A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - 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, August 25, 2006

Song time

Comrades who know me will know that I am a traditionalist when it comes to singing - I think socialists should know all the verses of all the great socialist hymns (and the sectarian versions for singing in the bar too).

I leave you for my late summer break with one of my favorite Italian socialist songs, which is genuinely moving and beautiful - it was the song of the partisans going off to fight Mussolini - (not that I am going up into the mountains as a partisan, we may be 9% behind in the polls but it hasn't quite come to that yet):

Una mattina mi son svegliato,
O bella ciao, bella ciao,
Bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
Una mattina mi son svegliata,
E ho trovato l'invasor.

O partigiano portami via,
O bella ciao, bella ciao,
Bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
O partigiano portami via,
Che mi sento di morir.

E so io muoio da partigiano,
O bella ciao, bella ciao,
Bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
E so io muoio da partigiano,
Tu mi devi seppellir.

Seppellire lassù in montagna
O bella ciao, bella ciao,
Bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
Seppellire lassù in montagna
Sott l'ombra di un bel fior.

E tutti quelli che passeranno
O bella ciao, bella ciao,
Bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
E tutti quelli che passeranno
Diranno «guarda che bel fior».

È bello il fiore del partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao,
Bella ciao, ciao, ciao,
È bello il fiore del partigiano
Morto per la libertà!

Changing Shift

I'm off for another week of holiday and no internet access - this time the other set of Jed's grandparents in Oxford. Normal service will resume on 4 September.

In the mean time by happy coincidence Tony is back from Barbados so I'll hand over running the line for the Labour right to him, and I'm sure my stalker/spoof site will say everything I would have wanted to far more eloquently than I ever could in my absence.

Downsizing in Derby South

Margaret Beckett has somehow managed to lose 40 members of her local party to the Lib Dems (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5285986.stm) which sounds a touch careless, though the BBC coverage hints at ulterior motives related to recent selection contests (how unlike the history of the Hackney Labour Party).

I think Mrs Beckett is in many ways an admirable Minister, having fond memories of serving her breakfast during my teenage holiday job as a wage slave/General Catering Sales Assistant at Forte's union-busting Little Chef (A2 Trunk Road London Bound) where I showed my contempt for the boss class by secretly helping myself to extra black pudding at lunch time - she had an "American Style" breakfast (quite appropriate given the foreign policy she is now helping to implement) whilst Leo had an "Early Starter". John Major, who older members may remember was PM before the Great Leader, preferred now defunct rival chain “Happy Eater”.

This is despite her Hard Left antecedents (e.g. the vitriolic “thirty pieces of silver” attack on Kinnock and other soft left MPs at the Tribune rally after Healey beat Benn for the deputy leadership), her anti-OMOV manoeuvring behind Smith’s back at the 1993 Conference, and her employment as Special Adviser at DEFRA of someone I think I remember as a Green Party candidate in the NUS (hey, why not extend the principle and employ people from CAAT in MoD, or Liberty in the Home Office, or Stop the War in the FCO… better stop before I give anyone any ideas).

Poor Mrs Beckett does seem to attract scabs in the local CLPs she has been MP for though – she began her political career having to wrest Lincoln from Dick Taverne and his “Democratic Labour Party” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Democratic_Labour_Association

My advice to her would be “if they are that fickle and disloyal that they would defect, then good riddance, they weren’t Labour anyway”.

I take issue with the official Labour spokesperson on this, who told the BBC – “It is always disappointing when any members decide to leave the Labour Party”. Nonsense. I don’t know about the people involved in Derby, but when we had 17 councillor defections in Hackney in 1996 in the long run it turned out to be the best thing that had ever happened to the local party – externalising the crooks (literally – one of them was jailed for election fraud) and fruitloops so they became a problem for the Lib Dems and Tories rather than us. I could but won’t name several people (some of them MPs) the Labour Party would be better off without.

So Margaret, good riddance to your local critics and tough it out. I may not agree with all your politics but unlike the defectors you are loyal to the Labour Party, and at the end of the day that’s what counts.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

And another idea

Second idea for Ruth Kelly's Commission: find a new word that isn't "community" to describe groups of people with a common enthnicity or faith.

We have to get people to see their "community" as everyone who lives in their village, town or city, not just the people "like them" if we are going to get cohesion and integration.

The idea of defining community by ethnicity is fundamentally racist - imagine if people started talking about the "white community".

The idea of doing it by faith begs the question which community are those of us who are atheists part of? Presumably we are not entitled to a community and are just supposed to be atomised, random individuals.

The community I live in is Stoke Newington. It includes people of all faiths and all ethnicities. Let's find another noun to describe the collections of people who share a faith or ethnicity and reserve the concept of "community" as something universal, inclusive and open-to-all - a way of uniting people not dividing them up.

An idea for Ruth Kelly

An idea for the "Commission on Integration and Cohesion" set up by Ruth Kelly: stop dividing children up by religion. How on earth are we going to get the citizens of the future to live in an integrated, cohesive way if we have government policies that actually encourage children of different faiths to be educated separately?

I find the idea that children of one religion should go to a different school to children of another religion sick, not just divisive. Given that some faiths are also ethnic groups it is the first step on the road to apartheid.

Personally, I'd prefer that there was no role for religion allowed in any school and that faith schools were abolished. Given the difficulties of doing that when there are already CofE, RC and Jewish state schools I'd go for a compromise - all faith schools to have to admit 50% of their intake from kids not of the faith the school is linked to. The religions involved ought to welcome it as a chance to evangelise at assemblies ...

And I'd add in some busing, American-style, to ensure that where one faith or ethnicity is geographically concentrated, the kids from it get to mix at school with kids of different backgrounds. This implies some diminution of parental choice, but frankly the cohesion of society is a lot more important.

And I'd do the same to independent schools so that the rich or the religiously fanatical can't buy their kids out of growing up in a socially mixed school - I'd make it compulsory for every independent school to give 50% of their places to a mixed-ability intake from the local neighbourhood (e.g. Eton would have 50% of its intake kids from Slough on free places). The schools would either have to fund this by doubling the fees on the 50% still paying them, or be given the option of opting in 100% to the state system.

Hint to Emily Thornberry MP


thankyou but no thanks for your spam email sent to all Labour bloggers containing a press release slagging off Stephen Byers which you expected me to reproduce here.

Had you read my post about his proposals, you would have noticed that although disagreeing with him I expressed my respect and admiration for him as a politician.

I will not therefore be joining in publicising the content of your attack on him.

I must say that quite aside from the foolishness of sending your missive to me, the level of political courage required to wait several days, see if what someone suggested was unpopular, then jump on the bandwagon, was noteworthy.

Instead of publishing your views on Byers, I shall remind readers of your excellent political judgement, exhibited when I was guest speaker at the Islington Labour Party LGC and you chose to attack me for suggesting that a blind eye should be turned to comrades who wanted to campaign for then then independent (but soon to be readmitted to Labour) Ken Livingstone as well as for Labour GLA candidates. Your position, which was put forward in a rather aggressive and personally rude manner (ironic given my own record in opposing Ken's readmission) was that I must be blind not to see the merits of Nicky Gavron, who:
a) was going to continue to be Labour candidate
b) was going to thrash Ken
c) would have won us the Brent East byelection if she had been candidate

much as I like Nicky I thought this was slightly over selling her strengths vis-a-vis Livingstone.

To your credit friends in Islington told me you made a great contribution to the excellent results there this May. It is a shame you have marred this with an outbreak of publicity seeking sectarianism.

Closing the gap?

Latest opinion poll from Sweden's general election campaign (Temo poll, published 22/8, data collected 14-20 Aug, sample of 1,780):

Social Democrats - 37.7% (+ 2.9% from previous week's poll)
Left Party (former communists) - 3.6% (-1.1%)
Greens - 5.3% (-0.5%)

Moderates (i.e. Conservatives) - 28.0% (-0.6%)
right-wing Liberals - 9.8% (-0.4%)
Centre Party (farmers) - 6.1% (+0.4%)
Christian Democrats - 5.4% (-0.2%)

So it looks like the Social Democrats have some traction, consolidating their vote on the left and taking a little bit of support direct from the right. This % score is only a little less than their vote in the 2002 election.

BUT the big problem from these figures is what happens to the former communist Left Party, which as recently as 1998 got 12% in a general election. If they dip below 4% they fall foul of the 4% clause in Swedish election law and get no seats at all, which removes a potential ally of the Social Democrats from the parliamentary maths. 4.01% means they get approx. 4% of MPs, 3.99% means they get none at all. That 0.02% difference could determine whether Sweden gets another Social Democrat minority government or a 4-party centre-right coalition.

Traditionally the Social Democrats used to ensure the Left Party stayed in parliament by tacitly encouraging Social Democrat party members to vote tactically for the Left Party - the so called "comrade four percents". Will they need to do this again?

I await the first "Akehurst advocates tactical vote for commies" comment ...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Postscript to the post below: if you do want to take votes off the Lib Dems, the way to do it is to attack them (as proven in local elections in Hackney, Islington, Tower Hamlets, Lambeth and Southwark) not try to position yourself closer to them.

Remedial Maths for the Labour Left

Exam Question 1:

The latest ICM poll puts Labour on 31%, Tories on 40% and the Lib Dems on 22%.

Let's assume all the Lib Dems are to the left of Labour (even though we actually know the majority of them are tweed-wearing West Country farmers or the kind of lumpen proletarians who could just as easily vote BNP (think the charming politically correct platform Simon Hughes won the Bermondsey by-election on).

Let's also assume all the Tories are to the right of Labour.

Let's also assume that any change of political orientation can only win votes (even though we know that the 14% of voters who came back to Labour between 1983 and 1997 might be alienated by a move back to the left).

If your objective is to regain a Labour poll lead, which is easier, targeting Lib Dem voters or targeting Tories? (assuming you can't do a bit of both)

To regain a poll lead Labour could try to win back 4.5% of the electorate from the Tories, most of whom actually voted Labour as recently as May 2005. This would give Lab 34.5%, Con 34.5%. These people predominantly live in the marginal seats that decide the outcomes of General Elections.

Or it could try to convert 9% of the electorate from the Lib Dems, most of whom did not vote Labour in 2005 and some of whom have never voted Labour, implying that we could somehow win over nearly 4 in 10 current Lib Dem supporters. This would give Lab 40%, Con 40%. These people predominantly live in safe Labour seats that we will win anyway, or in seats where Labour is so far behind in 3rd place that it is unlikely to ever win.

Now explain the political strategy advocated by people from Compass leftwards.

Memo to Neal Lawson

Neal - keep suggesting collaboration with the Lib Dems like you have here: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/neal_lawson/2006/08/

You will find it makes both you personally and Compass as an organisation immensely popular with Labour activists and councillors who spend their time fighting the LDs at a local level. And particularly with Gordon Brown's inner circle, several of whom helped set up Lib Dem Watch.

As a benign observer of Compass I couldn't recommend a better strategy for you.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Challenge

I've set out below my instinct that Labour currently lacks a policy big idea to deliver in this term in government, let alone the big idea(s) for the next manifesto that will win us the 4th term.

So here's a challenge. Post your ideas here. Conditions - whatever its merits, changing the leader does not constitute a "big idea" (we're assuming that will happen anyway and we're talking policy not personnel here); the big ideas have to be ones that would unite the Labour Party not divide it; and they have to be ones either Blair or Brown might reasonably be expected to implement (so leaving NATO and joining a defence pact with Iran and North Korea is also a no-no). And in net terms they need to be designed to increase the Labour vote not reduce it. Also, none of these ideas can have already featured in the 1983 Manifesto as that would prove they failed the test just mentioned.

Scale - "big" - e.g. minimum wage, NHS, not cones hotline or citizens' charter.

Look forward to seeing people's thoughts.

The devil is in the detail

Today's Guardian ICM poll (headline figures Con 40%, Lab 31%, LD 22%) is bad news for any Labour supporter, particularly as ICM are usually the most accurate pollster.

But unless you read the detail (available here at http://www.icmresearch.co.uk/ - follow the link to pdf of "main data set") you could jump to the wrong political conclusions about what Labour needs to do to recover its lead.

In the small print you get to see that Labour support is holding up relatively well amongst core groups of supporters:

18-24 year old (13% lead over the Tories)
social classes DE (6% lead over the Tories)
northerners (9% lead over the Tories)

but has collapsed catastrophically amongst the "New Labour" elements of the coalition that won the last 3 General Elections and are very heavily represented both in battleground seats and amongst groups of voters most likely to turn out:

social class C1 (think Daily Mail/Express readers) - 19% behind
OAPs - 35% behind
southerners - 25% behind

I'm pleased we are keeping our core vote happy - I represent a ward full of them - with ASBOs, high public spending, the start of (but not enough) action against poverty etc. but we need to start thinking in a hurry about ways to get the lower middle classes, pensioners, and aspirational south of England voters back on side, otherwise we're going to be out on our ear and unable to do anything at all for our core vote. Public service reform/choice, which was supposed to be the big idea for the 3rd term, clearly isn't ringing anyone's bells.

Before everyone starts shouting about foreign policy, I concede we haven't got a popular one (despite it being the right one), but I doubt it is decisive in determining the voting behaviour of these groups having spent a lot of time talking to a constituency full of them in Castle Point (it did determine the voting behaviour of the student/Muslim/Guardianista group that went AWOL in 2005 but we've already proved we can win a General Election without them).

Maybe all the people that have jumped to attack Stephen Byers might like to think about which demographic groups his idea would have been popular with and swung back from voting Tory. That would be: social class C1, OAPs and southerners.

The onus is on the people who slagged off Byers to say how they will win the hearts and minds not of people who are natural Labour supporters (we all know how to do that) but of those that decide General Election outcomes - who voted Thatcher in the 80s, then Blair, and on the basis of this poll look like they could put Cameron in.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Luke 24 votes, Bob 23

There must be some political significance to this - I have overtaken Sandwell Council's self-proclaimed Old Labour blogger Bob Piper http://councillorbobpiper.blogspot.com/ by the narrowest of margins 24-23 - on the Bloggers4Labour most recommended posts: http://www.bloggers4labour.org/recommended.jsp

... we may not have won the NEC elections but maybe we can win this one.

In her own words ...

It was good to see my local MP disclosing details of her daily routine in yesterday's Sunday Times: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,27870-2308369.html

Amongst Diane's more interesting revelations:

"generally people are very British and ignore me, which is good."

"I do have a mobile phone but it’s usually switched off. I don’t like being too contactable. I have never had a pager – the idea of being so easily reached by the Labour party is just too ghastly. The good thing about a BlackBerry is you can read a message and pretend that you haven’t seen it."

"Being a back-bench MP is like being a small entrepreneur. "

"Living in Hackney, you can have it [music] on very loud and nobody’s bothered."

"my son tells me I’m a Z-list celebrity; that keeps me in my place."

"Even when I’m retired and on the beach in Jamaica with a toy boy, I’ll still be going online to find out what’s happening."

Collecting insults

One of my hobbies is collecting insults. This seems to be remarkably easy to do if you happen to mention you support the Labour Party, or Tony Blair, or Israel, and campaign for any of those things. You can even collect insults for saying nice things about Gordon Brown nowdays. Or by being a ginger.

Anyway, here are some of the choicest ones delivered to/about me, which seem to indicate I must be doing something right:

"Akehurst, you're advancing the politics of Stalin with the tactics of Hitler" (or maybe it was the other way round! GC Delegate, Bristol West, early '90s)

"The current Labour candidate has no chance, a short red haired import from Bethnal Green who struts around like a Bantam rooster on viagra, he has managed, already, to alienate most of his party with his Blairite sycophancy... The PLP parachuted the red haired muppet in” (Tory Councillor, Castle Point, on vote2005.co.uk)

"You are the shittiest man in Labour local government" (Labour Party national officer, 2000)

"The most dangerous man in student politics" (UWE SU sabatical, 1995)

"Labour Rent Boy" (The Independent, 2001)

"A particularly nasty little LCC hack" (Labour Left Briefing, 1999)

"We thought we hated councillors until this little shite came along" (www.clissoldleisure.com)

"Jumped up spotty little red-headed upper-class shite" (my online stalker)

"a right-wing, manipulative, lying, cheating, ginger shite" (the same person on a different site)

"Luke the Nuke Akehurst, one of the puppet masters in the NOLS balcony" (Richie Carrothers, Left Unity Block of 12 candidate, NUS Conference 1996)

It's a good job I've never said anything controversial.

I hate Channel 4

No ... not for the same reasons I hate the Independent ... but because of their treatment of Morrissey, the world's greatest living singer-songwriter (I can even forgive his vegetarianism and silly views on US foreign policy so he must be good) in their V Festival coverage this weekend.

We sat through the whole of their live coverage on E4 ... enduring hour after hour of droning dirges from Keane/Starsailor/some other bands that all sounded the same and then when it gets to Morrissey who was headlining the main stage on Saturday at Weston Park and Sunday at Chelmsford, they cut away on both nights to Radiohead and, even worse, Razorlight.

Then last night, having seen the great man interviewed half way through the highlights on Channel 4 and heard the presenter say we would see "a lot of his set" we get, at gone 1am, precisely 2 songs.

Words cannot express my contempt for these philistines. Pearls before swine.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

I don't agree with Byers on this but ...

It was depressing to see the way in which Stephen Byers' floating of the idea of scrapping inheritance tax (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5267836.stm) has been jumped on by more over-excitable Labour bloggers as evidence that he is "planning to defect to the Tories" (http://viva-freemania.blogspot.com/2006/08/will-byers-defect-to-tories.html) or is "economically illiterate" (http://letsbesensible.blogspot.com/2006/08/influence-of-bloggers-437.html) or is an "idiot" (http://newerlabour.blogspot.com/2006/08/byers-joins-idiot-brigade.html).

I don't agree with the full abolition he suggested for the simple reason that inherited wealth increases inequality and is un-meritocratic.

However, I understand why he said it: a tax that was created to cream off 40% of the wealth of the ultra-rich is, because of inflation, now hitting tens of thousands of relatively ordinary middle class suburbanites, just because their deceased parents have successfully paid off mortgages in places where house prices have gone through the roof. The people being hit by this are concentrated in London and the South East which is exactly where Labour has to win a string of marginal seats in order to win General Elections. For those of you from other parts of the country, the "huge inherited wealth" represented by an estate of £285,000 (the current threshold) would buy you a 2 bedroom ex-local authority flat where I live.

The Treasury already seems to have conceded this with a plan to up the threshold to £325,000 in 2010.

We ought to be celebrating the fact that there is at least one ex-Minister who when he puts pen to paper is trying to think up ideas to expand Labour's electoral appeal rather than trying to contract it back to the electoral laager of the 1980s, telling us what they are against rather than what they are for, or indulging in destructive and bitter personal attacks on the PM.

Byers has earnt the right to speak out on these issues. He has been commendably loyal since he left the Cabinet, despite the frustration he must feel about being stuck on the backbenches. He gets out and campaigns FOR Labour not AGAINST it. He knows about tax issues because he was the minister responsible for them when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. As a Cabinet Minister at DTLR he was hugely popular with councillors as a Secretary of State who actually cared about local democracy rather than seeing councils as an obstacle to edicts from on high, and he was distinctively Labour in his approach - as in bringing Railtrack back into public ownership. I saw him in action earlier in his career as School Standards Minister when he intervened to start sorting out the mess that was education in Hackney - he had a formidable grasp of detail down to the staffing and exam results of individual local schools.

My instinct is abolition is wrong but a threshold increased to £400,000 would help stop this tax hitting people who are not mega-rich and who it was not intended to hit. And would show middle class voters we have not stopped caring about their issues. Because if we can't do that we stop winning elections and leave the poorest in society to the tender mercies of Dave Cameron and his old Etonian buddies, for whom £400k was probably the pocket money put in their accounts to see them through university.

Well done to Byers for having the courage to spark a debate on this. And shame on the ignorant response to it from some colleagues.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bring it on

According to today's laughably mistitled "Independent" (a journal that currently combines the politics of George Galloway with the journalistic style and insight of the Beano) the equally laughably mistitled Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (who have mainly campaigned AGAINST One Member One Vote) is calling on CLPs to send emergency resolutions to Conference triggering a Labour leadership election: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article1220294.ece

My reaction is, "bring it on". I can't think of anything more likely to consolidate Blair's position and rally the Party behind him than a leadership challenge from the clapped out remnants of the Bennite hard left. They made exactly the same tactical error in 1988 with the Benn/Heffer challenge against Kinnock which produced an 88% to 12% drubbing for Benn.

Anyone who has been to a Labour Conference in the last decade will know that the hard left are not well represented on conference floor - a situation that has been exagerated by their own tactic of discouraging CLPs from sending delegates by constantly complaining the event is a pro-leadership rally.

I would be prepared to bet on Gordon Brown taking to the rostrom to give the NEC response to this emergency resolution - calling on delegates to vote it down and not trigger a challenge to Blair.

I just hope Conference Arrangements Committee put it on the order paper so we can have a good laugh at the collection of flat-earthers who stand up to speak in favour of it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Casework progress

Proof that councillors can pick up casework through the web: http://hackneylookout.blogspot.com/2006/08/astonishingly.html

... and before anyone comments, no it doesn't excuse him not getting a reply in the first place.

Any other bloggers/readers with Hackney council-related issues that need sorting and that I can reasonably do something about, please let me know.

N16 in NYT

This article by a Stoke Newington resident was in the New York Times earlier this week http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/opinion/13goldfarb.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

It sums up everything that's uniquely good about Hackney as a multicultural community and what that means in a world that looks increasingly like it is sliding into conflict.

My baby son plays on the swings that Goldfarb writes about his daughter using (I have a photo of him sat in a swing in Clissold Park in front of me on my PC as I write this) and goes to the One O'Clock Club in the same park.

Goldfarb's conclusion "Someday soon, someone with an inability to value what is precious about Clissold Park will commit the act that shatters this small world and drives all of us into our corners" was the bleakest thing I have read for a long time.

I hope he is wrong, but I fear he may be right.

Hey, I can do conspiracy theories too

I'm a little bit skeptical about France's motives for involvement in the UN force in Lebanon. There is a fairly well-established pattern of France maintaining its former empire by proxy through cultural and economic means and, when local Francophile regimes need propping up, through sending in a battalion or two of paras. Hence the French military presence in their former colonies of Ivory Coast (4,000 troops), Djibouti (2,900), Senegal (1,200), Chad (1,000), CAR (220) and Gabon (800) (http://www.ambafrance-us.org/atoz/defense9.asp) . Lebanon is of course a country that used to be run by ... France.

Of course, only the perfidious Anglo-Saxons are guilty of "colonialism" and "imperialism" whereas La France acts out of the highest Gallic values of solidarity, fraternity and generosity. And never, ever out of self-interest.

Meanwhile, a number of countries noted for their even-handed approach to the Israel/Palestine question have stuck their hands up to offer to send troops: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5262490.stm

Question for the day: If the Lebanese army can go into South Lebanon now (and looks pretty well tooled up - according to this http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/lebanon/army.htm they have 60,000 troops , 305 tanks and the best part of 1,000 armoured vehicles) what was stopping them from going in and disarming Hizbollah back two months ago and thereby saving the lives of over a 1,000 Lebanese and Israeli casualties?

Vote Aisleyne

This blog is now formally endorsing Aisleyne to win the Big Brother final tonight.

That may have the unfortunate side effect of driving all the ultra left readers of this site out to vote tactically against her, but I can't stay silent about such an important election.

More crucially, with the end of BB7 and the even more addictive BBBM on E4 I may have to start watching Newsnight again.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reasons to be cheerful 2

Reason to be cheerful number 2:

Thanks to the votes of over 20,000 local residents this May, the Labour Party is still running Hackney Council, whereas our opponents (a broad coalition of Trots, tree huggers, anarchists, opportunist Tories and the rump of the nasty little clique that trashed Hackney in the 90s) are running a website, most of which seems to be dedicated to getting over-excited about my hair colour.


Hat tip to Jo Salmon for this.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Puzzling question of the day

Why has the New Communist Party http://www.newworker.org/ disappeared from the list of affiliates to the John McDonnell fan club, AKA the LRC http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/???

One minute they were there, as wikipedia reports, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Communist_Party and now they have gone:

It can't be that they don't allow other registered political parties to affiliate to this allegedly "Labour" organisation as the AWL is still listed.

So, either:
a) McDonnell et al are embarassed to be associated with an outfit who split from the CPGB because it wasn't pro-Soviet enough, and whose website is full of paens to the "Korean workers’ leader Kim il Sung" and "The Communist Party of China, [which] has admitted mistakes in the past. It now views the path through socialism to communism as very long." - the path to communism now being capitalism with a one-party state and the mistakes being the ones that led to tens of millions of Chinese being "accidently" dead.
b) The NCP are embarassed to have anything to do with McDonnell's joke campaign for the Labour leadership.

What's the story comrades?

Reasons to be cheerful

Reasons to be cheerful number one:

The utter misery some of the commenters on this site must feel when they wake up in the morning and realise Tony Blair is still Prime Minister.

2 million reasons to be Labour

A timely reminder of the difference between life under Labour and the Tories: http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,1850995,00.html

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Consensus Politics - the Australian Rules version

Political dialogue on Hackney Council can sometimes get a bit heated, but pales into nothing compared to the insults flung about in Australian politics.

Here are some of the best, courtesy of www.news.com.au:

Former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating:
On John Howard:
“What we have got is a dead carcass, swinging in the breeze, but nobody will cut it down to replace him.”
“...the brain-damaged Leader of the Opposition...”
“But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It’s like ‘Spot the eyebrows’.”
And of his 1986 leadership - “From this day onwards, Howard will wear his leadership like a crown of thorns, and in the parliament I’ll do everything to crucify him.”
On Wilson Tuckey:
“Shut up! Sit down and shut up, you pig!”
“You box head you wouldn’t know. You are flat out counting past ten.”
On John Hewson:
“A feral abacus”
“His performance is like being flogged with a warm lettuce”
“The answer is, mate, because I want to do you slowly” - after Hewson asked him why he wouldn’t call an early election
On Andrew Peacock’s prospects of leading the Liberals for a second time:
“A soufflé never rises twice”
Former Labor Leader Mark Latham:
“Hand in your badge, Adolf.” - directed at former immigration minister Philip Ruddock.
“Howard is an arse-licker. He went over there, kissed some bums, and got patted on the head.” - description of Prime Minister John Howard’s trip to the United States.
“There they are a conga line of suck holes on the conservative side of politics.”
“John Howard has forgotten how to be a good Australian, not some yes-man to a flaky and dangerous American president.” - On Coalition support for the war in Iraq.
“He has this sort of habit of thinking that if you comb a couple of strands of hair over the top of your bald head, nobody will notice. And that you know they’ll think that you’ve got a full head of hair.” - On Bob McMullan 19/9/2005 Andrew Denton Show
Treasurer Peter Costello:
“That is enough to put me into a cold sweat. If I look tired it is because I have thought of that in the middle of the night” - Treasurer Peter Costello ponders the thought of a Labor Government
Prime Minister John Howard:
“You tree hugger you.” - Howard’s response to a journalist asking a question about Tasmania’s old growth forests
Union Leader Bill Shorten:
On former Labor Leader Mark Latham:
He ""possesse[d] all the attributes of a dog except loyalty"

Hackney's getting better

The Audit Commission have just published their latest Corporate Assessment of Hackney Council: http://www.hackney.gov.uk/xp-lbh-carep.pdf

Key findings:

  • “Hackney Council has put in place many of the foundations for achieving excellence, but recognises that it is on a long-term journey of improvement. It has established effective leadership at the senior level but this has not yet translated into consistent performance lower down the organisation. It has a good understanding of where it needs to improve but many of the resulting changes are recent and have yet to have an impact on outcomes. Service performance is improving in many areas but remains low in comparison to other local authorities.”
  • “Community leadership by the Mayor is strong and his commitment is an important driver of the continuing improvement in Hackney. He now has a high profile in the community and his three priorities are familiar to staff and stakeholders.”
  • “Managerial leadership is also strong and effective. A 2005 Mori survey showed that residents are significantly more satisfied with Council services than in 2002, though they are still more negative than those in other London boroughs.”
  • “The Council shows a strong understanding of diversity which it celebrates as a strength of the local community.”
  • “Internally the Council has focused on race equality and eradicating discrimination”
  • "Financial planning and control is now very strong in contrast to the situation five years ago. This provides a robust basis for resourcing the Council's priorities over the medium term and delivering continuing improvement. Improvements in income collection and more efficient procurement have helped the Council to deliver efficiency savings while maintaining service quality.”
  • “The Council is clear what it needs to do to become high performing. It knows what it needs to improve, has developed strategies to do this in a sustainable way over the medium term and has already begun to deliver some improvements.”

Election News from Sweden

Social Democrat spiritual homeland Sweden faces a general election on 17 September.

For those of you who don't follow Nordic politics in detail, this is going to be the most tightly fought contest in many years for two reasons:

- critcism of the government over its handling of the impact of the Asian Tsunami disaster on Swedish tourists
- the "Dave Cameron" style regeneration of the main right-wing party, the Moderates, under their new leader Frederick Reinfeldt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Reinfeldt Reinfeldt is busy triangulating like mad, trying to steal as many Social Democrat policies as he can.

My sources in the Swedish Social Democrats were intrigued by their leftwing colleague Peter Gustavvson's comments on this blog (http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=28811162&postID=115522368867976644) that "in the Swedish Social Democrats we see the talk of swing voters deciding elections as a theoretical assumption at best".

They are saying:

"Far from this being the case we have a campaign pledge to freeze the level of taxation on houses which is directed at middle class, urban, swing voters. Link:

The opinion polls say it's a close race but we are behind 2-3 percent at the moment. It's too close to make any projections yet."

(sorry the linked document is in Swedish but hopefully it will persuade any Swedish floating voters reading this to stick with the Social Democrats).

More info on the Social Democrats' policies is in English here: http://www.socialdemokraterna.se/Templates/Page____45435.aspx

Previous election results are here: http://www.parties-and-elections.de/sweden.html - to understand these you need to view the Moderates, Liberal People's Party, Christian Democrats and Centre Party as an alternative (though bickering) bloc to the single party of the Social Democrats - in Sweden they are charmingly known as the "Bourgeois Bloc" (which is how I think of our 4 party opposition in Hackney - the Tories, LDs, Greens & Respect).

More updates from Sweden to follow... and fingers crossed for 4 more years for Göran Persson.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hackney Stops The War

Anyone visiting Stoke Newington this week would assume from the proliferation of posters advertising Saturday's Stop the War demo that N16 is a hotbed of leftwing politics.

The scale of the actual demo suggests it is, in fact, merely a hotbed of a couple of Trots with wallpaper paste and a brush and too much time on their hands. (Hint to SWP: flyposting is illegal and there is CCTV all over Stokey High Street, your ASBO could be in the post).

As you can imagine I was delighted to find my Saturday afternoon shopping trip to Shaheen's Cash & Carry interrupted by the massed ranks of the proletariat (and Angus - don't worry I've not put it on your whip's file) marching northwards up the A10.

For the papersellers I encountered - I was the one with ginger hair who told you I wouldn't be buying your journal because I was a Zionist.

All 57 varieties of the Stokey radical fringe were represented there amongst the er... 120 ish protesters, from Neturei Karta http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neturei_Karta, who provide the 2 blokes that look like rabbis but carry "We Await the Total Annulment of Zionism" placards at every anti-Israel rally everywhere, through the SWP ("Why stop the war when our mates in Hezbollah are winning") to the hammer and sickle flags (how retro) of the Marxist Leninist Kommunist Party of Turkey ("Stop the War, Start Killing the Kulaks/Trots/democrats/middle classes).

Turnout was down by one as Dave Osler of Lordship Road http://davespartblog.blogspot.com/ is on a very timely holiday to Cuba ...

I was particularly gratified that some of the posters even had ideas for new wars even I hadn't thought of (pre-emptive stopping?) e.g. Syria, Iran. Where was North Korea, they must be feeling left out?

Anyway, after passing me, they turned right (surely some mistake) and held a mass (mini?) rally at that centre of the world zionist/capitalist/US imperialist power, Stoke Newington Common (well it is near my flat so maybe that counts). The usual stopping place of Hackney demos right opposite our flat outside the gates of Abney Park Cemetary seems to have been abandoned after Respect's 17 person rally during the election, which Linda & I cruelly disrupted by waving Vote Labour posters from our windows and shouting "we love Jules Pipe", then taking photos of Dean Ryan when he stuck 2 fingers up at us and shouted "come down here and say that" - childish, but fun...

Anyway, it must have gone well, because as well as increasing paper sales to each other, it stopped the war ... within hours the UN ceasefire was being signed up to by the Israeli and Lebanese cabinets... well done guys. Now please could you remove your flyposting.

P.S. to Mr Hamdy the newsagent, I am now boycotting your shop as its front window is full of STW posters ... this adds to my 8 year boycott of Yum Yum's Thai Restaurant after they advertised in Liberal Democrat Focus in March 1998.

Sound MP of the day - Khalid Mahmood

Hooray! At least there is one member of the PLP avoiding this weekend's rush for the cliffs.

Well done to Khalid Mahmood MP (Birmingham Perry Barr) for having the guts to say this (according to the Guardian - http://www.guardian.co.uk/religion/Story/0,,1844109,00.html):

"Khalid Mahmood, the Muslim MP for Perry Barr in Birmingham, said he had refused to sign the letter and accused those behind it of "grandstanding"."It is just an attempt to raise their own individual profiles so they can ... appease some of the more radical elements of Islam."

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Know Your Enemy

A commenter has asked why I have such a grudge against Tony Benn and Bennites more generally.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to understand the Bennite phenomenon and exactly how much damage it did to the Labour Party should read "Labour and the Benn Factor" by the late Michael Cocks http://www.guardian.co.uk/obituaries/story/0,,463649,00.html (Labour Chief Whip 1976-85, defeated Benn for selection for Bristol South after boundary changes but later deselected by (the then) "Red Dawn" Primarolo).

Cocks was one of the unsung heroes who kept the Callaghan government in power, despite the absence of a working Labour majority.

His book is available second-hand over the internet and well worth getting hold of if you want to understand how destructive and vicious the Bennite insurgency was at its height (and what those "nice" old rebels like Walter Wolfgang are really about).

Lemmings for Labour

Yet another person who ought to know better but is spouting utter tripe is Oona King. Today's article by her in the Observer http://politics.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1843583,00.html wins several prizes as most trite, ill-thought-out, tokenistic and generally unhelpful contribution to the debate about Labour's future - the kind of "me-tooism" that makes Lemmings look free-thinking (actually I take that back because backing Harman for Deputy Leader is stunning in its originality - so stunning that no one else has thought of doing it).

According to Oona:
  • Blair backed a "a disproportionate and bloody Israeli response to Hizbollah aggression" - strange that because whereas I did back the Israelis and wanted them to be able to carry on until Hizbollah had been destroyed, Blair has consistently said he wanted an early and sustainable ceasefire ( http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page9982.asp)
  • "the Labour party is not so much disgruntled with its leader as appalled" - well I could introduce her to a very large number of members, loads of whom campaigned for her in Bethnal Green thinking she was a Blairite, who would applaud the PM's handling of this issue.
  • "The party may reply, at next month's conference, that there's been one misunderstanding after another and it's time to go. " - the evidence for this being what exactly? Which CLP or union is triggering a leadership election and how much support do they have? Presumably they want to replace Blair with Brown whose politics on this issue are, thankfully, identical.
  • "who wears the trousers: is it the cloth-capped trade unionists whose spiritual ancestors are the Tolpuddle Martyrs?" - because you obviously fit that description Oona.
  • "One of the finest principles of international socialism is that we do not turn the other cheek when people are tyrannised." (good so far Oona) BUT "unilateral campaigns as witnessed in Iraq are no solution" i.e. we only actually implement the "the finest principles of international socialism" and end tyranny when we get sign-off from the UN and its fine, principled, socialist human rights loving security council members like China, Mr Putin, and that well known leftwing man of principle Jacques Chirac...
  • "The result of the American and British action, which I supported, has been to replace partial genocide with partial civil war" whereas no action would have left the partial genocide going and let the man perpetrating it re-stock with WMD and the missile capability to drop it on handy nearby places like Tel Aviv.
  • "using the false argument of WMDs" - presumably Tony Blair should have, according to Oona, had the foresight to realise that Saddam was lying when he said he had WMD, and ignored not just his own intelligence services but also those of France, Russia and China who opposed the war but were unanimous about the presence of WMD. Hindsight is a magnificant thing.
  • Iraq needs a "UN force" - composed of who exactly???? It's difficult enough to get the UN member states to come up with serious forces to go into Lebanon, let alone the hundred % more risky and politically controversial situation in Iraq. Can't see the French volunteering for that one. And why would the Baathists, Al-Qaeda or the Shiite militias be less likely to kill each other if a UN force was there?
  • " The earliest practical test of Labour's approach to equality is the deputy leadership election." Yes, an internal party election for a non-job. Strangely I would have thought increasing the minimum wage was a slightly more practical test of equality.
  • Then we get to the crunch - she wants Harriet Harman to be deputy leader. At this point I fell off my chair laughing, having assumed that Hazza's support base didn't extend much further than the Harman/Dromey household. My personal take is that Harman just about qualifies as second most impressive politician in her immediate family, behind Jack, let alone for the number 2 slot in the Labour Party.
  • She enlightens us that she thinks Bush is "more stupid than Mickey Mouse and more dangerous than Saddam Hussein". Quite aside from the sheer childishness of this statement ("I called the most powerful man in the world a rude name, and in a national newspaper, that should restore my street cred with the kids") the second bit sounds remarkably like the kind of demented, indeed perverse world view dished up by ... er... George Galloway ... Whatever Bush's faults, thick he ain't (the guy went to Yale) and making moral comparissons between Bush and Saddam is the kind of idiotic statement you would expect from the SWP.

Oona, you should be ashamed to write this nonsense.

If this is the quality of Harriet Harman's fan club, in the unlikely event that she gets elected will the last person to leave the Labour Party please turn out the lights?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The wrong letter at the wrong time

I'm disappointed that thoughtful, generally sensible MPs like Sadiq Khan and Shahid Malik have put their names to a letter telling the government to change its foreign policy in the face of the terrorist threat: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4786159.stm

If they want UK foreign policy changed they should argue that on the merits of the policy i.e. is it the right thing to do, not on the basis of whether the kind of crazies who want to blow up passenger jets might be more likely to do so because of it. Otherwise you are giving the terrorists a veto over the UK's role in the world.

The letter reinforces the terrorists' world view - i.e. that Muslims are victims of a great, organised global injustice, rather than combating that view.

The signatories of the letter should be reminding the Muslim community in the UK that British forces remain in Afghanistan and Iraq at the request of Muslim governments to save Muslim lives and enable Muslims who were enduring tyranny to elect their own governments (in the case of Iraq, for large periods of Saddam's rule it was a secular tyranny and the "occupation" has actually seen a great upsurge in religious freedom of expression).

Friday, August 11, 2006

Another Triumph for Cameron

Yesterday's byelection in Turkey Street Ward, Enfield (Tory since 2002 and in a key marginal parliamentary seat):

C 877, Lab 874, UKIP 174, Save Chase Farm 133, Lib Dem 77, Green 51.
(May 2006 - 3 seats C 1546, 1437, 1431, Save Chase Farm 1188, Lab 1100, 907, 818).
C hold. Majority 3 votes, Swing: 7.2% C to Lab.

NS on Burma

Well done to the New Statesman, in amongst its usual diet of predictable anti-Blair/US/Israel me-tooism, for drawing attention to the human rights disaster that is the Burmese "State Peace and Development Council" (surely the most misnamed organisation in the world?) military regime. They've done a special issue on the subject - most of which is online - http://www.newstatesman.com/nsspecialissue.htm

and includes the following stats:

"Burma by numbers:
  • 500,000 number of soldiers out of a population of 50 million
  • 19 the annual sum, in pence, spent per person on health
  • 30,900 hectares of opium poppies cultivated in 2003
  • 15 years in jail: penalty for unlicensed possession of a fax machine or modem
  • 540,000 estimated number of internally displaced people
  • 17 percentage of schools with safe drinking water"

The UK Burma Campaign is based in Hackney at Charles Square in Hoxton: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/ and deserves support.

Co-located with them is the Free Tibet Campaign, http://www.freetibet.org/ - maybe the NS should run something on the situation there as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Poverty in Hackney

Figures from the Joseph Rowntree trust show that whilst Labour is making some headway in reducing child poverty nationwide (though not hitting its own targets of a 25% reduction), something is going badly, badly wrong with that strategy here in London: http://www.jrf.org.uk/child-poverty/documents/London.doc

In Great Britain, child poverty fell by 16% (from 33% to 27% of children) from 1998/9 to 2004/5. In London, child poverty rose by 4% (from 39% to 41% of children)!

In Hackney 12 of the 19 wards have more than twice the national average children in families living on benefits. My own council ward, Chatham, has the second worst level in the borough:

King's Park 50.5%
Chatham 50.0%
Hoxton 49.9%
Victoria 49.8%
Wick 48.6%
Brownswood 46.6%
Haggerston 46.4%
Queensbridge 46.1%
De Beauvoir 45.3%
Hackney Downs 44.5%
Hackney Central 44.0%
Dalston 42.5%

We have to get this dealt with. Reducing poverty is what the Labour Party exists to do. That these levels of deprivation can exist in one of the richest cities in the world is a disgrace.

Why isn't this the priority for the third term rather than esoteric nonsense about "choice" and "public sector reform"?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Take the test

Thanks to the Guardian for listing the runners and riders for next Labour Deputy Leader http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1839411,00.html

Not an exhaustive list as I can think of a few others who are considering running, but an interesting one - Johnson, Hain, Harman, Straw.

I've tried to come up with a way of ranking them so I can decide who to vote for (and indeed anyone else that might be seeking my vote in future selections):

Section 1 - Ideological/Political Orientation

Q1) Are you a supporter of a) replacement of Trident, b) nuclear power, c) the State of Israel? (10 points for each yes)
Q2) Are you or have you ever been a member of CND, Compass, CLPD, the Campaign Group, Liberty/NCCL, PSC/LMEC, the Liberal Party? (minus 5 points for each yes)
Q3) Did you vote for Benn or Healey in the 1981 Deputy Leadership election? (10 points for Healey, 5 points for abstaining, minus 20 for Benn)
Q4) If you had been a Labour MP in the 1963 Leadership election would you have voted for George Brown, Harold Wilson or Jim Callaghan? (10 points for Brown, 8 points for Callaghan, minus 5 for Wilson)
Q5) Did you think the good guys in the Vietnam War were a) the Communist Viet Cong led by Stalinist dictator Ho Chi Minh or b) the US Marine Corps led by leftwing Democrats JFK and LBJ? (20 points for anyone unlikely enough to be saying b)
Q6) In which year did you first publicly call for the expulsion of Militant? (2 points for every year prior to 1985)
Q7) Who made the greater contribution to the history of the Labour Party, Nye Bevan or Ernie Bevin? (20 points for Bevin)
Q8) Did you support British involvement in the following conflicts: Falklands (1 pt), Gulf War (4 pts), Sierra Leone (1 pt), Kosovo (3 pts), Afghanistan (3 pts), Iraq War (10 pts)?

Section 2 - Organisational/Campaigning
Q1) How many members are there in your CLP? (1 point per 50 or part thereof)
Q2) How many electors did you personally canvass/voter ID in the 12 months before the last general election? (1 point per 500 or part thereof)
Q3) What was the difference between the swing in your own constituency and that in the wider region in 2005? (1 point for each 0.1% differential in Labour's favour, minus 1 point for each 0.1% worse than the regional average)

Assuming I won't get the candidates or their campaign teams actually posting responses, anyone out there who can work out the scores for the "Guardian 4"?

Primary Prats

I seem to remember posting a while ago about what a stupid idea primary elections are - i.e. the extremists amongst your own party's supporters get to pick a candidate they love who then gets rejected by the wider electorate.

Our cousins across the pond in the Democrats proved the point yesterday by rejecting former VP candidate and 3 term senate veteran Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Senate Primary http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/5255452.stm

So ... you lose 2 presidential elections by narrow margins because you run liberal candidates who don't appeal to anyone outside the US equivalent of N16 ... then you start gearing up for the next one by purging the few senior politicians you have whose views on foreign and security policy actually accord with middle America.

Good luck guys, I am sure the next Democratic Presidential bid will do at least as well as McGovern's or Mondale's did.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Silencing the left

Stuart Bruce asks whether anyone will be heckling Walter Wolfgang to give him a taste of his own medicine:


We won't actually get the chance - getting elected to the NEC if you are in the minority on it is effectively a trappist vow where conference is concerned.

Why? NEC Members can't speak from conference floor. All they can do is reply to debates. And the - thankfully sane - majority on the NEC does not give the job of replying to policy debates to Grassroots Alliance members.

So Ann, Wolfgang, Pete and Christine won't be speaking in the Conference hall for as long as they are NEC members.

Lords Reform Day

The Elect the Lords Campaign have again declared 10 August as "Lords Reform Day." This marks the anniversary of the Parliament Act 1911 receiving Royal assent, the preamble of which states:
"it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation."

95 years later we still have the travesty of an un-elected second chamber.

To back the campaign for an elected House of Lords go to their website: http://www.electthelords.org.uk/

Isn't democracy wonderful?

Back from a week of complete relaxation, including trips to the excellent Sportsman http://www.whitstable-shellfish.co.uk/sportsman_main.htm and http://travel.guardian.co.uk/restaurants/story/0,,1007508,00.html and its sister restaurant the Granville http://observer.guardian.co.uk/magazine/story/0,,1715381,00.html both of which are worth a trip to Kent in themselves.

Unfortunately back to rain and the infinitely depressing news that at least 14,000 of Labour's grassroots members actually do want to turn us into a joke party again:

Ann Black 19491 ELECTED (GRA)
Christine Shawcroft 17974 ELECTED (GRA)
Pete Willsman 15759 ELECTED (GRA)
Walter Wolfgang 14129 ELECTED (GRA)
Peter Wheeler 13961 ELECTED (LF)
Ellie Reeves 13850 ELECTED (LF)
Mohammed Azam 13435 (GRA)
Lorna Fitzsimons 13093 (LF)
Bill Thomas 12830 (LF)
Gaye Johnston 12498 (GRA)
Helen Jackson 11443 (IND)
Louise Baldock 11118 (IND)
Azhar Ali 10493 (LF)
Philomena Muggins 7982 (LF)
Naz Sarkar 7303 (IND)
Mehboob Khan 5567 (IND)

Ballot papers distributed 178889
Ballot papers received 36316
Spoiled ballot papers 400

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