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.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Stats for October

During the course of October the site had exactly 5500 page views (up from 4897 in Sept) and 1335 different visitors (up from 1112 in Sept).

Top 10 referring sites sending people here:
www.google.com and variants - 17% of visitors
www.bloggers4labour.org - 9% of visitors
www.blogger.com - 6% of visitors
www.iaindale.blogspot.com - 5% of visitors
www.tom-watson.co.uk - 4% of visitors
www.lukeakehurstsblog.blogspot.com -2% of visitors
http://thedaily.wordpress.com - 2% of visitors
www.davespartblog.blogspot.com -2% of visitors
www.thecrazyworldofpolitics.blogspot.com - 2% of visitors
www.ribblevalleyred.blogspot.com -1% of visitors

Visitor locations:
UK 67% (+7% from Sept)
USA 12% (+1%)

Heaviest days of traffic: Oct 30 (thanks to a link from Iain Dale's site to my post on Hazel Blears)

Most read posts: this and this

Strangest google seach terms leading to this site:
"Gill George Respect"
"universal hint system ciao bella"
"bob casey ceo hipp"
"luke i am your father spoof"
"lawson lucas and mendelson"
"what does the name luke mean"
"alicia kennedy general secretary labour party"

Compass and Iraq

The current thread running on the Compass website here really does expose the leaders of that organisation for the sanctimonious, humbug-ridden, pompous, "me-too"ist bandwagon jumpers they are.

Read it for the trite, a-historical drivel and self-indulgent path-of-least-resistance hand-wringing by the Compassites - whose argument seems to consist of little other than "War is bad, America bad, Blair evil, Israel evil. dictatorships in far away countries are none of our business, Iraqi democrats are bad by association 'cos they are backed by the UK and USA".

And read it for the demolition job done on their arguments by Stan Rosenthal and "Seasider".
Coming soon to a branch party near you - the Compass 12 clause resolution on Iraq. Though this is unlikely in most branches as the number of these people who are actually Labour Party activists - as opposed to armchair ranters - is minimal.

And what gems it contains - "full and free elections cannot be held in a country under enemy occupation" - erm... tell that to the Germans or Japanese who held perfectly democratic elections whilst occupied.

Their own worst enemies

Sometimes there is no need to attack the Hard Left because they do it for you themselves.

Hence the surreal spectacle of a 3-way split in the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs over the coming Labour leadership election - the ultras backing McDonnell, Alan Simpson and others seeking to maximise the left performance rather than just fly the flag by backing Meacher, and a couple of key people like Skinner and Ann Cryer looking like they will vote for Brown.

It's all been recorded in great detail here - http://reclaimlabour.blogspot.com/ and here http://davespartblog.blogspot.com/.

The lack of self-awareness is amazing - why is no one on the left pointing out the obvious - that neither McDonnell nor Meacher is a credible candidate who has any personal base of support in the Party or any qualification to lead it?

It doesn't really matter which of them runs because in both cases they are incapable of reaching out beyond the oppositionalist fringe.

What the squabbling between McDonnell and Meacher exposes is the fundamental crisis of both the Hard Left and the Soft Left in the Labour Party - they are effectively leaderless and have been for some time. The Tribunite tradition threw up some figures of great stature: Bevan, Wilson, Castle, Foot, Kinnock (who came from that tradition even if he didn't stay in it), Cook. With the death of Cook that "soft left" tradition has no leader of national stature or profile, hence Compass et al are attempting to influence Brown, a potential leader from the Atlanticist right of the Party, rather than run their own candidate.

The Hard Left is in even more of a mess - Tony Benn really dominated their emergence as a separate strand of organisation divorced from the old Tribune Group to such an extent that he made everyone around him look like mere acolytes. The more talented of his followers long ago either sold out to become government ministers or, like Diane Abbott, resorted to becoming media pundits or court jesters. The one Campaign Grouper who did have the charisma and appeal to be a credible leader for them - Ken Livingstone - never felt at home in the Commons and was never trusted by his colleagues so has quit the parliamentary stage to go back to running London.

Much as I detest these people's politics I don't think it will be healthy for the Labour Party if they fail to get a leadership candidate on the ballot paper. We need a contested election so that party members get to choose Brown rather than him just emerging, and because a contest will show the public more about Brown's qualities and more about our internal democracy; and we need to have publicly tested and exposed - as by Benn and Heffer's 1988 challenge - how marginal the Hard Left is.

Get your act together comrades!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Run, Hazel, run

The Deputy Leadership campaign seems to be shaping up to show Labour in a good light - pluralistic, unpredictable in the sense of not being a forgone conclusion, and with an interesting range of candidates.

I was really pleased when today's Observer said that Hazel Blears "is now expected to enter the deputy race ... Blears is said to be confident she can get the 44 nominations required."

I'm very enthused by the idea of Blears being part of the leadership team - and not just because she is, like me, ginger and not very tall.

My reasons:
- Assuming Brown is to be leader, this balances the ticket with someone close to the Blair camp and binds any wounds.
- She's authentically Labour and can connect with our core vote and has proven this in Salford.
- We ought to have a woman in the leadership team to help us win back women voters and Hazel seems to me to be a more credible candidate that Harriet Harman.
- She is an effective campaigner and I think the Deputy needs to focus on a campaigning role.
- She's from the North West - a region packed full of the key marginals we need to win - and which hasn't supplied a Labour Leader or Deputy since Harold Wilson.
- She's particularly strong on the crime & ASB agenda - a key one both for Labour's core supporters and swing voters - and that would balance Brown's interests in the economy and social policy if he was leader. The work she did as Home Office Minister of State meeting ordinary voters on the ground to listen to and act on their concerns on ASB was really impressive.
- Her personality - she's down-to-earth and approachable in a way that is authentic and will help us take on the faux mateyness of "Dave" Cameron. She comes across as someone that lives in the real world voters live in and understands their lives.
- She cares about the Party grassroots and the union link in the same way Cruddas does but without his link-up with groups like Compass and Save the Labour Party.

I'm fairly sure that if I researched everything she's ever said I'd find she was some way to the left of me, but my bottom line in judging the Deputy Leadership candidates is, if I was a PPC or Agent again, which of them would I most want to do a key campaigner visit to my seat - which one would actually help the most to get members out campaigning and to persuade voters they met that they ought to turn out and vote Labour? I reckon of the names mentioned so far, Blears wins hands down, so I hope she does run.

Flag burning

I very rarely find myself on the same side as Liberty and the Lib Dems in the debate about how to tackle terrorism but I'm with them in their condemnation of Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur's frankly idiotic proposal to make flag-burning illegal.

First off - which flags? Just our's? Does this mean I can't burn the flags of Cuba or Burma or North Korea as part of a demo against a dictatorship - I'd quite like to retain that right? Does it only cover the flags of nation states? If so what about burning the flags of countries that aren't independent like Palestine or Wales or England? What about burning the flags of organisations - could you burn a NATO or EU flag but not a US or UK one?

Second - how do they legally define a flag - most of what gets burned on demos are not actually flags at all - shops tend not to stock large numbers of nylon Stars & Stripes or Danish flags so what gets burned are paper drawings of flags, or painted sheets. Could you be prosecuted for burning an England football shirt?

Third - the only justification for censorship in the field of politics is when what is expressed clearly incites violence or other criminal acts against other citizens. It's difficult to tell with flag burners whether they are saying "burn the people of country x" or just indicating disapproval of country x's foreign policy.

Trying to curtail people from expressing their discontent publicly may make them more, not less, likely to resort to violence to change policies they disagree with.

What next: protecting national anthems by banning Jimi Hendrix's anti-Vietnam mangled version of the Star Spangled Banner or the Sex Pistols' version of God Save the Queen?

Books I'm reading

As I've spent the weekend feeling really not well - one of the downsides of parenthood is that babies seem to pass on coughs and colds to their parents that they shrug off and the adults are knocked out by - I've been catching up on some reading.
I have a bad habit of having 3 books I'm reading at once - a paperback for reading on the bus - and usually a couple of hardbacks for home that I flit between.
The 2 doorstop sized ones I'm currently ploughing through are both highly recommended for anyone into Labour history:
- Greg Rosen's "Old Labour to New" tells the entire history of the Party through excerpts from key speeches to Conference and in Parliament (that's where the Gaitskell quote in my post earlier this week came from). Although Greg shares most of my politics the commentary is objective and I think people from any strand of Labour opinion will find gems in here that inspire them. The main thing that struck me is that most of the dividing lines are not new - the policy challenges have changed but quite a lot of the speeches in the '30s about rearmament or the '50s or '80s about CND could just as easily be made now about Iraq or Trident.
- Giles Radice's diaries - published a couple of years ago and I feel guilty in admitting I hadn't noticed them when they came out (despite having enjoyed his book "The Rivals" about Crosland, Healey & Jenkins). It's a really good read. You can't help but feel sorry for a man who would probably have been a minister if he was 10 years younger or older but instead spent the bulk of his career in opposition - through no fault of his own as he consistently backed election-winning policies. You also can't help admiring someone who although he was a political protege of Shirley Williams and a personal friend of most of the SDP defectors (slices of the early pages of the diary are accounts of dinner party menus chez Bill Rodgers or John Horam) stayed loyal to his Chester-le-street CLP and his union, the GMB, and never considered leaving Labour. Radice's book should be read in parralel with John Golding's "Hammer of the Left" and Diane Hayter's "Fighback" - whereas they narrate the history of the old Labour right in the '80s from the perspective of grassroots organisation in the CLPs, unions and NEC, Radice gives you an insight into the more rarified world of another segment of the Labour right focussed more on the Fabian Society and Hampstead dinner parties.
Regular readers will have picked up that culturally I am more of a leaflet-delivering Labourite than a think-tank pamphlet reading one. However, Radice's 1992 Fabian pamphlet "Labour's Southern Discomfort", in analysing and suggesting solutions to Labour's chronic unpopularity in the South, was that rare thing, a pamphlet that actually had a major impact on making a political party more electable.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Norman Geras' post today quoting arguments for staying in Iraq made me think about a historic parralel - the US withdrawal from SE Asia once domestic political pressure to end the war there kicked in.

I was particularly thinking about what the Iraqi Deputy PM, Barham Saleh (a Kurd and democratically elected - which are both things to celebrate) said in London on Monday (and which unfortunately got a lot less coverage than General Dannat's recent remarks):

"We do believe there is no option for the international community to cut and run, the future of Iraq is vital to the future of the Middle East and the world order.
This is a society that was traumatised by 35 years of tyranny, and trying to build a functioning democracy in the heart of the Islamic Middle East.
The pressure that I feel is from my constituents in Iraq who demand of their government delivery of resources and security.
This is not an easy situation, but we are mindful of our responsibility. At the end of the day, it is for the elected government of Iraq to make tough choices, but for some time we need the support of the international community."

and what Cambodian leader Sirik Matak wrote in April 1975 to US Ambassador John Dean in response to an offer to escape by helicopter from the advancing Khmer Rouge:

"Dear Excellency and friend,
I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.
As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky.
But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.
Please accept, Excellency, my dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments. Sirik Matak."

Two weeks later he had been shot - one of an estimated 2 million victims of Pol Pot's genocide.

Any timetable for withdrawal from Iraq needs to ensure that Barham Saleh and other Iraqi democrats are not abandoned to their fates like America's allies in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were, but are given the time and support to build up their own security forces.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Four year mandates

Someone in the DCLG press office has either a sense of irony or hasn't watched the news for 2 months.

Their press release today announcing the White Paper on Local Government outlines one of its centrepieces - the requirement for all councils to now elect a Mayor or Leader for a fixed four year term, rather than them face re-election every year at the ruling group's AGM. Good news for stability and leadership I might add. As a councillor from an authority that went through 5 Labour Group leaders in 4 years between 1996 and 2000 and had no council leader at all between 1996 and 2001, but has now had the same Leader/Elected Mayor for 5 years and counting, and went from basketcase to most improved authority in the country, I know there is a direct correlation between political stability and council performance.

However, the phrasing is a classic: "This four year mandate –similar to central Government – will not only mean stronger local Government, but greater stability as well, removing an existing barrier to both good government and the effective delivery of the services people actually want."

Er... I hate to point this out to the DCLG but hasn't the Prime Minister, despite having one of those "central government four year mandates" you are now imposing on councils just been more or less forced to announce he will step down after only 2 and a bit years?

If only the government practiced what it preached about stability of leadership it would be better placed to ensure "good government and the effective delivery of the services people actually want".

Tell Channel 4 what you think of their list

Channel 4 are broadcasting a programme tonight claiming that Hackney is the worst place to live in the UK. They have used deprivation-related statistics in a way that implies the poorest areas in the UK are the worst places to live. Please join Hackney Council in proving them wrong. Send an e-card to Channel 4 and tell them why Hackney is a great place to live using this link:


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Oxfam's I'm in campaign

Oxfam are currently running a really effective TV ad to drive people towards their website and get them signed up (under the slogan "I'm in") to sign a very simple pledge: "I think poverty is an injustice and I want to do something about it."

You can sign it here:

Now I know that political parties can't advertise on TV but aside from that this is a prime example of NGOs and charities being streets ahead of political parties in the way they integrate different campaigning media, recruit supporters and activists and fundraise around a simple core message.

It just happens that the Labour Party's core message is also "I think poverty is an injustice and I want to do something about it." Why isn't the Labour Party recruiting people around a similar simple message about what it stands for? Most of the people signing the Oxfam pledge ought, if they were approached the right way, to be Labour members too. But if you go the front page of Labour's web site you don't get a simple statement about what we are for - you get a poll about double devolution (which is a fairly technical question even for councillors) and (this evening at least) worthy but less than exciting stories about a speech on Corporate Social Responsibility and extra cash for playing fields. The Supporters' Network button on the front page doesn't give any actual reason to "support" other than to "keep in touch" which I reckon most people would see as "please let us send you spam emails".

We would do well as a Party in adopting some of the charity sector's hard hitting advertising and effective core messages if we are going to remind people what the difference in values and practice is between a Labour government and a Tory one.

Why I joined the Labour Party

Over on http://www.bloggers4labour.org people are busy posting about why the joined the Labour Party.

Some of the replies are very inspiring, particularly those from the couple of people that only joined in the last few months. At some stage I'll try to find the time to explain why I joined.

In the mean time here's what Hugh Gaitskell said in answer to the same question at Labour's 1955 Conference - every word of which makes as much sense now as it did then and says everything I want to say:

"I became a socialist quite candidly ... because at an early age I came to hate and loath social injustice, because I disliked the class structure of our society, because I could not tolerate the indefensible differences of status and income which disfigure our society. I hated the insecurity that affected a large part of our community while others led lives of security and comfort. I became a socialist because I hated poverty and squalor.

We in the Labour Party can be proud of what we have done ... to remedy these ills, but do not let us make the mistake of supposing that all is over. I want to see - and I am a socialist because I want to see - a society of equal men and women... a society in which the rewards correspond to some generally accepted criterion of merit ... I want to see everybody have an opportunity to develop his or her personality to the full. I ... want to see fellowship ... And I want to see all this acheived by democracy ... I want to see all this not only in our country but over the world as a whole."

That's why Gaitskell joined the Labour Party. Ditto for me.

Back when ICM put us 18% ahead

Spotting that I was perhaps a little distressed by Labour's slump to 29% in today's ICM poll, Linda decided to cheer me up by digging out this picture of happier political times - two people eleven years younger and in a party 20% more popular (and in my case 3 or 4 stone lighter).

The setting was the Bristol meeting of Blair's tour promoting the new Clause IV to Party members in February 1995 - I'd just told the assembled masses and the then Leader of the Opposition that he didn't need to worry because he had the backing of Bristol Uni and UWE Labour Clubs and Bristol Young Labour. I'm sure he found that very reassuring ...

On the plus side I don't own that jacket anymore or those glasses.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The state of the parties

Thanks to Tom Watson (http://www.tom-watson.co.uk/) and Andrew Brown (http://andrewkbrown.wordpress.com) for linking to the fascinating (ok only fascinating to political hacks like me) New Politics Network/Rowntree Trust survey of the state of political parties at a local level in the UK.

Grassroots organisation is one of my pet subjects having been both both a lay and full-time Agent and a parliamentary candidate a couple of times, and "campaign managed" the last couple of borough elections in Hackney.

My observations on the report:

- All the parties are in a mess, but the figures show that Labour has retained a skeleton constituency organisation virtually nationwide whereas "20% of Conservative Associations and 40% of Lib Dem Local Parties have fewer than 100 members per constituency" - as on average only 10% of members are activists, that means there is no local Tory or LD presence to speak of in large chunks of urban Britain.
- This is not just a UK phenomenon - party membership is falling steeply in every major democracy (except France where the PS has just increased its membership through a new cheap rate - but was starting from a base of under 70,000 members as Gallic culture is not into joining things in the way northern Europeans are).
- Increased membership would be a good thing per se as it would help fund the parties, help root them in local communities and make them representative of their voters, but I don't think there is a clear link between more members and more activity - most of the 200,000 new members Labour got in 1994 didn't actually help campaign or attend party events - so a big increase in membership might not help the parties organise on the ground.
- I tend to see some merit in the case put to me by a former Labour General Secretary that it's actually organisationally more effective to have 10 activists who are self-organising and will put in 10 hours of campaigning a week than to have to manage 100 activists who will only do 1 hour a week - and each of whom has to be trained, checked up on to see they have delivered their leaflets, visited to dish out work etc.
- There probably will be a big surge in Labour membership again in the future BUT it's likely to be because we lose a General Election - not a price worth paying. And the extra 50-100,000 members will pay their £36 but are unlikely to do much - they are the same people who join Amnesty or Greenpeace or the RSPB or English Heritage - they join things as a statement in itself, but drop out when we are in government and taking tough decisions.
- To get members who will be activists too we need to target individuals who are already "activists" in other fields - single issue campaigns, community or faith groups, tenants associations, trade unions. "If you want something done, ask a busy person".
- I am not convinced that chucking money (state or otherwise) at a local party will always regenerate it - having a full time agent or organiser can just create a dependency culture where people who would or did volunteer their time do less and leave it to the full-timer. With the exception of funding staff, constituency politics in the UK is actually quite cheap because of strict election spending limits - the amount of cash needed for posters and leaflets can be met by donations and fund-raising social events - the real organisational difference is made by getting people to give up their time to do things - and that is trickier now because there are more competing work and leisure calls on people's time than there used to be.
- Having said that the round of staff redundancies at national and regional level that follows every General Election is particularly unhelpful in that there are no staff to go out and develop, train and build up constituency and branch organisation at the exact point in the electoral cycle when there would be time to do this.
- Most people will do stuff at election time if you ask them. The problem is not that people won't come when we "bang the gong" but that the person responsible for gong-banging in a ward or constituency may have become disillusioned or organisationally pessimistic and doesn't ask people to work.
- A very small nucleus of hard working people is usually enough to create a snowball effect and create quite an active local party - once you have say 10 people who enjoy campaigning and socialising together, others will see something that looks worth being part of.
- Leadership by example is the key. The impact of MPs and PPCs who prioritise campaigning and are always the first person knocking on a door and the last person to stop is critical. People won't go out and do the work unless the candidate leads from the front. There are loads of good examples of Labour MPs who have really worked at regenerating their CLPs - Jon Cruddas, Jim Murphy, Tom Watson, Ian Austin, Jim Knight, Siobhain McDonagh all spring to mind. And then there are senior ministers who don't campaign year round in their own constituency and have only themselves to blame if their local party is a hollow shell. To give you an idea of the personal campaigning impact (let alone the organisational and leadership/motivational role) the Candidate can have if they work hard enough, I calculated after the last General Election that I personally canvassed/voter ID'd about 15,000 electors in the 18 months before the election and a further 5,000 during the month of the campaign - about 1/3 of the entire electorate (cue snide comments about that explaining why my vote went down ...).

I guess my conclusion is that I don't believe that the report's policy proposals will provide a silver bullet that suddenly gets huge party memberships and loads of local activism going. Some of their ideas have merit per se, others like increasing constituency campaign spending limits (which would benefit richer parties) or increasing the use of freepost (creating even less need for activists to deliver leaflets) I fundamentally disagree with.

The real solutions lie within the political parties - there is plenty of best practice where constituency parties are thriving - it basically comes down to hard graft by a core of committed individuals - particularly MPs and PPCs - who create a campaigning framework to mobilise the less committed. There are no short cuts or organisational quick fixes - no political miracle that will suddenly cause an upsurge in activism. Go back to your constituencies and prepare to knock on doors and deliver leaflets ...

Monday, October 23, 2006

No, no, no, no

Personally I am not "hailing" Jack Straw's proposals for House of Lords reform.

A 50% elected House is still 50% undemocratic.

A 12 year term limit is undemocratic - it stops voters deciding how long they want politicians to stay in office.

Elections by PR - good.

Reduction in size to 450 - good.

But why can't we have a Parliament that every single member of was elected to? It's not a difficult concept to understand - it's called democracy - rule by the people.

Straw says - allegedly - that a wholly elected chamber would "become more political". How much more political can you get than passing the legislation that decides the way the country is governed?

Please, having ended the mediaeval farce of hereditary peers, can we end the presence of people hand picked by Prime Ministers, and while we're at it, of CofE Bishops? If they want to be in Parliament passing the laws we all live under all these people should have to go out and get themselves elected by their fellow citizens.

Straw also apparently wants "a minimum age for membership ... set". Just the way not to reconnect young people with the political process.

The Guardian's take on the "victims" of 1956

Am I the only person who found this an odd angle for the Guardian to go into such detail on in its coverage of the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviets?

Reams of coverage of how Hungary caused some (but not all) British Communists to wake up and realise they had been supporting a mass-murdering tyranny and that Stalin hadn't been a nice man at all. And this made some of them upset.

A) There were plenty of people who didn't need to see Hungarian democrats being crushed by Russian tanks to know that Communism was evil and the USSR and its satellites were prison states - remember 1956 was 35 years after the "Red Terror", nearly 20 years after the Show Trials and disappearances to the Gulag and 10 years after the overthrow of the democratic coalition governments that briefly existed in some of Eastern Europe after WW2.

B) The British apologists for Stalinism were not innocent victims of it, by willfully ignoring the truth about the USSR they helped sustain it. All they suffered was losing their secular "religion" and falling out with people who stayed in the CP.

C) Was a split in a party that never elected more than 2 MPs really of great historical significance?

D) How parochial is it possible to get? British newspaper reports anniversary of critical event in another country's history by remembering its impact on internal dynamics of very minor UK political party.

League tables

The league table -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6074148.stm -
by Channel 4's "The Best And Worst Places To Live In The UK: 2006" which puts Hackney as the worst place to live in the UK shows the silliness of relying totally on numbers and not actually asking about factors like people's perceptions.

My post on Saturday shows I am not starry eyed about the borough I live and am a councillor in - by any objective analysis it does suffer from amongst the highest levels of deprivation and crime in the UK - though on both counts the numbers are moving in the right direction. Indeed, the reason why I am a councillor is to try to make some kind of contribution to dealing with those problems.

The take up of "I love Hackney" badges during the council campaign of the same name earlier this year shows residents don't like the place being talked down by outsiders and are intensely loyal to it. I can't imagine kids in other boroughs wearing "I love Redbridge" or "I love Croydon" badges.

In fact one of the major problems Hackney faces is that too many people want to live here: I'm in the middle of moving flat and every single property we looked at this summer went for the asking price. The local housing market is booming to such an extent that middle income families are unable to buy here and there is a crisis around affordable housing for key workers.

Loyalty to the borough isn't confined to owner-occupiers either. Loads of the casework I get is about tenants wanting to be re-housed in larger council flats because their families have grown. In 95% of cases they are insistant that they don't want to move out of the borough, even though this would make it far easier for them to find a new home.

Channel 4's numbers don't seem to have taken account of the things that make people passionate about living in Hackney: more green space than any other inner London borough, fantastic restaurants and bars, proximity to central London, a feeling of community, and above all a model of multi-culturalism that actually works.

My suspicion is that Hackney residents will stick two fingers up to Channel 4 by continuing to be proud of their borough and to know that the huge social and economic problems it faces are challenges to be tackled, not badges of shame.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Short circuit

So Clare Short has left the PLP - more with a whimper than a bang.

I have to say that being upset by "a string of rebukes" from the Chief Whip is the feeblest reason I have ever heard for leaving the PLP and must be causing laughter amongst the likes of Abbott and Corbyn who have spent their entire parliamentary careers being threatened with disciplinary action.

I actually thought Jacqui Smith and the NEC were rather restrained given that Clare had actually called for a hung parliament - a fairly basic requirement of being a Labour MP is that you should want us to win the next election.

Collateral impact:

-damage to a cause I support - electoral reform - by Short linking it to calls for a hung parliament under the current FPTP system
- every other MP and MEP's share of the vote in the electoral college has gone up a bit
- if Short was going to nominate McDonnell he is one MP further away from getting nominated (as is her prefered deputy leadership candidate)
- the number of nominations required to run for leader or deputy is still 44 (down from 44.25 to 44.125)

View from our flat this morning

Living on the third floor of a block overlooking Stoke Newington High Street and the entrance to Abney Park cemetery we get to see quite a bit: drug deals, car crashes, prostitution, street brawls, junkies injecting heroin into their groins in full view of the street, people off cruising in the cemetery, the firearms squad running round outside Luks supermarket toting H&K automatics, a naked shouting man being bundled into a police van while the local kids took pictures on their mobiles...

last night was no exception to the general levels of "urban" excitement.

Councillor Smith was awoken at about 3am by four gunshots (her discription "bang ....... bang, bang, bang) and a ping whizzing noise which she assumed was a bullet ricocheting off something in Northwold Road.

This morning until 10.30am we were inside crime scene blue tape and had to be logged in and out by the police to buy a Guardian and 2 pain au chocolat.

A "non fatal shooting" according to the Police...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Livingstone, the law and the Labour Rulebook

So Ken Livingstone has won his High Court appeal against the Adjudication Panel for England's finding that he brought his office into disrepute over "unnecessarily offensive" and "indefensible" (according to the appeal Judge) comments made to Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold.

But as far as I know he has never been investigated by the Labour Party over whether his "unnecessarily offensive" and "indefensible" comments "brought the Labour Party into disrepute", an offence under Party rules. To the extent that they may have turned many Jewish voters off voting for a Labour Mayor of London, it looks like prima facie there is a case to be investigated.

The CLP where he lives, Brent East, could have looked at this.

The Chief Whip of the GLA Labour Group could have looked at this.

The NEC could have looked at this.

If he was a councillor (and if he was his comments would have received less publicity and hence damaged the Party less) they would be likely to have resulted in a Labour Party disciplinary investigation. That may have cleared him but at least it would have looked into the matter.

But, as with his rulebook-bending readmission to the Labour Party without serving the 5 year membership ban for standing against a Labour candidate, there is one Rulebook for Ken and another for the rest of us who hold public office, and indeed the wider membership.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cruddas launches deputy campaign

Generally I think Jon Cruddas MP is a big asset to Labour and makes a very intelligent contribution to the debate on the future of the Party.

Although I don't expect to be voting for him I am pleased that he is formally launching his Deputy Leadership campaign today, as he will inject an important set of topics around the union link and rebuilding Party activism into the contest.

What I don't get is his vision for the strategic political positioning of the Labour Party.

It seems to be based largely on what he perceives as the lack of attention paid to his constituency, Dagenham, and others like it, because New Labour has been focussed on "middle England".

I think this is fundamentally mistaken. I don't claim to know Dagenham well, but I'm very familiar with the political attitudes of the culturally working class white diaspora from the East End having fought nearby Castle Point, just along the A13, in the '05 General Election and campaigned in one of last summer's council by-elections against the BNP in Barking. My partner was the Agent for John Cryer in next door Hornchurch so as a household I think we have a reasonable take on the politics of that part of London.

My perspective is:
- New Labour was actually specifically targeted at precisely the kind of skilled white working class voters who live in Dagenham. We are basically talking people who used to vote Labour until 1979 then lots of whom defected to the Tories in the '80s. Right-to-buy on council housing would have been a huge factor in generating support for Thatcher in Dagenham. It should have been a heartland Labour area and now is again but certainly wasn't then - in both 1983 and 1987 the Tories came within 3,000 votes of winning Dagenham. They also came within 4,000 of winning Barking in '83 and '87, and less than 3,000 off winning even Newham South in 1987 and 1992. The same would be true of seats with similar demography: "white flight" from the inner city and automotive industry jobs in the Midlands. New Labour wasn't about ignoring these kind of seats - because the voters in them are the same demographic who in smaller numbers are critical to winning key seats like Basildon and Harlow - it was all about listening to their concerns and getting them back to their historic party, Labour.
- Whilst voters in that part of the world are sometimes quite left wing on say, public services or support for manufacturing, they are highly aspirational (by definition - they are either first or second generation East Enders who did a Tebbit and "got on their bikes") and that aspect of New Labour's positioning appeals to them. Dagenham isn't Surrey but it isn't the inner city either - people moved there to escape the inner city.
- The majority of the discontent with Labour that exists in the easternmost bit of London/inner Essex is not because Labour is "too right wing" or too "middle England" - it's because Labour is (wrongly) perceived in that part of the world as "too left wing", "politically correct", "obsessed with helping immigrants". Hence the main opposition in Barking & Dagenham is the BNP. The voters in this part of England are even more obsessed by crime/ASB, immigration and terrorism than "middle England" is (and remember recent polls have said these are the top 3 issues for voters nationally).

So my difference of opinion with Cruddas is:

- I think most Labour policy is actually targeted at his constituents, not neglecting them
- The security agenda around crime, immigration and terrorism is actually essential to him keeping his seat and kicking the BNP off Barking & Dagenham Council, and he shouldn't dismiss it "an ever-more-muscular bidding war amongst politicians to demonstrate who can be tougher".

I think there is room for Cruddas to develop some radical policies that will inspire working class voters and get these taken up by a new Leader. Particularly these might be in the areas of support for manufacturing industry, workplace and trade union rights, combating poverty, regeneration and public services. But it would be an electoral disaster for us in Dagenham and other places like it if that is combined with a retreat on the security agenda and the return of the leftwing rhetoric that caused the same voters to defect to Thatcher in the 1980s.

Thank you for the advance warning comrades

One of the most endearing features of the ultra left is their habit of publishing all their organisational plans and internal tactical debates online or in newspapers.

So thank you my Trotskyist friends in the Alliance for Workers' Liberty (previously known as Socialist Organiser, and proscribed by Labour's NEC) for this newsletter, being handed out at tonight's Hackney John McDonnell rally:


They have an interesting twin-track approach - not only do "socialists need to stand against Labour candidates who are directly attacking the working class" (though strangely this lot only stood in Hackney Central, a ward with three quite publicly non-Blairite Labour councillors) but "we should be able to fight inside the Labour Party too."

"Some Hackney Labour Party branches are controlled by right-wing cliques." Whoever can they mean?

"But not all. Where possible socialists should be active in branches... In some branches the right wing has been challenged recently. Haggerston-Hoxton branch opposed privatisation in the NHS, Leabridge branch is sponsoring the meeting with John McDonnell."

And not content with inciting entryism into selected ward parties they want to pack the GCs with union delegates too: "Many affiliated unions do not send delegates to Hackney Labour Party. This plays into the hands of the right wing. Activists should get delegated and promote McDonnell."

They conclude "One consequence of the decline in membership is that the right wing is vulnerable. It is feasible that a strengthened left organising behind McDonnell can not only build support for his leadership but challenge the fake-Labour careerists who run the party and Hackney Council."

Oh well. Here we go again. This "fake-Labour careerist" is sharpening his metaphorical Ramon Mercador memorial icepick, dusting off his Rulebook and reaching for his list of proscribed organisations. Stand-by to repel boarders!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Agreeing with Polly Toynbee

A strange week ... first agreeing with most of a Compass pamphlet ... now finding an article by Polly Toynbee I completely agree with:

Her argument against the veil makes sense because it is based on women's equality, not on irrational fear of the "different".

It's as much, if not more, an issue for Muslims to debate about the role of women within the Muslim community as it is one for the rest of us to debate as an issue about the role of the Muslim community within wider British society.

The description used by Tony Blair today - that the reason for debating the veil is that it's a "mark of separation" from the rest of society and might make non-Muslims feel "uncomfortable" doesn't make sense. If it did the logical consequence would be to oppose Sikh turbans, Hassidic Jewish black coats and hats, rasta dreadlocks etc. - all of which are also "marks of separation" - which of course no one is saying.

Toynbee is also consistent in that she argues against faith schools in the same article and calls for a completely secular state.

Blair, much as I support him on other issues, has got this badly confused: how can he logically justify public debate about an item of clothing that marks separation but be in favour of schools that actually physically separate children of different faiths?


The Party of European Socialists (http://www.pes.org/) is running an online declaration (Eurospeak for petition) for diversity and against intolerance -

"Our different peoples are what make Europe such a special place. The PES strongly believes that Europe’s success is built on respect for our diversity.
The PES is convinced that the peaceful cooperation that is symbolized by the European Union has no future if intolerance and hatred are allowed to grow in our midst.
We call on all democratic parties - and their European political families - to reject all forms of intolerance and hatred. Everyone has the right to live in dignity and to be treated with full respect regardless of their nationality, ethnic origin, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.
We call on all democratic parties - and their European political families - to refrain from any alliance or cooperation with any political party that promotes intolerance.
We urge all democratic parties to ensure that their social and economic policies do not generate the social insecurities and tensions that flame the fires of intolerance and hatred."

You can sign it here.

Child poverty facts in the Mirror

A couple of months ago I posted about the Joseph Rowntree research into child poverty. Today's Daily Mirror has facts and figures from the End Child Poverty Campaign that reinforce the scale of the problem and put into stark relief what this actually means for the poorest children and families - I thought it was worth quoting in full:

"ALMOST 10 per cent of single parents cannot afford to buy more than one pair of shoes for their children.
THERE are currently 3.4 million children in poverty, 27 per cent of all British children.
THE UK has the fourth highest level of child poverty of all 25 European Union countries.
FOR the first time, children are more likely to live in poverty than the elderly.
AROUND five per cent of all children live in severe poverty.
A SINGLE parent with two children aged 5 and 11 needs £205 a week to rise above the poverty line.
THE highest concentration of child poverty is in London where 41 per cent of children live in poverty.
48 per cent of all single-parent households live below the poverty line.
57 per cent of families with Pakistani and Bangladeshi background are in poverty.
20 per cent oi all British.larnilies receiving government tax credits are still the poverty line living below the poverty line.
ONLY Italy, Portugal and the Slovak Republic have worse levels of poverty than the UK.
BRITISH poverty rates are 50 per cent higher than in France and more than twice as high as in the Scandinavian countries
400,000 children have inadequate diets.
THREE quarters of a million children go without a warm waterproof coat or proper shoes in winter.
ONE million children are too poor to afford to visit family, have birthday celebrations or attend weddings.
A BOY in born Manchester can expect to live seven years less than a boy from Barnet, North London because of poverty-related health differences.
SIMILARLY, a girl born in Manchester can expect to live six years less than a girl born in Chelsea.
BABIES from poor families are on average 4.5ozs lighter than those from rich families because of poor nutrition.
TWO adults with two children would have to work 55 hours a week at the minimum wage to get above the poverty line.
TO be a living wage, the minimum wage would need to rise to £7.05 per hour from £5.35 today.
PARENTS must spend an average of £25 a week per child on everyday costs of going to school such as uniforms, trips and PE kit.
TYPICAL cost of a full-time nursery place is £142 making it impossible of many mothers to go back to work.
CHILDREN who are growing up in poverty are more likely to leave school at 16.
CHILDREN from families of unskilled labourers are 15 times more likely to die from a fire at home.
CHILDREN from poor backgrounds have on average 1.8 decayed teeth by the age of five.
For children from professional families the figure is 1.2.
23 per cent of single parent families cannot afford school trips for their youngsters.
AROUND 52,000 families with children became homeless in 2005.
INCREASING gas and electricity costs means three million families are expected to be unable to heat their homes this year.
AROUND three million people use doorstep moneylenders charging exorbitant interest rates to buy basics such as beds and school uniform.
SINCE 1999 the government has taken 700,000 children out of poverty by benefits and minimum wage. Another 300,000 would have to be taken out of poverty to meet its targets."

The constituency where my council ward is - Hackney South & Shoreditch - has the 6th worst level of child poverty - 47% - in the UK.

Dealing with this ought to be one of the Government's top priorities for the rest of this term of office.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Quote of the day

Which great political thinker came up with this classic statement:

"To the left
To the left
To the left
To the left
To the left
To the left
... don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're irreplaceable"

A positive contribution from Compass

Bet that heading surprised you.

Very belatedly I got round to reading the Compass pamphlet by Jon Cruddas MP and John Harris about Labour Party organisational renewal.

It's actually rather good - I assume Cruddas who actually is renewing his CLP was responsible for the content rather than Mr Harris who as you will see from a post below wasn't actually in the Labour Party until very recently.

My thoughts on their proposals:

"too many local parties are moribund, and the morale of members is at an unquestionable low"
The second part of the sentence depends on where you are in a CLP which is moribund. I would dispute that morale is low in either Hackney CLP or in other active CLPs that I know of like Mitcham & Morden. We need to look at how to get all CLPs as active in campaigning, debates and social activity as the best ones.

"Labour’s decisionmaking bodies – the National Executive Committee (NEC), the National Policy Forum (NPF), the annual conference – should be founded on a model in which a third is given over to the membership, a third to the unions, and a third to a new force made up of MPs, MEPs, Labour representatives in local government, and socialist societies."
I agree with the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 settlement for electing the leader, as the leadership have to have the confidence of the PLP, but I'm not sure I buy into it for other party bodies - why should MPs and Councillors necessarily get any more representation than a party member who does not hold public office?

"A revival of the National Policy Forum, based on opening up the election of its constituency section to a vote by the entire membership; allowing members and affiliates to engage with its proceedings via the internet and making sure submissions are subject to an ‘audit trail’;
ensuring its documents are more options-based; and commencing a regular renewal process, whereby a debate and restatement of Labour’s aims and values always takes place immediately after a general election."

All good stuff.

"An opening-up of the annual conference" etc.
Actually I would leave conference as what it is - primarily a rally/shopwindow/networking event and do the debating behind closed doors at an NPF revitalised and democratised as above.

"re-constituting Young Labour as a socialist society"
Bad idea. Look what happened to the LPYS, YS and LLY. The current status ensures it is an organisation of young Party members and not open to take-over by outside forces as it's 3 predecessors were - a socialist society can have non-party members in it. Tom Watson wrote the constitution when he was National Youth & Student Officer with that in mind - and a focus on doing things - campaigning, political education and social events - rather than being an organic part of the party bureaucracy with GC delegates etc.

"A cutting-down of Labour’s national bureaucracy"
Difficult to see how this could be done given that recent redundancies mean the 39 Victoria Street staff could now fit in a proverbial phone box. There's nothing left to cut.

"reinvention of the role of party chair, based on election by the membership"
No problem with that but I would be voting for the incumbent, Ms Blears, to carry on doing the reinvented job but with an electoral mandate to give her more sway. And how about restoring the full influence of the General Secretary?

"new statutory limits on national party spending"
Good. Let's stop wasting money on billboards and newspaper ads at election time.

"the local ‘voter voucher’, whereby £3 of public money would be allocated by each voter to a party of their choice, exclusively reserved for activity in their area"
Good idea, helps overcome public distaste about state funding, but how would you deal with the influx of public money to the BNP in areas like Barking & Dagenham where they have a base of support?

"A reinvention of Labour’s campaigning role, so that electioneering is complemented by activity focused on local, national and international issues – from a living wage to trade justice."
Er... we are in government. Why not just do these things rather than campaign about them? I'm busy enough being a councillor and electioneering without having to campaign on single issues too.

"Allowing flexibility when it comes to local structures, offset by minimum requirements so that the constituency voice within the party remains strong, among them a re-emphasis on the local union link."
Agree with this.

"A re-aligning of the Supporters Network project, involving its administration and control by local parties, a firm rejection of proposals for Labour’s embrace of US-style primaries, and a
restatement of what formal party membership entails, and why it is important."

Agree with this too.

While we're at it, let's change the membership fee structure to one of £1 per £1,000 of salary so that we don't exclude people that can't afford the current £36/£12 rates.

With revitalised local parties and cheaper membership we could get back to building a mass-membership Party. And my hunch is (I suspect John Harris disagrees with me) that a large membership would be inherently more representative of Labour's voters, and therefore more moderate, than a small one.

20 telltale signs that you’re a political junkie

Hat tip to http://tygerland.net/?p=1154 and http://agitpropcentral.blogspot.com.

My "yes" ones in bold:

1. The first thing you do in the morning is check the BBC’s politics website, followed by the broadsheets

2. You can name 10 Lib Dem MPs

3. The Today programme is as much a morning routine as brushing your teeth and taking a piss
No, never listened to it.

4. You know the URL’s for the Top Three political blogs from memory

5. In your briefcase is a copy of Private Eye, an iPod, and Alan Clarke’s biography
What is an ipod?

6. You read Boris every week, even if its only to disagree

7. You record Question Time via Series Link on your SKY + box or TiVo8.
What are SKY + box or TiVo?

8.You know the Huffington Post is not a newspaper from a town called Huffington

9. You know who Nicholas Sarkozy is

10. Your family never brings up politics in your presence
Though I get mildly irritated when they do

11. You have a complex opinion of Tony Blair
No, a very simple one

12. You actually know where the politics section is at your local Waterstones

13. You always vote

14. Your water cooler conversations usually revolve around a recent Westminster scandal, whether your colleagues like politics or not

15. You have given money to a political party, via either membership or a donation

16. Your dream is to appear on QT yourself

17. You read political blogs during your lunch hour

18. You see more of Iain Dale than your children, sadly

19. You can name the last four foreign secretaries

20. You have a ‘handle’ at Comment is Free
if using your own name counts

So only 11 out of 20, yippee!

Chinese exhibit taste in music

One snippet of politics from last night's repeated Channel 4 chart of the 100 greatest albums (aside from the disgraceful fact that the Smiths' "The Queen is Dead" only came in at number 20 when it should have been in the top 5).

Apparently the Chinese government has banned Coldplay's "Parachutes". Well done. Suddenly my normal antipathy to Communist dictatorships is thawing.

Oh dear

It has taken me 24 hours to recover from reading this in the Observer.

Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair, if the article is to be believed, want religious organisations (including state funded faith schools) to be exempt from legislation banning discrimination in the provision of goods and services to gays and lesbians.

It's not an original observation but isn't this basically saying "we'll exempt homophobes from anti-homophobia legislation (as long as they say God told them to be homophobic)". Would they also argue that misogynists should be exempt from treating women equally and racists exempt from anti-racism legislation on conscience grounds?

We have equality before the law in the UK - and that means no opt-outs for people that might have moral objections to a law.

The case studies cited by the Observer hardly justify the kerfuffle anyway - are someone's religious beliefs really going to be affronted by the (extremely theoretical) possibility that a local LGB group might ask to "hold meetings on their [faith school] premises after hours"?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Over on Progress

I've written this: http://progressonline.org.uk/Magazine/article.asp?a=1428

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Provisional Membership

On the agenda at Constituency Labour Party meetings should be a list of new members. The idea is that the GC can use this to spot entryists from other parties, people that might bring the Party into disrepute etc. and flag them up to the NEC.

Back in the '80s when I joined you even used to have a special "provisional membership" card signed by your CLP secretary (with the old Clause IV on the back) until the GC had endorsed you (like candidate membership of the CPSU). My GC in Canterbury was rather leftwing and used to turn people down for not being in a union etc. - in one case rejecting an application from an MEP's researcher as he was a member of the Syndicat des Travailleurs Belgiques (Brussels Euro-Parliament Branch) and this wasn't a TUC affiliate ...

Anyway, I hope that the GC in the CLP where Guardian columnist John Harris has re-joined will have a careful think about whether we really want him.

Of particular relevance was his book at the time of the last election which advocated voting for the Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid, Respect and the Greens in various seats where the MPs did not meet his ideological criteria: http://books.guardian.co.uk/extracts/story/0,,1385618,00.html

Isn't this exactly what Clare Short is facing disciplinary action for?

It would also be interesting to know how Harris came to be billed as a "Compass stalwart" by the Guardian some six months before he had even applied to be a member of the Labour Party.

Some random links

Some random links:

Hate my Tory: http://hatemytory.com/rate.html
I have to confess that some of them are more "have you ever heard of this Tory" than "hate this Tory" but a few of them are good reminders that not all Dave's footsoldiers are that cuddly.

Second Guess: http://www.hamm.co.uk/sg/
This is Alex Hilton's effort to "use the wisdom of crowds to guess which MPs will support which other MPs for leadership or deputy leadership of the Labour Party". It needs some more people to register and take part as at the moment some of the names in the list of McDonnell supporters are hilariously inaccurate...

Claws Four: http://nsblog.co.uk/clawsfour
A very politically sound cat, who has linked to me so I'm returning the favour.

Pavement Politics

This picture probably doesn't mean anything to anyone except the residents of Stevens Avenue E9 and the neighbouring Morningside Estate but I'm very proud of it.

Stevens Avenue used to be - due to historical accident - an un-adopted road (i.e. not owned by the Council) cratered with potholes, unlit and unsafe.

After a campaign by residents and the three of us as ward councillors, we've suceeded in getting the council to take responsibility for it and repave the pavements, resurface the road and install proper lighting. The work is in progress as shown in the picture. This will vastly improve life for the residents and provide a safer route through to Morning Lane for residents of the Morningside Estate.

You can't get much more pavement politics than that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Kerron Cross: a one man argument for All Women Shortlists

I usually try to leave attacks on other Labour bloggers to http://idiots4labour.blogspot.com/ but one post today really does deserve a kicking.

Kerron Cross, aside from having worked for a Labour MP for 7 years is a man who has reached the dizzy heights of being the former Vice-Chair of Croxley Green Parish Council ...

This apparently entitles him to write, for no good reason, a highly personalised attack on Kitty Ussher MP for the thought crime of having said something vaguely supportive about our Labour Prime Minister.

His post really says more about how sad he is than it does about Kitty.

I presume it is not unconnected to his obsessive and entirely self-serving/self-pitying opposition to All Women Shortlists expressed here and in several other posts.

I hate to break it to Kerron but someone like Kitty would beat him in a selection without an All Women Shortlist. Her being an MP has rather more to do with her being Amicus-sponsored, having been the Special Adviser to a cabinet minister and having a good track record as a Lambeth councillor than it does to being a woman.

Personally I support All Women Shortlists - and will do until half of MPs are women. There is a legitimate argument to be made in opposition to AWS. But it is better made by people who are not men chasing parliamentary seats. Mr Cross ought to declare a prejudicial interest. I am sure he is not a misogynist as he often posts pictures of his girlfriend on his site. However he does seem to have an "issue" with women becoming MPs before he does - an odd attitude for a socialist.

Silly men like Kerron who think becoming an MP is a birthright they have been denied by AWS are a good argument for AWS in themselves.

Reg Freeson Obituary in Guardian

The Guardian carries an obituary of Reg Freeson, Housing Minister under Wilson and Callaghan.

Freeson was a Labour leftwinger, but, like Frank Dobson, this did not stop him being knifed by Ken Livingstone who had him de-selected to create a parliamentary vacancy in Brent East for Ken to fill.

It's a shame that someone who made a fine contribution to Labour as an MP and Minister is now mainly remembered for the humiliating and gratuitous way they were shoved aside to make way for Livingstone.

Of course, I am sure that Ken's acolytes would argue that the ends justify the means, as now we Londoners live in a socialist paradise which enjoys great fraternal relations with Chavez and Castro, where bourgeois deviations like Routemaster buses have been abolished for proletarian triumphs like the bendy bus and the oyster card, where the Standards Board for England's remit apparently does not run, where Labour Party membership is something that can be traded in from one election to the next, and where not noticeably qualified workers can get six figure salaries as GLA commissars providing they have previously served as members of the central committee of the International Marxist Group/Socialist Action.

A great unanswered question is who will our great leader Ken support for Labour Party Leader? He doesn't get on with John McDonnell having sacked him as GLC Deputy Leader back in the '80s for being too left wing (which was quite an acheivement for McDonnell given Ken's own politics). And he hates Gordon Brown, having called for him to be sacked as Chancellor in the late '90s, and in turn Brown trying to block his readmission to the Labour Party (which is a big plus point in Brown's favour as far as I am concerned).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Post conference poll

Looks like the good local by-election results last week have been mirrored by the national polls in showing Labour catching up with the Tories - today's Populus poll in the Times has Labour up 3% and narrowing the Tory lead to 1%.

My take on this:

- conference boosted Labour because we looked united
- there's still selling power in the Blair brand
- there isn't a fundamental problem with the public's perception of Labour - they just got brassed off with people infighting and want us to get on with governing
- the Tories are really in big trouble if they can't sustain a lead even with a shiny new leader

The other question put was more worrying: "The poll suggests, however, that David Cameron would comfortably defeat Labour at the next general election in three or four years whether the party were led by Gordon Brown, John Reid or Alan Johnson. Support for the Tories would be 40 per cent or more in each of these cases with Labour reaching no higher than 34 per cent. A consolation for Mr Brown is that Labour would do no better under either Mr Reid or Mr Johnson. "

I think this indicates we face the same dangers as the Democrats did when Clinton went. Brown, Reid and Johnson each have many qualities but they ain't Tony Blair in terms of charisma any more than Gore was Clinton.

To deal with this we need to ensure that the leadership election burnishes rather than tarnishes the images of all the contenders - in the same way that US Presidential contenders use the primaries to establish a resonant persona with the electorate ahead of the full elections. To do this we need a positive campaign where the candidates talk themselves up not their opponents down.

And we need to acknowledge that Blair will be a key campaigner endorsing Brown or whoever else in 2009/10 - who can pull in a particular segment of the electorate - not freeze him out like Gore did Clinton.

Monday, October 09, 2006

More on North Korea

If the situation wasn't so serious, this might be quite funny:

Hat tip to the Guardian.

This however, is real:


as is this:


and this:


Found: a thinking hard leftist

Three posts down you can read the indignant chunterings of Duncan and Bob Piper as they protest that the 1983 General Election defeat had nothing to do with the policies we fought it on or the malign influence of the Hard Left. Nope, on planet zog where the Hard Left live it was all Healey and Callaghan's fault. That and the workers were suffering from false conciousness and were so interested in the class treachery of owning their own council houses and some BT shares that they failed to see what a wonderful country it would have been if we had been able to leave the Common Market and implement the Alternative Economic Strategy.

However, I have now started believing in miracles having discovered that living only 3 streets to the west of me is someone from the Hard Left who has actually engaged their brain cells and moved on from the political paradigm of the early '80s.

Dave Osler (http://davespartblog.blogspot.com/) is coming from a very, very different place to me politically but at least he shows some attempt to analyse where the world is now and how his brand of politics should respond to it. He says:

"To add to the tragedy, much of the marginalisation is self-inflicted. I cannot think of a single section of the left that has truly come to terms with the last two decades, and made sense of the ways in which the world has been dramatically remade.

The challenges are many, from the collapse of communism, globalisation and environmental crisis to the rise of political Islam, European integration and the emergence of China as a world power in the making, All that was solid did indeed melt into air. But somehow we just never saw history’s sucker punch landing on our collective jaw bone.Where are the thought out responses?

Where is the recognition of the need for cross-border unions and cross-border political parties? Where is the debate on - for instance - whether co-ordinated action by European social democratic parties could maintain manufacturing employment without lapsing into reactionary protectionism?

Where is the serious attempt to draw up policies capable of combating climate change, the most important political issue of all? You can’t deal with a problem of that magnitude simply by sticking an additional bullet point onto the Transitional Programme.

Inertia at the level of political theory condemns us in advance to irrelevance. The left remains content to do what it has always done. That means it’s going to get what it always gets.

Consider the John McDonnell decision to run for the leadership of the Labour Party. Leadership bids are a time-honoured Labour left tactic for enthusing its base, of course. But this time round, it amounts to little more than going through the motions.

There isn’t a Labour left to enthuse. As a result, there is little buzz, no sense of excitement, about the proceedings. The meetings have been small, and largely attended by people old enough to remember the Benn for deputy race that represents the campaign‘s prototype.

Elsewhere, Trotskyist organisations have learned to run electoral fronts with a little more pizzazz than they did in the seventies. But Respect is clearly going nowhere fast. As one of Respect’s national committee members revealed recently, membership has fallen from around 5,000 at the time of the euroelections in 2004 to 3,040 last year and 2,160 this year.

The Scottish Socialist Party has imploded spectacularly. One side or the other in Sheridan dispute has committed perjury and some comrades may well be looking at an extended stay in Barlinnie.

Unions are increasingly compelled to merge together for warmth, and content themselves with providing legal and financial services to members, with a sideline as unpaid health and safety inspectors.With a few partial exceptions, they do not make even a pretence of trying to exert political influence. The main leaders are convinced that Brown enforcing a public sector pay freeze from inside Number Ten is as good as it gets."

North Korea claims to have tested nuke

Anyone still opposed to replacing Trident after this?


Everything you ever wanted to know about boundary changes

Everything you ever wanted to know about the forthcoming parliamentary boundary changes is now online in Anthony Wells' revised report on the new boundaries: http://www.ukpollingreport.co.uk/guide/about-2/

Mr Wells is a Tory but that the statistical side of the report is a good piece of analysis.

NEC Member starts blog

Welcome to the blogosphere to Labour NEC Member Peter Wheeler. His blog is here: http://www.wheelerswebsite.org.uk/

Friday, October 06, 2006

Lessons from history

Currently showing on the BBC Parliament Channel the full 1983 General Election night coverage.

Labour supporters should switch it on and watch and learn the lessons of history. Never again!

Galloway et al surpass themselves

Respect have really surpassed themselves with their ranting reaction to Jack Straw's remarks about asking (not demanding) Muslim women who meet him at his advice surgery if they would mind removing their veils.

Respect's reaction (http://www.respectcoalition.org/?ite=1190) seems calculated to try to whip up tension between communities.

It would have been possible for them to make a reasoned case that Straw (a man who has a very long-standing and close relationship with the Muslim community in his constituency) was wrong. Instead George Galloway has said that "It is a male politician telling women to wear less. When put like that, there's no one who would be considered part of the civilised political spectrum who would have anything but contempt for Straw."

I would suggest that on the contrary "there's no one who would be considered part of the civilised political spectrum who would have anything but contempt for" Galloway and Respect trying to turn a reasonable contribution to a debate about the way in which people from different cultures interact into ammunition for their despicable efforts to introduce communalism and voting along faith lines into British politics.

It's been said before, but the cynicism and hypocrisy of Leninists from the SWP attempting to mobilise the votes of religious conservatives - and junking or keeping quiet about every commitment they have ever had to feminism or other forms of personal liberation politics - for short term political advantage is breathtaking.

No conference bounce for Tories?

The Tory Conference does not seem to have given them any bounce in support (unlike Labour's) if last night's council by-elections are anything to go by:

Eden DC - Penrith Carleton
LibDem hold
LibDem 223 Con 189
(previously an uncontested seat)

Ellesmere Port DC - Little Neston
Lab gain from Con
Lab 420 Con 386 LibDem 81
(2004 result was Con 553, Lab 500, LD 212, Green 157)

Charnwood DC - Shelthorpe
Lab hold
Lab 643 BNP 478 Con 386 LibDem 155
(2003 result was Lab 508 and 501, Con 404 and 386)

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

US Greens fail in bid to help GOP

Some of us have always regarded with some suspicion the way in which the Greens seem to have a habit of choosing to run candidates in narrowly Labour-held council wards.

In the US, the links between the Greens and the Republicans are blatant, as this news today shows:


Commonwealth Court Judge James R. Kelley has ordered the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate to be removed from the ballot because the party did not have enough valid signatures in its nominating petitions.

Carl Romanelli's bid was backed by Rick Santorum [extremely right wing senator for Pennsylvania], who hoped that Romanelli could siphon votes from Bob Casey. Recent polling has shown Romanelli receiving between 3-5% favorability.

Romanelli admitted that Republican donors, including many of Santorum's donors, provided most of the $100,000 he spent collecting the signatures required to be on the ballot. Judge Kelley has ruled that he ended up 8,931 signatures shy of 67,070 he needed to qualify as a minor-party candidate.

The Pennsylvania Democratic Party filed the lawsuit that spawned a six-week review of about 3/4 of the 94,000 signatures gathered, saying they included fake names, unregistered voters and illegible signatures.

Pennsylvania law requires minor-party and independent candidates to collect a number of signatures equal to 2 percent of the ballots cast for the largest vote-getter in the last statewide election. This year's threshold, because it is based on Casey's record vote count in winning the treasurer's office in 2004, was set at an unusually high number.

Romanelli has released a statement saying that he will challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court."

Makes one wonder whether Nader's 2000 Green presidential bid, the net result of which was Al Gore losing to George W, was as straightforward as it looked.

Ireland opinion poll update

Next year's Irish general election looks like it could lead to a change of government, according to the latest polls.

September's Red C poll confirms that the potential alternative Labour/Fine Gael coalition is making slow but steady progress and that Fianna Fail has lost about 20% of its 2002 support.

The September numbers ( http://www.redcresearch.ie/results.html) are:

Fianna Fail - 33% (down from 41.5% in 2002)
Fine Gael - 25% (up from 22.5%)
Labour - 14% (up from 10.8%)
Independents - 9% (down from 9.5%)
Sinn Fein - 8% (up from 6.5%)
Greens - 7% (up from 3.8%)
Progressive Democrats - 4% (unchanged)

This would see Fianna Fail fall below 60 seats in the 166 seat Dail, down from 81 in 2002.

The man who thinks the electorate were born yesterday

Cameron: "We will serve and support the National Health Service... "... and if you believe that you will believe anything.

He also said "The NHS is an expression of our values as a nation". The creation of which the Tories opposed. Funny, I thought the NHS was an expression of the values of a post-war social democratic consensus that Labour had to fight to establish and then fight to defend against a bunch of Tories who begrudged the poor even getting to see a doctor for free in case it encouraged them to take more days off sick and reduced profit margins.

"Family.Community.Society.The NHS.The environment.Our quality of life. Motherhood. Apple pie." (OK I added the last 2).

Lots of words, most of them nice ones. Even a few policies, most of them inoffensive. But no narrative or theme or vision of what makes the Tories tick and what kind of country they want.

Delivery: 6/10 - compentent middle-management sales presentation without the powerpoint.
Content: 7/10 - if you believe he actually believes it all.
Inspiration/resonance: 2/10 - I don't see this rousing the great lost Tory electorate from their slumbers.

The Tories 2

Good to see the audience at Tory conference reflecting the dynamic, youthful, regenerated Cameron-style party.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Tories

The Labour Party could firm up wavering voters and enthuse demoralised activists by buying them all visitors' passes to Tory Conference and sending them to Bournemouth to remind them who the real enemy are.

I was only able to endure a few minutes of the BBC's coverage of their conference before switching channels.

My impressions. Cameron: vacuous and confirms all my chip-on-the-shoulder prejudices against West London residents and Oxbridge graduates. His party: unreconstructed and judging by the conference vox pops haven't even bought into Cameron's big idea of winning the next election, let alone the policy changes needed to get there.

I think Cameron is probably looking at the opinion polls tightening and thinking "oops, I only intended to put a marker down for the 2009 leadership battle, but accidently got elected. David Davis was supposed to be dealing with this."

Monday, October 02, 2006


September was the first full month I had a stats package going on who is reading this.

4897 page views and 1119 visitors.

Hello to the 2 folks who visited me 26 times each. And to all the .gov.gsi.uk; .parliament.uk domain visitors and the various US government agencies in and around Washington DC and the northern counties of Virginia.

Top 10 referring sites sending people here:
www.google.co.uk and .com (17% of visitors)
www.bloggers4labour.org (11% of visitors)
www.blogger.com (8% of visitors)
www.lukeakehurstsblog.blogspot.com (3% of visitors)
www.kris-stoke-newington.blogspot.com (2% of visitors)
www.davespartblog.blogspot.com (2% of visitors)
www.thedaily.wordpress.com (1% of visitors)
www.theprogressive.typepad.com (1% of visitors)
www.nevertrustahippy.blogspot.com (1% of visitors)
www.tom-watson.co.uk (1% of visitors)

Visitor locations:
UK 60%
USA 11%
Sweden 1%

Heaviest days of traffic: Sept 11 followed by Sept 7 (the day after resignation day)

Most read posts: this and this

Strangest google seach terms leading to this site:
"missiles wrapped in holograms"
"i'm miserable"
"thai cafe northwold road N16"
"frederick rheinfelt israel"
"hipp organic ceo"
"red fly the banners oh"
"luke akehurst public school"
"popular front liberation judea"
"hate channel"
"80s insults"

Who is Labour supposed to represent?

Without fail, the Guardian's columnists manage to wind me up. Today, step forward Jackie Ashley with her absurd claim about "Labour pitching its appeal to the centre right".

Having strong policies on crime, defence, immigration and terrorism is NOT a characteristic solely of the right.

We have spent the best part of 20 years trying to convince the public that it was not a characteristic of the left to be soft on crime and defence.

Has Jackie Ashley ever canvassed a council estate and asked Labour's core working class voters what policies they want in these areas?

Why do people like her want us to go back to the days when voters had to choose between jobs, schools and hospitals on the one hand and police and defence on the other?

I never want voters to be put in the position again, as they were in the '80s, of liking Labour's social policies but feeling unable to vote for them because of our weakness on security issues.

The average voter wants a government that will fund public services AND keep individuals and the country safe.

Ashley talks about the "liberal middle classes" as a component of Labour's coalition. That's correct but this tiny segment of the electorate must not have a veto over our policies.

I want the "liberal middle classes" to vote Labour because they care about our agenda for tackling poverty and inequality and providing high quality public services, not because we sold-out working class concerns about crime and security to appease them.

The clue is in the names of the parties:

Labour - set up to represent the interests of the working classes because the "liberal middle classes" of the day were hot on free trade and devolution but not prioritising trade union rights or the fight against poverty.

Liberal Democrats - set up to represent the interests of the "liberal middle classes".

Not content with having one entire party dedicated to their interests, the "liberal middle classes" want to dictate the policy agendas of Labour and the Tories too.

As a democrat I resent the undue influence of this small segment of the population and the attempts of Jackie Ashley et al to contemptuously dismiss the concerns of Labour's core vote as "centre-right".

Elsewhere in the Guardian a reminder of Neil Kinnock's 1983 leadership acceptance speech had him quoting Nye Bevan on Labour's leaders needing "to speak with the authentic accents of those who elected them". To my mind that means that when our core supporters tell us they are concerned about crime, ASB, immigration and terrorism, we listen, and we act.

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