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, January 29, 2008

Sorry Rich there's another one

Whichever poll Rich is waiting for is a long time coming. Like the other two polls at the weekend, ComRes in today's Independent shows the Tories, not Labour, going down in popularity:

Con 38% (-3)
Lab 30% (-)
LD 17% (+1%)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A special post just for Rich

Regular commenter Rich has been saying all week that he has some kind of tip-off that the next set of polls will be so catastrophic for Labour that they would cause the PM to resign.

Well now we have two of them - ICM and YouGov. ICM has Labour up 2% and the Tories down 3%:

CON 37% (-3)
LAB 35% (+2)
LD 20% (+2)

YouGov has Labour unchanged and the Tories down 2%:

CON 41% (-2)
LAB 33% (-)
LD 16% (+2)

What happened to your prediction Rich? Care to comment and explain?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ken's lead going up

Looks like London voters are more interested in buses, police and housing than tittle-tattle in the Evening Standard and on Dispatches.

A YouGov/ITV London poll today shows Ken's lead over Boris up from 1% to 4%.

The poll was taken after the Dispatches programme this week.

Council by-election results

In the middle of the Hain resignation there were two council by-election polling days yesterday. The Sandwell result puts the national picture in perspective and ought to cheer up Labour activists:

Sandwell MBC, Newton Ward - Labour gain from Lib Dem. Tom Watson tells me this ward has been Lib Dem since 1980!
Lab 36.9% +2.6%
Lib Dem 35.4% -6.9%
Con 25.7% +2.3%
Green 2.0% +2.0%

Basingstoke & Deane DC, Baughurst Ward - Lib Dem gain from Con on a 40% turnout. Huge swing of about 20% Con to LD. Labour did not contest this seat. The loss of this seat means the council goes from Tory to No Overall Control.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The leaderless soft left

You would have to be fairly heartless not to feel sorry for Peter Hain yesterday - a carefully constructed career in ruins because of admin errors in an internal party election. Clearly the Labour Party could do with fewer days like that.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and my view is that we have a stronger, fresher and more ideologically coherent Cabinet line-up after the reshuffle than before, with promotions for a range of sound star performers: Purnell, Burnham, Cooper, Flint, Watson. For a reshuffle that was forced on him, Brown made a good set of promotions.

Peter Hain's resignation leaves the Tribunite "Soft Left" of the Labour Party without any real Cabinet level figurehead for the first time ever.

This is ironic at a time when Compass, the extra-parliamentary embodiment of the Soft Left tradition, is making a lot of noise in the wider party. Jon Cruddas' refusal to take ministerial office last year means they have a serious lack of presence at the heart of government.

The loss of Clare Short through political self-destruction, Robin Cook through tragic premature death and now Hain through bizarre campaign funding screw-up really means that the tradition of Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson lacks a top flight leader.

The same problem hit the Hard Left a decade or so ago - Benn too old, Livingstone not interested in the Commons, everyone else hating each other too much to emerge as a leading figure.

Meanwhile the right of the party, in its various different and overlapping permutations of Brownites, one-time Blairites, old right, and New Labour, has been shown by this reshuffle to have a queue of talented youngsters waiting to get high office. Whatever the short term bleakness of the political picture, that makes me very optimistic about Labour's future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

One third of Hackney Lib Dem Group joins Labour

I had the great pleasure as Chief Whip of welcoming a new councillor to the Hackney Labour Group today.

Cllr Joseph Stauber, who has represented Cazenove Ward in Stamford Hill since 2002, has joined Labour having become disillusioned with the oppositionalist stance being taken by the Lib Dems and wanting to be part of the Labour team improving Hackney.

The move means the council's composition is now:

Labour - 45 + the elected Mayor
Conservative - 9
Lib Dem - 2
Green - 1

Cllr Stauber's decision is extremely important in terms of building Labour's relationship with the Chassidic Jewish community, the largest ethnic minority group in the four Stamford Hill wards won by the Tories and Lib Dems in the 2006 elections.

We are delighted about his brave decision and think that he will be a huge asset to the Labour Group, helping us to work with and respond more effectively to the specific needs of the Chassidic community.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Vote Ken with no illusions

I've just watched the Martin Bright programme on Ken Livingstone on Channel 4's Dispatches. I didn't think much of it as a piece of journalism - superficial, one-sided and in places - such as criticising Ken for promoting London to the EU, China and India, or for spending money on advertising and PR, just silly. The parading of a disillusioned ex-employee, Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone, and Mark Wadsworth (who I believe has an axe to grind) was hardly illuminating.

Most of it was staggeringly unoriginal, and has been rehearsed repeatedly not least here in this blog in the past. I was tempted to scream "I told you so!" at the screen as most of it was arguments those of us in the Dobson campaign tried to get across back in 2000.

I don't disagree with some of the key allegations:

- Ken's key advisers are mainly leading members of what was the International Marxist Group/Socialist Action - a Trot grouping
- His support for Venezuela and Cuba is at best silly, at worst scary
- He probably is encouraging his allies to pursue a vendetta against Trevor Phillips for having the audacity to think about standing against him in 2004
- His views on the Middle East are pretty suspect
- He shouldn't have said what he did to Oliver Finegold

All of these were reasons to vote against Ken being the Labour Candidate for Mayor. But that selection trigger ballot has happened. I was one of a tiny handful of people who voted to trigger him last year - my guess is he got 98% of the vote.

But none of these are valid reasons to vote against him in the election happening in May. For anyone on the left of politics, we don't face a choice between Ken and some imaginary moderate Labour candidate. We face a choice between Ken who, faults and all, is doing a damn good job delivering on his key policy responsibilities of policing, transport and regeneration, and Boris Johnson, a Thatcherite buffoon. A defeat for Ken won't be portrayed as a defeat for Socialist Action or the Labour left, it will be portrayed as a defeat for the Labour Government and Gordon Brown and massively boost David Cameron in the run up to the General Election. That's why - despite working for Dobson in 2000, and neither forgetting nor forgiving even earlier events like the coup against Andrew McIntosh, I will be voting, and actively campaigning for Ken with all the energy I can.

Perhaps the nastiest aspect of the programme were the allegations about alcohol. Apparently Ken sometimes has a scotch before or during public meetings. If this was a disqualification from holding high office then there were not be many MPs left, as I believe some of them do frequent House of Commons bars whilst the House is sitting. Nor would there be any Chancellors of the Exchequer who are actually entitled to a glass of whisky or brandy at the dispatch box whilst delivering the Budget.

All in all, Bright has conducted a mistimed hatchet job that can only help Boris and served no useful purpose. A strange choice of journalistic enterprise for someone allegedly on the left.

Dinner invite to the Home Secretary

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has made some unfortunate remarks suggesting she wouldn't feel safe on the street after dark in my home borough of Hackney.

I guess it depends which street.

Personally, I put this down to the usual ignorance of south-of-the-river dwellers (her London base is in Peckham) about anywhere north of the Thames. I'm sure I'm just as ignorant as her, but in my case about sarf London - I always thought (based entirely on watching Only Fools and Horses) that Peckham was a hell hole until I actually went there and discovered it had streets of Georgian town houses as well as decaying estates.

If Jacqui would like a night out in Hackney, Linda and I would be delighted to take her and her Special Branch protection team and Special Advisers to any one of numerous eateries - I'm fairly sure the Turkish restaurants on the A10 are way better at kebabs than the place she goes to in Peckham - where she will discover that actually Hackney is a very good place to go out in the evening. Probably better to avoid the "Best Turkish Kebab" on Stoke Newington Road though, as that is frequented by the coppers from Stokey police station, who might want to bend her ear about pay increases.

Which Respect?

The split in Respect into SWP and Galloway factions seems to be having a practical impact on the ground.

Over in Waltham Forest in the council by-election for Leyton Ward, Big Brother contestant Carole Vincent is standing. The official Respect (i.e. SWP faction) website says she is the Respect candidate. But on the council's list of candidates she has no party description at all.

Presumably there is some kind of dispute between Respect (SWP) and Respect (Galloway) over ownership of the official registration of the party, which carries with it the rights to put the party name and emblem next to a candidate's name on the ballot paper.

Either that, or her agent is spectacularly incompetent.

Friday, January 18, 2008

NEC Candidates

Labour First is supporting the following five candidates in this year's Labour Party NEC elections:

Azhar Ali Pendle CLP
Deborah Gardiner Isle of Wight CLP
Sonika Nirwal Ealing Southall CLP
Ellie Reeves Lewisham Deptford CLP
Peter Wheeler Salford & Eccles CLP

CLPs are nominating candidates at their January and February meetings.

There's some disarray on the other side of the fence, with John Wiseman of the LRC running against the "official" slate from the "Centre Left Grassroots Alliance" (sic), for obscure reasons being debated in detail and in public here and here.

With Walter Wolfgang retiring there is a real chance to increase the number of people representing CLPs on the NEC who want to actually do a job of work building the Party rather than denigrating its leadership.

Hackney Mayor on tackling gang crime

Some good stuff from Jules Pipe, our elected Mayor in Hackney, on tackling gang crime here:


(hat tip to Dave Hill, fellow Hackney resident and blogger, who I met for the first time over lunch at Cantina Augusto, Clerkenwell, yesterday, for spotting this).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Memo to Steve Morgan

According to today's Guardian, Peter Hain's campaign manager Steve Morgan claims ""My work ended the day the election for deputy leader took place [June 24]. "

Er.... no it didn't and therein lies the fundamental problem.

If you are running someone's campaign your work ends when you file the return of expenses and donations with the relevant authorities, not at the end of the count.

I almost feel sorry for Peter Hain given the muppetry of his camp-followers (who I note include John Underwood who had a huge fight with Kinnock and Mandelson over the direction of Labour's press office back in the early '90s), but then I suppose you get the campaign team your politics deserve.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Six questions for Boris

Boris Johnson is being interviewed tonight on BBC London News.

Ken's campaign have suggested some key questions the BBC ought to be asking:

1. Ken Livingstone has set the policy that 50% of all new housing in London must be affordable housing. Boris Johnson has announced that he would scrap that policy, which would reduce pressure for affordable new homes and concentrate new housing in luxury and high price development. How does he justify pricing housing out of the hands of ordinary Londoners in this way?

2. Boris Johnson has endorsed a new bus for London designed by Autocar magazine, with an open platform, which Transport for London estimates would cost a minimum of £400 million a year to introduce and run and would therefore require a 50% increase in bus fares - a single fare going up from 90p to £1.35 and a weekly bus pass from £13 to £19.50. If Boris Johnson disputes these figures what is his estimate for the cost of his new bus plans and the fares rises they would involve?

3. How does Boris Johnson justify not bothering to vote on London's most important transport project, Crossrail, in Parliament when it was debated? And why did he make the false claim in the TV debate last week that no progress had been made on Crossrail when Ken Livingstone has secured the £16billion funding for the scheme?

4. Youth murders are one of the most serious issues facing London and we must work with the Met and through the expansion of youth facilities to stop them. But why will Boris Johnson not admit that the murder rate in London has been reduced by 27% in the last five years, that this is a great achievement, and that this is due to the increase in police numbers introduced under Ken Livingstone? Why does he claim it is only motor-car theft that has been going down when the most serious crimes such as murder and rape have been sharply reduced?

5. Boris Johnson opposes the Kyoto agreement on climate change. How can be claim he will be a green Mayor when he supports George Bush in opposing the most important international agreement on climate change?

6. London is the world's most multi-ethnic city. Good community relations are therefore crucial. Boris Johnson has claimed that his reference to black people as "piccaninnies" was only for ironic effect in a newspaper article. But the journalist Martin Ivens confirmed yesterday in the Sunday Times that this is not true: 'Rod Liddle, my colleague, sorrowfully admits to being responsible for the left's damaging charge against Boris – that he is racist. Liddle let slip to an interviewer the story that, bored beyond measure by some po-faced Unicef officials in a truck on the Kenyan-Uganda border, Johnson had called out: "Come on, let's get out and see some piccaninnies'.
(link to article)
How, particularly in such a great multi-ethnic city, can Boris Johnson justify use of racist terms as "piccaninnies" when this was clearly not just in a single article?

Friday, January 11, 2008

Council by-election results

Just one council by-election result last night - Ibstock Ward in NW Leics - a narrow Labour hold over the BNP whose intervention increased the turnout. In May last year this was actually a split ward with just the one Labour cllr and 2 Tories.

Labour 699, 30% (2007 result was that the 3 Lab candidates got 707, 620 and 559)
BNP 637, 28% (did not stand in 2007)
Conservative 515, 22% (2007 result was 737, 731, 599)
Lib Dem 441, 19% (2007 result was 225 and 222)

UKIP stood in 2007 taking 411 votes but did not stand yesterday.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cameron and Morrissey

As a fellow Smiths fan I do wish David Cameron would stop trying to use his admirable taste in music to distract voters of a certain age from his crap politics. His latest Morrissey-related stunt is a visit to the Salford Lads Club.

If I was Morrissey I would be highly fed up about being associated with Thatcher-era Central Office Researcher Cameron. I certainly don't claim Morrissey is in any sense a Labour supporter - hence his recent lyric on "Irish Blood, English Heart", "The English are sick to death of Labour And Tories", but his early stuff is consumed with anger and bitterness about the state of the country and life under the Tories.

Maybe Cameron could do a photo op singing along to this Smiths track:

Margaret On The Guillotine
The kind people
have a wonderful dream
Margaret on the guillotine
because people like you
make me feel so tired
when will you die?
when will you die?
when will you die?
when will you die?
when will you die?

because people like you
make me feel so old inside
please die
and kind people
do not shelter this dream
make it real
make the dream real
make the dream real
make it real

I won't hold my breath though. In the mean time I look forward to bumping into Dave when I go to see Morrissey live at the Camden Roundhouse on 22 January.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Is private healthcare no longer taboo?

I was a bit surprised to read an online confession from my Stoke Newington Labour Party comrade Dave Osler that he uses the private sector health check-up he gets as a perk of his job.

Like Dave I am entitled to private health insurance etc. as an employment benefit. However, I had always been under the impression it was not the done thing even for rather moderate Labourites of my ilk to queue jump and get preferential health care over and above what one could expect from the NHS (and ditto on education) so I've always gone through a rigmarole of getting this benefit removed from the stuff my employer gives me - as have other active Labour people I've worked with in the past - which confuses our HR department but leaves me with a clear conscience.

Is this no longer the big taboo that it was?

I feel very uncomfortable about the existence of private sector alternatives to the NHS and state schools, quite apart from not wanting to use them myself or for my family. What do other people think?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Initial impact of Attack of the Clones

My earlier speculation that no one would be able to differentiate between Clegg and Cameron and this was bad news for Cameron seems to be substantiated by today's Populus poll in the Times cutting the Tory lead to 4%:

Con 37 %(-3), Lab 33% (+1), Lib Dem 19% (+3)

This is already good enough to make Labour the largest party in the Commons and the same trend next month would put the two main parties back level-pegging.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Back Ken

I never thought I would be posting this, but I am, and enthusiastically. Join the campaign here: http://www.kenlivingstone.com

Council by-election results

Two local council by-election results yesterday:

Cambridgeshire County Council, Roman Bank and Peckover Division: Con hold. Con 61.1% (up 1.1%), Lab 25.9% (did not stand in 2005), UKIP 13.1% (did not stand in 2005), Lib Dems did not stand this time despite getting 41% in 2007.

Welwyn Hatfield DC, Welham Green Ward: Con hold. High turnout of 47%. Con 40.7% (down 25.9% from 2006), LD 36.5% (up 17.8%), BNP 16.2% (did not stand in 2006), Lab 6.6% (down 8.1%).

IPPR on the "working poor"

A quick plug for the IPPR pamphlet published yesterday written by Hackney North Labour Party member Graeme Cooke.

Entitled "Working Out of Poverty: A study of the low-paid and the ‘working poor’" it exposes the way that whilst as a Government we've managed to get people into work, in many cases this has not taken them out of poverty because of the way the benefits system is structured e.g. you get housing benefit if you are workless but lose it once you get a fairly low paid job.

Useful research and hopefully being read by DWP Ministers.

You can download it here:


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Why I would vote for Edwards

If I was an Iowan I would be going along to my local Democratic caucus tonight to vote for John Edwards.

Ideologically, I'm probably nearer to Hillary Clinton, but I think the geography of where a Democratic candidate comes from is the key to beating the Republicans later this year.

The only Democratic candidates to win since 1960 have been from the south: LBJ (Texas), Carter (Georgia) and Bill Clinton (Arkansas).

The losers have almost all been from rust belt states in the mid-west or north east: HHH (Minnesota), McGovern (S Dakota), Mondale (Minnesota), Dukakis (Massachusetts), Kerry (Massachusetts).

The only exception is Gore, from the outer south state of Tennessee - but he actually won the popular vote and but for some chicanery in Florida would have won the electoral college as well.

Why is the geography important? Because the Democrats already sweep every state in the north and indeed on the liberal west coast, but still can't win. Demographic change - population shift from rust belt to sun belt and Hispanic population growth in states like Florida and Texas mean that you cannot win as a Democrat without adding to the states won by Gore and Kerry at least one southern state.

And the last 11 elections have proved that southerners will not vote for Democrat presidential candidates from the distant North East or Mid West.

The frontrunners can't reach out to the south. One is a senator from rust belt Illinois, the other a senator from New York born in Illinois.

Edwards can - he's from North Carolina and beat an incumbent Republican to become a senator. Even adding his own state to the Democrat column from last time would be enough to change the outcome of the election.

Though I disagree with his stance on Iraq I think Edwards also has by far the most interesting policy platform, with its emphasis on eliminating poverty, combating climate change and support for universal healthcare.

My second preference would definitely be Clinton who has experience and gravitas. The hype about Obama leaves me cold - he's too inexperienced, too much an unknown quantity - a senator for about five minutes - and doesn't seem to stand for very much which is a bit alarming in someone pitching to be the most powerful politician on the planet.

My worry is that yet again the Democrats will go with a candidate who emerges from their primary process because they can galvanise liberal activists and studenty types, and then discover that the swing voters in key states are many things but they are not usually lefty students or liberal activists.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to readers and I hope you had a less flu-afflicted Christmas than my family did.

Congratulations to elected Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe who was appointed a CBE in the New Year Honours. I'm not a great fan of the honours system but this was an appropriate way of recognising the contribution Jules has made to improving Hackney Council. As the council website I've linked to says, the council is expected to get a 3 star rating (out of 4) in February, up from zero stars at the start of Jules' period of leadership. I certainly never thought I would see Hackney Council officially described as "good" when I volunteered for a tour of duty in the then political equivalent of Apocalypse Now back in 1998. And when I met him two years earlier I didn't think the reluctant press ganged young candidate for the 1996 South Defoe by-election - who seemed far too nice and too normal for the internecine warfare of Hackney politics - would 12 years later be in his second term as Mayor and winning national recognition for his transformation of the borough.

Congratulations too to the consistently underestimated Stephen Byers for the most sensible contribution to internal Labour debate over the holiday period - in Sunday's Observer - calling on Blairites to rally behind Brown, for the tough policy questions to be tackled and for the Party "to start seeing Labour party members as assets to be valued and not as irritants to be tolerated. They will need to have a far more significant role than they are given at present." Byers has been wasted sat on the backbenches for too long. Labour people in local government know he was a superb Secretary of State at DTLR. It's time he was brought back into the political front line.

Congratulations to the Labour Party on the final opinion polls of 2007:
YouGov - CON 40% (-3), LAB 35% (+4), LDEM 15% (-1) i.e. Tory lead down from 12% to 5%.
ComRes - CON 41% (+1), LAB 30% (+3), LDEM 16% (-2) i.e. Tory lead down from 13% to 11%.
ICM - CON 39% (-2), LAB 34% (+4), LDEM 18% (-1) i.e. Tory lead down from 11% to 5%

My political wish list for 2008 (I got 5 and 2 half of my 10 wishes for 2007):
1) The UK getting through the year without suffering a major terrorist attack
2) The UK starts building some new nuclear power stations so we can tackle climate change
3) People to give Gordon Brown the space to actually get on with the job of running the country
4) The Grassroots Alliance to lose some (hopefully all) of their members in the election of the CLP section of the Labour Party National Executive Committee
5) A reduction in inequality and poverty in the UK and some government policy initiatives on this that will be as memorable as the Minimum Wage
6) Ken to thrash Boris for London Mayor in May, and the BNP to be kept off the GLA
7) Regime change to democracy in Cuba, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Burma
8) Pakistan and Kenya not descending any further into anarchy
9) No council by-elections in the London Borough of Hackney, or if there have to be any, let them be in the summer, not December
10) Labour to retake opinion poll lead and Cameron to get sacked

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