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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lords reform

Why only half elected? (which seems to be what the press is saying Labour will propose).

Can anyone give any logical reason why any legislator should not be elected by the people who have to live under the laws they pass?

Gavin Esler

Well done to Gavin Esler, who was presenting Newsnight last night, for slapping down pompous Lib Dem Ed Davey's comparison of the loans for honours allegations to Watergate (I think I heard Esler describe it as a "silly" comparison) and highlighting the fact that Mr Davey's party's own biggest donor is in jail for perjury.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What readers seem to want

What readers seem to want ... is second hand leaked documents already stuck on Tory blogs...

Yesterday's Hain leak post is now the second most recommended post ever on bloggers for Labour: http://www.bloggers4labour.org/recommended.jsp

and got 556 hits, which I think is the highest readership I've ever had in a single day.

Whilst carefully thought out analysis that takes me ages to write just doesn't seem to gets the hits.

Matthew Tempest on the Guardian newsblog meanwhile describes me as "a reliable barometer of the über-New Labour mood". I'm not sure that is really the tag I want attached to my name for internal Labour Party purposes, but I think it was meant as a compliment, so thankyou Matthew.

The real question about Hain

Aside from the brouhaha about Hain's list of supporters being leaked, there's actually a more fundamental question to be asked.

This is - is there a political space for Hain and Harman - both of whom I would characterise as from the establishment/inside-the-Westminster-beltway bit of the soft left - to run distinctive deputy leadership campaigns when both Johnson and Benn can encroach on that segment of the party electorate from the right (AJ because of trade union background and pro-PR stance which means he has some Compassite following, Benn because of his cuddly, activist-friendly DFID portfolio and the residual radical appeal of the family name) and Cruddas has grabbed the most left leaning bit of it and the Compass franchise?

I actually feel sorry for the two H's as they have both been running for the position for years in a fairly dogged way.

But one has to ask, do they have anything politically distinctive to offer in a crowded market where not everyone is going to get past the first base of getting nominated?

I'm sure Harriet would point out that she's a woman and there should be a woman candidate, but that isn't a USP if Hazel Blears runs.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Peter Hain leak

Tory blogger Guido Fawkes has obtained Peter Hain's team's campaign plan for the deputy leadership.

I'm sticking a link into it here as I doubt many of my Labour readers sully themselves with visiting Guido's site:

It looks real to me given some of the names listed.

It's worth a read, mainly to marvel at the foolishness of someone typing up a list of the "campaign team" that includes a number of full-time Labour Party regional staff - the terms and conditions of whose employment prohibit them from interfering in the internal elections they referee -one hopes they are being badly served by this document implying something that isn't true...

and rather fewer actual Labour Party activists of the not-on-the-payroll variety.

Other howlers include:
"Hywel Francis - Aberavon – one of the safest Labour seats in the UK, it also has a long and impressive pedigree of producing Labour politicians, including Ramsay Macdonald."
(I bet Hywel is chuffed by that comparison ...)

and the number that say "cannot go public"...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Friends' Meeting

My Saturday morning took me to the Friends' Meeting House in Euston Road for the London Region Political Conference of Amicus, consisting of all the union's delegates to London CLPs.

I was re-elected to the Regional Political Committee - the "forces of light" took all 20 places on the committee and curiously the Hard Left was a lot less well represented than a year ago, when they ran us quite close.

The delegates included on our side included John Spellar and on the defeated side former Cabinet Minister Albert Booth, Jim Mortimer (the Labour Party General Secretary who ran the 1983 General Election Campaign) and "Red" Ted Knight. Comrades Mortimer and Knight treated us to "questions" to Deputy General Secretary Graham Goddard which attacked him and Derek Simpson from the left and lasted the best part of ten minutes each (during which the chair told off Spellar & me for heckling, though she did say what we had shouted was "funny").

Booth, Mortimer and Knight also had a go at guest speaker Jon Cruddas. I thought Jon was personable, human, intelligent and had a good organisational analysis about re-building the party. He also won brownie points for praising Tony Blair and quoting Paul Keating. On the minus side it was all a bit anecdotal - based on what people have said to him at surgeries in Dagenham - and the political conclusions were vague and muddled - all about keeping the coalition of swing voters and core voters together ( a - does anyone think we shouldn't? and b - he seemed to have strong views on appealing to the latter but not the former). The big theme seemed to be that we have ignored our core working class vote. But this doesn't stack up. The votes Labour lost in 2005 to the Lib Dems were disproportionately the liberal anti-war middle classes, not the core vote (hence seats lost were places like Cambridge, Hornsey & Wood Green and Bristol West). And I represent a council ward that is a lot more working class and deprived than Dagenham but remains enthusiastic about voting Labour - when I look around it, it needs loads more done but it certainly hasn't been ignored in the last ten years: all the estates are getting revamped with huge investment under Decent Homes, there's a 3* hospital in the ward, a new city academy in the pipeline, more frequent buses, crime is down since we got a 6-strong ward policing team, and more people have jobs - and those that do get the minimum wage and WFTC. Saying Labour hasn't delivered for its core voters just isn't true.

Anyway, I doubt, knowing the politics of most of the people in the room, that Cruddas came away having converted anyone, and like most of the other Amicus Regional Political Conferences our one was again a bastion of sensible politics.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I am to the left of Cruddas

Well ... at least on two issues.

I buy Labour Left Briefing - on a "know your enemy" basis - from the guys selling it at my CLP GC meeting each month (John Stewart and Graham Bash from its editorial team are members of the same CLP as me).

The new edition carries an article by Owen Jones of the Socialist Youth Network denouncing Cruddas as the candidate for Deputy Leader of the "union bureaucracy" and "the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of Brown" and quoting Red Pepper's profile of him in 2001: "Ambitious ultra Blair loyalist - though that will seemlessly transfer as soon as it becomes apparent that Blair is on the slide".

Anyway, justification for my headline is that the article told me that Jon voted for foundation hospitals (I was publicly against them as a PPC) and that he wants to reduce the union vote at Annual Conference from 50% to 33% (I think we should stick with the constitutional status quo).

Burma Campaign

Our constituency Labour Party last night heard an incredibly moving description by two Burmese asylum seekers about the human rights abuses and slow genocide of ethnic minorities being perpetrated by the Burmese military junta, the sickly misnamed "State Peace and Development Council".

I'll quote again the key facts:

"Burma is ruled by one of the most brutal and corrupt regimes in the world, responsible for:

The widespread use of forced labour
Over 1 million people forced from their homes
At least 1100 political prisoners, many of whom are routinely tortured
As many as 70,000 child soldiers - more than any other country in the world.
Rape as a weapon of war against ethnic women and children
Nearly half the government budget spent on the military and just 19p per person per year on health
One in ten babies die before their fifth birthday"

Grotesquely, there are British companies selling holidays to this place! The Burma Campaign is urging a boycott of them.

They urged us to actively support the Burma Campaign, quoting Aung San Suu Kyi: "Please use your liberty to promote ours".

Please consider joining the campaign.

If you have a blog or website please link to it:


Prezza vs Hazel

I had forgotten that John Prescott has an "antipathy" to Hazel Blears. Another good reason to back Hazel for Deuty Leader.

York to ban foie gras

Some of my best friends are vegetarians (despite the fact I find the concept of a meat-free diet disgusting).

I don't try to convert them to eating meat (actually this is not strictly true as I have made 2 converts in the past, one of them succumbed to an entire crispy aromatic duck at an eat-all-you-can Chinese buffet in Camden Town).

So I don't expect them to try to dictate what I am allowed to eat.

Therefore, if the City of York bans foie gras, which I happen to like, I will personally be boycotting visiting York.

If my memory is correct its university Labour Club was riddled with vegetarianism as well as Trotskyism, so the news comes as no surprise (cue angry comments from Duncan, Lee, Janine, Matt Carter and other York alumini).

One of the few meals I can remember eating there was at a planning meeting held in the upstairs of a vegetarian restaurant to get Jim Murphy the NOLS nomination for NUS President (he was allegedly the "left" candidate!). Luckily his campaign was better than the food.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lord Mittal?

I am indebted to the Independent on Sunday for the speculation that Tony Blair plans one last magnificant two-fingered salute to the SNP and others who don't understand the law on honours by nominating the donor of a very welcome £2m to Labour, Lakshmi Mittal, for a peerage for services to industry in the resignation honours list.

He should also give working peerages to Ruth Turner and John McTernan, as per previous ones awarded to No10 staff like Baroness Morgan. They deserve it for getting on with their day jobs under the most extreme strain imaginable.

And I'd stick Lord Levy in the Order of Merit for ensuring through his fundraising that we actually have a competitive democracy rather than Tory one-party rule.

As for Blair, I hope he follows the precedent of various French PMs and becomes Mayor of a major city in retirement. I believe Ken is retiring in 2012 and "Blair4Mayor" has a ring to it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Compass does its bit to lose Labour the next election

I predicted on Monday that Compass calling for the overall tax burden to go up from 37.8% to 50% of GDP was likely to be the policy equivalent of our canvassers dumping on each voter's doorstep and then sticking a flag in it saying "sorry you were out, the Labour Party called".

Unlike the lunatic fringe, who at least don't pretend to have any influence, Compass write long pamphlets that look semi-official and make out (falsely in my view) that they have some kind of inside track to Gordon Brown.

Hence their ideas will get quoted in Tory leaflets in all the seats we need to win in the General Election to actually get Brown a full term as PM, probably with graphs attached showing exactly how much extra people in that constituency will pay.

It's started already - my hits log reported yesterday that Tory Central Office were googling for the words "Gordon Brown + Neal Lawson" to seek to link Compass' shooting from the hip ramblings with the official Treasury line.

And today we saw the first salvo against Labour, using Labour-manufactured ammunition, from the Daily Express: http://www.express.co.uk/news_detail.html?sku=1092, saying
"HARD-WORKING families could be hit with an extra £6,000-a-year tax bill under a Gordon Brown government it emerged last night.The Chancellor’s supporters have given warm backing to a report calling for swingeing increases to make Britain “more equal”.But last night experts warned that the shock plans by Left-wing think-tank Compass would be equivalent to raising the basic rate of income tax to 62 per cent."

Compass has hit back, disputing the figures :

Unfortunately, most Express readers don't check what they read in their paper against the Compass website, so the damage has been done.

Compass dismisses the Express as a rightwing tabloid. Yes it is - I can't bear what it stands for - but actually on stuff like this it also reflects the concerns of its readers, who just happen to be disproportionately the kind of people who won us the last 3 elections - so that we could deliver the schools, hospitals, police and jobs our core vote needed - and could lose us the next one. On the doorstep as a PPC in 2005 the kind of people who read the Express told me they struggle to keep afloat and pay their mortgages as it is. Telling them they are going to see their tax hiked up is not much better than actually walking down to the polling station with them and putting a "X" in the Tory box.

If I sound angry, actually I've toned the language down.

I am incandescent that this stupid little clique of middle class theoreticians and hobby factionlists can have given such a gift to the Tories.

Labour - specifically Gordon Brown - worked for years to win the trust of the British people on tax and the economy. Compass does not speak for Labour or anyone in it in anything approaching a position of responsibility.

Most of us learnt the public's views on tax the hard way. I learnt it having doors slammed in my face on poverty stricken council estates in Avonmouth and Southmead in 1992 by our core voters who thought Labour was going to give them a tax "double whammy" and at the count in our target constituency of Bristol North West watching the tears on the Labour people's faces as we lost by 45 votes after recount after miserable recount.

Some of the people in Compass are too young to have learnt those lessons. I hope for their sake they never do. I particularly hope it for the sake of the working people Labour represents, who won't get the redistribution Compass calls for, but years of Tory cuts.

But the head honcho at Compass, Neal Lawson, did learn those lessons. He lived in Bristol when we lost Bristol North West by 45 votes. I sat there in an upstairs room at the TGWU SW HQ with him at the LCC (Labour Co-ordinating Committee - Compass' predecessor) inquest into why we lost that General Election. He has no excuse for publishing own goals like this.

I used to think Compass were a joke. Now I think they constitute a serious threat to Labour's chances of re-election. Their arguments need to be taken on. Their members need to be argued with to persuade them to quit. Government ministers need to stop attending and giving the stamp of credibility to their events. To quote Cyril Smith's comments on the SDP, "as an organisation it should have been strangled at birth".

Monday, January 22, 2007

Des Browne words of wisdom

Des Browne at tonight's Progress debate on Trident:

"I don't understand the moral argument that bad countries like North Korea and Iran would be allowed to have nuclear weapons whilst good countries have to renounce their deterrents".


Political style and motivation are complex and personal things so it's not often that someone else manages to explain where you are coming from with almost complete accuracy.

Paulie at Never Trust a Hippy has done it with this post citing me and Siobhain McDonagh MP (who I am not remotely worthy to be compared to ...) as examples of what he calls "roundheads". He says:

"When I was a lot more actively involved in the Labour Party in the mid-1990s, there were loads of MPs, candidates and part-builders who used to breeze in and out of the London HQ. There were the dilettantes, the careerists, the lobbyists, the Union hacks, the crypto-trots and hippies, the wonks, and many other subgroups thereof. There were quite a lot of plain nutters as well. Not that I want to generalise or anything.

But the one that everyone watched their backs around were the roundheads. The ones that took grassroots work seriously. Siobhan McDonagh MP was always thought of as one of the high priestesses here. From memory, Luke Akehurst (who blogs here) was another.

According to them, the local party needed to be built. Doors needed to be knocked on, databases updated, core-voters targeted and dragged out on election days. It was a big, painstaking job that involved doorstep work, and a willingness to be seen to take the known concerns of those voters seriously.

Prospective MPs needed an army of dedicated activists knocking on doors. Theirs was an inelegant and unfashionable voice that is almost unheard outside of HQ, but one that dominated and shaped the party at a local level. A voice that also had a significant say in the distribution of political patronage, and all that flows from it. 'Want a safe seat? Forget that Fabian Pamphlet and knock on some f******g doors then!'

A large section of the party were weary and wary of the roundheads. Theirs was a relentless logic. The policies that they advanced were – they claimed - shaped by talking to Labour's core voters (they didn't waste as much time canvassing areas that didn't have a high Labour turnout).

And – even more annoyingly for the Labour’s liberal-left, this realism was hard to dismiss. Because new Labour had another – less respectable – shaper of it’s message - the Focus Group.

Focus Groups were a more sophisticated and savvy way of finding what key voters really wanted - particularly the crucial ones who lived in areas where there was a lower concentration of prospective Labour voters. The ones that would decide the election. Focus Groups were needed because, as any fool knows, people don't tell you what really bothers them. They tell pollsters and canvassers one thing and the ballot box another.

And the received wisdom was that focus groups were evil. They were lazy, dishonest and unprincipled. Their use made Labour worse than a bunch of populists – a party with no principle other than simply gaining power and holding it. Not only that, but they were delivered by people who worked in advertising!

And the reason that the Roundheads were so awkward, was that they were the real viable alternative to focus group-led politics. The Roundheads went and talked to ‘real people’. The kind of people that Labour lefties always said that Labour should be listening to.And those real people wanted something doing about the noisy threatening twat with the nasty dog who lived two flats down. Those people wanted things banned, and they wanted people locked up. They wanted something to be done, and they read newspapers that wanted action as well.

The Roundheads were happy to recruit them in a campaign against the liberal bourgeois sentimentalism of the more Fabian elements within the party. The ones that dragged out CLP meetings with tedious discussions about Nicaragua when they could be arranging leaflet-drops, ‘blitz’ canvassing and street-stalls.

The Roundheads were prolier-than-thou, and their moral clout grew with every strip of shoe-leather that they went though.

The Focus Group wonks and the Roundheads combined to quieten that large midriff in The Labour Party that thinks of itself as ‘value based’. The one that doesn’t really have a clearly-identified agency, a programme or any credible connection with the people that they claim to represent.

This is what new Labour is."

And that - for those of you who haven't met me outside the blogosphere - despite being written by someone else - is a pretty good description of what makes me tick.

This morning's nonsense from the Guardian

Two great examples of the kind of guff the Guardian spews out this morning:

  • Compass are calling for tax to go up - not just the highest rate, but the overall burden, and to 50% from 42% of GDP. The Guardian describes them as "Brown supporters". Translation for people that actually understand Labour Party politics: Compass are in fact "a strange amalgam of disappointed ultra-Blairite modernisers miffed at not getting safe parliamentary seats in South Wales beginning with the letter "B" and rather silly recent ex-student leftists who want to talk left but are too squeamish/careerist to join anything connected to the Grassroots Alliance. And they may be voting for Brown (who isn't?) but all the Brownites I know wouldn't touch them with a bargepole." Their whizzy new plan is described as " the first serious effort by the left to develop a distinctive economic programme since the alternative economic strategy in the mid-70s" - translation for anyone who actually ever talks to real voters: "the first serious effort by the left to develop a distinctive new way to lose general elections for the Labour Party since the alternative economic strategy in the mid-70s." A comrade in the same CLP as a certain very high profile member of Compass tells me that for all his talk of local grassroots activism this leading figure has valiantly resisted reacting to repeated emails from the CLP inviting him to partake in canvassing and leafleting. Perhaps if he did, he could ask ordinary voters what they thought about his ideas on tax, but then again that might not be such a pleasant experience.
  • Meanwhile Jackie Ashley blames Blair for Big Brother: "Is the Jade Goody episode symbolic of a new rottenness, a failure of New Labour?" she says. No Jackie, you are just remarkably silly.

My other rant for the day concerns Mr Len Duvall LAM, Chair of the Greater London Labour Party and of the Met Police Authority, whose helpful contribution to the reaction to the Ruth Turner arrest was to use the Sunday Times to say to David Blunkett and Tessa Jowell " “shut up” and “stop “whingeing and whining” about the police investigation. “No one in this country is above the law" ... "I think they are going to look f****** stupid."

Now I started with an ambivalent opinion of Len anyway, him having a) been appointed to the MPA by Livingstone (I'd rather slit my own wrists than take any job in that man's gift) and b) ousted the excellent and hard-working Chris Robbins of UNISON from Chair of the GLLP in a gratuitous Livingstone-inspired coup.

My reaction to these particular remarks is:

a) don't use the "f" word in interviews with national newspapers, the public don't like swearing politicians

b) show some respect - whilst I can't condemn you for slagging off a former Home Secretary and a current Cabinet Minister (a perusal of recent posts will show I have quite a habit of criticising former Home Secretaries and current Cabinet Ministers) the tone you've used is impertinent to say the least

c) you are right that no one is above the law, but nor in a democracy are the police above political scrutiny and criticism

d) yes you as MPA Chair can't question the way the police conduct enquiries but MPs who are not connected with the political oversight of the police have every right to - Parliament is sovereign in this country

e) has it occurred to you that Blunkett and Jowell were commenting because they are Ruth's friends and comrades and trying to be supportive of a friend in their capacity as fully-signed up members of the human race?

Footnote: Len's biog on the MPA website says he was "a founder member of the New Local Government Network". Wasn't Ruth Turner also a founder board member of the NLGN? Interesting.

Footnote 2: She was not a founder. She was doing something more useful i.e. helping homeless people in Manchester at this time.

Footnote 3: To his great credit, Len has issued a clarification that makes it clear that he doesn't think Tessa Jowell was commenting on the conduct of the Police:


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Don't believe everything you read in the papers

I've always thought one of the key measures you can judge a politician by is the way in which they treat their staff (for instance, there is a Labour deputy leadership candidate who always used to have a notorious record for high staff turnover and low pay, which is a bit of an odd reputation to have as an employer if you are seeking the number 2 job in the party set up by the trade unions).

So I was pleased that Blair stood by Ruth Turner on what must have been a ghastly day yesterday, saying:

"Ruth is a person of the highest integrity for whom I have great regard and I continue to have complete confidence in her".

This fits with my memory of her from the very limited dealings I had with her over a decade ago - as someone that stood out for their decency in the snakepit of student politics.

Which brings me to the title of this post. For David Hencke, a man with a reputation as one of Britain's top investigative journalists, writes in the Guardian today that Ruth was "was not a Labour activist at university" which is strange because my admittedly fuzzy memory is that she was the national Vice-Chair of Labour Students - and one of numerous wearers of t-shirts proclaiming "Salford Labour Club - Democratic Socialism in Our Lunchtime" who would turn up to NOLS events (usually to vote against me as this was during my very brief period as an insurgent anti-NOLS Office rebel (!)). If the papers can't get basic biographical details right should we believe most of the rest of what is being written about this case?

Labour supporters need to remember what triggered this investigation - not a journalist, ethics committee or watchdog but a partisan complaint from an SNP MP.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Policy Network

I was at today's Policy Network Conference (http://www.progressive-governance.net/) - one of four Mandelson speeches in the UK in one month - is he planning a comeback in domestic politics?

Charles Clarke was excellent (redeeming some of his recent outbursts) with a well thought-out call for the EU to do more about tackling organised crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, and to nick some of the USA's monopoly on international crisis intervention.

Anthony Giddens provided an excellent introduction on the challenge presented to Europe by globalisation and called for the EU to tackle poverty (though Will Hutton said we should stop describing globalisation negatively as more trade will mean "a bigger cake"), Julian Le Grand called for "bambino bonds" - an EU-wide child trust fund, maybe with more cash for kids born in poorer countries.

Dennis MacShane and Geoff Hoon provided equally robust but "funny guy/straight guy" calls to arms for British pro-Europeans.

The non-Brit star was Helle Thorning-Schmidt the new and rather New Labour leader of Denmark's Social Democrats. She happens to be Neil and Glenys Kinnock's daughter-in-law.

She and many of the other non-Brit speakers talked-up the concept of flexsecurity - the idea that you deal with globalisation by doing a deal with the workforce - they have to be flexible by taking up lifelong learning and training and being prepared to change jobs, but the state guarantees a basic level of security in return.

Blair's speech was 95% spot on. He said:
"We won as New Labour. New Labour is not a new Party, though it did radically change the Labour Party. The third way was never a halfway house between conservative and progressive politics. It was certainly not a defined set of policies, though it has come to be associated with certain strong policy positions. New Labour is an attitude of mind. It may be effective in winning elections but it is based on conviction, partly about the true purpose of progressive politics, partly about how we interact with the people we seek to represent and govern. In simple political, strategic terms, it starts with a basic proposition: we face out to the people not into ourselves. We begin with their world, their reality, their hopes and expectations. And we don't compromise with understanding it. That's not to say we exist to be populist. We don't. We have to lead as well as listen. But we don't flinch from recognising where real people are. The public come first; our activists second. What does this mean? We escape the tyranny of the betrayal theory of progressive politics. This theory holds that the public want more traditional leftist policies but the leaders of the left let them down by refusing to see it. This is bulldust. The leaders are nearly always trying to align their Parties with the public whose support they need to win. And I've yet to work out how, if the public wants more traditional left-wing policies, they vote right."
"Fortunately I have no doubt that those who will take on the mantle of leading the party into the next election do indeed want New Labour to remain New Labour. This means 'new' New Labour. Standing still means falling back."
"But it is change because of new issues, new challenges; not a rejection of the past 10 years, just an acknowledgement that it is the past. The attitude of mind stays intact. This will mean going further from the comfort zone, not straying back to it."

However, the 5% about party structures was wrong, wrong, wrong and organisationally illiterate: " We should be aiming for parties that are not activist-based, though of course we need our activists.
"They should be stakeholder parties, run on far looser lines, with supporters and members co-existing together"

er no ... we need a tighter organised not looser organised party, with its structures reinvigorated and built up ward-by-ward, CLP by CLP. We need more members recruited and more members turned into activists, not Mickey Mouse supporters lists or a "virtual party".

As is usually the case, being a superb leader and high-level political strategist like the PM does not necessarily mean you have the first clue about how to do grassroots organisation...

“A lurch to the left for Labour would be electoral suicide” - Blears

I gather that speaking at a Salford CLP meeting today Hazel Blears told local members:

“A lurch to the left for Labour would be electoral suicide. It’s exactly what Cameron wants us to do, because elections are won and lost on the centre ground of politics. The Labour Party has changed for the better in the past ten years. We’ve learned that politics is about tough choices and real leadership, not the luxury of grandstanding and impossible promises.

“We should be leading the party, not indulging those elements which want to take us back to the 80s. You don’t win elections from your comfort zone. You win them by showing courage and optimism.”

“We must make sure that our language, concerns and instincts are the same as people on the streets and estates. Vandalism, graffiti, noise, schools, the NHS, immigration. These are issues that will count at the next election. We win when people know we are on their side. We lose when people think we are talking amongst ourselves.

“New Labour is what will return Labour MPs in seats such as Crawley, Hove, Harlow, Northampton, Dartford and Swindon. Not a rehash of the failed policies from the past – the world has moved on. These super-marginals are where the election is being won or lost right now. They will either be Labour’s springboard to a fourth term, or our killing ground. Which one is up to us.”

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Akehurst vs. Wolfgang

Unfortunately no vote taken at tonight's Harrow West CLP debate on Trident replacement between me and Walter Wolfgang, but I got the impression it would have been a fairly even split.

Walter was a charming opponent though not the most concise speaker...

His arguments against the UK's nuclear deterrent seemed to all be jumbled up with a general attack on US/UK foreign policy (including condemning the "attack on Yugoslavia" - meaning the NATO stopping of Serb ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Bosnians and Kosovans...) and he actually called for us to leave NATO.

Apparently there are "no goodies and baddies in the world" (hmmm.... not even North Korea?) and US nuclear weapons are a bigger threat to the world than proliferation to rogue states.

Thank you to the nice man who drove me all the way back to central London, despite being a Compass member and having sat through me both attacking Compass and using loads of data from its website as ammo vs. Mr Wolfgang.

Yorkshire voting intentions

Interesting YouGov poll in the Yorkshire Post reported here:


It's very rare to get regional polling figures. This one shows Cameron isn't playing well in a key region with quite a lot of marginal seats in the Pennines/Leeds patch.

Voting intentions are Lab 42% (down 2% from the General Election), Con 29% (unchanged), LD 15% (-6%), Others 15% (presumably mainly BNP and UKIP).

On such a low regional swing the Tories would miss prime targets like Bradford West (number 60 on their UK hitlist on new boundaries), Halifax (no.72) and Keighley (no.92), Dewsbury (no.96) , Pudsey (no.98) and Elmet & Rothwell (no.106) and even ultramarginal Colne Valley and Calder Valley might stay Labour.

The LDs would lose Leeds NW (though not clear whether to Lab or Con) and the new York Outer (to Con).

Feed, whatever that is

After 3/4 of a year of blogging one of my readers has told me I need something called an RSS feed ... I think I had one anyway ... but now it is easy to find via the little bit of hypertext at the bottom of my sidebar saying "subscribe to Luke's blog".

So if you understand what that means better than I do, you can now subscribe ...

Akehurst on tour

The lucky GC delegates of Harrow West CLP will be seeing me in action tonight debating the case for Trident replacement versus Walter Wolfgang, Vice-Chair of CND and Labour NEC Member.

Should be an interesting debate - results tomorrow....

Monday, January 15, 2007

Don't bet your house on it

Usually www.politicalbetting.com is very insightful.

Today, however, the site owner Mike Smithson's Lib Dem background has meant he has rather misread the nuances of internal Labour Party politics.

He thinks that Gordon Brown might be planning to ditch the First-Past-the-Post election system.

I really doubt it - the backbench support for Brown in the PLP includes the people who were most active in the First Past the Post campaign when this was last a hot issue in the party.

I can't see Brown risking alienating some of his most partisan supporters and causing a huge internal fight in the Labour Party over this one - although as an electoral reform supporter I personally would like to see this kind of change.

Maggie's heir

Thanks for reminding us Dave: I am a true Tory, Cameron tells core voters.

Didn't something similar happen in the late '90s when Hague started off being a compassionate Conservative, then did a u-turn and became a single-issue Euro-sceptic?

Nationalism no thanks

I was pleased to see Gordon Brown making the case against Scottish Nationalism on Saturday.

I'm not convinced that independence would be an economic disaster for either Scotland or England - after all there are plenty of flourishing small nations (not least Ireland) - but I do think it would be - and I struggle to find the right word - "diminishing" for all the current component parts of the UK.

I don't challenge the concept of Scotland as a "nation" - you only have to go there to appreciate the distinctiveness from England culturally - though the cultural differences between Glasgow and London are probably no more sharp than those between London and rural Kent or even between inner and outer London.

But it's the fact that the UK is a state made up of different nations that is worth clinging on to and fighting politically to sustain. It isn't, like France, Italy or Germany or Sweden, a state based on nationhood and hence ultimately ethnicity - it's a state based on the shared history, political values and institutions of several nations.

That makes it a state that people who are not by ethnicity Scots or English or Welsh can identify with - you can define yourself as "British" wherever you are from, as long as you sign up to the values involved. I worry that that would be lost if we retreat into separation.

There are also a lot of us who are by ancestry a mix from the different bits of the UK - quite apart from the thousands (millions?) of Scots living in England and English living in Scotland who would suddenly become foreigners in their own country. I was born about as far south in England as you can get (with Essex being "up north") but with a family sense of identity that was definitely "British" rather than specifically "English" - thanks to a great-grandfather on my mum' s side being a McKenzie from Dumbarton who moved down to Kent to find work in the 1920s - so I guess I will become a fourth generation immigrant by default if the SNP get their way. There's also some Welsh ancestory somewhere in the mix as another bit of the family were Davies who arrived via Stourbridge in the West Midlands.

That feeling of being British rather than English was reinforced in the 1980s when the general misery of growing up Labour in a Tory heartland under Thatcher was made more bearable by the idea that "our people" in Scotland and Wales were resolutely sticking with Labour.

One of the biggest problems with Scottish independence is the nature of the SNP themselves. It takes a particular kind of person to decide to dedicate their political life to the "national question" as opposed to all the other political causes that are out there - I worry about the kind of politicians who wake up in the morning primarily inspired by their sense of national identity to go campaign for independence, rather than inspired by their sense of social justice to go campaign against poverty.

The whole philosophy of nationalism, even in its most benign Plaid Cymru and SNP variants, is based on playing up differences between people and suggesting that people with those cultural differences are somehow unable to rub along together in the same state. It's a profoundly depressing view of life and the antithesis of the internationalism that inspired socialism - the belief that we all - and particularly ordinary working people - have a lot more in common than we have that divides us and that we ought to be seeking to break down the barriers between nations. Nationalism is about sticking two fingers up to the notion of solidarity - that a trade unionist in say Hackney, should be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a trade unionist in Glasgow - and instead saying we'll go off and do our own thing and who cares about anyone on the opposite side of the border. The Labour Party was founded by a man - Keir Hardie - who was born in North Lanarkshire in Scotland but was an MP for West Ham in England and Merthyr Tydfil in Wales - he could see that the common political ends sought by the voters in those three places united them far more than the nations they lived in divided them.

I can't help thinking that an independent Scotland and a rump England or England/Wales would both be narrower, less open, more inward-looking societies and be the poorer for it.

I can understand the political arguments for Scottish independence more as they stood in the '80s when Scotland got a Tory government it did not vote for imposing the Poll Tax. But the current political settlement is actually a remarkably positive one for Scotland - generous funding through the Barnet formula, devolved government and the imminent prospect of a Scottish PM of the UK plus a whole bunch of senior UK ministerial positions being held by Scots. The SNP case then seems to be wholly based on emotion and an appeal to "difference" which is a pretty sad moral basis on which to campaign.

A stand-alone England - at least for the centre-left in England - would also be a bleak place politically - destined to be governed almost perpetually by the Tories.

The prospect of a grinning Alex Salmond declaring victory at Holyrood has a natural corollary - a grinning David Cameron as Prime Minister of "England" in Downing Street.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Aspects of parenthood that are mildly disconcerting

1) Taking Jed to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood today and discovering all the toys I played with in the '70s are now museum exhibits.

2) The "favourite channel" on our digital box being cbeebies rather than News 24.

3) Actually enjoying watching Big Cook, Little Cook; Balamory and MeToo! more than I would have enjoyed News 24.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Entryism is alive and well..

As revealed by comments here yesterday, entryism by the far left is alive and well, but rather stupidly publicising itself all over the web:


Doom, gloom and misery

Reading most commentary on the Labour Party you would assume it is a totally hollowed out organisation, with no grassroots activity, populated by disillusioned miseries lamenting the pain of 10 years of betrayal and disappointment.

Strangely last night the AGM of the ward party where I'm a councillor (which is a core vote area if anywhere is - a 600 vote majority and almost entirely composed of council estates) had over a dozen people at it (whereas back in the alleged halcyon days of the mid-90s all the wards I was involved in were lucky to have half a dozen attendees).

There were twice as many candidates to be GC delegates as there were places, no one had a go at the government, we had a positive discussion about local issues (including a huge drop in crime in the ward since the community policing team was introduced) and planned speaker meetings, street stalls and local leafleting for the year ahead.

Maybe all the stuff about the terminal decline of Labour's grassroots is wishful thinking on the part of people who hate the leadership - or maybe in their branch parties it is a self-fulfilling prophesy - sit around being miserable and slagging off your own government and understandably other members who thought they were joining a pro-Labour organisation when they joined the Labour Party and didn't want to join depressives anonymous will stop coming to the meetings or doing anything.

Guardian prints something sensible shocker

Was away from all forms of email and internet yesterday so unable to report the news to all those Labour people that have given up reading the Guardian in despair that they actually printed something sensible: this analysis of Labour's electoral strategy by MPs Liam Byrne and Bill Rammell.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Here we go again

Another helpful contribution to the positive communication of Labour's message from my illustrious predecessor as councillor for Chatham Ward, Hackney, Rt Hon C Clarke MP. Not.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Save the Labour Party

Some gems in the latest newsletter from the Flat Earth Society "Save the Labour Party":

  • Allegedly Jon Cruddas told their AGM that "he particularly deplored the way in which the Party’s traditional position and values have been subverted in favour of policies designed to attract swing voters in marginal seats." I say allegedly because I'm convinced that Cruddas wouldn't have said anything as dumb as criticising the Labour Party for trying to "attract swing voters in marginal seats" as it's a bit difficult to elect a Labour Government (and thereby do all kinds of good things for his constituents in Dagenham) without their support. I would guess that they've misquoted him (an occupational hazard if you address gatherings of this nature) and what he actually said was "he particularly deplored the way in which the First Past the Post election system meant that the Party’s traditional position and values have been subverted in favour of policies designed to attract swing voters in marginal seats" but that the people who write Save the Labour Party's newsletter are not fans of electoral reform so missed out this rather important qualification. Of course if he did say it as they reported, he might want to ponder the location of the swing voters in marginal seats that Labour has been targeting: 1997 target seats - Basildon, Ilford South; 2001 target seats - Romford, Upminster, Castle Point; 2005 target seats - Ilford North, Hornchurch. Anyone unfamiliar with the electoral geography of Essex should at this point get a map, locate Dagenham and the other seats I've mentioned and then wonder what all the fuss is about.
  • Katy Clark MP "criticised the excessive powers of the Whips and the patronage system which keeps many MPs in line with the hope of gaining office" er... shouldn't she be criticising the MPs for being so craven that they'll trade their vote for the chance of "gaining office"?
  • The contrast between the declining fortunes of the wider Labour Party and the thriving, dynamic organisation that is "Save the Labour Party" were clearly illustrated by this report on "Save the Labour Party's" internal democracy: "Regrettably, the number of valid self-nominations for the STLP Committee was fewer than the number of places available and there were no nominations of people not already on theCommittee, therefore there will be no ballot." i.e. we preach democracy and regeneration of the party, but our own members are too apathetic to get involved, therefore we don't actually have democratic elections in our own organisation...
  • They say "As if there had not been enough destruction of the Party’s once democratic policy-making structures, Blair is now using market research organisations to recruit panels of the public to form focus groups to advise on “cultural change”,“customer services” and “contracts”." How unlike Save the Labour Party's "LabOUR Commission" on internal party democracy which hired market research organisation YouGov to er... do opinion polling and run focus groups (I know because I went to one of them). Do as we say, not as we do.
  • Finally "Association of Constituency Labour Parties: Work continues to progress this development." And there was me thinking that the Labour Party was the "Association of Constituency Labour Parties". A quick google reveals that this is not a new idea though, but a resurrection of a Bevanite "Association of Constituency Labour Parties" that existed back in the '50s when the unions dominated conference and were led by leadership loyalists like Sam Watson of the NUM and Arthur Deakin of the TGWU... same kind of retro nomenclature as John McDonnell's "Labour Representation Committee". Anyone out there want to relaunch the Campaign for Democratic Socialism?

Endangered species

Spotted from the 243 bus this morning in Hackney - someone reading the Daily Telegraph. This is genuinely the first time in 9 years living here that I have ever seen anyone buying, carrying or reading this publication within the borough boundary.

Admittedly they were just across the road from De Beauvoir, an area which returned a Tory councillor as recently as 1998, so could have been one of their 490 voters.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Not impressed

I take a bit of an old-fashioned view on this - i.e. that it ought to be incompatible with being a Labour MP to pay for private education or private health care.

If you are responsible for the education and health care that everyone gets, you ought to demonstrate your confidence in it by using it yourself.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Link of the day

This - the blog of Tom Harris MP (Glasgow South) is really very good - sound politics and presented with a sense of humour: http://tomharris.wordpress.com/

Is it something about MPs called Tom that they seem to be the only people in the Commons really getting to grips with blogging?

Reid's speech

I couldn't go to see John Reid's speech yesterday morning as I had a work meeting that clashed with it, but a friend from Hackney who did go rang me to tell me how good it had been and was highly impressed that Reid hung about for an hour talking to the party members in the audience.

The good Doctor himself was telling members he spoke to that he now meets Gordon Brown on a weekly basis to ensure lines of communication are open and that they are singing from the same hymn sheet. We can therefore assume that Brown gave some kind of general OK to the content of yesterday's speech.

I thought George Mudie's rather intemperate reaction, reported here, was about four months out of date - made in October, Reid's speech could have been interpreted as a positioning move for a leadership bid, but things moved on from the pre-conference infighting remarkably fast, and I assume from the mood music that all the deals have been done to secure Reid a decent job in a Brown Cabinet... do keep up Mr Mudie! Our most senior politicians are not fools - they looked over the precipice in September, saw the public didn't like infighting, and have stepped back.

I prefer the interpretation but here by journalist Paul Linford - "On one level, it could be seen as almost an endorsement of Gordon Brown. He says that "personal attacks" on the Chancellor by the Tories will "rebound" and makes clear his view that Brown's achievements "tower above anything anyone in the Tory Party has ever aspired to or could ever aspire to."If you take this comment at face value, he appears to be saying not only that Gordon is New Labour to the core, but that attempts by the Conservatives to portray him otherwise are doomed to failure."

My personal take on both Reid's comments about staying New Labour and the similar stuff from Blair at the New Year:

- It's a bit of a no-brainer - obviously if an incoming leader announced they were a) Old Labour and b) didn't give a monkeys about the middle classes, they would be on a fast ticket to another 18 years in opposition.


- We can't carry on using the "New Labour" brand for ever. As a way of emphasising continuity between Blair and Brown and reassuring key segments of the electorate it just about has some value and ressonance through to the next General Election, but beyond that you are getting into territory where very few electors can remember any other kind of Labour, and it starts to beg the question "new as compared to what? You've been in government for 10+ years" - already you have to be well into your 30s to have voted for Kinnock in '92 and in your 40s to have any adult memory of Michael Foot as leader. There soon won't be many electors who have much memory of what "Old Labour" was...
- It depends exactly what is meant by "New Labour" - if it means ultra-modernisation for its own sake, disdain for the party grassroots, hostility to the unions and an obsession with market solutions to public services then even I'm not New Labour and its support is confined to a tiny handful of people. If you are going to divide people up in politics it's a good idea to divide them with the majority on the same side of the fence as you.
- If however it means wanting an efficient party that campaigns and communicates in a modern way, is in touch with voters' aspirations, has broad appeal across society, and ain't going back to being loopy on defence, tax or crime, then I think New Labour is still the dominant ideological force in the party - and encompasses both Brownites and Blairites.
- I think Gordon has to have some wriggle room to redefine the government to reflect his own thinking - I genuinely don't fear that he will chuck the baby out with the bath water and expecting him to change nothing is unrealistic and would not necessarily help us electorally, as people want some evidence that their discontent with the government is being addressed.

I don't subscribe to a Year Zero approach to Labour history that says everything was crap before 1994 and suddenly the Messiah appeared in the form of Tony Blair and led us into the land of milk and honey. I think New Labour isn't as new as that on two levels
- first off there was immediate continuity with the previous 9 years of reform under Kinnock and Smith - the same people at national and constituency level who fought against Militant, to drop unilateralism and nationalisation, and for OMOV, were the people who fought to elect Blair, change Clause IV and win the '97 General Election.
- secondly there is longer range continuity with the revisionist tradition in the Party going back to Bevin, Morrison, Gaitskell, Healey, Crosland et al - as former No10 advisor Patrick Diamond wrote a whole book about this (New Labour's Old Roots (Polity, 2004)) whilst working for the PM I assume it is a view Blair shares.

I also don't subscribe to the view that the Leader defines the nature of the party. Of course it has been tremendously important to Labour's recovery as an electoral force in a presidentialised political system that we had three very charismatic reforming leaders (Kinnock, Smith, Blair) in a row, but they weren't exclusively personally responsible for the change and neither will Blair's departure suddenly change the nature of the Labour Party. I was active in the Party from 1988 onwards and I don't just remember a series of changes at a national level - I remember years and years of slow, steady organisational work by the right of the party (and to be fair the soft left on some issues and in some places) to take control of affiliates, wards, CLPs, district parties, council Labour groups - some of it vaguely directed from on high but a lot of it spontaneous and locally organised by people who had just had enough of losing elections, had had enough of the fruitcakes and entryists ruining their local parties and knew it had to change. These people haven't gone away and whilst the tide has turned in a few places the vast bulk of the structure of the party down to a ward level is organically controlled by people who whilst they might not call themselves Blairite, Brownite or New Labour, are when push-comes-to-shove moderates.

Finally, there is the question of which groups of voters New Labour was designed to appeal to. The use of the phrase "middle classes" by Reid and Blair has confused a few people because it means different things inside and outside Labour - for the Hard Left it means "plutocrats", to some people like me it can be a pejorative term for museli-eating Guardian/Indie reading lefties, but to the vast bulk of the public the "middle classes" mean "me" - the huge majority of the British population self-define as middle class - and it's in that sense that Reid and Blair used the term.

We need to remember the context in which New Labour was created. It wasn't designed to win a landslide - the scale of the 1997 victory was unexpected and a fantastic piece of collateral benefit. It was actually designed with a more narrow objective of getting from the 271 MPs Labour had in 1992 to a small working majority - hence only about 70 key seats were targetted. These were not what sociologists would define as "middle class" areas - the lusher suburban gains and places like Hove were accidental gains that were untargetted. They were New Town seats like Harlow, Basildon, Crawley in the South East, owner occupied seats in the Pennines like Batley & Spen, Colne Valley and Calder Valley, and gritty bits of "middle London" like Eltham, Ilford South, Edmonton and Mitcham & Morden.

In terms of segments of voters in 1992 Labour's coalition of support was limited to the Guardianista intelligensia, the Celtic fringe, ethnic minorities, areas of declining "rust-belt" heavy industry, council tenants and the public sector pay-roll vote of people working in health, education or local government. In '83 and '87 we didn't even hold on to all of this vote.

The objective of New Labour was to add to these segments some of whom would self-define as middle class but who were largely in marketing-speak C1s and C2s - lower middle class and skilled working class voters e.g. owner-occupiers (critical in the Pennine belt of seats), people who had done right-to-buy on their council properties, people in the kind of skilled blue collar or white collar jobs that would now be Amicus members but were then in the AEEU or MSF, Sun readers etc. These were people whose families had voted Labour until 1979 but had then or in '83 switched to Thatcher because of the Winter of Discontent, concern that Labour was dangerously leftwing on crime, defence and Europe, and straithforward self-interest on tax and right-to-buy.

I would hope that all the key players in the party agree that these are the kind of people we need to keep as part of Labour's coalition of support, whether we choose to call that New Labour or not.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Delusions of victory

Winging its way through the ether comes an invite (not addressed to me) to the next meeting of the Hackney branch of the John McDonnell campaign.

This breathlessly announces that "So far, we have been endorsed by all the main grassroots organisations of the Labour party and trade union movement". Actually I was unaware that Labour First, Progress, or even Compass had endorsed McDonnell, who doesn't seem to be the undisputed candidate even of his PLP colleagues in the Socialist Campaign Group.

But as his website says "another world is possible".

Lies, damned lies and Tory think-tank statistics

The right-wing think tank CPS (http://www.cps.org.uk/) is heralding polling it has done as proof of public support for a return to selective secondary education.

I thought I'd actually skim through their report, which is online here: http://www.cps.org.uk/latestpublications/

Approx 2 minutes of reading found two examples of deliberate misuse of statistics:

a) The public support figure is a straightforward misrepresentation of the polling results. The CPS says it "suggests that most people are in favour of some form of selection" - actually the detailed figures in the report say only 36% support selective schools, 20% support mixed ability classes and 40% "favour streamed by ability in mixed-ability schools" - i.e there is 60% public support for some form of comprehensive education.

b) The report makes a completely absurd case that selective education produces better results across the board - but does this in 2 ways - 1) by comparing A-level results at grammar schools (where all pupils are selected for their ability to pass exams) with a lumped together figure for both comprehensives and the secondary modern schools that in residual selective areas get all the pupils not good at passing exams and 2) by comparing GCSE results in areas that are wholly selective with those that are wholly comprehensive - which is confusing pattern with causality - the reason why GCSE results are better in wholly selective areas than wholly comprehensive is that the hold-outs against comprehensive education were mainly Tory LEAs in more prosperous areas like Buckinghamshire or Kent whilst those that went furthest towards comprehensive schooling were mainly inner-city poorer areas. GCSE results in Buckinghamshire are good because the kids there mainly come from well-off homes where they get a lot of a head start in life - not because of the school structure there. And what are the results at secondary modern schools in LEAs that have kept selection?

The reason why there is 60% support for comprehensives is that parents are not stupid - they know that for every 1 kid that got a grammar school place under the old 11+, another 9 had a second-class education at a secondary modern. You don't have to have the CPS' ability to massage numbers to work out that makes the odds of your kids getting a good education very low.

Who will Brown promote?

The Sunday Telegraph is not my normal weekend reading (I take the Observer 'cos I like Jay Rayner's restaurant reviews and News of the World because when I was put through Labour Party training for parliamentary candidates Kevin McGuire told us all we had to read the red-top tabloids or we wouldn't have a clue what ordinary voters were interested in) so I was grateful to The Daily for linking to this article about what Brown might do as PM.

The bit that particularly cheered me up (assuming it is true) is the list of who Gordon will promote:

"Three of his strongest allies and advisers, Ed Balls, the Treasury minister, Yvette Cooper, the communities minister and Ed Miliband, the Cabinet Office minister, would be racing certainties to be elevated.
However, Mr Brown, who claims he wants to lead a "Cabinet of all the talents", would also be likely to promote a cadre of young ministers who have been associated with Mr Blair. These include James Purnell, the pensions minister, seen by many as a good bet to take over from his former boss, Miss Jowell, as culture secretary, Liam Byrne, the Home Office minister, Andy Burnham, the health minister and Pat McFadden, the Cabinet Office minister. Others who might make the grade include the schools minister, Jim Knight, and Phil Woolas, the local government minister.
One outsider for a Cabinet post could be Jon Cruddas, a former Downing Street aide now fighting, according to supporters of Mr Brown, a "dynamic campaign" to be Labour's deputy leader. A strong performance here could see him being asked to take a senior post, although he may not want one.
Those around Mr Brown admit that his chosen group of rising stars, seen by many observers as more able and experienced than their Tory counterparts, does not contain enough women. There could therefore be advancement for female Labour MPs to jobs just below Cabinet rank but designed to raise their profile and let them display their competence. Names often mentioned here include Sarah McCarthy-Fry, one of the Chancellor's parliamentary private secretaries.
Strong favourite to become Mr Brown's Chancellor ... is Alastair Darling, the Trade Secretary. ... Mr Balls would be likely to be appointed his number two, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
... John Reid, seen as the only serious potential challenger to Mr Brown from within the Cabinet, is likely to stay on as Home Secretary.
... What will the future hold for another of Labour's young Turks, David Miliband? He is likely to stay on as Environment Secretary, albeit with both his role and his department beefed up to show that Brown "is deadly serious about green issues".
... Two women in largely organisational roles, Hazel Blears (party chairman) and Jacqui Smith (chief whip), are tipped for promotion because Mr Brown is thought to regard them as having done "excellent" jobs. Meanwhile Ian Austin, Mr Brown's former press spokesman who is now a backbencher, is likely to be brought into the government whips' office to "shake it up"."

Now that could all just be speculation, but if it's true it sounds like a team line up that will stand a good chance of winning Labour a fourth term, so I hope it is accurate.

Happy New Year Neal Lawson

It's a long time since I last really had a go about anything written by Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass.

However, Lee Findell who is a friend of mine, and of Mr Lawson, has commented on my previous post that he was hoping to see my response to Neal's piece in the Guardian today.

In it, Neal says that

- "Increasingly it is our religious rather than political leaders who attempt to answer" moral political questions.
- "Religious communities are among the increasingly few places that bring people together as citizens rather than as consumers - fighting for a living wage and against poverty."
- There is a "moral vacuum at the heart of our politics."
- "Many politicians I know agree with the sentiments of these messages - but they feel trapped in a political system that only adapts itself to the demands of big business. Because it is the economy that now dominates our politics, it is the market that decides our morals - or lack of them."
- "A generation of politicians are morally blighted by their support for the war in Iraq. They stayed silent over the bombing of Lebanon in the summer and the decision to drop the BAE case. Now Trident is being traded for the mistaken belief that committing the country to a new generation of nuclear weapons will help win the next election."
- "there are signs of an increasingly aggressive secularism that borders on a hatred of religion. "

Like Neal (and unlike Lee) I am an atheist - my socialism was inspired by logic and personal experience rather than faith, though I respect and have worked well with Labour colleagues whose political inspiration is religious.

I have to say I don't recognise the scenario he portrays.

- I don't see a "moral vacumn at the heart of our politics" - actually I see the two most senior people in the Labour Party (Blair and Brown) both as very committed Christians with an approach to politics based on their moral convictions rather than short-term political advantage (hence the preparedness to support unpopular and electorally damaging policies like Iraq).
- Both men actually spend quite a lot of time in their major political speeches addressing moral issues.
- Neal is right that faith organisations address social issues, but so do secular ones like trade unions, local branches of Labour and other political parties, local authorities, tenants' associations, NGOs and pressure groups. My hunch is that Neal has met campaigners from socially progressive faith groups like TELCO and been impressed by them, but the increasingly narrow social and political milieu he moves in means he doesn't mix much with grassroots activists from secular political organisations. If Neal had ever held public office as a councillor he would have more idea of the strength of progressive, secular, civil society.
- Neal says that politicians "feel trapped in a political system that only adapts itself to the demands of big business" - if that is true (which I doubt) they have only themselves to blame - it is politicians and the people who elect them that determine the nature of the political system - if the people at the top don't like it they can change it.
- I actually don't agree that we have "political system that only adapts itself to the demands of big business" - if that is the case then how did we manage to get a minimum wage, enhanced union rights, huge spending increases on public services?
- Neal says "Because it is the economy that now dominates our politics, it is the market that decides our morals" but the economy has always dominated politics because people's economic need to provide for themselves and their families is of fundamental importance. That doesn't imply a rightwing analysis - any good Marxist will tell you that people are motivated by economics - it is economic need that makes the poor fight to get a better standard of living - the job of democratic socialists is to convince them that it makes sense to fight politically to make themselves better off as a group through trade unions and the Labour Party, not just to fight for their own family through, for instance, getting better pay at the expense of their colleagues.
- Neal has always portrayed himself as close to the Brown camp but it is Gordon Brown and Ed Balls who have consistently stressed the centrality of the economy to Labour's political success.
- They were right to do this - Neal is well-off enough to be insulated from economic tides but out there in the real world unemployment, inflation and interest rates are not statistics, they determine whether you have a job and food on the table, whether your pension keeps its value and whether you keep your home.
- Neal's phrase "A generation of politicians are morally blighted by their support for the war in Iraq. They stayed silent over the bombing of Lebanon in the summer and the decision to drop the BAE case. Now Trident is being traded for the mistaken belief that committing the country to a new generation of nuclear weapons will help win the next election" is completely subjective. He may morally disagree with these issues but there are others who would be happy to argue that they support Israel for moral reasons and supported the Iraq War for moral reasons. It's a cheap trick to question the motivation of politicians you disagree with - maybe they just take a different opinion but feel equally strongly the opposite of what Neal does.
- Unlike Neal I don't see "there are signs of an increasingly aggressive secularism that borders on a hatred of religion" - I see a worrying retreat towards faith and irrationality and secular forces in this country keeping their heads down for fear of being accused of political incorrectness.

I welcome it that some religious leaders seem to be becoming allies of the left on issues of poverty and inequality.

But Neal's miserable view of politicians and politics does a great disservice to people active in political life today from Blair and Brown down to the union shop-steward or Labour Party leafletter - of both religious and secular beliefs - and not all Labour - who continue to use the political system to fight for a fairer society.

Really he is becoming Eeyore. It can't be much fun being that depressed and downhearted about politics 10 years into a Labour Government.

My New Year's advice to Neal is to stop writing pamplets and articles for other miserable middle class people and get stuck into grassroots political work in his local community. He will be pleasantly surprised by the practical benefits a Labour government has brought to ordinary people and their communities, he will be inspired by the fact that secular centre-left civil society is alive and well and he might actually do something practical to advance his beliefs.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

December Stats

During the course of December the site had 5658 page views (down from 5919 in Nov) but 1447 different visitors (up from 1354 in Nov).

Top 10 referring sites sending people here:
http://www.google.com/ and variants – 21% of visitors
http://www.bloggers4labour.org/ - 6% of visitors
http://www.blogger.com/ – 5% of visitors
http://www.tom-watson.co.uk – 4% of visitors
http://thedaily.wordpress.com/ - 3% of visitors
http://www.davidosler.com/ - 3% of visitors
http://www.lukeakehurstsblog.blogspot.com/ – 2% of visitors
http://www.kris-stoke-newington.blogspot.com/ – 1% of visitors
http://parburypolitica.blogspot.com/ - 1% of visitors
http://www.antoniabance.org.uk/ – 1% of visitors

Visitor locations:
UK 55% (-10% from Nov)
USA 18% (+7%)
Canada 1% (unchanged)
Australia 1% (unchanged)

Heaviest day of traffic: Dec 11 (due to younger members of the AWL getting over-excited)

Most read posts: this and this

Strangest google seach terms leading to this site:
“top ten things to do in Israel”
“comodoro rivadavia airbase”
“david cameron wembley morrissey”
“john mcternan’ blog”
“richy carrothers”
“lee findell”
“john golding communist” (must have been typed by someone with not much grasp of 1980s Labour politics)
“I hate luke”

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bob Darke

After a rather un-proletarian New Year's Eve lunch at the fantastic Whitstable Oyster Company restaurant I found my second hand book of the year in Oxford Street Books, Whitstable, for 95p.

A Penguin special, published in 1952, "The Communist Technique in Britain" is by Bob Darke, who was one of 2 Communist Party councillors in Hackney in the immediate post-war years and Agent for the CP in Hackney South in the 1945 General Election when it was a target seat for them. I think he was councillor for the equivalent of my ward - he certainly lived in the current Chatham Ward at Nisbet House on Homerton High Street, one of the main council blocks in my ward - his stories of having to deliver leaflets to the 400 flats in the block were uncannily familiar. He also worked in my ward at Bergers Paint Factory in Morning Lane - currently used as council social services offices but soon to become the site of a new City Academy - before becoming a bus conductor out of Dalston Garage so that he could help run the CP line in the TGWU.

The book is fascinating for anyone interested in how the far left operated and still operates - delete the word Stalin and insert Trotsky, and delete CPGB and insert SWP/Respect or Militant/SSP and it will be familiar to most current ultraleftists. He details the crippling levels of activity required, the focus on infiltrating trade unions, the need to sell hundreds of party newspapers, the front groups, the rigid internal discipline.

Darke quit the CP over the Korean War - seeing through the hypocritical way in which the party exploited genuine peaceniks through the "Hands Off Korea" campaign (hmm... sounds familiar).

He was also disillusioned by their treatment of local Methodist Minister Rev Hugh Lister (after whom I think Lister Court Estate in Stoke Newington is named) who recruited 3,000 members to local trade unions but was driven out of political activity because he was not a Communist.

For Hackney residents it details a lost world of mass trade unionism (35 branches affiliated to the Hackney TUC, 28 of them Communist controlled) , local paint, furniture and garment factories, a borough population where the Jewish community were the largest ethnic minority, and a Communist Party with nearly 900 members just in the old, smaller Metropolitan Borough of Hackney.

The politics of the trade union movement it records are strangely topsy turvey: the AEU was the main Communist-controlled union and the TGWU under Bevin and Deakin was so right wing it banned CP members from holding office.

There are extracts from Darke's book online (with an introduction by an anarchist) here:


Do any historians of Hackney or Communist politics out there know what became of Darke after he left the CP? Did he join the Labour Party? Did he stay on the council?

Akehurst joins UNISON

No - not me - but UNISON seem to be doing a good job recruiting staff of Tory-run Kent County Council - they've just signed up my mum, who is a nursery school classroom assistant on the minimum wage, all her colleagues and the school caretaker. I'm pleased to say she also ticked the box to be part of the UNISON Affiliated Political Fund - http://www.unison.org.uk/labourlink/index.asp

In the country

You know you are not in London for the New Year break when relatives arrive carrying the pheasant they have just shot and the magazine on the kitchen table when you drop by for a cup of tea is Farmers' Weekly rather than N16.

Out in East Kent they think the most important minister in the government is David Miliband, who rated 6 pictures and a 3 page interview in Farmers' Weekly along with the shock revelation that he hadn't owned any wellington boots before his appointment (not much call for them in either Chalk Farm or South Shields).

My uncle, who is active in the NFU, says Miliband seems to be an improvement as far as farmers are concerned on Margaret Beckett.

The farming bit of the Akehurst family has a website here: http://www.clipgate.co.uk/ (in case anyone reading this needs to land a light aircraft, park a caravan, or hire someone to do some ploughing).

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