A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A state visit does not imply endorsement

Some of the blogosphere left are trying to say that the Saudi state visit implies the Government somehow doesn't care about the appalling human rights record of the Government there.

But I seem to recall state visits by Presidents of the USSR throughout the Cold War when both sides were condemning each other's political and economic systems, were pointing nuclear arsenals at each other and we were specifically condemning the Gulag and the treatment of dissidents.

My take on the Saudis is the same as that Churchill had on Stalin's Russia when the Nazis invaded it: "If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

They are a ghastly regime but the current alternative - even more extreme Islamism of the al-Qaeda variety - is even worse.

It's the same reason the West correctly backed Saddam's Iraq against Iran.

Diplomacy sometimes involves sitting down and establishing common interests with people you would otherwise not want to invite to dinner. You have to do it if you have wider strategic interests that need protecting, or you just need to be in dialogue with your "enemy's enemy". Unfortunately it's part of being in government - unlike Vince Cable we can't indulge in gesture politics.

I'm fairly sure that vice versa the Saudis find it equally, if not more distasteful than we do sitting down to negotiate with decadent infidel Western liberals who have a female head of state.

Salmond on Burma

Interesting EDM from the Lib Dems:


Mr Michael Moore

Mr Alistair Carmichael

John Thurso

Jo Swinson

* 4

That this House welcomes the recent visit of representatives of the opposition movement in Burma to the Scottish Parliament; expresses its support for their campaign for freedom, justice and democracy in Burma; believes that all countries that share those values should put maximum pressure on the army generals at the head of the Burmese regime; notes that Burma has been heavily criticised by the United Nations for its crackdown on anti-government protests last month and the deaths and suffering caused to unarmed civilians; is therefore outraged that the First Minister of Scotland's most recent communication with the Burmese junta has been to ask for its help and support for his campaign for observer status for Scotland at the United Nations rather than in support of the international response to this crisis; believes that the First Minister could have avoided this situation if he had followed the agreed concordat with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and had discussed his letter to Burma with the FCO before it was sent; reiterates its wholehearted support for the pro-democracy protesters in Burma and condemns the oppressive actions of the military junta past and present; and calls on all political institutions, including the Office of the First Minister, to fully support international efforts to bring peace and democracy to Burma.

Compass breaks cover

Labour's pamphlet-writing tendency, Compass, has broken cover today with a statement in the Guardian by the two Jons (Cruddas and Trickett) which appears to be some kind of very politely phrased, coded even, critique of Brown.

It's in full here, with a wider list of signatures from the usual suspects: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/article.asp?n=981

I am struggling to understand after carefully reading it what, beyond sounding a bit more left, they want Gordon to do.

There are lots of warm words:

They want "an intellectually and morally coherent vision for his premiership". Great. I expect Gordon being both intellectual and moral, already has one. But what voters want to see more than a vision is good schools and hospitals, low crime, security, a strong economy and preferably not to have to pay too much tax for it. If they suffer from inequality they probably want to be have a fairer share of the cake. Most of them couldn't give a toss about the "moral and intellectual" coherence of the package as long as it makes life better for their families.

They want "change" - but of an unspecified nature. They welcome the policy changes that Brown has already made but don't seem to trust his judgement to deliver more of the same direction, yet at the same time don't tell him what they do want him to do.

They don't want a "big tent" - hang about I thought Neal Lawson et al were amongst the loudest proponents of pluralism, and "let's not be beastly to the Lib Dems". Later in the same statement they contradict themselves and call for Brown to look "beyond the Labour Party".

They are against "dry economism". Being professional politicians or chatterati, the Compassites are handily insulated from real world concerns like inflation, unemployment and high interest rates that happen every time you lose focus on "dry economism".

But I can't find any actual policies except for an attack on the reactive change of position on inheritance tax. I.e. Compass confronted by a new Tory policy that is so hugely popular it is the primary policy contributor to turning a 10% Labour lead into a 7% Tory one pick reacting to this as the one specific thing to mention that they don't think Brown should have done!

They pander to the refrain of saloon bar morons up and down the country: voters are being "refused a meaningful choice". A) this is rubbish - there are hundreds of meaningful choices on policy between Labour and the Tories; B) we had a bigger choice between the parties in the '80s and early '90s - unfortunately presented with it the voters chose Thatcherism. I really do pity Labour Party members who can't see the difference between a Brown government and a Cameron one.

They claim Labour has failed to "energise the progressive middle class". I.e. it has based its policy agenda on the bread-and-butter aspirations of working people rather than the hot topics at the Islington dinner parties attended by some of the statement's signatories. Because of course the role of the party founded to represent the working classes should be to "energise the progressive middle class" - a class consisting of perhaps a million at best people out of a population of 60 million - who already had their own party, the Liberals, before we got our act together, but would rather like to control our one too.

They state: " Our essential question is this: what is the Labour government for? We are still unsure." They speak for their own confused selves. As far as I can tell most Ministers, MPs, Councillors, activists, members and voters - and the PM - know exactly what a Labour Government is for: delivering a more equal and just society with high quality public services and a strong economy. We've been doing it for ten years, and we should all get on with contributing to delivering it - and generating the policy ideas to take it forward. I don't see any way in which the latest Compass threnody makes any practical contribution to that. What a pointless organisation.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Huhne's opposition to Trident

Chris Huhne quit the Labour Party to join the SDP in the early '80s. One of the big motivations claimed by the SDP splitters was that they objected to unilateralism.

Strange then that Mr Huhne is running for Lib Dem Leader on a platform of unilaterally ditching Trident.

Or perhaps he is just a complete opportunist.

English Parliaments, Fairly Elected

I'm not a great fan of the asymmetric devolution practiced by Labour over the last ten years. Giving different powers to devolved assemblies and parliaments in different parts of the UK, and no devolution in much of England, whilst it isn't the constitutional atrocity the Tories claim, does keep the West Lothian question open and allow charges of intellectual inconsistency to be levelled.

But an English Parliament or English Grand Committee of MPs isn't the answer if that institutionalises the Tory South East dominating the Labour areas of England. That's just an England-only version of the UK situation that created the Scots demand for devolution in the '80s.

Personally I would favour full symmetric devolution with each region and nation of the UK enjoying the same powers that the Scottish Parliament currently has. You might start to see policy innovation and competition to attract investment and migration between regions that would eventually lead to better government nationwide.

As in Scotland and Wales, it would be important that each assembly was elected by an electoral system that prevented the region in question becoming dominated by a single party. Will the Tories be as selfless in giving away power in the south as Labour was in accepting PR for MSPs in the Scottish constitutional convention process?

The 2005 General Election results if reflected in a proportional electoral system would have produced regional assemblies in England looking something like this if each had 100 members and a 5% threshold for getting seats:

East - Con 48, Lab 30, LD 22
East Midlands - Lab 44, Con 37, LD 19
London - Lab 46, Con 32, LD 22
North East - Lab 57, LD 23, Con 20
North West - Lab 50, Con 29, LD 21
South East - Con 51, Lab 24, LD 25
South West - Con 44, Lab 33, LD 23
West Midlands - Lab 46, Con 35, LD 19
Yorkshire - Lab 50, Con 29, LD 21

of course London's Elected Mayor would continue in place but with powers equivalent to Scotland's First Minister. If there was a great urge to have single-party executives in each region, you could have an equivalent to the London Mayor - a Directly Elected First Minister - in each region and nation.

A funny kind of modernisation

Cameron has always presented himself as the Tory counterpart to Blair, creating a new, modernised, cuddly, centrist party.

It's a funny kind of modernised party that seems to have largely stopped talking about green issues and social justice as it was a few months ago, and is now banging on incessantly, in much the same way as Hague and Howard did, about the core-vote "dog whistle" issues of an English Parliament, immigration and a referendum on the EU.

The equivalent position would have been Blair talking about New Labour but continuing to put unilateralism, nationalisation and withdrawal from Europe at the heart of the Labour agenda. And having Michael Foot as his Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

MPs' expenses

Can anyone point me to a league table of the recently published MPs' "expenses" that is disaggregated?

I'm fed up with seeing "expenses" figures that - with the implication from the media that the total figure is a huge claim for lunches and overseas jollies - lump together travel etc. (it's usually higher for Scottish MPs, there's a shock - a problem easily solved by relocating Parliament several hundred miles north) with postage (which is an indicator of whether they do any work in their constituency - or at least work that involves envelopes, letters and stamps).

We need a separate list of who sends how many letters. Then the whips - and the electorate - should start asking the ones who aren't spending much on postage a) how they deal with casework and b) how they communicate with the people they represent. I would be interested to hear their excuses.

It would also be good to expose the ones who aren't paying their staff a decent wage.

Observer/Mori Poll

A strange silence from a couple of Hard Left blogs that have been putting the boot in to Brown since conference, now that today's Mori poll shows Labour up 3% in 2 weeks, back ahead of the Tories (just) and on a fantastic 41%.

Anyone would think that some of our own comrades don't really want a Labour victory at the next election.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Council By-elections

Last night's council by-election results seem to be in line with the opinion polls - very tightly competitive between Labour and Tory:

Cumbria, Penrith E division - LD hold

Great Yarmouth, Nelson Ward - Lab hold by 70 votes over an Independent who the Tories stood aside for

Harlow, Todbrook Ward - Con gain from Lab by 15 votes (with Respect unhelpfully taking 102 votes) compared to a Lab majority of 24 in May

Harlow, Little Parndon & Hare Street Ward - Lab hold by 196 votes over Con (up from majority of 184 in May) - the Tories had hoped to gain this ward as well as Todbrook

North Devon, Witheridge Ward - Con hold

Penwith, Gwinear Ward - Con hold

Sefton, Manor Ward - Con gain from Lab (adding to the other 2 seats in the ward they had already picked up)

Wrexham, Stanstey Ward - Lab gain from LD, overturning majority of 231

Waltham Abbey TC - Honey Lane Ward - Tories narrowly hold off BNP by 18 votes

Thursday, October 25, 2007


First poll since the election that never was is out in tomorrow's Telegraph:

Con 41% - extremely good for them and up a full 9% since the Sept YouGov poll
Lab 38% - actually a good score given recently publicity and well up on 2005 General Election
LD 11% - oh dear

Energy Targets

I may be being ignorant, or naive, but I don't quite get this week's soft-pedaling on the renewable energy target.

Not only do we have what most thinking people believe is the huge problem of climate change to deal with, but we also have two inter-related problems that will be looming even if some miracle happens and it turns out the scientists are all wrong, George W Bush is right (which on the track record seems unlikely), and climate change isn't as serious as expected:

1) Peak oil. The stuff is going to run out. There is a finite supply of it. Possibly we are already past the high point of oil supply and it is running out. And there are a billion plus Chinese just starting to enjoy products made from and powered by it. It won't run out tomorrow or in a decade or two's time but it will run out medium term enough that we need to start finding other ways to generate energy now-ish and start just using oil for the stuff you can only use oil for.

2) Security of energy supply. The places the dwindling supply of oil come from include some of the most politically unstable areas in the world. It's a good idea not to have your economic system dependent on imports from places liable to either end up being your enemies or chronically unstable/anarchic. The places where new oil fields are being explored aren't much better. The place where nice cheap gas comes from is currently flexing its muscles with reactivated bomber fleets and new missile systems and drooling over the prospect of having the ability to literally switch the lights off in Western Europe if we don't keep in line politically.

Of course there are huge obstacles to switching to less carbon-intensive energy sources - people get upset about having a wind farm or nuclear power station in the neighbourhood, the transition is extremely costly in terms of equipment in the short term, some of the technologies aren't perfected, etc. etc.

But the triple problem of climate change, the decline in oil supply and insecurity of supply mean that the problems of changing have got to be second order problems compared to the problems of not changing.

This is a set of issues that are so big that governments have to say stuff the electoral consequences and do the right thing. There are large, chunky ways to cut carbon-based energy consumption quickly. Each new nuclear power station provides about 2% of the UK's current energy needs if my memory is correct. Big wave power schemes across major estuaries can provide double or triple that each. Let's just get a move on with building some of both. People will thank us for it in a couple of generations time.

Oh and while we're at it let's ban a few of the most wasteful luxury uses of polluting energy just to set an example - with the new Eurostar line getting to Paris and Brussels so fast how about either banning London-Paris and London-Brussels flights or taxing them so much that they cease to be economically viable... I await someone telling me this is against competition law, in which case let's change the law.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cost of the non-election

The Guardian is making a big deal out of the alleged £1m cost to Labour of preparing for the non-occurring November General Election.

My reaction:

a) £1m is not a big deal in terms of the overall costs of an election these days. If my memory is correct the spending limit nationally is about £20m, so this represents a precautionary 5% outlay on "long-lead" items - the hardware and personnel you need to already have on the day the campaign starts.

b) It would have been grossly irresponsible, given that there was a chance of an election being called, for the General Secretary not to have committed the expenditure to get the Party ready. Better to waste a million being over-prepared that lose an election through stinginess.

c) If the reports of a huge fundraising push in anticipation of an election are correct, the net effect will have been that the Party actually raised a lot more than £1m spent and ended up considerably reducing its indebtedness.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Blog

A new Labour (in both senses) blog has been started by Hopi Sen who I remember as a Labour Student of usefulness: http://hopisen.wordpress.com/

Walthamstow shortlist

Walthamstow CLP shortlisted for its parliamentary selection last night.

Nadia Sharif withdrew from the contest, and sadly because of ill health so did Laura Bruni.

The GC therefore shortlisted all seven remaining candidates for the final hustings on 4 Nov:

Hina Ansari
Farmida Bi
Stella Creasy
Dora Dixon-Fyle
Jan Etienne
Melanie Johnson
Marie Pye

It's looking a bit unpredictable for the final vote but my sources in the audience say Stella and Farmida made the best speeches.

The Tories are obsessed by Europe, the voters are not

I have a feeling that with the increasing focus on calling for an EU referendum the Tories - with William Hague as Shadow Foreign Secretary - are about to make the same strategic mistake they did in 1997-2001 by over emphasising Europe.

No one disputes that a majority of voters are Euro-sceptic to varying degrees.

But unlike Tory MPs and activists, they aren't obsessive about it. In most cases it probably won't determine the way they vote in the next General Election - issues that have a more immediate personal impact like the economy, schools, crime and hospitals will.

The higher the profile the Tories give Europe the more they look like a strange bunch of obsessives, and the more they turn most people off politics by focusing on arcane matters like who has which red line, and which country gets which votes under QMV, rather than bread-and-butter issues.

They know this isn't an election winning strategy, they've tried it before, but they are making the same mistake again.

Councillor/activist's diary

I occasionally get complaints in the comments here (usually from Kris) that I don't write enough about local stuff in Hackney.

There's two reasons:

a) most of what we do as councillors whilst worthy doesn't make for interesting reading


b) the stuff that is politically contentious would need to be cleared for publication by the Group Press Officer under our standing orders, and he's got better things to do than edit my blog

Just to give a flavour of life as a councillor/Labour activist in Hackney, this is my diary outside of my day job for the last few and next few weeks:

Mon 8 - Unite/Amicus London Regional Political Committee meeting - discussion on GLA election planning
Tue 9 - babysitting while the other councillor in my household (Linda) goes to Planning Cttee
Wed 10 - babysitting while Linda goes to Stoke Newington Neighbourhood Forum
Thu 11 - Hackney North Labour Party Executive meeting - again mainly about the GLA elections
Fri 12 - Advice surgery for my ward
Sat 13 - campaigning in Bexleyheath & Crayford
Tue 16 - Labour Group meeting - main discussions are on the Stoke Newington gyratory road system and whether to revert to a 2-way high street, and the Estates Plus regeneration scheme
Wed 17 - Governance & Resources Scrutiny Committee - main discussions are on the Overall Financial Position of the Council, and on the workings of Team Hackney, our Local Strategic Partnership
Thu 18 - Homerton Neighbourhood Forum - debate on the new Controlled Parking Zone I have been campaigning for in my ward, other discussion was on review of Licensing Policy
Sat 19 - Leafleting in my ward
Mon 22 - Police Community Advisory Panel meeting for my ward
Tue 23 - Nisbet House Estate Tenants & Residents Assoc meeting
Wed 24 - Jack Dunning Estate Tenants & Residents Assoc meeting
Thu 25 - Hackney North Labour Party General Committee meeting
Sat 27 - Speaker of Hackney's community coffee morning
Mon 29 - Council Cabinet
Tue 30 - All-residents Meeting on Trelawney Estate to explain residents' concerns have been addressed and they have been removed from a regeneration scheme they were unhappy about
Wed 31 - Meeting with Borough Solicitor re. review of council constitution; followed by pre-Council call-over meeting, followed by Full Council meeting
Thu 1 - Ward Labour Party meeting to report back to local members
Sat 3 - Progress Conference
Mon 5 - Night off!
Tue 6 - Labour Group Executive meeting
Wed 7 - Hackney Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education meeting (statutory body on which I'm a council rep.)
Thu 8 - Visit to Tower Hamlets Council as part of scrutiny committee inquiry into best practice with LSPs, followed by meeting of Reserve Forces & Cadets Association of London meeting, an outside body I represent the council on
Fri 9 - Advice surgery
Sat 10 - Canvassing in Stoke Newington Central Ward where I live

Council by-elections

Council by-election results from last night:

Ellesmere Port & Neston, Rossmore Ward - Labour hold: Lab 504, Con 324, LD 60, English Democrats 30. 1.4% swing from Con to Lab since May.

Wellingborough, Croyland Ward - Con hold: Con 698, Lab 448, Ind 125, Green 55. About a 1%swing to Lab.

Basingstoke, Whitchurch Ward - LibDem hold: LibDem 858, Con 709, Lab 58. LD hold. 3.8% swing from LD to Con

South Derbyshire, Church Gresley Ward - Lab hold: Lab 639, BNP 516, Con 304. BNP didn't stand in May. G

Congleton, Sandbach West Ward -Con hold: Con 445 LibDem 382 Lab 160. The other seat in this ward was won by a Lib Dem in May.

Wigan, Central Ward - Con hold Con 1013 Lab 817 Com Action 262 . 0.75% swing from Con to Lab since May.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The PM should meet the Dalai Lama

I'm not usually a great signer of petitions, but this one from the Free Tibet campaign is important:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to make an official announcement that he will meet with the Dalai Lama when he visits the UK in May 2008.

As President George Bush and the United States Congress honour His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we, British citizens and residents, begin this petition requesting that Prime Minister Gordon Brown make a formal statement that he will meet officially with the Dalai Lama when he visits the United Kingdom in May 2008. We further request that the Prime Minister state on record that his meeting with the Dalai Lama will include a discussion of how the United Kingdom can help Tibetans find a solution to the Chinese occupation which began in 1950.

You can sign it on the Downing Street website here: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/DalaiLama/

Fed up with the BBC reporting itself

I'm fed up with the BBC running very, very lengthy stories about itself.

Newsnight last night featured a huge piece about the job cuts about to take place at the BBC.

Some coverage was justifiable, but would Paxman have given the same prominence to an equivalent number of job losses at a) another broadcaster or b) a manufacturing company?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A nice man leading a nasty party

Watching Ming's interview I couldn't help thinking that the real problem was not that he was too old, but that he was too nice to lead a bunch of back-stabbers like the Lib Dems.

The idea of calling for them to disolve as a party and the UK revert to a two-party system has lost its superficial appeal when I realised that as well as Lib Dem voters we might have to take some of their activists and MPs too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ming Gone

According to Sky Ming is about to resign... thereby stuffing Cameron's chances of winning the next election (hopefully).

Progress Conference

Just a quick plug for the Progress Conference on 3 November - details and online booking at: http://www.progressonline.org.uk/Events/

Speakers include David Aaronovitch, Wendy Alexander, Ed Balls, Nick Cohen, Yvette Cooper, Tony Giddens, Peter Kellner, Oona King, Ed Miliband, Estelle Morris, James Purnell, Jim Knight, Jim Fitzpatrick, Liam Byrne, Kitty Ussher, Phil Woolas ... and even some people I have disagreed with on this site in recent days such as Andy Burnham and Polly Toynbee...

Seminar topics include foreign policy post-Iraq, the public services, housing, the security debate, equality and aspiration, business and social justice, Cameron and the Tories, Labour party reform, politics post-spin, the green agenda, and how progressives should engage with political Islam.

There's also a speech by someone described as "Keynote address - Senior Government Minister".

I have a suspicion that mystery keynote address could be one of the speeches where Mr G Brown, PM, sets out the vision that, had Lord Falconer had the patience to wait two weeks and buy a £5 ticket, he could have heard before chatting extremely unhelpfully to the Sunday Times about an alleged absence of.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tax shouldn't be anything to do with relationships

To say I am wound up by Andy Burnham's suggestion that "the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage" is an understatement.

As someone who isn't married, but is in a stable relationship that has lasted considerably longer than some of my friends' marriages, I wish politicians of all parties would butt out of trying to tell people what model of family or relationship is best for them and particularly of trying to social engineer people into marriage through tax bribes. What is it supposed to mean? That married people are "better" or "more worthy" and must therefore be rewarded?

A few bugbears:

a) the rate of divorce in this country suggests too many people marry in haste. If we encourage more marriages without creating support and advice for couples and getting them to stop and think about whether they are doing the right thing, we'll just get more divorces.

b) how dare any politician tell any of us what sort of relationship would be best for us? How are they supposed to know?

c) surely some tawdry tax break devalues the whole institution and makes it look like a financial deal not a declaration of love?

d) do we really want to make people less well off because they get divorced? Won't they have enough problems to deal with anyway?

My partner says she would seriously consider whether she would stay in the Labour Party if it goes down this path.

Maybe one day we might get married. If we do though it won't be because the Treasury tries to bribe us to do it.

While we're on the subject, when are we going to follow our fantastic, progressive step in creating Civil Partnerships for gay and lesbian couples with a similar civil partnership institution that mixed-gender couples can sign up to if they want legal recognition as a couple but don't want the cultural/historical/social trappings of getting married?

P.S. before anyone starts having a go, I think marriage is a great institution, I respect people who want to get married, I enjoy weddings immensely - I just want other people and the state to recognise that one size doesn't fit all and you don't have to be married to have a happy family life.

The state - and politicians - should stay well away from telling people how to conduct their personal lives.

Australian General Election

Australian PM John Howard is expected to call a 24 November General Election this weekend.

The most recent polls put his Labor rivals under Kevin Rudd 10% ahead.

There's good coverage here:

Particularly a swingometer: here

and interactive constituency map/guide: here

(you need to zoom in to see most of the ALP seats as they are mainly geographically tiny urban seats)

Other good sites:



And the ALP campaign websites:

http://www.kevin07.com.au/ and http://www.alp.org.au/

Poll of marginals

This is fascinating:


a poll of 112 marginals shows Labour performing well in the seats which have the most impact on the outcome of an election.

Campaigning in Bexleyheath

I've just got back from a morning canvassing for my friend Howard Dawber, who is the Labour parliamentary candidate for Bexleyheath & Crayford in SE London.

Howard is one of a number of very dynamic Labour candidates fighting to regain seats lost to the opposition in 2005 - Bexleyheath was Labour in both the 1997 and 2001.

Judging from the quality of the campaign he is running, with some innovative literature, lots of young activists and a lot of good old-fashioned door-knocking, we have a chance of taking the seat back.

The canvassing gave grounds for optimism - we were in typical prosperous suburban streets of semis in the best Tory ward in the constituency - including the street where the Tory MP lives - and identified a lot of solid Labour support, and many voters who are waiting to see how the Brown administration pans out before deciding which way to vote.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore

I would have given Al Gore the Nobel wooden spoon not the Nobel peace prize.

Yes he's been doing great work highlighting the threat of climate change but if he had fought even a half way decent presidential election campaign in 2000, and not childishly blocked Clinton from helping his campaign, he would have been President for eight years and actually been able to DO something about climate change instead of bleating about it.

This donkey of a Democratic candidate is the reason (along with "Green" vote-splitter Nader, some Florida poll-rigging and his even more useless successor John Kerry) the world has been stuck with George W Bush for two terms.

Fair weather Brownite breaks ranks

It hasn't taken much to get Polly Toynbee to announce the latest in her career-long cycle of betrayals.

Ms Toynbee first stabbed the Labour Party in the back by joining the SDP in 1981.

After returning to Labour and professing gushing enthusiasm for Tony Blair and all his works, she switched to attacking him in virulent terms.

Now, having cheer led Blair's replacement by Gordon Brown for years, she has taken less than six months to turn on him and start accusing him in hysterical terms of "capitulation to the Tory agenda and refusal to make the case for equality".

Put a sock in it Polly. You tried to destroy Labour in the '80s. Then you tried to destroy Tony Blair. Now you are trying to destroy Gordon Brown. Perhaps you are psychologically incapable of loyalty. Perhaps you just write what you think Guardian readers want to hear. Either way it's a shame that you have to link quite reasonable social democratic analysis on policy to wholly destructive and unrealistic political conclusions.

Which poor politician is going to be the next object of your hopes, before being turned on in a journalistic frenzy when they have to start dealing with the realities of government?

Polls and votes

We've now got the first real post-"there will not be an election" poll, from Ipsos Mori:

CON 41%(+7)
LAB 38%(-3)
LIB DEM 11%(-5)

Good for the Tories, awful for the LDs, not too bad for us given the tone of this week's media coverage - 38% is exactly where we were in August (during phase one of the "Brown honeymoon") with this pollster and 7% higher than our position with them before the leadership election, as well as being better than the result we got in the 2005 election. Given this is now the mid-term and not the run in to an election, I don't think we should be over agitated.

Real votes last night in council by-elections:

Hobrook Ward, Horsham DC - Tory ward in Sussex - Lib Dem gain from Tory on a 9% swing
Chippenham Town Council - another Lib Dem gain from Con


The full figures are here - http://www.ipsos-mori.com/polls/2007/s071010.shtml - which reveal that Labour is actually 6% ahead of the Tories amongst all those expressing an opinion - only behind when it's filtered down to those certain to vote (i.e. the headline figure should be more accurately called a "election prediction model poll" than an "opinion poll"). Now if we could only introduce compulsory voting ...

Also interesting:

Do you think that Gordon Brown was right or wrong in his decision not to call a General Election this Autumn?

Right 47
Wrong 42
Don't know 11

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Tory take on Crossrail

Tory GLA Member Brian Coleman's New Statesman column - http://www.newstatesman.com/200710090002 - is a treat this week.

He attacks the Corporation of London for helping fund Crossrail, saying:
  • "it [Crossrail] has no benefit at all for most actual Londoners"
  • it is a "bribe for the election that never was"
  • and it is "a few trains from Maidenhead"
All of which will be of great interest to the London communities and businesses looking forward to the enhanced transport links and economic regeneration Crossrail will bring, who have been waiting for the project to get the go-ahead for over a decade.

I had thought George Galloway was Crossrail's only major political opponent, now I know he has found a new ally. I'm sure they'll work well together.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Why a November election would have been a bad idea

Look out of the window (assuming you are reading this soon after I posted it and reasonably near London).

It's absolutely bucketing down rain.

Would you have wanted to canvass in that, let alone expect anyone to go out and vote in it?

The "collapse" that wasn't

There's been a lot of nonsense spouted since Saturday about a "collapse" in Labour's poll ratings having prompted the decision not to call an election, Brown having got his strategy all wrong, etc., etc.

Today's Populus Poll in the Times shows that actually Labour support went UP during the week of Tory conference:
CON 38% (+2)
LAB 40% (+1)
LIB DEM 12% (-3)

So the reality is both Labour and the Tories benefited from the conference season, and the LDs are in a really deep mess.

Labour's poll rating is only 1% off the highest Populus has recorded since they started doing polls for the Times in January 2002, and 4% higher than our score when we won the last General Election.

To be on 40% midway through the third term against a charismatic opposition leader who has just flung the kitchen sink plus tax cuts against you in a week of TV coverage is amazing.

Let's have a bit less carping and a bit more confidence.

One side issue - the last two weeks show conferences really are important in determining people's perceptions of the parties - even more reason why it was right to dump the annual contemporary resolutions slanging match.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Walthamstow Nominations

All eight ward parties in Walthamstow CLP nominated in their parliamentary selection this weekend. The selection is an All Women Shortlist so each ward could nominate one BME candidate plus one other candidate of any ethnicity. The scores were:

"Open" Nominations:
Stella Creasy - nominated by 5 wards - automatically shortlisted as these represent about 70% of the membership
Marie Pye - nominated by 2 wards
Laura Bruni - nominated by 1 ward

BME Nominations:
Hena Ansari - nominated by 4 wards - automatically shortlisted
Farmida Bi - nominated by 1 ward
Dora Dixon-Fyle - nominated by 1 ward
Jan Etienne - nominated by 1 ward
Nadia Sharif - nominated by 1 ward

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What next?

Not calling an election was the correct decision.

But let's not lose the huge amount of organisational momentum that's been gained in the last few weeks.

Frankly we were behind the curve on candidate selection and a host of other key factors in an election and now we have caught up with where we should be two years before a poll.

I'd like to see:

- Every CLP out campaigning each weekend for the next month as though there was an election - let's get the doors knocked and some leaflets delivered anyway
- Every candidate in place as soon as the timetable for a full democratic selection - started now - will allow
- Cash that would have been spent on an election used to fund more organisers on the ground for the "long campaign"

And let's stop whinging about Lord Ashcroft's cash and start fund-raising to match it - the numbers quoted in the press are that he is giving £40,000 per year to each Tory constituency association he is targeting - that isn't beyond the capabilities of the unions, our own major donors and levies on councillors and MPs to match in the CLPs where it matters - there are already some Labour CLPs that raise that kind of annual income. £40,000 is not much more than the cost of a professional Agent in each key seat - and back in the 1950s we were funding professional Agents in several hundred seats.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Give Kensington CLP a choice

Members of Kensington CLP need to have other candidates to choose from, not just Tony Benn, who has been promoting his possible parliamentary come-back there to the media.

I fear a Benn candidature will become a damaging media distraction in a General Election. It will give him a platform to attack Labour's leadership and manifesto and damage the Party nationally.

Kensington members need to be presented with a choice.

Here are the selection details for anyone who wants "I stopped Tony Benn's final comeback" on their CV - and who would be a better campaigner and more on-message candidate than the man who lost Bristol East to the Tories and inherited rock-solid safe Chesterfield and bequeathed it after 17 years as a Lib Dem seat:

Seat: Kensington
New seat
AWS: No - open selection
Closing date for applications: 10 October
Shortlisting: 5 November
Hustings: 24 November
Procedures Secretary: Lee Jameson
16 Notting Barn Road
LondonW10 5YW
Email: kensingtonclp@yahoo.co.uk

Council By-elections

Last night's council by-elections:

Shepshed Division, Leicestershire County Council - Labour marginal in marginal Loughborough constituency - Labour hold with 5% swing from Con to Lab since the district elections in the same area in May (the district wards in the division were both lost by Labour in May)

Datchet Ward, Windsor & Maidenhead Council - no Lab candidate, Tories hold safe seat but with 11% swing to LDs

Helensburgh and Lomond South Ward, Argyll & Bute Council - LD gain from Ind

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Charlie Whelan - why the blog silence?

I thought one of the most politically significant stories at Labour Party Conference was the comeback of the PM's former spinner Charlie Whelan to run the new merged Unite's political operation.

This surely sends some massive signals about the kind of relationship brothers Derek and Tony want with Gordon Brown.

But all the coverage I can find that it got was a piece on Sky and a mention in a couple of newspaper gossip columns. In the Labour blogosphere, nothing. No mentions whatsover.

Strange because I have a hunch Brother Charlie is going to be playing a huge role in the future internal dynamics of the Labour Party.

NEC Chair

I mentioned in the post below that Dianne Hayter is the new NEC Chair.

I don't think enough has been done to celebrate that we have an NEC Chair this year who proudly proclaims on their official biography on the Party website - http://www.labour.org.uk/dianne_hayter - that they are "the author of "Fightback! Labour's traditional right in the 1970s and 1980s"." And she's from Holborn & St Pancras CLP - which has to be a good thing.

It's a great book - buy it while stocks last.

P.S. Message for Greta Karpin if you are reading this can I have my copy of "Fightback" back?

Mr Benn

Please no, Mr Benn senior, you've done enough damage to the Labour Party over the years not to need to make a comeback.

And wouldn't you need to go through a panel process and be asked questions like "will you obey the whip" before being allowed to run for Parliament again?

On the other hand I can see that the Campaign Group are running pretty low on youthful talent, so maybe they need some retreads.

Don't believe everything you read on LabourHome

Top topic for gossip amongst Labour hacks this week has been what process might happen with selections if there is an early election.

The story has changed about three times, but Alex Hilton over at LabourHome has decided to go for it with his analysis here:


Unfortunately Alex's story - although I believe the thrust of it is correct that the NEC will shortlist and then there will be all member hustings votes in winnable seats - is riddled with glitches in the detail:

- he links Jack Dromey to two seats but not to the one I understood he was actually going for

- he suggests a vacancy in Barking which I should think is news, and rather annoying, to the incumbent MP M Hodge who has put a lot of effort into getting reselected

- he names the NEC Officers erroneously - Mike Griffiths isn't the Chair any more, it's now Dianne Hayter

This may all be academic now given the latest polls, but I do think it shows that whilst LabourHome is a great source of selection gossip, some of it is posted in haste and not 100% accurate.

The Polls

3 polls all basically saying the same thing - Tories boosted by their conference, Labour holding on to a good 39/40%, LDs nowhere, minor parties squeezed:

ICM - Lab 39%, Con 38%, LD 16%
Populus - Lab 39%, Con 36%, LD 15%
YouGov - Lab 40%, Con 36%, LD 13%

Two conclusions:
- the arguments I set out in the post below about not having an early election are reinforced
- if Cameron can give it everything he's got and deploy his tax cuts and Labour is still poll 39/40% then we will win when the election comes

We have the great advantage of time - lots of it - three years if we want - to prepare our defences in depth and win not just narrowly but a comprehensive and strategic victory.

The election speculation has been valuable in that it has got Labour onto a fighting footing and ramped up our campaign preparations, whilst smoking out the Tory policy position.

Let's stay calm and if the election isn't called still get out there on the doorstep and make this a campaigning Autumn that leaves all our marginal seats in a stronger position.

Election timing

Having been swept along with General Election hype over the last two weeks I have now taken a deep breath and tried to think through whether I believe this is a good idea.

On the plus side:

- The Party at a national level is very much ready to fight an election - why stop now when everything is geared up and ready to go?
- I think there's a genuine chance of net Labour gains in terms of votes and seats compared to 2005.
- There's a strategic opportunity to stop Cameron's renewal of the Tories in its tracks and put them in a position where they have expended the best leader they are likely to have in the near future and made no progress - it could even trigger a split or realignment on the right.
- Will we be able to sustain an 11% lead in the polls until a later date?
- It gives voters a chance to say whether they want Brown as PM.

On the minus side:

- Time would be helpful in terms of organisational preparation at a constituency level (though that cuts both ways and would allow the Tories more time to spend Ashcroft's millions).
- The polls are volatile - it would be good to see a longer run of poll leads.
- Do we have a real handle on the regional trends and the trends in marginal seats behind the recent poll leads? An 11% national lead is not much use if it is all stacked up in safe seats not marginals, or if losses to the SNP offset gains from the Tories.
- Risk that voters see it as an unnecessary poll as we have 3 years of mandate left and punish us.
- November is going to be cold and dark which will militate against effective campaigning and inevitably depress turnout, which will be bad for democracy and probably disproportionately impact on Labour.
- If we are confident of our ability to govern and that we have new policy ideas - the answer to which is yes on both counts - then these should feed through in to a sustained poll lead - maybe even a growing one - so the risk that "we'll never be 11% ahead again" is actually one that it is in our power as the party in government to remove. Maybe we can even build a bigger lead?
- The strategic objective of halting Cameron and his phony modernisation project can be achieved without a quick General Election if we are confident we can sustain or build our position in the polls. Because most Tories don't actually buy into his vision, if we are ahead for months, not weeks, they will launch a leadership coup against him and destroy themselves before a General Election.
- From a purely London point-of-view there is a tactical advantage to holding the General Election in May on the same day as the Mayor and GLA elections to increase turnout and campaigning activity in these, which would help Ken see off Boris and help keep the BNP off the GLA.

Personally I love election campaigns and can't think of any better way to spend the next month - and I know that most Labour colleagues are ready and waiting for the balloon to go up - but - and it's a very balanced and marginal decision (and one where unlike the decision-maker I don't have a full deck of polling data or insight into the potential threats coming up on the political and economic horizon) - on balance I think I would play it long and not go for an election this side of Spring.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Lancaster or Millbank?

The Guardian has helpfully published a chart showing who has which desk at the Tories' Millbank HQ:

I was a bit surprised to see that Hackney Tory Group Leader Eric Ollerenshaw has a desk there as I assumed he would be focused on his role as their parliamentary candidate for Lancaster & Fleetwood - http://conservativehome.blogs.com/goldlist/2007/03/eric_ollerensha.html

Eric certainly has a talent for multi-tasking, having been both a GLA Member and Tory Leader on Hackney/Chair of Overview & Scrutiny at the same time until 2004. Some people suggested his speeches in the council chamber indicated a certain lack of focus and preparation on the latter role.

But is it really possible to fight a marginal seat in the North West from the comfort of a desk six seats away from Cameron and Osborne in the "Thatcher Room" or has Eric already given up on winning Lancaster?

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