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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Voices from beyond the beltway

A comrade engaged in a similar defence of the last few Labour seats in a South Eastern authority sent me an email after my post below. This guy is not a defeatist - he's out there working hard for a Labour win - and he's also someone with very similar politics to mine so he's arguing for a change of campaigning strategy and organisation, not a lurch to the left (which would get us nowhere in his part of the world). I thought it was worth reproducing:

"Dear Luke,
I am a lurking reader of your blog, and I wanted to say thanks for your piece today about the party needing to be nationwide. ... I don't think the national party (dominated by people from Labour areas) realises how bad it is out in the shires now. In the SE we have some CLPs putting up only one or two candidates for 50+ seat councils, and many local parties have almost given up hope. In the SE we are contesting only50% of seats, so we are way behind before we even start. And in several places I know, we will lose some of our few seats because no-one is willing to stand to replace retiring councillors. The LDs message of "Labour can't win here" is killing us, as people defect, even in areas with Labour councillors. There are at least 100 constituencies and maybe a lot more where that has worked and switched 5,000+ voters from Labour to the LDs. That's at least half a million and I think it could be a million votes lost nationally - and several percentage points in national polls and voting figures (which makes our position look even worse than it is already). I know it will never be easy out here, but for 8 years I have been pleading with the party to start attacking the LDs. They have said for years, "If we do that, it makes them look credible." Well, that idiocy has come home to roost now. After Thursday, have a look at the shires below the Mersey-Humberline - you will see a lot of councils with no Labour members, and great Labour deserts."

3 More Hazelites

Continued momentum - endorsements from Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, Russell Brown MP and Barbara Keeley MP.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Weekend thoughts

I was in Castle Point this morning, canvassing for Labour on the King's Park estate - a 900-home mobile home park on Canvey Island which is populated mainly by ex-East Enders and hence a relatively good Labour area.

I was down there to repay debts in shoe leather owed to the team who worked for me in the 2005 General Election, and took a couple of other Hackney councillors with me, although our main twinning effort is with more marginal Thurrock.

I'll be taking a day off work on Thursday to help their polling day effort.

We were working to keep the last remaining Labour Councillor on Castle Point Council - an authority we controlled as recently as 2003.

Random thoughts:
- the only time Blair was mentioned it was positively
- looking at the data, the core vote doesn't seem to have shifted much since the General Election
- voters in the South East are still obsessed by immigration - virtually the only national issue anyone raised with me
- the Labour Party is at its best when it's up against it - when you are expecting a kicking but people still turn out and pound the streets because of old-fashioned virtues like comradeship and solidarity
- the "thin Red line" of Labour troops is perilously thin in a lot of places and we need to develop a real organisational plan for keeping us a 628-constituency national party and supporting and building CLPs that don't have a Labour MP or large group of Labour Councillors - Deputy Leadership candidates please note
- the voters are blissfully unaware of how big a kicking they have already given us - choosing tactically to punish a party you want to send a message to is all well and good but the people I was canvassing had no idea that the party they were punishing was already down to its last councillor locally
- in rural and suburban areas once you take away that handful of Labour councillors you are left with a pretty unpleasant vision of local government and actually an extinction of progressive voices and values in local civic life - you don't just get rid of the local face of Blair and Brown, you get rid of any voices holding public office making a case for tolerance, fairness, liberalism and social justice
- our guys didn't really get a very long "moment in the sun" as one of them put it to me - they waited 20 years to take control of the council, and 47 years to get their second ever Labour MP - and held the one for just 8 years and the other for 4 (and Neal Lawson begrudges them both - see previous post below)

Back from Canvey and turning to the newspapers:

The PM is being very sensible about the election of his successor.

John McDonnell is ecstatic about being on 9% in a YouGov poll of Party members (it strikes me as a bit desperate to be celebrating being more popular than Meacher or Charles Clarke). I shall take that as a license to be ecstatic that Hazel is also on 9% in the equivalent Deputy Leader poll.
More seriously her numbers are going in the right direction - up 2% since the previous equivalent poll of the same panel - whilst Alan Johnson who is competing with her for roughly the same pool of votes, is down 3% - Hilary Benn's supporters are highlighting these shifts so they must think they are significant.

I find the 36% rating for Hilary a bit bizarre - the only Benn supporters I've ever met are Alex Hilton, AKA Recess Monkey and an MP who rang me and asked me to work on Benn's campaign. Who are the 36%?

Also, if the rumours are true, and Benn, Hain and perhaps Harman get knocked out at the nomination stage because of their low support in the PLP, where will their 36%, 15% and 13% go?

Over at the Observer, there's an excellent editorial stating the obvious but forgotten facts:

"dysfunctionality is an electoral turn-off. Voters want to be governed by a party that speaks out to the nation with confidence, not inward to itself with bitterness. That alone cannot account for Labour's anticipated meltdown on Thursday. Perhaps 10 years is just too long. Perhaps it is simply time for a change.

But that means impatience for new faces, not necessarily a new direction. The two political constituencies that have been most hostile to everything Mr Blair does are the unreconstructed left and the misanthropic right, one nostalgic for class war, the other pining for a fictitious idyll of little England.

The overwhelming majority, meanwhile, want neither revolution nor reaction. They like gradual change. And Britain has been discreetly transformed: the minimum wage; free nursery care; tens of thousands more teachers, doctors and nurses - with higher wages; the working families' tax credit; the right to six months' maternity leave and two weeks' paternity leave; a statutory right to flexible working hours; the disability rights commission; the Freedom of Information Act; civil partnerships and the repeal of Section 28; restoring self-government for London; devolution for Scotland and Wales; the Human Rights Act; peace in Northern Ireland. Mr Blair's government has given millions of people unprecedented freedom to live as they choose and given them the wealth and security to do it.

Britain is better off after a decade with Tony Blair in charge. Wealth has been created, and wealth has been redistributed. That is what Labour governments have always hoped to do. It has happened without a brake on global competitiveness. That is what New Labour hoped to do: build a vibrant market economy with a generous welfare state; economic freedom and social protection. That is Blairism.

So on Thursday millions of voters will go to the polls intending to bury the Prime Minister. In time they will find many reasons to praise him."

Also at the Observer, Denis MacShane earns my wrath for his positive remarks about Sarkosy. Sorry, Denis, but surely a basic rule of solidarity between Socialist International and PES sister parties is that when your comrades in the PS are in the middle of a close-fought election campaign you praise their candidate, Segolene Royal, not the right-winger she is up against.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Meacher and McDonnell

Two bald men stop fighting over a comb and agree to share it.

Even more Hazelites

Ruth Kelly and GMB Northern Region Secretary (significant in a union where the regional secretaries are where the power lies and the Northern region is the biggest one) endorse Hazel.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More Hazelites

The Blears bandwagon appears to be rolling, with 2 more MP endorsers today - Paddy Tipping (Deputy Leader of the House) and Stephen Ladyman (Transport Minister)

Helen Southworth, Rob Flello, Anne Snellgrove, George Howarth, Christine Russell and Adrian Bailey have also endorsed Hazel since I last wrote about this.

I understand there are a couple more names imminent and some of the bigger ministerial guns will be making their position clear as we get nearer to the start of the campaign.

More than one Westminster source has told me that the number of Hazel's MP supporters is now in the 50s and growing.

Expect some meat in terms of policy too, once the 3 May elections are out of the way.

3PM Update

Barry Gardiner MP added as endorser.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Roll of Honour

I think the New Statesman published this list as a naming and shaming exercise. I was thinking of it more as a roll of honour.

Nick Cohen

Some months after a lot of my friends, I've got round to reading Nick Cohen's book "What's Left?"

I was put off by vague memories of Cohen as a rather sneery anti-Blairite in about 1998.

I wish I had read it earlier.

It's highly readable, and powerfully written stuff.

His message of contempt for those on the left who apologise for anti-democratic regimes is preaching to the converted with me, but I reckon this is one of those rare books that would actually cause people to reconsider their views.

I've got to page 248 without finding anything not to agree with. Page 248 includes the gem "the totalitarian left isn't a part of the family of the democratic left, but the enemy of the democratic left because it doesn't believe in democracy."

Buy it and read it now.

Credit where it's due

I've been fairly harsh about Charles Clarke's destructive stance on the leadership election in recent weeks.

Tonight I saw him speak about social housing policy at a Shelter seminar.

He was really good - thoughtful, progressive, arguing that councils should be given more freedom to build new social housing stock, and that housing management should be done at a level devolved nearer to tenants to make it more responsive - he talked up housing co-ops, and by implication TMOs (tenant management organisations).

It made me think that maybe he meant it when he talked about an open policy debate within the Party - and I had judged him harshly in thinking this was a coded way of attacking Brown.

And then I thought how tragic it is that this guy does have good policy ideas to contribute, but his own bitterness and intemperate outbursts about both Brown and Reid mean that almost no one is actually listening to what he has to say on policy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A bit better

Slightly better than this morning's Communicate Research poll (but still not good) is the new ICM poll which has Labour on 30% (down 1), the Tories on 37% (down 4), the LDs on 21% (up 3) and others on 12% - which is hung parliament territory.

We're in a (recoverable) mess, but Cameron is increasingly looking like the Tories' Neil Kinnock, not their Tony Blair.

Not our best poll ever


Communicate Research in the Indie has Labour on 27% (down 4), the Tories on 36% (up 1), the Lib Dems on 22% (up 2), and others on 11% (SNP 4%, GRN 3%, BNP 2%, UKIP 1%, PC 1%).

There's no point pretending this is anything other than awful for Labour.

But it's also not good for the Tories, who despite our mid-term slump are becalmed in the mid-30s and would only just scrape a majority on these figures.

My hunch is that the immediate aftermath of the leadership election could give us enough of a boost to put us back just in front. Translating that into a sustained recovery will depend on whether Brown's policy initiatives are sufficiently bold to capture the public imagination.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A real choice this time

The BBC is reporting that the first round results in France are likely to be this:

"Centre-right Mr Sarkozy won 30%, ahead of Ms Royal of the Socialists on 25.2%. Centrist Francois Bayrou got 18.3% and the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen 11.5%."

So at least there will be a proper left vs right contest in the second round, unlike the travesty last time of a run-off between Le Pen and Chirac.

The far right result is down considerably from the last election, which has to be good news.

Brits could learn something from the 84.5% turnout too.

I can leave the Segolene Royal campaign sticker on my PC at work for a bit longer.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Accidents of timing

Spring/early summer 2003 - Diane Abbott MP reselected in trigger ballot
October 2003 - Diane Abbott MP reveals she is a sending her son to a £10,000-a-year private school

Monday 16 April 2007 - Diane Abbott MP reselected in trigger ballot after softening reputation with centre ground in her CLP with constant hints at support for Gordon Brown
Wednesday 18 April 2007 - Diane Abbott MP breaks cover to endorse ultra-left candidate John McDonnell for Labour Leader

Winner, political chutzpah award 2003 and 2007

Question - how many votes did Labour Left Briefing trade her in the Hackney Downs and Leabridge ward trigger ballots in return for backing McDonnell?

It does seem oddly coincidental that just before the trigger process Briefing were muttering about deselecting her and she was very un-enamoured with comrade McDonnell. Maybe I am just an old cynic.

Deputy Leadership backers

The latest supporters listed on Harriet Harman's website are Yvette Cooper and Geoff Hoon.

That's significant as both are very close to Gordon.

It could be that he's given his supporters a free hand and there are personal friendships and loyalties at play here but maybe there is a line going out?

Or... will an alternative strategy of hedging of bets become evident, with some of the Chancellor's allies being embedded in each deputy leadership campaign so that they all owe him something?

Question Time

Observations on last night's BBC1 Question Time:

- the wrong Miliband was being touted as future Labour Leader. Miliband (E) comes across a lot more impressively than Miliband (D).
- much as it pains me to say it, Iain Duncan Smith gave the most cogent and heartfelt defence of our involvement in Iraq that I've heard for a long time.
- isn't the Commons a better place without the ghastly Baroness Tonge?


The CPGB's Weekly Worker always provides an amusing look at the rest of the far left. This week's edition is no exception, with an insider account of Respect's London Mayoral selection.

But buried in there are always little gems to remind you that far from being amused observers, the CPGB themselves are one sandwich short of a revolutionary picnic.

Their stance on the Olympics for instance - on page 12 - they offer to support Ken Livingstone, but only:

"if he breaks from his support for the 2012 London Olympics- a sporting form of war between states that help create the ideological conditions for horrors such as Iraq; then we should say we will vote for him. Campaigning around such demands is the way to get to Labour’s rank and file in the constituency parties, the activists in the affiliated trade unions and Labour’s mass base in the working class".

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Wrong Kind of Seats

My old comrade from the Labour Coordinating Committee Executive, Neal Lawson, reveals in today's Guardian that his disillusion with New Labour set in even earlier than I had realised:

"My first doubts crept in as early as election day in May 1997. I was crunching up long gravel drives in Enfield Southgate, where rumours abounded that no-hoper Stephen Twigg might oust Michael Portillo. After passing BMWs and Mercs I was met by enthusiastic upper-middle-class families who were "all for Tony Blair here". We were going to win, but what did we have to sacrifice to have these people in our tent?"

Of course, the kind of Guardianista chatterati demographic that backs Compass-style left politics are actually quite often "upper-middle-class" themselves. But they would never do anything as crass or nouveau riche as having crunchy "long gravel drives", driving BMWs or Mercs, or living in the kind of places like Enfield Southgate that only go Labour when we win elections.

No, no, no. "Good" upper-middle-class people whose votes Compass wants because Labour got them before 1997 have far too much taste for that. They live in town houses in Kentish Town, or Barnsbury, or Hampstead, or Highgate Village, or maybe if they are a bit younger and have only just sold their shares in LLM Communications, they might make do with somewhere a bit edgier in the inner city. They drive people carriers or Volvos and buy their foccacia at Fresh & Wild. Their drives are definitely not crunchy.

The funny thing is, the 1997 manifesto and campaign were never intended to appeal to Enfield Southgate. They weren't even targeted at Enfield North. They were very carefully calibrated to appeal to swing voters in the 70 key seats that Labour needed to form a majority - Edmonton, Mitcham & Morden, Hayes & Harlington, Brentford & Isleworth, those kind of places. Gritty places with lots of Sun readers concerned about tax, crime and defence - and not many crunchy long gravel drives. That that 1997 programme turned out to be wildly popular with all demographics, from the crunchy drive set to people in council flats, was accident, not fiendish Blairite design.

Where would Neal draw the line? He must be relieved we don't hold Putney, Wimbledon and Enfield Southgate now, but why stop there? Shall we get Compass to tell the voters in Dorset South, or Hastings & Rye, or Hove that Labour doesn't want their votes either? And as for Basildon, Harlow or Crawley ... I doubt they have branches of Fresh & Wild ... and I expect they do have a lot of people who aspire to own BMWs.

Can anyone imagine that a Tory - any Tory even the most Heathite Wet or most extreme rightwinger - writing the counterpoint to Lawson's words:

"But first a confession. I was a Thatcherite. Back in 1975, I believed she was serious about new politics, communities and Europe. More fool me. My first doubts crept in as early as election day in 1983. I was staggering up tower block staircases in Edmonton, where rumours abounded that no-hoper Ian Twinn might oust Ted Graham. After passing graffiti and piss on the staircase I was met by enthusiastic working class families who were "all for Maggie here", having done right-to-buy on their council flats. We were going to win, but what did we have to sacrifice to have these people in our tent?"

No they wouldn't. Because unlike Lawson and Compass the Tories at that time knew that if you don't seek to win the votes of every possible voter, sooner or later you are out of power and can do nothing for your core vote or anyone else. They forgot that lesson and are only just relearning it.

Lawson wants Labour to make the same mistake. But he won't get his way because Brown wants to win, not lose, the next election. Neal knows that, hence his squeals of betrayal before Brown has even got into No10. Game over, Neal.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Great Tory Gerrymander Plan

Iain Dale has spelt out today the plans that a lot of Labour folk were already aware the Tories had up their sleeves for the electoral system.

Basically they plan to downsize the electorate by disenfranchising several million, mainly Labour voting, tax paying UK residents - this from a Party that is recruiting ex-pats living in Spain (whose stake in and commitment to British society is such that they don't even live here) en masse to vote by post at the next General Election

Dale, charmlessly, headlines his post "The Irish Should Not Be Able to Vote in UK General Elections" - not making it clear until you read the detail of his post whether he means Republic of Ireland citizens or second, third or tenth generation UK citizens who self describe ethnically as Irish.

I do hope the Irish community and the Irish press in the UK read his views and give them the publicity and the odium they deserve.

The Tory plan Dale hints at is:

- win a General Election narrowly
- whip up an artificial storm about Commonwealth & Irish citizens having voting rights in the UK - probably "accidentally" creating a bit of race hatred and community tension too as the objects of this storm will necessarily be first generation immigrants
- pass a quick bit of legislation disenfranchising the millions of Commonwealth & Irish citizens currently on the election register
- recompile the new register without them
- hold a boundary review which abolishes a number of Labour inner city constituencies where the register has been shrunk massively by the disenfranchisement and in outer urban seats brings in suburban Tory wards to bring the electorate back up to size - simultaneously because the overall electorate is smaller but the rural electorate remains roughly the same, new Tory seats would be created in the shires
- hold a new general election and win it by a bigger majority
- simultaneous council byelections for any Irish and Commonwealth citizens who are councillors and suddenly not eligible to hold public office anymore
- hope this locks Labour out of power for ever more

From the people that opposed the Great Reform Act here it is - a disgusting proposal to create the first ever electoral reform aimed at reducing the size of the electorate and disenfranchising tax-paying UK residents. With the added side-effect of stuffing Labour, reducing community cohesion and removing one of the ways in which the UK has been able to quickly integrate immigrants by giving them full civil rights and a stake in society. Oh - and destroying one of the few tangible benefits of the Commonwealth too.

What a ghastly bunch of anti-democratic fixers the Tories are.

Even more shocking is that Dale decided to talk about this after reading it on a a Lib Dem's blog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bob Marshall-Andrews

Bob Marshall-Andrews, MP for Medway and a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, lived in the same Bristol University hall of residence as me (though 25 years earlier) - Wills Hall, founded by the Bristolian tobacco magnates of the same name when they had a huff because their son didn't get into Oxford.

Aside from shared residence of a 1930s pastiche version of a Tudor Oxford College

which softened the blow of not getting into the real thing, I assumed we had nothing else in common.

But in an exclusive interview in the 2007 Wills Hall Association Handbook, battling Bob reveals his Trot-fighting past:

"I joined the Party in 1971 and stood for Parliament in 1974 in Richmond ... At that stage, the Party went walk-about - it was heavily infiltrated with Trots and it became almost impossible for someone like me to get a seat. I was on the shortlist for Battersea South in 1976. The first question - after I'd made what I thought was a passable left-wing pitch - was from a man with a Che Guevara moustache, who stood up and said "What's a middle class w**ker like you think you can do for the people of Battersea South?"

It became very dull, I spent my entire life fighting Trots."

He then reveals that Neil Kinnock persuaded him (at a rugby match) to get back into politics. Except by this time his politics had changed a bit. Thanks Neil.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A plea to the Labour Party

There are several thousand Labour Party activists in London with no elections on 3 May.

That's a huge campaigning resource which if mobilised could be critical to the outcome of some nearby councils that do have elections.

No one from HQ has communicated with us to tell us where we need to go and work, or where there are phone banks we can volunteer at.

People with friends outside London have organised day trips to campaign for them - I'm taking a group to my old stamping ground in Castle Point.

But can someone at HQ just do an email with the contact details of the nearest key council organisers and what help they need and send it to the "all London members" email group?

It will take you 5 minutes to write & send and could deliver a great boost to the councils where help is really needed.

Plea over.

AJ wades in

Now is not Miliband's time says AJ in the Guardian.

Too right.

Personally I want Gordon to be leader next.

And then after him I want it to be someone else of a similar age or a bit younger after him - John Reid or Alan Johnson himself for instance.

And then in about 15 years time when he will still only be 56 I want to see if either David Miliband or Ed Balls has grown into the job, or a woman candidate like Caroline Flint or Yvette Cooper, or any of a number of middle ranking Ministers who are currently quietly making a name for themselves.

Let's have a few more paced - marathon not sprint - ministerial careers on the model of Wilson (Joined Cabinet 1947, became Leader 16 years later), Callaghan (joined Shadow Cabinet 1951, became PM 25 years later) or John Smith (Joined Cabinet 1978, became Leader 14 years later) or non-leaders like Healey (Joined Shadow Cabinet 1959 and didn't leave it until 1987).

We need as a Party to get as many productive years out of our best politicians as we can. Fast-tracking them so, like Blair, they leave office aged just 53, is a ridiculous waste.

Guys like Miliband should pace themselves so they are still in Labour cabinets contributing in 25 or 30 years time.


Scotland - Labour ahead - "On constituency vote intentions, Labour had 35% support, the SNP 32%, LibDems 15%, the Tories 13% and others 5%. On the regional vote, Labour had 34% support, with the SNP on 31%, LibDems 13%, Tories on 12%, Greens 5% and others scoring 5%."

Australia - Labor ahead - "Labor remains in a clear election-winning position as it returns to near-record levels of support campaigning on climate change and industrial relations.
According to the latest Newspoll, the ALP's primary vote was steady last weekend at 50 per cent, while the Coalition's primary vote fell from 38 per cent before Easter to 35 per cent. "

Four more years

Tonight was the count for Diane Abbott MP's trigger ballot. She won, so will not face a full reselection process. Just for the record I voted against her (for the third time). This apparently surprised some people on the left (either they are easily surprised or I'm mellowing as I get older).

Small is beautiful?

Only just over 20 years ago Militant was a power in the land. It had 2 Labour MPs, 5000+ members, control of the Labour Party Young Socialists, and control of Liverpool City Council.

It's successor organisation - SPEW (yes they really chose that acronym) is part of the rump Socialist Alliance - the bits of that organisation which didn't follow the SWP into RESPECT.

The Socialist Alliance operates on a slightly smaller scale to Militant. Quite how small is revealed by the NEC minutes (NEC members include such blasts from the past as Dave Nellist and Lesley Mahmood - defeated by the then Labour rightwinger Peter Kilfoyle in the Walton by-election) it helpfully publishes on the internet.

As of 17 Feb this mighty challenger to be the voice of Britain's toiling masses stated: "Membership – 11 members had paid nationally so far for 2007." (despite it being cheaper to join than Labour is at 24 quid a year).

Still, if they go out and do a recruitment drive they might achieve last September's figure, when there were "27 paid up SA members nationally".

If 11 members is true, then 50% of their entire individual membership stand outside Stoke Newington Post Office on a Saturday morning waving collecting buckets (if they get the pitch before the SWP who seem to be late risers).

Bethnal Green shortlist

Candidate Rupa Huq is reporting that the final shortlist of 6 for the Bethnal Green & Bow Labour parliamentary selection (the winner of which will have the delight of wiping the smirk off George Galloway's face at the next election) is as follows:

Helal Abbas
Rushanara Ali
John Biggs
Rupa Huq
Shiria Khatun
Lutfor Rahman

Des Browne

The calls by David Cameron for Des Browne to resign as Defence Secretary are just silly.

I didn't think that the released sailors and marines should have been authorised to sell their stories, but either way it is not a momentous decision that should make or break a minister's career.

Defence Secretaries should resign if they take bad decisions that unnecessarily endanger the lives of service personnel, not because of a decision about the MoD rules on PR.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Colleagues on the web

My boss at work, former Labour Party Chief Press Officer Colin Byrne, has turned blogger: http://www.byrnebabybyrne.com/

though he has yet to set up a Facebook site.

Elsewhere at my workplace, Edinburgh colleagues have done a nifty site about the Scottish elections where you can input poll data to see how many, and which, seats the different parties are likely to get: http://www.scotlandvotes.com/

Roy Shaw

I was sad to see that Roy Shaw is standing down from Camden Council due to ill health.

Roy was a good friend and wise adviser to me when I started working for the Labour Party in Holborn & St Pancras back in 1996.

He has been a councillor for the same area continuously since 1956 after serving as a tank crewman in the war.

He was Leader of Camden in the late '70s and early '80s, fighting running battles with Ken Livingstone who was his Chair of Housing and led a rival leftwing faction in the Camden Labour Group.

Roy explained to me that he had started his time in the Party as a Bevanite leftwinger, but by the '80s was regarded as on the right because of infiltration by the Bennite Hard Left. He had a wealth of anecdotes about the Labour left and their Trot allies which I can't republish here due to libel laws... and a good one about the Agent who printed a poster with the candidate names


for a 4-member ward in the old St Pancras borough and couldn't understand why people wouldn't put it in their windows.

After ceasing to be Leader he did not walk away but instead helped organise the fightback by moderate forces in the Camden and London Labour Parties in the '80s and mentored figures like Dame Jane Roberts who went on to lead the council.

He has a huge personal vote in Haverstock Ward after years of hard work for local people.

I feel privileged to have learnt from Roy - over some good lunches in various Italian eateries in Parkway - something of the history of the Labour Party in inner London from the '50s through to the Livingstone era. He dedicated himself to serving his community, his borough and his Party and it is fitting that Camden Council are making him their first ever Honorary Alderman.

Oliver Kamm

I'm bemused by Oliver Kamm's attack on political blogs.

Most of it is fair comment about Guido Fawkes and the wierder end of the libertarian Tory blogosphere - and/or the foaming at the mouth anti-Americanism of the comments on the Guardian's Comment is Free.

But attacking political blogging as a medium because you don't like Guido is about as rational as attacking all political coverage in newspapers because you don't like Richard Littlejohn.

Lighten up Oliver, and for a starter allow comments on your own blog.

I've been on the receiving end of some fairly unpleasant comments here, but that comes with the territory of expressing yourself politically - if you express strong opinions you get strong feedback.

And what kind of rarified political world is it that Oliver lives in if he thinks angry or abusive comments are a product of the blogosphere? He should try canvassing at election time. I've had worse things said to me at Labour Party meetings than in the comments on this blog, and still gone for a drink afterwards with the people attacking me. It's called politics - it excites people and inspires them and can make them angry. It's not an academic exercise about theories it's about how government affects people's lives so if they feel they need to shout then they have a right to.

Drafting candidates

According to today's Guardian a plot is afoot to run a "write-in" campaign for David Miliband - enough MPs publicly nominate him that he has to stand.

This is just cringe-worthy and desperate. You can't bully someone into running to be Prime Minister. It's not like twisting his arm to be CLP Treasurer.

The Westminster-centric nature of this is really alienating too - all of this is being conducted at a parliamentary level with no reference to whether anyone at a grassroots level in either the CLPs or the unions wants a non-left challenge to Brown. If there was demand for it it would be being expressed, in party meetings, in newspaper letters pages, in the blogosphere. But there's a deafening silence.

The Guardian cites a poll in "the Local Government Chronicle [that] showed 74% of council chief executives polled favouring Mr Miliband over Mr Brown as prime minister." So what? I would be more interested in what Labour Councillors, or shopfloor UNISON members working in councils, thought about this than the opinions of highly-paid and theoretically politically neutral local government civil servants.

Perhaps most irritating is the badging up that this is a"Blairite plot" - actually its a plot by a small - a very small - minority of Blairites. The rest of us want nothing to do with it.

I like and respect most of the people who are seeking an anti-Brown candidate. But as I've said before I think they have totally misjudged this both in terms of the appetite for it in the wider party and the strategic impact on Brown's positioning with the wider electorate and in the Party.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Observer on Blair

I guess I should have predicted that the Observer's special supplement on 10 years of Blair would put a completely subjective snapshot opinion poll nearer the front of the magazine than the objective audit of what Labour has achieved in power.

The poll, of course, was newsworthy. The facts - a good social democratic government getting re-elected twice for doing what it was supposed to i.e. run a strong economy, invest massively in public services and fight poverty at home and in the third world, was less so.

For the record, the audit included the following facts:

  • Health: "The NHS has enjoyed the biggest increase in funds of all the public services, with spending up from £34bn in 1997 to just over £94bn this year. Staff numbers have risen, with 20,000 more consultants and GPs and about 70,000 more nurses. The number of people on waiting lists for operations has fallen by 384,000 since 1997. Output, in the form of number of people using the service, has increased by about 3 per cent a year... 118 new hospitals and 188 GP clinics have been opened or are being built."
  • The Economy: "GDP is £1.118 trillion, making the UK economy the fifth largest in the world. The International Monetary Fund predicts the UK economy will grow by 2.9 per cent this year. The interest rate is 5.25 per cent. It was 6 per cent when Labour was elected. Total increase in taxation: £3,100 per household. Unemployment now at 1.7 million, down from 2m in 1997. Government debt has fallen from to 44 per cent of GDP to 36 per cent... a decade of economic stability, with consistent growth, low inflation - at least until the past 12 months - and low unemployment."
  • Education: "Government spending per pupil has doubled, from £2,500 in 1997 to over £5,000. More than 36,000 teachers and 154,000 support staff added to school payrolls. ... 79 per cent of 11-year-olds meet required standards in English, up from 65 per cent; and 76 per cent in maths, up from 60 per cent. 58 per cent of GCSE candidates are getting five passes (C or better), up from 45 per cent in 1997."
  • Home Office: "Crime has fallen by 35 per cent since 1997, with particularly steep falls in burglaries (55 per cent) and car crime (51 per cent)....The backlog of asylum applications is down from nearly 60,000 to 6,000."
  • Foreign Affairs: "Government spending on foreign aid and development grants has doubled since 1997, increasing to 0.48 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, or around £5bn. Tony Blair also used the UK's presidency of the G8 in 2005 to push forward a plan to write off the debts of the world's poorest countries. In the past 10 years Britain has intervened in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone. Defence spending has remained more or less level at about 2.5 per cent of total government spending since 1997."
  • DWP: "Spending on child-related benefits increased by 53 per cent in real terms between 1999 and 2003. 700,000 children have been lifted out of poverty - with a target to eradicate child poverty by 2020."
  • DTI: "The introduction of the minimum wage ensured better rights for workers.... The 'productivity' gap with the US, Germany and France narrowed. Britain attracted increasing inward investment from £153bn in 1997 to £483bn in 2006. The increased science budget and encouragement for research and development has also been welcomed by business."
  • DCMS: "Spending on the arts has more than doubled since 1997 from £186m to £412m. Attendance at museums and galleries has risen by 83 per cent."

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bank Holiday Good News

The latest poll in the The Herald has Labour ahead of the SNP in Scotland and projected to gain, not lose, seats.

Hackney North Trigger Ballot

I spent yesterday evening as CLP Observer to ensure the rules were stuck to at branch meetings voting on whether to reselect Diane Abbott MP or trigger a full reselection process.

It isn't appropriate to reveal the individual branch results, but after some well-attended and lively meetings, and with 7 of the 10 branches having met last night, Diane has nothing to worry about - Dave Osler's predictions of a close result haven't been fulfilled.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Is the upturn here?

One of the more interesting aspects of being a CLP Membership Secretary is that you get to see trends in Labour membership.

I've spend my six years as membership secretary charting my CLP's membership going down - gradually at first, then precipitously in 2003 before, during and after the Iraq War, then more gradually again before bottoming out in 2006 - there being pretty much only the "we were born members, we will die members" mob left. Efforts to turn this round with local recruitment have dented the trend but not changed it.

I've just had a quarterly report for the first three months of 2007 showing a nearly 7% increase - a net gain of 36 members. This is the first substantial increase for at least six, possibly ten years, and I guess must reflect people wanting to participate in the leadership election. Most of the increase is in the more middle class wards most affected by the decline since the War. But it seems to be mainly "new" new members not old members rejoining.

Does this reflect what is happening in other CLPs?

Just for any conspiracy theorists the pattern isn't one that suggests it is connected to parliamentary selections or to the recent very competitive Black Socialist Society elections, which have seen very large numbers of members recruited en masse in other parts of London. It looks like this is people signing up of their own accord because they want to take part in the important choices Labour is about to make.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Quality Tory candidates with quality leaflets

I can't claim that this blog is always typo free, but the prize for illiterate election leaflet of the year must surely go to ex-Bucks Fizz member and now Tory council candidate in Brighton, David Van Day, for this gem:

Close reading reveals a total of 10 spelling and grammar errors.

The scary thing is, he might actually win if the Greens take enough votes off Labour - the lowest placed Labour candidate four years ago in the ward concerned was only 160 votes ahead of the Tories.

At the Zoo

For anyone reading the post below concerned that Jed Akehurst was unable to meet the gorillas at London Zoo yesterday, he's there today.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sunday in Highgate

Pictured above: Luke (35), Jed (18 months) and Karl (189).
We set out for a Sunday afternoon at London Zoo to see the new Gorilla Kingdom but it was packed and there was nowhere to park so as we drove past it on the way home we stopped to pay our respects to Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery (and to take Jed to the playground in the park next door). We put a red rose on the grave.
It's never too early to start political education ... though how much dialectical materialism Jed absorbed is best judged by his comment as we walked away - "poo, poo".
Anyway I have now added, belatedly, Marx's tomb to my visit to his birthplace, the the Karl Marx House in Trier in 1990 (I think I wrote "nice theory, shame about the practitioners" in the guest book) and to the tiny attic room he lived in above what is now the Quo Vadis restaurant in Dean Street, Soho (during the 1995 Young Fabians Xmas Dinner).
Movingly, near to Marx's grave are those of a number of senior Iraqi secular leftists and Kurdish leaders who died in exile here from Saddam Hussein.

Clarke to run?

After he was telling people to stop plotting leadership campaigns only a few days ago, the Sunday Times reports that Charles Clarke is going to run for Leader himself.

This could of course, all be an April Fool, but I fear not.

I simply do not understand what Clarke expects to achieve.

If as stated, his objective is to provoke a debate, it implies he has serious policy differences with Brown. We know he is anti-Trident replacement, but other than that I can only assume that the policy differences are regarding domestic issues where he is in some way further to the right than Brown. Is there really a constituency of party members, trade unionists and MPs that think that Brown is too leftwing and wants a harder line on say reform of public services than Brown will provide (and is simultaneously prepared to overlook whip-breaking outbreaks of unilateralism)? If there is I haven't met them. All that Clarke provoking a debate will do is measure how little support there is for an "ultra" position.

If it's about Brown's personal qualities then Clarke is hardly the alternative, youthful, fresh face to take on Cameron - and unlike Clarke's tenure at the Home Office, Brown has actually run the Treasury well.

I find the whole scrambling around for an anti-Brown candidate - I wouldn't dignify it with the term "Blairite" because most level-headed Blairites are backing Brown - laughable, and worse than that embarrassing - for the Party as a whole and my end of it in particular.

The worst thing is that because some of the people involved are close to Blair (presumably not Clarke since Blair sacked him) this risks tarnishing Blair's legacy - the self-proclaimed bearers of the flame will risk not getting nominated or doing so but getting a derisory vote and thereby sending out a signal that a) Blair himself was unpopular and b) the new premiership is a complete break with everything achieved over the last ten years.

The "anyone-but-Brown" campaign is the politics of the strategically stupid. Actually it isn't even political - it's about personalities. And politicians who can't rise above their personality differences are doomed to look divisive and petty.

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