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, January 29, 2010

Selections and the Labour Hard Left

One of the features of General Committee meetings in the CLP where I live, Hackney North, is that we have newspaper, or more correctly magazine, sellers. Being interested in what my political opponents have to say, I am a regular buyer (£1 waged/50p unwaged) of Labour Left Briefing. For the un-initiated Labour Left Briefing represents a strand of Labour opinion which is to the left of for instance, Ken Livingstone and his allies in Socialist Action (formerly trading as the International Marxist Group) and produces (they would say "is" as they follow the time honoured let's call our politburo an editorial committee model) a publication well known for its combination of vitriol (it used to run a feature called "Class Traitor of the Month" which sadly I never made it into) and rather high production values.

My eye was drawn to their page about candidates and selections.

First there is a list of those MPs and PPCs deemed "worthy of left support", defined as current or future members of the Campaign Group of MPs plus anyone else prepared to nominate John McDonnell MP as Labour Leader . Two things struck me about this list:

  • First, it is very short. 23 names. 19 sitting MPs and only 4 PPCs, all in non-Labour-held seats. This suggests McDonnell will have even fewer nominations than the 29 he got in 2007 when he failed to get on the ballot paper against Gordon Brown. You need 12.5% of Labour MPs nominating you to run, so even if all 19 hard left MPs listed hold their seats (four of which are highly marginal) the PLP will need to have shrunk to just 152 MPs for the hard left to run a leadership candidate. The low number of hard left MPs after the General Election and their failure to win selections in other seats (pointing to a lack of enthusiasm for their stance from ordinary party members) suggests any post-election lurch to the left is going to need to come from the unions and will be an attempt to move to a Cruddas-ite/Compass soft left stance, not a reversion to Bennery.
  • Second, isn't it a bit "off" to suggest Labour activists should help MPs and PPCs based on their ideological stance? I work for the re-election of my own MP, who happens to be the Hard Left Diane Abbott, without any regard to political differences of opinion between us, and if I want to travel and help in another seat, I do it on the basis of marginality and the key seat strategy, not the political correctness of the candidate's views. Rightly there would be outcry if Progress or Labour First published a list of MPs and PPCs whose views we agreed with and urged activists to use this criteria for deciding where to campaign. I won't be complaining if hard left activists do turn up to help in Hackney, in fact I look forward to working with them, but I hope it won't be at the expense of them working in marginal seats for candidates with views they might not 100% agree with.

Next to the list is an article which includes an explanation of why the hard left has been so unsuccessful in selections. I found it extraordinary:

"We need to learn from the right's ability to have councillors or trade union officials ready and waiting when a selection comes up. All last autumn, the left was scrabbling round for candidates as seats became vacant, only to find that there was no one on the ground in the vicinity who could be put forward as a credible candidate. Everyone needs to make sure they are involved at a local level in their CLP or their union (or both!) so that they are ready to contest any selections which come up."

No wonder that the same two hard left candidates (Susan Press and Christine Shawcroft) have popped up in multiple selections (Christine has been busy sending Christmas cards and calendars in her capacity as an NEC member - not mentioning her own interest in their selection - to Leyton & Wanstead members) - looks like they are the only people they have! Can I hear the sound of barrels being loudly scraped?

For Briefing's information the right of the party doesn't run some list where we tee up candidates. All those people running for selection do it because they put themselves up to it of there own free will. We don't have an equivalent shadowy organisation to you matching names to seats. And if you want people to be selected to be a Labour MP by ordinary members they need to have decades of experience as councillors or trade unionists, not start getting active locally prompted by a message in the January edition of Briefing when the election is in May! They also need to hold political views that party members and, more importantly, voters won't consider to be several sandwiches short of a picnic, which could prove a greater obstacle...

Council by-election results

Two last night:

Great Bowen & Arden Ward, Harborough DC. LD gain from Con in a split ward. LD 966 (61.8%, +12.1), Con 598 (38.2%, -12.1). Swing of 12.1% from Con to LD since 2007.

Lyngford Ward, Taunton Deane DC. LD hold. LD 390 (43.7%, -7.3), Con 253 (28.4%, +1.7), Lab 190 (21.3%, +5.3), UKIP 59 (6.6%, +0.4). Swing of 4.5% from LD to Con since Oct 2009 by-election.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The legality of wars

I'm more than a bit mystified by all this stuff about Iraq having needed a second UN resolution.

Is it really the case that we are signed up to an international set of rules that give China and Russia a security council veto over whether the UK government can decide to go to war, except in the obvious cases like self-defence against an attack?

If so, the rules are nuts. China is one of the few countries in the world that actually practices colonialism/imperialism, with its occupation and exploitation of Tibet. This is quite aside from their support for the Burmese junta and the genocidal Sudanese regime. Do we really think the Chinese should have had the right of veto over the USA and UK's actions against their mate Saddam?

And if the law was so clear cut, how come the US government, in a system with a far more powerful judiciary, seem to have had the same legal advice allowing them to go ahead as Goldsmith gave Blair?

Paxman is just pointing out on Newsnight that far from there being a question of the legality or not of Iraq, it's not even a justiciable question in most countries i.e. it is not a question that courts have any authority over.

Debunking some election myths

Myth 1: Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com claims (http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2010/01/26/why-we-need-more-polls-of-the-marginals/):

"Both big parties, though they won’t admit it, are no longer pumping extra resource into seats held by Labour where the 2005 majority is less than 4%. It’s the seats above that which are key and where, surely, polling efforts should be focused."

Not true. I've got a reasonably good knowledge of where Labour has full-time organisers deployed and where canvassing is being focused - I doubt Mr Smithson has as he is a Lib Dem. I can assure him no Labour seats are being given up on - some of the most full-on campaigners in the Party are MPs in seats with majorities of less than 4% and are pushing ahead all guns blazing. There are even some seats that went Tory in 2005 - Bexleyheath & Crayford and Putney spring to mind - where dynamic candidates (in these cases Howard Dawber and Stuart King) are running well-funded, highly professional campaigns that are causing real headaches for the Tory MPs they are up against. The reality is that Labour has to hold seats with a majority under 4% to retain office - we'd be no more likely to under-resource those seats than to publicly concede the election now - and why write off the seats where we have made the most long-term investment in campaigning and have the best canvass data?

I have a suspicion Labour's doorstep canvassing-focused grassroots campaign is going to cause the Tories with their reliance on Ashcroft-funded glossy literature and billboard posters some nasty surprises. Meeting your MP or PPC has been proven by political scientists to have far more impact on propensity to vote than any number of airbrushed pictures of a national leader.

Myth 2: Iain Dale (and Jonathan Isaby) claim (http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2010/01/mps-with-defeat-in-their-eyes.html) that 46 Labour MPs in Tory target seats are standing down because "They all expect Labour to lose." But I've looked at the list of 46 and 25 of them are going for fairly normal reasons of either ill-health or reaching somewhere near or past pension age; one (Dr Stoate) feels new rules on second jobs will stop him practicing as a GP; three were so implicated in the expenses row their positions were untenable; and three are former senior ministers who resigned and thus effectively ended their parliamentary career paths. That accounts for 32 of 45 so the theory begins to look a bit of a load of old twaddle. I could just as easily write that the large number of Tory MPs standing down - 36 - is because they are scared Cameron is going to lose and they'll have to spend another four years in opposition.

Peter vs Ken

I thought our guy won this encounter on Channel 4 News. Good to see there are still some heavyweight politicians on both sides in politics though:




Lib Dem Camden Mayor arrested

http://www.camdennewjournal.com/news/2010/jan/cnj-exclusive-liberal-democrats-suspend-mayor-over-benefits-investigation

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tory lead falls 4%

A ComRes poll coming out tomorrow says:

Con 38% (-4%)
Lab 29% (n/c)
LD 19% (n/c)

This exactly wipes out the Tory gain in the last ComRes poll and puts them back where they were in December. This kind of result produces a hung parliament.

I spent today at the Labour First Annual Meeting at the Brandhall Labour Club in Warley, listening to Ed Miliband speak. He gave a good performance with an emphasis on the need to restructure the economy towards manufacturing which obviously went down well with an audience with a good proportion of West Midlands members and trade unionists in it. The mood of the meeting didn't suggest a Party that is anything other than up for the fight in the General Election - borne out by another poll today from ICM which while it shows the Tories getting a good swing to them in marginal seats also says that almost as many marginal seat voters have experienced local Labour campaigning in their area as have Tory contact i.e. all the millions Ashcroft is spending on Tory posters, mailshots and phonebanks are reaching roughly the same percentage of voters as Labour's cash-strapped campaign, which is primarily reliant on the enthusiasm and dedication of volunteer canvassers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Council by-election results

Just two by-elections last night:

West Hallam and Dale Abbey Ward, Erewash BC. Con hold. Con 692 (51.4%, -22.6), LD 506 (37.6%, +37.6), Lab 149 (11.1%, -14.9). Swing of 30.1% from Con to LD since 2007. This is in the notionally Tory new parliamentary constituency of Derbyshire Mid.

Airedale and Ferry Fryston Ward, Wakefield MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1330 (49.9%, +3.4), LD 603 (22.6%, +8.3), BNP 353 (13.3%, -7.6), Con 275 (10.3%, -7.6), Ind 102 (3.8%, +3.8). Swing of 2.5% from Lab to LD since 2008. Retaining this seat means Labour keep their one seat majority on Wakefield MBC. A very bad result for the Tories in a borough where they had entertained hopes of taking control in May. This is in Yvette Cooper's new seat of Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The dark side of South Essex politics

Back in 2005 I was Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Castle Point, an Essex seat comprising Canvey Island and the "mainland" communities of Benfleet, Thundersley and Hadleigh.

Although I got soundly beaten by Bob Spink MP, then a Tory and now an Independent (via a stint in UKIP), I enjoyed the campaign and made some great friends in the local Labour Party.

However, there was always an awareness of a dark undercurrent in the politics of Castle Point Borough Council. A local businessman had run a wierd campaign against several former Labour councillors including flying insulting banners about them and dropping leaflets from a light aircraft, which led to a lengthy court case. And whenever I went canvassing residents would hint darkly at planning applications being decided not on the basis of planning law but to the benefit of businessmen (and it was always men) with connections to councillors. There was particular anger about the extent of building on the remaining bits of green belt land in a borough that has experienced very rapid development.

Bob Spink, although very rightwing on Europe and immigration issues, was to his credit very much a defender of the green belt and hostile to some of the more outrageous planning applications that were going through. I believe that this contributed to the repeated deselection attempts against him by the leadership of his local party.

Now it transpires that Dr Spink's main critic within the Tory Association, Cllr Bill Sharp, has been suspended from office for six months for:

  • Bullying Mr Burchill (the Council's Director of Environment i.e. planning) and treating him with disrespect
  • Undermining him professionally
  • Intimidating him by calling for his dismissal
  • Failing to accept advice which, by law, he could not ignore
  • Seeking an advantage for himself and others by pressing for hotel plans at Benfleet's Saddlers Farm Roundabout to be included in a key council planning strategy document, when these plans were being promoted by "a developer friend", the Council's QC said "He continued to lobby for a site in which he clearly had a significant interest.”
The whole story is here: http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/4861581.Council_ban_for_bully/

Cllr Sharp has previous form for allegedly harassing Dr Spink.

The national Tory Party got rid of Dr Spink rather than backing him when he asked them to investigate the links between dodgy planning deals and the attempts to deselect him. They owe him a big apology.

The Tory Party needs to thoroughly investigate the way its Castle Point Association operates. Tory politics in that part of the world is more reminiscant of southern Louisiana than south Essex, with Cllr Sharp's suspension exposing a very unhealthy nexus between developers and politicians.

This is not a partisan point - I'm sure there are bad apples in other local government barrels who bring into disrepute everyone else in public life who is motivated by public service, not by what they can do for themselves or their mates - and Dr Spink when he was a Tory tried to tackle the issue. Now they need to intervene as a national party to clean up Castle Point politics.

According to the Castle Point Tory website (http://www.castlepointconservatives.com/index.php?sectionid=7&pagenumber=64) Cllr Sharp is their Vice-Chair, Fundraising. You can draw your own conclusions about the appropriateness of a guy who has been suspended for bullying council officers on behalf of developer friends being in charge of raising the cash for local Tory campaigns.

New homes for Hackney

One of the biggest issues in the ward where I am a councillor (Chatham Ward in central Hackney) is overcrowding in social housing - large families stuck in a one or two bedroom flat because there aren't enough large homes at affordable rents.

There's been some good news: http://www.themovechannel.com/news/8bf2b82d-c8f0/

Hackney has got London's biggest share of a new pot of HCA (Homes & Communities Agency) cash for building new social rented homes. We've been awarded £6.26m to build 87 new homes with some of them going on a site next to Bridge House on Homerton High Street in my ward.

Hackney has seen 800 new affordable homes delivered in the last year.

Health Update

Regular readers will know that I spent nearly half of last year in hospital being treated for POEMS syndrome, a rare neurological condition caused by antibodies produced by a bone marrow cancer, and that as a consequence I'm currently a wheelchair user (though making a steady physical recovery thanks to the community physiotherapy team in Hackney).

Today I went to UCH on Euston Road and got the results from a PET/CT scan I had earlier this month. It was good news - I still have a tumour, but it is continuing to shrink from the after effects of radiotherapy - I hadn't realised that the treatment can continue to produce results for up to two years. This means I won't have to have chemotherapy now - which would have put me back in hospital for two months as well as having a mortality risk associated with it - and won't have to so long as my physical recovery continues.

So the next few months look like being a bit more focused on politics and less on medical procedures than they could have been.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not so Shortly Floorcross

It must be quite embarrassing to have your political opponents stand up in Full Council and reveal to your side that you asked to defect but they turned down your kind offer.

Up in Haringey Nick Clegg was dealt a blow last night when it was revealed that his Adviser on Interfaith and Preventing Radicalisation and Extremism had tried to defect to the Labour Party, but had his advances rejected. Cllr Fiyaz Mughal, Lib Dem Councillor for Noel Park, made several attempts during Brian Paddick’s Mayoral campaign to co-ordinate a defection to the Labour benches. Cllr Mughal even tried to speak to Ministers after the local Labour Party refused to accept him.

Haringey Labour tell me they were very clear – he did not share Labour politics or values, and had a poor attendance record, so we rejected his offer. Well done to Haringey Labour for not taking an easy political gain at a difficult time in their borough but doing the right thing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Links of the week

I have been snowed under (with work rather than snow) this week so not able to blog.

So here's something I've read and found interesting:

BBC Newsnight's Economics Editor Paul Mason has an interesting take on the different strands of opinion in the Labour Party: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2010/01/the_biggest_split_in_the.html

Mason thinks the new generation of Cruddas, Ed Miliband and Purnell have a shared agenda for saving the Party. I hope this is true and that we get a kind of coming together of everyone of talent and good will to find common ground, rather than the personality divisions between people of 95% shared politics which have marred the current generation of Labour in power.

Mason also in an earlier post - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2010/01/labours_coup_nonevents_dear_bo.html defines three strands of opinion in Labour: "There's the Blairite old-guard centre-right, which most decisively shot its bolt yesterday; there's the government - an alliance of Blairites for Brown and Brownites; and there's the centre left, which on all recent votes - at the 2009 conference and the deputy leadership campaign - commands a majority because the remaining affiliated unions are centre-left run." I think this is pretty accurate except that the unions are only allied to the centre left on industrial and economic questions - otherwise they rightly see Compass etc. as middle-class hippies with about as much connection with the realities of union members' lives as, well polite metaphors fail me.

He highlights the importance of the election for Unite General Secretary later this year for the future of the Party - we will be in a very odd place if the ex-SWPer Gerry Hicks wins.

Correctly I think Mason points to the disconnect between the bright young Labour high-ups and any grassroots movement. For me it's almost like Labour's "aristocracy" got so excited by the trappings of Government - the glittering path from think tank to Special Adviser to MP to Minister, often achieved in record time - that they forgot about the poor bloody infantry of the Labour movement who sustain it through bad and good electoral times. Or never knew about the hull (the bit that keeps the whole ship floating) as opposed to the superstructure of the party anyway. I can't help thinking they all would have benefited from going a bit slower and being councillors or union officials dealing with workplace campaigns and issues for a while (NB I know which ones did do a stint at the grassroots so this is not a blanket accusation).

I hope Mason is wrong when he says that last week's coup attempt resulted in some senior Ministers (some of whom have a track record of presenting themselves as faux left in internal party elections - no names, no pack drill) keeping the PM in office in return for a pledge to pursue "realistic" cuts and privatisation.

I find myself in the odd positioning of proudly self-defining as on the right of the Labour Party and being defined by most people as some kind of Blairite ultra, yet in the current climate my sympathies are very definitely with what Mason calls the "centre left" on the key issues of public services and economic growth. For me, modernisation and triangulation means making sure Labour is aligned with the values of ordinary working class voters in supporting strong policies on defence, crime and immigration (though I accept I am by instinct way to the left of most of the electorate on migration issues), keeping taxation as low as possible for ordinary working people and being pro-business in the sense of the state providing a supportive environment for businesses to grow and particularly boosting manufacturing industry, not in the sense of allowing business to exploit workers or consumers. It doesn't mean seeing the private sector as the solution to everything (it's the solution to some things but my experience of outsourcing during five months in hospital last year and in Hackney before Labour won back control of the council teaches me it can be a lot worse at delivering some services than municipal solutions can be) - it doesn't mean making cuts to intrinsically valuable public services just when the economy needs continued pump-priming - it doesn't mean avoiding putting trade union demands for workplace rights for agency workers into our manifesto - it doesn't mean being shy about saying the country should be a meritocracy, with people from ordinary backgrounds who have earned their way to the top by effort and talent running it, not the scions of the landed gentry. Triangulation is about moving towards the enemy position on the weak points they have been able to attack you on, not abandoning the aspects of your party's identity that are inspiring and popular and define why it exists as a separate political force. It's about making sure everyone who because of class and economic self interest should vote Labour does not feel alienated from us and vote against their economic self-interest because we are soft on crime, allow our defence policy to be written by CND, or are punitively taxing their hard earned wages.

I think I know how Roy Hattersley feels i.e. standing still in a traditional social democratic position and watching others accelerate past me to positions that don't seem to have any ideological roots in Labour - be that Labour right, left or centre.

Apologies for the rambling nature of this post and its weak punctuation. Sometimes only a stream of consciousness will do.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Faster than a speeding cabinet member

Amid all the talk about the speed or lack of it of reaction to the Hoon/Hewitt proposal by various cabinet members, I thought I'd check how fast I'd been.

My own denunciation of the coup attempt was composed, written and posted here, according to the time on the post, at 12.43 pm. That's just 13 minutes after Hoon and Hewitt broke cover. One hour 17 minutes before the first Cabinet Minister responded. And to pick some names at random, five and three quarter hours faster than Harriet, four and three quarter hours faster than Jack and a whopping six and a quarter hours faster than David.

They all have at least two special advisers to watch rolling news for them, help them decide what they think about major political events, and draft statements for them, yet were in one case 2600% slower than a part-time blogger who just happened to have one eye on Sky News while in the middle of an M&S tuna and sweetcorn sarnie on my lunchbreak.

Clearly cabinet posts aren't allocated on ability to respond decisively and fast in a political crisis. Or maybe I missed an alternative explanation for the delayed reactions...

Council by-election result

Just the one yesterday:

Woodfield Ward, Harrogate BC. LD hold. LD 688 (62.6%, +4.1), Con 246 (22.4, +7.5), BNP 92 (8.4%, -4.1), Lab 73 (6.6%, -7.5). Swing of 1.7% from LD to Con since 2007.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme Patricia

I wanted to do some phone canvassing tonight after putting my son to bed. That's what I do on nights when I don't have council meetings. But the activities of a couple of senior politicians would have meant I would have spent an evening answering questions about their putsch attempt rather than about housing issues in my ward so I held off. Well done Pat and Geoff for stuffing one of only a hundred or so canvassing days between now and the General Election.


Pat Hewitt of course has form on undermining Labour Leaders. As a delegate to the 1980 Party Conference she gave a ranting Bennite speech denouncing the Callaghan government, which went on to be one of the opening moments to the BBC's 1995 "The Wilderness Years" documentary. Strangely at that time she was in favour of members having more say in the Party, rather than as now them being completely sidelined while an arrogant elite of ex-Ministers try to stage a parliamentary coup d'etat.


Here's what other Labour MPs think of today's initiative: http://www.labourlist.org/labour-mps-round-on-plotters-in-email-exchange

How bizzare

I like Geoff Hoon and think he was a great Minister but have to say I have always found Pat Hewitt deeply irritating and patronising.

I can't see their joint letter calling for a leadership ballot as anything less than bizarre, weirdly timed and destructive.

Maybe the PLP are still agitated about the issue of Gordon's leadership.

The wider party isn't though and nor are Labour voters. For most Labour people this issue was settled by the reaction to the June ministerial resignations.

Out in the grassroots we have been getting on with fighting a General Election campaign. And with some success. Maybe Geoff and Pat don't read opinion polls and haven't seen us eroding the Tory lead. Maybe they don't look at council or parliamentary by-election results and haven't seen the Labour landslide in Glasgow North East or the string of council wins in December. Maybe they don't watch TV and didn't see Labour dissecting the Tory spending plans on Monday.

As it is this is another slap in the face for hard-working Labour activists from MPs who seem wrapped up in the plotting and gossiping of the Westminster hot house when they should be out selling Labour to ordinary voters. I assume the PLP plotters think they can oust Gordon then bounce in another candidate without ordinary party members and trade unionists getting a vote, seeing as that process takes months.

To propose a leadership ballot without naming a replacement candidate is politics at its most negative.

If the PLP carry on behaving like this they are just repeating the Tory behaviour of 1992 to 1997. And they will deserve a similar result.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Health update

Regular readers will know 2009 wasn't a great year for me health-wise, with five months in hospital and ending up in a wheelchair.

Tomorrow I've got "the" big scan at University College Hospital department of nuclear medicine - a PET/CT scan to tell doctors if I still have a tumour and need chemotherapy or not, or whether the radiotherapy I had in the summer did the trick.

I won't know the results until 21 January. Fingers crossed.

Recognising marriage in the tax system

I'm not married. But I've lived with my partner Linda for longer than almost all our married friends have been together and watched lots of people our age marry and then split up while we've stayed together. Both of us have given up correcting people who describe us as husband and wife because the distinction no longer seems relevant.

Much as I like weddings and can understand the appeal of marriage I doubt I shall have one as Linda's feminist principles make her a bit queasy about the institution, and after so long together, with a mortgage and a child, the idea that we need a certificate from the town hall (we're both atheists so there wouldn't be a church involved), a ceremony and a big party to give credibility to our relationship seems ridiculous.

We provide a very happy and stable home for our four-year-old son as parents, and I gather that it's this stability that the people who write "family policy" want to promote.

So why is it that the Tories think Linda and I should pay more tax than a couple who met very recently, married in haste, have no kids, and will divorce as fast as they met?

Can someone explain why they deserve a tax break and we don't? I could buy young Jed even more Star Wars toys, Thomas wooden railway engines and Playmobil sets than he already has if Mr Cameron thought it was me that was worthy of a tax break.

If civil partnerships were opened up to non-same-sex couples we would go and sign-up to ensure we got existing benefits regarding transfering tax allowances and automatic inheritence rights. It's a shame that when Labour introduced civil partnerships it didn't allow the whole population the opportunity to formalise their relationships legally without having to be married. I think as an established couple with a family we've earned the right to be recognised as a unit for tax and benefit purposes and shouldn't have to marry to claim it or Mr Cameron's "might never happen anyway" tax break.

The limits of e-campaigning

The Observer had a piece yesterday carrying the headline (in the online edition) "How the 2010 election will be won by blogs and tweets" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jan/03/labour-tory-internet-campaigns).

It won't.

I blog. I tweet (a little bit). I spend far too much time on Facebook.

But none of these activities will have any meaningful impact on my re-election as a Councillor or on helping Labour to win the General Election.

The only way I can usefully do that is by talking to voters. I used to do that on their doorsteps, but now that I'm (hopefully temporarily) in a wheelchair it's phone-canvassing. And writing leaflets and direct mail for other people to deliver.

I'm not a Luddite. I really enjoy new technology.

And it has a great role to play in finding volunteers, organising campaigners through Facebook groups etc, facilitating debate within and between parties, maybe in fundraising, certainly in spreading messages that the mainstream media aren't willing to carry.

But at the end of the day it has two fatal limitations:

- you have to vote by walking to a polling station or post box to post a postal vote. You can't do it online. So online supporters are only any use when it comes to the electoral crunch if a real person can find them at their home, on polling day, to get them to vote. Or if they are prepared to switch their computer off and help with Getting Out the Vote.
- e-communication is hopelessly un-targeted in a political system that is based on geographical wards and constituencies - unless you can get voters email addresses and match them to a geographical database. Otherwise you could spend a good chunk of your election expenses limit on a web campaign and then discover that the people who had been looking at your website and joining your Facebook group didn't live in your ward or constituency or were not registered to vote. There is no substitute for delivering leaflets, mailings or a conversation from a living breathing campaigner direct to the voter. You simply cannot guarantee electronic communications will reach the right electors.

E-campaigning will play a big and important part in the 2010 Election Campaign. But it won't be what wins it. Knocking on doors will win it. Or our record. Or our vision. Or even our policies, though more often these are what lose elections.

Blogs, tweets and Facebook are actually more likely to be what loses a party the election than what wins it. Because as the Damian McBride affair showed, one ill-considered email or tweet or blogpost or Facebook status upset by a candidate or campaigner can provide a lot of ammo for the old-fashioned media to shred a party's campaign with.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all readers.

Those of you still in festive mood may enjoy the “Which Tory Said This in 2009?” quiz on the Labour Party website: http://www.labour.org.uk/

Others of you might enjoy the sight of Cameron's cronies squabbling over who gets which desk in No10 before a single vote has been cast:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1240181/Setback-Cameron-senior-Tories-revolt-shaven-headed-image-supremo-Steve-Hilton.html or there's the Mirror's round up of the worst of the Tories: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2010/01/02/the-nasty-party-in-their-own-words-115875-21936181/

For a more positive bit of reading, Will Hutton explained in the Observer on Sunday how Labour's economic policies have saved half a million jobs: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/03/uk-economic-recovery. He concludes: "Britain is emerging comparatively lightly from what could have been a second Great Depression. For anyone who believes in government economic activism – and in the dangers posed by Big Finance – it has been a massive vindication."

And then there was the final opinion poll of the year from YouGov, which came out on 1st January: Con 40% (unchanged), Lab 30% (+2), LD 17% (-1), Others 13% (-1) - more proof that we are in for a very competitive General Election, not a Tory walkover.

My top prize for New Year sanctimony goes to John Major for his pious little lecture about Iraq. Presumably he is proud that on his watch as PM he didn't take the chance to topple Saddam at the end of the Gulf War, and instead allowed the Kurds and Marsh Arabs who had risen up in the expectation of liberation by US and British forces to be slaughtered, and in the case of the Marsh Arabs subjected to the destruction of the very environment they lived in. He must also be very proud of Britain's "Unfinest Hour", our refusal to act in Bosnia when the Serbs ethnically cleansed the Bosnian Muslims. To quote Nick Cohen on this "'Pessimism' doesn't quite capture the malice of British policy. American attempts to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian government were opposed by vehement mandarins. No-fly zones, relief for Bosnian enclaves, war-crimes tribunals and armed protection for humanitarian convoys were fought to the last ditches of the European Union and United Nations. 'Any time there was a likelihood of effective action,' said Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, '[Douglas Hurd, Major's Foreign Secretary] intervened to prevent it.'" And equally proud of doing nothing to stop the deaths of over 1 million innocents in the Rwandan genocide. I know which one out of former PMs John Major and Tony Blair should be able to sleep at night and it isn't the one who has been giving interviews about how carefully he followed legal advice.

 
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