 (69.5%, +13.8), LD 163 (23.5%, +3.6), Ind 49 (7.1%, -10.9). Swing of 5.1% from LD to Ind since 2008 by-election.

Stratford Alveston Ward, Stratford DC. LD gain from Con. LD 888 (47%, -2.1), Con 834 (44.1%, +1.8), Lab 111 (5.9%, +5.9), Green 58 (3.1%, +3.1). Swing of 2% from LD to Con since 2008.

Moreton West & Saughall Massie Ward, Wirral MBC. Con hold. Con 2255 (70.1%, -1.7), Lab 615(19.1%, +3.6), LD 134 (4.2%, -1.6), Ind 121 (3.8%, +3.8), Green 92 (2.9%, -0.5). Swing of 2.7% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tory Cash

The Mirror has been running a great investigation into how much the Tory front bench will personally benefit from their policy of raising the inheritance tax threshold for the very rich to £2 million.

The Mirror reports that "Eighteen out of 32 super-rich members of the shadow cabinet will be better off by at least £120,000. And the estates of Mr Cameron, shadow foreign secretary William Hague and shadow chancellor George Osborne will all benefit by more than £500,000 each.In total Mr Cameron's closest Tory chums will make more than £7million from his plans."

This is in the context of the Tories proposing massive cuts to public services.

The Mirror article (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2009/11/25/old-pals-tax-115875-21848294/) includes this interesting league table:


Spot the difference competition

It's good to see that Grassroots Alliance member of Labour's NEC, Christine Shawcroft, is busy sending reports to members in Leyton & Wanstead and Sherwood CLPs. It may be a total coincidence that those two CLPs both have pending parliamentary selection contests.


Oddly, Christine seems confused or inconsistent about where she lives.






When writing to members in Leyton she uses headed paper with an address in nearby London E14. When writing to members in Nottinghamshire the address is given as Nottingham NG2.


Perhaps she just has two homes in anticipation of being an MP.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Labour closes the gap to just 6%

Tonight's Ipsos MORI poll shows a huge boost for Labour, with the Tory lead down by from 17% to 6%:

Con 37% (-6%)
Lab 31% (+5%)
LD 17% (-2%)
Others 15% (+3%)

On a uniform swing this would produce a hung parliament: 296 Tory MPs, 278 Labour, 44 Lib Dems and 32 others.

This is the lowest Tory lead MORI have found since December 2008.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A medley of links

Just catching up on posting some links to a variety of things that have taken my interest or been sent to me:

Labour List tells us that Sir Jeremy Beecham is stepping down as Labour Group Leader at the Local Government Association and from the local government section of Labour's NEC. I wanted to put on the record the huge debt we in Hackney owe Sir Jeremy for defending local democracy here when the council was hung and failing and some in government wanted to take it over or shut it down. He took a gamble when Hackney Labour Group said we could provide a political solution by winning back control and then improving the council. He convinced others, including then DTLR Secretary Stephen Byers (whose decision to step down as an MP I also regret) to give us a chance to turn Hackney round, and now we are one of the success-stories of improving local government. This is just the local example I have of his work in fighting for local government against the centralising instincts of some in Whitehall.

Unison in the East Midlands are doing a great job exposing the loopy politics of the new Conservative administration on Nottinghamshire County Council, whose slash and burn approach to local services gives a frightening foretaste of what a Cameron government would do nationally. There's loads of detail here: http://unison-em-locgov.blogspot.com/, particularly this post and also a more scurrilous and gossipy look at Tory Notts by an anonymous blogger here: http://parishofnottinghamshire.blogspot.com/.

Hackney Council has launched a "Be Fare to Hackney" campaign: http://www.hackney.gov.uk/befareboris.htm aimed at getting Boris Johnson to reverse his decision to increase bus fares by 20% in the New Year. The increases, which will come into force from January, will raise the cost of a single pre-paid Oyster bus journey from £1 to £1.20.
Over the course of a year, this mounts up to at least £263 for a household where two people go to work by bus. This is the equivalent of Hackney’s share of the Council Tax rising by nearly 27%. Hackney will be hit harder than most other London boroughs, because bus usage is very high here, and car ownership lower than virtually anywhere else in the Capital.

Owen Jones of the Labour Representation Committee has written an interesting article from a hard left perspective, but with some perceptive points made, about how the left needs to re-engage with working class voters: http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=4789

My neighbours in Hackney Central Ward have started a great new blog focused very much on ward issues: http://www.hackneycentrallabour.blogspot.com/

Liam Byrne MP has relaunched his blog - http://www.liambyrne.co.uk/ - again with a very local focus.

And finally Paul Richards has used his Progress column to provide an endorsement of my NEC candidature which is a nice antidote to Bob Piper's rant this week. Ironically this week's NEC meeting voted to go for a timetable where NEC nominations don't happen until after the General Election - I'd announced my candidature, as had other runners and riders, on the assumption nominations were happening between January and March. This is great news as it means we can all focus on the real task - getting Labour re-elected locally and nationally, and leave the NEC election (and the first ever OMOV elections to Labour's National Policy Forum) and its debate on Labour's future direction until after polling day. I was concerned about the task of getting nominations for the NEC contest distracting me from my role as Campaign Manager for the May Hackney borough elections. Now it won't so my multi-tasking skills will be a little less challenged.

Council by-elections

Yesterday's results:

Cholmondeley Ward, Cheshire East Council. Con hold. Con 1764 (77.6%, +6.5), LD 508 (22.4%, +5). Swing of 0.8% from LD to Con since 2008.

Rossington Ward, Doncaster MBC. Lab gain from Ind. Lab 637 (26.9%, +1.1), Eng Dem 551 (23.3%, +23.3), Ind 501 (21.2%, -21.8), Ind 420 (17.8%, +17.8), BNP 101 (4.3%, +4.3), LD 78 (3.3%, +3.3), Ind 76 (3.2%, +3.2). Swing of 11.1% from Lab to Eng Dem since 2008.

Bo'ness and Blackness Ward, Falkirk Council. SNP hold. SNP 1604 (57.5%, +10.3), Lab 823 (29.5%, -2.4), Con 283 (10.1%, -2.6), LD 79 (2.8%, +2.8). Swing of 6.4% from Lab to SNP since 2007.

Coleford East Ward, Forest of Dean DC. Ind gain from Con. Ind 267 (29.8%, +1.2), LD 230 (25.7%, +25.7), Con 210 (23.5%, -17.7), Lab 188 (21%, -9.2). Swing of 12.3% from Ind to LD since 2007.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Open letter to Bob Piper

Dear Bob,

I was a bit surprised by your vituperative attack on me yesterday (http://www.bobpiper.co.uk/2009/11/not_in_my_name_2.php).

I know you are on the left of the Labour Party and I'm not (by any stretch of the imagination) so I don't expect you to agree with me on everything or vote for me in the NEC elections. What I don't expect is an ad hominem attack accusing me of being "someone who is so sectarian, negative and divisive [he] is not fit to be a member of our NEC."

We've only met once and it was perfectly amicable. I know from talking to your local MP John Spellar that you are a great local councillor and a good campaigner. My take on you was that we were actually kindred spirits even though from different ideological wings of the party - people that are passionate about their politics, enjoy the legitimate cut and thrust of debate within the Labour Party as well as taking on Labour's opponents and put public service and campaigning first.

Your accusation of sectarianism, negativity and divisiveness just isn't borne out by my record:
  • working with people from the Labour left to run election campaigns in Bristol, Camden, Hackney, Aldershot and Castle Point;
  • yes expressing my views robustly in meetings but being comradely about the way I do it and not confusing the personal and the political;
  • consistently upholding the rulebook and defending party democracy so that as Chief Whip in Hackney I was more often than not the one arguing against suspensions from the group etc., on our LGC I was the one fighting for every ward to retain its right to select its own candidates; when I have sat on regional appeal panels etc. I have a record of scrupulous fairness and regularly find in favour of people with the opposite political views to mine;
  • having personal friendships that extend across the spectrum of Labour politics because I can disagree with people without it descending into acrimony

Then I thought, fair enough Bob hasn't actually been in the same region or CLP as me so maybe he's judging me just on the blog. So I did a trawl through to see if what I had written in the last three months since I came out of hospital justified the description "sectarian, negative and divisive".

The following could broadly be described as positive and unifying from a Labour perspective:

  • Anti-Tory 11 posts
  • Pro-Labour 5 posts
  • Praising individual Labour politicians (Ed Miliband, Blair, Mandelson, John Woodcock) 4 posts
  • Anti-LD 2 posts
  • Anti-BNP 2 posts
  • Reporting my speech to conference about the NHS 2 posts
  • Calling for unity at Party conference 1 post
  • Calling for a May election date 1 post
  • Calling for retaining the fourth Trident submarine 1 post
  • Promoting local achievements in Hackney 1post
  • Calling for action on pleural plaques 1 post
  • Praising Norway's Labour election victory 1 post
  • Obituary of left wing Castle Point activist John Trollope 1 post
  • Announcing my own NEC candidature 1 post
  • Linking to trade union websites 1 post
  • Linking to articles I agree with 1 post

Then there were some neutral ones:

  • Reporting council by-election results 11 posts
  • Reporting opinion polls 6 posts
  • Commenting on the timing of election counts 1 post
  • Personal stuff about my illness 1 post
  • Reporting this blogs rank in a league table 1 post
  • General psephology 1 post
  • Analysis re. political role of trade unions 1 post

The only ones that could be defined as negative are:

  • Reporting on the GRA slate for the NEC - 5 posts (incidentally all just repeating what Peter Kenyon and other GRA members are saying, not attacking them directly)
  • Attacking Compass 3 posts
  • Attacking Charles Clarke 2 posts
  • Calling for resignation of Baroness Scotland 1 post

So, 69 posts in 3 months: 36 of them positive, 22 neutral and just 11 negative, of which 3 were having a go at people on the right of the party not the left, and 5 were just reporting gossip.

The hook for your attack was just bizarre, a post where I linked to a Labour party political broadcast that praised the party's radical past and included footage of Michael Foot, and then a plea for the PLP to fight the Tories not quit or plot against the PM! The targets of this weren't the left - one of the best fighters in the PLP is Denis Skinner. I have no idea what annoyed you about a statement of the bleeding obvious - that we need to unite, focus on fighting the Tories and not give up.

As for my post this week on Compass if it is now off-limits to criticise people who are calling for a leadership coup just months before a general election, then I plead guilty ...

You say you've "been around the Labour movement and the Labour Party longer" than me but given I've been a Party member 21 years through good times and bad, since I was 16, that's only because you are a couple of decades older than me.

You make the throw away comment that I am someone who "can't think for themselves, and who thinks every utterance from the Party leadership has to be swallowed whole" but even the briefest effort to read this blog would reveal that to be a lie.

I always knew that some people would find my NEC candidature hard to stomach - I've not been running for a popularity contest writing this blog so it might turn out I'm not popular! I'm resigned to people picking on one thing I write and using it to have a go, that's fair play in politics.

But Bob your post overstepped the mark and presented a caricature of me that doesn't reflect my real record or my real views.

I'm proud of my politics and happy to take stick for my views where they are contentious. But running for office in the Labour Party, or writing this blog, doesn't give people who disagree with me a licence to smear my character, behaviour or motives.

Looking forward to debating Labour's future with you on a comradely basis going forward, and best wishes for the coming elections in Sandwell,

Luke

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fighters and Believers needed here

Great new PPB from Labour, the first to feature Michael Foot (and Herbert Morrison's Hackney committee rooms) for some time ...

As Nick Robinson pointed out on Monday the PLP divides into fighters, quitters and plotters: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/nickrobinson/2009/11/plotters_quitte.html

I wish the quitters and plotters would both quit and let the fighters get on with taking on the Tories. A precondition of even the slightest chance of victory is preparedness to go down fighting.

Who do Compass think they are?

I try to avoid looking too obsessed by Compass, honestly I do.

But today Compass has been singularly unhelpful to the Labour Party, which it purports to support, by reopening the question of the Party Leadership, as reported in today's Guardian.

Their timing could not be more destructive – on the day of the final Queen’s Speech before a General Election, and just as the first tentative steps towards a Labour recovery have started with a thumping by-election win in Glasgow North East and a 4% boost in this week’s ICM poll.

Who do the Compass “Management Committee” think they are to sit around plotting to undermine a Labour Prime Minister? And more to the point what do the Guardian think Compass is, publicising the self-aggrandising sectarian scheming of a small group as though it was major news?

The Guardian consistently calls Compass a think-tank. This is insulting to real think-tanks that work objectively to generate new policy ideas. Compass is a political faction, the only policies it publishes stem from its own prejudices, not objective research.

The Compass claim to have 4,000 members and 30,000 supporters is repeated without scrutiny, yet the membership list includes people who swear they have resigned from it or never joined, and generated a paltry 237 voters when Compass held internal elections; and the 30,000 “supporters” is a mass-spamming exercise sending emails to anyone unlucky enough to have their address fall into Compass’ hands. I get two emails to different addresses from Compass yet I’ve never indicated support for them.

At their AGM last weekend Compass "General Secretary" Gavin Hayes (winner, most pompous title of the year award 2009) compared himself to the General Secretary of the Labour Party, saying:

"And on the Labour Party I have to say I think my counterpart Ray Collins could learn a thing or two from Compass, and let me tell you if you’d wanted a robot for a General Secretary then you might have picked him. It gives me no pleasure to say that over this last year, as a long-serving loyal Labour activist myself, I’ve stood back and watched in utter aghast at some of the goings on in Labour’s Ivory Towers. Whilst this week may mark 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, increasingly the New Labour machine looks a bit like a clapped out Trabant, feels a bit like the dog days of an Eastern European Communist Party – an ossified party state welded to a dogmatic ideology, entrenched elites, dormant party organisations and a stagnant economy."

Not only is it hubris on a massive scale for the head bureaucrat of a staff of four to compare himself to the General Secretary of the Party in government; it's unfair to personally attack a paid member of party staff who is prohibited by their contract from responding to these kind of attacks, and massively insulting to the hard-pressed and hard-working staff who are working their socks off to try to win the General Election.

This confused grouplet, who advocate a lurch to the left for Labour but are reported to favour Blairite candidates Alan Johnson and David Miliband for Party Leader; and who claim to back Labour but give platforms to the Green Party’s candidate in a seat they hope to take of us, gets far more publicity than it deserves.

Labour Party members should concentrate on trying to prevent a Tory General Election victory and reject the sort of sectarian plotting and undermining of Party unity that Compass is indulging in.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The spread of the Turnip Taliban

Yesterday's showdown in Swaffham over the attempt by the redneck wing of the Tory Party, AKA the Turnip Taliban, to deselect their PPC for not telling them loudly enough about her fling with a Tory MP, won't be the last bit of Tory infighting over selections.

David Cameron seems determined to scrub what few elements of internal party democracy have ever existed in the Tories as he seeks to use the flurry of late selections to create a parliamentary party in his own image and owing its loyalty to him personally for shoe-horning them in against the (admittedly bigoted) wishes of local activists.

In doing so he is exhibiting more control-freakery than Tony Blair was ever able to dream of even in the heyday of year zero New Labour.

In the Labour Party the usual selection procedure involves nominations by local party branches and affiliates, shortlisting by the constituency General Committee, and a final all-member vote at a hustings. Thus ordinary local activists get an input into the process at every stage.

In the new Tory set-up the choice of candidates who the constituency members get to see and vote for isn't in the hands of local activists. Instead the shortlist is picked by a joint meeting, at CCHQ in London, of six constituency representatives with, on the other side of the table the intimidating presence of Eric Pickles MP and massed ranks of Central Office enforcers and apparatchiks letting them know exactly whom the leadership want to get given a hearing in their seat. So even if local members don't get the choice of candidate taken away from them and handed to an open primary (so far only used in Totnes) or an open caucus misdescribed as a primary (as used in Bedford), they can still only pick from those six people Cameron, Pickles and the CCHQ bureaucracy have given the nod to. The reality behind the Truss incident is that her alleged non-disclosure was probably just the excuse the locals latched onto to try and reopen a selection where they felt the local candidates hadn't made it onto the shortlist and had been stitched up for one of the Notting Hill set (a bit unfair as Truss is actually based in Greenwich, though that's equally far from SW Norfolk).

Other constituencies where bust-ups between the local Tories and CCHQ have leaked into the public domain (mainly thanks to ConservativeHome) are:

Bethnal Green & Bow: The locals refused to ratify the candidate selected by an open primary. They have yet to select an alternative candidate. Why this fuss over a seat where the Tories are in a notional fourth place?

Bracknell: ConservativeHome reported “Bracknell councillors unhappy at "CCHQ’s shortlist"".

Bromsgrove: The local association seem to be backing Julie Kirkbride's attempt to overturn her resignation over expenses.

Bournemouth West: Camden Councillor Mike Greene won an open caucus and then the locals overturned the result and sacked him as candidate after he had given up his council seat and moved there.

Cambridge: Former CCHQ staffer Richard Normington resigned as candidate after falling out with the association officers.

Cambridgeshire North East: Local activists discovered that only A-listers were informed about the selection timetable for the seat, excluding local candidates such as the Eurosceptic Lee Rotheram. There were also allegations that CCHQ promised more campaign support for local associations which chose a female candidate.

Dudley North: CCHQ had to stop the selection after the local members refused to implement quotas and short listed nine men and three women.

Gosport: Local members are angry that the shortlist doesn’t include anyone actually from Gosport.

Macclesfield: Another case of CCHQ blocking local candidates from the shortlist. Two leading members have resigned in protest.

Mid Norfolk: Mid Norfolk ignored the CCHQ criteria and refused to have a quota on their shortlist.

Penrith & The Border. Local members want to sack their new and high-profile candidate
Rory Stewart after none of the shortlisted candidates was local.

Plymouth Sutton: As in Bethnal Green and Bournemouth the local activists refused to endorse the candidate picked by an open caucus.

Tynemouth: An A-lister was picked over a local councillor, causing a public row.

Woking: This time the row was over timetabling, with CCHQ wanting to delay the process until they could vet all of the applicants while the local party wanted to select as soon as possible.

Wycombe: the selection has been suspended by Eric Pickles leading to the resignation of a member of the association's management committee.

The Tory Council Tax boomerang

Today's Sun ran an article about figures that the Tories have obtained through parliamentary questions to claim that council tax bills have "doubled under Labour".

The Sun’s list of councils with the biggest rises since 1997 is as follows:

1. City of London (Independent)
2. Tower Hamlets (Labour)
3. South Cambridgeshire (Conservative)
4. East Cambridgshire (Conservative)
5. Fenland (Conservative)
6. Westminster (Conservative)
7. Wandsworth (Conservative)
8. Brent (Lib Dem/Conservative)
9. Hackney (Labour)
10.Torridge (NOC – Conservative Leader, no Labour councillors)

Local councils are responsible for setting their level of council tax and only two of the top ten councils listed are Labour controlled, while seven are run by Tories.

Of the two Labour authorities; my own council Hackney is the first local authority in the country to freeze its share of the council tax for five years running and Labour only regained control of the council in 2001. Tower Hamlets council tax is the sixth lowest council tax in London despite the increases quoted. The Tories and their new friends at The Sun are playing games with statistics to make a self-defeating argument.

It’s a surprise that in choosing their weapon to aim at Labour, on this occasion the Tories have plumped for a boomerang.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yet more GRA NEC positioning

The harmony that exists on the left of the Labour Party is revealed in public in the comments on Peter Kenyon's blog.

This is Susan Press, selected on Saturday as one of the LRC's candidates for the Grassroots Alliance slate for the Labour Party NEC, talking about CLPD, a partner organisation in the same slate, and Ann Black, a sitting member of the NEC elected on the Grassroots ticket:

"Agree entirely but CLPD has consistently opposed democratic hustings for the NEC slate. I recall heated arguments with the CLPD Exec...... when I was on the STLP exec
Good luck in the ballot. I heard a rumour Ann Black was CLPD's candidate. Odd, given her track-record expelling and witchhunting members - and of course de-selecting left candidates in places like Calder Valley."

Goodness, Grassroots Alliance campaign meetings are going to be comradely and fun if Ann and Susan both make it through to the final slate together. Perhaps Ann is on the wrong side in this election?

Meanwhile, an anonymous CLPD apparatchik snaps at Peter Kenyon:

"Strange you say you're "looking forward to hearing how [CLPD is]...going to select possible candidates for the slate."
About seven hours before you posted this I remember hearing you talking to CLPD committee members in the lunchbreak at the LRC conference about how they will choose their nominees, and they said it would, as usual, be a decision of their Executive Committee.
It may not be a ballot of the membership, but it's up to CLPD how it nominates.
Still, there will probably be more people present at that meeting than vote in the Save the Labour Party ballot."


And on this blog John Wiseman, defeated in the LRC ballot says darkly:

"There is a long way to go yet in the CLGA elections. I would suspect it is still not over for me and gary heather."

So basically a bunch of people who can't agree on six candidates to run in an internal Labour election without biting chunks out of each other in public aspire to tell the rest of us how the Labour Party should be run.

The plot thickens

I'm grateful to Peter Kenyon for explaining a bit more about how the Grassroots Alliance slate of left candidates for Labour's NEC is picked.

Seems I was a bit premature in my post below about assuming Peter was part of it, particularly as the rather snippy exchange in the comments on his post suggest he is not getting on particularly well with everyone in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD).

So the new info in Peter's post is in summary:

  • He hasn't been selected by Save The Labour Party (STLP) yet. There's a ballot between him and Garry Heather (Islington North CLP Chair). Which is strange as I thought Garry had already run and lost in the ballot at the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) AGM.
  • Winning the ballot in STLP or LRC doesn't guarantee you get on the final Grassroots Alliance slate. Which begs the question how is this negotiated or agreed on and by whom?
  • The CLPD doesn't hold a membership ballot for its nominees.
  • Peter implies Compass Youth are part of the Grassroots Alliance but that Compass proper isn't.
  • He also implies "Progressives for London" are involved, which is strange as this is a broad alliance of people opposed to Boris and keen on getting Ken Livingstone back in as Mayor, and goes beyond Labour ranks to include Greens and others. I almost joined Progressives for London. If I had would that make me eligible for the Grassroots Alliance slate?
  • He alludes to a mysterious meeting between Neal Lawson of Compass and Ken Livingstone of Progressives for London, presumably about Ken running with Compass support, or Compass separately getting a place on the Grassroots Alliance slate ... or is there going to be a separate Compass slate that backs Ken and Ann Black but not the other Grassroots Alliance candidates.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NEC Update

The left Grassroots Alliance slate for next year's elections for the constituency section of Labour's NEC is becoming a bit clearer, following Saturday's AGM of the LRC (Labour Representation Committee). This picked two candidates, incumbent NEC member Christine Shawcroft and blogger Susan Press (http://grimmerupnorth.blogspot.com) so my guess is that the full line-up is Shawcroft, Press, Ken Livingstone, Pete Willsman, Peter Kenyon and Ann Black.

Reading between the lines of this post by Peter Kenyon (http://petergkenyon.typepad.com/peterkenyon/2009/11/compass-building-a-new-political-movement.html) I guess soft left grouping Compass, who also had their AGM on Saturday, have other priorities than elections within the Labour Party.

Personally I spent Saturday at the London Labour Party's General Election briefing for agents. Judging by the amount of campaigning that was reported to be going on or planned around London, and the number of constituencies with full-time staff (far more than when I was a full-timer in 1997) the seat-by-seat battle at the next election may give the Tories some unpleasant surprises.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Council by-elections

As well as the Glasgow NE parliamentary by-election there were two council by-elections yesterday:

New Romney Coast Ward, Shepway DC. Con gain from LD. Con 452 (51.4%, +2.2), LD 333 (37.9%, -12.9), UKIP 94 (10.7%, +10.7). Swing of 7.6% from LD to Con since 2007.

Totnes Bridgetown Ward, South Hams DC. LD hold. LD 522 (52.4%, +27.5), Green 265 (26.6%, +26.6), Con 162 (16.2%, +5.4), Lab 48 (4.8%, -4.1). Swing of 0.5% from Green to LD since 2007.

Worth staying up for

Glasgow NE result:

Labour - 12,231 votes (59.39%)
SNP - 4,120 votes (20%)
Tory - 1,075 votes (5.22%)
BNP - 1,013 votes (4.92%)

Not sure if that's a 2% SNP to Lab swing as reported by the BBC or a 30% one as Labour didn't stand in the Speaker's seat in 2005.

Either way a great result for Willie Bain and a great result for Labour. As with Glenrothes our team - politicians, staff and activists - showed we are very much alive and kicking.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pleural Plaques

I've just had an email from Unions Together about their campaign on Pleural Plaques.

Pleural Plaques are scarring of the lungs caused by heavy and prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Until a few years ago, sufferers of the disease were able to claim compensation. In October 2007, the Law Lords scrapped this – meaning that thousands of people with Pleural Plaques would not be entitled to any compensation at all. Insurers have profited to the tune of £1.4 billion from this decision.

The Government are currently making a decision on changing the law on compensation for sufferers of Pleural Plaques. Unions Together are urging people to email Lord Mandelson and Alastair Darling to support the campaign. You can do that here:

http://www.unionstogether.org.uk/page/speakout/acallforjustice

NEC update

I'm grateful to some fellow Labour bloggers for these endorsements of my NEC candidacy (somewhat more eloquently argued than my own self-promotion), which I announced here last week:

Matthew Cain

Hopi Sen

Dave Cole

There's a Facebook group you can join if you are supporting me. Search for "Luke Akehurst for Labour's NEC" on Facebook to find it.

Meanwhile the Grassroots Alliance - the left slate - are selecting their six candidates. Last time there were two slots each for (approximately from left to right) the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and Save the Labour Party (STLP). My understanding is that Labour Left Briefing is part of the LRC, whilst Socialist Action is involved in CLPD. There is considerable membership overlap between these organisations, but also rivalry and infighting over various arcane matters.

STLP held a ballot, closing on 7 November. I think this resulted in the selection of incumbent NEC members Ann Black and Peter Kenyon.

LRC are holding a vote at their AGM on Saturday to pick two from four: Calder Valley blogger Susan Press, incumbent NEC member Christine Shawcroft, Westmorland & Lonsdale PPC John Wiseman, and Islington North CLP Chair Garry Heather.

It's the CLPD slots that are most interesting. The big rumour is that Ken Livingstone is running. If this was the case it implies that veteran activist Pete Willsman has fallen on his sword to make way for him. Unless of course CLPD argues that Peter Kenyon should withdraw, making room for Willsman to run again.

Meanwhile it's not clear if the soft-left Compass organisation will join forces with the Grassroots Alliance, or sit out this election as it has done in the past.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Memo to the PM

Dear Prime Minister,

there are rumours circulating that you are considering 25 March as a General Election polling day.

I would urge you not to go for that date and instead to go for 6 May.

There's one simple reason. There will be local government elections, whatever the date of the General Election, on 6 May for every seat in every London borough, for 1/3 of seats in every metropolitan borough, 1/3 of seats in 20 unitary authorities, and in 78 district councils.

A quick look at the list (http://www.gwydir.demon.co.uk/uklocalgov/elec2010.htm) shows this actually implies election of councillors in almost all of the major urban areas in England, i.e. exactly the places where Labour has the best chance of getting councillors elected.

Holding the General Election on the same day as these local elections would mean that turnout in the local elections would jump from the mid-30%s in most authorities to General Election levels of 50-60% or more if the General Election turnout goes up compared to 2005.

This is good for democracy but ought also to be particularly good for the Labour Party as our supporters have a lower propensity to turnout than Tories for socio-economic reasons i.e. the extra 15-25% of people who would vote in the local elections if they were on General Election day would disproportionately consist of Labour voters.

Thus, even if the General Election saw a Labour defeat, scheduling it for the same day as the locals could increase the number of Labour councilors elected dramatically. There is a proven linkage between the number of councillors a party has and the health of its local activist base so this would help ensure Labour started to recover faster organisationally.

In contrast, if the General Election was held in February or March and we were unlucky enough to lose, then the May 6 local elections would be likely to be a rout for Labour. Turnout would collapse as people won't want to vote twice within months. Levels of campaigning by Labour activists would collapse if our morale was low because we had just had a General Election defeat. Labour supporters would be particularly unlikely to turnout if we had just lost the national election. We know this because in 1992 council elections were held just after we lost the General Election and we got thrashed.

As Leader of the Labour Party you are not only responsible for trying to maximise the number of MPs we win, but also for rebuilding our strength in local government. Long term the two are linked.

Please do the right thing by Labour's members, supporters and councillors and council candidates by holding the General Election on the day already scheduled for council elections, 6 May.

Ed Miliband

This blog was already part of the Ed Miliband fan club after his impressive speech (earning a standing ovation) at Labour Party Spring Conference in 2008.

Even more so after the political courage he showed with his announcement on new nuclear power stations yesterday - good to see someone taking the not necessarily popular but correct decisions needed to tackle climate change.

Today's poll

Today's Populus poll:

CON 39%
LAB 29%
LD 18%

suggests there is still cause for hope for Labour supporters. This is one of the lowest leads reported for ages, takes the Tories below the psychologically important 40% barrier, and on a uniform swing only produces a Tory majority of 12.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

John Trollope 1926-2009

I was very sad to read on Julian Ware-Lane's blog of the death today from cancer of our comrade John Trollope.

John was an absolute mainstay of the general election campaign in Castle Point when I was parliamentary candidate in 2005. At the then age of 79 he tirelessly went out canvassing with me and I greatly appreciated his company and good spirits on the campaign trail.

John and his wife Lorna have always been heavily involved in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and hence from the opposite end of the spectrum of Labour politics to me, yet both of them were amongst the most dedicated members of my campaign team.

Castle Point Labour Party has lost one of its pillars, and many members there will have lost a good friend.

My thoughts are with Lorna and their family.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Council by-election

Another quiet week with just one council by-election on Bonfire Night:

Lower Sheering Ward, Epping Forest DC. Con hold. Con 302 (76.5%, +0.6), LD 93 (23.5%, -0.6). Swing of 0.6% from LD to Con since 2007.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Two articles

Two articles worth reading:

John Mann MP in the JC on antisemitism in Poland, Latvia and Lithuania: http://www.thejc.com/comment/comment/21392/europe-must-focus-baltic-hate

and David Aaronovitch on Cameron's allies in that part of the world:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/david_aaronovitch/article6900013.ece

The vanishing referendum

Click on -

http://www.conservatives.com/Campaigns/Give_us_a_Referendum.aspx

oh dear – it’s vanished.

Luckily, you can look at a cached version here.

Rumours

I'm told that a tragic accident has befallen the Tory general election campaign.

The rumour is that their expensively-procurred national canvassing database has suffered a software crash and had to be taken offline.

Meanwhile they can't enter canvassing data, print off canvass sheets or access any of their historic canvassing records.

What a calamity.

I do hope they kept a paper backup somewhere.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Why I'm running for Labour's NEC

After a lot of deliberation I’ve decided to run for the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC). One-Member-One-Vote elections for the six Constituency Labour Party representatives are being held next year and candidates are starting to emerge.

My hesitation has been because my illness and hospitalisation this year has meant that my main goals in life are rather more personal than political at the moment: still being alive in a few years time and watching my son grow up is my number one priority, and learning to walk again comes in a strong second.

However, I think I’ve got experience, skills and judgement to offer the Party as we enter choppy political waters and have therefore decided to throw my hat in the ring for the NEC.


The Party website usefully sets out what the NEC does:
"The National Executive Committee is the governing body of the Labour Party that oversees the overall direction of the party and the policy-making process. It carries out this role by setting strategic objectives on an annual basis and meeting regularly to review the work of the party in these areas.

All members of the NEC are members of the National Policy Forum. This body oversees the development of party policy through a rolling programme of policy development. Throughout the year, NEC members participate with government ministers in Labour Party policy commissions that prepare reports on different areas of policy which are then presented to and consulted on with the party membership before going to annual conference.


This forms the basis of Labour’s general election manifesto. The NEC is also responsible for upholding the rules of the party and propriety of Labour selection processes.”

So what sort of approach would I bring to the NEC?

· Transparency. As a constituency rep on the London Regional Board I report back to CLPs in writing after every meeting. I would want to do the same on the NEC (within the obvious constraints about any confidential agenda items). Too much of what the NEC does is shrouded in byzantine secrecy. Party members need to know what their representatives are doing in their name and what the justifications are for NEC decisions.

·Objectivity and even-handedness. When the NEC takes decisions that affect ordinary members there needs to be confidence that NEC members are taking decisions based on upholding the Rulebook and natural justice, not helping out their mates or political allies. My track record dealing with difficult disciplinary and selection issues as a council Chief Whip for seven years and a regional board member shows that I will do the right thing when confronted with contentious issues, not do what is politically expedient.

· Putting members first. Where-ever possible I would want to put control in the hands of local members and CLPs and maximise local autonomy and democracy – particularly regarding selection of candidates.

· Rebuilding the Party. Whilst there are geographical pockets where CLPs are thriving and there is excellent campaigning best practice, in too much of the country we have let our organisation atrophy. I want to see a priority made of regeneration of branches and CLPs nationwide and building their campaigning capacity. Members are our greatest asset but we haven’t systematically done a recruitment drive for over a decade. I don’t accept that we can’t aspire to be a mass membership organisation. We also need to rebuild our base in local government as there is a direct link between losing councillors and losing our local campaigning base.

· Focussed on campaigning. I’ve got 20 years experience of grassroots campaigning to bring to the table. Whatever the outcome of the General Election, we need to immediately start rebuilding for the electoral challenges that will follow it. What we don’t need is a prolonged period of navel-gazing, infighting and blame. We need to learn the lessons of the 1979-1983 period when Labour spent more time attacking its own record in Government than attacking the Tories.

· Resisting a “lurch to the left”. I’m proud of what Labour has achieved in Government and want to build on it, particularly in the area of tackling poverty and inequality. In the aftermath of the General Election there will be people who want us to veer sharply to the left. I’m not one of them, I want us to align our politics and policies with where ordinary voters are, not wander off into the electoral wilderness.

· Committed to the Trade Union link. I think the current constitutional settlement in the Labour Party, whilst it could be tweaked, broadly works. I’m very wary of radical proposals such as primaries that would sever the union link, which is fundamental to keeping us grounded in the practical concerns of ordinary working people.

· Positivity. My starting point is one of loyalty to the Party leadership and respect for the hard working professional staff of the Party. I’m no pushover but unlike some candidates elected in the past I’m not seeking to get on the NEC to undermine anyone or with a starting point of suspicion and blame. If we lose the General Election we will all need to be united and work as a team to make sure our period in opposition is as short as possible.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Links

A couple of union-related links.

First off, UnionsTogether (the trade unions affiliated to Labour) are running a campaign against the Tory plan to introduce tougher requirements for strike ballots - Cameron is reported to want turnout thresholds implying that a majority of people eligible to vote would have to vote yes - not just those people actually taking part in the ballot. This is obviously designed to make it more difficult to take industrial action. You can sign up here: http://www.unionstogether.org.uk/page/s/fightback

Also my own union Unite has launched a great site about the implications of the General Election for trade union members: http://www.unite4labour.org/ This site uses the Obama campaign model of trade unionists canvassing fellow trade unionists: if you are a Unite member and a Labour Party member or supporter as well you can log in and canvass fellow union members for Labour.

 
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