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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day trip to Gillingham, looking for some fresh ideas

I've had an interesting, if rather cold, trip to Gillingham for the Labour National Policy Forum.

It was the first NPF meeting I had been to and I gather somewhat innovative in that the emphasis was on the delegates rather than senior politicians speaking, and the workshops were about contemporary issues, not the 2015 Manifesto.

The business part of the meeting saw Peter Hain confirmed as Chair and Simon Burgess, Kate Green MP and Billy Hayes of CWU as Vice-Chairs. There was an odd moment when leftwinger George McManus was nominated but refused to run against Simon unless there was a secret ballot...

Ed Miliband gave a good speech (http://www.labourlist.org/ed-milibands-npf-speech) without notes. I was pleased to hear him reaffirm support for the union link. The tone of the policy stuff is where it should be - a full rethink (including external and public input) but with a clear steer towards policy solutions that tackle the problems facing the "squeezed middle" in society, as well as a prioritisation of dealing with climate change and strengthening communities. He also touched on banking reform, promoting hi-tech manufacturing, and the Living Wage. For me the key passage in Ed's speech was this:

"Why do I say we have to move beyond New Labour? Not because the New Labour approach was wrong, it was right in many ways. Social justice and economic efficiency. Creating wealth as well as distributing it. Appealing to all sections of society.

All of those things are right but the truth is we got many thing right in government and some things wrong, we have to face up to that. And also the world has changed dramatically. Our last big renewal was in 1994. That’s why this process of renewal is so important for our party."

As a councillor I also liked this bit "we have to be the people who stand up for local democracy and local control over public services".

Liam Byrne, the man running the review, made it clear that it would not involve us "retreating to a monastery for five years to count angels on pinheads" and that in parallel and as part of the review we needed to be campaigning and connecting with communities.

Peter Hain launched the review of Partnership in Power (sic) our policy-making process, saying "We need to change as a party to be a changed Labour for the next general election. We got a hammering at the election and therefore we need to learn those lessons".

All delegates took part in workshops about PiP. I made the point in the one I attended that whilst the NPF might be working for the people on it, the lower levels of policy forum (at CLP and regional level) had atrophied or disappeared so there was nothing feeding up ideas to the NPF at the apex. Many delegates also called for a proper audit trail of what happens to policy submissions from the grassroots. Peter Hain seems keen to deliver this. I also made the point that we lack a party platform - a "direction of travel" or strategic statement that sits between the statement of values in Clause IV and the detail of party policy. Our European sister parties usually renew their party platforms every decade or so with the decision sitting with the membership. I feel that if the Party had the chance to vote on this broad direction of travel statement, it would be more relaxed about shadow ministers finessing the detail of policy. As it is we have not had a broad debate like this since New Clause IV in 1995, and the major strategic debate between Brown and Blair over the extent and nature of public service reform occurred without any overarching formal debate by the wider Party.

The other workshops I attended were on constitutional reform, where I argued for AV but said that the Party should not take sides in the referendum; and on welfare reform, where I learnt about the potentially dreadful impact of the Coalition move to cut housing benefit by 10% for anyone unemployed for over a year.

If you want to contribute to Labour's policy review sign-up here: http://fresh-ideas.org.uk/

Overall the NPF meeting demonstrated a Party that is remarkably united and upbeat, and looks like it has skipped the period of internecine warfare and leftwards lurches that has historically followed our defeats.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Council By-elections

Last night's results:

Blaby South Ward, Blaby DC. LD hold. LD 381 (44%, -21), Con 264 (30.5%, -4.5), Lab 153 (17.7%, +17.7), BNP 68 (7.9%, +7.9). Swing of 8.3% from LD to Con since 2007.

Worth Valley Ward, Bradford MBC. Con hold. Con 1020 (47.8%, +2.4), Lab 697 (32.7%, +2.2), Green 235 (11%, +11), LD 180 (8.4%, -9.7). Swing of 0.1% from Lab to Con since May this year.

Plaistow Ward, Chichester DC. Con hold. Con 416 (54.2%, -3.5), LD 289 (37.7%, +3.3), UKIP 62 (8.1%, +8.1). Swing of 3.4% from Con to LD since February this year.

Bowbrook Division, Worcs CC. Con hold. Con 1088 (59.2%, -1.2), LD 536 (29.2%, +7.2), Lab 213 (11.6%, +4.6). Swing of 4.2% from Con to LD since 2009.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Disagreeing with Hopi (but only once)

It's not often I disagree with Hopi Sen but I will now politely proceed to do so.

He says here - http://hopisen.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/talking-bout-a-nationalpolicyforum/ - that:

"I’ve always personally been sceptical about the value of street protests. Mostly because I went on quite a few as a student, all of which did sod all good, and most of which hijacked by idiots, usually SWP idiots.

With one exception, I’ve felt that the British street protests I’ve seen as an adult have been damaging to the cause they promoted. The one exception was the Iraq war. So I tend to think of them as a mistake, even if I have sympathy for the cause."

On one level he is right. There is very little chance that street protests will get a Government with a majority to change its policies. And as we have already seen, and I have already blogged about, there are the usual Trot and anarchist groupings who will try to hijack them. They are not "idiots" though Hopi, they are extremely clever and calculating.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't both attend and organise demonstrations against the Coalition's cuts.

Why?
  • Morally I am not prepared to leave the public protest and opposition to the cuts to school kids. We all - Labour activists, trade unionists and councillors - need to stand up and be counted and provide political leadership against the Coalition for our communities.
  • Because silence and lack of protest will be taken by the Government and media as acquiescence or apathy in the face of the cuts. It'll just encourage them to go further, faster.
  • Because people are angry and sad and they need a forum and an activity to express their political discontent. We can't expect people to sit passively and wait for the next General Election in five years time. In the interim we have to provide people with a channel for political expression and protest.
  • If we don't organise and lead protest the SWP or other malign forces will. The Coalition's policies are creating a generation of radicalised young people. We as democratic socialists need to be mobilising them, otherwise we'll lose them to the paper sellers. If we lead protests we get to steward them and liaise with the police to maximise the chances they are peaceful. If we don't, you get an increased chance of chaos and violence. The more of us that go on each march, the more we dilute the percentage of extremists on each one.

So I think mainstream Labour and trade union activists should all be building for the highest possible turnout at the TUC National Demonstration against the cuts on 26 March 2011 (http://www.tuc.org.uk/mediacentre/tuc-18709-f0.cfm) and where we have the weight of numbers organising local protests before that.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Council By-elections

Tonight's results - including a stunning Labour gain on a huge swing in the Black Country.

Rhosneigr Ward, Anglesey CC. Ind hold. Ind 319 (84.6%, -15.4), Con 58 (15.4%, +15.4). Swing of 15.4% from Ind to Con since 2008.

Eglwysbach Ward, Conwy CC. PC hold. PC 368 (71.7%, -16.4), Con 145 (28.3%, +16.4). Swing of 16.4% from PC to Con since 2008.

Baxenden Ward, Hyndburn BC. Con hold. Con 683 (57.8%, -13.2), Lab 434 (36.7%, +18.1), Ind 47 (4%, +4), UKIP 17 (1.4%, +1.4). Swing of 15.7% from Con to Lab since 2008.

Croxteth Ward, Liverpool MBC. Double vacancy. Lab hold 1 and gain 1 from LD. Lab 1447+1424 (60.8%, +3.7), LD 611+475 (23.1%, -6.5), Soc Lab 135 +70 (4.3%, +0.1), BNP 117 (5%, +5), Green 63 (2.7%, +2.7), UKIP 50+19 (1.5%, +1.5), Eng Dem 35+33 (1.4%, +1.4), Con 31+29 (1.3%, -3.4). Swing of 5.1% from LD to Lab since May this year. The Tories came 12th and 13th out of 14 candidates...

Wednesbury North Ward, Sandwell MBC. Lab gain from Con. Lab 1320 (62.1%, +23.9), Con 643 (30.2%, -9), NF 76 (3.6%, +3.6), LD 45 (2.1%, -8.4), Green 42 (2%, +2). Swing of 16.5% from Con to Lab since May this year.

The union link

Luckily most people don't read the Times now it is behind a paywall.

For those of us who have had a look today there's some very disturbing stuff from people who should know better attacking the union link and by extension attempting to undermine the recent leadership election result.

The Times having hated unions ever since their own battles with the printers, they are delighted to print this stuff.

Apparently it would be more democratic to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of political levy paying union members and deny them a vote in Labour leadership contests, opine the various ex-Ministers quoted.

One even says that the unions are "increasingly an irrelevant structure in British society anyway".

I find this deeply distasteful. Actually I find it offensive. There are echoes of some of the bitter anti-union talk that was doing the rounds at Annual Conference, which on probing turned out to be rooted in a contempt not just for the union role in the Party but for their industrial role defending workers against employers.

Right at the moment we should be deepening and strengthening the relationship with the unions not weakening it or severing it. All the progressive forces in British society need to be building a united campaign against the cuts. Instead we have Labour MPs (who ought to pause for a minute and think about how the Party they are in got its name, which organisations founded it, and who funded our election campaign this May) badmouthing our own affiliates.

Yet again we are in danger of elements of the losing side in a leadership contest trying to refight the contest or question its legitimacy. We know where that takes us, we've been there twice before.

We also know where severing the union link would take us. There was an experiment in running a social democratic party without any links with the unions in the 1980s. Devoid of any voice for working people's priorities, and wholly dependent on the kind of London dinner tables that feature in the Times article for its political thinking, it went on a journey which has ended with the perverse spectacle of former Labour men like Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Tom McNally holding ministerial office in a reactionary Coalition government under a Tory Prime Minister.

My advice to the people floating a "liquidate the party structures" approach is that they should either shut up or put up a series of rule changes and see how much support they get for them. The fact that many of them practice what they preach by having minimal engagement with the grubby minutiae of day-to-day running of the Party, such as turning up to local meetings and engaging with ordinary members, might prove an obstacle to advancing their model.

Alternatively I guess we could leave the dinner party and Westminster cocktail circuit set to continue talking to each other and Murdoch press journos, and just ignore them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scotland

Everything you might need to know about next year's Scottish Parliament elections: http://www.scotlandvotes.com/

Will they ever learn?

You would have thought after the Lib Dems showed their true colours by creating a reactionary Coalition government with the Tories, abandoning all their key pledges and voting for catastrophic cuts to public services, that the entire Labour Party would have woken up to them being our enemies - and the enemies of ordinary working people - not our potential allies.

You would particularly think the Guardian would have been ashamed of its pre-election advocacy of the LDs.

But it seems some of the advocates of dangerous and deluded deals with them pre-election are still harbouring pro-Lib Dem fantasies.

This article - http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/nov/16/labour-liberal-democrats-grassroots-alliance - is frankly incredible.

It opens "Cross-party efforts are being made to rebuild a grassroots alliance that could take Labour-Liberal Democrat co-operation out of the deep freeze before the next election."

"Grassroots members of both parties are reaching out to each other, in the short term driven by the need for pro-constitutional reformers in both parties to work together ahead of the May referendum on the alternative vote due on 6 May."

If this is true, it is madness.

I support AV but because I see it as a way of killing the Lib Dems, not resuscitating them - because it will mean they can no longer persuade Labour people to vote tactically for them in areas like the South West (there is no need for tactical votes under AV), so the true weakness of the Lib Dem core vote will be exposed.

I will be quite capable of working in a single issue campaign with LDs on the specific issue of AV without giving any quarter to them on the wider political question of their alliance with the Tories.

We are currently in a position according to last night's YouGov poll where Labour is 5% ahead of the Tories because the Lib Dem vote has gone down by 12% and ours up by 12% whilst the Tories are still on 37%, the score they got in May.

This proves there is a direct correlation between weakening the LDs and strengthening Labour.

The opportunity exists for a fundamental realignment of British politics where all progressive opinion unites behind Labour and the LDs are left as a tiny right-wing rump in permanent alliance with the Tories.

I don't know any ordinary Labour members who are "reaching out" to the Lib Dems. They must be figments of the Guardian's imagination.

Apparently soft-left faction Compass' position is this:
"The influential campaign group Compass is attempting to create a progressive alliance on the left, balloting its supporters on whether it should open its membership lists to members of other political parties including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, as well as non-aligned."

Shame on them and the other people quoted in the article. You have shown yourselves to be utterly, and laughably, out of touch with mainstream Labour opinion.

If there are still progressives in the Lib Dems who don't support the Coalition's pernicious policies we should be encouraging them to defect to Labour or break-away and form a new party. We should avoid anything that gives succor to the Lib Dems as a party or makes them think that after the destruction they have wrought by getting into bed with the Tories that they will be able to casually rehabilitate themselves as a party of the centre-left.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Building the Party

LabourList are running a good initiative, asking Labour members how we should go about building the Party:
http://www.labourlist.org/building-the-party-how-do-we-increase-membership

The main note of caution I would offer is that we need to be careful not to assume a structural change quick-fix is possible or would produce the desired results. Quite often the problems in areas where we are under-gunned and out-organised are nothing to do with structures and are:

a) Political - we got very unpopular at the end of our 13 years in power. Naturally unpopularity depresses levels of membership and activism.
b) Cultural - structures whose design actually has a neutral impact can produce healthy, thriving CLPs where there are key officers running them who are open, involving, friendly and good organisers. The very same structures can produce a political desert or purgatory where they are run by unpleasant, sectarian, exclusive or lazy people. It's the people in an organisation that primarily shape its political culture and success, not the institutional structures that create the culture.

The solutions to these are for people of good will (note my choice of words - it's not about their politics, it's about their attitude) to take control of the structures, build the party where it is weak and promote attractive policies and an inclusive, campaigning culture. This requires a lot of hard work over years not weeks but produces results, whereas organisational fixes (e.g. abolish a bit of the structure you find irritating or is controlled by your opponents) is fast but often replaces disorder with a vacuum rather than order.

If you were trying to design a political party from scratch then you probably wouldn't end up with Labour's policy-making structure or the Byzantine complexity of our electoral and selection systems or the composition of our national bodies. All of those owe much to our federal origins as a Party set up by existing unions and socialist societies (with individual members an afterthought 18 years later) and a balance-of-power between party stakeholders that evolved at times painfully. I wouldn't recommend revisiting the national structures in haste - they work after a fashion and the pain involved in revising them would exceed the gain, with the exception of the NPF and policy-making which is rightly under review having been characterised by a complete absence of transparency and producing policies that only got us 29% of the vote.

But you probably would design from scratch an organisational structure that involved party units covering the levels of election the party fights: branch parties to fight ward elections and select and hold councillors to account, CLPs to fight parliamentary elections and select and hold MPs and PPCs to account, LGCs to co-ordinate council selections, elections and manifestos. I.e. broadly the structure we've got. You might want to encourage those party units to organise more socials and more campaigning and a few fewer meetings but the basic skeleton of the party makes sense and where populated with a reasonable number of people of good will, it works (we did win a hat-trick of General Elections not that long ago).

I've put my own stab at answering LabourList's questions below:

- Is the cost of membership a problem?
Yes. It's too high to attract the very people we are supposed to represent.

- Should we abandon the membership model altogether and look for supporters and donations instead?
No. The members (and the affiliates and their members) are the party. Without members I am not sure what legal status the party would have. It would just be a loose coalition of candidate fan clubs which would have to be recreated every four years. No members implies no member input to policy or selections. It also suggests that the party has no intrinsic value as a civic society institution beyond contesting elections - not a view I share.

- Do current party structures serve the membership (and the party) as well as they should?
See my comments above. Most of it does the job adequately when populated by good people. The policy making process is not fit-for-purpose but that is already being reviewed.

- How about taking a year out from party meetings and looking again at how we work?
If you didn't have party meetings for a year at the end of the year there wouldn't be much of a party left. In a democratic organisation meetings enable you to debate, resolve differences, decide policy and plan campaigns. And meet people who share your beliefs! A party without meetings requires you to have members who are just organisational sheep who will do what they are told without any input, and organisers and politicians who are infallible and don't need to consult anyone. Would anyone suggest having a company or a hospital or a charity without meetings? No.

- Is community organising the way to go, or should we learn from marginal seats where the focus was on "get out the vote" efforts?
I am still confused about what community organising is (as opposed to issue-based campaigning in communities that we have always done) and how directly it benefits us as a political party. We have very limited resources. I suggest we prioritise our main task of winning elections, then implementing our policies through the institutions we win control of, unless there are CLPs out there with a second set of spare activists and resources to devote to more esoteric tasks. I'm happy for the community organising evangelists to sell it to me a bit more though - i.e. sceptical rather than hostile.

- How do we interact with new members?
Badly at the moment. Contacting them and inviting them to a good mix of social events, campaigning (incl. training) and political discussions might be a good start! The best practice from the best CLPs needs to be rolled out everywhere, with a safety net of email contact and invitation to events by the national and regional parties.

- How much power over policy should be devolved to members?
Policy making at local government level is already wholly devolved to local members. At a national level we need more transparency about what happens to members' policy ideas and why they have been rejected if they are, but also an acceptance that other stakeholders have a big say e.g. affiliates and the PLP and Leadership who after all have to argue for policies in the Commons. A more evidence based policy making structure, with the NPF Commissions playing a similar role to scrutiny/select committees, hearing witnesses and taking submissions from inside and outside the party, would produce better policy than it being based on people's prejudices and entrenched positions.

- And how do we persuade people that joining the Labour Party is a positive way of making a difference both nationally and in their community?
By being more public and transparent about the way in which individual members play a role in policy, selections, election campaigns, community and issue-based campaigns and running for/holding public office. Our recruitment leaflets don't actually explain what being a member can involve if you want it to - it is simply presented as a way of expressing support for Labour when in fact it should be far more empowering than that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

London Labour Board

Yesterday's London Labour Biennial Conference saw the regional party in good spirits and united in its desire to win the forthcoming 2012 Mayor and Assembly elections.

The new Regional Board elected was:

Chair: Len Duvall AM
Vice-Chair: Linda Perks (89%, beating Tony Belton 8% and Aktar Beg 3%)
National Policy Forum Reps x2: Lucy Anderson and Sam Gurney (42% and 43% beating Lisa Homan 16%)
Disabilities Rep: Nick Russell (36% beating Sally Mulready 33% and Sean McGovern 31%)
Ethnic Minorities Officer: Raj Jethwa (94% beating Ebeneezer Akinsanmi 6%)
North West CLPs (F): Lisa Homan (55% beating Judith Atkinson 45%)
North West CLPs (M): Chris Payne
South & SE CLPs (F): Maggie Hughes (40% beating Christine Bickerstaff 37% and Anne Reyersbach 23%)
South & SE CLPs (M): Charlie Mansell (53% beating Jeff Hanna 30% and Tony Belton 17%)
North & NE CLPs (F): Laila Butt
North & NE CLPs (M): Unmesh Desai (57% beating Mark Holding 24%, Joe Ejiofor 13% and Aktar Begg 5%)
Central CLPs (F): Joy Johnson
Central CLPs (M): Francis Prideaux (52% beating David Bellamy 21%, Ian McKenzie 20%, Cormac Hollingsworth 7%)
Trade Unions x8: Leonie Cooper, Gary Doolan, Steve Hart, Gloria Hanson, Amarjit Singh, Alan Tate, Sheila Thomas, Rachel Voller
Co-Op x2: Joe Simpson, Dora Dixon-Fyle
Socialist Societies: Huw Davies
Young Labour: Daryn McCombe
MP: TBC
MEP: TBC
London Councils Labour Group x2: TBC

So where there were contested elections the left did well in the NPF contest, largely through running candidates who had union backing so started with half the available votes; but badly in the CLP seats, with only Francis Prideaux and Joy Johnson in the Central London division winning of the left candidates.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Council by-elections

Tonight's results:

Hunsdon Ward, East Herts DC. Ind hold. Ind 339 (58.9%, -1.5), Con 206 (35.8%, +2.2), Lab 31 (5.4%, +5.4). Swing of 1.9% from Ind to Con since 2007.

Chale Ward, Isle of Wight UA. Con hold. Con 510 (53.6%, -7.7), LD 365 (38.4%, -0.3), Lab 76 (8%, +8). Swing of 3.7% from Con to LD since 2009.

Forres Ward, Moray CC. Ind gain from Con. First preference votes: SNP 773 (24.1%, -5.8), Ind 562 (38.8% total for all 4 Inds, +5.5), Con 463 (14.4%, -14.4), Ind 463, Green 401 (12.5%, +12.5), Lab 195 (6.1%, +6.1), Ind 192, SSCUP 132 (4.1%, -4), Ind 30. Swing of 5.7% from SNP to Ind since 2007.

St Edmundsbury Tower Division, Suffolk CC. Con hold. Con 1005 (28.8%, nc), Ind 950 (27.2%, +1.2), Lab 759 (21.7%, +12.6), Green 479 (13.7%, -13.4), LD 300 (8.6%, -0.4). Swing of 0.6% from Con to Ind since 2009.

Rushall-Shelfield Ward, Walsall MBC. Con hold. Con 639 (42%, -1.8), Lab 611 (40.1%, +13.1), BNP 141 (9.3%, +9.3), UKIP 90 (5.9%, -2.3), OMRL 42 (2.8%, +2.8). Swing of 7.5% from Con to Lab since May this year.

Worth Reading

One of the few upsides to opposition is that some of the brightest Special Advisers from our period in government can contribute publicly to the debate about what Labour needs to do.

This piece from Geoffrey Norris (Former No10 and BIS adviser on industry) is a must-read:
http://www.policy-network.net/articles/3916/Understanding-Labours-political-decay

The forces behind the riot

http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2010/11/11/the-old-cancer-at-the-heart-of-the-student-riot/

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coronation Avenue

Opposite my flat in Stoke Newington is a housing association estate called Coronation Avenue.

On the night of October 13/14th 1940 this was the scene of a terrible tragedy when 160 civilian residents were killed after a German bomb hit the block and the air raid shelter underneath it where they were sheltering.

Local charity TimeLine is running a campaign to raise £5,000 to ensure there is a plaque put up on the building, so that everybody who goes past the flats will know about what happened there (there is a memorial to the casualties in Abney Park Cemetery but nothing to mark the actual site).

For information and to make a donation please go here: http://www.timeline.org.uk/content/view/129/6/

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Pipe Vs Pickles

An interesting account of Jules Pipe, the Labour Elected Mayor of Hackney, the authority where I am a councillor, taking on Eric Pickles at the London Councils' Summit:


http://www.lgcplus.com/news/people/eric-pickles/pickles-revels-in-mutual-contempt/5021538.blog

AV: the Party shouldn't take sides

I'm a big supporter of AV - the Alternative Vote system as used in Australia.

To be more accurate I'm a supporter of proportional representation - which AV isn't - i.e. an electoral system where the share of seats you get directly relates to the share of vote. I'd prefer AV+ (single member AV seats with a "top-up" of list seats to make the overall share of seats equal to share of votes, basically the German system).

But I'll be voting for AV in the referendum next May because whilst it isn't proportional it is a significant improvement on the medieval First-Past-the-Post voting system we have now. It does increase voter choice (you rank candidates rather than voting with an "X"), there are fewer wasted votes that don't affect the outcome, and every MP has to get majority support in their seat rather than being able to get in on a small share if there is a 3 or 4-way split.

I've consistently backed electoral reform since I joined Labour in 1988. Indeed back in the day when I was in NOLS (Labour Students) it was the main issue I campaigned on inside the Party, perhaps a tad too obsessively if my memory of getting up at 6am to annoy Tom Watson (then a big FPTP man now I think an AVer) by putting Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform flyers on seats in some conference hall.

But I don't agree with calls like this - http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/11/labour-should-campaign-on-av/ -for Labour to allocate Party resources and campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum.

As with Europe in 1975 the dividing line on this issue cuts through Labour. There are good comrades of mine who are just as passionate about keeping FPTP as I am about abolishing it.

I could no more expect or force them to deliver Labour leaflets calling for a Yes vote than they could get me to deliver No ones.

The beauty of a referendum is that individual Labour people who care about the issue on either side can campaign they way they believe (though hopefully not getting too distracted from the vitally important Scottish, Welsh and local elections on the same day) without there having to be a knife fight about which side the Party's scarce resources are used to back.

I hope Ed Miliband campaigns for a Yes vote. I will be backing him. But I hope the Labour Party per se stays neutral and focuses on the other campaigns on 5th May.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Council By-elections

Seven tonight with some great results for Labour, including southern gains in Cambridge and Swindon thanks to a collapsing urban LD vote:

Coleridge Ward, Cambridge City Council. Lab gain from Con. Lab 900 (44%, +11.7), Con 734 (35.9%, +7.5), LD 223 (10.9%, -14.6), Green 137 (6.7%, -4.2), UKIP 53 (2.6%, -0.3). Swing of 1.6% from Con to Lab since May this year.

Cenarth Ward, Carmarthen CC. PC gain from Ind. PC 636 (81.9%, +59.4), Con 141 (18.1%, +18.1). Swing of 20.7% from Con to PC since 2008.

Ladywell Ward, LB Lewisham. Lab hold. Lab 1231 (41.4%, +3.2), Green 1041 (35%, +6.4), LD 314 (10.6%, -5.2), People not Profit 233 (7.8%, nc), Con 153 (5.1%, -4.6). Swing of 1.6% from Lab to Green since May this year. This ward had 3 Green councillors until May.

Hulme Ward, Manchester MBC. Lab hold. Lab 1035 (60.7%, +14.9), Green 451 (26.5%, +4.5), LD 151 (8.9%. -14.1), Con 67 (3.9%, -6.3). Swing of 5.2% from Green to Lab since May this year.

Ponteland East Division, Northumberland CC. Con hold. Con 843 (62.6%, +2.1), LD 403 (29.9%, +1.6), Lab 100 (7.4%, +2.9). Swing of 0.3% from LD to Con since 2008.

Lyth Valley Ward, South Lakeland DC. Con gain from LD. Con 474 (49.5%, +5.1), LD 451 (47.1%, -8.5), Lab 32 (3.3%, +3.3). Swing of 6.8% from LD to Con since 2008.

Moredon Ward, Swindon UA. Lab gain from Con. Lab 887 (47.5%, +12.2), Con 755 (40.4%, +1.9), UKIP 129 (6.9%, +6.9), LD 98 (5.2%, -12.9). Swing of 5.2% from Con to Lab since May this year.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Tea Party - another argument against primaries

The mid-term elections in the US have reinforced my hostility to the idea being floated that Labour should select candidates via open primaries rather than selection by party members.

The rise of the Tea Party shows how in a primary system a well-organised, well-funded and hyper-energised extremist grouping can foist its candidates on a more mainstream host party. In this case the Tea Party ousting mainstream Republican candidates.

Because the general election has a higher turn-out than the primaries, extremist candidates who do well on the back of highly motivated but minority support at primary level then get beaten at the main election.

Hence the Republicans failed to take control of the Senate because the primary system meant they had Tea Party candidates who lost in Delaware and Nevada, seats moderate Republicans might have won.

Let's not put Labour in a position where a leftwing version of the Tea Party can use low turnout primaries to foist unelectable candidates on us.

Votes for prisoners - the potential impact

The Coalition Government announced yesterday that prisoners will be allowed to vote. This follows Nick Clegg taking responsibility for the issue away from the Department of Justice and putting it within his own remit at the Cabinet Office.

The Lib Dems have always supported giving the vote to convicted criminals. Oddly they have been able to deliver a promise they made to people who couldn't vote in 2010, whilst comprehensively selling-out on pledges they made to law-abiding groups of voters like students.

Giving prisoners the vote will give criminals influence over the very laws they have broken, a fact not lost on prisoners themselves. Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners, boasted in June that “Prisoners’ votes could have changed election result”.

According to their analysis there were five constituencies (four held by the Conservatives and one by Labour) in this years General Election where the majority achieved by the winning candidate was roughly the same or even less than the population of the local prison. Lancaster and Fleetwood, for example, had a Conservative majority of just 333 while the two prisons in the constituency, Lancaster Farms and Lancaster Castle have a population of approx 750. In Newton Abbott the Conservative MP was elected with a majority of 523 while Channings Wood Prison in the constituency holds approx 700 inmates.

Of course the impact of giving prisoners the vote could be even more significant in local elections where the votes cast by the inmates of one jail could equal or exceed the total number of votes normally cast for the winning candidate in a local council election.

Will prisoners be allowed to run for office if they are allowed to vote? They can't at the moment but presumably the LDs believe that's their human right as well. A high turnout from a prison in a low turnout ward could see a prisoner candidate beat the law-abiding ones. Would they then be let out for council meetings?

Prisons with a capacity of over 500 by Westminster Constituency

Sheppey Cluster - Sittingbourne & Sheppey - 2117 prisoners - Con gain with 12,383 majority
Lindholme & Moorland Closed - Don Valley - 1781 prisoners - Lab hold with 3,595 majority
Isle of Wight - Isle of Wight - 1700 prisoners - Con hold with 10,527 majority
Wandsworth - Tooting - 1665 prisoners - Lab hold with 2,524 majority
Birmingham - Birmingham Ladywood - 1450 prisoners - Lab hold with 6,801 majority
Hewell - Bromsgrove - 1431 prisoners - Con hold with 11,308 majority
Stocken & Ashwell - Rutland & Melton - 1425 prisoners - Con hold with 14,000 majority
Forest Bank - Salford & Eccles - 1424 prisoners - Lab hold with 5,725 majority
Onley & Rye Hill - Daventry - 1374 prisoners - Con hold with 19,188 majority
Altcourse - Liverpool Walton - 1324 prisoners - Lab hold with 19,818 majority
Wormword Scrubs - Hammersmith - 1277 prisoners - Lab hold with 3,549 majority
Manchester - Blackley & Broughton - 1269 prisoners - Lab hold with 12,303 majority
Pentonville - Islington South & Finsbury - 1250 prisoners - Lab hold with 3,569 majority
Holme House - Stockton North - 1211 prisoners - Lab hold with 6,676 majority
Parc - Brigend - 1200 prisoners - Lab hold with 2,263 majority
Liverpool - Liverpool Walton - 1184 prisoners - Lab hold with 19,818 majority
Doncaster -Doncaster Central - 1145 prisoners - Lab hold with 6,229 majority
Wymott - South Ribble - 1144 prisoners - Con gain with 5,554 majority
Bullingdon - Banbury - 1114 prisoners - Con hold with 18,227 majority
High Down - Reigate - 1103 prisoners - Con hold with 13,591 majority
Ranby - Bassetlaw - 1098 prisoners - Lab hold with 8,215 majority
Risley - Warrington North - 1085 prisoners - Lab hold with 6,771 majority
Hull - Kingston upon Hull East - 1044 prisoners - Lab hold with 8,597 majority
Wayland - Mid Norfolk - 1017 prisoners - Con hold with 13,856 majority
Leeds - Leeds West - 1004 prisoners - Lab hold with 7,016 majority
Durham -City of Durham - 981 prisoners - Lab hold with 3,067 majority
Acklington -Berwick Upon Tweed - 946 prisoners - LD hold with 2,690 majority
Highpoint - West Suffolk - 944 prisoners - Con hold with 13,050
Belmarsh -Erith & Thamesmead - 910 prisoners - Lab hold with 5,703 majority
Gartree -Harborough - 869 prisoners - Con hold with 9,797 majority
Dovegate -Burton - 860 prisoners - Con gain with 6,304 majority
Garth - South Ribble - 847 prisoners - Con gain with 5,554 majority
Whatton -Newark - 841 prisoners - Con hold with 16,152 majority
Peterborough - Peterborough - 840 prisoners - Con hold with 4,861 majority
Woodhill -Milton Keynes South - 819 prisoners - Con gain with 5,201 majority
Glen Parva - South Leicestershire - 808 prisoners - Con hold with 15,524 majority
Brixton - Streatham - 798 prisoners - Lab hold with 3,259 majority
Cardiff - Cardiff Central - 784 prisoners - LD hold with 4,576 majority
Lancaster Farms & Castle - Lancaster and Fleetwood - 775 prisoners - Con gain from lab with 333 majority
Feltham - Feltham & Heston - 762 prisoners - Lab hold with 4,658 majority
Wakefield - Wakefield - 751 prisoners - Lab hold with 1,613 majority
Frankland - City of Durham - 750 prisoners - Lab hold with 3,067 majority
Preston - Preston - 750 prisoners - Lab hold with 7,733 majority
Stafford - Stafford - 741 prisoners - Con gain with 5,460 majority
Lincoln - Lincoln - 738 prisoners - Con gain with 1,058 majority
Channings Wood - Newton Abbot - 731 prisoners - Con majority of 523 over Lib Dems
Littlehey - Huntingdon - 726 prisoners - Con hold with 10,819 majority
Lewes - Lewes - 723 prisoners - Lib Dem hold with 7,647 majority
Chelmsford - Chelmsford - 695 prisoners - Con hold with 5,110 majority
Everthorpe - Haltemprice & Howden - 689 prisoners - Con hold with 11,602 majority
Featherstone - South Staffordshire - 687 prisoners - Con hold with 16,590 majority
Dartmoor - Torridge & West Devon - 646 prisoners - Con hold with 2,957 majority
Wellingborough - Wellingborough - 646 prisoners - Con hold with 11,787 majority
Haverigg - Copeland - 644 prisoners - Lab hold with 3,833 majority
Stoke Heath - North Shropshire - 632 prisoners - Con hold with 15,828 majority
Swinfen Hall - Tamworth - 624 prisoners - Con gain with 6,090 majority
Long Lartin -Mid Worcestershire - 622 prisoners - Con hold with 15,864 majority
Rochester - Rochester & Strood - 620 prisoners - Con hold with 9,953 majority
Bristol - Bristol West - 614 prisoners - Lib Dem hold with 11,366 majority
Full Sutton - East Yorkshire - 608 prisoners - Con hold with 13,486 majority
Maidstone - Maidstone & the Weald - 600 prisoners - Con hold with 5,889 majority
The Verne - South Dorset - 595 prisoners - Con gain with 7,443 majority
Kirkham - Fylde - 590 prisoners - Con hold with 13,185 majority
Sudbury - Derbyshire Dales - 581 prisoners - Con hold with 13,866 majority
Guys Marsh - Dorset North - 578 prisoners - Con hold with 7,625 majority
Brinsford - Staffordshire South - 569 prisoners - Con hold with 16,590 majority
Bronzefield - Spelthorne - 569 prisoners - Con hold with 10,019 majority
Lowdham Grange - Newark - 564 prisoners - Con hold with 16,152 majority
Ford - Bognor Regis and Littlehampton - 557 prisoners - Con hold with 13,063 majority
Nottingham - Nottingham East - 549 prisoners - Lab hold with 6,969 majority
Winchester - Winchester - 544 prisoners - Con gain from LD with 3,048 majority
Exeter - Exeter - 533 prisoners - Lab hold with 2,721 majority
Leyhill - Thornbury & Yate - 532 prisoners - LD hold with 7,116 majority
Wealstun - Elmet & Rothwell - 527 prisoners - Con gain from Lab with 4,521 majority
Blundeston - Waveney - 526 prisoners - Con gain from Lab with 769 majority
Bure - Norfolk North - 523 prisoners - LD hold with 11,626 majority
Coldingley - Surrey Heath - 513 prisoners - Con hold with 17,289 majority
Bedford - Bedford - 506 prisoners - Con gain from Lab with 1,353 majority
Holloway - Islington North - 501 prisoners - Lab hold with 12,401 majority

 
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