A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, the Labour Party and Hackney - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mutual suspicion

As a Councillor I have to confess I am more than a little bit sceptical about the pledge announced today to extend mutualisation of public services: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/31/labour-election-mutualisation-pledge

I'm a mutualist as I'm in the Co-Op Party as well as Labour, but I'm also proud to be municipalist (a supporter of the maximum self-government of local areas, through councils running public services in the interests of local people) in the tradition of Hackney's former Mayor Herbert Morrison(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Morrison).

I'd always seen mutuals and co-ops as an alternative to capitalist forms of ownership, not as a way of councils off-loading their responsibility to deliver public services onto the service users. Surely the whole point about council services is that they are already mutual in that the policies that govern them and the political direction of them is set by the people in an area - the service users -electing some of their fellow residents - also service users - as councillors? Our focus for promoting mutuals should be on taking businesses out of the capitalist sector and into mutual ownership, not on taking services out of the public democratically-controlled sector.

Where there is genuine demand for a mutual solution to delivering services I'm all for it - a successful TMO (Tenant Management Organisation) runs one of the housing estates in my ward.

However:
  • not every group of service users has the time, capacity, skills or desire to run the service. This is particularly the case in more deprived areas where people are under enough pressure running their own lives let alone running local public services. And on one level why should they? Most people quite rightly want to spend their time on their work and their family and leisure - they don't all want to get hands-on in running local schools or parks or libraries, they want someone to do it for them and the ability to kick them out of doing it if they screw up.
  • inevitably the group of users that would get most involved in running a service tends not to be representative of all users and is usually the people with the biggest axe to grind and the most time and energy - quite likely to be more middle class than the average service user.
  • in some cases user groups would advocate policies for the service that would conflict with the wider democratically arrived at policies of the local authority as a whole.

I hope that in pushing this Labour colleagues will not use it as an excuse to pass the buck on difficult spending decisions to service users, and will not forget that the bottom-line responsibility for delivering good public services needs to sit with the councillors who have been elected by the entire local electorate to do that job.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Council by-election result

I missed the only council-byelection to happen last Thursday. Which is a shame as it was an interesting result:

Haughley & Weatherden Ward, Mid Suffolk DC. Green gain from Con. Green 444 (61%, +45.5), Con 176 (24.2%, -20.9), LD 51 (7%, -32.4), Lab 32 (4.4%, +4.4), UKIP 25 (3.4%, +3.4). Swing of 33.2% from Con to Green since 2007. This is in Bury St Edmunds parliamentary constituency.

The Tory campaign

Michael White in the Guardian dissects the Tory ads (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2010/mar/29/negative-advertising-michael-white)

"As for Maurice and Charles's, "I increased the gap between rich and poor vote for me" Brown poster that is a jaw-dropping example of chutzpah which would probably be disbarred by the advertising standards authority

The income/wealth gap in 1997 was dramatically wider than in 1979. Labour's efforts to close it have been conducted while running up a down escalator. The statistics are disputed, but valuable gains have been made at the bottom.

It's the escalating accumulation of wealth at the very top of the top which distorts the figures and much else. Yet the very newspapers which denounce Alistair Darling's "class warfare" efforts to claw some money back from the top 1% of earners or people buying £1m houses will also be the papers which parrot this allegation."

Meanwhile hopefully we will get less pious hair shirt stuff from the Tory Treasury frontbench about their fiscal rectitude and focus on cutting the deficit now that they have revealed that one of their top priorities is to cut National Insurance - i.e. presented with the choice of paying down the national debt, spending money on essential public services or a reckless pre-election bribe that actually reduces the income the government will have and thus increases the cuts that will have to be made, they do the third one.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vote for policies

There's a very handy new website called "Vote for Policies" where you can check out which party's policies you support (by voting on the policies blind, without knowing which party they are from).

Its creators say "Vote for Policies is a campaign to make politics about policies, not personalities (or anything else for that matter).This website came from an idea to help us and our friends figure out who to vote for. Our aim is to help voters make a more informed decision about why we should vote for one party over another. Politics is for all of us, and we hope this site will make it easier for us all to engage with politics."

You can try it out here: http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/

Arguments for equality

The London Sustainable Development Commission has published a fascinating report: "The impact of income inequalities on sustainable development in London".

It's online here.

The Commission had planned a big launch for the report but its conclusions don't fit the politics of the current Mayor of London so it has just been quietly put on a website.

Some key snippets that the research reveals:

  • The creation of a more cohesive and less unequal society will not only make it easier to reduce carbon emissions but will also tend to improve health and wellbeing
  • People Are More Likely To Trust Each Other In More Equal Societies
  • Child Wellbeing is Better in More Equal Societies
  • Illicit Drug Use is Less Common in More Equal Societies
  • The Teenage Birth Rate is Lower in More Equal Societies
  • Mental Illness is Less Common in More Equal Societies
  • Obesity Rates Are Lower in More Equal Societies
  • Fewer People Are Imprisoned in More Equal Societies
  • Health and social problems are worse in more unequal societies
  • Health and social problems in London are closely related to deprivation
  • More equal countries recycle a higher proportion of waste materials
  • More Equal Countries Produce Less CO2 per $100 of Income
  • Death rates of working age men and women are lower in more equal cities
"In the past, demands for a more equal society have usually been seen as demands that the better off should sacrifice the advantages they enjoy in order to provide for the poor. However, we now know that this is not the situation. What the evidence shows is that greater equality improves health and the quality of life for the vast majority of the population, not just those on lower incomes"

"The strong implication of the evidence we have seen is that reducing income differences would reduce the prevalence of a wide range of social problems. We have no precise basis on which to estimate the likely scale of the benefits. Although London is a large city, it is not a whole country, and may not behave like one. But if the international relationships provide any guide to how London might benefit from greater equality then these can be used to make a very rough guide to the scale of the possible benefits:





"As well as helping to reduce consumerism,strengthening community life and enabling societies to respond more cohesively to crises, evidence shows that greater equality also leads people to treat environmental issues more seriously. Because community life is stronger and people trust each other more in more equal societies, they also seem to be more public spirited and more willing to work together towards shared objectives. The conflict between self and society is perhaps less stark and people are more likely to do things they feel are for the public benefit. Support for environmental policies is a sensitive indicator of the balance between feeling that life is about the pursuit of selfinterests in opposition to the wider society, and the pursuit of common interests."

"The high rates of many social problems in London, and Britain more widely, are directly attributable to the scale of inequality and would be reduced if inequality was decreased. If inequality was reduced simply to the average of other rich developed market societies it would dramatically reduce the burden of a wide range of health and social problems including violence, mental illness, teenage births, drug abuse, mistrust and obesity. At the same time we would enjoy a more cohesive society with stronger community life. If inequality was reduced further, to levels as low as those enjoyed by Japan, Sweden, Norway and Finland, our society would be transformed. And it would be transformed not just for the poor, but for the vast majority of the population."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hackney sweeps LGC awards

Congratulations to the staff and Cabinet of Hackney Council for winning the most awards (three) at last night's Local Government Chronicle Awards:

Winner: Best Children's Services
Winner: Employee Engagement
Winner: Place of the Year

and

Highly Commended: Council of the Year

Talking

Here I am talking about the General Election to WinkBall - a video wall of PPCs, bloggers etc.

Those of you who have never met me can discover by watching this that I talk much like I write but with an alarming Estuary English drawl: http://www.winkball.com/walls/Election2010/political_campaigner/

Labour ahead in key marginals

A new Ipsos Mori poll out today shows Labour on 41% and the Tories on 37% in the marginals requiring a swing of 5-9%, i.e. the ones that would give the Tories a majority.

To give you an idea of which seats these are, the 5% swing ones are places like Warwick & Leamington, Dover and Keighley (Con target numbers 98, 99 & 100) and the 9% swing ones are places like Harrow West, Middlesbrough S & Cleveland E, and Ealing North (Con target numbers 177, 178 and 179).

The Tories need 117 gains for a one seat majority - included in the first 117 seats are SNP and Lib Dem ones that are particularly tough for the Tories to gain.

More here: http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE62O20220100325

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Tories and Debt

Once again during the Budget Debate David Cameron has focused on debt levels. He keeps saying that the UK has an extraordinary debt level.

Some perspective on this lie is provided by the fact that we entered the recession with the second lowest level of debt of any of the G7 countries.

OECD figures for the calendar year 2009 give general government net financial liabilities as a percentage of GDP as:

Italy 97.4%
Japan 96.5%
United States 56.4%
France 53.1%
Germany 50.2%
UK 46.9%
Canada 28.6%

This is a result of the prudent early decisions of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, including using the £20 billion plus windfall from the G3 mobile phone spectrum auction for debt repayments. This contrasts with the Tories squandering of privatisation receipts when John Major managed to double the National Debt in five years in a far more benign world economic environment.

John Spellar MP and Michael Dugher (then the AEEU's economist, now the newly selected Labour PPC for Barnsley East) wrote a useful pamphlet at the time demolishing the myth of a ‘golden legacy’ from the Tories, a myth still propagated by Ken Clarke for obvious reasons. The pamphlet – ‘Fools Gold’ can be found at: http://www.labourlist.org/uploads/aebf61e9-d9db-d194-fd31-b1c865911cbe.pdf

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New video from Unions Together

Friday, March 19, 2010

Council by-election results

Just two last night:

Meopham South & Vigo Ward, Gravesham BC. Con hold. Con 515 (59.5%, -4.4), UKIP 122 (14.1%, +14.1), Lab 114 (13.2%, -2.5), LD 114 (13.2%, +13.2). Swing of 9.3% from Con to UKIP since 2007.

Taverham North Ward, Broadland DC. LD gain from Con. LD 630 (54.5%, +24.2), Con 471 (40.8%, -3), Green 54 (4.7%, +4.7). Swing of 13.6% from Con to LD since 2007.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Who would public service cuts hurt?

Some good stuff here from Unison: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGeZ6Z9hTcE&feature=player_embedded and here: http://www.unison.org.uk/million/, and here's the local campaign they are running vs. Tory Notts County Council: http://unison-em-locgov.blogspot.com/2010/02/notts-county-council-campaign-steps-up.html

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dave trip to Hackney

It was very kind of David Cameron to visit my home borough of Hackney on Monday night.

Unfortunately his grasp of Hackney psephology seems a bit limited. According to the Hackney Post website (http://hackneypost.co.uk/?p=3354 ): "Cameron said that Hackney was “now a marginal constituency”. But aside from Conservative candidates Darren Caplan and Graeme Archer, The Hackney Post was unable to find any Hackney residents among the invited guests. Out of more than 20 randomly selected spectators, 17 were from north and west London, one was from Walthamstow and two were Australian."

I'm wondering which bit of Hackney he thinks is marginal. Hackney South & Shoreditch where he was speaking? The Tories are in third place on 14% and all 27 local councillors in the constituency are Labour. Or Hackney North & Stoke Newington? The Tories are again in third place on 15%.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shock, horror! Labour linked to unions!

As red scares go, the new Tory publication claimed Unite is Labour's "new militant tendency" doesn't quite rank with the Zinoviev Letter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinoviev_letter).

You can read the Tory dossier here: http://www.conservatives.com/News/News_stories/2010/03/~/media/Files/Downloadable%20Files/newmilitanttendency.ashx

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Labour and trade union politics is likely to find it laughable.

The revelation that the country's largest trade union has quite a bit of political influence inside the Labour Party is hardly shocking. Perhaps the biggest clue is in the name of the party: "Labour". Kind of suggests a party aimed at representing working people rather than plutocrats, doesn't it? And what are the other organisations that represent working people industrially and politically - that would be the trade unions. They set up the Labour Party (as the Labour Representation Committee) in 1900 when it became clear the Liberals were not interested in advancing the interests of ordinary working people.

It's also hardly a secret relationship. Unite's share of the vote in electing Labour's leader is a matter of public fact. So are its donations. So are the NEC members, MPs and PPCs who are members of it. Most of them proudly state their membership on their election addresses. Unite's policy submissions to Labour's manifesto are made transparently all in their own name, and argued for publicly. It's hardly comparable to the complex network of front companies like Bearwood Corporate Services and the Midlands Industrial Council which channel big corporate money to the Tory Party in return for who knows what.

Labour should be very proud that democratic organisations consisting of millions of ordinary citizens repeatedly decide to formally affiliate to it, fund it and campaign for it. Where and who are the equivalent mass-membership NGOs and civic society organisations that transparently affiliate to and fund the Tories? Their funding comes from the few, not the many.

A few specific points about the Tory dossier:
  • Casual use of the phrase "militant tendency" is a smear. Militant Tendency was a Trotskyist revolutionary group. Unite may be marginally to the left of the Labour leadership, but it is led by democratic socialists.
  • Unite itself doesn't seem to share the view that it has a massive influence over government policy. If it did, how is Brown and Adonis' intervention in the BA dispute explained?
  • The number of CLPs supported by Unite financially merely reflects its relative size as a product of a series of mergers. It's the biggest union so of course it has the most CLP constituency plan agreements and the most MPs and PPCs who are members. All Labour PPCs are supposed to be members of a trade union and Unite is now the union almost everyone in the private sector is eligible to join. It's hardly sinister. What would be sinister would be if a tiny organisation, with a handful of members, had a disproportionate number of MPs or PPCs.
  • Perhaps it's unsurprising that Unite is funding Labour's re-election when the tone of this document indicates Tory hostility to the union and their policies would see many of the union's members lose their jobs and the public services they rely on. Kinda comparably shocking to the fox-hunting lobby making donations to Tory campaigns really.
  • Charlie Whelan comes across as rather benign given a central Tory allegation is that he stopped "MPs joining the Hoon-Hewitt attack on Brown". What a scoundrel! And he is is "regularly attending meetings in Downing Street, Parliament and Labour HQ". Clearly the behaviour of a revolutionary subversive!
  • The funding of CLPs listed by the Tories is derisively small compared to the tens of thousands of pounds Ashcroft has bunged to some Tory associations. The dossier lists an average spend by Unite of just over £3k per constituency. You might be lucky to get half a leaflet to all households with that. I'm not being ungrateful but the average CLP is quite spiky and independent and won't be bought for the sort of sums of money you could raise at a well-run quiz night or barBQ.
  • The sums given to cabinet ministers are also laughably small. We are led to believe Cabinet Ministers can be bribed by Charlie Whelan with mega-bucks donations like ... £277.38 to John Denham. I'm sure it will be the 38p that will really decide Denham's position on future local government pay rounds. The two seats held by Cabinet members that have had the most money are merely the ones the Tories are fighting hardest.
  • The section about what Unite has done to help Labour's campaign is pretty much consistent with what you would expect the largest affiliate to a political party to do when that party was trying to win an election. Do the Tories find the identical activity and funding of the Democrats by major US unions equally worrying? That would seem strange given their efforts to identify themselves with Obama.
  • Apparently one of Whelan's crimes is quoting on Twitter things Brown has said that he agrees with. Is this really the best intel of a rising tide of syndicalism the Tories can come up with? And "Two ‘tweetPhotos’ recently posted by Whelan show how he has been visiting Parliament"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If the Political Director of any major organisation hadn't been "visiting Parliament" they should be sacked. Oh, and on the next page we learn he briefed against Tony Blair. Hold the front page!
  • The list of MPs with CLPs funded by Unite rather gives the lie to the accusations it is a new "militant tendency". There's some real old-school ultra-leftists listed there, like err... Margaret Hodge, Bob Ainsworth, Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, John Spellar, Tom Watson, Charles Clarke, Alan Johnson. And if that lot aren't red enough in tooth and claw to scare you, look at the "militant" PPCs Unite is backing: Rachel Reeves, Andrew Pakes, Stella Creasy. A list that makes Stalin's politburo look like the SDP's Gang of Four. Or perhaps not.

What a load of old cobblers.

Did anyone tell Richard Balfe, the former MEP and turncoat, who has spent the last couple of years as David Cameron's envoy to the union movement? Yet another piece of mock-triangulation and pretend movement to the centre ground exposed.

The mask has now slipped and we know it's the same old union-bashing Tories - hating unions because they represent an organised way for working people to secure better pay and conditions and thus are inimical to the class interests of people like Cameron and Osborne.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Council by-election results

Just two last night:

Adeyfield West, Dacoram BC. Con hold. Con 486 (32.8%, -8.6), Lab 429 (29%, -13.3), LD 362 (24.5%, +8.2), BNP 203 (13.7%, +13.7). Swing of 2.9% from Lab to Con since 2007. This is in Hemel Hempstead constituency, which has a notoional Tory majority of 168.

Redwell West, Wellingborough BC. Con hold. Con 570 (57.2%, -1.8), Lab 186 (18.7%, +3.7), BNP 84 (8.4%, -7.3), LD 72 (7.2%, +3.7), Eng Dem 62 (6.2%, +6.2), Green 23 (2.3%, -1). Swing of 2.8% from Con to Lab since 2008 by-election. This is in Wellingborough constituency, which has a notional Tory majority of just 610.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Where to place the Lib Dems on the political spectrum

Any remaining pretence that the Lib Dems are on the centre-left has been smashed by Nick Clegg's nauseating praise for Margaret Thatcher in the Spectator today (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/11/nick-clegg-praises-margaret-thatcher; http://www.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/5831523/clegg-heir-to-thatcher.thtml).

There's a useful way to work out exactly where the Lib Dems are on the political spectrum, which is to look at the proposed mix of tax increases and public spending cuts the three main parties are proposing for tackling the deficit. These are:

Labour: 33% tax rises, 66% spending cuts

Conservative: 20% tax rises, 80% spending cuts

Lib Dem: 0% tax rises, 100% spending cuts

As a graph that's:




Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kinnock on Kampfner

From the Guardian letters page:

"My friend John Kampfner (I want to vote for a progressive Labour platform. So I'm backing the Lib Dems, 9 March) is amnesic and myopic. His memory of Labour "changes for the better" omits the highest level of employment in UK history, the massive increases in NHS, education, science and overseas development investment, child and pension tax credits, and several other large contributions to social justice.

He evades the current reality of a government fighting against recession instead of fatalistically surrendering to it as the Tories did in the 80s and 90s, and will – if they get the chance – in a future of nominal market regulation. He ignores the future choice between Labour's measured halving of public debt over four years and the Conservative fiscal slicing "from day one", despite the expert warnings that such a course would inflict economic recession and social regression.
And then, having recognised the reality that Margaret Thatcher's best result was won with 44% of the vote because the rest of the electorate was divided (mainly) between Labour and SDP/Liberals, John campaigns for Liberal votes in 2010 – not tactically, but everywhere! No anti-tribalism can justify that inconsistency – especially when "a more pluralist politics" is only realistically likely to come through implementation of Labour's proposals for the alternative vote.
John Kampfner calls the memory and values of Robin Cook in aid. Robin was an inveterate, lifelong opponent of dilettante self-indulgence and always a principled, gutsy democratic socialist, never a sunshine soldier. He would see John Kampfner's "platform" as a scaffold, not a launch pad, for progressives.

Neil Kinnock"

Quiz question

It's a matter of weeks until a knife-edge General Election. Everyone in the Labour Party is focussed on the imminent task of defeating a right-wing Tory opposition.

Imagine you are Gavin Hayes, self-styled "General Secretary" of soft left faction Compass. You control a remarkable political asset, an email mailing list that you claim has 40,000 people on it. What to do at this critical political juncture?

Do you:

a) have a chat with Labour Gen Sec Ray Collins about how you can help, then email the 40,000 people on your list urging them to join Labour if they are not members, to donate to Labour's campaign, and giving them contact details of marginal Labour seats so they can get out and campaign for a Labour victory?

or do you

b) act as though the General Election is someone else's problem, and instead email the 40,000 people on your list with a 29 question survey about internal reforms of Labour's structures, including such bright ideas as mandatory reselection of MPs (copyright Tony Benn, 1980), forcing Labour's leader to face annual re-election, smashing the union link by electing the leader in a primary, and refocusing Labour away from being a "political machine for elections" (elections, power, actually doing things for people, how dull!) and turning it into a cross between a debating society and a student union campaign committee? Oops sorry I forgot, another burning question asked by Compass is whether the Chair of Young Labour should be a "full-time sabbatical Support Officer". Voters talk of little else when I canvass them.

Guess which one Gav did: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/10/compass-rebuilding-labour-questionnaire. That was a tough one to predict wasn't it.

Aside from being possibly the dumbest timed initiative ever, even by Compass standards, and a grotesque distraction from the task in hand, the document must have been written by someone with no personal interaction with Labour's local structures. It says "Labour could learn a lot from the way London Citizens allow their key activists in a local area to democratically decide the organisation's campaign priorities". Ahem. Labour's key activists in a local area do democratically decide the organisation's campaign priorities at things called branches, CLP general committees, and local government committees. Dear Compass, please try removing yourselves from the Westminster think-tank bubble and getting involved in your local Labour Party, campaigning for a Labour victory or running for local public office. You might learn a bit about why a "political machine for elections" is essential for the emancipation and betterment of the working class, about what ordinary voters actually think of the Guardianista policy pap you peddle, and about the reality of taking political decisions in the teeth of a recession.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Losing is not such a good idea

Labour having clawed its way back into contention in the General Election, the Guardian has started publishing articles suggesting it would be a good thing for Labour's own sake to lose the election: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/09/election-labour-lose-gordon-brown

I can just about get the argument - it runs something along the lines that if you have to lose an election, lose the one when difficult decisions need to be taken to tackle the deficit.

But this assumes that the decisions Labour would take are as bad as the ones the Tories would. If you believe that there's no difference between the timing and depth of the measures to be taken between the parties then there's no point having an election, we might as well let Treasury civil servants run the country.

And if there is a difference between the economic, fiscal and public spending policies of Labour and the Tories, someone other than Labour MPs losing their seats pays a price if the Tories get in: users of public services, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable and dependent on the state.

So we might fancy four years off from tough decisions and a bit of battery-recharging and powerless feel-good ranting from opposition, but it's the folk we were set up to represent who'll pay the real price. I think it was Australian PM Bob Hawke who said "there may only be an inch between a Labor government's policies and a coalition government's policies but if you live in that inch it's an important inch." And this time round in the UK the policy gap is not just an inch, it's a country mile. I could feel half-relaxed about a Tory government if Cameron had followed his early strategy of being "heir to Blair", seizing the political centre ground and building on our legacy. But he has reverted to being "son of Thatcher" with a hardline economic policy (dressed up with a few photoshoots with arctic seals) intent not on building on Labour's legacy but on turning the clock back to 1983.

Labour governments need to be for the difficult times not just the economically easy ones. In fact it is even more important that a progressive, socialist morality and sense of political priorities is applied to tough choices about what services to protect when money is tight as it is for it to be applied when the Treasury coffers are bursting.

We know the difference between the approach of the Tories in the recessions of the 1930s and 1980s and our approach in the last two years. We can't leave our communities to their far from tender mercies.

If Labour wants to ever create the kind of social democratic hegemony our sister party in Sweden for instance achieved, we need to maintain power for a generation or two, through any turbulence and tough decisions that are out there, winning people's respect for doing the right thing whatever we are confronted with, not as Philippe Legrain suggests, taking a break when the going gets tough.

Even from a completely partisan point of view his argument doesn't stack up. To lose and avoid the next four years in power we need to lose many MPs. Every MP we lose weakens party organisation and is a more difficult seat to win back than it would be to defend as incumbents.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Thoughts on Foot

Like many Labour people, I feel very conflicted about Michael Foot.

My first encounter with him was literary not political. I read his introduction to Gulliver's Travels (aged 8 - I was a bit of a bookworm) and have never forgotten his detailed explanation of why Swift's description of a land where the political parties were based on whether to eat an egg starting from the big end or little end was a satire on the Whigs and Tories. I also found a copy as a kid (in a jumble sale, which there were a lot of in the early '80s) of Guilty Men, and learnt somehow that Cato was a pseudonym for Foot, and that the left had played an honourable role in opposing mainstream Tory appeasement of Hitler.

Then Foot became Labour Leader. My mum and dad were fans but not members of CND and held Tony Benn and Michael Foot in equally high esteem - which was odd given that Benn was doing everything he could to undermine Foot's leadership. I remember the anger I felt as an 11-year-old from a die-hard Labour family about the attacks on him in the Tory press in the run up to the 1983 General Election. I remember the sheer embarrassment and humiliation as a Labour family who were also members of the British Legion of the cenotaph duffel coat incident (which didn't stop me as an 11 year old ultra-leftie thinking it was great to own a duffel coat as Foot had one). I remember the ridicule we were subjected to by our Tory friends and neighbours for backing Foot and having a red poster in our window when the rest of our south-eastern housing association estate were virulently pro-Maggie and most houses in the street sported blue posters (ironically posters for ultra-Wet MP David Crouch, who came and knocked on the door of our forlorn Labour bastion to praise us for continuing to fly the flag). I remember the morning after polling day our primary school teacher asking whose parents had voted Labour, and in our grotesquely swollen by Tory underfunding class of 34 kids, only 2 of us had mums and dads who had voted Labour.

At the time I thought everyone else was wrong, and we, the gallant 27% of Labour/Foot voters, were right.

Later I began to read about and understand a bit more about the policies we had fought 1983 on and how they compared to the policies Wilson and Callaghan had won elections with. I began to understand what had caused the creation of the SDP (reviled in my household as traitors) and to understand how near Labour had come to coming third in that election. That's about the time I got interested in what Neil Kinnock was doing to save Labour, and signed up to try to do my teenage bit.

I came to see Michael Foot as having represented everything that needed to be rejected in Old Labour: vote-losing policies, rubbish campaigning, old-fashioned imagery, years wasted campaigning for stuff like CND that our working class core vote despised and which drove them into the arms of Thatcher.

At university, I invited Foot to speak at a Bristol University Labour Club meeting. Already nearly 80, he packed a big meeting room and captivated his student audience with an 80 minute peroration that meant many of us missed the start of afternoon lectures. 70 minutes of it was a staggeringly detailed history lecture about, I think, Lord Liverpool's authoritarian Tory administration of 1812-1827. The final ten minutes were when he carefully explained that this was an extended analogy for the Thatcher years and that just as three years after Liverpool the Great Reform Act and 40 years of Whig ascendancy had started, so we were on the brink of a Tory implosion and a Labour landslide. He was only a few years out in his prediction. I feel honoured to have heard him speak - without notes and with flights of rhetoric that hardly anyone in politics has ever matched.

Now as I read more Labour history I begin to understand the differences between the gentler, older Bevanite left tradition espoused by Foot, and the nastier version that the Bennites pushed. I now know he took the first steps towards the expulsion of Militant. And that he desperately tried to stop the SDP split and keep the party together. And that Kinnock, my political hero, was essentially Foot's protege and creation.

I would have found Michael Foot exasperating if I had been a Labour activist in the '50s. He and Bevan played a deeply destructive role. If I had been a Labour activist in the early '80s (I guess leafleting aged 10 doesn't count) I would have been horrified that he beat Healey for Leader.

I cannot forgive his wrongness in pursuing wrong causes like CND, hostility to Lords reform and hostility to Europe. I cannot forgive him taking on a role - Leader - that he was wholly unsuited for and leading us in a political equivalent to the Charge of the Light Brigade, straight into the valley of political death towards Thatcher's massed electoral guns.

But it is impossible even for an ungracious and pugnacious Labour moderate like me not to feel great affection for a man who always did what he thought was morally right, never looked for self-advantage or promotion, and loved the Labour Party and the people it represents. He will be sorely missed.

Five Jobs Boff

Tory candidate for Mayor of Hackney Andrew Boff has announced he will work unpaid if he beats Labour's Jules Pipe in May, as will his Cabinet.

This might sound admirable until you discover Boff can only afford to do this because he already earns about £53,000 a year as a GLA member. And he intends to carry on doing the GLA job and somehow be Mayor in his spare time!

I don't think he understands what an executive Mayor does. It isn't about going to a few meetings and wearing a chain. The executive Mayors in boroughs like Hackney, Lewisham and Newham run organisations with the best part of 5,000 staff and budgets of £1 billion which have a profound impact on local residents' lives - including "life & limb" stuff like child protection. The casework they get is up to 2,000 letters a year. They are paid more than MPs because they have a lot more executive responsibility.

I've worked as an adviser for Group leaders who tried to run the opposition group on a council in their spare time whilst doing another job (in the days before generous Special Responsibility Allowances). It was impossible for them even to do justice to the job of scrutinising the executive without being full time, let alone to politically lead the council. No local government political administration, or ‘cabinet’, in London (possibly in the UK) is now run solely by part-time and/or unpaid people.

A recent scrutiny committee study I was involved in heard plenty of evidence that there was a direct link between the hands-on decision-making and oversight of officers by Jules as Hackney's Mayor and the council's progression from a national laughing-stock and basket case that failed residents to one which wins national improvement awards.

Andrew Boff is also running to be a ward councillor in Queensbridge Ward, where we unseated him in 2008, and he publishes a local magazine and is in business as an IT consultant.

The idea that he can combine all these roles (it's not even legal to be both a ward councillor and Mayor) and make any meaningful impact on the seven-days-a-week job of being Mayor is an insult to the position he is running for and to the intelligence of Hackney's voters.

Far from being a "saving", Boff's suggestions would have the effect of reducing the ability of democratically elected residents to have proper control and oversight of a £1 billion Council operation, as well as reducing the authority’s ability to explain to taxpayers what it’s doing with that money. The current levels of control and oversight that Mr Boff wants to practically eliminate have seen more than £40 million saved over the past few years without making service cuts – the third highest savings total in the country of any local authority– which is now spent each year on more and better frontline services, including millions extra on youth, and has allowed Labour to keep the Council tax frozen for five years.

Hackney freezes Council Tax for fifth year

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of speaking in the debate at full Council in Hackney on setting the council's budget.

Until eight years ago when Labour retook control from a chaotic hung council, budget nights in Hackney were characterised by mass protests against sweeping service cuts, the setting of absurdly overoptimistic council tax collection rates that then led to in-year £50 million budget blackholes, and on some occasions the protection of the Town Hall by riot police.

This year, we voted for a Council Tax freeze for an unprecedented fifth year, and with no cuts for the fifth year. This is thanks to one of the most extensive efficiency drives of any local authority in the UK.

Spending decisions included:

  • More homecare hours, keeping older and disabled residents living in their own home, independent, and ensuring that they stay part of their existing communities.
  • Another investment in our youth service, with £5 million being spent on building or refurbishing youth centres - and we've now added £1 million each year since 2006 on increasing the number of activities for young people in Hackney.
  • More money to improve street cleanliness - making sure our streets and public spaces are kept clean and safe for all our residents.
  • Around £9 million to be spent on youth intervention, both in terms of positive activities for young people and also diverting those who have become involved in gangs and criminal activity. This is part of £25 million being spent on community safety - that's on top of the police's budget.
  • 3 secondary schools being refurbished this year as part of a £170 million schools investment programme.
  • Ensuring enough money to keep the levels of recycling going up - with estate recycling fully funded for another year.

The Tories - the main opposition group with nine councillors - did not propose a budget at all, for the first time in anyone's memory.

Council by-election

There was only one council by-election last night:

Chatteris, The Mills Ward, Fenland DC. Con hold. Con 301 (45.9%, -11.2), LD 264 (40.2%, -2.7), UKIP 58 (8.8%, +8.8), Lab 33 (5%, +5). Swing of 4.3% from Con to LD since 2007.

 
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